Maureen GARDNER (1928–1974)
Olympic hurdles silver medallist 1948
17 Maidcroft Road, Cowley, Oxford
Maureen Gardner was born in Oxford in 1928 to Fred Gardner, then a police constable (later a property agent), and his wife Florence. Maureen lived at 17 Maidcroft Road, 1930–1948 and attended Donnington Junior and Temple Cowley Schools. During the blitz she commuted to London to train at the Royal Academy of Dance under Mme Espinosa. When she contracted bronchial pneumonia and pleurisy, she was advised on recovery to join the Oxford Ladies Athletic Club to regain her strength. She was a natural sprinter and won several championships but her coach Geoff Dyson (later to be her husband) perceived that she would be an exceptional hurdler. In 1947 she unofficially broke existing British records several times and won the Women’s Amateur Athletics title for her event at Chiswick, retaining her title in 1948.
She became nationally famous at the London Olympics of 1948 when she battled it out with the formidable Dutch hurdler Fanny Blankers-Koen, known as the Flying Housewife. Both women finished in the same time of 11.2 seconds, breaking world and Olympic records, but a photo finish gave the gold to the Dutch woman. The Times next day described Maureen’s silver as ‘as good a second place perhaps as ever recorded in the history of athletics’. In 1999 Blankers-Koen was voted ‘Female Athlete of the Century’, further highlighting Maureen’s remarkable achievement.
In September 1948 she married Geoff Dyson at St Mary Magdalen Church in Oxford, an event which attracted the national newsreels, and the couple were presented with a wedding present by the citizens of Oxford. She won the WAAA title again in 1950 and 1951 but decided to retire from competitions to devote herself to her two children.
While working as a classroom assistant at St Christopher’s School, Cowley, she had set up a ballet school in Oxford and had continued to teach throughout her athletics training. She said that ballet had always been her real passion and opened ballet schools wherever she and her husband settled (Snaresbrook, Ottawa, Winchester). She was appointed Chief Examiner to the Royal Academy of Dance a few years before her early death from cancer at the age of 46.
- Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article by Mark Curthoys (online May 2012); personal information from Michael Gardner
- Photograph taken at unveiling ceremony
- Speech given by Maureen’s brother, Michael Gardner, at the ceremony
- Oxford Mail, 4 July 2012: ‘No hurdles to a final honour’
The plaque was unveiled on 7 July 2012 at 17 Maidcroft Road, by Sir Roger Bannister, together with Mr Michael Gardner (brother) and Professor Tim Dyson (son).
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
Silver Medallist 1948
Oxford Civic Society