The highest high jump mark in the world (5 feet 8⅝ inches) is held by a 20-year-old Rumanian girl, Yolande Balas. Right on her heels at 5 feet 8½ inches but more consistent in performance is Britain's Thelma Hopkins. This shy Irish lass, a pre-dental student at Belfast's Queen's University, is one of the world's most versatile athletes. She has high-jumped 5 feet 8½ inches, broad-jumped 19 feet 10½ inches, covered the 80-meter hurdles in 11.1 seconds and run the 200 meters in 25 seconds flat.
In 1950, Thelma met Franz Stampfl, the coach who helped Roger Bannister achieve his first four-minute mile. Since then, wherever Stampfl has been (right now he is coaching in Australia), he has supervised Thelma's training through an exchange of tape recordings. Confident of her chances at Melbourne, Thelma believes, along with Stampfl, that "a six-foot jump for women is possible. So long as it is fun trying, I'll try. As soon as it becomes a chore I'll stop." As a 16-year-old, Thelma placed fourth at the last Olympics and since that time has had a great deal of active competition, because Britain's women stars go along with the men to the big international meets in Bordeaux, Prague and Moscow. That kind of experience will be hard to beat at Melbourne.
The element of topflight international competition is an important one. Our own Karen Anderson is perhaps capable of throwing the javelin as far as any woman in the world, but whether or not she can do so at Melbourne, 10,000 miles from home, before 100,000 people and up against her first real competition, is a big question. The Russian women are just as good as Karen and at the moment are much more concerned with a competitor they know all about: the Czech star, Dana Zatopek, wife of Emil Zatopek, the great Czech long-distance runner.
Emil—clever fellow—married his commanding officer's daughter, and he and Dana live in a flat in Prague (where Dana maintains a strictly hands-off policy with regard to Emil's "mouse house" room in which he keeps his tools). A determined competitor, Dana never ceases to train, even though she could rest on her laurels as the defending Olympic champion.
The enchanting youngster, Galina Vinogradova, will have only her Russian pals to beat at Melbourne in the broad jump, since the marriage and retirement of co-World Record Holder Yvette Williams of New Zealand.
For years the discus has been an exclusive first-second-and-third-place affair for the Russians. Their grip on the shotput has been almost as firm. Jackie MacDonald of Canada and 220-pound Earlene Brown of Loe Angeles have put the shot 45 feet, but that is still seven feet shy of recent Russian efforts. Mrs. Brown, a novice, won the Nationals with her 45-foot toss and should improve.
The Americans who make the team as sprinters will come up against not only the Russian girls but a couple of very swift girls from Australia. Thirty-year-old Shirley Stricklund de la Hunty, the world record holder of the 100-meter run, claims to be "running better than ever." She is now braving Perth's chill winter nights to train in an unheated gym near her home.
A fellow Australian, freckle-faced, titian-haired Marlene Mathews, has postponed her wedding plans with Fireman Bill Willard in an effort to win a gold medal for the host country.
Stiff competition lies ahead for the U.S. girls who survive this week's Olympic tryouts. According to their Olympic Chairman Roxanne Andersen, "we'll do much better at Melbourne than we did at Helsinki—but watch our smoke in 1960!"
Given one-tenth the support the Russians give their women (see following-pages) and still adhering to the American way, our girls could match the Russians next time.