Tessa Sanderson
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Tessa Sanderson

Tessa Sanderson
Tessa Sanderson-2.jpg
Sanderson in 2008
Personal information
Full nameTheresa Ione Sanderson[1]
Born (1956-03-14) 14 March 1956 (age 64)[1]
St Elizabeth, Jamaica
Country Great Britain (1973-1996)
Javelin throw
Turned pro1973
Achievements and titles
Personal 73.58 m (1983)

Theresa Ione "Tessa" Sanderson, (born 14 March 1956) is a British former javelin thrower and heptathlete. A six-time Olympian in the javelin from 1976 to 1996, she won the gold medal in 1984 for Great Britain, and 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 have won an Olympic gold medal.

During her career, she had an ongoing rivalry with Fatima Whitbread. Sanderson has made numerous television appearances as a guest, and worked as a sports reporter for Sky News when it first aired in 1989. Sanderson 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 later to Commander (CBE) in the 2004 New Year's Honours for her services to Sport England.

Early life

Sanderson was born on 14 March 1956 in St Elizabeth, Jamaica,[1] of Ghanaian ancestry.[2] Her parents left Jamaica to find work in England when Sanderson was five, and she was in the care of her grandmother until going to live her parents in Wednesfield at the age of six. Her P.E. teacher at Ward's Bridge High School, Barbara Richards, noted her talent for athletics and encouraged her, also making threats of putting Sanderson in after-school detention if she did not train, an approach that Sanderson later said helped her.[3][4] She first threw a javelin at the age of 14, when betting with a friend for a bag of chips over who would be able to throw it further.[5]

Athletics career

She was a member of Wolverhampton & Bilston Athletic Club.[1] In 1972, aged 16, Sanderson won the English Schools Intermediate javelin championship. She made her senior international debut in the event at the 1974 British Commonwealth Games, finishing fifth. Later that year, she finished 13th at the 1974 European Athletics Championships. Sanderson broke the UK javelin throw junior record five times, achieving 55.04 m (180 ft  in) in 1974. She became the national record holder in 1976, throwing 56.14 m (184 ft 2 in). She went on to achieve ten new UK senior records and five Commonwealth records.[1]

1976 saw Sanderson's Olympic debut, at 1976 Summer Olympics. Aged 20, she was the youngest of the competitors in her event, and threw 57 m (187 ft 0 in) to finish ninth. At the 1978 Commonwealth Games she won her first major gold medal with a throw of 61.34 m (201 ft  in), the first time that England had won gold in the women's javelin at the games since 1962.[1] She went to the 1980 Summer Olympics rated as the third-best woman javelin thrower of all time, but failed to meet the qualifying standard for the final, achieving only 48.76 m (159 ft  in) with her first throw, and having her other two attempts declared "no-throws".[6]

After the 1980 Olympics, she approached Wilf Paish at the Carnegie Institute of P.E. in Leeds to coach her.[3] He agreed to become her coach, and she moved to live with his family.[2] In 1981, she suffered an Achilles tendon rupture in her left leg and also broke a bone in her throwing arm. An operation on her Achilles tendon was unsuccessful, and she required another operation. The injuries prevented her from competing for twenty-two months.[3] Sanderson was fourth at the 1983 World Championships, where her rival Fatima Whitbread won silver.[7] At the 1983 World Championships, she injured her Achilles tendon again, and had both operations on both Achilles tendons a few days after the end of the competition.[3]

When Sanderson won the gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in the javelin, it was Great Britain's first Olympic win in a throwing event since the instigation of the modern Olympics in 1896. She set a new Olympic record with her throw of 69.56 m (228 ft  in). Whitbread won bronze.[8] She also became the first black British woman to have won an Olympic gold medal.[9] Sanderson also won gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games, with Whitbread taking silver.[10]

In March 1987, Sanderson announced that she would be focusing on the heptathlon rather than the javelin throw. Shortly before that, she had moved to London, and was looking for a career change to television or promotional work.[11] She later threatened to boycott athletics events, for which she was being paid £1,000 each by British Athletics whilst Whitbread was being paid £10,000 per event, and agreed a new deal at the start of June.[12] At the Dairy Crest games in August, Whitbread, who had been undefeated during the season, injured her shoulder whilst Sanderson won the event and then announced that she would be training with Mick Hill in Italy for the world championships.[13] Whitbread won the World Championship gold, with Sanderson finishing fourth.[14] By this time, former pop star Adam Faith was engaged as Sanderson's agent.[15]

Sanderson burst the skin around her ankle, exposing her Achilles tendon, around ten days before taking part in the 1988 Summer Olympics as defending champion.[16] She failed to qualify for the final, and left the competition limping, with blood visible on the bandage on her injured ankle.[17] She left the stadium on crutches before the medal ceremony, where Whitbread was presented with the silver medal after finishing as runner-up to Petra Felke.[18]

Having announced after the 1988 Olympics that she would retire from the javelin throw, Sanderson made an unexpected return to competition in 1989,[19] at the McVitie's International Challenge, where she finished third.[20] At the 1990 Commonwealth Games, a throw of 65.72 m (215 ft  in) was enough for Sanderson to retain her title.[21] At the 1990 European Athletics Championships Sanderson finished twelfth,[22] but was later upgraded to eleventh after Felicia ?ilea was disqualified.[23][24]

Her fifth Olympic appearance, at the 1992 Summer Olympics, set a new record for Olympic appearances by a British athlete.[25] Her best throw of 68.54 m (224 ft  in) was almost five metres less than the winning distance achieved by Silke Renk.[26] At the 1992 World Cup Sanderson won gold with a throw of 61.86 m (202 ft  in), nearly three metres further than any other competitor.[27]

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.[28] She also failed to qualify for the final at the 1997 World Championships, which was her last international appearance.[1]

An article by Alan Hubbard in The Observer in 1990 said of 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) publicly supported Sue Howland who had been allowed to compete at the 1990 Commonwealth Games.[29] In 2009, Tom Lamont wrote in The Guardian that "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, her rival Whitbread having retired five years earlier.[2] She had also competed in pentathlon and heptathlon events, but not internationally.[1] Her career-best javelin throw was 73.58 m (241 ft  in) in Edinburgh on 26 June 1983.[30]

Sports administration

Sanderson served as Vice-Chairman of Sport England from 1999 to 2005.[31] In 2006, she started an academy in the Newham, London that helped to find and train athletes to represent Britain in the 2012 Summer Olympics.[32] In September 2009, The Tessa Sanderson Foundation and Academy was established, with the aim of encouraging young people and people with disabilities to take up sport, and providing mentoring and support.[33]

From 2009 to 2013, Sanderson organised an annual 10 km race in Newham, with part of the route being through the Olympic Park. The 2013 event attractied 3,000 participants representing 45 different nationalities. However, the event was cancelled in 2014, with Sanderson claiming that the local authority, Newham Council, had been delaying meetings about the event, and had been looking to double the fee payable.[34][35] Sanderson was appointed as a board member of the Olympic Park Legacy Company chaired by Baroness Ford, to "develop and manage" the Olympic Park following the 2012 Olympics.[36][37]

Media work

Sanderson was 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), Celebrity Wheel of Fortune (1989), Busman's Holiday Celebrity Special (1991), Catchphrase Celebrity Special (1991), Celebrity Wife Swap (2009)[38] and Bullseye (1984).[39]

When Sky News was launched in 1989, she worked as a sports reporter for the channel.[40] She also appeared alongside Cilla Black as a co-host on ITV's Surprise Surprise.[41] In 2005, she took part in the one-off special, Strictly African Dancing, as part of the Africa Lives season on the BBC.[42] She performed a "traditional 'dance celebrating the return home of the menfolk'" and was voted into third place by the viewers.[43] Sanderson starred in the fitness videos "Cardiofunk" (1990) "Body Blitz" (circa 1992) with Derrick Evans.[44][45]

She appeared in "Billy's Olympic Nightmare", a one-off exclusive BBC Red Button episode of EastEnders which was aired on 16 July 2012.[46] and was a contestant in Dancing on Ice goes Gold program on ITV on 22 July 2012. In 2018, Sanderson featured in Channel 5's reality series Celebrity 5 Go Barging.[47] At 58 years of age, she began working as a model for the Grey Model Agency.[4]


Fencing at Sanderson Park

Sanderson 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 later to Commander (CBE) in the 2004 New Year's Honours for her services to Sport England.[48]

Sanderson is an honorary graduate of the University of Wolverhampton[49] and was made an Honorary Fellow of London South Bank University in 2004.[50] In 2004 she was presented with a Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Lifetime Achievement award.[51] In Wednesfield there is a housing estate located near where she started learning the javelin throw, Sanderson Park, named after her.[52] There is also a road named after her in Wandsworth Road, South London, Tessa Sanderson Place.[53]

Personal life

Sanderson's autobiography, Tessa: My Life in Athletics, was published in 1986.[54] In 1990 Sanderson was awarded £30,000 in damages by the High Court of Justice over newspaper claims that by starting an affair with Evans, who later became known as Mr. Motivator, she had "stolen another woman's husband." Sanderson contended that her affair with Evans had begun only after his marriage had broken up.[5]

On 3 May 2010, she married Densign White, former Olympic judo athlete, at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Her bridesmaids were her fellow Olympic teammates Sharron Davies, Kelly Holmes and Christine Ohuruogu.[55] She and White are the parents of twins Cassius and Ruby Mae.[4] Her nephew, Dion Sanderson, is a footballer who made his debut for Wolverhampton Wanderers in October 2019.[56]

National titles (Javelin throw)

Personal bests

Event Time/ Distance/ Points Date Notes Ref
Javelin throw 73.58m 26 June 1983 in Edinburgh [30]
200m 24.89s 1981 [1]
400m 57.3s 1972 [1]
800m 2:26.20 1981 [1]
100m hurdles 13.46s 1981 [1]
400m hurdles 60.46s 1977 [1]
High jump 1.69m 1973 [1]
Long jump 5.97m 1981 [1]
Shot put 13.27m 1981 [1]
Heptathlon 6125 points 1981 [1]
60m hurdles (indoors) 8.5s 1977 [1]
Pentathlon (indoors) 3623 1973 [1]

International competitions (Javelin throw)


  • Results with a q, indicate overall position in qualifying round
  • At the World Cup competitions, Sanderson was representing Europe.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u "Tessa Sanderson". uka.org.uk. United Kingdom Athletics. Retrieved 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Lamont, Tom (26 July 2009). "Frozen in time". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d Brasher, Christopher (5 November 2016). "The sweet and sour faces of triumph". The Observer. p. 30.
  4. ^ a b c Lambert, Victoria (5 November 2016). "Tessa Sanderson: I was a mother at 57, now I'm a model at 60". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 23 November 2016. Retrieved 2017.
  5. ^ a b Powell, David (25 May 1996). "Joan Collins of javelin aims for dramatic final episode of dynasty - Saturday Portrait". The Times. London. p. 42. Retrieved 2020.
  6. ^ Harris, Bob (24 July 1980). "Disaster: Tessa fails to qualify". Newcastle Evening Chronicle. Newcastle. p. 30.
  7. ^ Rodda, John (15 August 1983). "Daley looks to extend his domain". The Guardian. London. p. 18.
  8. ^ Rodda, John (8 August 1984). "Tessa sheds the ghost of Moscow". The Guardian. London. p. 22.
  9. ^ Hubbard, Alan (15 November 2009). "Tessa Sanderson: 'I was spat on and called golliwog'". The Independent. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  10. ^ Keating, Frank (1 August 1986). "Whitbread's bitterness overflows". The Guardian. London. p. 22.
  11. ^ Moore, Chris (21 March 1987). "Athletics: Sanderson ready to bring down curtain". The Times. London. Retrieved 2020 – via NewsBank.
  12. ^ "Athletics: Sanderson offered improved pay deal". The Times. London. 3 June 1987. Retrieved 2020 – via NewsBank.
  13. ^ Rodda, John (24 August 1987). "Peaking on the road to Rome". The Guardian. London. p. 25.
  14. ^ Keating, Frank (7 September 1987). "Fatima spearheads British victories". The Guardian. London. p. 1.
  15. ^ "Sanderson prices herself out of Peugot showdown with Felke". The Guardian. London. 7 July 1987. p. 17.
  16. ^ Rodda, John (15 September 1987). "Sanderson's schedule cut close to the bone". The Guardian. London. p. 17.
  17. ^ Rodda, John (26 September 1987). "Reeling under the shock of the new". The Guardian. London. p. 17.
  18. ^ Bierley, Stephen (27 September 1987). "Fatima's defiant spear of silver". The Guardian. London. p. 13.
  19. ^ Rodda, John (16 June 1989). "Sanderson throws herself back into action among the very best of British". The Guardian. London. p. 20.
  20. ^ "Results". The Guardian. London. 24 June 1989. p. 20.
  21. ^ Engel, Matthew (2 February 1999). "Coe saves deposit as Sanderson loses her cool". The Guardian. London. p. 20.
  22. ^ "Track & field". USA Today. 31 August 1990. p. 11C.
  23. ^ "Verspringer Maas neemt EK-brons van Bilac over" [Long jumper Maas takes over European Championship bronze from Bilac]. NRC Handelsblad (in Dutch). 5 October 1990. Retrieved 2014.
  24. ^ "Doping bei EM" [Doping in European Championships], Neues Deutschland (in German), 6 October 1990, archived from the original on 14 November 2014, retrieved 2014
  25. ^ Powell, David (15 July 1992). "Sanderson rejoices in record - Athletics". Retrieved 2020 – via NewsBank.
  26. ^ Hubbard, Alan (2 August 1992). "Devers celebrates a miracle triumph". The Observer. London. p. 40.
  27. ^ Rodda, John (28 September 1992). "Britain second in world cup". The Guardian. London. p. 14.
  28. ^ Sanderson 'ecstatic' at honour Archived 4 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine BBC Sport, 31 December 2003
  29. ^ Hubbard, Alan (28 October 1990). "Feuds corner: Sanderson v Whitbread". The Observer. London. p. 23.
  30. ^ a b "Theresa Sanderson". World Athletics. World Athletics. Retrieved 2020.
  31. ^ "Midlands' Olympic legends: Tessa Sanderson". itv.com. 15 July 2016. Retrieved 2020.
  32. ^ Banh, Angela; Cadger, Rick. "Tessa Sanderson". regtransfers.co.uk. Registration Transfers. Retrieved 2020.
  33. ^ "The Tessa Sanderson Foundation And Academy". Government of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 2020.
  34. ^ "Welcome to Newham Classic". newhamclassic10k.com. Archived from the original on 7 March 2010.
  35. ^ Hubbard, Alan (9 February 2014). "Inside Lines: Olympian Tessa Sanderson angry at losing her running battle with Newham Council". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2020.
  36. ^ "Olympic Park Legacy Company". Legacycompany.co.uk. 29 July 2013. Archived from the original on 20 January 2010. Retrieved 2013.
  37. ^ "Olympic Park Legacy Company". Legacycompany.co.uk. 2009. Archived from the original on 23 January 2010. Retrieved 2020.
  38. ^ "Tessa Sanderson". bfi.org.uk. British Film Institute. Retrieved 2020.
  39. ^ "London". Sunday Mirror. London. 21 October 1984. p. 26.
  40. ^ Brooks, Richard (5 February 1989). "Sun light in the Sky for news channel". The Observer. London. p. 84.
  41. ^ Miles, Tina (15 March 2012). "Holly Willoughby on why she is nervous about stepping into her hero Cilla Black's shoes on Surprise Surprise". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 2020.
  42. ^ "Strictly African Dancing". BBC. 20 June 2005. Retrieved 2020.
  43. ^ Smith, Giles (12 July 2005). "Triumphant Earle more than simply here for the spear - Sport on television". The Times. London. p. 68.
  44. ^ "Fighting the flab". Kensington Post. London. 4 January 1990. p. 18.
  45. ^ "Video Gems Firm". trove.nla.gov.au. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 2020.
  46. ^ "Billy's Olympic Nightmare". BBC. Retrieved 2020.
  47. ^ Taylor, Frances. "Celebrity 5 Go Barging". Radio Times. Archived from the original on 23 March 2019. Retrieved 2019.
  48. ^ "2012 Hall of Fame Inductees". englandathletics.org. England Athletics. Retrieved 2020.
  49. ^ "WLV dialogue" (PDF). University of Wolverhampton. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 May 2015. Retrieved 2015.
  50. ^ Ruth M (22 October 2019). "Black History Month: Honorary Graduates". lsbu.ac.uk. London South Bank University. Retrieved 2020.
  51. ^ Lewis, Richard (13 June 1996). "Fame game that began as a noble form of address". The Times. London. p. 5.
  52. ^ Young, Robin (18 March 1994). "Pupils right on target". Sandwell Evening Mail. p. 56.
  53. ^ Young, Robin; Hepburn, Kirstie (28 November 2004). "Tessa's lifetime of success - Sportswomen of the Year awards". The Sunday Times. London. p. Sport 23.
  54. ^ Richard William Cox (2003). British Sport: Biographical studies of British sportsmen, sportswomen, and animals. Frank Cass Publishers. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-7146-5252-8.
  55. ^ "Sharron's bridesmaid role". Gloucestershire Echo. Cheltenham. 3 June 2010.
  56. ^ Swarbrick, Rosie (4 November 2019). "Olympian Tessa Sanderson so proud to see nephew Dion Sanderson flying the family flag with Wolves". Express & Star. Wolverhampton. Archived from the original on 5 November 2019. Retrieved 2020.

External links

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