Britain’s Olympic Greats – Gillian Sheen

Labour Party

Gillian Sheen is the featured athlete in today’s instalment of the series on British women Olympians. She is the one Briton, man or woman, to have won an Olympic gold in fencing.  Despite this she remains one of the very few gold medalists not to have received an honour.

Gillian first took up the sport at North Foreland School in Kent and won the British Schoolgirls title in 1945, the British Junior Championship in 1947 and her first British senior title in 1949.  On leaving school, she went University College London to study dentistry.  Whilst there she won the British Universities title for five years and a gold medal at the World Universities Championship in 1951.

Gillian made her Olympic debut in 1952, but was eliminated in the second round.  But four years later at Melbourne 1956, she was the surprise winner of the gold medal. She edged into the final by defeating the world champion, Lídia Dömölky-Sákovics of Hungary, in a hard fought contest to decide the fourth place in her semi-final pool.

Given Gillian’s profession as a dentist, it was said in Melbourne that her flair in combat was due to the fact that the wrist action used in pulling teeth strengthened her hold on the foil.

Now 83 and living in upstate New York, Gillian has spoken of her disappointment of never receiving an honour.  It does seem rather a strange decision, but perhaps she can take some solace in the fact that the Dominican Republic have paid tribute to her by placing her on a stamp.