MARILYN BLACK (20 May 1944 -
Marilyn Black was educated at Fort Street High in Sydney and was a member of Western Suburbs Athletics Club.
She first came to notice beyond her home state at the 1960 Australian Women’s Championships at North Hobart Oval in Tasmania, finishing fifth in the junior 100 yards in 11.6secs after a quick 11.2secs in her heat. In October she lowered her best to 10.7secs and was by then ranked sixth in the country.
Marilyn equalled that 10.7secs PB early in 1961 as well as running a windy 10.4secs. She also recorded a slick 24.2secs for 220 yards. But her major successes that year were undoubtedly victories in the New South Wales titles at 100 yards in 10.8secs and 220 yards in 24.6secs.
In 1962 Marilyn missed the 1962 Women’s Nationals in Adelaide but entered the Selection Trials in Melbourne for the 1962 Perth British Empire and Commonwealth Games. She finished fifth in both the 100 yards (in 11.4secs) and the 220 yards (in 26.0secs), missing selection.
The 1963 Women’s National Championships were in Brisbane. Marilyn finished fifth in the 100 yards and sixth in the 220 yards but there was a first national senior medal as a member of the New South Wales relay team that took silver.
Olympic year 1964 started well for Marilyn winning the State 100 yards in 10.5secs and 220 yards title in 23.7secs. The women’s Nationals were also the Olympic Trials and were held at Royal Park, Melbourne. Huge headwinds destroyed any chance of fast times in the sprints with West Australia’s Joyce Bennett winning the 100 yards in 11.0secs just ahead of Dianne Bowering (South Australia) with Marilyn third - both timed at 11.1secs. The wind at their faces was heart-breaking at -3.5m/sec.
The 220 yards faced headwinds almost as strong (-3.2m). Again Joyce was victorious in 24.6secs with Marilyn taking a further bronze, fourth tenths back.
But the selectors comprehending the strength of Australian women’s sprinting took the wind into account and chose a full complement of female sprinters and a relay team. Marilyn Black’s name appeared on the list. She was Tokyo-bound.
In September in Sydney there were pre-Olympic competitions and Marilyn was in shape - recording a windy 11.2 for 100 metres which equalled the world record. Unfortunately whilst the wind was on this occasion assisting, it was well over the limit for records at +4.7m.
At the Tokyo Games Marilyn began her campaign strongly - winning heat 6 of the 100 metres in 11.58secs and her quarter final in 11.4secs. The following day she finished second in her semi-final behind Cuba’s Miguelina Cobian 11.62 to 11.63 secs.
At just 20 years of age and despite never having finished higher than third in her own national championships, Marilyn was an Olympic finalist. She finished sixth in 11.73secs behind the winner - Wyomia Tyus (USA).
The 200 metres heats were held two days later and the now suddenly internationally credentialed Australian was second in her heat behind Edith McGuire (USA) 23.47 to 23.78secs. In a tough schedule, the semi-finals were on the same day but Marilyn was up to the task winning the second in 23.42secs.
But it was in the final the following day that Marilyn ran the race of her life. Drawn on the outside lane she was fastest away and led into the straight, eventually passed only by McGuire (who won in 23.05) and Poland’s Irena Kirszenstein (23.13) to claim bronze with a huge PB of 23.18.
Marilyn then joined Dianne Bowering, Margaret Burvill and Joyce Bennett in the relay. They finished fourth in their heat in 45.28secs and were sixth in the final in 45.0secs with Marilyn running the back straight.
Marilyn retired after the 1964 Olympics and married sixth placegetter in the 400 metres Peter Vassella. In her single Games appearance she had run in the final in each of the three events in which she participated.
In a short but successful career, Marilyn acquired an impressive array of personal bests: 100 yards – 10.5secs, 100m – 11.4secs, 220 yds – 23.7secs and 200m – 23.18secs.
An Olympic medal is forever but 52 years on at the time of her induction into the Athletics Australia Hall of Fame it is fitting to note that such was the quality of her performance, Marilyn’s 23.18 would have qualified for the 2016 Games in Rio.
Paul Jenes OAM
Athletics Australia Statistician
Acknowledgements: Mark Butler, IAAF Athletics Statistics Book; Paul Jenes, Fields of Green, Lanes of Glory; Paul Jenes, Peter Hamilton, Fletcher McEwen & David Tarbotton, Australian Athletic Results; Fletcher McEwen, Australian Rankings; Ray White, 100 Years of the NSW AAA; Official Olympic Book, Tokyo 1964; Brian Roe