You could mount a case that Anne Audain was New Zealand's best performed athlete of the 1980s. By 1990, she had won Commonwealth Games gold and silver medals, set a world record, was New Zealand's fastest woman over three distances, won 10 national titles in five different events and ruled the lucrative American road circuit for the best part of a decade.
Therefore it is a surprise to learn that Audain, born in Auckland in 1955, suffered from deformed feet as a child. She finally had the necessary operations at 13, when her bones were mature enough to withstand surgery. Then she was placed in plaster for six months.
After that she was finally able to play sport seriously. She had to choose a sport that did not involve much sideways movement, so athletics beckoned.
Under coach Gordon Pirie, who had won a 5000m Olympic medal for Britain, the young Anne Garrett, as she was, improved quickly. She was only 15 when she won a national road title and qualified for – thought she was not chosen – the 1972 Olympics.
She kept improving, running sixth in the 1500m at the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games (in 4min 21.05s) and helping the New Zealand women to second place at the world cross-country championships in Rabat, Morocco, in 1975.
She represented New Zealand in the 800m and 1500m at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Though she was only seventh in her 1500m heat, her time of 4min 10.7s was a New Zealand record.
Audain continued to build up an impressive portfolio of national titles – on the road and the track. But then her career stalled and it was the appearance of coach John Davies that reignited it.
Davies gave her training purpose and Audain, who had been overweight and lacking motivation when she met him, suddenly became a great runner.
In 1981 she moved to the United States and attacked the American road circuit. She was a sensation, winning 10 of her 13 races, including the big Cascade Run-off in Portland. Audain was also one of three New Zealand women – along with Lorraine Moller and Allison Roe – who publicly accepted prizemoney and were therefore declared professional.
For a time their athletics futures were in doubt, but soon, given a nudge by the action of the New Zealanders, the sport went “open” and everyone was able to accept money above the table.
In 1982 and 1983 Audain won a total of 29 races on the American roads from 31 starts. Among those who trailed in her wake was the Norwegian star Grete Waitz.
She continued to shine on the track, too, setting a world record of 15min 13.22s for the 5000m in Auckland in 1982 and, even more memorably, holding off Englishwoman Wendy Sly to win the 3000m gold medal at the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games. Her time was an Australian, New Zealand and Games record of 8min 45.5s. Kimberley Smith finally beat that New Zealand record in 2007.
With no track race longer than 3000m then on the Olympic schedule, she set her sights on the marathon for the 1984 Olympics, qualifying with a superb 2h 32min 7s in Los Angeles. However, in the same city she came unstuck during the Olympics, when the heat got to her and, suffering from dehydration, she was forced to withdraw and was taken to hospital.
Though her unscheduled absence mystified and worried New Zealand officials, she was soon located and suffered no lasting effects.
She continued to rule the American road circuit and had other successes, too, including helping New Zealand claim the Hiroshima international relay title in 1986 and that same year claiming silver in the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games 10,000m behind home-town favourite Liz Lynch.
At the 1988 Olympics, Audain scraped into the 10,000m final, where she finished 11th in 32min 10.47s.
She continued to run well and earn good money in the United States, and had her final Games outing at the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games. Below her best, she finished 11th in the 10,000m in 33min 40.13s. During her long career, she competed in three Olympics and four Commonwealth Games.
In 1993, Audain founded the Idaho Women's Fitness Celebration 5000m race, which became the largest women's 5000m race in the United States.
Her biography, Uncommon Heart, was published in 2000 and a documentary film, Anne Audain: Running Her Way, premiered in 2009.
She was awarded an MBE in 1995. In 2008 Audain was inducted into the Running USA Hall of Champions, and in 2009 she was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.