Australia’s recent resurgence in women’s 4x400m running sets the scene for yet another spectacular finish to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. The event has been the scene of a number of dramatic incidents and built a rivalry been Australia and England. It has also hosted the swansongs of two of Australia’s greats – Raelene Boyle in 1982 and Cathy Freeman in 2002. For one Australian TAMSYN MANOU (nee LEWIS) the race holds special memories. She won three consecutive gold medals in this event and was reserve for a fourth when she was just 16. In this article Manou reflects on her four Games in this event.
The women’s 4x400m relay was introduced to the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch in 1974 and has been held on 11 occasions. England defeated Australia on the first two occasions (1974 and 1978), then Canada won the next two (1982 and 1986), which included the famous race against Raelene Boyle in Brisbane. England would take the next two in 1990 and 1994 – then Australian won three consecutively from 1998 to 2006. In Delhi in 2010 India were the surprise winners, while Jamaica arrive on the Gold Coast as defending champions on the back of their Glasgow win.
Gold medal tally: 4-ENG, 3-AUS, 2-CAN, 1-IND & JAM
Medal tally: 9-ENG, 8-AUS & CAN, 3-NGR, 2-IND & JAM, SCO-1
Tamsyn Manou (Lewis) remembers…
When I was a child I noticed a gold medal in a box in a cupboard full of medals that took my eye. It was a Commonwealth gold medal. It was my dad’s, from the 1974 Christchurch Games where he won as part of the Aussie men’s 4x100m relay team. I later found out my mum had also represented Australia in high jump as a 16-year-old in the Perth British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1962. My folks were really humble, and very rarely spoke about their athletics achievements at home but I thrived off the stories and went about trying to know as much about athletics history and the Commonwealth Games that I could find out (in an era before internet and google!). My goal was to run for Australia and hopefully win one of these gold medals to be like my parents.
Victoria, Canada – 1994
As a junior, I never ran open nationals until I was a senior. So, to be named in the senior team for Victoria Commonwealths as a 15-year-old off winning under-20 world junior trials for the 400m was exciting and overwhelming. I was perhaps a little too young and the trip and experience was not what I expected. I was used to the friendly atmosphere I was accustomed to at school and junior athletics and as I have grown up I realise that the trip to Canada perhaps toughened me up as an athlete and a person to the harsher side of athletics competition. Tough lesson for a 16-year-old. I was emergency for the team and the ladies ran great legs to pass the line first but were unfortunately disqualified when the English team with the great Sally Gunnell protested an infringement.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – 1998
After moving to the 8’s for the first time earlier that year (and making the final and running a pb in KL), in the camp leading up I was told I wasn’t needed for the 4x400m squad. However, injuries weakened our team in the lead up so I was stoked I’d managed to keep my speed up enough to get the nod for the second leg. The strangest thing happened the favourites (Barbados) were crossing over and my foot kicked the baton out of their hand. It was a freak incident and was annoying as we had Tania Van Heer on the last leg and I doubt anyone would have caught her as such was her form at those games. My favourite memory from this race was running the victory lap with my team and finding my mum and dad in the crowd. Finally got to tell dad I had a Commonwealth gold medal too!
Manchester, ENG – 2002
Definitely, my favourite of the golds. One of my favourite team mates, and Sydney Olympics roommate, Cathy Freeman was back in the Aussie team, after a break, and wow did we love having her back. We recruited Lauren Hewitt to run first and bravely she accepted the challenge without a whimper. Catherine ran second as she was just coming back to fitness (still ridiculously fast though!) and I ran third, passing to Jana Pittman who had just won the 400m hurdles gold. Our team coach Keith Connor had told me in lead up our team was up against it and might not even make the start line as we didn’t have the numbers. Lauren and Catherine stepping in was just awesome and the crowd was so vocal because the home team, England, were in the lead at half way after another freak incident with the favourites the Jamaican team’s first runner stood on the back of the shoe of their second leg runner who then just stopped running as her shoe had come off. The victory lap with this team was so special and I will always cherish this memory for having the chance to run with three of the greatest Australian female sprinters of all time. Only regret is we couldn’t keep this team together heading to Athens Olympics.
Melbourne, Australia – 2006
Probably one relay that I loved being a part of in front of a home crowd yet regret the way it played out. It was a tough team to select and our reserve Jaimee-Lee Hoebergen was unlucky to miss out but our team of Jana, Rosemary Hayward and Caitlin Pincott was a very strong chance to medal. On paper, we thought we could snatch the bronze. The crowd was amazing and the race certainly didn’t go to script. Jamaica were doing what they were meant to and had built up a huge lead into third but unbelievably dropped the baton whilst in the lead by about 20 metres. England then made a ‘heat of the moment’ error of jumping out of line at the second change in front of my spot where the official had placed us. I knew it was automatic disqualification so was aware that from chasing a hopeful bronze we would most likely now be targeting gold if we held our form. Rosemary ran a great anchor leg and we crossed the line in second behind the better team of English runners, but we were awarded the gold later. I know exactly what happened out there and don’t feel the need to rehash it all but the press didn’t let the facts get in the way of the next days headlines which horrified and hurt me. I certainly didn’t disqualify the English ladies, I didn’t call their third runner in front of me and I know the rules and breaking this particular rule is an automatic disqualification. I did talk to the judge to see if he saw it when our team captain told me I had to go with them to ask and on confirmation we knew we had the gold. It was strange and I wondered if the English team of 1994 felt the same on the dais when they had crossed the line behind Australia but took the gold.
So four Commonwealth Games and three Commonwealth golds each holding a different place in my heart. BUT most importantly I can tell my Dad I am now officially better than him. Ha kidding dad!