New Lithgow Flash tribute released in time for Marjorie’s 87th birthday

LITHGOW FLASH: Marjorie Jackson-Nelson training for running back in 1950s with Jim Monaghan. PHOTO: Fairfax Media.
LITHGOW FLASH: Marjorie Jackson-Nelson training for running back in 1950s with Jim Monaghan. PHOTO: Fairfax Media.

To mark Marjorie Jackson-Nelson’s 87th birthday on Thursday, September 13, the Olympic Channel launched a new animated short series featuring the Lithgow Flash in its first episode. 

Ms Jackson-Nelson told the Lithgow Mercury she was “thrilled” with the eight minute ‘Words of Olympians’ short, which featured a mixture of animation and historical footage to accompany her interview. It told stories of her journey to becoming an international athlete, starting on the Lithgow athletics track. 

“I will always have a place in my heart for Lithgow,” she said. 

“I was always so proud to be able to put Lithgow on the map.”

Returning home from winning a gold medal at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, she was delighted when her plane made a special detour over Lithgow. 

FILE IMAGE.

FILE IMAGE.

“I remember the lovely way the plane circled Lithgow,” she said. 

“The pilot just announced that he was going to veer off course. He said he was going to circle over my hometown to let everyone know I was coming home.”

At every centre through the Blue Mountains she was met by crowds, but the biggest gathering of all was in Lithgow. 

She was greeted by 25,000 people packed in the streets. Driving in an open car, she was overwhelmed by the numbers of people and the gifts of flowers, which nearly buried her, and she was carried from the car by Alderman Harold Heffernan and Mayor Harold Coates. 

A Lithgow Mercury clipping showing the moment that Marjorie Jackson was carried from her car at Lithgow.

A Lithgow Mercury clipping showing the moment that Marjorie Jackson was carried from her car at Lithgow.

Encouraged to take up running by her father, who worked at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory, Marjorie Jackson recalls training in all weather conditions under the guidance of Jim Monaghan. 

“They knew I would be running on a cinder track (at the Olympics) so they built me a track. Of course, it turned out to be nothing like the cinders over there,” Ms Jackson-Nelson said. 

“But there was no money left for any lights.”

So Mr Monaghan would park his car at the end of the track with his lights on, and Ms Jackson-Nelson still wonders how she never came to break her leg running into the car at the end of the track in the heavy fog. 

“In 1945 I didn’t really know much about the Olympics. My Dad worked in a factory making rifles for the war, he asked the chap who ran Lithgow Athletics Club if he’d train me, and I just did as I was told,” the Olympic champion said in the documentary. 

“It took me six months to save up to buy my first pair of running shoes and I remember my first photo being in the paper when I was 15, as I’d won the country championship.”

The IOC said the aim of the short series was to “bring to life some of the biggest moments in Olympic history, using only interviews with the Olympians themselves.”

In 1952 Jackson-Nelson made it to the Olympic Games in Helsinki, winning back-to-back golds in the 100m and 200m events. Her 100m victory was the first gold medal won by any Australian on the track since the nation’s first ever Olympian, Edwin Flack in 1896. 

“When the 100m final was on, it had been raining and it was freezing cold, and I just felt I was home in Lithgow,” she said in the film. 

Throughout her career, the Lithgow local set six individual world records and ran in a world record-setting Australian relay team. She was also the first Australian woman to break a world record. 

Jackson-Nelson won every NSW and Australian women’s title for the 100m and 200m between 1950 and 1954 and won seven Commonwealth Games gold medals during that time. 

In 1978 the Australian Olympic Federation bestowed upon her an Order of Merit and in 1985 she was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. 

Even after her illustrious sporting career, Jackson-Nelson was still intent on giving back to her country. 

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At the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, less than two weeks after having back surgery and having to stand for the duration of the flight to Sydney, Marjorie helped carry the Olympic flag during the Opening Ceremony.

From 2001-2007 she also served as the Governor of South Australia, in 2008 she was honoured by the IOC with the Olympic Order and in 2013 was inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame.

Jackson-Nelson shared that from her very first win, her family ensured she stayed humble, with her Dad giving her “the best advice any parent could give.”  

“God gave us all a gift, yours just happens to be running, but you’re no better than anyone else, and don’t you forget it,” he said. 

Marjorie Jackson-Nelson at the unveiling of her statue in Cook Street Plaza in 2000.

Marjorie Jackson-Nelson at the unveiling of her statue in Cook Street Plaza in 2000.

Ms Jackson-Nelson’s achievements still have pride of place in Lithgow’s Main street, with her statue in Cook Street Plaza.