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  Track & Field Athletics Australia    by Graham Thomas 

Profile - Verna Johnston


Verna Johnston - 1952

  • Born 17 March 1930
  • Australia/WA & Surf
  • Height - 5'3
  • Weight - 8 stone 6lbs

    Verna Johnston was one of Australia's leading sprinters and long jumpers in the era after World War II.  She is mainly remembered as a relay runner - winning two relay gold medals at the 1950 Empire Games and helping to set a number of world records in 4x100m and 4x110y events.

    Johnston was also part of the unfortunate Australian Olympic team who dropped the baton, while leading, in the final of the 1952 Olympic Games 4x100m relay.

Verna Johnston started competing in WA interclub during the 46/47 season and had immediate success, setting state junior records over 75y (8.8) and 100y (11.5).  At interclub sprints she ran Shirley Strickland close in a number of races and also started to train for the Long Jump.  

The seventeen year-old girl, from a little farm at Dangin, 123 miles from Perth, had become Western Australia’s number two athlete by January 1948 and was selected for the 100y, 220y and Long Jump at the 1948 Nationals, to be held in Sydney.

In the latter event, she placed second, only 1” behind Judy Canty, who was selected in the Olympic team and made the Olympic final in London.  Strangely, Johnston does not seem to have been seriously considered for an Olympic berth in 1948.  She failed in the sprints, run on waterlogged grass tracks that she was unaccustomed to.  Verna’s ‘flop’ in the sprints at these nationals almost persuaded her to heed advice from others who said she should ‘stick to jumping’, but Verna continued training hard and competing, with success, in sprint events.

In the 1948/49 season, Verna attracted attention when she beat Olympic stars Shirley Strickland and Fanny Blankers-Koen over 100y in Perth.  Fanny’s coach and husband, Jan Blankers, declared that Johnson was the best sprinter he had seen so far in Australia. 

In the 1950 Nationals, she ran well in the 100y, placing third behind Marjorie Jackson, who set a world record, and Olympic bronze medallist Shirley Strickland.  She also finished second in the Long Jump and fourth in the 220y.  These performances earned her a position in the 1950 Empire Games team.

In the Games, she competed in the 100y (where she won a bronze medal), the 220y (where she made the final) and the Long Jump (where she finished fourth).  In addition to these good solo performances, she ran well in Australia's two relay teams which both won gold.

Her good form continued through 1952, and she became national Long Jump champion, as well as running fourth in the 100y and third in the 220y.  She was one of only four women selected in the Australian athletics team for the Helsinki Games, and was named to start in the Long Jump and 4x100m relay.  

She made the final of the Long Jump, finishing a good eighth and ran two good legs in Australia’s 4x100m relay team.  In the heat, she and the other Australians set a world record to establish them as gold medal favourites.

Tragically, in the final, with Australia in the lead and en route to another world record, the baton was dropped and the Australians could only finish fifth.  It was little consolation to the Australians when they broke the 4x110y relay world record soon after the Games.

Verna Johnson retired at the end of 1953 because of ill health.  She had suffered with glandular fever through the year and was exhausted and unable to train.  After discussions with her coach, she announced her retirement, at the age of just 24.

More about Verna Johnston - COMING SOON!!

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