The Olympic Games is the global multi-sport event that captures the world’s attention every four years and is what drives athletes at training every day.
Remarkably Australians have represented at every edition of the summer Games thanks to trailblazer Edwin Flack making the journey to Athens in 1896 to start the unbroken tradition. He won the 800m and 1500m double, and bronze in tennis doubles.
Athletics is considered the pinnacle Olympic sport as it is generally held in the stadium where the ceremonies are held and is backed up by having the largest representation in terms of athletes, nations and events contested at each Games.
Why is this relevant today? Well, the 23rd of June is Olympic Day and on this 70th anniversary there will be events held around the globe to remind people of the important role that sport and being active plays in society. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) this year is focussing on ‘recognising the people who make sport happen every day for themselves, their families, friends and communities.’
Athletics at every level in Australia could not happen without the people who give up their time at their clubs and competitions every week.
Australian Olympians often do school visits and speak at their clubs and events throughout the year, with the Australian Olympic Committee coordinating additional events on the week around Olympic Day. Rio Olympics 400m semi-finalist and 4x400m finalist Anneliese Rubie was one of the Olympians from summer and winter sports that this week visited kids in hospital and answered their questions to make sure they had a special day.
Australian Olympians and high-performance athletes inspire future generations all year round through their actions on and off the track. For some it motivates them to stay active and for some it could be sharing knowledge that may one day mean they join the esteemed Olympians Club.
As the Australian junior team prepare to take on the world’s best at the IAAF World U20 Championships in Finland next month we remember the Aussies who starred at the Olympic Games when just teenagers.
The late Betty Cuthbert was just 18 when she won three gold at the Melbourne 1956 Games. She would forever be known as the ‘Golden Girl’ and is still the youngest Olympic champion over 200m (18y 224d).
Fifty years-ago this year, at the Mexico 1968 Games, three Australian female teenage sprinters put the world on notice.
Maureen Caird won the 80m hurdles gold, just 19 days after her 17th birthday to become the youngest track and field Olympic champion ever at the time and still the fourth youngest ever gold medallist across all athletics events. Pam Ryan would win the silver for Australia behind her teenage teammate.
Also 17 in Mexico, Raelene Boyle won silver in the 200m and remains the youngest ever
medallist (17y 116d) over 200m. The first of her three individual silvers across three Olympics. Jenny
Lamy aged just 19 finished just behind Boyle to win bronze in her only Games.
Tim Forsyth was just 18 when he won Olympic high jump bronze at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Two years earlier he won the silver medal at the World Juniors.
At the London 2012 Olympics Steven Solomon made the 400m final at 19 and only weeks after winning bronze at the World Juniors in Barcelona. There are of course many more performances by teenagers who made finals or top-16 at the Olympics as teenagers.
Over the 400m hurdles Jana Pittman remains the youngest ever competitor for this event when she was just 17 years at Sydney 2000. Later that year she won the 400m and 400m hurdles double at the World Junior Championships in Chile. There are of course many more performances by teenagers who made finals or top-16 at the Olympics as teenagers.
The athletes from the Australian U20 Team for Tampere 2018 commonly cite the Tokyo 2020 Olympics or Paris 2024 as their ultimate goal in athletics. You can read more about each of those athletes when their biographies are published next week.
We wish the Tampere athletes every success in Finland and hopefully this will be a stepping stone to achieve their Olympic dreams.
On the 70th anniversary of Olympic Day, Athletics Australia also wants to pay tribute to every athlete who has gone on to represent Australia at the Olympic Games. Happy Olympic Day to you all and may the wonderful tradition of Australian athletes displaying the Olympic Values of Friendship, Respect and Excellence continue.
Andrew Reid for Athletics Australia
Superlatives and statistics David Tarbotton