30 Apr British-Jamaican Marilyn Neufville: Youthfullness, Sprint World Records, Controversy, and Injuries
As an elite black Jamaican athlete in the United Kingdom during the tumultuous years of racism and black power movements during the 1960’s and 1970’s, controversy would swirl around slender Marilyn Fay Neufville.
A south London resident who had migrated from Jamaica when she was eight years old, and even competed for Britain internationally, she had “defied British officials and missed a meet against East Germany in order to train with the Jamaican team” (Associated Press: 1970). Neufville had ran for the Cambridge Harriers of southeast London during her teens after she had arrived in Britain in 1961 when she was 8 years old. Four months before the summer Commonwealth Games of 1970, Neufville had represented Britain and won the 400m title for Britain. She was born in Hectors River in Portland (Jamaica) on November 16th 1952. She started as a short-distance sprinter, and it was at the end of 1969, that she started concentrating on the 400m.
Neufville first became significantly recognized at national level when in 1967 she won two Amateur Athletic Association of England sprint titles in the under-15 group: the 100 and 150 yards (in 17.3 seconds).
Again as a junior, in 1968, she won in the 220 yards in the Amateur Athletic Association under-17 group in 23.9 seconds–a new national record in this category. The Amateur Athletic Association, reputably the oldest athletics’ national governing body in the world, was established in April 1880. The championships are regarded as the British National Championships, though they have been open to foreign competitors.
As an intermediate (under-17), Neufville won the English Schools Championships title in the 150 yards, improving her personal best to 16.6 seconds in Shrewsbury. She would progress to the women’s Amateur Athletic Association championships in 1969 and was just beaten into second place (24.3) by 28 year-old legendary Dorothy Hyman (23.7) in the 200m; Val Peat, the previous champion, won the bronze medal (24.3). Hyman, a multiple medallist at the European Games, Commonwealth Games, and the Olympics is regarded as Britain’s greatest sprinter.
During 1969, 16 year-old Neufville was ranked 27th in the 400m in the world, courtesy of her personal best (54.2) executed in London on October 9th. Earlier, on August 23rd 1969, running for the track team Cambridge Harriers, Neufville ran a 54.4 in the 400m which time still places her among the top ten British youngsters among the under-17 group. In September, Neufville was part of the winning 4x400m relay team that won in the track meet versus West Germany in Hamburg. Also on September 6th 1969, she won the 300m in London, in 38.3 seconds. This time is still listed as among the best among United Kingdom youngsters under 17 years of age.
1970 and the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in Edinburgh
As a British runner, Marilyn’s personal outdoor best in the 400m would become 52.6 achieved when she won The Internationales Stadionfest 400m title in 1970. Here, in Berlin, she smashed the British record. The silver and bronze medallists were West Germans Christel Frese (54.3) and Inge Eckhoff (54.5). Neufville’s personal best indoors was her 53.01 world record breaking and winning performance that is mentioned below.
At the 1970 European Athletics Indoor Championships held in Vienna (March 14th to 15th), Neufville, representing Great Britain, won impressively in the 400m (53.01). This, established on March 14th, was a new indoor world record; a timing more than a second below her previous personal best (54.2). The silver medallist was Christel Frese of West Germany (53.1), followed by the previous (1968) Olympic gold medallist Colette Besson of France (53.6). The indoor record would be reduced by Nadezhda Ilyina (Nadezhda Kolesnikova-Ilyina) of the Soviet Union, in 1974.
On May 17th 1970, Neufville participated in the Britain vs. Netherlands Women’s meet in Sparta Stadium. In the 200 meters W. Van den Berg of the Netherlands won (23.7), Neufville was second (23.8), and M. Cobb also of Britain was third (24.1). As for the 4x400m relay, Marilyn ran the last leg flawlessly with ease, and the British (3:45.1) beat Netherlands (3:50.8).
Also early in 1970, Neufville won the 400m title in the British Amateur Athletic Association indoor championships in 54.9 seconds, establishing a new national record. Jannette Champion (56.5) was second, and Avril Beattie (57.1) won the bronze medal. Neufville would participate in the same championships during the next year 1971, but this time representing Jamaica. This time the winner was Champion (now Jannette Roscoe) in 56.1, Marilyn was second (57.3), and Maureen Tranter of Britain (57.5) was third.
Still in 1970, Marilyn Fay was a notable fixture at the South of England Championships that were held in London. Here, she won the 200m and 400m in 23.9 and 52.0 seconds, respectively–both new records in the annual event. She would return to the Championships the next year 1971 as a Jamaican, and would retain the 200m title, winning in 24.2 again in London.
On July 23rd at the Commonwealth Games, the 17 year-old long-legged and slim Neufville established a new 400m world record of 51.02, and then the next day at a press conference refused to comment on the accomplishment in which she had just lowered the record, that had been jointly held by the French women Colette Besson and Nicole Duclos (set in Athens in 1969), by a massive seven-tenths of a second. The 51.02 would endure as Neufville’s personal best. Neufville had won by a full twenty seconds ahead of the runner-up Sandra Brown of Australia (53.66), in a time one second faster than she had ever ran in the event! The performance was the day’s highlight at the Commonwealth Games. Judith Ayaa of Uganda was third (53.77).
On July 24th, “at a bizarre news conference,” Neufville, “… sat with her Jamaican team manager, Norman Hill… and just silently shook her head at every question” (Associated Press: 1970). In the extraordinary scene, Hill had brought her into the room that was lined with forty newsmen and ushered her into the reserved seat of honor, and then declared that she was not going to answer to any questions and comments. As for her silent passive response, the manager Hill explained that Neufville was warily tense about uttering anything that would possibly jeopardize her future in athletics. Indeed she had ran for Jamaica, though she had formerly ran for Britain to which she was tied under the international rules of athletics.
Would Neufville be in trouble with the British Amateur Athletic Association for which she had competed in world events? She had been allowed by the Association to tour Europe with the Jamaican team, as long as she would return and be part of Britain’s team to be pitted against East Germany. Neufville defiantly stayed with Jamaicans, she did not show up for the European track meet executed two weeks earlier. Hill was even evasive in replying about whether Marilyn Fay, in maintaining silence, was protesting British officials’ attitude. Marilyn would later compete in the 4x100m relay: the Jamaican team finished fifth.
Though the Commonwealth Games were held in Edinburgh, right in the United Kingdom, “Neufville was not jeered or beaten, though her preference for representing Jamaica while she was a resident in London angered many, especially as many [blacks] sought… British [sports] titles but were prevented from doing so by a rule that specified that a… contestant ‘has been resident in the United Kingdom for a period of not less than ten years'” (Cashmore 2010: 242).
It would take two years for Marilyn’s world record to be equaled–Monica Zehrt of GDR on July 4th 1972 in Paris. It would be nearly exactly four years later (July 22nd 1974 in Warsaw) that superwoman Irena Szewinska of Poland broke Neufville’s world record, down by more than a second (49.9) and the first ever below 50 seconds.
Near the end of July 1970, about a month after her Commonwealth triumph in Edinburgh, British track officials convinced that she was bent on competing for Jamaica, declared that they would not include Neufville on the British team that would soon participate in the European Cup competition. They would not object to Neufville’s defection to Jamaica, but would defer the matter to the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) for approval. Neufville even nursed the option of studying at an American college. After he Commonwealth performance, there was jubilation in Jamaica, she was officially congratulated by Prime Minister Hugh Shearer and also accorded a civic reception in her home parish Portland on the north coast of Jamaica. Neufville left Jamaica for London in late August, only days before her athletics’ national affiliation and situation would be decided by the International Amateur Athletic Commission in Stockholm. It would be decided that international athletes could henceforth be able to switch from one country after one year after competing, instead of every three years.
In Toronto, on February 5th 1971, Neufville won in the 300 yards (35.7).
At the 1971 Central American and Caribbean Championships held during mid-July in Kingston, Marilyn Fay won in the 400m and established a course record (53.5). She was followed by Carmen Trustee of Cuba (54.0) and the bronze was captured by Yvonne Saunders of Jamaica (54.3). Neufville was also part of the Jamaica 4x400m relay team that won the silver medal (3:41.0), behind gold medallists Cuba (3:38.6, a new course record), and ahead of bronze medallists Trinidad and Tobago (4:03.2).
Only weeks later, on August 3rd, Neufville won a gold medal at the 1971 sixth Pan-African Games (held from late July to early August in Cali in Colombia) in the 400m–the first time the event was contested at these Games. Her winning time was 52.34 (51.34?), and the team-mate Yvonne Saunders was third (53.13). The two were also part of the Jamaica 4x400m relay team that also included Ruth Williams and Beverly Franklin and won the bronze medal (3:34.05). Jamaica was beaten by the United States (3:32.45) and silver medallists Cuba (3:34.04). Fay’s 400m performance in Cali was her personal best of 1971, and the second best in world annual ranking. Here in Cali, Carmen Trustee of Cuba finished second (52.8).
Neufville left Britain for Jamaica in July 1971, amidst the storm of controversy in which she claimed she had been mistreated and that she would therefore continue to run for Jamaica. She denied that she was leaving London because of racial prejudice. It was argued that under International Amateur Athletic Federation rules, Marilyn Fay would be eligible to compete for Jamaica in the forthcoming Olympics, but that she would not be eligible to under the International Olympics Committee rules.
From September 1971, she lived near Los Angeles with multi-world record-holder Chi Cheng (Chi Cheng Reel) of Taiwan and her husband and coach Vince Reel who also coached Neufville and was the coach at Claremont College.
1972 and the Olympics in Munich
The ninth annual Albuquerque Jaycees Invitational track meet was held in the middle of July 1972. Here Carol Hudson, a native of Albuquerque, ably beat Marilyn Fay and also Karin Lundgren of Sweden in 600 yard run. Hudson’s performance was new American record (1:21.8)
On January 24th 1972, Neufville competed in an indoor track meet in Los Angeles, in the 600 yards. Unfortunately, she fell near the end of the race. She was visibly in great as she was helped up. With a severed tendon, she became scheduled to undergo an operation at Glendale Community Hospital. The officials were pessimistic about her chances at recovering quickly enough to compete in the forthcoming summer Olympics in Munich. The track doctor Jerome Bornstein said that it would depend on how significant the tear was. He said that if the tendon was badly severed, it would incapacitate Neufville for at least six months–a condition that would spoil her regimen of adequately building up for the Olympics.
She was helped to foot her medical bill: “World record holder Marilyn Neufville became the first claimant to receive payment for expenses caused by athletic injury under the Amateur Athletic Union’s optional athlete’s insurance program, which went into effect January 1… a total of $1000 has been sent to Ms. Neufville and Glendale Community Hospital… ” (Amateur Athletic Union of the United States 1972: 9).
It became doubtful that Neufville would participate in the Wills-Qantas Olympic fund-raising meetings that were scheduled for mid-March in Sydney, Adelaide, and Melbourne. She was to have been a feature attraction at the meets.
In the middle of July 1972, Neufville was listed in the 27-member track and field team that would represent Jamaica at the Olympics. There were still hopes that she would recover from the snapped Achilles tendon that had disabled her from competing since the fall in January. In the second week of August, it was declared that Marilyn Faye had not sufficiently recovered and so would not compete at the Olympics.
Monica Zehrt of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) had equaled the world record held by Neufville. The latter was injured and unable to compete at the Olympics in Munich in 1972, but 19 year-old Zehrt, “[seemingly] unaffected by the pressure of her opponents or by her role as favorite” (Wallechinsky 2000: 206), went on to win the gold in the event, setting a new Olympic record (51.08).
In the middle of January 1973, in Winnipeg, 18 year-old Joanne McTaggert of Canada won in the 300m (40.2) in the first time she had competed in the distance. She beat the big names Yvonne Saunders, Kathy Hammond, and Neufville.
At the Sunkist International Invitational Indoor Track Meet in Los Angeles, Neufville and Chi Cheng Reel, running for the Los Angeles Track Club, were part of the sprint relay that won in 1:14.3.
At the end of January 1973 Neufville, again representing the Los Angeles Track Club in the Albuquerque Invitational Track and Field meet, won the 300 yard dash in 35.4 seconds.
On February 23rd 1973, the United States Indoor National Championships were held in Madison Square Garden in New York. Neufville, representing the Los Angeles Track Club, finished third in the 440 yards (56.2), behind Brenda Walsh of Canada (55.5), and Kathy Hammond of the Sacramento Road Runners (55.7).
In the first week of June, Neufville set a Kennedy Games record of 55.1, in winning.
Near the end of June 1973, at the Women’s Amateur Athletic Union meet held in Irvine in California, Neufville was beaten into second place in the 440 yards. She was second (54.5) and the winner was Olympian Mable Fergerson (54.1).
The Pacific International Games were held early in July 1973. in Victoria in Canada. The winner in the 400m was Charlene Rendina of Australia (52.4). Neufville disappointingly finished sixth.
On July 19th 1973, Neufville together with the other Jamaican world record hold Donald Quarrie were included on the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association’s team scheduled to participate in the Central American and Caribbean Athletic Championships to be held during July 26th to 29th in Maracaibo in Venezuela. Injuries prevented Neufville from competing.
1974 and the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in Christchurch
Marilyn Fay at 21, would travel to Christchurch in New Zealand to represent Jamaica at the Commonwealth of Nations’ Games in 1974. The injuries plagued her and she would only afford a sixth place finishing in the 400m (54.04). The gold medallist was her former team-mate Yvonne Saunders (51.67) who had become a naturalized Canadian, followed by Verona Bernard (51.94), and bronze medallist Charlene Rendina of Australia (52.08).
As a University of California at Berkeley student, Neufville finished fourth in the 800 yards, in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women Outdoor Championships.
1976 and the Olympics in Montreal
On July 25th 1976, 23 year-old Neufville competed for Jamaica in the 400m at the Olympics in Montreal. Here, in the third of the six heats of the first round and running in lane 3, she finished fourth (52.93) behind Ellen Strophal-Streidt of East Germany (52.56), Christiane Casapicola-Wildschek of Austria (52.65). and Judy Canty of Australia (52.88). Though Marilyn Fay qualified for the next round (quarter-finals) to take place in the evening, this would be the first and end of her Olympic presence as injuries discouraged her from competing any further. Still, the 52.93 was her personal best for 1976. This timing is the fourth personal best all-time performance among the 400m University of California at Berkeley (California Bears) women track stars. The time is also the oldest only 1970’s personal best timing that is among the top ten best in the quarter-mile sprint. The best California Bears’ personal bests were established by Latasha Gilliam (52.53, 1996), Alima Kamara (52.75, 2010), and Marian Franklin (52.90, 1980).
As a student competing for University of California at Berkeley, Neufville’s collegiate personal best was 54.08, also established in 1976. This timing is listed seventh among University of Califoria at Berkeley performances, behind Latasha Gilliam, Marian Franklin, Kim White, Chantal Reynolds, Connie Culbert, and Kelia Bolton. Marilyn attended the University of California at Berkeley between 1972 and 1983.
In Montreal in the Olympic finals of the 400m, 30 year-old Irena Szewinska-Kirszenstein of Poland, also an outstanding short-sprinter and long jumper as well as multiple Olympic gold medallist, established a world record (49.28), ten meters ahead of runner-up 18 year-old Christina Brehmer of East Germany (50.51), and 23 year-old Ellen Strophal-Streidt also of German Democratic Republic (50.55). In 1974, Irena Szewinska-Kirszenstein had become the first woman to officially run the distance in less than 50 seconds.
Marilyn Neufville has for many years been employed as a social worker both in the United States and the United Kingdom. She has worked at Local Authority Social Services in London, in a mental health care division. In March 2013, 60 year-old Neufville filled a claim over unfair dismissal in 2010 by the Richmond Council in London (Bishop: 2013). Accused of mishandling a case that involved domestic violence, she had been fired.
In the United States, Neufville lived and worked in and around Haviland and Halstead in Kansas, Martinsville in Virginia, and in Ballwin and St. Charles in Missouri. She lived in Oakland while attending University of California at Berkeley. She was also affiliated with Tilastopaja Oy Athletics, St. Columbas School in Kilmacolm (Scotland), and the South England Athletic Association. After he win at the Commonwealth Games, national stamps with her image were issued.
Jamaica women’s 400m record, established by Lorraine Fenton on July 19th 2002 in Monaco, is now 49.30. Neufville is still the only Jamaican woman to have ever held a world record in outdoor athletics. From 1978 to 1982, Marita Koch of East Germany lowered the 400m world record six times, from 49.19 to 48.16 in Europe. Her dominance was interrupted by Jarmila Kratochvílová of Czechoslovakia who in August 1983, lowered it to 47.99 in Helsinki. At 1:53.28, Jarmila Kratochvílová still holds the 800m world record that was also established in 1983. The 400m world record (47.60) was re-established by Marita Koch in October 1985 in Canberra.
Neufville was officially listed as 5’5″ and 125 pounds. She did not have the commonly significant build of a sprinter, and her thinness made her prone to injuries. As a result she was unable to perform at many international competitions and her performance deteriorated. But she was perhaps Britain’s first elite black athlete.
Associated Press: “‘M’ Student Takes First,” (July 24, 1970) in “Michigan Daily.”
Amateur Athletic Union of the United States: Amateur Athletic Union News Volumes 43-46, 1972.
Bishop, Rachel. “Social worker claims unfair dismissal from Richmond Council,” (March 1, 2013) in “Richmond & Twickenham Times.”
Cashmore, Ellis. Making Sense of Sports. London: Routledge, 2010.
Wallechinsky, David. The Complete Book of the Olympics. London: Aurum Press, 2000.