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Sunday, 17 September, 2000, 02:03 GMT 03:03 UK
Rider's legends: Anita Lonsbrough
Anita Lonsbrough
A triumphant homecoming for Anita Lonsbrough

BBC Olympics presenter Steve Rider highlights some of the great Olympians from the pages of history.

The 1960 Olympics in Rome turned a teenager from Huddersfield into Britain's most famous woman swimmer of all time.

Anita Lonsbrough was one of only two British gold medallists that year and the manner in which she beat her great rival, the German Wiltrud Urselmann, in the 200 metres breaststroke was unforgettable.

Lonsbrough had won two gold medals at the 1958 Commonwealth Games so was hardly an unknown but she had lost her world record to Urselmann shortly before the Games.

On Lonsbrough's side was the fact she had usually triumphed when going head to head with the German.

The race did not disappoint as Urselmann set to break the field by going off fast. But Lonsbrough kept to her plan to close in on the third lap and overtake her rival on the last.


The 19-year-old Yorkshire girl seemed to have timed the race to perfection as she moved into the gold medal position in the closing stages but Urselmann had a surprise in store as Lonsbrough recalled 40 years on.

Anita Lonsbrough
Victory after a thrilling race
"When we had met in the past Urselmann had always given up once I had overtaken her so I felt I had the race won," she said.

"But with this being an Olympic Games she found something extra and started coming back at me. It makes me laugh when I hear the BBC commentator almost screaming me home but at the time I was a bit stressed by this unexpected comeback by Urselmann."

In a most exhilarating finish Lonsbrough just held off the challenge to touch in first and win gold for Britain in a world record time.

"There was little time to dwell on it. When I came out the pool my time wasn't my own as I went round doing interview after interview," she remembers. "Even when I stood on the podium I was thinking `I hope this isn't a dream and I am going to wake up.'

Anita Lonsbrough
Anita Lonsbrough: Media work
"But later I was able to enjoy the moment. The British Olympic Committee laid on a champagne reception and the rest of the team laid out red towels on the floor."

Local hero

She received a hero's welcome back home but in the days of true amateurism Lonsbrough was soon back at work as a local government officer.

"They certainly kept my feet on the ground. After I did my first full week's work after getting back they carried me out of the office because they thought I must be tired."

Even when I stood on the podium I was thinking I hope this isn't a dream
  Anita Lonsbrough
Lonsbrough returned to the Olympic scene four years later. She did not win another medal but in Tokyo she became the first woman to carry the flag for the British team - and she met her future husband.

Lonsbrough later moved to Wolverhampton where she taught swimming and embarked on her current career as a journalist. These days she is the swimming correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

"Olympic success did not bring riches but it opened a lot of doors for me so it was worth all the hard work. It gave me a nice life afterwards," she said

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