Suzanne Dando (GBR)

Courtesy of W. Corbett

1976 Lilia-White Championships: 1st UB
1979 GBR-TCH Dual Meet: 4th AA
1979 GBR-HUN Dual Meet: 5th AA
1979 GBR Nationals: 3rd AA
1979 Coca-Cola International: 7th AA (tie)
1979 World Championships: 16th T
1980 British Championship: 1st AA
1980 Champions Cup: 1st AA
1980 GBR-HUN Dual Meet: 3rd AA
1980 Champions All: 6th AA
1980 Cottbus Intl: 14th AA
1980 Olympics: 27th AA

Results courtesy of Gymn Forum

Although the trend is changing, for the last several decades, women’s artistic gymnastics has been defined by its little girls in pony tails. It has been common practice for the Eastern European powerhouses to hand pick talented young 5-year-olds from nursery classes and plunk them into serious training. Suzanne Dando, Britain’s top gymnast entering the 1980 Olympics, was well past the 5-year mark when she entered gymnastics. Amazingly, she was well past her 12th birthday when she climbed onto the uneven bars for the first time.

As a beginning gymnast at age 12, Dando could hardly have been expected to aim for international elite gymnastics. Nevertheless, Dando proved to pick skills up quickly. In 1977, she was awarded a scholarship (the Churchill Fellowship) to spend some time training in the USA. When she returned home, Dando gained a place on the National squad.

Dando consistently scored well in national and international meets leading up to the 1980 Olympics. Although she failed to make Britain’s squad to the 1979 European Championships, she represented her country in the arguably more competition of that year, the 1979 World Championships. Dando gained her F.I.G. Gold Pin at these Worlds.

The following year, in 1980, Dando became the British national champion. She led her teammates, Susan Cheesborough and Denise Jones, to the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Dando improved dramatically on her standing (48th) following prelims, finishing 27th in the AA competition.

Like many gymnasts, Dando retired after the Olympics. While most gymnasts cite age, injury, or simply fulfilling their goals as reasons for retirement, Dando’s reason was different. In an article (“Frightened Champion quits Danger Sport”) that appeared shortly after her retirement, Dando explained that the direction the sport was taking terrified her, as the risks of serious injury (such as that which happened to Mukhina) were increasing. She cited the case of a fellow gymnast, who was training a skill and consistently falling off the beam onto her back. Dando expressed concern about the effects of these falls to the girl's back later in life.

Dando further explained that although she was petite herself, the very tiny gymnasts she encountered in Moscow (at the 1980 Olympics) made her feel intimidated and acutely embarrassed. Dando later revealed to the UK press that she had suffered anorexia whilst a gymnast. At one point her parents banned her from going to the gym until she ate.

Following her retirement, Dando coached the under fives in gymnastics at the Lewisham Leisure Centre in South London. With her spark for competition and performance still burning brightly, Dando embarked on a career in show biz. Over the years she has served as a model (e.g., for the illustrations in Jean Honeymoon’s (1981) book Dance Training and Choreography for Gymnasts), TV presenter, TV commentator (gymnastics and basketball), singer, dancer, and principle lead in various stage shows and pantomime. As an aside, in the early 1980s, she made celebrity appearances for the British Conservative Party. Despite her successful show biz career, this was scoffed at by one journalist in the UK press, who asked, “Who is Suzanne Dando?”

As if her career was not busy enough, Dando give her time freely to many charities. She also turned her athleticism to long distance running, competing in several marathons. Following that, she began parachuting with the Red Devils. In 1987, she married Graham Maclean, a composer and song writer.

Dando drifted out of the public eye for awhile, resurfacing on a British breakfast TV show following a documentary called Fair Game. This documentary criticized UK training methods under Adrian Stan, specifically the tendency to encourage gymnasts to stay small and be weighed by coaches. In this breakfast time interview with Anthea Turner, Dando - in what seemed like an about turn - spoke in favour of the sport, the tendency to take risks, and be small.

Many thanks to Mel G. for her invaluable contribution to this bio. Also, many thanks to Debbie Poe, W. Corbett, and John R.

. This page was created on October 17, 1999 and last updated on December 16, 1999.