Tony Fox, who has died aged 82, rowed for Britain in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, coming fourth in the Single Sculls, the best result for the team since Jack Beresford in 1924 and an achievement that has not been bettered by the British team since.
At the Beijing Olympics two years ago the British entrant Alan Campbell came fifth in the Single Sculls while Sir Steve Redgrave, unbeatable in a crewed boat, managed only 12th in the 1985 World Championships, admitting that the class was too hard.
Fox’s 1951 treble – the Diamond Sculls (the equivalent of the Derby in rowing), the Wingfield Sculls (the Amateur Sculling Championship of England) and the London Cup – was hailed as a breakthrough for British rowing and again drew comparisons with the same achievement by Beresford a quarter of a century earlier. “They can’t catch this fox” was the apposite line on a Sunday Pictorial comic strip depicting him racing through the water.
Fox took the Diamond and Wingfield Sculls again in 1953. The following year he and John Marsden, a renowned Eton housemaster who slipped out of work for the day, sensationally won the Double Sculls against a Russian team that had won all their other races.
When the sandy-haired Fox revealed that he, too, had taken time out (from his medical studies), the Daily Sketch reported their triumph with the headline “Truants beat Russians”. The pair, who had only 12 practice outings before the regatta, went on to win the World Championships in Amsterdam.
Musing on his sport in retirement, Fox noted that being on the water was always a joy. “Before people could fly, they always said sculling was the nearest thing to flying, in that you put in the smallest amount of effort and you glided.”
Thomas Anthony Fox was born in Guernsey on July 27 1928, the son of a family doctor. He never took formal rowing lessons, but recalled how he was told by the groundsman at his family home to “put your blades in the water and pull”. At the age of eight he built his first boat and sailed it, with his younger sister, to Jersey.
After prep school in Taunton he was educated at Sherborne. Like his forebears he chose Medicine, which he read at Pembroke College, Cambridge, but once there dismayed his family by throwing all his energies – and finances – into rowing. Although never selected for the Boat Race, his talent was sufficient for the Dean on one occasion to telephone his disapproving father and urge him to support his son.
Fox recalled how at Helsinki all the other rowers had advisers, but he was abandoned to his fate. “There was an English coach, but he was more or less warned off,” he recalled, “which was silly because I was completely out of my depth.”
He was widely tipped for a medal in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. However, fortune did not favour him and he failed to qualify for the Single Sculls final. He then completed his medical training at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, south London. He joined his father, brother and uncle in the family general practice on Guernsey, retiring in 1989 to Cornwall.
Tony Fox, who died on July 31, married, in 1958, Paula Sweby, a former nurse whom he met while at St George’s. She survives him, as do their four daughters.
© Telegraph – 08 Sep 2010