Mary Glen-Haig

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Mary Alison Glen-Haig
Personal information
Born (1918-07-12) 12 July 1918 (age 96)
Islington, London, England
Sport Fencing

Dame Mary Alison Glen-Haig DBE (born 12 July 1918) is a British fencer who competed in four Olympic games in 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960. She was born in London, the daughter of William James, a fencer at the 1908 London Olympics. She began competing professionally in 1937 and continued until 1960, during which time she won two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and competed in four Olympics in the women's individual foil events. She was the first female member of the International Olympic Committee and was knighted in 1993. After London's successful bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics in 2005, she was active as the host nation's ambassador to the games.

Early life[edit]

Glen-Haig was born as Mary Alison James on 12 July 1918 in London.[1] Her father, William James, was a competitor in fencing at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. Her brother and sister took up tennis, like their mother. Her interest in fencing arose from time spent with her father, and she often trained and practised with him.[2][3]

She began participating in regional and world championships in 1937 and continued to be active in these tournaments until 1959. She first qualified for the Olympic Games in 1948, the second time that they were held in her hometown of London. The evening before she was to participate in these games, she was still working at King's College Hospital, as there was no true Olympic Village at these games.[2][3]

Olympic career[edit]

The night before she was due to compete, Glen-Haig slept on a camp bed in a room with two other women.[3] In the Women's Foil, Individual competition, she reached the finals, but did not medal, placing 8th. She competed in the same event in at the 1952, 1956 and 1960 Summer Olympics, as well as in the Women's Foil, Team in 1960, but never again reached the finals.[1] She claims to have never worried whether or not she actually won a medal.[3] During this time, Glen-Haig also participated in the British Empire Games (later the Commonwealth Games) from 1950–1958. She won gold medals in the fencing competition in both 1950 and 1954.[2]

Later life[edit]

Glen-Haig eventually moved to West Kensington, London, where she worked at a hospital as district administrator from 1974 until 1982, the year that she was made the first female member of the International Olympic Committee.[2] She was also Chairman of the Central Council of Physical Recreation during the 1970s.[4] She continued to fence until her mid-to-late 70s.[3] As an IOC representative she supervised the first edition of the Women's Islamic Games in February 1993 and ensured the smooth running of the competitions. 407 athletes in eight different sports took part in the first edition of the Games from such countries as Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Syria and Iran.[5] As of 2008, she is an honorary member of the IOC.[2]

Glen-Haig was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 1971 Queen's Birthday Honours,[6] promoted to Commander (CBE) in the 1977 New Year Honours,[4] and Dame Commander (DBE) in the 1993 New Year Honours.[2][7] At the conclusion of the 2004 Summer Olympics, Glen-Haig recited the English version of an ode in praise of Athens.[8] She served as the ambassador from Britain to the 2012 Summer Olympics, which was held in London.[9]


  1. ^ a b Gjerde, Arild; Jeroen Heijmans; Bill Mallon; Hilary Evans (2008). "Mary Glen-Haig Biography and Statistics". Olympics. Sports Retrieved 3 August 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Olympic Dame". H&F News ( March 2008. p. 14. Retrieved 3 August 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "'It was the youth of the world getting together'". The Guardian (UK). 10 July 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2008. 
  4. ^ a b The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 47102. p. 8. 30 December 1976. Retrieved 4 August 2008.
  5. ^ "History of the Games". The Embassy of The Islamic Republic of Iran in Ottawa. 1998. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  6. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 45384. p. 5970. 4 June 1971. Retrieved 4 August 2008.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 53153. p. 7. 30 December 1992. Retrieved 4 August 2008.
  8. ^ "Oxford classicist writes Greek ode for the Olympics". Oxford University. 3 August 2004. Retrieved 3 August 2008. 
  9. ^ "Bid mementoes in Wembley time capsule". Post-Bid 2005 (London 2012). 7 December 2005. Retrieved 3 August 2008. [dead link]