Team GB (as they then weren’t known) only came first in three events and by the time London came to host the Games again 64 years later, just one of the gold-medallists was still alive: sailor David Bond.
Not that many people were aware of the fact. When rower Bert Bushnell died in 2010, it was widely reported that he had been the last surviving British 1948 champion, only for Bond to write to the Guardian: ‘Please be advised that I won a gold medal in yachting – Swallow class*, sailing with Stewart Morris** – and am still very much alive!’ Indeed he was, and remained so to help promote the London (or in the case of sailing, Weymouth) Games, two years later.
That said, Bond’s feat didn’t necessarily capture the public imagination even at the time. The sailing events were in Torbay, and he told the West Briton in 2012: ‘There were a number of battleships manning the harbour and the Olympics were such an under-reported local story that holidaymakers on the seaside were heard to ask: “Who are all these young people from different countries and why are they here?”’
Bond was called up just a few months before the Games, when Morris fell out with his usual sailing partner. ‘I took unpaid leave from my job in the aircraft industry to take part in the Games and my employers weren’t the slightest bit interested in why I wanted the leave.’
In a tight regatta, Bond and Morris held off their Portuguese rivals (who had borrowed a British boat) and a last-minute Italian protest and celebrated at the Imperial Hotel, Torquay. ‘We had a wonderful ball,’ Bond told Time magazine. ‘Nobody got drunk actually.’***
What publicity there was, though, went to helmsman Morris rather than crew Bond, and after the Games, according to the Daily Telegraph, his boss said sarcastically: ‘I suppose you won the bloody thing, did you?’ Bond replied: ‘Yes, we did actually,’ and produced his gold medal.
Bond was a reserve at the 1952 Olympics and became a yacht builder in his native Cornwall, dying just before his 91st birthday in 2013 having received far more publicity the previous year than he ever did at the time of his triumph.
* The only time the class ever featured at the Olympics
** A commander at the D-Day landings
*** Ledge bants!
Also in this series:
1896 – Launceston Elliot, moustachioed strongman
1900 – CBK Beachcroft, cricketer and music hall star
1908 – City of London Police, coppers made of stone
1912 – Arnold Jackson, runner and Versailles negotiator
1920 – John Wodehouse, polo winner and proto-Bertie Wooster
1928 – David Cecil, as not featured in Chariots of Fire
1932 – Edwards & Clive, rowers and war heroes