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Fatima Whitbread
Fatima Whitbread 2.jpg
Whitbread in 2012
Personal information
Birth name Fatima Vedad
Born (1961-03-03) 3 March 1961 (age 62)
Stoke Newington, London, England
Height 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m)
Weight 10 st 10 lb (68 kg)
Country Great Britain
Sport Athletics
Event(s) Javelin throw
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 77.44 m (1986)
Medal record
Women's Athletics
Representing  Great Britain
Olympic Games
Silver 1988 Seoul Javelin
Bronze 1984 Los Angeles Javelin
World Championships
Gold 1987 Rome Javelin
Silver 1983 Helsinki Javelin
European Championships
Gold 1986 Stuttgart Javelin
Representing  England
Commonwealth Games
Silver 1986 Edinburgh Javelin
Bronze 1982 Brisbane Javelin

Fatima Whitbread MBE (nee Vedad; 3 March 1961) is a British retired javelin thrower. She broke the world record with a throw of 77.44 m (254 ft 0.69389764 in) in the qualifying round of the 1986 European Athletics Championships in Stuttgart, and became the first British athlete to set a world record in a throwing event. Whitbread went on to win the European title that year, and took the gold medal at the 1987 World Championships. She is also a two-time Olympic medallist, winning bronze at the 1984 Summer Olympics and silver at the 1988 Summer Olympics. She was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1987.

After a difficult early childhood, she was adopted by the family of Margaret Whitbread, a javelin coach. Whitbread won the 1977 English Schools' Athletics Championships intermediate title, and was selected for the 1978 Commonwealth Games, where she finished sixth. The following year, she took gold at the 1979 European Athletics Junior Championships. During her career, she had a well-publicised rivalry with another British javelin athlete, Tessa Sanderson. Whitbread's later career was affected by a long-term shoulder injury, which she believed dated back to her world record throw in 1986. The 1990 UK Athletics Championships was the last event in which she participated, and she sustained a further shoulder injury there. In 1992 she formally retired from competition.

She has appeared on a number of television programmes, including I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! in 2011. She was named the Sports Writers' Association Sportswoman of the Year in 1986 and 1987. She became a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1987 Birthday Honours, for services to athletics.

Early life

Fatima Vedad was born on 3 March 1961 in Stoke Newington, London, to a Turkish Cypriot mother and Greek Cypriot father. She grew up in a series of children's homes, occasionally being left in the care of her abusive biological mother. In a 2003 interview with The Observer, she said, "it was a nightmare of a childhood and it was only because I loved sport so much that I got through it and met my true mother."

Some credit for my choice of sport must go to the javelin itself. It is not only a magical event, it is a beautiful one. The flight of the javelin is a glorious sight, and, as I very soon discovered, letting go was a fantastic feeling.


Vedad started throwing the javelin aged 11. According to her account, she had taken up an interest in track and field events after being inspired by the myth of Atalanta, "whom no man could outrun except by cheating, and whose javelin killed a terrible monster"; and by Mary Peters, who won the gold medal at the 1972 Summer Olympics' women's pentathlon. Vedad met javelin thrower David Ottley at a stadium and asked him if she could use his javelin. He asked her to wait until the coach arrived. The coach was Margaret Whitbread, a physical education teacher at a local school, whom Vedad had previously met when Whitbread refereed a netball match that she played in. After discovering that Vedad stayed at a children's home, Margaret Whitbread passed on some boots and a javelin from a girl who had retired from the event. Three years later, Vedad was adopted by Margaret Whitbread and her family. She spent her teenage years in Chadwell St Mary, Essex, where she attended the Torells School in nearby Grays.


Early career

Whitbread won the English Schools' Athletics Championships intermediate title in 1977, and set a national intermediate record of 158 ft 5 in (48.28 m) in winning the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) women's championship the following month. She placed sixth in the javelin throw at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, throwing 49.16 m (161 ft 3.30807087 in). Whitbread won gold in the javelin event at the 1979 European Athletics Junior Championships, throwing 58.20 m (190 ft 11.21358268 in). She was selected for the 1980 Summer Olympics event, but, achieving only 49.74 m (163 ft 2.14271654 in), she failed to qualify for the final. At the 1982 Commonwealth Games, Whitbread took the bronze medal, throwing 58.86 m (193 ft 1.19783465 in), which was 5.6 m (18 ft 4.34744095 in) behind champion Sue Howland, from Australia.

Tessa Sanderson-2
Tessa Sanderson (pictured in 2008) and Whitbread were rivals.
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1984-0506-029, Petra Felke
Whitbread won the silver medal behind Felke Petra Felke (pictured in 1984) at the 1988 Summer Olympics.

Having finished behind fellow British competitor Tessa Sanderson in a run of 18 competitions, Whitbread finally defeated her rival with a throw of 62.14 m (203 ft 10.33169292 in) to win the UK Athletics Championship in 1983, Whitbread won the silver medal at the inaugural World Championships in 1983, having narrowly qualified for the final. She led throughout the final until Tiina Lillak bettered her mark with her last throw of the contest. Whitbread, whilst still recovering from a stomach operation a few days before travelling to the 1984 Summer Olympics, finished in bronze medal position, with 67.14 m (220 ft 3.18208662 in), whilst Sanderson (69.56 m (228 ft 2.45767717 in)) won gold. Lillak, who had a stress fracture in her right foot, won the silver medal. After the result, Whitbread commented that "I am so disappointed ... I was not right on the night." At the 1986 Commonwealth Games in July, Whitbread broke the Games record twice during her first three throws, and led with a distance of 68.54 m (224 ft 10.30019685 in), before Sanderson achieved 69.80 m (228 ft 11.90649607 in) and won. Whitbread sat down crying on the field after the result for around 30 minutes. After the medal ceremony, she commented, whilst still visibly upset: "12 years of hard work. Still no [gold] medal ... I've waited two long years since [the 1984 Summer Olympics]. And now I'm humiliated." Sanderson, who had placed behind Whitbread in all of their seven post-1984 Olympics meetings before the Games, said "I don't mind losing to Fatima in the smaller competitions, but not in the big ones."

World record, and European and World championship wins

The following month, Whitbread broke the javelin world record with a throw of 77.44 m (254 ft 0.69389764 in) in the qualifying round of the 1986 European Championships, more than 2 m further than the record set by Petra Felke of East Germany the previous year. She was the first British athlete to set a world record in a throwing event. Felke led for the first three rounds, before Whitbread produced a throw of 72.68 m (238 ft 5.29232284 in) in the fourth round, and 73.68 m (241 ft 8.66240158 in) in the fifth round (the second-longest throw of all time by a woman) to win her first major championship gold. Whitbread later wrote that "All the years of training had finally come to something ... I went on my lap of honour ... Spontaneously, I wiggled my hips in happiness, a victory wiggle." The record was beaten by Felke in July 1987 with a throw of 79.80 m (261 ft 9.60728347 in).

Whitbread qualified for the final of the 1987 World Championships in second place behind Felke. Her throw of 76.64 m (251 ft 5.19783465 in) was the third-longest of all time, and won her the title ahead of Felke. Sanderson was fourth. Her celebratory wiggles after defeating Felke in the World and European event became well known in the UK. She was voted winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 1987. David Powell wrote in The Times, that "To that practiced smile, she has added the 'Whitbread wiggle'. She is succeeding in bringing personality to her event in the same way that Willie Banks did to the triple jump."

Later career

In the months leading up to the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Whitbread suffered from several ailments: a shoulder injury, boils, glandular fever and problems with her gums. Whitbread won the silver medal behind Felke, with a throw that although it was her best of the season, was some four metres less than her rival. Whitbread commented "If I had to be beaten, I am glad it was by Petra."

Whitbread's later career was affected by a long-term shoulder injury, which she believed dated back to her world record throw in 1986. The 1990 UK Athletics Championships was the last event that she participated in, and she sustained a further shoulder injury there. In 1992 she formally retired from competition.

Rivalry with Tessa Sanderson

Alan Hubbard wrote in a 1990 article in The Observer about Whitbread and Sanderson that "their hate-hate relationship has been one of the most enduring in British sport," lasting almost a decade. The same year, Matthew Engel wrote in The Guardian that "the Sanderson-Whitbread feud is, of course, one of the most splendid in sport," and Tom Lamont, in the same newspaper 29 years later, commented that "Whitbread and Sanderson were always uneasy rivals and the enmity that developed during their overlapping careers became as famous as their achievements, and seems to survive in their retirement." Hubbard cited Sanderson's perception that Whitbread received preferential treatment from the British Amateur Athletic Board. The Board's promotions officer, Andy Norman, who had a role in setting British athletes' fees, was a family friend of Whitbread and her mother. Margaret Whitbread was also the national coach for women's javelin in 1985, when her daughter was often participating in international events compared to only one in the season up to June 1985 for Sanderson. In 1987, Sanderson threatened to boycott athletics events, for which she was being paid £1,000 each by British Athletics compared to Whitbread's £10,000. Sanderson also objected to the endorsement that the Whitbreads had given to Howland, from Australia, who competed at the 1990 Commonwealth Games after a two-year doping suspension, saying that she felt that they should have supported British athletes instead.

During their respective careers, Whitbread gained one world and one European title, while Sanderson won an Olympic and three Commonwealth golds. In all, Sanderson placed higher in 27 of the 45 times that they faced each other in competition, although Whitbread had the better results of the pair from 1984 to 1987. In 1993, coach Peter Lawler favourably compared Whitbread's technique to Sanderson's, writing in IAAF New Studies in Athletics that "the alignments of Whitbread and [Mick] Hill are as straight as a cricket text book's bat. Whitbread perfected the turning on to the shaft while Sanderson often sagged through the delivery."

Personal life

Norman, then Whitbread's fiancé, lost his job in British athletics in the early 1990s. ..... At the inquest into Temple's death the jury decided that a telephone call from Norman had "pushed [Temple] over the edge."

..... Writing in The Guardian, Nancy Banks-Smith described how Whitbread had "stonewalled with stoicism and without sweating" and been unclear in her answers about this. Whitbread also spoke about her unhappiness at how Ben Johnson had been treated after being found doping with steroids. Neil's treatment of Whitbread attracted viewer complaints. In 1997, Whitbread married Norman in Copthorne, West Sussex. The couple, who had a son together, divorced in 2006. Norman died of a heart attack in 2007.

Whitbread has published two autobiographies written with Adrianne Blue, Fatima: The Autobiography of Fatima Whitbread in 1988, and Survivor: The Shocking and Inspiring Story of a True Champion in 2012.

Honours and awards

Whitbread was runner-up to Nigel Mansell in the 1986 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, and won the title the following year. She was named the Sports Writers' Association Sportswoman of the Year in 1986 and 1987. She became a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1987 Birthday Honours, for services to athletics.

In media

Whitbread has been a guest on television programmes including A Question of Sport (on which she first appeared in 1984), The Little and Large Show (1987 and 1988) and The Wright Stuff (2012). In 1989, she was one of the celebrities with experience of fostering or adoption who took part in Find a Family on ITV. The series featured the celebrities' own reflections, and also highlighted specific children, inviting viewers to contact the programme if they were interesting in fostering or adopting them. She was a featured "masked celebrity" on Celebrity Wrestling in 2005, and lost her bout against Victoria Silvstedt.

In November 2011, Whitbread took part in the ITV show I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! Whitbread and fellow campmate Antony Cotton left on 2 December 2011, placing her third. One of the challenges on the show involved her wearing a helmet containing about 7,500 cockroaches. The segment was halted after one of the insects crawled up her nose. It was removed by flushing it out through her mouth with water.

In 2012, she was a regular fitness expert appearing on This Morning. Later that year, Fatima Whitbread: Growing Up in Care featured Whitbread's reflections on her own troubled childhood, and her conversations with others who had experienced serious problems from their parent, and problems with the UK care system. In The Guardian, David Stubbs wrote "More emotional than forensic, this is compulsory viewing nonetheless." In 2020, she trekked the Sultans Trail for BBC Two's Pilgrimage: Road to Istanbul.

Career statistics

International competitions

The table shows Whitbread's performances representing Great Britain and England in international competitions. (q) Indicates overall position in qualifying round.

Fatima Whitbread's javelin throw record
Year Competition Venue Position Distance Ref.
1978 Commonwealth Games Edmonton, Canada 6th 49.16 m
1979 European Junior Championships Bydgoszcz, Poland 1st 58.20 m
1980 Olympic Games Moscow, Soviet Union 18th (q) 49.74 m
1982 European Championships Athens, Greece 8th 65.10 m
1982 Commonwealth Games Brisbane, Australia 3rd 58.86 m
1983 World Championships Helsinki, Finland 2nd 69.14 m
1984 Olympic Games Los Angeles, United States 3rd 67.14 m
1985 IAAF World Cup Canberra, Australia 3rd 65.12 m
1986 Commonwealth Games Edinburgh, United Kingdom 2nd 68.54 m
1986 European Championships Stuttgart, West Germany 1st 76.32 m
1986 Grand Prix Final Rome, Italy 2nd 69.40 m
1987 World Championships Rome, Italy 1st 76.64 m
1988 Olympic Games Seoul, South Korea 2nd 70.32 m

National titles

  • 1977 English Schools' Athletics Championships (intermediate)
  • AAA Junior Championships (under 17): 1977
  • 6 times AAA champion:1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987
  • 8 times UK Athletics Champion: 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988

Television and radio

Television and radio appearances by Fatima Whitbread
Year Programme Role Ref
1984, 1986 A Question of Sport guest
1985 Cockney Darts Classic guest
1987, 1988 The Little and Large Show guest
1987 Wogan guest
1989 Find a Family participant
1995 Is This Your Life? guest
2005 Celebrity Wrestling masked celebrity
2009 Total Wipeout Celebrity Special contestant
2011 I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! contestant
2011 Celebrity Come Dine with Me participant
2011 Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? contestant
2012 This Morning fitness expert
2012 The Wright Stuff guest
2012 Question of Sport guest
2012 Pointless Celebrities guest
2012 Fatima Whitbread: Growing Up in Care herself
2015 Eternal Glory participant
2017 Pointless Celebrities guest
2019 Holiday of My Lifetime guest
2019 Pointless Celebrities guest
2020 Pilgrimage: Road to Istanbul participant
2022 Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins participant

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Fatima Whitbread para niños

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