Olympian and world record holder, Dame Yvette Winifred Corlett (nee Williams) grasped every available opportunity and worked tirelessly to achieve excellence.
Yvette was an exceptional athlete and one of New Zealand’s most versatile. Born and raised in Dunedin, she represented New Zealand in basketball, won the shot put at the 1947
New Zealand athletics championships, and went on to win national titles in shot put, javelin, discus, long jump, and the 80m hurdles.
"On my third jump I shifted the pegs back about four inches to make certain!”
Yvette on her two nerve-racking no jumps before her record-breaking long jump at the Helsinki Olympic Games.
After being controversially left out of the New Zealand team travelling to London for the 1948 Olympic Games, Yvette went on to win the long jump title at the British Empire Games held in Auckland in 1950. She broke the national, Empire Games, and British Empire records with a jump of 5.91m, firmly securing her selection for the next Olympic Games at Helsinki in 1952.
Yvette trained under coach Jim Bellwood, “Mr Bellwood” as she referred to him. Under his tutelage she perfected her hitch-kick, a technique developed by American athlete Jesse Owens. When Jim and his wife moved to Auckland, Yvette followed them for the lead up
to the Helsinki Olympic Games. Her training routine included early morning callisthenics, hill running during her secretarial work lunch break, and meeting Jim after work for three more hours of training.
At Helsinki, Yvette won gold in the long jump and set a new Olympic Games record with a jump of 6.24m. Notably, she was the first woman from New Zealand to win an Olympic Games gold medal. She went on to break the world record again in 1954 with a long jump of 6.29m.
Yvette was named New Zealand Sportsperson of the year in both 1950 and 1952 respectively. At the time of her retirement in 1954, she ranked number one in world track and field history in long jump, fifth in pentathlon, 12th for discus throw, and 19th for shot put.
Giving back to New Zealand was important to Yvette. In retirement, she coached athletics in Auckland and trained intellectually disabled athletes for the Special Olympic Games. A trailblazer, she was aptly named ‘Athlete of the Century’ in 1987 on the 100th Anniversary of Athletics New Zealand.
Our Yvette Williams Village in Dunedin is named after this pioneering Kiwi woman.