Athletics Australia Hall of Fame
Debbie Flintoff-King OAM (1960 – )
Debbie Flintoff was born in Melbourne and started athletics as a hurdler, long jumper and pentathlete. Competing for Frankston she first appeared in the senior state championships in 1979 when she placed fourth in the 100m hurdles in 14.9 seconds.
Debbie tried many events and at the 1980 Victorian Championships, won the pentathlon with 3,444 points, placed third in the 100m hurdles (14.94), fourth in the high jump (1.67m) and ninth in the long jump (4.95m), gaining selection for the National Championships in Sydney where she finished sixth in the pentathlon with 3,703 points.
At this stage coached by Henri Schubert, Debbie began running 400m hurdles in late 1980 and by December had lowered her personal best to 59.34. She was also regularly running 400 metre flat races. At the 1981 nationals in Adelaide she finished second in the hurdles behind Lyn Foreman in 57.94.
With the 1982 Commonwealth Games approaching Debbie changed coaches, joining future husband Phil King who had a swimming background. He quickly adapted to athletics with startling results. Debbie won the Nationals in Brisbane in 56.43 beating Lyn. Both women travelled to Europe with Debbie gaining valuable experience.
Both ran well at the selection trials and made the team for Brisbane. A month later in October, Debbie was the Commonwealth champion in 55.89, whilst Lyn finished fifth. Debbie also ran the third leg of 4x400m relay, which finished second.
Victory in the 1983 Nationals in Melbourne in 56.90 brought selection for the first IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. Debbie had a good build-up and made the semi-finals running 56.63 to miss the final by one place.
A repeat success in the 1984 Nationals, also in Melbourne in 56.88 preceded a preparation for her first Olympics. Debbie raced well in the pre-meets in the USA and made the final in Los Angeles. She stumbled at the start of the final but fortunately the starter recalled the field. She got away well in the re-start and finished sixth in the final in 56.21. Debbie then flew to Berlin where she had a good win in 56.02.
Debbie was getting stronger all the time and attempted the double at the 1985 Nationals in Canberra. She succeeded in winning both in 52.05 for the flat and a new Australian record for the hurdles in 55.03, then finished a great championship by anchoring the winning Victorian 4x400m relay team.
Success on the international circuit followed, finally cracking the 55 second barrier in Berlin where she was second in 54.87 before further lowering her national record to 54.80 in finishing second in the IAAF Grand Prix Final in Rome to Judi Brown-King of the USA.
The 1985 World Cup was held in October in Canberra and Debbie was selected to represent Oceania in three events, including the long relay. She finished third in the hurdles in 55.34 behind the powerful East German Sabine Busch 54.44 and Brown-King of the USA 55.10 but ahead of the Olympic champion Nawal El Moutawakil of Morocco.
She finished sixth in 51.57 in one of the hottest 400m fields assembled. Another East German, Marita Koch, won the race in the amazing world record of 47.60 which still stands in 2008, from Olga Vladykina of the USSR 48.27 who would go onto win the 1988 Olympic title. Also in the field were dual 1983 world champion and former world record holder the Czech Jarmila Kratochvilova and future dual world 800m champion Ana Quirot of Cuba.
Debbie’s program for the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh again included the three events and her lead up form was again impressive. She again won the double at the 1986 Nationals in Adelaide in 52.03 and 54.28 plus the relay win. Her lead up races in Europe included a new national record of 53.76 win in Oslo and 54.00 win in Nice. She also ran a personal best of 50.78 for 400m finishing third at Crystal Palace, London.
The devastating boycott of the 1986 Commonwealth Games by more than three quarters of the countries over apartheid in South Africa left all the fields depleted, but Debbie still had to beat the strong British and Canadian runners and won the double in 51.29 and 54.19. Her 51.1 final leg of the relay brought Australia home in third place.
Debbie missed most of the 1986/87 domestic season and only ran the Victorian Championships winning the 400 metres in 53.96. But by the European season, she was in form and her lead up to the 1987 World Championships in Rome went well including a good win in Cologne in 53.95. Drawing the outside lane in the final in Rome, Debbie came home strongly in a portent of things to come to finish second in 54.19 behind Busch’s 53.62. Her European tour ended with a good second in Brussels in 54.56.
Debbie and Phil’s preparations were by then all geared towards the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Although injuries had affected her preparations, she won the Nationals in Perth in 56.27 and then headed to Europe where she ran well without recording startling times. A 54.05 win in Berlin however confirmed they were on track for Seoul.
Personal tragedy then struck with the death of Debbie’s older sister Noeline, two weeks before the Olympic final. But Debbie’s inner strength and all the preparation came to the fore, assisting her to win both her heat and semi-final in 54.99 and 54.00. The final saw the Belorussian Tatyana Ledovskaya running for the USSR, race to the lead and build an apparently insurmountable lead coming to the last hurdle. Then suddenly she tired, as the Australian vest closed. In a desperate finish Debbie threw herself at the tape winning by the barest margin 53.17 to 53.18. This was the second fastest ever recorded at the time, barely missing the world record but delivering gold.
Debbie decided that she would go onto the next Commonwealth Games and then retire to start a family but in the end, did not run domestically in 1988/89.
She went to Europe late 1989 running the major IAAF Grand Prix meets in August/September with a best run of 54.42 in Rieti, Italy. Returning home she competed domestically and won the selection trial in Sydney in December in 55.36. But aiming to defend her title once again in Auckland, Debbie came up against the next Olympic and world champion in England’s Sally Gunnell and had to be content with second in 56.00 behind Gunnell’s 55.38. Debbie again ran the anchor leg of the 4x400m team but she could not close the gap on England and collected a second silver for the meet.
Surprisingly Debbie did not retire immediately after Auckland and returned to competition in early 1991 to win her ninth national title, in Sydney in 56.65 just beating Gail Millar-Luke (56.66). However that was it for Debbie who retired and with Phil, started her family.
Paul Jenes, Peter Hamilton, Australian Athletic Results
Mark Butler, IAAF Statistics Handbook 2007
Mark Butler, Olympic Athletic Statistics Book 2008
Peter Matthews, ATFS Annuals 1983-91
Rob Whittingham, Stan Greenberg, Paul Jenes, Athletics at the Commonwealth Games
Graham Thomas, Track and Field Athletics Australia