On February 7, 80-years-ago today, Australia’s oldest living Commonwealth Games athlete, Enid Pate [nee Evans], competed in the long jump at the 1938 Sydney Empire Games. Evans reflected on her selection, the opening ceremony and her competition day.
“A fellow office worker, came up to congratulate me as he had read my name in his morning 'Herald' newspaper of my selection for the Empire Games team. I was sure he must have been mistaken - inconceivable!” But it was true, Evans would compete for Australia in the long jump at the Games.
“Since I lived near the Cricket Ground I walked alone to the Ground, mindful of our Team instructions ... 'present' well for Australia, keep in step for the big parade of competitors, remember to assemble on time.
“The Empire Games opening ceremony parade into the Sydney Cricket Ground was awesome! Thousands of spectators, brightly coloured national flags, each country's entourage of officials and the competitors ... people from India, South Africa, and other countries less known to me like Ceylon, Trinidad and Tobago.
“Our uniforms: a white rayon frock, certainly longer than knee-length, buttoned form the waist, sleeved, collared with a small bolero bearing the Australian Crest. We also wore a white panama hat, banded with a green/gold Australian coloured ribbon. Our shoes, that were white, leather lace-up with brown trim and crepe rubber soles we considered a bit ghastly but were chosen, we were told, with consideration for much walking and the anticipated hours of standing in the hot summer sunshine that lay ahead during the Games.
“On the day of my events I entered the dressing room and a whole new world appeared for me - a host of busy, swiftly moving, noisy folk, bustling coaches, managers, massage tables and the respective athlete and masseur, unrecognised flags and unknown sportswear worn by obvious competitors. Not a sign of another Australian friend or the Chaperone could I see through the mass.
“Still considered a junior I put on my new white singlet with the Australian crest and my white shorts with the green/gold side-seam and just sat timidly and waited for the announcement which caused me to pick up my spikes and make my way onto the field. Even though I had experienced the opening ceremony parade and had watched other athletic events there, entering the cavernous ground was awesome!”
She was glad to, find Nell Gould, her friend and fellow competitor, but the competition didn’t go to plan for Evans.
“Although I believe I had taken my usual run-up of 82 feet I had fouled the board twice and for someone who for two years previously in competitions had jumped 16 to over 17 feet, my best being 17 feet 6 inches, I was very much disconcerted by the fouls and approaching my final jump, jumped pre-board to record 15 feet 10.75 inches.
“I was so thrilled for our other representatives finishing first [Decima] and third [Thelma Peake]. Although I personally had not expected a place in that international field I left the field feeling shocked and was sad ever after that I had not been able to give my own best performance whilst wearing the Australian green and gold.”
Evans competed for another two seasons, until March 1939 when there was up-heaveal for sporting clubs and organisations due to World War II. Inter-club events ceased, and other youth/church sporting groups broke up.
“Friends dispensed, and I lost contact with most athletes altogether.”
By the time international sports re-commenced, for the 1948 Olympics, Evans’ life had moved on.
“With new personal commitments, competitive involvement was no longer possible for me, but I maintained a keen interest in athletics.”
David Tarbotton for Athletics Australia
*Images courtesy of Jan Roderge