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Theresa lone Sanderson CBE

Athlete - British & European Champion & Gold Medal Olympian

Tessa Sanderson was born on 14 March 1956 in St ElizabethJamaica, of Ghanaian descent, so a

lthough not Black Country through and through, after being in the care of her grandmother she

eventually joined her parents and lived in Wednesfield from the age of six.

Barbara Richards, her P.E. teacher at Ward's Bridge High School, spotted her talent for athletics and

encouraged her, also making threats of putting Tessa in after-school detention if she did not train.

Tessa later admitted that this approach had worked. It is said she first threw a javelin at the age of 14,

in competition with a friend and a bet that the furthest throw would win a bag of chips.


Tessa became a member of Wolverhampton & Bilston Athletics Club, competing in both javelin and

multi-event disciplines (Pentathalon). In 1972, aged 16, Sanderson won the Intermediate javelin at the 

English Schools' Athletics Championships. The following year she was selected to compete in the javelin throw at the 1973 European Athletics Junior Championships. After this competition, Sanderson decided to focus on the javelin event rather than pentathlon, partly because she expected competing in the javelin to provide more opportunities for travel. She made her senior international debut in the javelin throw at the 1974 British Commonwealth Games, where she finished 5th. Sanderson broke the UK javelin throw junior record five times. She became the national record holder in 1976, throwing 56.14 m (184 ft 2 in). She went on to achieve ten new UK senior records and five Commonwealth records.

1976 saw Sanderson's Olympic debut, at 1976 Summer Olympics. Aged 20, she was the youngest of the competitors in her event, and threw 57.00 m (187 ft 0 in) to finish ninth.

In July 1977, at the European Cup semi-finals in Dublin, she achieved 67.20 m (220 ft 5 1⁄2 in), at the time a UK record and the second longest distance achieved by a woman.

Sanderson won her first major gold medal with a throw of 61.34 m (201 ft 2 3⁄4 in) the 1978 Commonwealth Games, the first time that England had won gold in the women's javelin at the games since 1962. A few weeks later, Sanderson took silver at the 1978 European Athletics Championships, and at the 1979 European Cup.

She went to the 1980 Summer Olympics rated as the third-best woman javelin thrower of all time, but failed to meet the qualifying standard.

After the 1980 Olympics, she approached Wilf Paish at the Carnegie Institute of P.E. in Leeds to coach her. During the next three years Tessa had various injury problems which prevented her from competing at the top level.

Olympic gold

When Sanderson won the gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics, it was Great Britain's first Olympic win in a throwing event since the instigation of the modern Olympics in 1896. She set a new Olympic record with her throw of 69.56 m (228 ft 2 1⁄2 in). She also became the first black British woman to have won an Olympic gold medal. Sanderson also won gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games.

In March 1987, Sanderson announced that she would be focusing on the heptathlon rather than the javelin throw.

Having announced after the 1988 Olympics that she would retire from the javelin throw, Sanderson made an unexpected return to competition in 1989, at the McVitie's International Challenge, where she finished third in that competition and third again at the 1989 European Cup. At the 1990 Commonwealth Games, a throw of 65.72 m (215 ft 7 1⁄4 in) was enough for Sanderson to retain her title.  Aged 35, Sanderson won at the 1991 European Cup, ahead of a field that included the reigning world record holder Felke.

Her fifth Olympic appearance, at the 1992 Summer Olympics, set a new record for Olympic appearances by a British athlete. At the 1992 World Cup Sanderson won gold with a throw of 61.86 m (202 ft 11 1⁄4 in), nearly three metres further than any other competitor.

Sanderson has made numerous television appearances as a guest, and worked as a sports reporter for Sky News when it first aired in 1989. She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1985 New Year's Honours, raised to Officer (OBE) in 1998, and later to Commander (CBE) in the 2004 New Year's Honours. Sanderson served as Vice-Chairman of Sport England from 1999 to 2005, and in 2009 established the Tessa Sanderson Foundation and Academy, which aims to encourage young people and people with disabilities to take up sport.


Sanderson served as Vice-Chairman of Sport England from 1999 to 2005. In 2006, she started an academy in the NewhamLondon that helped to find and train athletes to represent Britain in the 2012 Summer Olympics. In September 2009, The Tessa Sanderson Foundation and Academy was established, with the aim of encouraging young people and people with disabilities to take up sport, and providing mentoring and support.

From 2009 to 2013, Sanderson organised an annual 10 km race in Newham, with part of the route being through the Olympic Park. The 2013 event attractied 3,000 participants representing 45 different nationalities. Sanderson was appointed as a board member of the Olympic Park Legacy Company chaired by Baroness Ford, to "develop and manage" the Olympic Park following the 2012 Olympics.[48][49]

Media work

Sanderson was a guest on television shows including A Question of Sport (in 1979), Punchlines (1984), The Krypton Factor Olympic Celebrity Special (1984), Sporting Triangles (1987 and 1988), Celebrity Wheel of Fortune (1989), Busman's Holiday Celebrity Special (1991), Catchphrase Celebrity Special (1991), Celebrity Wife Swap (2009)[50] and Bullseye (1984).

When Sky News was launched in 1989, she worked as a sports reporter for the channel. She also appeared alongside Cilla Black as a co-host on ITV's Surprise Surprise. In 2005, she took part in the one-off special, Strictly African Dancing, as part of the Africa Lives season on the BBC. She performed a "traditional 'dance celebrating the return home of the menfolk'" and was voted into third place by the viewers. Sanderson starred in the fitness videos "Cardiofunk" (1990) "Body Blitz" (circa 1992) with Derrick Evans.

She appeared in "Billy's Olympic Nightmare", a one-off exclusive BBC Red Button episode of EastEnders which was aired on 16 July 2012 and was a contestant in Dancing on Ice goes Gold program on ITV on 22 July 2012. In 2018, Sanderson featured in Channel 5's reality series Celebrity 5 Go Barging.  At 58 years of age, she began working as a model for the Grey Model Agency.


Sanderson was selected as a British Athletics Writers' Association Athlete of the Year in 1977, 1978 and 1984, and inaugurated into the England Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.

She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1985 New Year's Honours, following her Olympic gold, raised to Officer (OBE) in the 1998 New Year's Honours for her charity work, and later to Commander (CBE) in the 2004 New Year's Honours for her services to Sport England.

Sanderson is an honorary graduate of the University of Wolverhampton and was made an Honorary Fellow of London South Bank University in 2004. In 2004, Sanderson was voted one of 100 Great Black Britons in a poll established after the BBC's 100 Greatest Britons failed to include any black Britons. Later in the same year she was presented with a Sportswomen of the Year Lifetime Achievement award by The Sunday Times. In Wednesfield there is a housing estate located near where she started learning the javelin throw, Sanderson Park, named after her. There is also a road named after her in Wandsworth RoadSouth London, Tessa Sanderson Place.

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