Leap for wom­ankind

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

Yvette Cor­lett’s in­flu­ence in New Zealand ath­let­ics ex­tended well be­yond that of her record­break­ing achieve­ments.

‘‘Yvette Williams was a trail­blazer and a true bea­con of what is pos­si­ble for women in sport,’’ said New Zealand Olympic Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent Mike Stan­ley.

As Yvette Williams she won the women’s long jump at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. Cor­lett, who died in Auck­land on Satur­day aged 89, was also a world record holder in the event.

‘‘Her place in New Zealand’s his­tory is unique and her con­tri­bu­tion to sport has opened doors. She . . . is one of our great­est ever ath­letes, she will be missed by all who knew her,’’ Stan­ley said.

Auck­land Ath­let­ics pres­i­dent Mur­ray Mckin­non said Cor­lett also took a keen in­ter­est in the ca­reer of dou­ble Olympic shot put cham­pion Va­lerie Adams.

‘‘She was a gra­cious lady. She kept in touch with Va­lerie Adams right from the early days, and con­tacted her ev­ery time she won some­thing,’’ Mckin­non said.

She set up an ath­let­ics club in the eastern sub­urbs of Auck­land, where the Yvette Williams Track is to be found.

An­a­lyt­i­cal Welling­ton sports writer Peter Hei­den­strom con­tro­ver­sially rated Williams as his New Zealand Ath­lete of the Cen­tury, ahead of the great Peter Snell, who won three Olympics golds across two Games.

Com­pet­ing at a time when there were fewer ath­let­ics events for women, Cor­lett shone in most. In the mod­ern era, she would have been a world-class hep­tath­lete.

Her younger brother, Roy Williams, won the de­cathlon at

the 1966 British Em­pire and Com­mon­wealth Games in Kingston, Ja­maica.

Born in Dunedin on An­zac Day 1929, she played sev­eral sports at Otago Girls’ High School, mak­ing the top netball team and go­ing on to play for Otago and the South Is­land.

Her late hus­band Buddy Cor­lett, who died in 2015, was a na­tional bas­ket­baller.

Her in­ter­est in ath­let­ics was set on fire af­ter an evening visit to Otago Ladies Ama­teur Ath­let­ics Club one evening.

While most fa­mous as a long jumper, her first na­tional ti­tle was for shot put in 1947. She won her first long jump ti­tle a year later.

Cor­lett formed a win­ning com­bi­na­tion with coach Jim Bell­wood, an un­com­pro­mis­ing for­mer sol­dier and POW, who she al­ways called Mr Bell­wood.

He mod­elled her tech­nique on Amer­i­can leg­end Jesse Owens, and Cor­lett won the long jump at the 1950 Auck­land Em­pire

Games, where she came sec­ond in the javelin.

Cor­lett moved to Auck­land to train with ‘‘Mr Bell­wood’’ board­ing with an aunt and un­cle, who set up a gym for her in a spare room for morn­ing train­ing ses­sions. Her lunch time out­side her job was spent run­ning up and down hills to build strength in her legs, af­ter work she would meet Bell­wood for three hours’ train­ing.

All her hard work paid off on in July 1952, when she leapt 6.24m – an Olympic record – to win gold in Helsinki.

On 20 Fe­bru­ary 1954 she claimed the world record in Gis­borne, leap­ing 6.29m. It stood for 18 months.

At the 1954 Em­pire Games in Van­cou­ver, she won gold in the dis­cus and long jump, set­ting Games records in both. She also won the shot put and made the 80m hur­dles fi­nal.

She re­tired from com­pe­ti­tion in 1956, work­ing as a phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion teacher, and hav­ing four chil­dren.

She coached ath­let­ics and be­came in­volved with Spe­cial Olympians – peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties.

Cor­lett was Sports­man of the Year in 1950 and 1952 and made an MBE in 1953.

She was one of the first in­ductees into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990 and voted Otago Sportsper­son of the Cen­tury in 2000.

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