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Fabulous female athletes from the shire

Maureen Gardner | 1948

Oxfordshire has a long history of preparing fantastic female athletes for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Back in the 1940s Maureen Gardner began training with the Oxford Ladies Athletic Club (now part of the Oxford City Athletic Club) after suffering from pleurisy and pneumonia. Gardner, originally a ballet dancer, trained in track and field events in order to regain her strength and turned out to be an exceptional hurdler. Gardner went on to compete in the London 1948 Summer Olympics, aged 19, where she claimed a silver medal in the 80 metre hurdles event. The event resulted in a photo-finish and both Maureen Gardner and her Dutch rival Fanny Blankers-Koen made a new world record of 11.2 seconds. A Blue Plaque hangs outside her childhood home at 17 Maidcroft Road in Cowley to commemorate her achievements.

Since the amazing success of Maureen Gardener, many women both from Oxfordshire and those who have studied and trained here have competed in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Danielle Watts | 2000; 2004; 2008

Danielle Watts is a Paralympic Swimmer from Wheatley. Watts has represented Britain in three Olympic Games and has set a staggering five world records. She won a silver medal and two bronze medals at the Athens 2004 Games in the 100 metre freestyle and the 50 metre freestyle and 50 metre backstroke respectively. She was awarded World Disabled Swimmer of the Year in 2003 by Swimming World Magazine and has spoken out about unsuitable housing conditions for disabled people.

Dame Katherine Grainger PhD | 2000; 2004; 2008; 2012; 2016

Katherine Grainger is a British rower who has won five Olympic medals in five successive Olympic Games. Over her 16-year Olympic career, Grainger has won Gold in the London 2012, silver in the Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016 Games. At the London 2012 Olympics, Grainger and her crewmate Anna Watkins broke the Olympic record in the qualifying round of the double sculls final before going on to claim the gold medal. Grainger was the Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University between 2015 and 2020 and is currently the chair of UK Sport, who invest in Olympic and Paralympic sport in UK.

Zoe de Toledo | 2016

Zoe de Toledo is a British rowing cox and silver medal winner. Toledo won Silver at the Rio 2016 Games for coxing the women’s eight as they became the first British women to win a medal in this event. The race was an epic one and ended in a photo-finish with de Toledo and her crew claiming silver. de Toledo has strong links to Oxford, having attended both Oxford Brookes University and the University of Oxford. She coxed the Oxford team in the disastrous 2012 Boat Race, when Oxford lost out on victory due to a protest swimmer and a broken blade following the re-start. de Toledo said about the race “I found it very difficult afterwards to trust myself to get back in the boat and enjoy rowing at all.” But thankfully she did, and she went on to win a silver medal for Team GB in 2016. de Toledo is currently studying medicine at the University of Oxford.

Polly Maton | 2016; 2020

Polly Maton is a track and field athlete currently waiting to compete in the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo in the long jump event. Maton is currently a student at the University of Oxford and we wish her all the best for this years’ Games.

For the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Oxfordshire is proud to have also sent rower Fiona Gammond from Bicester and Rowers, Victoria Thornley, Rowan McKellar, Karen Bennett, Hannah Scott, Rebecca Edwards, Chloe Brew, Kathrine Douglas, and Emily Ford, all of whom train with the Leander Club at Henley-on-Thames.

Written by volunteer Laura Lys – creator of the  Riot Room, a space dedicated to the promotion of women and women-centred culture. 

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Addition to the post:

Stephanie Jenkins wrote to the Museum team to tell us about rower Lily van den Broecke, who won Gold at the Paralympic Games in London in 2012. The postbox at the top of Divinity Road was painted gold in her honour. Thanks Stephanie for letting us know.