Reflecting on the life of Commonwealth champion and Olympian Edna ChildJune 17, 2023
Swimming historian Ian Gordon reflects on the life of Olympic diver, Edna Child, who has died at the age of 100. Edna was Britain’s oldest living Olympian and Ian pays tribute to her esteemed career.
Edna from Romford, Essex was Britain’s most successful lady diver in the immediate post-war years.
Having emerged as a talent in the late 1930’s to win bronze at the European Championships on the 3m springboard, aged only 15, and then continuing through to 1950 where she took both springboard and 10m platform gold medals at the British Empire Games in Auckland – Edna had an esteemed career.
She was originally a member of Plaistow United, having started swimming as rehabilitation after several operations as a child for a lung abscess.
Edna was originally a competitive swimmer before turning to diving as a 12-year-old, having overcome her fear of heights.
She had undergone several operations and spent considerable time in Great Ormond Street Hospital for empyema. At the age of nine, when the treatment was completed, her doctors suggested that she take up gymnastics to improve her strength.
She felt it was this that prepared her for diving – but the introduction to the sport had come through her mother, who used to teach swimming at Plaistow United SC, at what was the West Ham Baths home of the famous water polo team where her father was a baths manager.
Champion at a young age
Coached by Cyril Laxton (and also at times by John ‘Spider’ Webb) she won the 1936 S.C.A.S.A. girls diving title at age 13 and retained it for the next two years.
In 1937, at just 14, she was fourth in the ladies A.S.A. springboard, before going onto take the bronze medal for that event at the European Championships in London in 1938.
Her career was held up by the war, but she quickly came back with a fourth place in the Monaco 1947 European Championships 10m platform, before going on to place sixth in the springboard at her only Olympic appearance in London in 1948.
In the interim years of WWII, she had worked in the Women’s Land Army and in the immediate post-war years she remembers money being so tight that she ‘trained in costumes made from outfits she bought second hand’ and ‘at the Olympics she envied the Mexicans she trained alongside with, that wore their beautiful satin costumes’.
In 1947, she was living at 33 Mawney Road, Romford, and by the time of her trip to the Commonwealth Games in 1950, she was now Mrs Edna Tym. She married Norman A Tym, an architect at Romford in 1949 and listed as a teacher living at Manor House Cottage, Shepperton on Thames.
The couple divorced in 1954 and later that year she married Kenneth Tinegate – a sculler who also competed at the 1950 Auckland British Empire Games – although he sadly died just four years later.
A national name
At the London Olympiad she was the only British lady diver to make the last six and confirmed her dominance of national diving with A.S.A. titles in the highboard (1946, 1947, and 1949), springboard (1946, 1948-9) and the winner of the inaugural 1m springboard title in 1949.
It was the Commonwealth Games in Auckland in 1950 which made her a national name, when at the age of 28 she won both the ladies diving gold medals for Team England.
A photo of the time with the famous leading BBC radio sports presenter, Raymond Glendenning, noted for his horned rimmed glasses, clipped tones and handlebar moustache illustrates the level to which Edna placed diving in the public eye.
She trained as a school teacher, wrote a book about swimming and diving in the early 1950’s, married, had two daughters but sadly her husband Ken – a rower who took bronze in the double skulls at the 1950 Empire Games – died young. They had met on the long boat journey back from the Empire Games.
She lived in retirement in Gidea Park, Romford, Essex and in 2022 celebrated her 100th birthday – the first British aquatic Olympian to achieve the milestone.
Sadly, in 2013, her house was burgled and her swimming medals were all stolen, but three years later she was one of the guests of honour at the 2016 European Aquatic Championships in London.
Swim England and the diving world sends its condolences to Edna’s family.
Honours won by Edna Child
Bronze, springboard, 100.40
8th, springboard, 75.93
4th, highboard, 57.24
6th, springboard, 91.63
Gold, highboard, 70.89
Gold, springboard, 126.58
1947 , 2nd
1949, 89.12, first-ever winner