Hurdler looks to score century
By Doug Laing
A former leading international athlete who was also selected to play for New Zealand at netball and basketball celebrated her 99th birthday at a Havelock North retirement village.
Showing there’s still plenty of puff left yet Rona McCarthy (nee Tong) blew-out the two figure-99 candles lit by only daughter Karin Campbell in the Riverstone Cafe at Mary Doyle Lifecare.
The pianist played and fellow residents sang Happy Birthday and then For She’s A Jolly Good Fellow, Mrs McCarthy crossing her fingers as the masses looked forward to her being round to celebrate an even greater milestone this time next year.
Mrs McCarthy still has the singlet and blazer from the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney, where she was one of 18 track and field athletes in a 71-strong New Zealand team which won 25 medals, including her bronze in the women’s 80-metres hurdles.
She also ran in the 100 yards sprint, but was eliminated in the heats.
It was a Games marked by the double gold of New Zealand middle-distance runner Cecil Matthews, and the appearance of rising teenaged New Zealand sprinting star Doreen Lumley, who in 1939 equalled the women’s World 100yds record, but died later that year with her twin sister in a car crash.
Aged 21 at the time of the Empire Games, now known as the Commonwealth Games, hopes of going to the Olympics were stymied by the advent of World War 2 in 1939. There were no Olympics in 1940 or 1944, and no Empire Games in 1942, nor, after the war ended, in 1946.
She was selected for national sides in netball (then known as basketball), and basketball (then known as indoor basketball) but proposed matches against Australia did not eventuate.
She took to coaching in all of the sports, and umpiring, and was recognised with life membership of the Hastings Netball Centre Umpires Association in 1967, and was awarded the MBE in the 1979 Queen’s Birthday Honours, for services to sport.
She has maintained her interest in sport and sat with other residents last weekend during the telecast of the Netball World Championships final in which Australia beat New Zealand.
It was unclear yesterday whether she is the oldest surviving New Zealand Empire Commonwealth or Olympic games team member.
Her daughter lives in Havelock North, and the two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren also remain in Hawke’s Bay, where Rona Tong was born in August 1916.
Photo caption – HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Former sports star Rona McCarthy (centre), a 1938 Empire Games hurdling bronze medalist, marking her 99th birthday yesterday. At left is daughter Karin Campbell. PHOTO/DUNCAN BROWN