Black History Month: Celebrating Team GB trailblazers

To represent Team GB is to stand on the shoulders of giants, each athlete laying a stitch in a tapestry of triumph and adversity lasting 126 years and counting.

Black British athletes

For more than a century, black British athletes have been blazing a trail and iconic figures like Daley Thompson, Anita Neil and Kelly Holmes have emerged.

To celebrate Black History Month, let's celebrate some of the biggest names in Team GB.

Harry Edward

Edward’s is the remarkable tale of the first black athlete to compete and win medals for Team GB.

The sprinter was the son of a former circus worker and a Prussian piano teacher, a German prisoner of the First World War who later settled in Brooklyn, New York.

READ MORE: The story of Harry Edward

Harry Edward won 100m and 200m bronze at Antwerp 1920, earning a special place in British Olympic history.

Louis Martin

Part of the Windrush generation, Louis Martin settled in Derby and started as a bodybuilder who competed at Mr Universe.

His breakout came at the 1959 Weightlifting World Championships, when he hopped on a train to Poland, paid his own fare and beat the Olympic champion to win gold.

Martin won middle-heavyweight bronze at Rome 1960 and silver at Tokyo 1964, a compelling character whose flamboyant style on the platform captured the hearts of millions.

READ MORE: How Louis Martin beat the world

Paul Marshall

A pioneer in the pool, Paul Marshall followed in the footsteps of Kevin Burns as the second black British swimmer to represent Great Britain at an Olympic Games.

READ MORE: Alice Dearing on Paul Marshall - "His story can be an inspiration for so many.”

Born in Ghana and adopted by a Scottish family aged only a few weeks, he carved out a reputation as a fine backstroker and broke the Scottish 100m record in 1978.

Marshall, who went on to become a Squadron Leader in the Royal Air Force, competed in the 100m backstroke and medalled in the medley relay at Moscow 1980, making the most of his Olympic chance.

Anita Neil - first Black British female athlete

Neil will always be the first black female athlete to represent Team GB.

The sprinter was inspired by Mary Rand winning gold at the 1964 Games in Tokyo and four years later had her own place on the biggest stage of them all.

In between her two Olympic appearances she won Commonwealth and European medals - Anita Neil’s was a short career, but an exceptional one.

Tessa Sanderson

Sanderson climbed to the top of the Olympic podium in the LA Coliseum alongside team-mate Fatima Whitbread, taking javelin gold with an incredible Games record throw of 69.56.

Her journey started in Jamaica where she was raised by her grandmother, moving to Wolverhampton to join her parents and starting a new life in Britain aged nine.

READ MORE: The Tessa Sanderson story

would go on to become only the second athlete from any nation to go to six Games in track & field, a beacon of excellence for 20 years in a competitive discipline.

Daley Thompson

Sent to a boarding school described as a ‘place for troubled children’ at the age of seven, Daley Thompson never cared much for how society saw him.

READ MORE: Daley Thompson - "I try not to live in the past. I’m too busy making the future bright.”

Competitive to the core, he won back-to-back Olympic golds in Moscow and Los Angeles as the dominant all-around force of the era; and was one of the most distinctive British athletes of any epoch.

Wilf O’Reilly

O’Reilly was given his first pair of inline skates aged eight, then an excitable youth who struggled at school and loved rough and tumble, born to an African-American father and Irish mother.

The thrills and spills of short track speed skating suited him perfectly and having watched John Curry win figure skating gold in 1976, he pursued an Olympic dream. Wilf O’Reilly won double gold at Calgary 1988 when his sport was a demonstration discipline.

He went on to appear at the 1992 and 1994 Games, carrying the flag in Albertville.

Courtney Rumbolt and Dean Ward

We’re keeping these two together because that’s how they will be remembered, taking the joint honour of being Team GB’s first black Winter Olympic medallists.

Driven by Sean Olsson and joined by Paul Attwood in the four-man sled, the quartet defied the odds to scoop bronze which was the nation’s single medal at Nagano 1988.

Ward started as a slider while serving in the Parachute Regiment and is still involved with the British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association as a coach, nurturing the next generation.

Kelly Holmes

“You’ve won it Kelly, you’ve won it!” Thus screamed Steve Cram as Kelly Holmes looked so shocked to take 800m gold that she needed reminding.

Ask any current British athletes about their first memory of watching the Olympics, or who inspired them to pursue their dream and Holmes’ name is the one that will be mentioned most often.

almost seemed happier to have broken Holmes’ national 800m record than to win Olympic silver in Tokyo. We need no further proof of what her story still means.

Mo Farah

To watch race is to dance in front of his fire and feel the fear of those who rival him for 5,000m and 10,000m gold.

Sir Mo has four of them, his long-distance doubles at London 2012 and Rio 2016 making him one of Team GB’s greatest of all time.

Settling in London from Somalia without any English speaking ability, Farah believed he couldn’t be beaten and for years, that’s how it looked.

Nicola Adams

The Olympics needed women’s boxing and women’s boxing needed Nicola Adams.

In her younger years the Leeds native had spells working as a builder and an extra on soap operas Coronation Street, Emmerdale and EastEnders.

READ MORE: How Nicola Adams rose to double Olympic gold

Adams has been writing her own scripts ever since, winning back-to-back flyweight golds as her sport made its debut in London and then in Rio.

Alice Dearing

Dearing encapsulated much of what was great about Tokyo 2020, a role model who showed the world her vulnerability and felt love in return.

She is Team GB’s first black female swimmer and has launched the Black Swimming Association to encourage more people who share her background to swim.

Alice Dearing didn’t seek to hide her disappointment at finishing 19th in the 10km marathon, and we haven't seen the last of her on the Olympic stage.

Sportsbeat 2021