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A nation in mourning... Olympic champion Betty Cuthbert loses her battle with multiple sclerosis

The four-time gold medallist has tragically passed away at the age of 79.

By Jacqui King
Betty Cuthbert

Australian Olympic champion Betty Cuthbert has died at the age of 79, after losing a long battle with multiple sclerosis.

At just 18 years old, the athletics athlete was the star of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, taking home gold medals in the 100 metres, 200 metres (for which she set a world record) and 4x100 metres relay events.

Known for her incredible sporting achievements, she was also identified with her distinctive running style – high knees and a wide-open mouth. This method clearly worked for her – to this day, she remains the only Olympian to hold the title for golds in all sprint events (the 100m, 200m and 400m). Ian Thorpe is the only Aussie to have won more gold medals.

A hamstring injury halted her from winning more medals at the 1960 Olympics and she announced her retirement. She couldn’t stay down for long, though – she made her comeback at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, securing her fourth gold medal for her quick dash in the 400 metres.

Since then, she was a torch bearer at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics to an adoring crowd and was inducted into the Athletics Australia Hall of Fame.

Betty with her gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
Betty with her gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics

In a horrible twist of fate, the sporting hero began experiencing the signs of multiple sclerosis in 1969 and was eventually diagnosed in 1974. Not one to let it defeat her livelihood, she dedicated the rest of her life to raising awareness about the condition.

There has been an outpouring of tributes this morning for the beloved and inspiring athlete:

Our thoughts go out to all those who loved and knew Betty during this difficult time.

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