When Maureen Caird won the 80 metres hurdles at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, just 19 days after her 17th birthday, she became the youngest Olympic track and field gold medallist ever. She equalled the world record of 10.3 seconds to defeat her team-mate, the race favourite Pam Kilborn, for the first time in her career. Kilborn, 12 years her senior, had been undefeated since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when she won a bronze medal and equalled the winning time. Caird, from Cumberland, NSW, was coached by June Ferguson, mentor of the quadruple gold medallist Betty Cuthbert - and had been something of a child prodigy on the track. At the age of nine she was winning titles at primary school, at 13 she won NSW senior and junior sprint championships, and at 14 she smashed the Australian junior record for 80m hurdles.
June Ferguson gave notice of Caird’s Olympic prospects when she commented before the Games: “Young Maureen is so close behind Pam Kilborn … that anything could happen in Mexico.” Both women won their heats, sharing a new Olympic record, then their semi-finals. Ferguson told Caird before the final: “Reach the first hurdle first, and you won’t be headed.” In heavy rain Caird made a fast getaway and led all the way to win, with Kilborn taking silver. Two years later, at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, Caird won a silver medal behind Kilborn in the 100m hurdles (which had replaced the 80m internationally). She attempted unsuccessfully in 1972 to defend her Olympic title.
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian