In the first of a two-part series, Viv Thomas speaks to Great Yarmouth runner Anne Pashley about her memories of the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

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Anne Pashley powered out of the blocks in response to the starter’s gun and sped down the cinder track, relay baton in hand.

It was 1956 – the Melbourne Olympics – and the 21-year-old from Great Yarmouth had given her GB team-mates a perfect start to the race, which ended with silver medals all round.

But her running ability might never have been discovered if her family had not moved from Stroud, where sport wasn’t part of the school curriculum, to Norfolk when she was 14.

Anne, who now lives in south-west France, explained: “I went to Stroud High School and we didn’t have sports – they had a day where they did sort of ‘potato in the bucket’. So I didn’t know I could run fast.

“I used to have asthma. We moved mostly because my parents were advised Gloucestershire was not a good area if you had asthma and to go to somewhere a bit more bracing and possibly by the seaside. So I suppose what they did was scan the jobs that were going and that’s why we went to Yarmouth.”

The family settled in the coastal town, with her father teaching at the boys’ grammar school.

Once she was a pupil at Great Yarmouth High School, Anne’s athletics potential was soon abundantly clear.

“I remember at Yarmouth’s Wellesley ground we had a sports day with other schools and I was put in for the 150 yards,” said Anne.

“By the time I got round the bend I couldn’t see anyone and I could see people waving and yelling from my school and I thought ‘God, I shouldn’t have set off’ and I looked around for ages, and then when I had finished I realised I was miles ahead, there was nobody within yards. It was funny, quite a surprise.”

She was approached by Tom Parke, a coach at Great Yarmouth Athletics Club, who invited her to join. His coaching and advice helped put her on the right track to a glittering international career.

But ironically, her speed didn’t help the school hockey team, as she recalled. “I used to get a goal and think ‘ooh good’ and it was always offside. I ran up the wing, I was too fast, so I wasn’t a great asset to them really.”

With the support of her parents, Anne’s running career took off.

“I just used to run when people told me.

“My life was managed by my mother really.

“I’ve got a lot of old newspaper cuttings my mother always collected. Very, very faded looking. They start with ‘wonder 14-year-old’ or something.

“I started as soon as I had come to the high school.”

It wasn’t long before she earned her first international call-up against France and eventually she won a bronze medal in the 100m at the 1954 European Championships held in Berne, Switzerland.

So hopes were high for the Melbourne Olympics two years later which, unusually, were staged in winter, a time when Anne didn’t normally train very much.

“I used to go down to a gymnasium in Yarmouth and we’d do some sort of exercises and a bit of just sort of running up and down but compared to the training now that people do – really heavy training ...” said Anne.

“I didn’t train a lot over winter. My mother thought it was a good idea to have a ‘get fit’ holiday before November and get some sunshine so we went down to do a little tour of the south of France and I can remember running on tracks in Nice and trying to train.”

November arrived. Anne was pictured in the local papers dressed in the British women’s team uniform. It included a navy blue blazer, grey skirt and white shirt, and there was also a white Terylene dress for social occasions, a shoulder bag, suitcase and lipstick.

“I’ve still got most of my outfit,” said Anne.

“I’ve got my blazer and there was a white dress with pleats. We went to that sports shop in Picadilly – Lillywhites – and got measured for complete uniform and everything, and there were two hats. We did look very smart.”

There were just 11 women in the GB athletics team to compete in the nine events on offer at the Games that year, a far cry from nowadays.

All kitted out, Anne was now set for the long journey to Melbourne and the greatest sports show on earth.

● In part two, Anne Pashley shares her memories of the Melbourne Olympics and looks forward to the London Games.

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