The New Zealand Olympic Committee is saddened at the passing of New Zealand's first female Olympic gold medallist, Yvette Williams, aged 89.
"Yvette Williams was a trail blazer and a true beacon of what is possible for women in sport," says New Zealand Olympic Committee President, Mike Stanley.
Yvette Williams (later Corlett) was one of New Zealand's best-ever athletes. She excelled at field events, winning gold medals for long jump, discus and shot put, and setting a world record for the long jump.
"She was a truly humble New Zealander who was deeply passionate about sport and young athletes."
"Her place in New Zealand’s history is unique and her contribution to sport has opened doors. She was a treasured member of the New Zealand Team and is one of our greatest ever athletes, she will be missed by all who knew her."
Yvette Williams is unique in New Zealand’s history and her story and contribution to sport has helped to pave the way for generation of young New Zealanders, especially women and girls.
In 1952, Williams dramatically won gold in the long jump at the Helsinki Olympic Games. She jumped 6.24m for the historic win and returned to New Zealand as a national hero.
She was New Zealand Olympian #76 and only our ninth ever female Olympian.
Williams went on to further sporting success and in 1954 broke the world record for women’s long jump with an astonishing leap of 6.29m in Gisborne.
Yvette in the late 1940s or early 1950s, training under the watchful eye of her coach Jim Bellwood at St Clair Beach in Dunedin. She is caught in mid-air leaping from a sand-dune and practising a technique called the hitch kick, which involves running in the air to gain extra length.
The Dunedin born athlete wasn't only a long jumper, she also competed in discus and shot put, and across her disciplines won a staggering four gold medals and one silver at Commonwealth Games.
Yvette Williams was “Sportsman of the Year" twice, in 1950 and 1952, and was voted Athlete of the Decade for the 1950s. She was awarded an MBE in 1953 and was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
Her commitment to, and achievements in, sport were broad. In addition to being an athletics champion in long jump, shot put, discuss, hurdles, javelin and pentathlon – she was also an outstanding athlete competing in basketball and in netball, playing both at provincial and national level.
Off the field of play, Yvette had a unique connection with and willingness to give to New Zealanders.
Out of the spotlight, and subsequent to her Olympic achievements, Yvette dedicated a lifetime to administering, coaching, and teaching sport. She was a founding member of the Pakuranga Athletic Club and fulfilled many roles within the club over the years including secretarial and coaching.
At the same time, for many decades she instructed gymnastics and taught hundreds of young kiwis the fundamental skills that set them up for life. She was an accomplished basketballer, having represented New Zealand, and she played and coached for most of her adult life.
Yvette was also a Physical Education teacher, and through her profession and passion, over many years of teaching, positively impacted young girls at secondary school and encouraged them to follow their dreams.
She also contributed in various ways to many regional sports entities.
In spite of living with significant health issues in recent times, Yvette regularly made appearances at New Zealand Olympic Team events where she took the time to talk to and inspire those around her.
In 2013 she inaugurated the Yvette Williams Scholarship which each year provides financial support for an up and coming athlete. The scholarship draws on a significant donation from Sir Owen Glenn who was personally inspired after meeting Yvette and talking to her about her remarkable achievements and the genuine joy sport brought her.
Williams was a trail blazer and a true beacon of what is possible for women. Her incredible achievements and the ongoing, diverse and sustained gift of her time, skill and passion to so many in the community, placed her in a very special place in the hearts and minds of all New Zealanders, but especially women.