NORMA (CROKER) FLEMING (11 Sep 1934 – )
Norma Croker began athletics at Brisbane State High School but it was not until 1956 that she really emerged on the national scene.
Representing Queensland at the 1956 National Women’s championships on the Brisbane Cricket Ground she finished fourth in the 100 yards in a blanket finish won by Wendy Hayes. Norma had won her heat in 10.8 against one of the favourites Marlene Mathews.
Norma’s boyfriend Lloyd Fleming had said if she won her heat they could get engaged and Norma was therefore doubly elated with her heat win. Norma also contested the 220 yards in which she finished in the bronze medal position in 25.3 secs. It was the beginning of a very special nine months
In June of that year Norma ran 10.6 for the 100 yards and by October she was rounding into top form, running world class times 11.6 secs for 100 metres and 23.5 secs for 200 metres in Brisbane. She was in the right shape at the right time. The golden era of Australian women’s sprinting was building to its crescendo.
The Olympic selection trials were held in Melbourne a week later and Norma finished third in both the 100 and 200 metres. She was selected for both the 200 metres and 4x100 metres relay.
The Melbourne Olympics began a month later and Norma finished a comfortable second in her heat of the 200 metres in 25.10 secs behind Germany’s 100 metres silver medallist Christa Stubnick.
The really serious running began in the afternoon semis where Norma finished third in the first semi behind team mate Betty Cuthbert and Stubnick but inches ahead of one of the favourites, Maria Itkina of the USSR. Norma’s time was 24.41 secs. The final was held the following day and again into a headwind Norma improved to 24.22 secs to finish fourth closely behind third placegetter Marlene Mathews with winner Betty Cuthbert running 23.55 secs.
The heat and final of the 4x100 metres relay was held on the last day of athletics at the Games. Norma ran the second leg for Australia in the team with Shirley Strickland, Fleur Mellor and Betty Cuthbert. They won the first heat in 44.9 secs (45.00) in a new world record. In the afternoon the team broke their own world record with 44.5 secs (44.65) to win. Together they had lopped over half a second off the pre-Games world mark.
Norma was the first Queenslander to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics.
Norma married Lloyd in 1957 and they had their first child in 1958 thereby missing the 1958 Commonwealth Games. However she made a comeback and at the 1960 Women’s National Championships on the North Hobart oval, competing as Norma Fleming she finished sixth in the 100 yards in 11.1 secs and third in the 220 yards in 23.4 secs. There was also a silver medal when she contested the long jump with a best of 5.99m. She was selected for her second Olympics in three events.
The Rome Olympics were not a happy hunting ground for our sprinters generally but Norma turned out to be the best of them. She was second in her heat of the 200 metres in 24.35 secs. The semis were held two days later but unfortunately for Norma she was drawn in the tougher of the two heats, finishing fourth in 24.44 secs to miss a place in the final. The winner of the second semi ran 24.69 secs.
On the opening day of athletics in Rome, Norma qualified for the final of the long jump with 5.80m, the exact qualifying distance needed. In the final that afternoon sheimproved to 5.82m to finish 15th.
A week later in Cardiff in Wales, Norma jumped 6.06m for a PB. On her return she retired from athletics.
Alongside her Olympic gold, when Norma retired she had played her part in four world records – all achieved within five days of each other in late 1956. To back up those two superb Olympic performances, the Golden Girls headed to Sydney on 5 December to attack the imperial distance world marks for 4 x 110yards and 4 x 220yards, securing both.
Norma ran the second leg on all four occasions.
Athletics Australia Statistician
Queensland Courier Mail; Queensland Sport Hall of Fame; Fletcher McEwen - Australian Annual Ranking Lists; Paul Jenes, Peter Hamilton, David Tarbotton, Fletcher McEwen - Australian Athletics History; Brian Roe