The women’s pentathlon, like the men’s decathlon, are challenging endurance competitions that require capability in a variety of athletic disciplines. A significant weakness in one discipline could sink you. And like C. K. Yang in the decathlon, Mary Rand had difficulty throwing heavy things.
Rand was the brightest star of a resurgent British track and field team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In fact, it’s stunning to think of the punishing schedule she had to compete in the long jump (October 14), in the pentathlon (October 16-17) and in the women’s 4X100 relay (October 20-21). So there are several factors one could take into account, for Rand’s results, including the heavy lifting she needed to do for TeamGB.
But in the end, Rand’s ability to heave a 4kg shot was her undoing.
The women’s pentathlon in 1964 was a two-day event that featured the 80-meter hurdles, the shot put, the high jump, the long jump and the 200 meter sprint. Against strong Soviet competition, as well as a fellow member of the British team, Rand won three of the five competitions: the high jump, the 200 meters, as well as the long jump, the event she was awarded gold only three days before.
In the first event, the 80-meter hurdles, the two Soviet athletes, Irina Press and Galina Bystrova, nipped Rand at the tape by 0.2 seconds. In other words, Rand had the best or second best scores in 4 of the 5 pentathlon competitions.
Here are the results of the 1964 women’s pentathlon.
You can clearly see that Rand’s shot put of 11.05 meters was poor, over 6 meters short of Irina Press’s toss. Each result in the pentathlon converts into points, and as you can see, Rand’s shot put score was 384 points behind Press’s score. The end result was that Rand was 211 total points off of Press’s total score. So let’s play the “what if” game. If Rand had thrown as well as her compatriot, Mary Peters, the additional 226 points would have given Rand the world record and the gold medal.
Press appeared to be both impressed and flummoxed with Rand, incredulous that Rand would not work harder to improve her shot putting, as Neil Allen implies in his book, Olympic Diary Tokyo 1964:
[Irina Press] does not possess the extraordinary natural talent of Mary Rand; but unlike the British girl she has no weakness in her athletics armoury. Mary beat the Russian in three of the five events but her shot putting, which has always been miserably poor, let her down yesterday and not even a superb long jump today could make up the deficit. At the medal presentation Irina Press told me she could not understand why Mary, with the minimum work, could not put the shot at least over 42 ft. (12.8 meters)
So second place it was for Mary Rand. With a gold in the long jump and a silver in the pentathlon, Rand thought out loud in an AP article from October 19, 1964 that “a bronze from the relay would complete the set.”
Unfortunately for her sprinting teammates, Rand got what she wished for.