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 (Anguilla’s) Olympic Hopefuls – Shara Proctor

Labour Party

Shara Proctor has gone on an unsual journey to be part of the British Olympics team as the only woman to qualify for long jump for London 2012.

Shara was born and raised in Anguilla, a very small island in the Caribbean with a population of 13,600 people. Anguilla is too small to have its own Olympic Committee so is therefore ineligible to enter a team for the Olympic Games itself, but its citizens are eligible for British Citizenship.

Shara leapt at (excuse the pun) the opportunity to claim her British citizenship when the chance to compete for the British team presented itself.

Shara’s family background is political rather than sporting, with her mother being, rather fittingly, the current Anguillan minister for sport, and her rather a retired permanent secretary for education.

Shara started her athletics career as a sprinter but turned to long jump because, even on an island as small asAnguilla, there were two other women who were faster than her.  She said recently that she had to make the switch because she simply hated losing; a promising quality for Team GB.

Shara’s lifetime best is 6.71 meters and her season’s best is 6.68m, putting her at the very top of the British rankings. She says she is “jumping big” in training and has set a target of 6.9m this year, which would put her well into medal territory at world and Olympic level.

In recent interviews Shara has said that if she wins a medal for Team GB, in her heart it will be for her home country of Anguilla.  I’m sure none of the cheering on lookers from Britain will mind this one bit, if we can see a medal in a category where we haven’t won once since the subject yesterday’s profile, Mary Rand.

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.