Olympic hopes and memories

Olympic hopes and memories

London 2012 is almost here – and Queen Elizabeth’s School is hoping for fresh success as well as reflecting on past Olympic glories.

Rower Tom Aggar (OE 1995-2002) recently received confirmation that he is part of the British team for the Paralympics, where he will be defending his single sculls title. Tom won gold at Beijing in 2008, when rowing made its Paralympic debut, and has never been beaten in five years of competition.

“I’m under no illusions that it will be tougher competition than Beijing but competing in a home Games is a great opportunity,” he told BBC Sport.

Tom started rowing as part of a rehabilitation programme following an accident in 2005 that left him paralysed.

Other QE Olympians include high jumper Peter Wells (OE 1939-47), who competed in the Games both at Helsinki in 1952 and at Melbourne four years later.

Peter’s own website tells the story of how he discovered the discipline while at the School: “In his first few years at QE, Peter’s competitive athletics were limited to running distances up to 400 yards. However, there was a high jumping pit at the School with a bamboo bar and sand. He became drawn to this, and spent hours after School trying to clear the bar at varying heights. The school library had a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and Peter spent hours browsing the book, and attempted to emulate the styles pictured. Unfortunately, what the pictures didn’t show which was the take-off foot, and this led to Peter developing an unusual style.”

This deficiency clearly did not hamper him too much, because he picked up a number of awards while still at the School, starting with the London Public Schools vs Paris athletics fixture in 1946. At the same event a year later, he became the first English schoolboy to clear 6ft, setting a new public schools record.

After leaving school, he began his two years’ National Service in the Army. In 1949, his jump of 6′ 6¼” broke the English Native High Jump record in Bristol – a record which stood for ten years.

After first touring New Zealand when competing for England at the 1950 Empire Games in Auckland, Peter decided to emigrate. In his own words: “The seeds were sown and when the rest of the Empire Games Team caught the boat back to England, [I] had decided that [I] wanted to stay.”

He was New Zealand champion for seven years from 1950/51 to 1957/58 and broke the New Zealand high jump record twice – his December 1954 jump of 6ft 4½in stood for 14 years. He came 12th in Helsinki, 16th in Melbourne, fifth at the 1950 Empire Games and fourth at the 1954 Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver.

Peter still lives in New Zealand. He is married with five children and ten grandchildren, including two with whom he is pictured (right), Sophie and Tim. He keeps fit by cycling 100 miles every week.

A few years before Peter was another QE athlete whose hopes of an Olympic medal were dashed by the outbreak of the Second World War. Ernest ‘Jim’ Nankivell (OE 1926-1934, pictured below), who died last month at the age of 95, was a steeplechaser and was chosen to represent Great Britain at the 1940 Games in Tokyo. These, of course, never took place.

Born in Potters Bar in 1916, he was a member of Southgate Harriers Athletics Club, and competed at county and international level in the late 1930s.

After serving with the Royal Artillery during the war, he returned to Barnet and established a career in woodwork, eventually launching his own company, C&C Woodworking Co and becoming a successful businessman. As well as producing cases and crates for the Ministry of Defence, Jim retained a passion for athletics and designed a 200-metre indoor running track. He was also interested in cars.

“He was always very active,” Gordon Francis, 72, told the Barnet & Whetstone Press. Gordon’s father, Sydney, was a school friend of Jim’s. “He was very strong and very determined. I remember on one occasion asking Jim if he had a good weekend, assuming he would respond with having done a few jobs and a bit of gardening. But, no, Jim got up at the crack of dawn, drove from Barnet to Snowdonia in his Austin Healey, climbed to the top and returned the same day.”

After the death of his first wife, Kathleen, Jim married Pat in 1981 and the couple moved to Bournemouth. Mrs Nankivell said that she had many happy memories from their 30 years together and that her husband had been looking forward to the London Olympics.

  • A number of QE boys have won London 2012 Olympics tickets through a popular ballot run as part of the Get Set Network schools group.