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Mary Rand MBE

 

Mary Denise Rand, MBE, (née Bignal) (born 10th February 1940) is a former English track-and-field athlete. She won the gold medal in the long jump at the 1964 Summer Olympics by breaking the world record, becoming the first-ever British female to win an Olympic gold medal in a track and field event. She is the daughter of Eric and Hilda Bignal. She was born and grew up in Wells, Somerset, England.

At the age of 16, Millfield School offered her an athletics scholarship. She excelled in all sports and won All-England Schools' titles. She was outstanding at high jump, long jump and hurdles. In 1956, she was invited as a guest of the Olympic squad at a training camp in Brighton, where she beat Britain's best high jumpers. At the age of 17, Rand set a British national record of 4046 points in the pentathlon. She won a silver medal in the 1958 Commonwealth Games long jump and came fifth in the high jump. One month later she came seventh in the European pentathlon championships.

In the 1960 Olympics in Rome, she set a British record of 6.33m in the qualifying round of the long jump, which if repeated, would have won her a silver in the final. In the final she fouled two of the three jumps and finished ninth. She also finished fourth in the 80m hurdles. She won a bronze medal in the European Championship long jump in 1962.

At the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Rand set an Olympic record in the long jump in the qualifying rounds jumping 6.52m. In the final she beat the favourite Tatyana Schelkanova of the USSR and Poland's Irena Kirszenstein. Her first jump of 6.59m was a British record. However in the fifth round, on a wet runway with a headwind of 1.6 metres per second, she broke the world record, leaping 6.76m to take gold. To add to her gold in the long jump, she won a silver medal in the pentathlon (her total of 5035 points putting her in second place in the all-time rankings). She was beaten to the gold medal by Irina Press, whose biological sex has long been the subject of speculation. She also won a bronze as a member of the Great Britain team that finished third in the 4x100 metres relay.

Six days after Mary won the gold medal, her room-mate Ann Packer won gold in the 800 metres. Ann Packer said: "Mary was the most gifted athlete I ever saw. She was as good as athletes get, there has never been anything like her since. And I don't believe there ever will."

Rand was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1965 New Year's Honours List and voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year for 1964.

After Tokyo, her training was less intensive, but she won a gold medal in the long jump at the 1966 Commonwealth Games. Due to injury, she failed to make the 1968 British Olympic team and decided to retire in September that year.

Rand also held the world record in the triple jump from 1959 to 1981; it was unofficial as a world record in the women's triple jump was not recognised by the International Association of Athletics Federations until 1990.

 

There is a plaque commemorating the world record long jump (6.76 metres) by Rand at the 1964 Olympic Games located in the Market Place in her home cathedral city of Wells. She was succeeded as the Golden Girl of British athletics by her friend and London Olympiades club-mate, Lillian Board.

In 2009, she was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame. On 26 January 2012 Rand's home cathedral city of Wells, Somerset in England decided to award her the Freedom of the City, following a campaign started by Wells resident Tony Williams.

She met oarsman Sid Rand in 1961. Three days after meeting she agreed to marry him and they married five weeks later. They had a daughter, Alison. The marriage lasted five years. In December 1969, she married her second husband, American Bill Toomey, the 1968 Olympics' decathlon champion. This marriage lasted 22 years and they had two daughters, Samantha and Sarah. She later married John Reese and she lives with him in Atascadero in the United States. She now holds joint UK/US citizenship.