Baltimore Sun

Timonium man hopes London Olympics recall 'Queen Mother of U.S tennis'

At his home in Timonium, Sandy Harlow holds a Tennis U.S.A. magazine that featured his grandmother, Hazel Wightman, on the cover.  Harlow has lobbied the International Olympic Committee to honor his grandmother, who was a member of the last mixed doubles gold medalist team in the 1924 Olympics. The games haven't had that event since then, but it's returning in London, and a new championship team will be crowned this week.

A Timonium man is anxiously awaiting the weekend's mixed doubles tennis finals at the London Olympics in hopes that his grandmother — the last gold medalist in the event nearly 90 years ago — is recognized by event organizers for her achievements.

Sandy Harlow, a Timonium resident who recently moved to Maryland from the Chicago area, has been lobbying the organizers on his family's behalf for the better part of two years.


But with the event just days away, he's still unsure of whether Hazel Wightman, an American tennis star who was named an Honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for her dedication to growing the sport in Great Britain, will be honored or not.

"It's probably been six to nine months (since speaking with Olympics officials), and my bet is as things got closer to the event, they just didn't have time to do everything," Harlow said. "I honestly don't know what's going to happen."


Wightman is one of the most decorated female tennis players in the history of the sport.

She won two gold medals in the 1924 Paris Olympics — one in mixed doubles and the other in women's doubles — and her Massachusetts home was "a house full of silver" because of all her trophies, Harlow said.

But tennis was taken out of the Olympics after the 1924 games, and mixed doubles wasn't reinstated when the sport made its Olympic return in 1988. As such, Wightman is the last gold medalist in the event, or as Harlow puts it — the defending champ.

Wightman had served as a strong figure in tennis — she created and donated the Wightman Cup, a trophy that women's tennis players from the United States and Great Britain competed for from 1923, the year before her Olympic triumph, until 1989.

The Wightman Cup, Harlow said, was ultimately the hook that helped him speak with one of the organizers of the 2012 Olympics in London.

Clare Wood, director of the tennis competition for the London Olympics, competed in the Wightman Cup for Great Britain, as did Debbie Jevans, director of sport for the London games.

"I knew this was going to be interesting (to them)," he said.

Wood put him in touch with the director of ceremonies at the games, but the lines of communication went quiet as the Olympics grew closer.


"I bet there will be something in the program that's handed out," Harlow speculated. "There might be a mention on the loudspeaker. I don't think there's going to be much in terms of a ceremony, but we'll see."

Even if there's no mention of Wightman after the gold medal is won this coming Sunday, Aug. 5, the opportunity to discuss his grandmother, who has been a source of pride for him throughout his life, is one Harlow clearly relishes.

On Monday of this week, he proudly showed off a trove of family photographs, news stories and memorabilia that he, the unofficial family keeper of Wightman's legacy, had unearthed in his home.

Most recently, Wightman was mentioned in a Sports Illustrated article on her mixed doubles partner from that 1924 gold medal win, Dick Williams. Williams, a Wimbledon champion and two-timeU.S. Open champion, was one of two tennis stars who were on board the HMS Titanic when the ship sank a dozen years earlier.

Wightman herself was also featured in an April 1972 Sports Illustrated article, which referred to her as the "Queen Mother of U.S tennis," and in 1990, Wightman was one of five gold medalists, including Jesse Owens, to be commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp.

For her living relatives, any tip of the cap from London will be yet another reason for pride in their matriarch.


"I was one of 13 grandchildren, but now we're into great grandchildren," Harlow said. "There's 50 family members who are anxiously waiting on any piece of news."