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  Track & Field Athletics Australia    by Graham Thomas 

Profile - Thelma Peake

 

Thelma Peake

  • Born 30 April 1914
  • Australia/Queensland

    Thelma Peake was Queensland's greatest pioneer athlete of the 1930s and won more than fifty individual state championships in her career.

    Not content with victories in her specialty Long Jump, she also set national records for 100y, 440y, 880y, Hurdles and excelled in Cross-Country or Decathlon competitions.

    In her career she established many firsts. In 1938, she became the first married woman (and first mother) to represent Australian or medal at an international Games.


Thelma Mason was fifteen in late 1929 when she started to compete in athletics competitions for women in Brisbane.

She showed promise in a range of events, but gained most attention when she fainted over the line in the first cross-country event for women held in Australia. Young and inexperienced in the event, she had over-exerted herself early in the race, allowing the steadier Ethel Keylar to pass her in the final lap.

Coming after a similarly publicised Ďincidentsí in the Olympic 800m a year earlier, Masonís collapse gave the media the opportunity to muse whether such events were suitable for women. After all, this course consisted of water jumps, barbed wire fences and creeks, let alone the extraordinary distance of Two Miles.

Undaunted, Mason returned to race in the Queensland 2 Miles Cross Country championship a few weeks later and ran a better race, although she was still unable to match Ethel Keylar in the final stages.

Thelma Mason took off the 1930 season to marry Tom Peake and have a baby, Tom Junior, but she returned to the track in May 1931 to win a Shot Putt competition as seventeen year old Mrs. Thelma Peake.

In 1931 she could not yet beat sprinters of the calibre of Rita Dean or Ruby Beattie, but she did well in hurdles and tried new events such as the 440y and 880y where her times were the fastest by an Australian.

She also took revenge on Ethel Keylar by winning the 2 Miles Cross-Country championship, winning by about 10 yards, in a fast time of 14-15.0. Further improvements were seen in the 1932 season where she also won a 'decathlon' competition for women conducted over three weeks (the five field events and 90y hurdles with 100y/220y/440y/880y were the ten events).

During 1933, Peake was able to improve her bests in the 100y (12.0), 220y (27.5), 440y (61.5) 880y (2-28.6) and Long Jump (17' 0 3/4) and won five state championships that year to become the state's best woman athlete.

Through the 1934 season she set a national Long Jump record of 17' 11 3/4 and won a record swag of seven individual state titles. She won the 100y, 220y, 440y, 880y, Discus, Long Jump and 90y Hurdles, while she was second in both Shot and Javelin events.

Her first taste of national competition came in 1935 with the Australian Championships conducted in Brisbane. She was a popular victor in the Long Jump (16'10/5.12m) and also won bronze medals in the 90y Hurdles and 4x110y relay. Additionally, she was fourth in both 100y and 220y sprint events. If the 440y and 880y events had been included in these national championships, there is little doubt that Mrs. Peake would have won further honours.

As one of Australia's best woman athletes (with Victorian Doris Carter and Sydney athlete Clarice Kennedy) she was considered a strong chance for selection in the 1936 Olympic Games. This followed from the 1936 Nationals in Sydney where Peake had set a national record of 17'11 3/4 to retain her Long Jump title. She also won silver medals behind Kennedy in a good standard 90y Hurdles race and with the Queensland team in the sprint relay.

After the Nationals, all three chances were invited to compete in the National Games in Adelaide, but Peake declined. Her pet Long Jump event was not yet contested at the Olympic Games (it was to debut in 1940) and Peake may have considered Clarice Kennedy too good in the Hurdles which was probably Peake's second best event.

Peake won another seven individual Queensland state titles in Brisbane, around the times the Games in Berlin were occurring. A year later, she improved even more to set a new long jump record, establish new state records for 220y and 440y and equalled the world record for 100y.

In the period from July to September 1937 Peake recorded performances of 11.0 for 100y, 25.8 for 220y, 60.8 for 440y 2-35.2 for 880y, 18'7 for the Long Jump and 12.6 for 80m Hurdles as well as 85'6 for the Discus and . An amazing set of performances for the twenty three year old mother.

Her 100y time was considered controversial as two of the three watches showed 11.0 while one displayed 11.4. Her Long Jump record was a huge 7 1/4" better than her previous competition and she none of her legal jumps were worse than 17'6.

Late in 1937, the national championships and selection trials for the 1938 Empire Games were held in Melbourne. Despite foul cold and windy conditions, Peake won her third successive Long Jump title with 16'11 3/4. She showed that her recent world record was no fluke with a good second in the 100y to new star Decima Norman and second in the Hurdles to local girl Isobel Grant in a tight finish. These performances made her one of the initial seven women chosen in the Australian Empire Games team.

At the Games in Sydney, Thelma Peake trained with the Western Australians Decima Norman and Joan Woodland under their coach Frank Preston. The women were disturbed when no training facilities had been arranged for them and to find that there were no change rooms or massage facilities for women at the Sydney Cricket Ground where the Games were to be held.

Despite these upsets, Thelma won her heat of the 100y in 11.5 and felt she was close to her top shape. Forty minutes later, in the semi-finals of that event, she was unlucky to be upset by a javelin landing near the start of the 100y and was disqualified for breaking. The crowd gave her an ovation as she left the track but the gracious champion took her bad fortune with equanimity, stating that she had 'no complaints'.

In her next competition of the Games, two days later, Thelma won the bronze medal in the Long Jump with a performance of . Though she lost her national record to Decima Norman, she was thrilled to receive her medal and held hands with Decima as the national anthem played and the flags raised.

Running below her previous best times, she was unable to make the final of the 80m Hurdles, but concluded her only international meet with a Gold medal as part of the victorious Australian 660y relay team where she ran the final 110y leg.

Undisturbed by thoughts of retirement or more children, Peake won her fifieth state championship in August 1938 when she won the 880y race by the length of the straight. She won another five individual titles before the championships had concluded and also shared in a relay win. Her time of 12.1 for 80m Hurdles was also a state record.

More state championships followed in 1939 and she was again part of the Queensland state team in 1940, when the national championships were conducted in Perth, Western Australia. The trip to Perth, by rail, was a long one and so the small team stopped in Sydney en route for training and competition.

The women competed in the New South Wales state titles in Sydney and Thelma Peake comfortably won the 880y but could only run fourth in a classy 100y final.

Once in Perth, Thelma Peake started in just the 880y and Long Jump. She could not retain her Long Jump title, her best of 5.32m second to Empire record-holder Decima Norman (5.70m) and was unable to catch the strong Western Australians in the 880y where she ran third.

This was to be Thelma Peake's fourth and final national championships; she ended her national competitions with three gold, four silver and two bronze medals for her individual efforts.

Her final Queensland state championships were held later that year in Brisbane and Thelma Peake won another six titles to take her individual tally to 67 - a remarkable achievement for a twenty six year old woman.

Through her career she had set many firsts. She was, in 1935, the first mother to become a national champion or record-holder in athletics and in 1938 she became the first mother (or married woman) to represent Australia internationally. She may also have been the first mother to win an individual medal (and a team gold medal) at an international games in Sydney 1938.

Thelma's husband, Tom Peake, was extremely supportive and both he and Tom Junior (whom everyone called 'Binky') were regulars at the track when Mrs Peake was training or competing.

The young Mrs Peake was also active in the sportís administration; twice serving as Honorary Secretary of the QWAAA (1932/3) and (1934/5) and, in 1940, she was elected to the executive committee of the AWAAU.

The approach of the Pacific war forced the cancellation of most sports in Queensland after 1940. Due to this, Mrs Thelma Peake had no alternative but to retire from athletics prematurely at the age of 26; Queensland's greatest woman athlete.

PERSONAL BESTS

100y	11.0	28/08/37  Brisbane
220y	25.8	26/06/37  Brisbane
440y	60.8	19/06/37  Brisbane
880y	2-28.6	03/06/33  Brisbane
80mH	12.0	05/09/36  Brisbane
90yH	12.6	01/09/34  Brisbane
LJ	5.66	04/09/37  Brisbane
HJ	1.295	09/09/33  Brisbane
SP	9.22	31/08/35  Brisbane
DIS	27.47	04/09/37  Brisbane
JAV	26.65	01/07/39  Brisbane

INTERNATIONAL HONOURS

EMPIRE GAMES	GOLD   1938  440y Relay
		BRONZE 1938  Long Jump

PROGRESSION

YEAR	90yH		Long Jump
1931	15.0
1932		
1933			5.20
1934	12.6m		5.47
1935	13.2		5.38
1936	12.0m		5.48
1937	12.6m		5.66
1938	12.1m (11.7y??)	5.55
1939	12.9m		5.13
1940			5.32

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

LONG JUMP	1933, 1935 ,1937

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 © 1995-2003 by Graham Thomas

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