Dorothy Tyler (nee Odam) MBE 1920 – 2014

Athlete, First British Women’s Olympic Medallist, Coach, Official, Team Manager

At age 16, Dorothy Odam took silver in the high jump at 1936 Berlin Olympics, making her the first British women to win an Olympic medal in athletics.

Odam and Isola Csak of Hungary both jumped 1.6m in the competition, the rules at the time meant that a tied result went to a jump off, in which Csak took the gold. At 17 Odam won the Empire Games title in Sydney early in 1938. The following year she cleared 1.66 for what was eventually recognised as a world record.

Interrupted by the Second World War, it was 12 years before Dorothy, now Tyler, competed again at an Olympic Games. At the 1948 London Olympics she again tied for first place, this time with American athlete Alice Coachman. Both jumped 1.68m but a change in the rules meant the medals were awarded on countback rather than going to a jump off so again Dorothy won silver. It is worth noting that had the 1948 rules been in place in 1936, and vice versa, Tyler (nee Odam) would have taken gold both times.

Dorothy Tyler, Olympic high jumper, first British Woman to win an Olympic medal in athletics. She became a proficient golfer in later life. Seen here golfing in 2002.
Photograph courtesy of Mark Shearman

In 1950 she defended her Empire Games title after a gap of 12 years and placed second in the European Championships with the same height as the winner, her team-mate Sheila Alexander. 

Dorothy Tyler won the WAAA long jump and pentathlon titles in 1951, setting a British record in the latter. Despite injuries she placed equal seventh at the 1952 Olympics, took silver at the 1954 Commonwealth Games and finished equal 12th at the 1956 Olympics. In 1961, aged 41, she ranked fifth in Britain with 1.63m.

Across the span of her extensive career Tyler’s technique changed; when she began in the 1930s it she used the Scissors, by the time of retirement from competition she had changed to the Western Roll. After retirement Dorothy stayed connected with athletics, becoming a coach, official and British team manager, as well as taking up golf, where she has won the national over-80s title multiple times.

Tyler was awarded an MBE in 2002 for her contribution to athletics and was the official starter of the London Marathon 2012.