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Eva Dawes won Olympic bronze for Canada in 1932 Add to ...

A natural athlete, who jumped because she could, Eva Dawes leapt into the record books at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1932, earning a bronze medal for Canada. Two years later she competed at the British Empire Games in London, where she won silver.

She should really have come into her own, age 24, at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, but she boycotted the Nazi games that year.

Eva Dawes Spinks died in Thames Ditton, England, on May 30, two weeks after suffering a stroke, at 96.

"Her politics were progressive, but she wasn't a committed activist from what I can tell," said Bruce Kidd, dean of physical education at the University of Toronto, and an Olympian and sports historian.

"She wanted to get out of boring Ontario and see the world and she went to the Soviet Union on this amazing tour [in 1935] and when she came back they [the Amateur Athletic Union]suspended her."

A year later, Ms. Dawes joined a group of athletes intending to participate in the counter-Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. "I loved Eva Dawes' spirit," said Prof. Kidd. "When I was exploring this [in the 1970s] most people were fiercely partisan to the anti-Nazi or Communist causes or were apathetic, apolitical athletes who either couldn't remember or just didn't want to be involved," he said.

"And she was such a breath of fresh air. She got along with everybody and she just wanted to see the world," he said. "It sounds like an amazing adventure. They got caught up in the beginnings of the [Spanish]Civil War, and they went back to London and she met her husband and that's that."

Not exactly. Historians Harold (Hesh) Troper and Richard Menkis are including Ms. Dawes in an exhibition (tentatively titled More than Just Games ) that they are preparing for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre on Canada and the Olympics in Germany in 1936. It is to open this fall and stay up through the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

Eva Dawes was the fourth of six children of Charles H. Dawes, a British immigrant who had served with the Grenadier Guards in South Africa in the Boer War. The Dawes family lived in the east end of Toronto and Eva went to Roden Public School.

"I was not a particularly strong child and my father thought that exercise would do me good," she said in an interview for Opendoor , a British newsletter late in 2008.

When Mr. Dawes realized his daughter's prowess at the high jump, he got permission from the principal of nearby Withrow Avenue Public School to dig a landing pit in a little-used part of the playground.

Eva's younger brother Wilfrid, now 91, can still remember carrying the standards from the family home and helping to set up the cross bars so that his sister could practise.

There was no "soft spongy landing bed then," Ms. Dawes recalled in Opendoor . "It was just a mound of earth."

Decades later she told writer Ron Hotchkiss, author of The Matchless Six: The Story of Canada's First Women's Olympic Team , that her father often put coins on the cross bar with the promise that she could keep the money if she cleared the jump. Whatever the encouragement, it worked.

"She won three gold medals in the same event the same day," Mr. Dawes recalled about a Canadian competition held in Varsity Stadium in 1926. Eva then 14, won the high jump in the under-16 category and the under-18 category and was ready to keep on jumping, but the judges refused to let her compete in the open category. "My dad argued with the officials, but they were adamant," Mr. Dawes said.

"So he went down on the field and took the microphone and explained that his daughter had won the junior and the intermediate and she should be allowed to compete in the open event. The fans in the stands began yelling, 'let the kid jump, let the kid jump' and they had to. And she won that. I thought that was pretty good," he said yesterday.

The roar of the crowd and her father's arguments weren't enough to persuade the Women's Amateur Athletic Federation to bend the rules to let Eva compete in the Canadian Women's Track and Field Championships in 1927 because she was under age, according to Mr. Hotchkiss. "Her father threatened to mount a protest outside Varsity Stadium where the championships were held. But the WAA stood firm and Eva didn't compete."

Ethel Catherwood, "The Saskatoon Lily," won the Olympic trials for the high jump at Halifax in July, 1928, and became the only high jumper on Canada's six-member team at the Summer Games that year in Amsterdam, the first games at which women were allowed to compete. Ms. Catherwood won a gold medal for Canada.

Four years later, Ms. Dawes finally made the Canadian team and went to Los Angeles for the Olympic Summer Games. At 5 foot 7 and weighing 132 pounds, she cleared 1.6 metres, coming in third after Americans Jean Shiley and Babe Didrikson.

Ms. Dawes represented Canada at the British Empire Games in London in 1934. She jumped 1.57 metres to come second, after Marjorie Clarke of South Africa, who won gold by clearing the bar at 1.6 metres. Canadian Margaret Bell came third for a bronze medal with a jump of 1.52 metres.

Sports - although the only athletic event she ever tried was the high jump - was always a ticket to travel for Ms. Dawes, a quiet, reserved young woman, according to her brother. "She wasn't ebullient or outgoing, but she was friendly and had lots of friends," he said, recalling the meets she competed in all over Canada, the United States and England.

In the summer of 1935 she "accepted an invitation to compete in the Soviet Union - against the wishes" of the Central Ontario Branch of the Amateur Athletic Union, according to Prof. Kidd's article, Canadian Opposition to the 1936 Olympics in Germany, which was published in The Canadian Journal of History of Sport. The local branch of the AAU suspended her, a decision that was slated to be ratified at the annual meeting of the Women's Amateur Athletic Federation in Halifax in November, 1935.

Instead of grovelling to apologize, Ms. Dawes announced her retirement a week or so before the meeting. (Forty years later she wrote a letter to Prof. Kidd saying that "the WAAU begged me to ask to be reinstated, which I refused to do." )

"With Eva Dawes out of the picture," Alexandrine Gibb wrote in The Toronto Star on Nov. 4, 1935, "there goes one of the two girls most likely to score points for Canada next summer in the world Olympics."

On July 10, 1936, Ms. Dawes and several other Canadian athletes, including runner Bill Christie and boxers Yisrael (Sammy) Luftspring and Norman (Baby) Yack, boarded the S.S. Alaunia bound for the People's Olympic Games scheduled for Barcelona from July 19-26, a week before the official Olympics were to open in Berlin.

The Canadian group made it as far as Toulouse, France, and were about to board a train for Barcelona when the British consul told them that war had broken out and warned them against entering Spain.

"They returned to Paris, where they met up with the Berlin-bound Canadian team and then returned to Canada via London," according to Prof. Kidd.

In England, Ms. Dawes visited a cousin who took her to a party where she met a young man named Arthur Spinks. They clicked. She returned to Canada, but sailed back across the ocean to marry him in 1937.

She and her husband lived mostly in London, but retired to Thames Ditton in 1969.

He died in the mid-1970s and she continued to travel, visiting her by-then grown daughter Barbara in South Africa and the U.S. She moved into a retirement complex in 2003.

Over the years she corresponded with several writers, including Mr. Hotchkiss, expressing her disillusionment with the modern Olympics, which she felt belonged no longer to amateurs striving for personal bests from love of country.

When he asked her if she was excited about the prospect of having the Summer Games in London in 2012, she wrote back: "I've lost interest now. It is all for the money and not for fun as we knew it in 1932. My memories of them will never fade."

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