The IAAF is deeply saddened to hear that 1952 Olympic long jump champion Yvette Corlett (née Williams) of New Zealand died on Saturday (13) at the age of 89.
Williams was one of New Zealand’s greatest and most versatile athletes, winning major medals in the long jump, discus, shot put and javelin.
Born in 1929 in Dunedin, Williams played several sports in her youth and took up athletics at the age of 17. Just two months after joining Otago Athletics Club, she won the shot put at the New Zealand Championships – her first of 21 national titles across five disciplines.
She missed out on selection for the 1948 Olympic Games, but in 1950 she won the long jump at the British Empire Games with a Commonwealth record of 5.91m. She also earned the silver medal in the javelin.
One year later, she had extended the Oceanian long jump record to 6.13m and had set national records in the shot put and discus.
She jumped 6.29m at the 1952 New Zealand Championships, which would have been a world record had the following wind not been over the allowable limit. But greater things were to come later that year at the Olympic Games in Helsinki.
Williams jumped an Olympic record of 6.16m in the qualifying round, confirming her status as the pre-event favourite. She averted disaster in the final, opening with two fouls before landing a valid jump of 5.90m. She then improved to 6.24m – just one centimetre shy of the world record – to emerge as the champion.
Three days before the long jump final, she had finished 10th in the discus. Later in the Games, she finished sixth in the shot put.
Williams enjoyed another incredibly successful season in 1954. In February she jumped a lifetime best of 6.28m to break the world record set 11 years prior by Fanny Blankers-Koen. Later that year she won gold medals in the long jump, shot put and discus at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, setting Games records in all three disciplines.
Having been awarded an MBE in 1953 for services in women’s athletics, Williams retired at the end of 1954. She had four children, three of whom played sport at a high level.
Williams was named ‘Athlete of the Century’ on the 100th anniversary of Athletics New Zealand in 1987. In 2013, the New Zealand Olympic Committee, in association with the Glenn Family Foundation, established the Yvette Williams Scholarship to assist young athletes displaying both exceptional talent and need.