'All those people in Wembley Stadium ... I would have run away if I could'

The way we were - 1948 revisited
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"My heart was thumping while we were waiting for the result," said Dorothy. "I was sure Paris were going to get it." Instead, the German TV people landed a prize piece of footage of someone who was denied a sprint gold for Britain only by the genius of an athlete who ended up being honoured as the greatest of the 20th century.

Dorothy was 21 at the time of the last London Olympics, a shorthand-typist for a City firm. She had been running seriously for only five months and the Games was the first occasion she had represented her country. "I was impressed by the fact that I was in the Olympics, but I was so nervous," she recalled. "All those people in Wembley Stadium, I would have run away if I could."

She had made the British Olympic squad as a high jumper rather than a runner but her coach, Sandy Duncan, told her bluntly she would not make the grade as a high jumper and intended to convert her into a sprinter. "He started with me in March and I got the silver medal in August."

Duncan kept Dorothy out of the opening ceremony parade because the 100m heats began the next day. Dorothy won her heat in 12.1sec (Blankers-Koen won hers in 12.0). After a day's rest the semis and final were compressed into one day when hot weather had given way to rain and a puddled track. Dorothy won her semi-final in 12.4sec, four-tenths of a second slower than the Dutch wonder woman. "Fanny was a lovely person, very tall, very powerful. I wasn't drawn against her in the heats or semis, so I didn't see her until the final. I just knew she was this wonderful athlete and assumed she would win. I never thought I would beat her. I suppose I hadn't got enough confidence.

"Nowadays it's win at all costs, isn't it? But that didn't occur to me. I just ran my best and, to me, to get a silver medal was absolutely fantastic.

"I used to go into my shell before a big race, wouldn't talk to anyone. When the six of us were in the tunnel before the final, that was when I was at my most nervous. I was simply terrified, but then I thought all the other girls must be just as nervous as me.

"I was a notoriously bad starter, but in that Olympic final I got the best start I have ever had. In fact, I thought I had got a flier and was expecting the starter to recall us. That was the wrong thing to be thinking, because in doing that I lost a second. Instead of just going hell for leather down the track, I hesitated. I also turned my head, for the first and only time in a race. It was a reflex action. If I hadn't done that I might have finished closer to Fanny, but I wouldn't have beaten her [Fanny won in 11.9, with Dorothy three-tenths of a second behind].

"On the podium they hoisted the Union Jack for me, but I forgot to look at it and I regret that to this day. I was so overwhelmed I just forgot. In one of the pictures on the podium I looked really miserable, but that was because of the rain. My hair was bedraggled."

Dorothy was saved from ultimate bedragglement by the ribbon she always sported in her hair. "There was an article in the Daily Mirror about 'Dot With A Ribbon In Her Hair'. It did annoy me when people called me Dot. When my name used to be mentioned on the radio I was either Dot, Doris or Dora, very seldom Dorothy. I like my name but I don't like the variants on it. One headline read 'Doris The Typist Battles Into Second Place'."

After competing in the 4 x 100m relay, where Britain finished fourth behind Holland, Dorothy went back to work, where her attempts to lead a quiet life had already been undermined even before the Oly-mpics. "Whenever I ran at a meeting and won, our boss would put up a notice on the board announcing it. He was a very eccentric man, my boss. I was rather embarrassed. After the Olympics, lots of the press came to the office, taking photos of me at my typewriter."

The biggest blow came when she got back home. "My father gave me a lecture about not letting it all go to my head. I can still remember the room, where I was standing and where he was sitting when he said it. I was taken aback. It was because of things like that that I have always been reticent, held back rather than push myself forward." Her father's reprimand was particularly cruel because Dorothy had been under extreme stress before competing. "My fiancé, Peter Hall, had had a breakdown in March, took an overdose and was transferred to a Brentwood mental hospital. He was there the whole time I was training for the Olympics and I used to go out by bus every Thursday and Sunday to visit him. So I had that traumatic experience while training for an Olympic Games. I used to cry myself to sleep because Peter was so ill and I couldn't see any way out of it."

They were married in 1949 and she competed as Dorothy Hall in the 1950 Empire Games in New Zealand. After her husband's death in 1973, she met up again with John Parlett, who had run for Britain in the 800m final at the 1948 Olympics on the same day as Dorothy's sprint final, and who had also been in the Empire Games team of 1950, winning gold. They married in 1979.

John does not share his wife's joy at the 2012 decision. "He is a bit wishy-washy about it," said Dorothy. "He is a great supporter of grass roots in athletics and thinks they need to get all the money." As for Dorothy Manley, she has retrieved her 1948 starting blocks from their resting place in the garage as a reminder of those silver-medal times.

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