MARY BEATRICE KLASS
Mary Beatrice Klass was in 1954 one of the two fastest women in Asia. Representing Singapore at the Asian Games in Manila, the 19-year-old tied with crowd favorite Japanese sprinter Atsuko Nambu at 12.5s in the 100-metre race. Without the sophisticated sports timing technology of today, race officials had to decide who should get the gold, and awarded it to the Japanese runner.
‘A little girl with lots of pluck’ was how The Straits Times described Mary in its report ln the race. It said that Mary had stunned everyone with her amazing effort as she had, in the semi-finals, been beaten by her Japanese rival by a good three yards.
Mary represented Singapore in the senior team at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Though she did not progress beyond her heats in the 100 metres and 200 metres, Mary’s time of 26.3s in the 200-m heats was a Malayan record.
A Eurasian of Dutch and Portuguese descent, Mary burst on the athletic scene in 1953 at the Singapore Amateur Athletic Association (A.A.A.) championship, beating the ‘Helsinki Girl’ Tang Pui Wah. The relative newcomer won the 100-yard event (12.5s) and tied for first place in the 220-yard event (29s).
Mary is quoted in the book To the Finishing Line: “And I never knew about my potential until 1952, when I was seventeen, I think. Then I went into athletics. We had all these combined meetings and I just ran. And in 1953, at the Coronation Meet, that’s where I ran and made a name for myself.”
At the contest on June 3, 1953 between Civilians and Services, Mary who was entered as ‘Betty Clark’ won the 100 yards in 12.2s.
A student at St. Anthony’s Convent until the age of 13, she was a regular participant in the sports events organised by the Eurasian Youth League. After her debut at the Singapore A.A.A. event in 1952, Jocelyn de Souza, uncle of fellow sprinter Eleanor Ross, got Mary into the Achilles Club. He lined up coaching sessions for Mary and was one of her biggest supporters for many years.
After the Manila Asian Games, Mary continued to smash records. At the Malayan A.A.A championships in 1955, she won the Best Performance Cup after setting a new record for the 100 yards (11.5s) and equalling the record for the 220 yards (26.7s).
At the 1956 Malayan A.A.A championships, despite an ankle injury a month earlier which forced her to miss critical training and practice sessions, Mary again set records. She clocked 11.2s for the 100 yards and 26.4 s for 220 yards.
“I suppose my determination covered all the pain,” Mary said in To the Finishing Line on her victory at the 1956 Malayan A.A.A. championships despite her ankle injury.
After another double victory at the 1957 Merdeka Games where Mary won the 100 yards (12.2 s) and 220 yards (26.7s), the 22-year-old hung up her running shoes.
On her early retirement, Mary said in To the Finishing Line: “I didn’t want to race any more because there was no competition. Whenever I went to the field to run, I was running by myself, just running. Nobody else wanted to run against me.”
After retiring from athletics, Mary played netball and hockey for the Girls’ Sports Club.