Britain’s Olympic Greats – Liz McColgan

Labour Party

Liz McColgan is one of Britain’s most successful middle to long distance runners, enjoying a huge amount of success over her long career.

She was born Elizabeth Lynch and grew up in the Whitfield area of Dundee and was a pupil of St Saviour’s RC High School.  Liz’s athletics career began at the age 12 when she joined her local athletics club, the Hawkhill Harriers, on the advice of her PE teacher. Liz soon discovered a talent for distance running and won her first UK titles at the age of 18.  After the death of her coach, Liz coached herself in preparation for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1986.

It was in Edinburgh that Liz enjoyed her first success, taking the gold medal in the 10,000 metres, finishing nearly 12 seconds ahead of the nearest competitor and giving the host country its only gold medal in Athletics.  After this achievement she went on to win a silver medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

Liz became the only Scot to successfully defended a Commonwealth title at the 1990 games in Auckland, New Zealand, when she took the gold for the 10,000 metres again, as well as taking bronze at the 3,000 metres. In August 1991, she won gold in the 10,000 metres at the World Championships in Tokyo, Japan.  In November of that year at the New York City Marathon, her first marathon, she won with a time of 2:27.23, beating the record for a debut marathon by three minutes.

Liz finally retired from competing in August 2001 when she fractured a bone in her foot while training for selection for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. She currently coaches young athletes, both at the Liz McColgan Health Club and Physiotherapy Centre in Carnoustie, Angus and at the Institute of Sportand Exercise at Dundee University.

In 1991, Liz was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year.  The next year she was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire and inducted to the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame.

Britain’s Olympic Greats – Anita Lonsbrough MBE

Labour Party

Anita Lonsbrough won gold for Great Britain at the Rome Olympics 1960. It would be another 48 years until another Brit would match her spectacular achievement, when Rebecca Adlington swam to victory in Beijing.

Not only did Anita win gold in Rome for the 200m breaststroke, she also broke the world record with a time of 2min 49.5 seconds. Her win was ranked 44th by the Daily Mail in its top 50 Olympic moments. Her illustrious career also saw her take home medals from several European and Commonwealth Championships.

Anita was considered to be one of the 1960’s golden girls of sport, alongside Dorothy Hyman, Anne Packer and Mary Rand. In 1962 she was the first woman to be awarded the BBC sports personality of the year award. A year later she was awarded an MBE for her services to swimming. At the Tokyo games of 1964 Anita had the honour of being the first ever British woman to carry the Union Jack at an Olympic opening ceremony.

Anita’s star shone in a time when swimming was considered to be an amateur sport, and before sponsorship deals allowed sports stars to compete professionally. In order to represent Great Britain, Anita combined her swimming career with a full time job working for Huddersfield Council. To go to the Rome games she even had to save up her holiday entitlement in order to take time off work.

Today Anita is a sports writer for the Daily Telegraph.

Britain’s Olympic Greats – Mary Rand MBE

Labour Party

This week former athlete Mary Rand was granted the freedom of the city of her birth Wells, Somerset. This long called for recognition comes almost 50 years after her astounding achievements at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

In Tokyo, Mary Rand was the first ever British female to win a gold medal in a track and field event. This achievement came just two years after the birth of her first daughter.

Smashing the previous world record, Mary took the gold medal in the long jump with a jump of 6.76 meters. Mary was the first Brit to break a world record at the Olympics since 1932. That year at the games Mary also took home a silver medal for the pentathlon and bronze in the 4×100 meter relay.

Mary’s path to success was not an easy one. Her record in Tokyo was set 4 years after massive disappointment at the Rome Olympics where, after setting a British long jump record in the qualifying round, she fouled twice in the final and came ninth.

1964 was also the year that Mary was voted BBC sports personality of the year. Given this year’s disgraceful absence of women from the BBC’s shortlist it is surprising to be reminded that in the sixties almost half of the winners were women.

Whilst much of the furore over last year’s award has now died down I am still disgusted that not a single woman made the shortlist. That ‘lads mags’ Nuts and Zoo, who could be said to trade in the objectification of women, participated in the nominations, is just one more example of the pervasive sexism in the media highlighted in the Leveson inquiry.

1964 was a particular high point in Mary’s illustrious career, but was far from the only success. Mary also broke British records in pentathlon and won medals at the 1958 Commonwealth Games and European Championships.

Fellow Olympian Brendan Foster has said that Mary was an inspiration to female athletes.