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27 Jul 1952
Helsinki 1952

Teenager Jones becomes youngest champion of the track

Australia were hot favourites to win the women’s 4x100m relay in Helsinki. The team had set a world record in the heats and boasted several individual stars within their quartet. At its heart was Marjorie Jackson, who had already won double individual gold in the 100m and 200m. Meanwhile, Shirley Strickland had taken bronze in the 100m, but had won the 80m hurdles. And Winsome Cripps had been denied a place on the 100m podium by the tiniest fraction to finish fourth.

After the first two legs, the Australians had already established a commanding lead, and Cripps preserved their advantage around the bottom bend by Cripps. The disaster struck. As she passed the baton to anchor Jackson, her knee rose up at the wrong moment, hit the baton out of Jackson's hand and it crashed to the floor.

Jackson had the presence of mind to catch it as it bounced up off the ground, but by then the field had passed them. Australia could finish only fifth and, as the USA took gold.

Running the second leg for the US quartet was Barbara Jones, who at just 15 years and 123 days old became the youngest person to win a gold medal in Olympic track and field. Jones drew inspiration from the legendary American athlete Jesse Owens, who had visited the housing estate where she lived, and she vowed to fulfil her ability in the same way Owens had so spectacularly fulfilled his own.

Jones missed the 1956 Games but was part of the relay team that won the Olympic title in Rome in 1960. She later worked in sports administration, notably for the Paralympic movement.

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