Britain’s Olympic Greats – Judy Grinham MBE

Labour Party

Judy Grinham remains the only British woman to have won a gold medal at in a backstroke event at the Olympics.

Judy was born in 1939 in Hampstead,West London, to Norman Frederick Grinahm and Flora Edith Grinham. Six months after she was born her father was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Forces, having survived Dunkirk, he was then posted to the Middle East and did not return until Judy was nearly 7 years old. On his return, to build a relationship with his daughter he took her swimming in the open air pool in Gladstone Park, Neasden.

Over the next few years Judy learnt to swim so well that he put her up for trials at the newly formed Hampstead Ladies swimming club. She trialled three times before they felt she was good enough to join the club, and in January 1950 she was finally given a place. Her progress was slow at first, but she was determined and motivated to do well. As she gradually began to improve she started to train regularly, but training in those days was not the same as the Olympic athletes of today. She would train in public swimming pools, with no dedicated lanes, dodging members of the public. No training facilities, no sponsorship deals, the sport was strictly amateur, and the cost was funded by her family.

Over the next five years, slowly but surely, Judy began to start winning and eventually progressed to national competitions.  Six years later, in 1956, at the age of 17, she was picked for the Olympic squad and went to the Melbourne Olympics, where she outswam the favourite and by a hairs breadth won the Olympic Gold Medal in a new world record time (and the first British Swimming Gold Medallist for 32 years). She also went on to be the first athlete in any sport to hold the Olympic, Commonwealth and European gold medals at the same time.

Judy retired at her peak and went on to report on the 1960 Rome Olympics for the Daily Express.  Many years later she was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queens Birthday Honours list, a full 50 years after winning gold inMelbourne.

Britain’s Olympic Greats – Tessa Sanderson

Labour Party

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.