Key Points:

In the last of our series recounting Olympic experiences, we talk to Marise Chamberlain, who won bronze in the 800m at Tokyo in 1964.

Village life in 1964 ...

was vastly different than it is now, with women in the compound separate from the men. We could go and have a communal meal in the men's quarters but on the whole I didn't. I didn't know any Japanese but when we went they gave us a Japanese dictionary. The workers who came and did our rooms were all Japanese older women and they spoke only Japanese, so I thought it would be polite if I learned a phrase every day, something like "how are you today?", what my name was, "thank you" - just general things. They were small women, tiny, and their faces used to light up. Oh, it was beautiful to see. Before I knew it, every day they came, they'd bring me a little gift and they'd have it all wrapped up in a box, beautifully done. I've still got them.

Advertisement

In the days before the final ...

my brother and I were in the stadium standing out of respect for the athletes during a medal ceremony. It always fills me with tremendous emotion when you do that. Having been an athlete, you know what the work is to get there. I said to my brother: "I'd just absolutely love to be on the dais somewhere, to stand there and feel that moment where everyone is standing for those three people." He said to me: "There's no reason you can't. You've just got to get out there and do it. You're quite capable." I said to him: "How can you say such a thing?"

When I did win the bronze ... it was absolutely overwhelming to me, really, and I did weep. I thought of the cold, wet nights, the hard frosty nights, no track, only a grass one in Ensors Rd [Christchurch] where the caretaker had put blobs of white chalk around for me to see it was a track. We had to rely on the trains that went from Christchurch to Lyttelton to light up that ground every 20 minutes. That gave me a clue of where I was on this ground. I had a coach standing in the dark with a little torch that when I finally got around I could see this tiny little light and hear his voice encouraging me. We never had any correct facilities at all, just a shed where we changed. And so all of that, the culmination of all those years of these dreadful conditions, never once having my feet on beautiful ground to train with, it just swept over me and I thought: "We've done it - my coach and I. We've finally got a foot on this podium."

I was unaware ...

that I was holding up proceedings. The Marquess of Exeter was presenting my medal and I didn't know he was standing before me until [the British gold medallist] Ann Packer patted me and said: "The Marquess is waiting for you." He said: "Don't worry, let your tears go, I find it most delightful." That's how it happened. It was a truly unique experience. The anthem was

God Save the Queen

which New Zealand had then too, so when it played, I had a feeling for it too.

Winning a medal ...

Advertisement

never leaves you. I was reading an account about Arthur Porritt and he said of all the things he did that medal was the most important thing to him and took him through his life. You sort of make a mark in a way because you have managed to get among those elite people. Those three names are recorded all the way through and it is a marvellous feeling which you later on suddenly realise. It hits you more, I think, as the years go by. The thrill of it comes to the fore again now that it's Olympic year. The marvellous thing is I'm still the only [New Zealand] female track runner to have won a medal. Even if one thinks about it now, with Valerie Vili, there again we're going back into the field.