When you emerge victorious far from home, people may say that the hometown folks are all so excited about your accomplishments. But you don’t understand that until you finally make it home. Just in the recent Rio Olympics, the greetings that Joseph Schooling got in Singapore and the Fijian Rugby 7’s team got on their return home were beyond what any average citizen can comprehend.
Even back in 1964, decades before the internet brought us instantaneous news, in many cases, Olympic medalist often returned home as conquering heroes. The same was true for Brit Mary Rand, who won three medals at the Tokyo Olympics: a gold in the long jump, a silver in the pentathlon and a bronze in the 4×100 relay. But in the 1960s, athletes had to deal with the extra burden of deciding whether to go professional or not, regaled with offers that often seemed irresistible.
Along with her fellow members of TeamGB, Rand landed after a long flight from Japan, had a champagne breakfast at 6 am, and were told they had to ready for lunch at Buckingham Palace, to meet the Queen of England.
As Rand related in her autobiography, “Mary Mary“, the Queen said she explained to her son, Prince Andrew, how far Rand had jumped by measuring out the Olympic record of 6.52 meters on the floor in the palace. The conversation about the Queen’s son reminded Rand that she still had not seen her own daughter, Alison. They had not seen in each other in weeks, and so Rand’s description of the mother-child reunion is charming:
She came into the room with Diane. She looked at me and I could see she wanted to come to me, but she was looking at me as if to say, “If you think I’m going to make a fuss of you when you’ve been away this long, you’re wrong.” But she came over, and then she in my arms, I was terribly cut-up and I had to hold back the tears so as not to upset her.
There were the ticker tape parades, first in Henley, and then in her hometown of Wells. Then came the invitations to dinners and luncheons, opening and to shows….and as she explained of her quandary: “you were really expected to do all these things – it was very hard to say no – and a woman can’t just turn up in the same old dress each time.”
Mary Rand was not only a hero, she was marketable. Seen as part sexy siren and girl next door, accentuated by being Great Britain’s first female gold medalist, commercial opportunities came flying her way. But going commercial would come at a cost.
I could make money if I wanted to, straightaway. In Tokyo I’d get a telegram offering me a contract to feature in advertisements. Every day a lot more offers were coming in. Possibly there was much as GBP20,000 to be made. Of course it would mean giving up my amateur status and never competing again. But when you love a sport it’s hard to resign yourself to just suddenly giving up forever. You’re scared of committing yourself and then eventually thinking, one fine morning, how great it would be to get out on with our new house, there lots of financial commitments to be met, and the money was very tempting.
Fortunately, she found an agent who helped think it through. Were there opportunities out there that would not jeopardize her amateur status and maintain her potential to continue competing? One job they settled on quickly – a column for the Sunday Mirror, which paid her to write about housekeeping. She was safe as long as she didn’t write about athletics! (Yes, those days are long gone.)
When Rand was in Cannes for the debut of Kon Ichikawa’s film on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics at the film festival, she was approached with a very intriguing idea by film producers:
The idea was for a series of ‘women James Bond’ films. They said they thought I’d be great as a female 007, with my build and athletic ability. It was a fantastic idea, they said, it could be a huge success, on the other hand it could be a complete flop. They talked about locations like the South Sea Islands, the South Pole, Japan. It was terribly exciting but I was wary too. I wasn’t sure how provocative I was going to have to be in the roles – and how long it would mean being away from home. I told them I’d have to talk it over with my husband.
Rand was actually offered a contract for the female Bond films. When she examined the details, she realized that she would be away from home for such long stretches that it would take her away from what she wanted to be: a mother, and an athlete.
So it was no for “Rand. Mary Rand.”