Report by James Franklin , Reporter
Sunday, August 12, 2012
WHEN she first picked up a javelin at an athletics event, Di Seaman barely knew how to throw it.
But a mere three years later, she was representing her country and competing in the sport at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki.
With Team GB’s athletes currently battling it out with their international rivals at the London games, the 80-year-old from Sandford can reflect on a very different tournament 60 years ago.
A talented athlete from a young age, Mrs Seaman – who then went under her maiden name of Coates – tried her hand at a variety of disciplines at the Oxford Ladies Athletics Club in her teenage years.
But it was only by chance that she would try her hand in the sport that would eventually win her a ticket to the 15th games in Finland.
At an inter-club competition at Palmer Park in Reading, her club chairwoman came up to her with a proposition.
Mrs Seaman said: “She came up to me and said ‘we’re doing quite well, and if we do well in the throwing events we might even win’.
“She then asked me whether I would have a go at throwing the javelin for the club.
“I didn’t even know what a javelin looked like when I first joined the athletics club. I asked her how you threw it, and she showed me.
“After she showed it to me, I just run up and threw it, and I won the competition.”
Her continued success in the javelin and her athletic prowess quickly gained her national recognition, and she represented Britain in the European Championships in Brussels the following year, aged only 18.
Following an appearance at the National Championships at White City in June 1952 she was soon to receive a very unusual birthday present.
On her 20th birthday, she checked her pigeon hole at the Chelsea College of Physical Education, where she was studying.
She said: “There was nothing in there, and I thought bother my family for not sending me a card.
“But my friend had already taken my mail and gave it to the warden. Then at breakfast I was finally given my letters, and one of them had the mark of Buckingham Palace.”
Opening the letter, she found that it was a letter inviting her to take part in that year’s Olympics for Team Great Britain, which was signed by the Duke of Edinburgh.
She added: “There was great jollity at breakfast, and everyone was very excited for me.”
But as opposed to the life of today’s Olympic athletes, as a training physical education teacher she still had to make sure she could get time off her studies to compete.
Luckily, having shown her college principal her feats at the National Championships only weeks before, she was cleared to join the rest of the nation’s athletes.
Before she flew off with the rest of the team, she was invited to Buckingham Palace with the other athletes to pick up her uniform and be wished luck by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh.
When she arrived in Finland, the accommodation was not quite what this year’s athletes will have in the Olympic Village – with her fellow athletes she was billeted in a building previously used to house trainee nurses.
Nonetheless, she said she was ‘proud’ to take part in the opening ceremony with the rest of the national team.
She finally competed on July 25. Despite qualifying from the first group, she did not make it to the final round and finished 15th.
But she said the memory of competing in the games would always remain with her.
She continued: “The competition was quite fierce and I was pleased to have qualified.
“It is difficult to get any higher than the Olympics in terms of your athletics career, but I had lots of other high points in my career too.
“It was an experience I shall never forget, and I have lots of good memories of competing.”
Mrs Seaman continued her athletics career until 1958, competing in numerous more tournaments. She then worked as a PE teacher in schools across the country, before settling in Sandford, where she lives in Hapil Close.