News & Updates

15 April 2019 • General


Yvette Williams CNZM MBE

The first New Zealand woman to win a gold medal at an Olympic Games Yvette Corlett (nee Williams) of Auckland died on Saturday 13 April 2019.

Pioneer and legendary in New Zealand sport Williams, who was just 12 days off her 90th birthday, won the gold medal in the long jump at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games.

She recently recounted that historic day.

“After having two no jumps I had the fear maybe I would have another no jump again and everybody back home would be so disappointed and I would have a fear to go back home again. Fortunately the third jump was legal and put me in fourth place. The top six competitors could have another three jumps and on the fourth jump I hit the board and first of all, the judge put up a red flag and then changed it for the white. The New Zealand supporters who were in the stand came down on to the track and carried me shoulder high from the pitch with the New Zealand flag draped behind me. I then had to go to the dais and stand on the number one place and to see the New Zealand flag go up and our national anthem play, that was the highlight of my career.”

Her jump of 6.24m was also an Olympic record and two years later, in Gisborne, she leaped a further 4cm to break the women’s long jump world record.

At the Commonwealth Games she won gold in the long jump and silver in the javelin throw at the 1950 Auckland Games, and gold in the long jump, discus throw and shot put at the 1954 Vancouver Games.

A natural athlete, the Dunedin-born sportswoman played netball and basketball, representing New Zealand, before she was introduced to athletics. Her first national title was in shot put in 1947, before she turned her attention to long jump which she won in 1948. In total Williams won 21 national titles in the shot put, discus throw, javelin throw, 80 metre hurdles and long jump.

In the 1953 New Year Honours, Williams was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, for services in women’s athletics. She was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to athletics in the 2011 New Year Honours.

Williams was twice named the New Zealand Sportsman of the Year, in 1950 and 1952 and in 1990, she became one of the first people inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, officially recognised as one of New Zealand sport’s original trailblazers.

In 2000, she was voted Otago Sportsperson of the Century. The “Yvette Williams Retirement Village” in the Dunedin suburb of Roslyn is named in her honour. In 2013, the New Zealand Olympic Committee, in association with the Glenn Family Foundation, established the Yvette Williams Scholarship, to assist young athletes displaying both exceptional talent and need.

Over the years Williams has made a considerable contribution to the community which included organising a campaign in the mid 1950’s which raised many thousands of pounds for the new YMCA facility in central Auckland, coach at the Panmure Athletic Club in the early 1960’s, founded the Pakuranga Athletic Club in 1967, served on the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame Board of Governors from 1990 to 1995, was Patron of Athletics New Zealand from 2003 to 2006 and was Patron of Counties Manukau Athletics Club since 1994.

She taught Physical Education for 15 years, firstly at Otahuhu College for two years and then at Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland, one of her pupils being Sarah Ulmer, Olympic cycling Gold Medallist and world record holder. Williams also actively worked with Special Olympians. Nine years ago she officially opened the Yvette Williams Track, an all-weather track at Lloyd Elsmore Park Pakuranga, named in her honour.

She was a person of great decency, unlimited compassion and respect for all she came in contact with. She has been generous with her time in sharing her expertise and experiences. Williams is one of the greatest athletes this country has produced and was acclaimed New Zealand’s “Athlete of the Century” by the authoritative athletics historian the late Peter Heidenstrom.

Murray McKinnon
Athletics New Zealand Correspondent
0274 806086