At a time when athletes with special needs received little support, Shirley (Gordon) Olafsson persevered to become one of the world’s top high jumpers.
Olafsson was born in 1927 with a clubfoot—a condition that kept her in and out of hospitals through most of her childhood. She was crazy about sports and by the age of fifteen she was able to shed her crutches and braces to begin high jumping.
She had to adapt the scissor jumping technique that was most common then to accommodate her immovable left ankle. Through hours of practice she developed a unique style of both taking off and landing on her right foot. Her hard work paid off when she began winning high school and BC championships.
She was BC’s premier high jump champion from 1945-52 and continually preformed as one of the top three jumpers in Canada. In 1948 she came second at the Canadian championships, made the Olympic qualifying standard and was named to the Canadian Olympic team. At the Olympic Games in London, Olafsson was elected captain of the women’s track and field team and finished 11th in the high jump. The next year she won both the Pacific Northwest and Canadian championships.
In 1950 she placed fifth at the British Empire Games in Auckland and was again named a team captain. For a period stretching ten years Olafsson was ranked among the top-six jumpers in Canada. After retiring from track and field, Olafsson coached and donated her time to several charitable organizations.
Columnist Denny Boyd said it best in his October 2003 article: “It’s tempting to stop here and say the rest is history. But it isn’t, not quite. The story has to finish in the Hall of Fame. As soon as possible”. The BC Sports Hall of Fame agreed and welcomed Olafsson into its’ Hall of Champions for her remarkable accomplishments.