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An Olympic life remembered

By Catherine Donohoe & Laura Foster
BBC London

Remembering Frank Turner, the 1948 Olympian and London gymnast, who inspired a generation.

Frank Turner was captain of the British Gymnastic Team, 1948.
Frank Turner was captain of the British Gymnastic Team, 1948.

Over the summer we were fortunate enough to interview two celebrated gymnasts who competed in the 1948 Olympic Games.

It was an enlightening and unforgettable experience and showed us what life, London and the Olympics were really like last time around.

Sadly, not long after we met, Frank Turner passed away on 27 September 2010 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

The 88-year-old competed in three Olympic Games and was captain of the British Gymnastics team in 1948.

It was through gymnastics that Frank met his lifelong friend and fellow Londoner George Weedon.

George competed alongside Frank in both the London Olympic Games and in Helsinki 1952.

Frank Turner
You can hear more about Frank Turner on the 'Towards 2012' show with Emma Jones on BBC London 94.9FM on Sunday 28 November at 1400.

During World War II, London had been devastated by bombing - unemployment was high and clothing and petrol were still being rationed.

Talking to Frank and George gave us an insight into how much was achieved in very little time and with very little money.

George said: "The Olympics of '48 were done on a shoestring.

"No one else would have it; no one else could afford it. The '48 Games were very different from '52."

They would talk so vividly about their memories, it was as if it had only happened yesterday.

One thing stood out more than any other - the sense of pride and achievement they both felt about competing.

Frank told us: "It's too awesome to think, because you know you're there for your country and it's very emotional.

"It's overwhelming - you lose all sense of where you are."

"There's tears coming down your face... you look around you and you say 'what an organisation!"

Former Olympic gymnasts George Weedon
Former Olympic gymnasts George Weedon

Whether recalling their outdoor training sessions or the friends they had made from around the world, George and Frank showed that the '48 Games were so much more than simply a sporting event.

Frank and George believed strongly in grassroots gymnastics - both went on to teach the sport to amateur groups.

After 1948

It was during training for the 1948 Games that George met and began coaching an aspiring gymnast named Joan Airey - they would later marry.

"I thought 'bloody hell! She's a prospect!

"Long and short, I had to work with her and within a year I got her to the Olympics."

George's passion for sport was inherited by granddaughter Lindsay Weedon who is a British modern pentathlete.

If you were a sportsman there'd be no wars in this world because we admired one another.
George Weedon, 1948 Olympian

Frank was a firm believer of the Olympic Creed - "it's not to have won but it's to have participated. That is the crux of world sportsmanship."

"They're our opponents when competing but our friends when not."

For such a successful athlete, Frank was a very charming and modest man preferring to use his trophies as paint pots rather than have them out on display.

George still keeps up his acrobatics to this day and believes strongly in passing on his skills and experiences to the next generation.

It was an honour and a privilege to hear Frank and George's experiences of the 1948 Olympics.

Come July 2012 the world's eyes will be in London.

However when the cauldron is lit to mark the start of the Olympic Games our thoughts will be with Frank Turner, a London gymnast who inspired a generation.

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