Some athletes retire and enjoy the calm, but plenty miss the thrill of competition. A few decide to go back on their retirement and try again – but fewer still prosper in making such a return. A handful achieve what Australia’s Betty Cuthbert did – by returning to the top of the world.
Cuthbert had won three golds in Melbourne, her home Games, back in 1956, with victory in the 100m, 200m and in the 4x100m relay. She had enjoyed huge acclaim and been seen as a national hero, but she had been forced to withdraw from the 1960 Rome Games with a hamstring injury after just one race. Disappointed and upset, she decided to retire from competition despite being only 22 years old. It was a decision she later reversed. She changed her mind about the event as well, leaving behind the 100m to take part in the 400m. It was a race that had only just been added to the women’s schedule.
Cuthbert was among the favoured runners, but there was no clear favourite. Yet she had the poise and confidence of an Olympic champion and coasted through the opening rounds and semi-final, happy to take her place in the final rather than grandstanding in the early rounds.
It paid off perfectly. Cuthbert went off at top speed but was followed all the way by Britain’s Ann Packer. The pair crossed the line separated by only 0.2secs – but it was the Australian who held on for victory. Cuthbert later described the 1964 final as “the only perfect race I have ever run”.
After the Tokyo Games, she again announced her retirement. But this time, she stuck to her word.