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Anita Neil: Britain’s first Black female Olympian – who was forced to quit in her prime

Black Women in Sports

Anita Neil: Britain’s first Black female Olympian – who was forced to quit in her prime

by Tobi Thomas via

She broke world records and competed in two Olympics before being forced into retirement at 23 and forgotten. Now her achievements are finally being recognised

Anita Neil was just a toddler when she discovered two things: who her father was, and that she could run fast. Really fast. “I was introduced to my father when I was three,” Neil tells me over Zoom from her home in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. “He knocked on the door and I ran to it with my mum, and I saw this tall, dark-skinned man standing at the door. I hadn’t got a clue who he was, until my mum told me that this was my dad.”

Her father travelled back and forth between the US and England when she was a young child, but he was the one who planted a seed in her mind that she could be an athlete. “I was standing at the top of the cul-de-sac where we lived, and my father said to me that we should have a race. I remember him saying: ‘On your marks, get set, go,’” she says. “That was the first time I knew I could run really fast. I could even feel it, and I can feel it now.” Neil won, although she says that, of course, he let her win. But when he spoke to her…

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I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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