Fatima Whitbread is a British former javelin thrower who is a two-time Olympic medalist. A former world champion and world record holder, she won the 1986 European Championships in Stuttgart and the 1987 World Championships in Rome. Once credited to be the best woman javelin thrower in the world, she was named as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1987. Energetic, muscular, and possessing great physical strength and stamina, Whitbread is also a woman possessing immense grit and mental courage. Born to an abusive mother, she suffered a childhood marked by rampant abuse, poverty, and unmentionable adversities. Her frequent encounters with Margaret Whitbread, the javelin coach at her school however changed the young girl’s destiny forever. Her coach not only recognized Fatima’s potential, but also took her under her wing and later adopted her. She blossomed into a talented javelin thrower under her adoptive mother’s guidance and proved her mettle by winning a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympics and a silver four years later. Her career was on the rise and she became the World Champion in 1987. The next year she enjoyed considerable success in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul where she won the silver medal behind Petra Felke. More recently she has been actively visible on the media with numerous television appearances.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born as Fatima Vedad on 3 March 1961, in London, England, to a Turkish Cypriot mother and a Greek Cypriot father. An unwanted child, she was abandoned by her biological mother and left to die when neighbors rescued her.
Her early years were spent in a series of children’s homes. Her biological mother occasionally entered her life and treated the young girl with unspeakable cruelty. Her childhood, marred by abuse, poverty and adversity led to Fatima having problems in school.
She was active in sports from a young age and took up javelin at the local athletics club. The coach there was Margaret Whitbread, a woman who not only recognized young Fatima’s potential, but also gave her the love, warmth and encouragement she so desperately needed. Soon the coach and her husband adopted Fatima Vedad who now became Fatima Whitbread.
She received her education from Dilkes County Primary School and the Culverhouse Secondary School and then went to Torells School, Grays, following her adoption.
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Fatima Whitbread thrived under the care and guidance of her adoptive mother. Her first big success came in the European Juniors in 1979 in Bydgoszcz when she won gold with a throw of 58.20m, setting a national junior record. The event also marked the first time a British woman had won the event.
Having proved her mettle as a junior, she proceeded into her senior’s career. Though she stood at a height of just 5ft 5in as compared to many of her competitors who were as tall as 6ft, she trained extremely hard to make herself stronger, faster and more powerful than them.
Her efforts bore fruit and she won a bronze medal at the 1984 Olympics. She achieved a grander success at the European Championships in Stuttgart in 1986 where she broke the javelin world record with a throw of 77.44m in the qualifying round and also clinched the gold in the final.
Her rising stature as one of the best female javelin throwers reached its pinnacle in 1987 when she won the gold medal after defeating arch-rival Petra Felke in the 2nd World Championships in Athletics in Rome. She participated in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul with great hopes and managed to win the silver medal behind Petra Felke.
Though still young and capable of competing for several more years, she was plagued by health problems throughout the late 1980s. She competed professionally for the last time in 1989, aged just 27. Her injury problems had become so severe now that they restricted her performance.
She suffered from a persistent shoulder injury for almost three years which forced the gutsy javelin thrower to retire from the sport. In 1992, she was performing a few simple exercises when her shoulder dislocated once again, as it had done previously. It marked the end of her career.
Over the recent years Fatima Whitbread has been actively making media appearances. In 2009, Whitbread took part in a celebrity version of the TV show ‘Total Wipeout.’ A couple of years later appeared on an episode of ‘Celebrity Come Dine with Me’ in 2011. In 2012 she appeared with Sharron Davies in the BBC One quiz show ‘Pointless Celebrities.’ She also gained much notice for her participation in the ITV show ‘I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!’ in 2011 in which she was eventually placed third.
Awards & Achievements
She won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award in 1987.
Personal Life & Legacy
During her sporting career she became acquainted with Andrew Norman, a former policeman who later became a powerful figure in British athletics as a promoter and agent. The two became lovers despite the fact that the much older Norman was already married.
Norman eventually divorced his wife and married Fatima Whitbread in 1997. The couple had one son, Ryan. The marriage however did not last long and came to an end when Whitbread discovered that Norman was having an affair. They divorced in 2006. Her ex-husband died of a heart attack in 2007.