The Mesmerizing Mary Rand Part 1: Something About Mary

 

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Ann Packer and Mary Rand with their gold medals

Even the Queen of England was impressed.

After the completion of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Queen Elizabeth had lunch with hundreds of Olympians from TeamGB a few days after their return from Japan, and was most taken with Mary Rand, the sensational triple medalist. Rand won gold in the women’s long jump, silver in the pentathlon and bronze as a member of the women’s 4X100 relay team, leading a resurgence in British track and field.

The Queen is reported to have measured out 22 feet, 2 inches (6.76 meters), the length of Rand’s world record jump that resulted in Great Britain’s first gold of the Tokyo Olympics. According to an October 28, 1964 AP article, the Queen told her son, Prince Andrew, that was the length Rand jumped to win the gold. “‘He just couldn’t believe that anyone could jump that far,’ the queen laughingly told Mrs. Rand at a buffet lunch at the palace Tuesday.”

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Mary Rand with daughter

Not that I am expert on the British Royal Family, but clearly the Queen was taken with Rand. To be fair, many were. She was not only an Olympic champion, she was also perceived as wholesome (with a dash of sensuality). In 1964, she was married and had a daughter and had a reputation for being “nice”, which back then was more positive in nuance. But she also drew the attention of famous rock and rollers. “Apparently Mick Jagger said he’d like to date me,” she says (in this Mirror article). “I wish he’d asked! But then again I was married to my first husband at the time and the mother of a young daughter.”

Here is how Olympic observer, Neil Allen described Rand in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964:

An Italian journalist gave a melting look at the long legs and swinging hips as Mary walked across the grass, then surveyed again the world-record long jump on the indicator board and reluctantly handed me back my binoculars, misty by now. He shook his head in amazement and pronounced the accolade, “All that and a mother too!’

If it was the sheer femininity that struck first, next must come the almost effortless superiority of Mary Rand. Under the pressure of modern sport no British man or woman has ever won an Olympic victory with such authority. Here at last was our Elliott, our Zatopek, our Wilma Rudolph. Our goddess of the arena.

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Mary Rand in Kimono with Ann Packer

The somewhat sexist comments of the era aside, Mary Rand had a rare combination of grace, power and independence that made her arguably one of the most popular women in Tokyo. Her willingness to speak her mind and not to follow the norm may have also intrigued people.

When she was 17 years old, she developed a relationship with young man from Thailand living in England, nearly marrying much to the chagrin of those around her. The “scandal” of this relationship resulted in her being expelled from school.

When she was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, she worked at the postal office in a Guinness factory in London, which fortunately gave her the opportunity to both earn wages and train for the Olympics. And one time, her involuntary need to tell jokes got her in a little trouble: She said in the Mirror article: “One of the benefits I got there was a free Guinness in the work’s canteen at lunchtime. I jokingly told a reporter I had a half pint every day as part of my training routine. The next thing I knew there were headlines about my drinking and I got a long lecture from my coach about putting on weight.”

But Allen wrote in his book that people found Rand’s openness charming:

There are few athletes easier to interview for she is completely honest. And her great sense of fun never allows her to have a moment’s conceit about all her ability in so many events. In her greatest moment of all, in the Olympic interview room, she still had time to grin at the incredulous look on the continental journalist’s face when she said she’d ‘had a rub from Johnny’ just before the long jump. Johnny Johnson is, of course, the dedicated masseur to the British athletics team. To Mary, as always ‘life is a bit of a giggle.’

There was definitely something about Mary.