Golden girl Rosemary remains an inspiration on the field at 79

Rosemary Payne. Discus. 1972  Munich olympics.
Rosemary Payne. Discus. 1972 Munich olympics.

IF you really want to look at an inspirational athlete from the Borders, you will not find a better example than discus thrower Rosemary Payne (now Rosemary Chrimes).

Born in Kelso in 1933 and known locally as ‘Bud’ Charters before she married Olympic hammer thrower Howard Payne, she made her international debut for the British team at the age of 30 and is still competing in veterans’ throwing and running events today.

Rosemary Payne. Discus. 1972  Munich olympics.

Rosemary Payne. Discus. 1972 Munich olympics.

A highlight of Rosemary’s athletics life is undoubtedly the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, but in a career stretching back to the 1950s, this former pupil of Kelso High School has racked up an awe-inspiring collection of trophies, titles and world records.

After taking 10th place in the discus event at the 1958 Empire Games, Rosemary went on to compete in 50 internationals for the British team.

Her ranking in the 1958 Empire Games was secured with a throw of 34.96m, and by the Olympic year of 1972 she had improved to the point where she had thrown more than 55m several times and set her ultimate PB (personal best) and a staggering 12th British discus record in winning the Midlands title.

Rosemary’s first record mark was 48.07m in 1964. But her best win came in 1970, when she claimed gold in the Commonwealth discus in Scotland’s national stadium at Meadowbank in Edinburgh.

She added Commonwealth silver to that four years’ later at the gathering in New Zealand. Rosemary, who was associated for much of her career with the Birmingham club, Lozell’s Harriers, also contested three European championships, with her best performance coming when she reached the discus final ahead of several superior East Europeans in the 1971 event.

On the domestic circuit, Rosemary won five WAAA titles, and was the best-placed UK performer every year from 1964-74 – and added to that haul were 11 Scottish and Midland titles.

In the Munich Olympic final of 1972, Rosemary finished in 12th place with an excellent 56.50m, which is still a tough mark for a Briton to beat today.

After retiring in 1974, she became GB junior team manager and was responsible for nurturing the talents of such future Olympians as Steve Cram, Fatima Whitbread, Colin Jackson, Steve Backley and many others.

Following a decade away from competition, she was persuaded to make a comeback and take part in the veteran athletics scene.

Within a short time, Rosemary’s class shone through and she quickly racked up four world age group records and has since gone on to accumulate more than 16 world age group titles.

Primarily a thrower, Rosemary has also been sprinting and high jumping in the W75 (women 75 years and over) class, recently achieving World W75 age records of 9.60 in the shot and 29.07 in the discus.

It all began for Rosemary while a teenager at Kelso High School, when she was persuaded to try the sport by her older sister’s husband, who was himself a university discus thrower.

“There wasn’t a great tradition of discus throwing in Britain, never mind in Scotland, when I started,” she told TheSouthern this week.

“One of the highlights of my career was certainly the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 1970. Howard Payne, who I was married to, also won gold that day in the hammer event, so it was a pretty good afternoon!”

Now linked with a small club, Halesowen, just outside of Birmingham where she has lived since 1963, Rosemary says it had long been a dream to make it to the Olympics.

“I’d always said you’re not a real athlete until you make it to the Olympics. However, I had actually been thinking about retiring in 1970, but then thought I’d give it another go and really trained hard in 1971 and ‘72.

“I was thrilled to make it to the Olympic final because there was really tough competition from all the Russians, Bulgarians and East Germans who dominated the sport back then.”

Asked why she still pushes herself to take part in veterans events at her age, Rosemary says it keeps her fit and healthy, as well as still being great fun.

“I get to meet some of my old buddies as well, which is nice. But at my age I can only really train once a week – any more and I’d probably get injured. In saying that, though, I managed to break my own world record in the high jump at a meeting in the Midlands on Sunday.

“Mind you, I’m not going to tell you how high it was!”

z Rosemary’s story and those of other local athletes who have competed in the Olympics all appear in the new schools guide, Border Olympians and Paralympians

This article is based on the original research by Henry Gray contained in Border Olympians and Paralympians (© Henry Gray & Heritage Hub).