Australian legend Betty Cuthbert was only 18 years old when she won the 100-200 double at the 1956 Olympics. She is the only athlete to have won Olympic gold medals in the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter sprints. After raging a fierce battle with multiple sclerosis, the legendary Olympian passed away on August 6, 2017 at the age of 79.
Cathy Freeman, Olympic gold medalist at Sydney 2000, tweeted after learning about Cuthbert’s death, "Thank you for the inspirational memories, Betty Cuthbert. Rest in peace.” Cuthbert not only inspired Freeman but a long line of Australian track and field athletes who followed in the tracks of her amazing career.
After her starring role in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Cuthbert was known as the "Golden Girl" in Australia. She not only won the 100-200 double but also anchored Australia's win in the 4x100 relay race. She was honored with a bronze statue placed outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the principal stadium where the games took place that year.
The funny thing about the games in 1956 is that Cuthbert was not even expecting to be part of the Olympic team. So she had bought passes to attend as a spectator. This gave her the record of being the most unassuming competitor to win a competition.
“The heroine of the main stadium, the athlete who became known as Australia’s Golden Girl, was a tear away sprinter called Betty Cuthbert,” the Australian Olympic Committee stated by quoting historian Harry Gordon. “She had straw-colored hair and a distinctive, wide-mouthed manner of gulping air that made her look to be roaring exultantly as she streaked down the track.”
Five years after claiming her fourth and final medal in the 1964 Tokyo Games, Cuthbert was diagnosed with the degenerative neurological disease. In the Sydney 2000 Olympics, she made a memorable appearance by carrying the flame as she was being pushed in a wheelchair by a fellow athlete. In 2002, she suffered a brain hemorrhage.