Hundredth birthday celebrations

As one of the last surviving competitors of the 1934 British Empire Games, Marjorie Harris, who was 100 on Tuesday, has seen many changes to athletics.

As one of the last surviving competitors of the 1934 British Empire Games, Marjorie Harris, who was 100 on Tuesday, has seen many changes to athletics.

Not least women being allowed to compete in the Olympics.

The centenarian from Fakenham missed out on taking part in the 1936 Olympics because women high jumpers were not permitted.

But this did not stop her taking part in the Women's World Games and making her mark in the 1934 Empire Games, the forerunner to today's Commonwealth Games.

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Her last sporting event was in 2002, aged 94, when she carried the Commonwealth Games baton in Norfolk as part of a relay around the country for the 2002 Manchester games.

And although she might not be as agile as she was in 1939, when she retired from competition, she has taken an avid interest in athletics ever since.

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“I'm always keen on watching it. I love watching Paula Radcliffe running her marathons, I think she is wonderful. I admire them all having been in it for 10 years.”

It was her school gym mistress who picked her out in the 1920s for having talent at high jump.

In 1929 she took part in her first international in the Women's World Games in Dusseldorf, Germany.

But it was in the 1934 British Empire Games in London that she made her mark as one of the first women to compete and came sixth.

It was a little different to today's high jump. High jumpers had to go foot first over the high jump and the landing pit the other side of the bar was a sand pit.

Women's shorts had to cover to just above the knee and, other than the cost of getting to competitions, only paid from London, athletes had to pay their own way.

And there was little training, mostly just a lot of jogging and running, and little recognition for women, but it was a very exciting time, she said.

“I had never dreamed I would be in the Empire Games,” she said.

“There were athletics associations but the women were not recognised like they are today.

“The day of the competition was very exciting - everyone was very het up but not nervous. It was just exciting to be in the games.

“There were no planes then; you travelled everywhere by boat and train. We all wore blazers with the England badge on.

“And there was no thought of being an amateur and money never came into it. We were just happy to be in the games.”

After she retired she judged high jump competitions. But it is not the same as it was, she said.

“I do not think it is high jump any more. You couldn't put your head over first like they do now. As soon as they changed the rules, that's when the records went up.”

And as for reaching 100. “It is keeping fit all the time.”

Until very recently she has still been attending keep fit classes three times a week.

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