Evelyn Furtsch, part of the gold-medal-winning US 4x100m team at the 1932 Olympics, turned 100 years old on Thursday (17), becoming the first female Olympic champion in athletics to live for a century and the oldest living track and field Olympic gold medallist.
Born in San Diego, Furtsch moved to Orange County in her early years and discovered her talent for sprinting. Aged just 18 at the time, she was selected for the US 4x100m team for the 1932 Olympic Games on home soil in Los Angeles, but did so only by the skin of her teeth.
She almost didn’t even make it to the US Trials, but her family and friends went door to door in their neighbourhood and raised $190 to send Furtsch to the Olympic Trials in Chicago. She made it to the 100m final, but fell when crossing the finish line and was disqualified.
Fortunately for Furtsch, two of the athletes who finished ahead of her – Elizabeth Wilde and Louise Stokes – were not selected for the Games, so Furtsch claimed the fourth and final spot in the 4x100m.
In Los Angeles, Furtsch ran the second leg for the US, receiving the baton from Mary Carew before passing on to Annette Rogers with individual 100m bronze medallist Wilhelmina von Bremen running the anchor. Their winning performance of 46.9 was a world record at the time.
After the Olympics, Furtsch attended college in Santa Ana for two years, but with limited training opportunities, she ended her athletics career at an early age and took up field hockey and basketball. She married soon after, but her husband Joe passed away in 1972.
Only one other Olympic gold medallist in athletics, 1936 4x400m champion Godfrey Rampling, has made it to 100 years of age. He passed away in 2009, one month after his 100th birthday.