Everybody knows that Sebastian Coe is both an Olympic medallist and a former MP. But which other Britons have succeeded in these ultimate challenges? I decided to find out.
It turns out that they are a select group, containing (as far as I have been able to discover) only men, mostly Tories and, depending on how you count them, mainly aristocrats. There are just six in all.
The first among them was probably also the most exceptional: an Irish nationalist, with Mary for a middle name, who took the men’s tennis gold in Athens in 1896. Of the remaining five, just one, Philip Noel-Baker, was a Labour MP, and he managed, in the course of a quite remarkable life, also to lift the Nobel Peace Prize.
Alongside Coe, Colin Moynihan is still well-known to many of us today, and has his own role in this year’s Olympics as chairman of the British Olympic Association. But the other names are all but forgotten, their political achievements and sporting prowess each equally unknown now. And it is for that reason that I have reproduced photographs of them below and included links to further information about them.
Are there any serving MPs competing for Britain in these Olympics? Not as far as I am aware. But it will be interesting to see, in the coming years, if anyone who walks away with gold, silver or bronze this time goes on to seek affirmation at the ballot box in the future.
(Do please get in touch if you know of any other politician Olympians.)
1896 – Athens
John Mary Pius Boland won GOLD in Men’s Tennis and subsequently became the Irish Parliamentary Party MP in South Kerry (1900-1908).
1900 – PARIS
John Gretton won double GOLD in Sailing when he was already Conservative MP for Derbyshire South (1895-1906). He is, to date, therefore, the only serving British MP to win an Olympic gold. He subsequently represented Rutland (-1918) and then Burton (-1943) in parliament and ended up being created Baron Gretton.
1920 – Antwerp
Philip Noel-Baker won SILVER in the 1,500m & subsequently became Labour MP for Coventry (1929-31), Derby (1936-50) and Derby South (1950-70). He was ennobled as Baron Noel-Baker in 1977.
1928 – Amsterdam / 1932 – los angeles
David Cecil won GOLD in the 400m hurdles in 1928 and SILVER in the 4x400m relay in 1932. In 1931, he became Conservative MP for Peterborough, a position he retained until 1943, when he became 6th Marquess of Exeter. A character based on Cecil was played by actor Nigel Havers in the film Chariots of Fire.
1980 – MOscow
Colin Moynihan won SILVER as the cox of the Great Britain VIII in Rowing in Moscow and subsequently became Conservative MP for Lewisham East (1983-92). After a long and fascinating battle, he became the 4th Baron Moynihan in 1997.
1980 – MOSCOW / 1984 – Los Angeles
Sebastian Coe won GOLD in the 1,500m in 1980 and 1984, and SILVER in the 800m in each year. He became Conservative MP for Camborne in 1992 (holding the seat until 1997) and was subsequently created Baron Coe in 2000.