• Rewind to 1964

Redemption for Rand

Tom Walker
January 12, 2012
Mary Rand blew away the field in the long jump final at the Tokyo Games © Getty Images

With less than 200 days to go until the start of the London Olympics, the countdown to the 2012 Games has begun in earnest and the clock is ticking for those athletes who harbour medal aspirations this summer.

One woman who turned her Olympic dream into a reality is Mary Rand, the first 'Golden Girl' of British athletics who won long-jump gold in Tokyo in 1964, before being named Sports Personality of the Year to cap an extraordinary year…

To many, Rand had it all: success, flowing blonde hair and great looks. However, her journey to the top wasn't without its travails - she had to overcome the disappointment of a failed Olympic campaign before going on to fulfil her undoubted potential.

Rand's abundant talent was obvious from an early age, with the Somerset-born athlete showcasing her skills across a number of disciplines. Although the long jump was her strongest event, such were her capabilities she went on to become Britain's top pentathlete in her late teens, setting a UK record of 4466 points when finishing seventh at the1958 European Championships aged only 18.

Despite her clear dominance over her British rivals and her propensity to break domestic records (she set six in all), Rand, or Miss Bignal as she was then, could not exude her supremacy when it came to competing against the world's best at the Olympic Games in Rome, in 1960. Having won the 1959 WAAA pentathlon title with a new UK record of 4679 points and then defending her title the following year, she headed to Rome expecting to triumph on the biggest stage of all.

The script never played out as so many had predicted, however, with her dreams shattered by an unrecognisable performance. After leading the qualifiers - with a personal-best leap - she capitulated in the long jump final as her nerves took hold. Two no-jumps saw her re-mark her run-up but her sole legitimate effort was only enough to finish a disappointing ninth - hardly the result the pre-event favourite was expecting. She showed resolve when coming back the next day to claim a fourth-placed finish in the 80m hurdles, but her disastrous showing in her beloved long jump was to have a profound effect on the rest of her career.

It would be four years until she would have the chance to right her Rome wrongs, and consequently there were fears the young Brit may have squandered her best opportunity of landing gold at an Olympic Games.

Away from the sandpit (and track), Mary met British Olympic sculler Sidney Rand, who competed for Britain in 1956 and in Rome, in 1961 and married him a few weeks later. Further developments happened away from the world of sport; Rand gave birth to a daughter in the spring of 1962.

With so much going on in her personal life, a cloud remained over Rand's athletics career and there were growing doubts whether she would ever get back to her best, even if she did make a return. Any uncertainty that lingered was soon swept aside as Rand showed to everyone - but most importantly herself - she still had the ability to not only compete but to challenge for honours once again. She was soon celebrating aboard the podium, winning bronze medals in the long jump and sprint relay at the European Championships in Belgrade, before being part of a triumphant 4x110y team that broke the world record against the USA at White City Stadium.

Driven by the memory of her failure in the Eternal City, Rand was determined to make amends when Japan hosted the 1964 Olympics - the first major sports championships to be held in the country. Before the Games, she made clear her objectives when saying: "What I would love to do at the Olympics would be to win with a world record." Most people would just be overjoyed to get their fingers around a gold medal, never mind about the world record. Not Rand.

There was an air of déjà-vu when she dominated the preliminary stages, this time qualifying with an Olympic record (6.52m) next to her name. But, unlike in Rome, that was not to her finest moment. The Soviet favourite Tatyana Shchelkanova and Poland's converted sprint sensation Irena Kirszenstein were left powerless as Rand crushed their hopes with a dazzling display that culminated in a world-record leap.

There was no sign of the attack of nerves that cost her so dearly on Italian soil - far from it as she posted 6.59m, 6.56m, 6.57m and 6.63m on her first four jumps. With plenty still in the tank, Rand took to the wet and soggy runway once more and produced a huge leap of 6.76m to claim gold and the world record which she had craved.

Rand underlined her new-found status as a global star by later adding to her haul in the pentathlon (silver) and the 4x100m relay (bronze) to banish the memory of her Rome heartache and forever immortalise her legacy as the first British woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

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