MICHELE MARY MASON-BROWN (3 Jul 1939 – )
Michele Mason was a little known high jumper from Sydney who began athletics in January 1956 to help her overcome health problems with asthma and bronchitis. Almost immediately her career took off.
At age seventeen, while still at school she, later that year, won a place in the Australian Olympic team at the selection trials held in October. The following month, at the Melbourne Olympic Games Michele cleared 1.67m to finish sixth on the count back. This was the same height that won the silver medal and this was Michele’s first major competition – a remarkable achievement.
She won the New South Wales title in 1957 competing for the Ryde women’s club, the first of five state championships. At the 1958 national women’s championships in Sydney Michele cleared the imperial equivalent of 1.675m to beat team-mate, Helen Frith on the count back. Both gained selection for the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff where Michele jumped 1.70m to beat New Zealand’s Mary Donaghy on a count back for gold.
Michele did not compete in 1959. She was not a heavy trainer, generally turning out for sessions twice a week. She used the scissors technique throughout her career. Originally mentored by Vern Rundle at her club for a short period, she was then self-trained until she married Bob Brown, the 1962 Commonwealth Games hammer representative, who then took over as her coach.
At the 1960 national women’s championships in Hobart Michele took bronze with 1.675m behind Helen Frith who cleared 1.70m. Two weeks later she cleared 1.73m in Brisbane. beating Frith on count back. However to her disappointment, Michele was not selected for the Rome Olympic team.
She improved her personal best to 1.75m in 1961 and in 1962 she won a place in the Commonwealth Games Team at the trials held in Melbourne. In Perth at the Games Michele cleared 1.73m to win bronze behind teammates Robyn Woodhouse and Frith.
In 1963 Michele won the NSW title and then finished second in the national women’s championships at Lang Park, Brisbane to Woodhouse, both clearing 1.73m.
In 1964 Michele reversed places with Woodhouse at the women’s nationals at Royal Park, Melbourne, where both again cleared 1.73m. Both were selected for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.
In Tokyo, the two Aussie girls qualified for the final after clearing 1.70m. In the final, in a long drawn out competition Michele hit top form clearing 1.80m to win a silver medal behind world record holder, Iolanda Balas of Romania who won with a best of 1.90m. Woodhouse finished eleventh.
In November of that year Michele cleared 1.835m in Sydney to be the second woman in history to clear 6 feet after Balas.
Michele did not compete in 1965 but made a comeback in 1966, winning the women’s nationals in Sydney with 1.675m, by beating Carolyn Wright on count back, and earning selection for her third Commonwealth Games.
In July, en route to the Caribbean for the Games she won the high jump in Los Angeles with 1.75m whilst representing the British Commonwealth against the USA. In Kingston, Jamaica in August she won her second Commonwealth title at 1.73m, beating England’s Dorothy Shirley and team-mate, Woodhouse.
Michele Mason Brown retired after the 1966 Commonwealth Games – a multiple international medalist. She had enormous talent, clearing 1.88m in training. However, despite her great achievements, high jumping for her was always just for fun.
Paul Jenes OAM
Acknowledgements: Paul Jenes, Fields of Green, Lanes of Gold; Fletcher McEwen; Graham Thomas - Athletics Gold; Ray White & Malcolm Harrison - 100 Years of the NSW AAA