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A Bit About Us and Synchronicity

We trained as PE teachers during the late 60s and early 70s and felt that we knew little about women’s sporting history and wanted to make a contribution. ‘A Proper Spectacle’ arose after Steph wrote her Masters Degree about ‘Women in the Olympics’ and struggled to find very much material. The three year journey that has culminated in the production of this book has been full of wonderful moments and coincidences that have bordered on the magical.

When we first met 1932 British hurdler Violet Simpson Webb, she said that the one person she had longed to meet was Britain’s 1992 Olympic Gold medallist in the 400 metres hurdles, Sally Gunnell. Amazingly, we had just read that very morning that Sally’s Fit Stop Gym was opening the following week, and we were able to arrange a meeting. In fact, Sally was so interested that she asked Vi to open the gym alongside her and we spent a wonderful couple of days. Vi’s presence helped to interest the media. I marvelled at the fact that we hadn’t met Vi two weeks later or two years earlier. The timing was just right.

One of the other little projects we’ve been working on is to film the women Olympians in GB and, who knows, the world. We managed to interest a rather splendid TV and radio journalist, Jenni Mills, who came to meet with us to discuss filming the ladies. Three of the (then) five women we wanted to film were swimmers from the Amsterdam Olympics of 1928.

We chose a date to meet Jenni and we met her for the first time on July 31st 1998. The next day I was writing about the swimming of 1928 and saw that the British swimming team (complete with Jean, Cissie and Joyce) crossed the English Channel to compete in Amsterdam on July 31st 1928 - seventy years to the day we first met Jenni, who has gone on to be a staunch supporter of our work. After a lot of wheeling and dealing, Jenni managed to get a cameraman for free for us and we managed to film four of the British women last July. (It took a year to set the filming up and what was so awful and hard was that Violet died just weeks before we could film her.)

We interviewed Jean Burnett (McDowell) and Cissie Hunt (Stewart) in North Berwick (Scotland) where Jean had lived for many years in July last year. We’d been to the pool and filmed Cissie swimming (she’d terrorised the pool staff when she dived in which was prohibited!) and we then went on to see the outdoor pool where Jean had swum as a child and where her coach had first spotted her talent.

The pool was just by the sea overlooking the formidable Firth Of Forth, and it must have been freezing when Jean had swum in her prime. We joked with her how hardy she must have been - she laughingly said "That’s what Scots Porridge does for you!" Jenni asked Jean to walk round the pool and look over it as if she were remembering old times. She was a complete natural and the cameraman took some great shots. As Jean came back she told us that the very first time she had seen an aeroplane was in 1919 just after the war and she was standing on the very spot where she’d stood all those years ago.

The cameraman took the camera and set it up on a tripod to overlook and get some shots of the pool. Just as he started to film, an old bi-plane circled over the pool several times and then flew away. I asked Jenni how much she had paid to get that shot and she asked what power had we called in to make it happen!

Sadly, Jean also died on February 1st this year and, although we missed recording Vi’s memories before she died, we have at least captured Jean’s. These are just a couple of so many strange things that have happened during the work on this project. I know we feel quite blessed to have had the privilege of doing the work and so delighted that other people seem to be enjoying what we’ve done.

We Need Your Help

We have currently managed to trace 32 women from 10 different countries in our quest to collate information on women Olympians from 1924 - 1936.

We would dearly love to hear from anyone who knows of any women who competed in the Olympic Games between 1924 - 1936 - or indeed if you are one of those women! If you have any information, please email

As well as writing 'A Proper Spectacle' we spent some time attempting to get a commission to make a documentary about the earliest women Olympians without success. Luckily, we did find journalist Jenni Mills who helped us to persuade David Parker (Director of Available Light Productions) to make a cameraman available to us for a couple of days and we managed to film four of Britain's pre-war Olympians last Summer. The footage is absolutely fascinating and such an important record of women's sporting history - but no-one has picked up on it. We'd really like to make a documentary that featured the oldest women Olympians globally. Any ideas anyone? Anyone out there want to work with us on this one?

Thanks to everyone below for your interest.

The oldest Hungarian women Olympic champion Ibolya Csák (Kádárné) won in1936 Berlin high jump. She was 85 years old on 15 January 2000 and is the first Hungarian woman Olympic champion in track and field, beating Dorothy Odam. She is a wonderful, active old lady in the Hungarian Olympic society. We have two other olympic medallists still alive: Emilia Rotter won bronze in Figure skating 1932. Lake Placid and Erna Bogen (wife of Aladár Gerevich :7 times gold in fencing, 6 team 1 individual, the most successful Hungarian olympians) also in Fencing in Los Angeles 1932.

Katalin Szikora my best regards, and good work....

 I found a picture (year????-it looks old) of a female Olympic Swimmer in a group of pictures I received after Jessie Jutten died. JJ was my boss at Central Missouri State University and loved swimming.

- I would be glad to send it to you.

Jane Markert

Hi. I am currently writing a book on the history of skiing in southern California. One of the personalities I am including in my work is a southern California native named Clarita Heath Bright. She was a member of the 1936 US Olympic Women's ski team. She currently lives in Massachusetts. I can give you more information about her, or pass along her address and phone number (with her permission), if you like. Ingrid

Ingrid P. Wicken