12 Aug 2008
Posted by: Anna Stone
Subjects: Interesting stories
So, what is the link between Aviva and the team from Chile in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens? The answer is two gold medals and one bronze, the tally of medals taken home by Chile at the end of the last games and the tally of medals known to have been collected by staff from Aviva constituent companies in a little over 50 years of Olympic Games.
The most recent of ‘our' medals was that of Jayne Torvill, half of ice dance champions Torvill and Dean. Jayne,who together with Christopher Dean won gold in Sarajevo in 1984 with maximum points, worked for Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society's Nottingham branch until 1980.
Another gold medal winner was Don Thompson who worked for Commercial Union in their West End branch and won the Olympic 50km walk gold medal in Rome in 1960. Nicknamed El topolino "Mighty mouse" because of his 5" 5' frame, he first competed in the Melbourne Olympics of 1956 but collapsed three miles short of the finish having been in fifth place.
For the attempt in 1960 his preparations included recreating the heat and humidity of Rome in his bathroom so that he could practise exercising under those conditions. Thompson was Britain's only athletics winner at the 1960 games and only the second man to win an Olympic medal for athletics for Britain since the war. His managers at Commercial Union would have no doubt been pleased to know that his regular training sessions sometimes took place at 4am so that he could still get to work on time.
Our bronze medal winner was Gwendoline Alice Porter of the Head Office of North British & Mercantile. Gwen, as she was known, was a member of the 4 x 100 women’s relay team who came third in the 1932 games in Los Angeles.
However, in true Olympic tradition it is not the winning but the taking part that counts so here are a few former members of staff chosen to represent their countries at the Olympics but whose names are not found in the medal tables. Way back in 1912 in Stockholm Stanley L Jones, who was on the staff of the White Cross Insurance Association, represented England as a long distance cyclist coming 29 th in the first ever men's individual time trial held at the games.
At the London games in 1948 John Shaw Jones, later agent for General Accident in Cheltenham, represented Great Britain in the water polo returning in Helsinki in 1952 and as captain of the team in Melbourne in 1956. Also at the Helsinki games in 1952 was Ann Johnson of Commercial Union's foreign fire department who represented Great Britain in the 200m.
The Olympic village in Melbourne in 1956 seems to have been filled with insurance men and women, not only Don Thompson and John Shaw Jones referred to above but also Miss Fearne Ewart of Commercial Union head office life department representing Great Britain in the pool in the 100m freestyle and 4 x 100m freestyle relay and J Somers Payne of the British General Insurance Company Ltd Cork office representing Ireland in the Finn class yachting.
Also at the Melbourne games Kevan Gosper, son of the General Accident Newcastle Australia branch manager, was a member of the silver medal winning Australian 4 x 400m relay team. According to the staff magazine Harold Alexander Cahill of Commercial Union Belfast office was selected to play hockey for Great Britain in Rome in 1960 however records of the Olympics show him at the Mexico games of 1968.
Our interest in Olympic hopefuls continues up to the present day as Danny Nobbs, representing Great Britain in the Paralympics in the shot put also works as a commercial sponsorship consultant for Norwich Union Insurance. I am sure there must be other Olympians among the staff especially those who worked for us in overseas branches whose exploits did not reach the staff magazines in the UK. I would be really pleased to hear from anyone who has any information particularly if we can add to our medal tally.