Paris, summer of 1900.
Many eyes were upon the so-called «city of light.«The «Exposition Universelle» was being held, and the most recent advances and pieces of engineering, design, art and science of the time were shown.
The competitions for the second edition of the modern Olympic Games were included as part of the event program. Although those Olympics in France have been considered a failure due to the lack of organization and the lack of diffusion they had, not everything was bad in Paris.
In this edition was allowed for the first time the participation of female athletes; 22 in total, divided into three disciplines: cricket, golf and tennis. In addition, mixed teams were enrolled in tennis, football, polo and rowing.
In this way, the English Charlotte Cooper became the first female olympic champion, by winning the single category in tennis.
She defeated the local Hèléne Prevost in the final and went home with her hands full, after also emerging victorious in the mixed doubles category, alongside the British Reginald Doherty.
It ‘s important to note that Charlotte’s achievements are not limited to the Olympics Games. On the contrary, «Chatty», as she was also called, had an extensive and successful sports career.
The firsts days in the Ealing Lawn Tennis Club
Charlotte’s story starts in the city of Ealing (Middlesex, England), where she was born on September, 22nd of 1870. She was the youngest of the six children of the miller Henry Cooper and his wife, the American Teresa Georgiana Miller.
She took his first steps at the Ealing Lawn Tennis Club, with H. Lawrence and Charles Martin as her first coaches. Then she would be working with Harold Mahony, a club figure and later an Olympic champion, who helped her to improve the speed of his strokes.
In her 1910 book, Lawn Tennis for Ladies, Dorothea Lambert Chambers shares this extract in which Cooper remember those early victories at the local club:
«Winning my first championship of the Ealing Lawn Tennis Club at the age of 14 was a very important moment in my life. How well I remember, bedecked by my proud mother in my best clothes, running off to the Club on the Saturday afternoon to play in the final without a vestige of nerve (would that I had none now!), and winning—that was the first really important match of my life.».
In 1893, she won her first absolute title at the Ilkley club, north of England.
From there, she would just have an incredible career.
Wimbledon, el escenario de sus hazañas
It’s known that Charlotte Cooper had only two wooden rackets: one for dry days and an older one that she used for rainy days. On game days, she rode her bike to the All England Club, with her racket strapped to the front.
Dressed in her long Victorian dress, she entered the courts and surprised more than one with her aggressive play, close to the net, and her serve over the arm. Both unusual among female tennis players at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century.
It was precisely at Wimbledon that she completed most of her feats.
She made her debut in 1893 and lost in the semifinals, to Blanche Bingley, another player of the Ealing Lawn Tennis Club. While in 1894 she was eliminated in the first round by Henriette Norncastle (her worst participation in the tournament).
In the 1895 edition, Blanche Bingley did not defend her title and Charlotte Cooper, already champion of Ireland, achieved her first Wimbledon championship, defeating Helen Jackson Atkins 7-5 and 8-6, after recuperating from the loss of the five first games.
After his victory at Wimbledon, she began her journey through other tournaments in Great Britain and other countries in Europe.
But, a moment!
Do you remember that we wrote that Wimbledon was the place where she completed the most of her feats? These are some of these:
- Between 1893 and 1917, Cooper competed in 21 editions of the tournament.
- She starred in 11 finals at the All England Club, eight in a row: between 1895 and 1902. This record was held for almost 90 years, until Martina Navratilova made her ninth straight appearance (1982-1990).
- 4 of those 11 finals were against Blanche Bingley Hillyard (1897, 1899, 1900, 1901); she could only dominate her once (1901) to win his fourth crown.
- Although she was away from the courts for a while to dedicate a time to her family, her return didn’t go unnoticed: in 1908, she added another title at Wimbledon, being 37 years and 282 days old.
- Cooper was the second woman (and one of four to do it so far) to win a championship at Wimbledon, after becoming a mother. Blanche Bingley Hillyard (1897), Dorothea Lambert Chambers and Evonne Goolagong Cawley (1980) complete the group.
- Her palmarés: 5 championships at Wimbledon, each one against one different opponent (1895, 1896, 1898 and 1901 and 1908).
- In 1912, she was still one of the best and managed to play in the Wimbledon final at the age of 41.
- In the doubles category, she won seven times in mixed teams, and twice in the female teams, although in those years, this competition was not yet an official competition of the Wimbedon’s program.
- According to the Official Guide to the Wimbledon Championships, the match between Charlotte and Muriel Robb in 1902 became the longest final for women to the date: it had to be stopped by rain when the score was 6–4, 11–13, but was resumed from the start the next day, with victory for Robb (7–5, 6–1), playing a total of 53 games.
Excellence in everything
Charlotte Cooper cared about working not only physically, but also her mental strength, so she played calmly and was consistent on the court, according to some stories.
Even one of Copper’s most admired virtues was her ability to be highly concentrated in the games.
Her mental work had to be reinforced in 1896. After suffering an auditory infection that led her to lose the audition, «Chatty» was always very involved in the game to be able to identify the movements of her rival and follow the course of the ball.
During the winter, with no tennis competitions because of the weather, Charlotte kept fit by running, walking and playing field hockey for the Surrey’s team.
Wherever she went, the Englishwoman left her mark: she won 8 Irish championships, among other achievements in different European places, especially in France and Germany.
In 1901, she married the British lawyer Alfred Sterry and took a break from the courts to dedicate it to her family and children.
However, when she believed the time was right, she returned to her tennis career, scoring many more successes.
For Charlotte and Alfred, the sport was a family affair: her husband was also a tennis player and got some victories in France and Germany. Later she was president of the Lawn Tennis Association.
Her daughter Gwen played on the UK Wightman Cup tennis team, while Gwen’s husband, Max Simmers, was a multiple rugby champion with the Scotland team, and her grandson Brian also excelled at rugby.
Her son Rex was vice president of the All England Club between 1960 and 1975.
Her last visit to Wimbledon was in 1961, shortly before her 90th birthday. She traveled alone from Scotland to be at the Champions Meal that the club had organized to celebrate 75 years since the tournament was created.
Charlotte died at 96, setting a record as the longest-lived athlete among Olympic champions. She is also a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.