Tessa Sanderson
Sanderson in 2008
Personal information
Full nameTheresa Ione Sanderson[1]
NationalityBritish
Born (1956-03-14) 14 March 1956 (age 66)
St Elizabeth, Jamaica
Years active1973–1997
Sport
CountryGreat Britain (1973–1996)
SportAthletics
Event(s)Javelin throw
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)73.58 m (1983)

Theresa Ione "Tessa" Sanderson CBE (born 14 March 1956) is a British former javelin thrower. A six-time Olympian from 1976 to 1996, she won the gold medal in 1984 for Great Britain. In 1996, she became the second track and field athlete (after discus thrower Lia Manoliu) to compete at six Olympics. She is the first Black British woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

Sanderson also won gold medals in the javelin throw at three Commonwealth Games (1978, 1986 and 1990) and at the 1992 IAAF World Cup. She was runner-up at the 1978 European Athletics Championships, and competed in three world championships (1983, 1987, and 1997). Sanderson was AAA National Champion ten times and UK National Champion three times. She set five Commonwealth records and ten UK national records in the javelin, as well as records at the junior and masters levels.

During her career, Sanderson had an acrimonious rivalry with fellow Briton Fatima Whitbread. She has made a number of guest television appearances, and was a sports reporter for Sky News when it began broadcasting in 1989. Sanderson was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1985, and became a CBE on the 2004 New Years Honours. Vice-chair of Sport England from 1999 to 2005, she established the Tessa Sanderson Foundation and Academy (which aims to encourage young people and people with disabilities to take up sport) in 2009.

Early life

Sanderson, born on 14 March 1956 in St Elizabeth, Jamaica,[1] is of Ghanaian ancestry.[2] Her parents left Jamaica to find work in England when Sanderson was five, and she was cared for by her grandmother until she went to live her parents in Wednesfield (then in Staffordshire) at age six. Barbara Richards, her physical education teacher at Ward's Bridge High School, noted her talent for athletics and encouraged her; Richards threatened to place Sanderson in after-school detention if she did not train, an approach which Sanderson later said helped her.[3][4] She first threw a javelin at age 14, betting with a friend for a bag of chips on who would be able to throw it further.[5]

Athletic career

Early career

Sanderson was a member of Wolverhampton & Bilston Athletics Club, competing in the javelin throw and multi-event disciplines.[1] In 1972, aged 16, Sanderson won the Intermediate javelin event at the English Schools' Athletics Championships.[1] She was selected to compete in the javelin throw at the 1973 European Athletics Junior Championships the following year, where she reached the final but finished 12th with a throw of 39.18 m (128 ft 6+12 in) – well behind the winner, Tonya Khristova, who threw 54.84 m (179 ft 11 in).[6]: 17–18  Sanderson then decided to focus on the javelin throw rather than the pentathlon, partly because she thought that javelin competitions would provide more opportunities for travel.[6] She made her senior international debut in the javelin throw at the 1974 British Commonwealth Games, finishing fifth. Later that year, Sanderson finished 13th in the 1974 European Athletics Championships. She broke the UK javelin-throw junior record five times, achieving a distance of 55.04 m (180 ft 6+34 in) in 1974. Sanderson set the national record in 1976, throwing 56.14 m (184 ft 2 in), and went on to set ten UK national records and five Commonwealth records.[1]

Ruth Fuchs, who was the world-record holder when Sanderson made the second-longest javelin throw
Ruth Fuchs, who was the world-record holder when Sanderson made the second-longest javelin throw

The 1976 season saw Sanderson's debut at the Olympics. Aged 20, she was the youngest competitor in her event and threw 57.00 m (187 ft 0 in) to finish ninth.[1] In July 1977, at the European Cup semi-finals in Dublin, she threw 67.20 m (220 ft 5+12 in) – a UK record and the second-longest distance by a woman.[7] At the European Cup finals, Ruth Fuchs won the gold and Sanderson took the silver;[8] she was the bronze medalist at the 1977 IAAF World Cup.[9]

Sanderson won her first major gold medal with a throw of 61.34 m (201 ft 2+34 in) in the 1978 Commonwealth Games, the first time England won Commonwealth gold in the women's javelin since 1962.[1] A few weeks later, Sanderson took silver at the 1978 European Athletics Championships behind Fuchs;[10] she was the bronze medalist at the 1979 European Cup again behind Fuchs, both of them losing out to Éva Ráduly-Zörgő.[11]

Rated as the third-best woman javelin thrower of all time, Sanderson went to the 1980 Summer Olympics. She failed to meet the qualifying standard for the final, however, reaching only 48.76 m (159 ft 11+12 in) with her first throw and having her other two attempts declared no-throws.[12]

After the 1980 Olympics, Sanderson asked Wilf Paish of the Carnegie Institute of Physical Education in Leeds to become her coach.[3] After Paish agreed, she lived with his family.[2] A throw of 61.56 m (201 ft 11+12 in) was enough for Sanderson to win at the 1981 Pacific Conference Games.[13] At the 1981 European Cup, she was runner-up behind Antoaneta Todorova and her world-record throw.[14] Later that year, Sanderson had an Achilles tendon rupture in her left leg and broke a bone in her throwing arm. Surgery on her Achilles tendon was unsuccessful, and she required another operation; the injuries prevented her from competing for twenty-two months.[3] When Sanderson returned, she finished fourth at the 1983 World Championships; her rival, Fatima Whitbread, won silver.[15] After re-injuring her Achilles tendon at the championship, she had surgery on both Achilles tendons a few days after the competition ended.[3]

Olympic gold and later career

Sanderson won the gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in the javelin, setting a new Olympic record with her throw of 69.56 m (228 ft 2+12 in). Whitbread won the bronze; it was Great Britain's first Olympic win in a throwing event since the modern Olympics began in 1896.[16][17] Sanderson is the first Black British woman to win an Olympic gold medal.[18] She also won gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games, with Whitbread taking the silver medal.[19]

In March 1987, Sanderson announced that she would change her focus from the javelin throw to the heptathlon. Shortly before then, she had moved to London and was looking for a career in television or promotional work.[20] Sanderson later threatened to boycott athletics events, for which she was being paid £1,000 each by British Athletics; Whitbread was receiving £10,000 per event. Sanderson agreed to a new deal at the beginning of June.[21] At the Dairy Crest Games in August, Whitbread (who had been undefeated during the season) injured her shoulder; Sanderson won the event. Sanderson then announced that she would train with Mick Hill in Italy for the world championships.[22] Whitbread won the world championship, and Sanderson finished fourth.[23] By this time, former pop star Adam Faith was Sanderson's agent.[24]

About ten days before participating in the 1988 Summer Olympics as defending champion, Sanderson burst the skin around her ankle and exposed her Achilles tendon.[25] She failed to qualify for the final and left the competition limping, with blood visible on the bandage on her injured ankle.[26] Sanderson left the stadium on crutches before the medal ceremony, where Whitbread received the silver medal behind Petra Felke.[27]

Sanderson announced after the 1988 Olympics that she would retire from the javelin throw, but made an unexpected return to competition in 1989[28] at the McVitie's International Challenge; she finished third.[29] She also finished third at the 1989 European Cup, despite not being in top condition.[30] At the 1990 Commonwealth Games, a throw of 65.72 m (215 ft 7+14 in) was enough for Sanderson to retain her title.[31] She finished twelfth at the 1990 European Athletics Championships,[32] but was later moved up to eleventh.[33][34] Aged 35, Sanderson won at the 1991 European Cup over of a field which included world-record holder Petra Felke.[35]

Her fifth Olympic appearance, at the 1992 Summer Olympics, set a record for Olympic appearances by a British athlete.[36] Sanderson's best throw, 68.54 m (224 ft 10+14 in), was almost five metres less than the winning throw by Silke Renk.[37] She won gold at the 1992 World Cup with a throw of 61.86 m (202 ft 11+14 in), nearly three metres further than any other competitor.[38]

Return to competition

Fatima Whitbread, whose rivalry with Sanderson was often written about in the British press
Fatima Whitbread, whose rivalry with Sanderson was often written about in the British press

After a four-year hiatus, Sanderson returned to track and field competition in 1996.[39] She set masters (over-40) record throws of 58.18 m (190 ft 10+12 in) and 60.64 m (198 ft 11+14 in) with her first two throws in May, surpassing the previous record of 51.84 m (170 ft 34 in).[1] After two further masters-record throws,[1] Sanderson increased the record to 64.06 m (210 ft 2 in) at the Securicor Games in July.[39][1] At the 1996 Summer Olympics, she became the second track and field athlete (after discus thrower Lia Manoliu) to compete at six Olympics but did not qualify for the final.[40] Sanderson also failed to qualify for the final at the 1997 World Championships, her last international appearance.[1]

Alan Hubbard wrote in a 1990 article in The Observer about Sanderson and Whitbread that "their hate-hate relationship has been one of the most enduring in British sport", citing Sanderson's perception that Whitbread received preferential treatment from the British Amateur Athletic Board (whose promotions officer was a family friend of Whitbread) and the support that Whitbread and Whitbread's mother (who coached Whitbread) gave to Sue Howland, who competed at the 1990 Commonwealth Games after a two-year doping suspension.[41] In 2009, Tom Lamont wrote in The Guardian: "Whitbread and Sanderson were always uneasy rivals and the enmity that developed during their overlapping careers became as famous as their achievements, and seems to survive in their retirement".[2]

Sanderson retired from competition in 1997; Whitbread had retired five years earlier.[2] Sanderson's career-best javelin throw was 73.58 m (241 ft 4+34 in) in Edinburgh on 26 June 1983.[42] She also competed in the pentathlon and heptathlon,[1] setting UK and Commonwealth records for the heptathlon twice in 1981.[43]

Sports administration

Sanderson was vice-chair of Sport England from 1999 to 2005.[44] In 2006, she founded an academy in Newham which helped to find and train athletes to represent Britain in the 2012 Summer Olympics.[45] The Tessa Sanderson Foundation and Academy was established in September 2009 to encourage young people and people with disabilities to take up sport with mentoring and support.[46]

From 2009 to 2013, Sanderson organised an annual 10 km race in Newham; part of the route was through Olympic Park. Although the 2013 event attracted 3,000 participants (representing 45 different nationalities), it was cancelled in 2014; Sanderson said that the Newham Council wanted to double its fee, and delayed meeting about the race.[47][48] Sanderson was appointed to the board of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, chaired by Baroness Ford, to "develop and manage" the park after the 2012 Olympics.[49][50]

Media work

Sanderson appeared as a guest on television shows, including A Question of Sport (in 1979), Punchlines (1984), The Krypton Factor Olympic Celebrity Special (1984), Sporting Triangles (1987 and 1988), The Grand Knockout Tournament (1987), Celebrity Wheel of Fortune (1989), Busman's Holiday Celebrity Special (1991), Catchphrase Celebrity Special (1991), Celebrity Wife Swap (2009)[51] and Bullseye (1984).[52] When Sky News was launched in 1989, Sanderson was a sports reporter for the channel.[53] Sanderson co-hosted ITV's Surprise Surprise with Cilla Black.[54] Performing a "traditional 'dance celebrating the return home of the menfolk'" on the 2005 Strictly African Dancing special, part of the BBC's Africa Lives season,[55] she was ranked third by viewers.[56] Sanderson starred in the fitness videos Cardiofunk (1990) and Body Blitz (c. 1992) with Derrick Evans.[57][58]

Sanderson appeared in "Billy's Olympic Nightmare", a BBC Red Button episode of EastEnders which aired on 16 July 2012,[59] and was a contestant on ITV's Dancing on Ice Goes Gold on 22 July of that year. In 2018, Sanderson appeared on Channel 5's reality series Celebrity 5 Go Barging.[60] At age 58, she began modeling for the Grey Model Agency.[4]

Honours

Fence in Sanderson Park
Fence in Sanderson Park

Sanderson, the British Athletics Writers' Association Athlete of the Year in 1977, 1978 and 1984,[61] was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.[62] Hall of Fame candidates, selected by a panel of experts, are included by a public vote.[63] She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1985 New Year's Honours List after her Olympic gold-medal performance, 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 service to Sport England.[64]

Sanderson is an honorary graduate of the University of Wolverhampton,[65] and was made an Honorary Fellow of London South Bank University in 2004.[66] That year, she was one of 100 Great Black Britons in a poll taken after the BBC's 100 Greatest Britons failed to include any Black Britons.[67][68] Later that year, Sanderson received a Sportswomen of the Year Lifetime Achievement award from The Sunday Times.[69] A Wednesfield housing estate near where she began learning the javelin throw, Sanderson Park, is named after her.[70] Two roads are named after her; Tessa Sanderson Place is near Wandsworth Road in South London,[71] and Tessa Sanderson Way is in Greenford, West London.[72]

Personal life

Sanderson has spoken about the discrimination she has experienced as a Black woman. She told The Guardian in 1990 that she had faced racial discrimination (although not in her sporting career), and she felt that sexism was the reason women athletes were not adequately paid.[73] Sanderson experienced racist language and behaviour in school (including being spat on),[74] and has spoken about receiving a racist letter saying that she was not truly British after her 1984 Olympic gold medal.[75] She told Sky Sports in October 2020, "Black athletes didn't have the voice they have now, so I just had to fight my own battles", and expressed disappointment at the continuing lack of Black, Asian and minority representation in sports governing bodies.[75]

During the 1970s, the use of performance-enhancing drugs was common in throwing events; Sanderson spoke against the practice,[76] consistently maintaining an anti-doping stance.[6]: 159–165 [74] Her rival, Ruth Fuchs, later admitted using steroids in the East German sports programme.[77]

Tessa: My Life in Athletics, Sanderson's autobiography, was published in 1986.[78] In 1990, she sued several newspapers and was awarded £30,000 in damages by the High Court of Justice for claims that she had "stolen another woman's husband." Sanderson said that her affair with Mr Motivator began after his marriage had broken up.[5]

On 3 May 2010, Sanderson married former judo Olympian Densign White at St Paul's Cathedral in London. Her bridesmaids were fellow Olympic teammates Sharron Davies, Kelly Holmes and Christine Ohuruogu.[79] She had three unsuccessful in vitro fertilisation treatments by age 50. Sanderson and White began fostering four-month-old twins Cassius and Ruby Mae in 2013 and adopted them the following year, when Sanderson was 58.[4][80] Her nephew, Dion Sanderson, is a footballer who debuted with Wolverhampton Wanderers in October 2019.[81]

Career statistics

Personal bests

Event Best Date Notes Ref
Javelin throw 73.58 m 26 June 1983 in Edinburgh [42]
200 m 24.89 s July 1981 Brussels (European Cup semi-final) [1][82]
400 m 57.3 s 1972 [1]
800 m 2:26.20 July 1981 Brussels (European Cup semi-final) [1][82]
100 m hurdles 13.46 s 25 July 1981 at Crystal Palace [1][83]
400 m hurdles 60.46 s 11 June 1977 Cwmbran Stadium (1977 UK Athletics Championships) [1][84]
High jump 1.69 m 13 January 1973 at the Cosford Games [1][6]: 177 
Long jump 5.97 m July 1981 Brussels (European Cup semi-final) [1][82]
Shot put 13.27 m 1981 [1]
Heptathlon 6125 pts July 1981 Brussels (European Cup semi-final) [1][82]
60 m hurdles (indoors) 8.5s 26 February 1977 at Cosford [1][6]: 170 
Pentathlon (indoors) 3623 pts 1973 [1]

Season bests (javelin throw)

The table below shows Sanderson's best javelin performance per season.[6]: 181 [85]

Season rankings

(Only the top 25 positions shown.)[85]

International competitions (javelin throw)

Year Competition Venue Position Notes
Representing Great Britain and England
1973 European Junior Championships Duisburg, West Germany 12th 39.18 m
1974 British Commonwealth Games Christchurch, New Zealand 5th 48.54 m
European Championships Rome, Italy 13th (q) 53.28 m
1976 Olympic Games Montreal, Canada 10th 57.00 m
1977 European Cup Helsinki, Finland 2nd 62.36 m
World Cup Düsseldorf, West Germany 3rd 60.30 m
1978 Commonwealth Games Edmonton, Canada 1st 61.34 m
European Championships Prague, Czechoslovakia 2nd 62.40 m
1979 European Cup Turin, Italy 3rd 62.38 m
1980 Olympic Games Moscow, Soviet Union 19th (q) 48.76 m
1981 Pacific Conference Games Christchurch, New Zealand 1st 61.56 m
European Cup Zagreb, Yugoslavia 2nd 65.94 m
1983 World Championships Helsinki, Finland 4th 64.76 m
1984 Olympic Games Los Angeles, United States 1st 69.56 m
1986 Commonwealth Games Edinburgh, United Kingdom 1st 69.80 m
1987 World Championships Rome, Italy 4th 67.54 m
1988 Olympic Games Seoul, South Korea 21st (q) 56.70 m
1989 European Cup Gateshead, United Kingdom 3rd 59.72 m
1990 Commonwealth Games Auckland, New Zealand 1st 65.72 m
European Championships Split, Yugoslavia 12th 57.56 m
1991 European Cup Frankfurt, Germany 1st 65.18 m
1992 Olympic Games Barcelona, Spain 4th 63.58 m
World Cup Havana, Cuba 1st 61.86 m
1996 European Cup Madrid, Spain] 4th 58.18 m
Olympic Games Atlanta, United States 14th (q) 58.86 m
1997 World Championships Athens, Greece 18th (q) 57.84 m

Notes:

National titles (javelin throw)

Midland Counties Championships

Media appearances

Television and radio (UK TV, unless otherwise noted)
Year Programme Role Ref
1979 The Superstars: The Women's Championship participant [91]
1979 A Question of Sport participant [51]
1984 Punchlines participant [51]
1984 Bullseye participant [52]
1984 Crackerjack guest [92]
1984 The Krypton Factor Olympic Celebrity Special participant [51]
1985 Blankety Blank guest [93]
1986 Tessa Sanderson participant [51]
1987 Sporting Triangles (2 episodes) participant [51]
1987 The Grand Knockout Tournament participant [94]
1987 Through the Keyhole participant [95]
1988 Which School and Why? participant [51]
1988 Sporting Triangles (3 episodes) cast member [51]
1989 Special Awards Presentation participant [51]
1989 Sunday Sunday guest [51]
1989 Sky News sports reporter [53]
1989 Celebrity Wheel of Fortune participant [51]
1989 Grand Final participant [51]
1989 Tessa Sanderson subject [51]
1990 Afternoon participant [51]
1990 Telethon – Thanks to You participant [51]
1990 Bullying participant [51]
1990 On the Line participant [51]
1991 Get Up, Stand Up participant [51]
1991 Busman's Holiday Celebrity Special participant [51]
1991 Visions participant [51]
1991 Catchphrase Celebrity Special participant [51]
1992 TV Squash guest [51]
1992 This Is Your Life subject [96]
1992 Surprise Surprise (3 episodes) host [51]
1993 Benn V Eubank: Round One – The Best of Enemies guest [51]
1993 Inside Info participant [51]
1993 Celebrity Squares guest [97]
1993 The Real McCoy participant [98]
1993 Going for Gold[a] presenter [99]
1993 Cluedo (episode: The Hanged Man) participant [51]
1994 Capital Woman presenter [51]
1995 They Think It's All Over participant [100]
1996 Win, Lose or Draw participant [101]
1996 Noel's Telly Years participant [102]
1996 Sunday Matters participant [51]
1996 Desert Island Discs (radio) guest [103]
1997 Ha Bloody Ha participant [51]
1997 Night Fever – Abba Special participant [51]
1999 h&p@bbc participant [104]
2002 The Essential...Daley Thompson participant [51]
2003 Russell Grant's Sporting Scandals participant [51]
2005 Trisha Goddard (2 episodes) participant [51]
2005 Big Brother's Little Brother guest [51]
2005 The Wright Stuff panellist [51]
2006 Strictly African Dancing participant [55]
2006 The Wright Stuff panellist [51]
2007 What the World Thinks of God guest [51]
1999 Antiques Roadshow participant [105]
2009 Celebrity Wife Swap participant [51]
2010 Cash in the Celebrity Attic participant [106]
2010 Celebrity MasterChef participant [107]
2012 Celebrity Antiques Road Trip participant [108]
2012 EastEnders: Billy's Olympic Nightmare herself [59]
2012 A Question of Sport participant [109]
2012 Dotun Adebayo (radio) participant [110]
2012 Dancing on Ice Goes Gold participant [51]
2016 Pointless Celebrities participant [111]
2015 All Star Mr & Mrs participant [112]
2016 Pointless Celebrities (2 episodes) participant [113][114]
2016 A Question of Sport participant [115]
2019 The Junk Food Experiment participant [116]
2016 Tenable All Stars participant [117]
2018 Celebrity 5 Go Barging participant [60]
2019 Sink Or Swim For Stand Up To Cancer participant [118]
2020 Bargain Hunt: Newmarket 31 (Sport Relief Special) participant [119]
Pantomime
Year Title Role Venue Ref
1990–91 Robinson Crusoe Girl Friday Guildford [120]
1991–92 Aladdin The Genie Brighton Dome [121]
1994–95 Robinson Crusoe Girl Friday Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth [121][122]
1995–96 Cinderella Fairy Godmother Lewisham Theatre [123]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Programme about the likelihood of Manchester hosting the 2000 Olympics,[99] not Going for Gold.

References

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