Remembering Denise Goddard

by Meg Warren

Denise was 10 years old when she took up the sport of gymnastics at the Cardiff Olympic Youth Club, where the coach Walter Maidment must have quickly recognised her talent. She was strong, explosive, and gutsy.

Denise Goddard at the European Championships in 1963 - photo Jim Prestidge

Above – Denise Goddard at the European Championships in 1963 – photo Jim Prestidge

L - R G Lingard P Perks BC 1960 D Goddard Shoreditich Town Hall

Above – Denise with Pat Perks, 1960 British Champion and Gwynedd Lingard, 1959 champion at Shoreditch Town Hall. Denise came second. Photo Jim Prestidge



Denise, the teenage talent

She soon won the Welsh Junior championships and was only 15 years of age when she was entered into the senior British Championships in 1960 held at Shoreditch Town Hall. This must have been quite an experience for Denise to travel to London for this event. She was competing against Great Britain’s team gymnasts. What a surprise it must have been for all concerned when she came 2nd to Pat Perks and beat the 1952 Olympian, reigning British champion Gwynedd Lingard. After the Olympic set exercises, Denise was lying in first position with a score of 36.432, 0.566 ahead of her nearest rival, Pat Perks. However, it was in the voluntary competition that Pat leapfrogged Denise by over a mark to take the title with a score of 73.3 against Denise’s 73.2.

1960 The Rome Olympics 

The British championships had taken place in February and were a selection event for the forthcoming Olympics in Rome. What a heartbreak for Denise, for despite her achievements, she was unable to be selected for the team; according to the International Gymnastics Federation, she was too young.

Her disappointment must have turned to excitement when her neighbours in Trorchy Street collected enough money to send Denise as a spectator to Rome.

Having made such an impression in 1960, you would think that the 1961 British Championships was hers, but another young gymnast was on the scene, Monica Rutherford who took the top spot with Denise second again.

Competing for Great Britain 

As a result of their 1st and 2nd places, Monica and Denise travelled to Leipzig for the Women’s European Championships. This was a first for British women; no one had competed in a European Championships before. They didn’t set the world alight with their performances, but they must have learned a lot and perhaps overawed to be competing against Olympic stars Larisa Latynina and Polina Astakova. 

– The two teenagers Denise Goddard and Monica Rutherford (right) at their
first major international event, the 1961 European Championships with Audrey Bates
(judge) and Monica’s coach, June Allinson (later Groom) on the left – photo Jim

Above – The two teenagers Denise Goddard and Monica Rutherford (right) at their first major international event, the 1961 European Championships with Audrey Bates (judge) and Monica’s coach, June Allison (later Groom) on the left – photo Jim Prestidge

Denise Goddard on Beam at the 1961 European Championships

Above – Denise Goddard at the 1961 Europeans in Leipzig – photo Jim Prestidge

World Championships in 1962 Denise Goddard & Monica Rutherford with Eva Boscova J

Above – Denise and Monica with Czechoslovakian star and Olympic gold medallist Eva Bosakova – photo Jim Prestidge

Gracious in defeat

1962, another British Championships. Once again, Denise has to settle for 2nd place on the third occasion.  Then second again to Monica in 1963 and 64; would she ever win?

The Gymnast magazine for the 1963 Championship says that after 3 pieces of apparatus, Monica was 0.11 behind Denise. Beam the last piece of apparatus on this day, Denise put in a great beam performance to score 9.4.  Surely Monica could not match that!

Tony Morse for The Gymnasts magazine, described Monica’s exercise as

“A virtuoso display which was rewarded with a 9.6 and the title was her’s again.”

Jim Prestidge recalls this occasion of Denise’s defeat

“Her answer to her disappointment was a smile, a hug and a big kiss for the girl who had shattered her hopes and dreams.”

1965 was the magic year when Denise could proudly lift the trophy.

So on five occasions, Denise had come 2nd. On each occasion, she had only been tenths away from winning the title.

1962 GB V Canada maybe Maidment Walter Joan Richards Denise Goddard Monica Phelps. photo supplied

Above – Denise with her coach Walter Maidment along with Joan Richards from her club and Monica Rutherford. The occasion was Great Britain vs Canada at Stanmore Arena in 1962

BC 1963 prelims Denise Goddard with Monica Rutherford and Gough, Bell Prestidge DE MONTFORT HALL J

Above – Denise with some of her fellow competitors at the 1963 preliminary event for the final at the Albert Hall; L-R Left to right, Denise, Monica, Maria Gough, Maggie Bell, Mary Prestidge – photo Jim Prestidge

Denise with her fellow team members winning the National Team Championships in 1962

Above – Denise with her fellow team members winning the National Team Championships in 1962 

Denise Goddard winning the British Championship in 1965

Above – Denise Goddard winning the British Championship in 1965 – photo Alan Burrows

The first female gymnast to make not one, but two, European Finals

Travelling to Paris for the 1963 Women’s European Championships was exciting for many of us training in the sport at this time. We were going to see the gymnastics greats, and Monica and Denise would have their chance to compete once more against the world’s best.

However, politics reared its ugly head; East Germany was a top nation in gymnastics but was not officially recognised by some nations, including France, the host nation. The DDR team was refused visas, and as a result, nearly all of the European Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the event. 

Monica injured herself during the championships, so it was up to Denise to carry the flag, which she did admirably. She secured a place in the floor and the vault finals, a wonderful first for women’s British gymnastics.

Denise Goddard on Vault on at the 1963 European Championships

Above – Denise Goddard on Vault at the 1963 European Championships – photo Jim Prestidge

Monica recalls one of their escapades at the Europeans 

“At the European in Paris in 1963, we bought a cake from a Boulangerie. It looked delicious as we sat on the window ledge of our room. We were just about to sample the cake when June (the team and Monica’s coach) called at the door, so we chucked the cake from the 3rd floor room window. 


A while later we had a complaint from the concierge about our cake landing on a customer. We denied all knowledge of the cake!!!”

Rutherford & Goddard fish & chips J

Above – As well as cake they loved fish and chips. Jim Prestidge captured their moments of fun and laughter.

Every gymnast’s dream – the Olympic Games

Denise went on to compete at the 1964 Olympics along with Monica. Neither of the gymnasts excelled, but it’s important to understand the training conditions in gyms at this time. Apparatus was poor, often homemade, time available in the gym was limited, and our knowledge of the sport was lacking; we had a lot to learn, but these two girls were leading the way in our steady progress.

OG 1964 Olympic team Beverley Pancott

Above – Denise and Monica Tokyo bound, along with team member Jack Pancott, and Bob Trenholm to wish them well, Nik Stuart the men’s coach is in the background, and June Groom, nee Allison is on the right – photo courtesy of Beverley Pancott

In 1965 following her British title Denise went on to coach at the gym now called the Cardiff Central Club. She would continue to coach for twenty years. 

Below – Looking back at her gymnastic strengths. Denise and her coach Walter moved with the times. She would push the boundaries within British gymnastics performing new skills; one of which was this jump to free hip circle at the start of her bar exercise. Photo Alan Burrows

Goddard & Walter Maidment coach AB

Denise, the coach remembered – with thanks to three of her gymnasts

Moving from an Olympian in 1964, to coaching soon after, was a natural development for Denise. During her early years as a coach, she worked closely with Walter Maidment, MBE, and their coaching partnership was second to none. Denise’s no-nonsense approach dovetailed perfectly with Walter’s softer, cajoling approach.

Denise had an eye for talent. By the early 1970s, she had been responsible for producing dozens of gymnasts for junior and senior Welsh National squads and representing Wales internationally. She formed a good coaching partnership during that time with Lyn Avery, father of one of Denise’s early successes, Nicola.

Denise’s next generation of gymnasts in the mid-to late 1970s included gymnasts who were selected for British squads and GB international events (eg Bev Watts and Julie Smith).

 Training in Cardiff Central during the 60s and 70s was a bundle of fun. The gym was vibrant – always full of groups of gymnasts on all apparatus. Denise’s mother, always referred to as Mrs Goddard, was a permanent feature and everyone’s first port of call.  She sat at a table to collect the subs and chatted to every gymnast before they got down to work. She was ever-present at the summer displays, a feature of club life during the summer months. The display team particularly enjoyed a regular slot on a Sunday afternoon at Barry Butlins, entertaining holiday-makers, after which, the gymnasts were given some free time to enjoy the camp facilities before afternoon tea.

Denise was an excellent technician who paid close attention to detail. All her gymnasts were well-versed in set exercises and the teams and individuals she coached were always praised for the accuracy with which set exercises were performed. She also had a particular flare for choreography. Floor exercise was a key strength for Denise; she would always work with each gymnast to select music to suit her artistic strengths.

Many thanks to Bev Smith, nee Watts, Kathy Jefferies, and Leigh Fowler. for their memories. Leigh has continued at the Cardiff Club acting as a community coach. 

Denise Goddard in 1960 at the British Championships

Above – Denise Goddard in 1960 at the British Championships. Somersaulting on a bare wooden floor would have been no fun, but it never seemed to bother Denise – photo Jim Prestidge

Denise Goddard at the 1962 British Championship Prelims in Llanrumny

Above – Denise Goddard at the 1962 British Championship Prelims in Llanrumny. Famous gymnasts had performed this full pirouette on the high bar. Denise performed this at the 1962 British Championships preliminaries. How could anyone work on these unstable homemade bars let alone perform such a difficult skill? – photo Jim Prestidge

Sadly, Denise died in 2023. Her time in gymnastics could have been longer but with a family tragedy and after the death of her mother, she left the sport. Denise played an important part in our gymnastics history as her story and photos illustrate.  

Remembering Denise Goddard 1945 – 2023 

By Meg Warren

Published February 2024