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Elenor Gordon wins first Scottish Commonwealth gold 1950

Elenor Gordon

© SCRAN

Helen Orr Gordon, or, as she became known, Elenor Gordon, was born in Glasgow in 1933 and, sixteen years later, became Scotland's youngest ever gold medallist when she won the 220-yard breaststroke in the then-called Empire Games in Auckland, New Zealand.

This was the highlight of an illustrious career which has guaranteed her a place in the annals of the country's sporting history.

Gordon, the daughter of a professional lifeguard, set off on a six-week voyage to New Zealand to compete in the precursor to the Commonwealth Games accompanied by a chaperone because of her tender age.

In addition to her top-of-the-podium finish in the breaststroke, she was also an integral member of the Scots' relay team which picked up the bronze medal.

From a young age Gordon had been a prominent member of the remarkable Motherwell-based swimming team which trained under the tutelage of coach David Crabb. Because of her early promise, Gordon was earmarked as a potential successor to the domestically successful Nancy Riach, who had dominated the pre-War British female swimming classes.

Riach had been one of the country's brightest hopes in the pool,holding 28 Scottish and British records in 1945, until, at the age of only 20, she collapsed after the heats of the 1947 European Games in Monte Carlo, and shortly after died of polio.

Alongside Gordon and Riach, the Motherwell club also contained Jack Wardrop, who would go on to break four swimming world records during the 1950s and Cathie Gibson, a bronze medal winner in the 1948 Olympics, who once defeated Nancy Riach over a mile race in Dundee – Riach swimming freestyle and Gibson swimming backstroke!

Gordon's success in 1950 ensured that she as in the British team for the Helsinki Olympic Games two years later. On this occasion she was up against swimmers from the relatively new Butterfly class and, in a final tainted by controversy, she finished third behind two swimmers using the faster butterfly technique.

Her bronze medal was Britain's only swimming medal in the entire games and cemented her place as the country's number one competitor in the water.

She returned to Commonwealth competition in 1954, travelling this time to Vancouver in Canada, and again left with two medals. Once again she triumphed in the 220-yard breaststroke, confirming her position as the outstanding sportswoman of her class.

Motherwell swimmers leave for European Championships

© SCRAN

The Scottish team once again competed in the relay event and this time took the gold medal. By this time Gordon was the Scots queen of the pool and she travelled to Melbourne for the 1956 Olympic Games with the hopes of the nation behind her.

Unfortunately in the games, which were overshadowed by world events such as the Suez Canal problem, the USSR's invasion of Hungary and a Chinese refusal to attend, she was unable to replicate her successes in Helsinki, Auckland and Vancouver.

Gordon may never have achieved the mainstream success of other successful Scots medallists, such as Liz McColgan or Yvonne Murray, but she is undoubtedly fully deserving of being considered as one of the country's top female competitors.

Written by: Robert Thomson



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