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Mary Rand: Team GB's original Olympics golden girl

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Mary Rand was once the golden girl of British athletics, winner of the first track and field gold medal by a British female athlete at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and still the only woman to win three track and field medals at the same Olympic Games.

Mary took top spot in the long jump with a world-record leap of 6.76m, then landed pentathlon silver and 4x100m relay bronze.

Almost 60 years later we tracked down the former darling of British athletics, to her home in Reno Nevada to get her thoughts and memories of those historic games. Now aged 83, Mary told us about how it all started for her in athletics.

"I was always a tomboy," Mary tells Mno Sports.

"I always followed my brothers, and I think started out running around an orchard in Wells, Somerset. I eventually went to the All England Schools, that's as far as you can go. I got a scholarship to Millfield and when I went there I had a coach, and the rest is history."

Mary's passion and natural ability for athletics is clear, and looking back on her achievement of becoming the first British woman to win an Olympic gold medal, she modestly says: "I was doing something I really loved to do and I was fortunate enough to meet really good people along the way who really helped me. When I won I couldn't quite believe it really because at that point I had a daughter that was two years old."

Rand came away from Tokyo with three Olympic medalsRand came away from Tokyo with three Olympic medals
Rand came away from Tokyo with three Olympic medals

Things, however, were not that simple for the Somerset native. At the 1960 Games in Rome four years earlier, a disappointing Olympics saw her return to England to newspaper headlines which read 'Flop, flop, flop'.

Not discouraged by those past headlines, Mary, then 24 and a mother to two-year-old daughter Alison, was determined to put it right in Japan.

Mary recalls the day of her historic jump clearly.

"The morning that I was going to compete I was sharing a room with Anne Packer, Mary Peters and Pat Nutting and hailstones were coming down. I looked out and went, 'oh my lord it's hailing', but then I thought to myself, 'well, it's the same for everybody, they've all got to compete in it'. I was very fortunate that I qualified with my first jump so I could go right back in and stay out of the rain."

Rand tries on a pair of FCA (Cuban Athletics Federation) earrings in 1965Rand tries on a pair of FCA (Cuban Athletics Federation) earrings in 1965
Rand tries on a pair of FCA (Cuban Athletics Federation) earrings in 1965

Fortunate with the weather maybe, but there was no fortune with her jumping in that final in Tokyo. Five of Mary's six jumps broke the Olympic record but, as she recalls, records were the last thing on her mind.

"You don't really think about anything except what you're going to do. You're hoping you're going to run down the runway and hit that little board at the end and get a good jump," she adds.

Well, Mary did that and more and no one in the stadium was more surprised that she broke the world record than she was.

"When I came back and I had jumped the world record, I couldn't understand it because it was in metres and back then we didn't do metres. When it went up on the board it said 6.76m and underneath it said 'world record'.

"I was blown away," Mary chuckles to herself at her recollection of the moment.

Gold in the long jump was to be the pinnacle of Mary's achievements in Tokyo but she also ended up coming home with a silver in the pentathlon and a bronze in the 4x100m relay. Her medals are kept at her old school and that is where Mary thinks they belong.

"They're at Millfield in Somerset, they got a big display case and it's really nice. I think that's where they belong because it is part of history and it might inspire young athletes when they see that to do better."

Rand competing in the long jump at White CityRand competing in the long jump at White City
Rand competing in the long jump at White City

Mary's achievements are even more remarkable when put into context. There were no million-pound contracts, she did not have the carefully-selected diets and use of cutting-edge equipment that athletes have today; she was just like any other 'working mum'. Mary worked eight hours a day at a Guinness factory and cheekily says it was a half pint of the well-known stout that was the secret of her success.

"I really went there because they would give me time off when I had an international meet and they also paid me my salary when I was away. I was lucky! Guinness was amazing to me. Every lunchtime I had half a Guinness."

 Rand posing at a photoshoot in 1969 Rand posing at a photoshoot in 1969
Rand posing at a photoshoot in 1969

Mary was a trailblazer in the sixties. She was one of the icons that made London the place to be in that decade - one journalist described her as 'Marilyn Monroe on spikes'.

She was not only the darling of the print media but also mixed with pop royalty. Mick Jagger even said she was his dream date. Sitting in her home she remembers that time with fondness.

"I was at the BBC one day and the Beatles were there. I met two of them, Ringo and George I think, And then Mick Jagger, I never actually met him, but they asked him if he could go on a date with anybody and he said it would be me. I don't know if that was good or bad but anyway that's what he said".

Jagger, like the rest of the nation, was captivated by Mary, a pathfinder for women's sport in this country. She was feted for her athletic achievements and won the Sports Personality of the Year award in 1964.

Rand competes at the Southern Counties Women's Athletics ChampionshipsRand competes at the Southern Counties Women's Athletics Championships
Rand competes at the Southern Counties Women's Athletics Championships

"At the time I didn't know what affect it would have, but I think what you would hope for is that when you do something like that, it's going to inspire young athletes to want to train and do well. And also to think, 'she did it so there is no reason that we can't do that'."

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