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Australia’s oldest living Olympian passes away

9 July 2007

Australia's oldest Olympian Eileen Wearne has died aged 95, the Australian Olympic Committee announced today.

 Wearne, who died last Friday, competed in athletics at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and was a relay gold medallist at the 1938 Sydney British Empire Games, a forerunner to the Commonwealth Games.

Born Alice Eileen Wearne in Sydney in 1912, but better known as Eileen, she became the second woman to represent Australia in athletics at the Olympic Games when she finished fourth in her heat of the women's 100 yards sprint at LA in 1932.

While not at her best in LA where she failed to make the final, Wearne returned to Sydney and continued to compete and win state and Australian titles throughout the 1930s.

She enjoyed a healthy rivalry with the first woman to represent Australia in athletics at the Olympic Games, Edith Robinson.

Wearne was robbed of a NSW sprint double in 1936 when she took out the 100 yards but lost a re-run of the 220 yards after winning the first race that was later discovered to be eight yards too long.

She was not selected for the 1936 Berlin Olympics but in 1938 at the Empire Games in her home town, Wearne won a gold medal in the 440 yard (4x100m) relay in an Australian team that also included Decima Norman, who finished with five gold medals.

Wearne also won a bronze medal in the 220 yard (200m) sprint in Sydney behind Norman and silver medallist Jean Coleman.

Along with Victorian high jumper Doris Carter, Wearne was the first Australian women to compete in athletics at both Olympic and Empire Games.

By all reports Wearne was an extremely attractive young woman and while in LA for the 1932 Olympics she caught the eye of the US media and motion picture talent scouts.

In an article entitled "Future Weissmullers, Beautiful Amazons Keenly watched by Scurrying Studio Scouts", a journalist noted that talent scouts from the motion picture camps "have been roving the practice fields ever since the first boatload of athletes was unloaded".

One of those at training who they noticed was "Eileen Wearne of Australia" who had "a beautiful figure, a great deal of poise and a nice voice".

 Wearne's looks, according to teammates, were "proof that athletic competition does not detract from the beauty or femininity of women".

After retiring from competition in 1940 Wearne continued to play an active role in the Olympic movement, attending many of the NSW Olympian Club events.

"I was amazed by how spritely and energetic she was at our events," NSW Olympian Club president Peter Hadfield said in a statement.

"She still had the vitality right through her later years."

 Mike Osborne - AAP

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