Britain’s Olympic Greats – Isabelle White

Isabelle Mary “Belle” White was the first British woman to win an Olympic medal in a diving event.  Four years later, another woman, Beatrice Armstrong, would claim a medal in diving for Britain. These two remain the only Brits ever to have claimed a medal at the Olympics in diving.

Belle was born in Muswell Hill, London, in 1894.  At the age of 18 she was selected to represent the United Kingdom in Stockholm.  It was her first Olympics and turned out to be her most successful.

The event was quite unlike the modern diving, being rather more challenging.  The competition was actually held from both 10 metre and 5 metre platforms. Divers performed a standing plain dive and a running plain dive from the 10 metre platform, a running plain dive and a backward somersault from the 5 metre platform, and three dives of the competitor’s choice from the 10 metre platform. Five judges scored each diver, giving two results. Each judge gave an ordinal placing for each diver in a group, with the five scores being added together to give a total ordinal points score. The judges also gave scores more closely resembling the modern scoring system.

The competition was dominated by Swedish competitors, with the final being comprised of seven Swedes and Belle.  Despite the advantage the other competitors had playing at home, Belle still managed to claim the bronze in a tough competition.

Belle went on to take the gold at the European Championship in 1927, but never enjoyed the same level of success, despite competing in every event from 1912 until 1928, though she came close a number of times.

Britain has not been very competitive at diving recent history. I hope that our divers at London 2012 take inspiration from Belle White and Beatrice Armstrong, Britain’s only Olympic diving champions.

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