Eleanor Ann Clunies-Ross was a sprint champion in the early 1950s who made a mark in Singapore’s sporting history with her raw talent and outstanding performance.
Eleanor’s talent was discovered when she was a 16-year-old student at Katong Convent School and a spectator at the 1951 interschool athletics championships being held at the Raffles Girls’ Secondary School (RGSS). The sports secretary of RGSS, Miss E.R Aeria, invited Katong Convent to fill the two empty spots for the 100-yard sprint event. But Katong Convent did not have an athletics team, so Miss Aeria suggested that Eleanor, who was her niece, take part.
Welcoming the chance to compete even though she had no prior training in athletics, Eleanor borrowed a pair of shorts from her friend and ran in the heats. She raced on her bare feet, passing more experienced sprinters, and won the heat.
The next day, Eleanor competed in the finals and clinched victory yet again, this time smashing the schoolgirls’ record of 13.6s with her timing of 12.4s. She was a mere 0.2s short of matching the then Singapore record.
Eleanor was immediately recruited by prominent coach and champion sprinter Tan Eng Yoon for Singapore’s elite athletics club, the Swifts Club. In July 1951, she competed in the 100-yard sprint event at Singapore’s A.A.A Championships in bad weather. The track was wet and soft, and yet Eleanor was able to win in the record time of 12.4s.
A major setback in Eleanor’s career came in 1952 when she was denied a place in the contingent to the Helsinki Olympics. At the trials she met the qualifying mark for the 100-metre event with a timing of 12.9s. But officials said she had been helped by the wind conditions. At the next trials, she turned in an even better performance of 12.8s. She was not, however, selected for Singapore’s Olympics contingent.
Undeterred, Eleanor continued her athletics career, and moved beyond the sprint events and into hurdling, high jump and long jump. At the Swifts Club and Johore Athletic Association meet in June 1952, she bettered the Singapore record by six inches on her debut attempt at the long jump event when she cleared 15 ft 2 ½ ins. In 100-yard sprint event, she clocked 12.1s to break the Singapore record that she had previously shared with Tang Pui Wah.
Retiring from athletics in the late 1950s, Eleanor joined the Times Organisation as a telephone operator. In 1980, after a break of 24 years, Eleanor, by then a mother of two, participated in the Singapore Association of Veteran Athletes’ first National Athletic Championships. She came in second in the 100 metres 40-44 age group with a time of 18.6s.