Degree Speeches
Winter 2001

Tanni Grey-Thompson, OBE

Public Orator, Professor Stuart Biddle, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Congregation held on the afternoon of Monday 17 December 2001


Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Distinguished Guests, Graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen

Many people misconstrue the nature of sport. Often people believe that successful sports performers simply have natural ability while others don’t. While there may be some truth to this, no athlete will make it very far without a huge amount of effort, training and dedication. Another myth is that elite athletes are more focused on winning than performing well. In a recent autobiography, an elite British athlete said “medals are important to me but I am a perfectionist and judge myself by how well I have performed as much as by where I have finished”. That self-confessed perfectionist is Tanni Grey-Thompson. She has reached the pinnacle of sport through talent, dedication to training, and by focusing on winning and seeking ways to achieve excellence in her own personal performance. This epitomises a true high achiever.

Tanni Grey was born in Cardiff in 1969 and made her first international athletics appearance 18 years later. Born with spina bifida, walking in the early days became progressively more difficult and so she used a wheelchair more. Despite the prejudices and access problems in education and elsewhere in life, Tanni became interested in many sports. Her love for athletics seemed to grow naturally out of this and was helped by the emergence of wheelchair athletics as a increasingly higher profile sport, mainly through coverage of the London marathon from the early 1980s. The rest, as they say, is history. One year after her first international appearance, Tanni won a bronze medal at the Paralympics in Seoul in 1988 in the 400m. This was followed by two silvers and a bronze at the World Championships in 1990 and gold medals in the 100m, 200m, and marathon in the World Wheelchair Games in 1991, the same year she graduated with a honours degree in Politics and Social Administration from Loughborough. Other notable achievements included her first world record, over 200m, in 1992 and, in the same year, was the first British woman to go under 2 hours for the marathon. Indeed, 1992 was a very good year: 4 world records at a meeting in Canada; 4 gold medals at the Barcelona Paralympics; Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year.

Tanni’s public exposure is often greatest through the television coverage of the London marathon – an event she has won four times. However, this hides an extraordinary list of achievements on the track and road. Thankfully, the paralympics have gained in recognition and Tanni is now receiving the wider coverage and acknowledgement she deserves. She won 4 gold medals at the World Championships in 1994, and 3 silvers and a gold at the Atlanta Paralympics in 1996. She even improved on this 4 years later and won 4 golds at the Sydney games, the same year she was awarded the OBE for services for sport, and was 3rd in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award.

Alongside this impressive list of sporting achievement Tanni has been active in the administration, management and politics of sport. She has been the Chair of the Wheelchair Racing Association, and Disability Development Officer for British Athletics. In addition, Tanni has lobbied and promoted many issues and causes associated with disability sport and disability in general, resulting in a much higher profile for sports for people with disabilities, and improved access and understanding of the people and sports involved.

Loughborough University has an unrivalled reputation in sport. It has been associated with, and in some cases produced, Olympic gold medallists and world record holders and world leaders in performance, coaching, and managerial leadership in sport. We believe in sport in the fullest sense, hence our moto for Loughborough Sport – Developing People, Developing Sport. Today, we are honouring an outstanding person in the field of sport who not only developed herself but also developed British sport, and in particular disability sport, to truly great heights. Hence, she represents the best in achievement.

Mr Chancellor, in recognition of her inspirational role as an outstanding Olympian, I have the honour to present to you, and to the whole University, TANNI GREY-THOMPSON, OBE, for the degree of Doctor of Technology, honoris causa.


Home | Publicity Office | Degrees 2001


  H.D.McCullam@lboro.ac.uk, January 2002

Copyright © Loughborough University. All rights reserved.