Manley recalls Olympic memories

When the pistol shot cracks for the start of the women's 100m final at London 2012, there is unlikely to be a British competitor in the blocks.

But there will be a British Olympian in the stands, who 64 years on can still claim to be the nation's greatest woman sprinter.

Dorothy Manley is 85 now, with arthritic knees and a replacement hip, but when the last Olympics were held in London in 1948 she took the silver medal behind the great Fanny Blankers Koen.

Only one other British woman, Dorothy Hyman, has earned a medal in the 100m in the history of the Olympics. That was silver, too, in Rome in 1960.

But the Olympics are coming home to Manley's London patch and the memories come flooding back as she looks at the picture of herself after the race shaking hands with Blankers Koen, the Dutch mother-of-two who won four Olympic golds in 1948.

Manley said: "I have that photo of me and Fanny on the wall at home. I didn't know anything about her at the time. I was terribly nervous but I got the best start of my life. I thought I'd got a flier.

"I didn't expect to get a silver. I didn't expect to get a medal. It was my first international event and I'd never run in front of an 80,000 crowd."

Manley recorded 12.2 seconds with Blankers Koen winning in 11.9, but it is the circumstances in which she delivered silver which puts to shame some of today's sprinters.

No lottery funding for Dorothy. No coach, either, until four months before the Olympics began.

In fact, she was working full time during 1948 for the Suez Canal Company as a typist and she had to use her summer holidays to attend the Games, although the leave was unpaid by her employer.

She travelled to and from the stadium on race day by underground and her mother made her running vest and shorts for the Games.

"They had to be no more than four inches above the knee and they were very strict on that," recalls Dorothy, who is more likely to be found watching West Ham at Upton Park than taking in the athletics these days.

She was talking in central London at an event to launch an Olympic scrapbook, promoted by The Sunday Times and The Times newspapers, to encourage children and families to preserve the memories of London 2012.

Dorothy's main concern, like many fellow Londoners, however, revolves around transport problems.

"I was glad when they won the bid," said Dorothy. "But it is costing so much money. It's quite worrying really.

"I've got mixed feelings about it. I'm worried about getting there. It's going to be awful to travel because I know what Stratford's like at the best of times. I don't know how we are going to cope with all these extra thousands of people."

However, she is eagerly anticipating watching others follow in her wake.

"It was a gift of God that I could run and it was just up to me to do my best," she said. "In our day it was a cinder track and it got churned up. I would have loved the chance to run on today's tracks. They look so nice."

At which point she opens a little gift box with her silver medal nestled inside.

"I ran with Fanny a few times, you know, but she always beat me. I sometimes think 'Also-ran' is the story of my life."

Not in British sprinting, it isn't. Instead, Manley is a by-word for quality.

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