Four-time Olympic champion and Australia’s ‘Golden Girl’, Betty Cuthbert, has passed away at the age of 79.
Cuthbert, a legend of Australian sport, fought a long battle against multiple sclerosis, with Athletics Australia confirming the sad news on Monday morning (AEST).
She will forever be remembered as the hero of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, where she won gold in the 100m and 200m sprints at the age of just 18.
Cuthbert was also a member of the winning 4 x 100m relay team, giving her three gold medals at Australia’s first ever Games.
She injured her hamstring at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and retired, but then backflipped on that decision before the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth.
And Cuthbert capped a superb career by winning her fourth Olympic gold in the 400m at Tokyo in 1964.
“Athletics Australia is saddened to confirm the passing of Olympic legend Betty Cuthbert,” the organisation said.
“The Australian athletics family extends our sympathies to the family and friends of Betty.”
Cuthbert was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1974, after experiencing symptoms in the years prior.
The disease left her confined to a wheelchair, but Cuthbert who was deeply religious, said she was “never angry”.
“I can’t honestly say that – I’ve never been angry,” she said previously.
“I think there is a reason why I have MS and that is to inspire other people who are suffering from the disease.
“In having MS, I stand on that [bible] verse from Isaiah, because I truly believe, without doubt, that my body will be restored again as it was before.”
Cuthbert was famously involved in the opening ceremony ahead of the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Assisted by another Australian great, Raelene Boyle, Cuthbert brought the Olympic flame into the stadium as part of a procession that also involved Dawn Fraser, Shirley Strickland-de la Hunty, Shane Gould, Debbie Flintoff-King and Cathy Freeman.
Tributes quickly flowed for Cuthbert, with former marathon world champion Robert de Castella leading the way.
“It’s a sad day but it’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on her achievements on and off the track. She’s a wonderful Australian,” he told Sky News.
“She is a real icon for our country … such an incredible athlete and in so many ways, such a wonderful role model.
“I was very much inspired by her athletic feats but also by her character and person she was.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Twitter: “Rest in peace Betty Cuthbert – an inspiration and a champion on and off the track.”
Australia’s 100m record holder, Melissa Breen, added: “RIP Betty Cuthbert. A pioneer for Aussie female sprinters, a legend of the sport.
“My thoughts are with your family and friends at this time.”
Cuthbert, who is the only athlete, male or female, to win Olympic gold in the 100m, 200m and 400m, was inducted to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1995 and the IAAF Hall of Fame in 2012.
She is also the subject of a statue outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which was unveiled in 2003 and captures Cuthbert in that iconic moment where, mouth wide open, she crossed the finish line to win the 1956 100m sprint.
Cuthbert’s four gold medals also reside in the stadium’s National Sports Museum.