BC Athletics

Heritage Report - January 2004

The Heritage Committee continues to record the Heritage of Track & Field in the Province. Materials are continually sought after. When materials are found they are Xeroxed and then placed in the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

The committee recommends names for the BC Athletics Hall of Fame.

The committee continually seeks information to update the files of BC Athletics Nominees to the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

The Committee continually looks for individuals to write letters of support and provide documentation for our nominees.

The current nominees include Alice Whitty, Bill Dale, Jack Hutchins and Joyce Yakubowich , Shirley Olafson.

Note: Congratulations to Shirley Olafsson Gordon, who was one of Canada's premier high jumpers in the 1940's and 50's, who has just been named to the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

On behalf of the Committee

Bill McNulty

Shirley (Gordon) Olafsson Nomination

3271 Williams Road
Richmond, BC V7E 1H8

September 9, 2003

BC Sports Hall of Fame Selection Committee

Re: Shirley (Gordon) Olafsson

I would like to nominate Shirley (Gordon) Olafsson, and offer my unqualified expertise for the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

Shirley (Gordon) Olafsson (in high jump) brought recognition to the city of Vancouver, the province and the country for a period of ten years at the top level. Shirley (Gordon) Olafsson began high jumping in 1943 where she won the high jump competition as a junior at the Vancouver and District Inter-High School Championships. The next year, 1944, she was runner up in the senior competition.

From 1945-1952, Shirley was British Columbia's premiere high jump champion and continually performed as one of the top three jumpers in Canada. She was British Columbia's open high jump champion in 1945, 1947 and 1948. From 1945-1952, Shirley was consistently in the top six performances in the high jump. In 1949, she culminated her success in winning the Canadian High Jump Championship.

In 1948, she was runner up at the Canadian Championships and made the Olympic standard to qualify for the 1948 Olympics in London. While on the team, Shirley was elected team captain of the women's Track and Field team and placed tenth out of sixty two countries. In 1949, having won the Canadian Championship she was selected for the 1950 British Empire Games in Auckland New Zealand and placed fifth. She again was team captain of the women's track and field team.

In order to understand the quality of Shirley's contribution to the sport of track and field, her performances need to be put into perspective. First of all, she was jumping just after the war when competitive opportunities for women were few and seldom held. There were few opportunities for men to compete, yet alone women. Shirley was consistently at the top level for ten years, a milestone that no other Canadian track and field athlete, male or female, has ever held.

For ten years, from 1943-1952, she was flirting with the Canadian High jump record and world record of 5'3 inches that was set by Canadian Ethel Catherwood in Halifax back in 1928.

This Canadian mark was not broken until 1954.

Shirley (Gordon) Olafsson was competing only twenty years after women's track and field really began in Canada in 1926. For ten years she was consistently in Vancouver and the Province and Nationally her performances in each year ranked all within the top six performances in Canada. On more that one occasion she held more that one national ranking within the top six.

This Olympian and Empire Games Competitor set the standard for not only women's high jump but also for all women in track and field at the national level.

What is most amazing about her competing and her performances in the high jump are the physical conditions that Shirley had to overcome. She was a scissors jumper, which is typical of the time; however, it must be pointed out, that she had a great handicap, that being a wheel foot. She actually walked with crutches until she was 13 year of age and walked with braces until she was 15. As a result of her impediment, Shirley took off with her right foot and had also had to land with her right foot. Her left leg was rendered useless and basically a detriment in propelling herself over the bar in high jump, a fact that makes her performances and career even more remarkable.

Furthermore, her courage and support was requested by the Vancouver Sun newspaper in promoting the "March of Dimes" in 1946. Through her example she was able to promote and represent people who overcome stigmas of persons with disabilities.

As a result of her courage and the fact that she chose one of the most difficult and technical events in track & field, Shirley gained recognition during the time she was competing. She was selected as the BC Children's Hospital Poster Girl in 1948. At that time the hospital was trying to get its message across to the BC public through Shirley and her accomplishments.

Shirley (Gordon) Olafsson's performances were heroic.

However, when one puts things into perspective, one wonders what she could have achieved had she two good legs? Her performances of the day rank with the best high jumpers in Canada and the World. Shirley (Gordon) Olafsson is a well-deserving athlete.

She should be admitted to the BC Sports Hall of Fame in the Athletes category on the basis of her performances in the high jump over the period of ten years at the national and international level. Her other contributions and achievement to sport have been further documented.

Yours truly,

Bill McNulty
IAAF Statistician
International Olympic Historian