Britain’s Olympic Greats – Tessa Sanderson

Tessa Sanderson was a true trailblazer, being the first black woman to win a gold medal for Britain.

Sanderson was born in St Elizabeth, Jamaica of Ghanaian ancestry and later emigrated to the UK, settling in Wolverhampton. She was Britain’s leading javelin thrower from the mid-1970s, winning silver in the 1978 European championships and gold in the Commonwealth Games three times (1978, 1986, 1990), but was eclipsed during the 1980s by the up-and-coming Fatima Whitbread, with whom she shared a long standing rivalry.

When Tessa won the gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in the javelin, her victory was quite unexpected.  She remains to this day the only British woman to have won gold in the category, with Fatima Whitbread only ever achieving silver. In the end, her career outlasted Whitbread’s, and she competed at senior international level until 1996.

She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1985 New Year’s Honours, following her Olympic gold, raised to Officer (OBE) in the 1998 New Year’s Honours for her charity work, and to Commander (CBE) in the 2004 New Year’s Honours for her services to Sport England.

Since retiring from athletics, Tessa has worked tirelessly to promote sport in London.  She is currently helping to run an academy in Newham that finds and helps train athletes to represent Britain in the  Olympics. In September 2009 Tessa registered her own charity sports academy carrying on her work alongside the now established Newham Sports Academy.

The name of the charity is The Tessa Sanderson Foundation and Academy, which helps Tessa to work with young people, both disabled and non disabled, from across London. 

I hope that her work continues in this field as it has been proven time and time again that engaging young people in sporting activities can be one of the most effective ways of improving their lives.

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