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2013-05-14T10:00:00 Updated 2015-02-19T23:12:55

Dorothy's Olympic story

Wembley Stadium is a special venue for every West Ham United supporter, but it is one which stirs uniquely fond memories for Dorothy Parlett.

The 86-year-old is surely the only Hammers fan to have won an Olympic medal and watched her team win a trophy under the Twin Towers.

Born in Manor Park into a West Ham family in 1927, Parlett was in the crowd who braved Second World War bombs to watch West Ham win the inaugural Football League War Cup at Wembley in June 1940.

A little more than eight years later, she was running alongside the same pitch, winning the silver in the women's 100 metres final at the 1948 London Olympic Games. It may be more than half a century ago, but Parlett can recall the day she became Great Britain's first female Olympic sprint medallist.


"I can remember it of course," she confirmed. "It was very different being an athlete back then.

"Back in 1947, they drew up a list of possible people who they thought might reach the Olympics and my name came up for the high jump, not the sprinting at all. Even to this day, I've never found out what I did in 1947 to put my name on that list of possibles.

"We were all given a new coach if we didn't have one and I was very lucky to be put into the hands of Sandy Duncan, who was a well-known athlete in his own right.

"I started training for the Olympics in March 1948 with him and, even as a high jumper, I had to warm-up and he had seen me running around the track. He came to me and said 'Dorothy, I don't think you'll make it as a high jumper but I can see potential in your running, so will you allow me to coach you?'."

Duncan's advice served Parlett well as she streaked in second to Dutch sprinting great Fanny Blankers-Koen in a time of 12.2 seconds.

"I started training the March and won the medal on 2 August, as Sandy had improved me so much that I was actually able to get into the team.

"Fanny Blankers-Koen, who beat me in the 100 metres final, was such a wonderful person and she would have beaten me no matter how hard I had trained, because she was such a powerful girl."

Back in 1948, the country was still recovering from six years of conflict - the Olympics of that year were labelled the 'Austerity Games' - and the resources available to athletes were scarce in relation to the present day.

Parlett, then Dorothy Manley, fitted her training around her full-time job as a typist for the British Suez Company, and rode the London Underground to and from Wembley to compete.

She retired from athletics in 1952 and is now a great-grandmother. At 86, she is still working as a piano teacher at her home in Woodford Green.

"I've never really missed athletics. I have had a couple of hundred pupils through in my time as a piano teacher but not all of them stay the course. They think they can do it but find they can't and give up.

"Usually they get to hear about my Olympic medal. Since the 2012 Games I have found some of them saw me on the television talking about it!"

While athletics was the sport at which she excelled, Parlett has been a football fan for as long as she can remember.

Her father was in the huge crowd as the Hammers were beaten 2-1 by Bolton Wanderers in the first-ever Wembley FA Cup final.

As a child, she attended her first West Ham match at Plymouth Argyle in the mid-1930s.

In 1940, the Parlett family were at Wembley as Sam Small's goal secured a 1-0 win over Blackburn Rovers in the augural War Cup final.

"West Ham is very much in my family. My father started supporting the club as a boy of 16 and he went to the 1923 FA Cup final and right through until he was 88!

"He actually had a cardiac arrest while he was watching a West Ham match, but luckily he had a doctor sitting alongside him and he resuscitated him and he was taken off to hospital.

"My father's season ticket went to one of my sons and he still has it today. I have two grandsons who follow West Ham and now one of my great-grandsons, who is only 12, is keen on following them too, so it's really in the family.

"I know I was about eight when I went to my first West Ham game. We were on holiday in Devon and they happened to be playing Plymouth Argyle and, of course, my father said 'We're going to that match' so I was taken along and that was the first match I ever saw.

"I went to a cup final during the war in 1940 against Blackburn Rovers. It was surprising we got any matches at all with the way we were getting air raids in London, but we had to have some fun because life was pretty awful otherwise!"

Dorothy Parlett

On the far left, Dorothy Manley (now Parlett) sprints to Olympic silver

While she does not watch satellite television or surf the internet, Parlett keeps an eye on her Hammers' fortunes by listening to the radio and reading the newspapers.

"I didn't go all that many times but I did go to matches, although I haven't been for some years now. On a Saturday, if they are playing, I have to have it on the radio or the television.

"I enjoyed watching Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking, who was a wonderful chap because he never got himself into trouble. He was a very clean player."

With West Ham to move to the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, the marriage of football and athletics will be made once more in Stratford - just a short sprint from where Parlett was born.

Last year, she and her husband John - himself a competitor in the 800 metres at the 1948 Games - were invited to the Olympic Stadium to witness the women's 100 metres final.

Sixty-four years on from her own medal-winning performance, Parlett witnessed another amazing display from a British athlete.

"I was given a free ticket and I asked to attend the women's 100 metres final. I went along and it was on the same evening that Mo Farah won the men's 10,000 metres, which was fantastic."

One day in the not too distant future, a West Ham player will hope to emulate both Parlett and Farah by enjoying glorious success inside an Olympic Stadium.


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