Any thought of winning a gold medal in the Olympics was “a wild dream” for Janet Moreau Stone of Barrington.
“I prayed just to make the team,” said Stone, 84, from her Northwest Passage home on Wednesday afternoon as the London Olympics played on a big-screen TV nearby. “The gold medal was just frosting on the cake.”
Stone and her three teammates, Cathy Hardy, Barbara Jones and Mae Faggs, won the 4x100 relay at the 1952 Olympic games in Helsinki, Finland. She ran the third leg in that race on a cinder track 60 years ago to become the first gold medal winner from Rhode Island.
Stone was a gym teacher in Pawtucket at the time. She had competed and won in national track meets in New York City, and she just missed getting a spot on the team in the 1948 Olympic trials.
Her coach, Frank Sherman at Rhode Island College, talked her into going to the tryouts at Brown University. When she missed making the team, despite being the third fastest runner, he told her to keep working. She was sure to make the team in 1952.
“I actually wanted to be a priest,” said Stone. "But I was told that women could not be priests.
So, Stone had to tackle something else. It became track and field even though she would have preferred to swim.
“I was actually a very good swimmer,” Stone said. “But Boston University didn’t have a pool. Or a track team.”
So, how in the world did Stone end up winning a gold medal in the 4x100 relay?
It began when she was picked to represent Pawtucket’s East High School (now Tolman) at a statewide meet at McCoy Stadium by high school coach Arthur Nooney.
“I want to swim,” she said.
“I have swimmers,” Stone said Nooney told her. “You’re going to run.”
She won the 50-yard dash, making her the fastest girl in Rhode Island. Nooney convinced her to stick to track.
She would train after school and on weekends with Nooney, who soon passed her on to Sherman, who turned her into a world-class runner. By 1951, she made the U.S. National 4x100-relay team and went to Argentina for the Pan-Am Games. Her team won. A year later, she earned her spot on the Olympic team at the trials in Harrisburg, Pa.
“We expected to come in second or third in Helsinki, because of our times,” Stone said. “But we were told that anything can happen in a relay race. We thought positive.”
The Australians were favored. The American, Soviet, and German teams were expected to battle for silver and bronze medals.
Her team trailed the Australians after the first three legs. Then the Aussies flubbed a pass. The Americans and German teams passed them as Stone made a perfect pass to Hardy – the fastest woman on the team. The Germans led.
Stone said she could only watch Hardy's back as she ran the final 100 yards. When the runners hit the finish line, she had no idea who won the gold medal -- for a few seconds.
“Then it was an unbelievable feeling,” she said as Hardy told her they won by four hundredths of a second. “Great joy. It still means an awful lot to be the best in the world in something. Sometimes I can’t believe it myself.”
Her life has moved on, of course. She taught for about 30 more years at the former Barrington Junior High School after she got married in 1955 to Raymond Stone, a former headmaster at St. Andrews’ School in Barrington. They moved to Barrington two years later.
Stone said she never considered coaching, and she gave up track and field while on top after winning three events at a meet in Buffalo in 1953.
“I just wanted to be a good teacher,” she said. “And I wanted to be home when he got home.”
Stone also trained to be a lay chaplain for two years at Rhode Island Hospital about 25 years ago. She still brings the Eucharist and gives communion to Catholics at home and in nursing homes, and she prays with them.
“I realized I needed to give back because God gave me so much,” she said. “It’s my way of giving something back.”
She has been watching the Olympics for hours at a time this week, when track and field took over. And she can still empathize with the athletes 60 years later.
“I was told: ‘Once an Olympian, always an Olympian’,” Stone said.