Diver Denise relives 1948 Olympic Games

Now the Olympics are in full flow, it is a perfect opportunity to remember those who represented Great Britain last time London hosted the event.

Denise St Aubyn Hubbard (neé Newman), 88, lives in Bosham and competed in the 10m diving in London in 1948.

A far cry from the private pools and professional facilities which modern-day athletes enjoy, Denise recalls being billeted in the fifth floor of the Domestic Science School in Eccleston Square, London: “It was difficult to get to sleep at night and we had to get up very early to go to the pool to use it before the swimmers did.

“We were over-trained. We had all new coaches and they wouldn’t let us use our normal coaches.”

All of this led to Denise injuring herself during the competition.

After three dives she was in fifth place. However, on the third dive she tore her shoulder muscle and was forced to complete the remaining dives with only one movable arm, meaning she finished in 11th place.

Denise still has her official costume from 1948, something with which she was less than impressed.

“I have never felt so strongly about anything. It was like a ten-year-old in undergarments.

“I swapped a silver brooch for two of the American costumes as they were better, but I couldn’t wear those for competing.”

Now the 2012 Olympics are in full flow Denise is keen to watch the latest batch of divers, and in particular Tom Daley.

She said: “I think he’s a lovely young man; I’m most impressed with his diving technique.

“He truly is a great diver.”

Denise has had a remarkable life. Born on February 19, 1924, in London, she spent most of her early years growing up in Egypt, in the village of Ma’adi, near Cairo.

It was here she first began diving in earnest and was initially taught by her mother, although she describes her initial diving technique as ‘pretty but technically incorrect’.

“I had a wonderful coach in Egypt, who had been in the 1936 games. My mother had taught me to dive prettily but completely the wrong way for competing.”

Once her new coach, Ahmed Ibrahim Kamel, known as Kelly, took over her training she was doing five hours training a day, even though she was just 13 years old.

Recalling his teaching Denise said: “He would always push me, and when he was pleased he would turn his back so I wouldn’t see him smile.”

Her mother was at first concerned at the amount of diving that Denise was being made to do, and voiced her concerns to Kelly.

Denise remembers Kelly’s stern reply: “Madam, your role is to educate and feed the child. I’m here to coach her.”

Even after Denise returned to England in 1938, and had other coaches, Kelly still made sure he was coaching an Egyptian entry in the 1948 Olympic diving so he could watch Denise compete.

Denise was also a very talented swimmer, breaking senior records in Egypt when she was still just a junior. She was going to compete in the 100m freestyle in the 1940 Olympics, before war broke out and the games cancelled.

Denise joined up in 1943. Following an interview at the Foreign Office, and already being fluent in French and Arabic, she completed a two-and-a-half year Japanese course in a mere six months.

Following her successful completion of the course she started working at Bletchley Park, where she put her training to good use, working in the Japanese cipher section.

Denise and her family moved to Chichester in 1953. It was then that sailing, rather than diving, began to take over Denise’s life. She learned to sail in and around Chichester Harbour, and eventually sailed round the British Isles in her friend Andrew Reed’s boat Pintail.

She gained qualifications in seamanship and navigation in Southampton, and taught at Chichester College. In 1973 she set up her own school, holding evening classes in her home.

She joined the Royal Navy Auxiliary Service in 1970, and was the only woman skipper for eight years.

In 1988, aged 64, she sailed single-handedly across the Atlantic, in a yacht named Flying Light, from Plymouth to Newport, Rhode Island.

Whatever the sport or activity, for Denise there has always been a common attraction: “It’s always been water for me, either over it or in it.”