Fatima Whitbread MBE

Athlete, Olympian, Record Breaker
Fatima Whitbread’s national titles include WAAA Junior Champion (U17) and 6 time WAAA Champion, along with European Junior Champion, medalling at successive Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth Games between 1982 and 1988 and breaking the women’s javelin world record in 1986.
Photograph courtesy of Mark Shearman

In 1979 Fatima Whitbread became the first British thrower to win a European Junior title and in 1981 she broke into world class, improving from 60.14m to 65.82m. Fatima became British No 1 in 1982. She took silver at the 1983; she had led from her first throw but was beaten by world record holder Tiina Lillak of Finland on the last throw

Fatima took bronze at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and in 1986 at the European Championships took gold and became a record breaker with a throw of 77.44m which added over 2 meters to the previous world record held by Petra Felke of the GDR, making her the first British thrower to break a world record.

Whitbread was awarded an MBE in 1987 for her services to athletics.

The influence of the WAAA in creating a mechanism for women’s athletics can be seen in Whitbread’s career. In her own words, Fatima recalls her memories of some of the women who inspired her and helped shape journey:

As an athlete I was competing in an era when it was predominantly male orientated in the athletics. However, I was inspired as an 11-year-old by Mary Peters, who won the woman’s pentathlon in the 1972 Munich Olympics. Then before her came a number of very famous British women athletes that inspired me when going through the history of woman’s athletes.

Mary Denise Rand, MBE is an English former track and field athlete. She won the long jump at the 1964 Summer Olympics by breaking the world record, the first British female to win an Olympic gold medal in track and field. She remains the only Great British female athlete to win three medals in a single Games.

Ann Packer of Reading AC, the winner of the 800 metres at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, was one of the most versatile British athletes. Then came a whole new generation of successful women athletes in the WAAA and England Athletics – Donna Heartly, Sonia Lannaman, Lyndsay McDonald, Verona Elder, Josclyn Hoyte-smith, Kathy Smallwood and many more.

I am proud to be amongst some of the very best of British women athletes that helped to bring athletics out of amateurism into professionalism and created a platform from which our current day athletes benefit from today.

I was also proud to be representing our Women’s AAA and English Athletics under a remarkable president Maria Hartman. She was a force of nature who single handedly helped to create a successful competitive program for ‘her girls’ as she would call us.

Donna Hartley was the Golden Girl of our time which helped Maria to bring in much needed sponsorship for the Women’s AAA and in doing so provided us all the opportunity to compete in against the best of the rest in the world. We also had some amazing women officials who turned up at every event around the country voluntarily to help stage these marvellous events.

It was known as our athletics family – we all felt seen, heard and embraced. Magical memories for all those that competed in those years of women’s athletics!

We owe a lot to Maria Hartman who fought hard for her girls and supported each and every one of us through a tough era in the 70’s and 80’s.

I would often sit with Maria at many championships around the world long after I retired. We shared many proud moments watching our women succeed. I doubt that many will be able to appreciate our leading women pioneers that we had in our sport.

I will never forget them because without them we could never have enjoyed the successes as much as we did! It was undoubtedly the best start in my young athletics career.