Alice Dearing Turns The Spotlight On To The First Black Swimmers To Represent GB At The Olympics

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Paul Marshall: Picture Courtesy: Team GB

Alice Dearing wants to shine the spotlight on Kevin Burns and Paul Marshall, the first two black swimmers to represent Great Britain at the Olympic Games.

Former world junior champion Dearing is hoping to become the first black woman to swim for Team GB at an Olympic Games in Tokyo next July.

The 23-year-old will attempt to negotiate the Olympic open water qualifier in Fukuoka, Japan, in May 2021 with Danielle Huskisson also vying to fill the one slot available for British women.

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Alice Dearing: Photo Courtesy: Instagram alicedearingx

Dearing is only the second black woman to swim for Britain after Achieng Ajulu-Bushell who competed at the 2010 European Championships and the Commonwealth Games in the same year.

So too is she a co-founder of the Black Swimming Association whose aim is to highlight swimming as an essential life skill and to encourage participation as well as prevent drowning in black and minority ethnic communities.

As Dearing’s profile has risen so has her desire to harness it along with a realisation that she has a voice that can be heard.

And now she wants to draw attention to Burns and Marshall in the light of long-standing stereotypes and misconceptions that still exist today.

Speaking during Black History Month which runs throughout October, Dearing told Team GB:

“Black people can’t swim, they are too heavy, and it’s not a sport for us.

“That was the notion. Black people’s bones are too dense, we sink when we’re in water and it’s something that has been repeated for decades.

“Now we are in a position where a lot of black people don’t swim or don’t know how to do 25 metres.

“That’s now, in 2020.

“I can’t imagine what it was like in the 70s when Kevin and Paul were doing it. The fact they were is pretty amazing.”

Burns And Marshall Make British Olympic History

Burns was crowned national champion over 100 free in 1976 and flew to Montreal, Canada, for the Olympic Games aged 20.

There he competed in the heats of the 100 free where records state he clocked the exact same time as Andrei Bogdanov in joint 16th to force a swim-off.

The Soviet Union swimmer prevailed but Burns went on to swim the heats of the medley relay in which Britain would come fourth in the final.

Two years later Burns would win bronze as part of England’s 4×100 free relay at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Alberta.

Marshall represented Scotland at the same Games in Edmonton where the 17-year-old broke the national 100m backstroke record.

Two years later the 19-year-old headed to Moscow for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow where he reached the semis of the 100m backstroke.

He also swam the heats of the men’s 4x100m medley relay as he helped the team qualify for the final where he was replaced by Gary Abraham with Britain winning bronze behind Australia and the Soviet Union.

Alice Dearing

Alice Dearing – Photo Courtesy: British Swimming

Forty years on and little has been written about Marshall – something Dearing wants to change, saying:

“I feel like Paul’s story is lost in history, I don’t think there is enough out there about him.

“We need to tell it. His story can be an inspiration for so many.”

Following the Olympics, Marshall became a travel reporter with Radio Tay in Dundee, Scotland, 12 months before joining the Royal Air Force.

He served in the RAF for more than 20 years and reached the rank of Squadron Leader with his final posting at RAF Leuchars, near his original home town of Dundee.

Marshall also started a marketing company with his wife, Gina, and became a management consultant while sport always played a huge part in his life.

He attempted to break world records, participating in attempts at the most consecutive rugby passes, the longest continuous 100m relay and the largest human flag.

In June 2007, he was diagnosed with metastatic bowel cancer, marrying fiancé Gina a year later.

However, his condition worsened and he died in 2009, aged 48, leaving behind his wife and sons Cameron and Ross from his first marriage, as well as Brodie – who was born two months after his death.

The son of a Dundee girl and a doctor from Ghana, he was adopted by Philip and Ida Marshall when he was three weeks old and they, along with his PE teachers, were the driving force behind his swimming career.

They always encouraged him to swim, ignoring the stereotype that is still hard to shake 50 years on.

Dearing said:

“What Paul did was really cool. He is one of just two black people to swim for GB at the Olympics.

“Growing up, I didn’t know much about him and that is a shame because it would have been such a source of inspiration for me.

“I was aware that there was a black swimmer at the Olympics but I didn’t know who or what they competed in.

“I hope his story can help inspire others. Hopefully, if I get there next summer, both will help open the floodgates and people will see how do-able it is and change perceptions.”

When the story of Burns and Marshall was posted on social media, it prompted several responses.

Doug Campbell finished seventh in the 200 backstroke at Moscow 1980 and also competed at the World Championships and two Commonwealth Games.

He won double bronze in the medley and 4×200 free relay at the 1982 Commonwealths in Brisbane, Australia, where he was captain of the Scotland swimming team.

Campbell has gone on to forge a successful coaching career and spent two years as British youth programme head coach before being appointed Scottish national team coach and was a senior member of the British coaching team from 1989.

Campbell posted on social media:

“Paul was my best friend and my greatest rival.

“We spent many years racing each other and inspiring each other in training sessions in Dundee.

“We swam at Commonwealth Games in 1978 and the 1980 Olympics in the 100 Back when we touched 1-2 at the Olympic Trials in Blackpool.”


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