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  Track & Field Athletics Australia    by Graham Thomas 

Profile - Clarice Kennedy


Clarice Kennedy

  • Born 04 September 1910
  • Australia/New South Wales
  • Height - 5'6
  • Weight - 9 stone 2 lbs

    Clarice Kennedy was one of Australia's greatest women athletes prior to World War II.

    An intelligent all round sportswoman, she won championship titles from sprint events through to 2 Miles Cross Country, while also excelling in swimming, diving, hockey, vigoro and basketball (netball).

    She established national records in 100y, 400m, 440y, 800m, 880y, 80m Hurdles, 90y Hurdles, Shot Putt and Javelin events.

    In her best event, the 80m hurdles, she set a world record of 12.2 in 1930.

    She was unlucky to be only selected for one international team, the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney.

Clarice Kennedy was born in the Sydney suburb of Double Bay in 1910. She first trained trying to keep up with her brother who was five years older and riding his bike. I used to be a bit of a tomboy.' she said. Clarice attended Darlinghurst Superior Public School where further training consisted of stealing boys caps and running away with them. She was popular and successful in primary school sports with other girls 'fighting' to get in her teams. In 1924 she went to Fort St. High School and won the school championship every year she attended. Miss Fuller, the sportsmistress, was very encouraging.

Her 100y Australian record of 11.8 was set 'under specially supervised conditions' by association officials. Until about this time she had always run in bloomers, not shorts. When she ran the record attempt in the '29 sports she was give special permission from the headmistress to run without stockings. Kennedy laughs at a photo of herself winning the event; 'breasting the tape in my sailor suit with the little black bow and my pantaloons blooming out'. I did not bind myself to heavy training. At school it was very elementary. I remember Miss Fuller advised me to drink one or two raw eggs in milk, but I was always a big milk drinker.

From 1924-29, Kennedy was the school's best female athlete, a champion in athletics and swimming and also a star of the school's vigoro, basketball (netball) and hockey teams, captaining the first two.

Clarice Kennedy's school blazer

Her mother used to sew and embroider to earn money for sporting necessities. Her father, a builder, was very proud and enthusiastic which used to worry her. He went to watch her once and after she lost she never let him come again; 'I was cruel really'. When she returned home after winning a competition she would always be 'rewarded' with a tin of Gold Medal condensed milk. There was great support but never any pressure from her mother.

Kennedy laughs when saying she "took up the hurdles because she started to win races." After a few knocks and cuts in her earliest races, she realised she had better improve her technique. She had many 'advisers' but claims she never really had a real coach, teaching herself mainly from overseas texts. 'Rosa (Winter) was about the first of the hurdlers beating me. Men would give us some advice and we would watch them compete. "What could I have done today?" she laments, describing her own preparation as "humble jogging and basic training" As the athletics programme expanded she tried just about every event, setting records in most fields. She was also a diving and swimming (backstroke) champion and toured the state swimming circuit as a diver.

She was criticised for not concentrating on the hurdles and after her great 1929/30 season, was especially criticised for mixing athletics with swimming and diving. Kennedy says 'I received my greatest acclamation as an all-rounder' and found the aquatic prizes and trophies lucrative. 'In athletics we were always awarded cups, but swimming was much better. You were given money in a cheque and could put it together at the end of the season to buy a tea-set or vase as your choice of trophy.'

She became disillusioned with athletics officials early in her career and a litany of unratified records, non-selections and other disappointments dogged her career. 'Eight timekeepers ratified my 12.2 80H WR and I was awarded great trophies, but the time was never forwarded on.'

She began teaching in a number of Sydney schools and colleges in the early thirties. After her successful world record streak in December 1930 she fractured her kneecap in a 90yH race, despite setting a national record for the new event. She was told she'd walk with a stiff knee for rest of life and her athletics career was over.

An unregistered German doctor contacted the Kennedys to offer free medical assistance (he wanted to use the publicity from his intended success). He supervised her surgery and subsequent rehabilitation -she was out of athletics for ten months and 'would have been happy to just walk again'. Her rehab. included swimming ('he was ahead of his time with things like resistance techniques') and if she limped he would hit her with his cane!

She enjoyed starting to hurdle again in 1932, but was denied a chance to defend her hurdles national championship and try to achieve Olympic selection. Her injury had prevented her from competing for much of the season and she was unable to earn a selection in the NSW team. She applied to run as an individual but the request was turned down by officials.

Kennedy began to expand her repetoire of athletics events. She began to race over 440y and 880y and won the NSW two mile Cross Country championship (14min32) in August 1932. A left-handed thrower (and also used this hand for writing, drawing and playing tennis), she set records in Shot, Discus and Javelin events.

Her sporting program in the thirties consisted of swimming competition on Saturday mornings and then off to the Sydney Sports Ground for the 2pm start of interclub athletics. She would train most days after work using school facilities or going down to Moore Park to train individually. Her social life was filled with still more sporting entertainment. She was a cricket and hockey fan, particularly remembering the visiting Indian teams, and also enjoyed ballet. Another hobby was autograph hunting; she was thrilled to get signatures from the aviators Amy Johnson and Charles Kingsford-Smith as well as her own sporting heroes.

In 1933, she starred in the National Championships, winning two events (90y Hurdles, Javelin) and being awarded national record-holder status for these performances. At the start of the Championships, women officials had voted to annul previous records and start from scratch. Kennedy, as a holder of many of these records, made a passionate appeal to the board, saying "The Union has made a decision which would remain unparalleled in the history of the sport. Girls who had succesfully attacked records during previous years were now being disregarded and forgotten", but her plea was ignored.

The following year, she was disappointed when women's athletes were not selected in the Australian team for the 1934 Empire Games. 'The men cut out all women's representation in the 1934 Games. They argued the finances necessary to provided chaperones and extra trainers for the women were too great.'

Her bad luck continued through to the Berlin Olympic Games. Despite being rated highly in world rankings and winning fourevents at the National Games (Olympic trials) and being the 1936 national hurdles and javelin champion, she was not named in the Olympic team. Doris Carter, the High Jumper, was to be the only female selection.

Clarice Kennedy (with eyeshade) wins the 1936 National Championship

This Olympic snub was considered an outrage. 'My name was in Hansard - questions were asked in parliament. The Truth newspaper offered to pay expenses for Kitty McKay, Basil Dickinson and myself but they said I couldn't go. The women's association said they sent my name and Doris Carter's to the men's selectors and the men said they only received Carter's. I was never bitter, I just didn't understand it.'

In June 1936, the Australian Olympic Federation presented Kennedy with a wristwatch as a token of her assistance in drawing the design of the diploma which was presented to winners and runners-up at the National Games.

In late 1937, Kennedy could not retain her National Championship in the hurdles or Javelin, hampered by an injury to her right leg. Still, shw was relieved to finally gain selection in the Australian Empire Games team held in her home town of Sydney. She was also selected as a masseur for the British girls. She got to know a lot of the girls from overseas socially and was often quoted in the press as a regular spokesperson for the Australian women's team.

Clarice Kennedy and some of her trophies Nurse Clarice Kennedy in 1953

After 1938 she joined the Education Department but still managed to compete and win State Championship honours into the War Years. During her athletics career she won NSW State Championships in 440y (3), 880y (5), 60y Hurdles (1), 80m Hurdles (6), Shot Putt (1), Javelin (7) and Two-Miles Cross-Country (1). Kennedy began a nursing career during World War II. In 1953, she was quoted as saying she intended to make a come-back for the 1954 Empire Games (at the age of 44!) but that her final year of nursing qualifications might interfere with training.

Author's Note: As yet, I have been unable to locate any performances from Clarice Kennedy during the 1953/4 period.


100y	11.6	Sydney	 02 Nov 29
100m	13.0	Adelaide 25 Jan 36
200m	25.7	Adelaide 27 Jan 36
220y	26.4	Sydney	 01 Nov 32
400m	59.8	Sydney	 14 Jan 33
440y	60.0	Sydney	 14 Jan 33
800m	2-29.0	Sydney	 14 Jan 33
880y	2-29.8	Sydney	 14 Jan 33
80H	12.2	Sydney	 18 Jan 30
90H	12.3
SP	 9.91	Sydney	 13 Feb 32
DIS	26.71	Adelaide 27 Jan 36
JAV	35.94	Sydney	 18 Jan 36


Year	100y	80H	Shot	Javelin

1924	12.4
1925	12.0
1926	12.0
1927	11.6
1928	11.8
1929	11.6	12.8
1930		12.2	9.31
1931		14.0y	9.72	27.45
1932	11.5e	12.3y	30'4	96'8 1/2
1933		12.5y	29'2 1/2 31.98
1934		12.4y		108'9
1935	12.0			34.20
1936	11.7e	12.3y	8.76	35.94
1937		13.8y		31.47
1938		12.2		32.93
1939		12.6y		33.71
1941				98 11 1/4


80m Hurdles


Hurdles		1930	1933	1935	1936

Javelin		1933	1935	1936

4x110y relay	1935	1936

The above biography is a basic profile. As soon as I have time, the more detailed bio will replace this page.

An unofficial, non-profit, just-for-fun, page but 1995-2002 by Graham Thomas