6 Sporting Pioneers and Their Incredible Stories

Posted: 19 September 2019

6 Sporting Pioneers and Their Incredible Stories

In the 1960s, long-distance running was widely thought to be unfeminine and experts even warned it could be damaging to women’s health. In the late ‘60s, women were still not permitted to enter the Boston Marathon – something runner Kathrine Switzer objected to.

The world of sport has not always been the inclusive spectrum we know and enjoy today. Throughout history, sportspeople have been excluded from the sport they love on account of disability, gender, age, race and more.

Here are 6 incredible sportspeople and the inspiring stories of how they changed the world of sport for the better, proving nothing should stop anyone from playing the sport they love.

Kathrine Switzer

In 1967, Switzer entered the 26.2 mile race as ‘K. V. Switzer’, concealing her female identity. Despite attempts by an official to eject her partway through the race, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to finish the race as an official entrant.

Switzer is celebrated as a major catalyst in the progression of women’s running. Thanks in part to her, in 1972 women were officially allowed to enter the Boston Marathon and in 1984 women’s marathoning was included in the Olympic Games for the first time.

The All Blacks

In November 2018, openly gay ex-Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas was attacked in an unprovoked homophobic attack. The New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks showed their support by wearing rainbow laces (an initiative inspired by a campaign led by LGBT charity, Stonewall). The All Blacks also tweeted:

‘We stand with Gareth Thomas. Rugby is a sport for all and we will show our solidarity by wearing #RainbowLaces in our clash with Italy this weekend.’

Other teams later followed suit with the Welsh, English and American teams also wearing rainbow laces in a show of unity against homophobia. The All Blacks were praised for inspiring other sportspeople to stand up as LGBT allies.

Lily Parr

Lily Parr is widely considered to be the greatest footballer of all time. She is also credited with pioneering women’s football in Lancashire, the county where she was born.

Parr was born in 1905 when women didn’t really play football. However, during her early teens she joined the Dick Kerr Ladies team - a team made up of workers from a munitions factory in Preston. Despite being only 14, Parr netted 34 goals during her first season at the club.

Parr later went on to play for England, scoring an epic 900 goals across her 32-year career. She proved to men and women around the country that football was not a “men’s sport”.

In June this year, Parr became the first female player to be honoured with a statue at the National Football Museum in Manchester.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann

Sir Ludwig Guttmann is credited as one of the pioneers of organised physical activity for people with disabilities.

Guttmann was a Jewish neurologist who fled Nazi Germany just before the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1939, he came to Britain as a refugee, having saved many Jews from deportation to concentration camps through his position as the director of a hospital in Wroclaw, Poland.

After the Second World War, Guttmann founded the Stoke Mandeville Games to help rehabilitate injured war veterans through sport, giving them a purpose and helping them to reintegrate into post-war society.

Guttmann later went on to found the first proper Paralympic games, which were held alongside the Olympic Games in Rome.

He was awarded an OBE, CBE and Order of St John in recognition of his contributions to disability sport.

Althea Gibson

Althea Gibson was born in South Carolina in 1927. From an early age, Gibson loved sport and was an especially talented tennis player. However, being black, she was barred from most tournaments, the majority of which were closed to African Americans throughout the 1940s and 50s.

Gibson refused to be discouraged. Thanks to her talent and persistence, in 1951 Gibson became the first black player ever to be invited to play at Wimbledon. Six years later, she went on to win the women’s singles and doubles at the same competition and won the US Open a year later.

Oscar Swahn

Swedish athlete Oscar Swahn still holds the record for being the oldest athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. He broke this record over a century ago during the 1912 Stockholm Olympics where he won gold in the shooting at the grand old age of 64 years and 280 days old!

But that wasn’t the end of Swahn’s Olympic career. He later became the oldest male competitor when he returned to the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium where at the age of 72 he competed alongside his son!

At Halsbury we believe sport is for everyone. If you'd like to inspire the next generation of sportspeople, get in touch today.

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