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19 Oct 1968
Mexico 1968

Manning makes her mark in the women's 800m

The favourite for the women's 800m was clearly Vera Nikolić of Yugoslavia. She held the World Record and won her first round race with ease. But in her semi-final, Nikolic pulled out after 300m for no obvious reason.

To the astonishment of the crowd, she simply walked back to the start, took off her running shoes and sat down.

Her decision mystified observers, and has never been clearly explained – some saying she reacted against the pressure that had been piled upon her; others blamed the altitude problems of competing in Mexico. The only thing that was sure was that the favourite would not be winning gold.

In her absence, the final was dominated by America's Madeline Manning, who led from the front to win by some 10 metres, breaking the Olympic Record. Manning was the first truly  world-class female 800m runner to come out of the United States and her victory was cherished. At the age of 20, she had already established herself as a multiple national champion by the time she arrived in Mexico, but Olympic competition was another step up entirely.

The race had been close coming into the final 100m, but then Manning used her pace and strength to pull away from the pack. She finished some 10m clear of the field, with silver medallist Ileana Silai of Romania more than a second and a half behind.

Manning was to win a silver medal when the women's 4x400m relay was introduced four years later in Munich, but she failed to make the individual final in either those Games or in Montreal four years later.

Manning later developed an unusual career. She became a highly acclaimed gospel singer, and ordained minister, and chaplain to the US Olympic team. She holds the distinction of being inducted into both sporting and a jazz music halls of fame!

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