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Mary Thomas still competing 53 years after her country championship debut

Mary Thomas still competing 53 years after her country championship debut

Author: Athletics NSW Administrator/Thursday, 23 January 2014/Categories: News

The NSW Country Championships wouldn’t be the same without south coast javelin thrower Mary Thomas competing. The 69-year-old, first competed at the championships in 1961, 53 years ago and the good news she will be going around this weekend when the 69th NSW Country Championships travels to her home track, the Kerryn McCann Athletics Centre in Wollongong.

A young Thomas started to emerge in the 1960/61 track season where, she competed for Smith’s Hill High school (in Wollongong) at the NSW Schools championships. She won the open javelin 33.72m and placed third in the shot. On January 28, 1961, competing at the Sydney Sports Ground, Thomas, made her first appearance at the NSW Country Championships

I was 16-years-old and belonged to Southern Flame Athletic Club in Wollongong which is now Athletics Wollongong,” Thomas recalled.

“In those days we only had open events and I remember having to compete against June Heath (Newcastle) who had competed in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.”

In January 1962, she stepped up the dais to second place, again behind Heath. Then finally the breakthrough in 1963, her first ever win, taking the title, throwing 40.96m

The junior events at the 1963 Country Championships were dominated by the parents of two 1996 Atlanta Olympian’s Kylie Hanigan and Tamsyn Lewis-Manou. Hanigan’s mum, Sophie Hasuik, won the junior 100y and 220y, both in record times, she would go on to win the inaugural Australian junior 440 yards later in the season. While Lewis-Manou’s mum, Carolyn Wright (Newcastle) won the high jump and long jump

For Mary Thomas, her career of over 50 years was under way. She would go on to win six NSW open javelin titles, first in 1965 and the last, 17 years later in 1982. Nationally she won the Australian championships in 1969 and claimed another four national medals.

However she was unable to compete at all of the 53 country championships due to the rules.

“I have missed 12 country championships as I was a member of the Ryde women's Athletic Club in Sydney so I could get good competition in the weekly Inter Club. I would say I have won 30 or more javelin titles and it was only when my club mate Louise Mc Paul came onto the scene that I joined the IBS Club (in 1982) as all the competition was now in Wollongong. We had a lot of good throwers in those days and one year we took out most of the state titles in different age groups in the Javelin.”

During her career, Thomas has been coached by some of the best available.

“I was helped with my Javelin technique from Alf Mitchell (NSW men javelin and world’s best junior) and later on by Colin Smith and Ken Stewart.”

Thomas was also technically advanced.

“I was one of the first women to carry the javelin over the shoulder as you run up to throw.”

Thomas has been a fan of the country championships.

“The championships are a good way for young athletes to get started as they are not as strong as the NSW titles. The  Country has supplied many great athletes over the years that have gone on to represent our country in Olympics and Commonwealth Games.”

For the timetable, entries, meet records etc, click here for more information


The inaugural NSW Country Championships for men was held at the Sydney Sports Ground (where the Sydney Football stadium now stands) on January 28th, 1939. Publications of the day wrote:

“An innovation this year was the holding of Championships for athletes resident in country areas. The meeting has strong possibilities and if continued should prove a boon to the country competitors and athletes generally.”

The championship conducted 13 open men’s events and three junior men’s events.

Women’s country championships were first held on March 11th, 1950 at the Sydney Sports Ground. A full program of events for open, junior (U18) and sub-junior (U15) were held. Prior to this meet, there were country 100 yards championships only held. Teams from Lithgow, Blue Mountains, Muswellbrook, Orange, Grafton, Merriwa, Rylstone, and Weethalle competed.

“Competitors came from all parts of the State some travelling over 300 miles. A team from Grafton were billeted with various members of city clubs…I would like to thank the social committee for their very splendid effort in organizing a picnic for the visitors…I also wish to thank the members of the social and country committee for their help in giving the visitors a trip to the zoo.”

David Tarbotton and Ron Bendall for Athletics NSW

Image: Mary Thomas (far left) at the 2009 NSW Country Championships  (courtesy of David Tarbotton)


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