Yvette_CorlettJanuary 1 - Yvette Corlett, the first New Zealand woman to win an Olympic gold medal, has been made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to athletics in the New Year's Honours List, it has been announced.

Corlett, who won the gold medal in the long jump at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, was given the award 57 years after receiving an MBE.

Corlett trained on the sandhills at St Clair beach, and had to overcome two no-jumps in the final in Helsinki.

The Companion to the NZ Order of Merit (CNZM) now recognises her contributions to athletics over the following half-century.

Corlett - nee Williams - capitalised on her sporting achievements - she also won Commonwealth Games gold medals in the long jump (twice), shot put and discus, she played basketball for New Zealand, and she was twice named New Zealand Sportsman of the Year - by throwing herself into voluntary work.

She founded the Pakuranga Athletic Club in the early 1960s.

The club is now the largest in New Zealand, and counts Olympic shot put champion Valerie Adams among its members.

Corlett, who is now 81, also served for 40 consecutive years on the selection panel for the New Zealand Herald junior sports awards, was on the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame board from 1990 to 1995, and was the patron of Counties-Manukau Sport from 1994 to 2009.

She continues to volunteer as a coach at the Panmure Young Citizens Centre.

Corlett, a former teacher who lives with husband Buddy in Auckland, visited Dunedin a year ago for the opening of the Otago Girls' High School Olympic honours board.

She is one of 11 Olympians from her alma mater.

She has been recovering from years of ill health, including a stroke and operations for a brain abscess and bowel cancer.

In his book Athletes of the Century, leading New Zealand athletics historian Peter Heidenstrom rated Corlett as New Zealand's greatest track and field athlete of the century, ahead of even Peter Snell, who won three Olympic gold medals, including the 800 and 1500 metres double at Tokyo in 1964.

"She was as inspired as she was consistent and excelled herself so often that she ceased to surprise us any longer, no matter what new wonders she performed," Heidenstrom wrote.

"Winning with competition, winning without, it made no difference. She was a champion in them all.

"She was the consummate athlete."