EXCLUSIVE: Interview with town’s first and only Olympian
PUBLISHED: 15:34 05 July 2012 | UPDATED: 16:15 05 July 2012
WITH just days to go until the hotly-anticipated arrival of the Olympic Torch, reporter Sam Tonkin stepped back in time to catch up with one home-grown talent who is believed to be Saffron Walden’s first and only Olympian.
Louise Gittens, nee Miller, was just 20 years old when she carried the hopes of a nation, and the town, on her shoulders at the 1980 Moscow Games.
The former County High school student was one of Great Britain’s best ever high jumpers – setting a national record of 1.94m 32 years ago.
That is still just 1cm shy of the current benchmark.
At one point she was ranked as high as 6th in the world and finished 11th during her one and only Olympics appearance.
Now, 32 years on, Louise looks back on her time in the spotlight with fond memories.
“It is difficult to describe what it meant to represent my country at the Olympic Games,” she said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime journey and an awesome experience.
“Everyone in the town was very supportive and it was quite exciting.
“Saffron Walden is bigger now than it was back then but a lot of people knew my family anyway and they all got behind me.”
Louise took up athletics at the age of 16 and lived in the town with her parents David – a former mayor – and Marie, owners of the local bakers, Millers.
They and other members of Louise’s family still live in Saffron Walden, although she resides in Southampton with her husband Roy and three children Christopher, 22, Zoe, 20, and Lizzie, 18.
The 52-year-old retired from athletics in 1986. Her career was hampered by three major knee surgeries and though she made a comeback in 1985 after four years on the treatment table, her appearance in Moscow was her first and last on the global stage.
Louise is now a faculty head of further education school Eastleigh College.
Although she worked as a coach for Great Britain at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and Melbourne, the former Olympian now focuses on a different sport altogether – her children are all keen hockey players, each looking to raise the bar set by their mum.
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