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SY Sporting Heroes: Dorothy Hyman

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BBC archive: Dorothy Hyman on BBC Look North, 1984

As BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2009 comes to Sheffield, we take a look at five of South Yorkshire's sporting heroes.

Olympic sprinter Dorothy Hyman from Cudworth near Barnsley was one of the fastest female athletes in the world at one point during the 1960s.

She won medals in the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and European Championships and was crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1963.

She has also had a sports stadium in Cudworth named after her. We met up with Dorothy in 2009 at her home in Stairfoot, Barnsley.

A tall, slim and unassuming woman, Dorothy looks much like she did at the height of her athletic career in the 1960s.

In the beginning

Born in 1941, Dorothy came from a family of five. Her father worked in the local mine and it was he who realised his daughter's potential as a sprinter:

Dorothy Hyman did most of her training at home in Cudworth
Dorothy Hyman did most of her training at home in Cudworth

"I was running in a school sports day and my dad came to watch. I don't think I even won that day, but he decided I could move a bit so he took it upon himself to start training me.

"He wasn't an athlete but he was always interested in sport. Someone he worked with knew Eddie Fleetwood who was second team coach at Barnsley FC, and also coached a few athletes.

"So I went to see Eddie and joined his training group, then joined Hickleton Main athletic club which was one of the only clubs round here."

Competing

Dorothy started competing at the age of 15 in the 1956 National Schools Championships.

"It snowballed from there. I competed in County, Northern Counties and National level then in 1958 I was selected for the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Then it was the Rome Olympics in 1960, the European Championships and Commonwealth Games in 1962, and the Tokyo Olympics in 1964."

From the age of 17 to 23 Dorothy was jetting all over the world for competitions but she did most of her training at home in Cudworth, and when she was not training she was working for British Coal at Ardsley House.

Dorothy Hyman's Medal Record
Dorothy with Wilma Rudolph (USA) and G Leone (Italy) at the Rome Olympics in 1960
1958 European Championships, Stockholm: 4x100m relay - Silver
1958 Commonwealth Games, Cardiff: 4x100yd relay - Gold (World Record: 45.3 seconds, with Madeleine Weston, June Paul and Heather Young)
1960 Olympics, Rome: 100m - Silver; 200m - Bronze
1962 European Championships, Belgrade: 100m - Gold; 200m - Silver; 4x100m relay - Bronze
1962 Commonwealth Games, Perth: 100yd - Gold; 200yd - Gold; 4x100yd relay - Silver
1964 Olympics, Tokyo: 4x100m relay - Bronze

The unknowns

Dorothy has always maintained that the most exciting thing about any big competition is seeing an unknown athlete do well:

"Of course I like to see the favourites come through - but what is nice is the ones who come up out of the blue. Just reaching the final for them is a terrific boost. It's nice when someone who is not expected to do well excels, jumps out of their skin getting personal bests, making it to the finals, sometimes even winning medals. These are the people who really make the games for me, not the certainties."

Dorothy herself was one of those unknowns, at least at the beginning: "At the 1960 Olympics in Rome nobody thought it was even worth sending the sprinters, but I got to the final.

"Only one person thought I would do well and that was my father. He had more confidence than I did. I just went to Rome to do my best, and I hoped I could win a Gold medal for my dad but I was delighted with the Silver and Bronze in 100m and 200m."

Dorothy knows how it feels to win the big medals and still gets a shiver when she watches it happen:

"Getting any medals is a big thrill, but there's nothing like the Gold, and the Gold Olympic medal is the one. That's the pinnacle, that's what you aim for.

"When you see someone like Usain Bolt you know you've seen something great. Or Torvill and Dean winning their Olympic Gold in 1984 - that was really, really exceptional. And Kelly Holmes of course."

Sheffield's Jessica Ennis after winning the heptathlon at the World Championships 2009
Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon at the World Championships 2009

Dorothy feels a particular affinity to another athlete, Olympic heptathlete Jessica Ennis from Sheffield. From their modesty to their BBC Sports Personality of the Year nominations there are some striking similarities between Dorothy and Jessica.

"I met her years ago at the Yorkshire or the Northern Counties Championships at Cudworth. She's a lovely girl and she hasn't altered from what I see on television. She's so pleasant and modest, she's really nice. Fingers crossed she'll win BBC Sports Personality this year."

Medals and awards

Dorothy's medals are displayed in two large glass frames in her hall but apart from these, there is not a lot of evidence in the house to suggest that this modest and softly-spoken woman was once the best female athlete in the country.

She keeps all her newspaper clippings in a leather-bound scrapbook but admits that over the years she has given away many of her awards and photographs.

Olympic sprinter Dorothy Hyman admires her medals
Olympic sprinter Dorothy Hyman admires her medals

"The BBC Sports Personality award used to be a small plaque rather than the TV camera but I think I may have given it away. People write and ask for photographs and autographs - and where I can, I do send them. The other day I got a letter from Germany asking me to sign some photographs. It surprises me when they still know who I am!"

Dorothy was crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1963 - the year she was unbeaten and got world best times.

"I came second for it in 1962 because I'd done well in the Commonwealth Games, but swimmer Anita Londesborough had also done well that year and she won. Anita was the first female Sports Personality."

Homecoming

Dorothy visited Buckingham Palace more than once; firstly when the women's relay team received their world record plaques in 1958, and then again after the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 when she and the rest of the women's relay team (Janet Simpson, Mary Rand and Daphne Arden) went to meet the Queen.

But for Dorothy nothing could beat her homecoming. Tears come to her eyes when she remembers the reception she got when she arrived home after her 1960 Olympic success in Rome. Cudworth could not have put on a better show if it had been a Royal visit:

"It was fantastic. Everybody turned out. Even now I can get a bit emotional thinking about it!

The streets of Cudworth were decked with bunting and flowers for Dorothy's homecoming
Cudworth was decked with bunting and flowers for Dorothy's homecoming

"My parents met me in London and we travelled back to Doncaster on the train. But they wouldn't let me go back home so I had to stay in the Danum Hotel in Doncaster.

"The next morning I went to work to show my workmates my medals and in the afternoon, we came back to Cudworth. It was amazing. Bunting, flowers, and there couldn't have been more people there if the Queen herself had come. I couldn't believe it.

"I was driven around with friends and family in a coach full of flowers - so many bunches that I ended up giving them away because we just couldn't cope!

"I had to stop at every school and every pub where they gave me banners and presents and flowers... My face ached with smiling for so long!"

Dorothy lived on Blomfontein Street in Cudworth at the time, and her Olympic legacy stayed there for years after:

"Somebody had painted the Olympic rings and 'Welcome home, Dorothy!' on the wall. It was there for years and years and years before it wore off!"

"The girls I ran with were from London and they all said, 'Ooh, aren't you lucky? The people in the flats where I live don't even know who I am!' So I felt very privileged."

The end of competing

Dorothy retired from international athletics after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when she was 23: "All my life was work, train and compete. Life was passing me by and I wanted something different.

"Looking back I probably ought to have had a year off and then gone back to it but a book had been published - Sprint To Fame - and I couldn't compete as an amateur any more."

Running track at the Dorothy Hyman Stadium in Cudworth, Barnsley
Running track at the Dorothy Hyman Stadium in Cudworth, Barnsley

A stadium named in her honour was opened in Cudworth, and Dorothy began coaching athletics at the Dorothy Hyman Track Club which she did voluntarily for 15 years. It was a high-performing club:

"The international relay could have been our club relay. I couldn't run with them, but three of the athletes I trained made up the British team that year, plus one more.

"When I was 28 I was encouraged to run again so they let me run domestically (but not internationally) and I was running better than ever.

"But because I could beat the athletes I was coaching, they thought I was taking their glory and it got a bit nasty. So I decided it wasn't worth it."

Athletics now

It seems that becoming a record-breaking athlete was something Dorothy almost fell into. She was good, she won competitions, she made it to the top - but at the same time, she worked full-time at British Coal. For athletes now, she says, the emphasis is very different:

"I don't know personally whether athletes' attitudes have changed because I'm not involved any more - but it would appear that it is totally different. It's professional, a lot more upbeat. Their job is the sport whereas I worked at the same time. It's got to be different if athletics is your livelihood."

Stories of performance-enhancing drugs surround every sport nowadays but in the 1960s Dorothy says drugs in sport were pretty much unheard of:

"I never came across it. There were rumours that the Russians took hormone-type things, but personally I never came across any drugs at all. Maybe I was just naïve… but no, they weren't about like they were now."

Dorothy waves to Cudworth from her homecoming bus full of flowers, 1960
Dorothy waves to Cudworth from her homecoming bus full of flowers, 1960

Grass-roots

More money is ploughed into professional athletics than when Dorothy was competing, but she says the provision for grass roots sports is lacking:

"There's not enough provision for athletics or any other sport at school now. That's where you capture the ability. Not everyone can be academic, and if those who aren't could spend their time doing sport, it gives them self-worth. We would have less hooligans about if the kids had something to put their energies in."

Dorothy continued to work at British Coal until she was made redundant in 1991. She held keep fit classes, worked as a home help assistant, and then worked with people with learning disabilities for nine years, which she says she loved.

Now nearly 70, Dorothy still keeps fit at home and has a close eye on athletic events. Her brother-in-law played rugby for Barnsley, and her nephew plays rugby for the Sheffield Eagles.

As a past winner of BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Dorothy is invited every year and for the third year running she will be taking her niece to the event - this time at the ceremony at Sheffield Arena.

The Dorothy Hyman Stadium and Sprinters Bar on Syndale Road in Cudworth
The Dorothy Hyman Stadium and Sprinters Bar on Syndale Road in Cudworth




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