by herself

In the 1970’s, Kathy Williams was a gymnast remembered by all; Kathy is black. What an inspiration she was for so many other budding black gymnasts. She was Great Britain’s first black Olympian gymnast. Here’s what Marvin Campbell, another child of Manchester, and Britain’s first black British Champion, in 1994, has to say. ‘Kathy Williams, her two brothers Cassius and Julius Williams from South Manchester Gym Club and Patrick Booth from North Manchester Gym Club were who I used to hope to be half as good as when I was a youngster. Kathy, in a Great Britain tracksuit, was the flag bearer for all young black kids in gymnastics.

Here’s her story


Kathy Williams competing on Beam at Alexandra Palace, London - photo by Alan Burrows


My name is Kathy Williams and today I am going to give you a whirlwind tour of my journey through sports and the creative arts, to my current role as Director of RJC Dance. As Director and supported by a board of trustees, I lead and manage the organisation in line with its strategic plan – developing an organisation committed to creativity, equality and improvement. I have been a founder member of RJC Dance since 1993, starting out as a performer and dance tutor progressing on a few years later to become the youth dance co-ordinator for young people from the inner city, aged 9-19 years old.

In 1980 I was the youngest gymnast selected to represent Great Britain at the Moscow Olympic Games, more on that shortly.

Although I enjoyed lots of different activities that I was involved in at primary school, I was particularly drawn to the artistry and excitement of gymnastics, which rapidly became my passion in life at the age of 10. Prior to that, I was a member of the rounder’s, netball, athletics & gymnastics team. I was a petite bundle of energy and I was always game for a laugh!

In the space of approximately 3 ½ years, I went from a one hour a week after school gymnastics club to inter-schools competitions, regional, national and international competition. I made my first trip abroad when I was selected to represent Great Britain at the Junior European Championships in Milan at 13, prior to this trip the furthest I had been from Manchester was Blackpool or is Southport further? I had now moved from Manchester to Huddersfield and started a new high school and lived with my club peer Denise Jones with my coach’s parents, Mr Ken Fidler & Mrs Ruth Fidler. At 14 with my coach Janet Mitchell, I won the prestigious ‘Daily Mirror Russian Scholarship’ and was dubbed ‘The Black Tulip’. The next day my face was on the front page of the Daily Mirror newspaper…….wow I thought quietly! The scholarship entitled me to one month’s intensive training at the Mecca of gymnastics at the time, the Soviet Union or Olga Korbut land to me. I was training 6 sometimes 7 days a week and fast becoming a serious globe trotter, never in one country too long before I was off to another. My well-used passport opened doors to cultural diversity and social education and I could speak pleasantries in many different languages.

Huddersfield Gym Club with Kathy Williams
Tommy Wilson, Kathy Williams winning the Champions Cup at the RoyalAlbert Hall in 1979 - photo by Alan Burrows
Williams Kathy warming up at the British Championships in 1986 - photo by Alan Burrows
Kathy Williams competing on A Bars for GB against Romania in November, 1979 - photo Alan Burrows

So back to the Moscow Olympics in 1980…….two weeks prior to the games I injured my knee. I was gutted. I vowed to myself that I would not be watching the next games from an armchair in my mum’s living room. I played hard but also worked hard. I had disappointments and injuries but my tenacity drove me on. There was a tremendous amount of dedication, self-motivation and self-belief, desire and commitment that went into me being the best that I could be, my mother said before every competition, ‘just do your best love’. I was supported and nurtured by my primary school teacher(s) in particular Janet Slade & her husband Stuart, my parents and siblings, my gymnastic coaches, my primary & high school headteachers and my friends, all of these provided a strong foundation for me to build upon alongside a Sports Aid Foundation grant.

After much sweat and some tears, in 1984, I was selected for the Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. This still remains one of my proudest achievements to date.

My talent and potential were spotted and I was able to embrace my first love, gymnastics. Sport introduced me to the university of life, providing me with experiences and memories that many only read or dream about.

I made a choice at a tender age and it was the perfect one for me, yes, I missed some of my high school education, but hey if you had the choice between participating in the Brisbane Commonwealth Games in Australia and a domestic science exam, or World Championships in Atlanta and a trip with the local youth club to Bridlington, I guess, like, me, you would have thought that my choice was a ‘no-brainer’.

I closed the curtains on my gymnastics career and springboarded onto the stage and into the world of dance which again offered me the freedom to be me. Before joining RJC Dance, I graduated from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance with a degree in Performing Arts (dance). I also had ambitions to work in television and worked for the BBC in Leeds for three years having entered the industry as a volunteer researcher for BBC’s Children in Need and later into news and current affairs. I am a qualified therapeutic counsellor, a youth worker and gymnastics coach, alongside being the Director of RJC Dance.

My resilience really began when I became the first black gymnast in the British women’s gymnastics team which supported me as the lone female dancer touring with 5 guys at the outset of RJC Dance. I am convinced that my involvement and participation in sport and the creative arts has kept me young both physically and mentally.

Talent has to be nurtured, supported and invested in. We all know the rewards that can be achieved if this is encouraged. I would say that I am testimony to this. I can put my hand on my heart and claim that as an ‘Olympian’ and in my current role as Director of RJC Dance, that my passion, my world view, informs inspires and develops the next generation – be that in gymnastics, in dance or in young people lives in general.

Williams Kathy competing on bars for GB against Romania in Huddersfield in November 1979 - photo Alan Burrows
GB's 1984 LA Olympic Team. L-R - Natalie  Davies, Kathy Williams, Sally Larner, Lisa Young, Amanda Harrison and Hayley Price


World Championships : 79 81 83
European Championships: 83
Commonwealth Games: 1982 Brisbane
World Student Games: 1987
Olympic Games – Yes – 1984
Junior Europeans Championships  Yes – 1979 in Milan
Daily Mirror Russian Scholarship winner – 1978
Champions Cup winner -1979

Kathy with Ken & Ruth Fidler
Kathy Williams GB V Canada in 1979 - Alan Burrows

Kathy ‘Black Tulip’ Williams

May 2020