Wellingborough's Olympic pioneer Anita humbled by freewoman honour

Last year she was officially recognised as Britain’s first black female Olympian

Monday, 9th May 2022, 1:32 pm
Updated Monday, 9th May 2022, 2:38 pm

Wellingborough’s sprint superstar Anita Neil has been awarded ‘freewoman’ status in a ceremony to honour her place in athletics history as Britain's first black female Olympian.

Councillors from Wellingborough Town Council voted to mark her achievements as an international runner and long-jumper competing at Olympics, Commonwealth and European athletics events.

The honour marks another first for the 72-year-old as she is the first person to be given the freedom of Wellingborough by the newly-formed town council.

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Anita Neil with her scroll

In a ceremony at the Swanspool council offices, mayor of Wellingborough Cllr Lora Lawman presented a scroll to Anita where her family, friends and councillors watched.

Anita said: “I’m proud, humbled and happy. I’m going to have it framed and hang it on my wall. It’s another first for me.”

The illuminated scroll says: “The council grant you this highest honour in recognition of your major and unique achievement of becoming the first black woman to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games.”

The idea for the honour had been proposed by Cllr Marion Turner-Hawes.

Anita Neil receives the scroll from Mayor of Wellingborough Cllr Lora Lawman

She said: “Watching the ceremony is a moment in history. This is Anita’s story. It’s great for the town and it recognises her achievements and the role she’s played in our community.”

Anita’s struggle for recognition hit the headlines last year when it was confirmed by the British Olympic Association that she was officially the first black British female Olympian.

The athletics prodigy represented Great Britain at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico at the age of 18 in the 100m and the 4x100m relay and went on to compete in the Munich games in 1972.

Her training programme was cut short by lack of funding, facilities and coaching.

l-r Mayor of Wellingborough Cllr Lora Lawman, Anita Neil, Charlotte Neil (daughter), Linda Neil-Smith (sister), Neil Arrowsmith (brother-in-law) and Catherine Arrowsmith (sister)

Over the decades Anita had wondered why her pioneering story had remained largely unacknowledged and ignored outside her town.

She had been snubbed by Olympic torch organisers when the 2012 relay passed through the town.

Cllr Lora Lawman said: “It was regrettable that they did not ask her to carry the Olympic torch in Wellingborough.

"This council is recognising her enormous achievements which were neglected at the time in England.

“I’m absolutely thrilled. It’s a small thing we are able to do – Anita is wonderful. Everybody is united in our congratulations.”

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