Eileen Wearne – Trailblazing Sprinter

Day 268 of Colourisation Project – January 30

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

At the start of the 20th century, athletics was no place for a woman.

Pierre de Coubertin, the man the world considers the ‘Father of the Modern Olympics’ was of the opinion that female participation in the Olympic Games constituted a ‘regrettable impurity’ and that the primary role of women should be to crown the victors!

You can read more on his thoughts about women in an earlier blog I wrote here.

Suffice to say no woman took part in the first Olympic Games. Four years later, at the 2nd Olympic Games in Paris, 22 women out of a total of 997 athletes competed in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian and golf.

However it was not until 1928 that the Olympic Games added women’s track and field events to the competition and even then it was a controversial decision.

Eileen Wearne Bef & Aft

Photographer Unknown ~ Eileen Wearne c 1932 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

One such ‘regrettable impurity’ is today’s subject for colourisation, Eileen Wearne, an Australian groundbreaking athlete and sprinter. Born this day, 30 January 1912, in Sydney, NSW, she was the second woman selected to represent Australia in track and field at the 1932 Olympics after Edith (Edie) Robinson had been the first in 1928.

In the first half of the 20th century, female participation in sports was stymied by gender stereotyping and perceptions of femininity. Athletics in particular, being male dominated was characterized by masculine traits, such as strength, aggression and competition.  An American journalist at the time noted that Wearne had “a beautiful figure, a great deal of poise and a nice voice” and was “proof that athletic competition does not detract from the beauty or femininity of women.”

Things were not much better in Australia. In 1934, a Herald reporter commenting on the NSW championships in which Wearne participated, wrote:

“Looking at the women champions ready to take their places in the various events … one felt that the critics who maintain that athletics make a woman coarse and her muscles knotty were mistaken. In all parts of the field they moved easily and gracefully, their coloured blouses and running shorts making a pretty picture against the green lawns of the Sports Ground.”

A pretty picture?! In light of the recent controversy at the Australian Open over Canadian tennis player, Eugenie Bouchard being asked to “give us a twirl,” by a male presenter to show off her tennis outfit, you have to really wonder how far women have come in sport.

Wearne continued to participate in athletic events in Australia during the 1930s, winning New South Wales and Australian championships. In 1931 she was the winner of the first triathlon championship in New South Wales and in 1932 she set a national record of 11.2 seconds for 100 yards sprint. In 1938 Wearne won gold and bronze medals at the British Empire Games – a forerunner of the Commonwealth Games. Although Wearne retired in 1940, she remained active in the Olympic movement in Australia.

She died of cancer, in July 2007 at the age of 95. At the time of her death, she was Australia’s oldest living Olympian.

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This entry was posted in Australia, Colorization, Colourisation, Photography, Sport, Women, Women in Sport and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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