Anne Pashley tells Viv Thomas her memories of winning a silver medal at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 - and looks forward to the London Games.

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The British team marched round the track behind the Union Flag at the Melbourne Olympics opening ceremony.

Amongst them was 21-year-old athlete Anne Pashley, from Great Yarmouth, all set to compete in the 100m and the sprint relay.

But her hopes for a medal in the individual 100m were dashed in the heats after she was given a bad lane on the inside of the new cinder track.

Anne, now 76, explained: “I got the inside lane for my 100, where everyone runs on long-distance races, to my downfall. It was really, really churned up. It was like running on sand really - I was unlucky.”

But what happened next provided the perfect silver lining after that bitter disappointment.

“I always loved the relay,” she said. “It was fun. I did the start so it was quite a responsibility. We used to practice quite a lot - it’s quite a technical business actually, very easy to get wrong.”

Anne set off at a cracking pace, getting the better of Olympic hurdles champion Shirley Strickland (Australia), to hand over the baton in first place.

However, the Australian team had double sprint gold medallist Betty Cuthbert waiting on the anchor leg and she brought the team home in first place in 44.5 seconds, a new World and Olympic record. The British quartet’s time of 44.7 was also well within the old records.

Immediately after the race Anne was “terribly deflated” as, from where she was standing, it looked like Cuthbert had overtaken Armitage and snatched the gold medal from Britain. She soon learned her team-mate had actually got the baton afterwards and put up a great fight to produce a thrilling finish to the race.

She has since seen footage of the relay. “It was very close. Heather Armitage did a trememdous run and nearly caught Betty Cuthbert up - but not quite.”

As a delighted Anne lined up to receive the prestigious medal she wondered how they would all balance on the small podium - her, Jean Scrivens, June Foulds and Heather Armitage.

Memories of the heady days of 1956 are still fresh all these years later for Anne, now living in a small town near Toulouse in France, close to her daughter and two grandchildren (her son still lives in Britain).

She recalled her feelings on receiving the silver medal: “Fantastic, fantastic. Apart from it being very difficult to get four people on a box and wondering whether you might fall off and look really stupid. Yes, very exciting. I have still got the medal, have to bring it out from time to time for the kids to look at.”

Anne stayed in Australia for a short time after the Olympics and beat Strickland at a meeting in Sydney, “which was rather gratifying”.

But she decided not to compete again after that year, something she has a twinge of regret about now. “I’m slightly sad that I gave up so soon but I was so disappointed with the Olympic solo performance and the next thing to be keep going for was the next Empire Games in Cardiff in two years’ time and it didn’t seem a terribly exciting proposition. Also I had already started having trouble with my back. I’ve got terrible arthritis now.”

Few people find international fame in one sphere, let alone two. Anne started a new chapter in her life, moving to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music where she met her late husband Jack Irons. She became a renowned opera singer, performing as a soprano all over Europe.

The couple decided to move to France about 20 years ago and their daughter followed suit later on.

In 2006 Great Yarmouth council invited Anne back to the town for a special presentation to mark her achievements of 50 years before.

Had the town changed much since she lived there? “No, not really, funnily enough. The market square in the middle still selling fish and chips and welks - and the seafront. It didn’t seem to have changed a great deal. It’s a lovely place. Some school friends turned up for that presentation - elderly ladies (laughs), all the elderly ladies including me. I write to them from time to time.”

Athletics has changed massively since her competitive days: “The idea of women doing marathons would be extraordinary then,” she said.

And a key difference now was money. “It’s professional now, isn’t it. The athletes these days are paid massive amounts for the tours they do. Nobody is paid for the Olympics but they are paid and sponsored for training and everything.

“In our day you had to be very, very careful if you accepted a pair of training shoes or sometimes we got sent malted milk tablets,” she laughed. “You were absolutely out, and that was it, if any money ever passed hands. It didn’t make any difference to me cos as I was only young, a student, and still at home.”

Although she no longer does any sport, apart from the odd game of table tennis with her grandchildren, she is an avid follower of athletics still. “Ooh yes,” she said with a sparkle in her voice. “I’m glued to the television when there is anything on.”

While she is looking forward to the London Olympics, Anne isn’t tempted to attend. “No, I’m not going to go cos I think honestly it’s better on television. You see people’s faces lining up, you see the finish. If you get a ticket and you’re not quite sure where you are, you might be right on the highest tier on the oppositie side.

“I hate big crowds and noises so I’m going to sit and watch every moment of it on television I think - from canoeing to weightlifting!”

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