In her passage towards an Olympic gold medal in the women’s 400 metres hurdles in Seoul in 1988, Debbie Flintoff-King showed huge courage and commitment. It was a passage that began after the Los Angeles Games in 1984, in which she had finished sixth in the same event, and it involved mainly a quest for the correct stride between hurdles and pattern of speed. As the journey progressed in company with her husband and coach Phil King, she won both the 400m flat and 400m hurdles at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1986, and the Grand Prix championship in Europe in 1987. After she recorded the year’s fastest time in Berne in 1988, it seemed she was well on course. Then, in Melbourne three days before she was due to depart with the Australian team for the Seoul Games, she received the shocking news that her sister Noeline had died suddenly on the Gold Coast.
Her composure during the countdown towards the final in Seoul was remarkable. She coped not only with her grief, but with an infection that bothered her for two weeks, causing swollen glands in her throat. She did so mainly through meditation and yoga. Her Melbourne mentor, Dr Ian Gawler, sent a message before the race: “Be still as a mountain, and flow like a river.” Her husband’s final instruction was: “Enjoy it.” She won the race in a final desperate sprint, after seeming to be beaten by the Russian Tatyana Ledovskaya at the last hurdle. Flintoff-King’s performance that day was one of rare character.
Harry Gordon, AOC historian