Yvette Williams was
New Zealand's first ever female Olympic gold medal winner and is widely
regarded as one of New Zealand's greatest ever athletes.
In 1952, Williams dramatically won gold in the long jump at the Helsinki Olympic Games. Williams fouled her first two attempts and was in danger of failing to record a distance but completed a legitimate jump on her third attempt. The top six jumpers, including Williams, continued for three more attempts each. Williams jumped 6.24m for the historic win and returned to New Zealand as a national hero.
She was New Zealand Olympian #76 and only our ninth ever female Olympian.
Williams went on to further sporting success and in 1954 broke the world record for women's long jump with an astonishing leap of 6.29m in Gisborne.
The Dunedin born athlete wasn't only a long jumper, she also competed in discus and shot put, and across her disciplines won a staggering four gold medals and one silver at Commonwealth Games.
She said that while she had natural ability, she built on it with hard work: "I used concrete blocks and sandbags for weights. I'd do an hour of weight training at home in the morning. My uncle, in whose house I was living in Auckland, had built a sort of gym in the spare room, so I'd spend an hour doing callisthenics before I went to work.
"At lunchtime I'd train at the Domain. I ran in army boots for 30-45 minutes. The theory was that when I didn't have the boots on, I'd feel like I was flying. It certainly did feel good without them!
"Then after work I'd be back at the Domain, or at one of the other parks. I'd be watched by Jim Bellwood, my coach. He'd supervise my jumping technique, or my throwing. This session would last a couple of hours."
Yvette Williams was “Sportsman of the Year" twice, in 1950 and 1952, and was voted Athlete of the Decade for the 1950s. She was awarded an MBE in 1953 and was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
Her commitment to, and achievements in, sport were broad. In addition to being an athletics champion in long jump, shot put, discuss, hurdles, javelin and pentathlon – she was also an outstanding athlete competing in basketball and in netball, playing both at provincial and national level.
Off the field of play, Yvette had a unique connection with and willingness to give to New Zealanders.
Out of the spotlight, and subsequent to her Olympic achievements, Yvette dedicated a lifetime to administering, coaching, and teaching sport. She was a founding member of the Pakaranga Athletics Club and fulfilled many roles within the club over the years including secretarial and coaching.
At the same time, for many decades she instructed gymnastics and taught hundreds of young kiwis the fundamental skills that set them up for life. She was an accomplished basketballer, having represented New Zealand, and she played and coached for most of her adult life.
Yvette was also a Physical Education teacher, and through her profession and passion, over many years of teaching, positively impacted young girls at secondary school and encouraged them to follow their dreams.
She also contributed in various ways to many regional sports entities.
In spite of living with significant health issues in recent times, Yvette regularly made appearances at New Zealand Olympic Team events where she took the time to talk to and inspire those around her.
In 2013 she inaugurated the Yvette Williams Scholarship which each year provides financial support for an up and coming athlete. The scholarship draws on a significant donation from Sir Owen Glenn who was personally inspired after meeting Yvette and talking to her about her remarkable achievements and the genuine joy sport brought her.
Williams was a trail blazer and a true beacon of what is possible for women. Her incredible achievements and the ongoing, diverse and sustained gift of her time, skill and passion to so many in the community, placed her in a very special place in the hearts and minds of all New Zealanders, but especially women.
She passed away in April, 2019.