• Shirley Strickland in action during Women's 80M Hurdles at the MCG (Photo by John G. Zimmerman /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
From Shirley Strickland in 1952 to Sally Pearson in 2012, Australia has a storied history in athletics at the Olympics
Ann Odong

2 Jul 2016 - 5:00 PM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2016 - 5:00 PM

Last week defending Olympic 110m hurdles champion Sally Pearson announced that injury will force her out of the Rio 2016 Olympics.  

While a blow for the Queenslander, it doesn't take away from her London 2012 gold medal winning performance where she joined a list of legendary Australian athletics Olympics champions.   

1.  Shirley de la Hunty (nee Strickland)

A sprinter and hurdler, De la Hunty was Australia's first female athletic superstar.  Competing in the 80m hurdles and 100m, Strickland was the first Australian woman to win an Olympic track and field medal when she won bronze in both her pet events at the 1948 London Olympics.  

Four years later she headed to the 1952 Helskinki Olympics where she went two better to become the first Australian track and field gold medallist when she won the 80m hurdles.  

In her final Olympics, the formidable Strickland added two more gold medals by defending her 80m Hurdles title and assisting Australia to gold in the 4 x 100m Relay. 


2. Betty Cuthbert

Cuthbert was the first Australian athlete to win a gold medal on Australian soil. 

At the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, the sprinter enthralled the crowds in winning the coveted sprint double; 100m sprint and 200m sprint.  Cuthbert then joined Strickland to anchor Australia to gold in the 4 x 100m Relay.  


3. Maureen Jones (nee Caird)

At the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, Caird continued Australia's strong history in the hurdles.  

Aged 17, Caird edged out countrywoman Pam Kilbourne, and the best hurdler in the world, to claim the 80m Hurdles title.  At that time Caird was the youngest-ever individual Olympic athletics champion. 

4.  Glynis Nunn

With four events on one day (100 metres hurdles, high jump, shot-put, 200 metres) and and three events on the second  (long jump, javelin, and 800 metres), the heptathlon is a true test of an athletes endurance, strength and speed.  

Introduced at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Nunn became the first female winner of the multi-discipline event as she beat out hometown hero, and eventual legend, Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

5.  Debbie Flintoff-King

The 400m is considered one of the toughest events. It's not quite middle distance and not quite a sprint. Now add hurdles and you have one of the most gruelling events on the track and field Olympic schedule.  

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Flintoff-King pulled off one of the great Olympic victories by coming from behind to claim a last stride gold medal.  It capped from a great career that also including Commonwealth Gold in 1982 and 1986. 

6. Cathy Freeman

From the beginning of her career, Freeman was a 400m star.  In 1994 she became the first Aboriginal sprinter to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and was one of the favourites for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics but just fell short to Marie-José Pérec in taking the silver medal.

At the Sydney 2000 Olympics the stage was set for Freeman and she didn't disappoint in winning Australia women's athletics gold medal in 12 years.  

7. Sally Pearson (nee McLellan)

From Freeman's heroics it would be another 12 years for Australia to be once again at the top of the podium.  

Pearson burst into the public consciousness in 2008 when she surprised the field, and herself, to win silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and produced one of the great post match interviews.  

Four years later Pearson entered the 2012 London Olympics as the world champion and hot favourite.  Once again it was a photo finish but this time she came out on top in an Olympic record time and became the first Australian woman since Freeman to win Olympic Gold on the track.