To date, Shirburnians have won six Olympic medals, with Torsten Ullman (School House 1925-1927) topping the list, having stood on the podium three times (1 gold, 2 bronze medals).

Torsten Ullman, Sherborne School, 1927

Torsten Ullman represented Sweden in the men’s free pistol (50m) and men’s rapid-fire pistol (25m) at five Olympic Games in 1936 (Berlin), 1948 (London), 1952 (Helsinki), 1956 (Melbourne) and 1960 (Rome).  But what has a Swedish pistol shooter got to do with Sherborne School?

Torsten Elis Ullman was born on 27 July 1908 at Gustaf Vasa, Stockholm, Sweden, the son of Elis Magnus Ullman (1859-1914) and Anna Fredrika Albihn (1879-1955) of Helgo, Räppe, Sweden.  A younger brother, Carl Elis Ullman (1912-2004) was born four years later.  In September 1925, aged 17, Torsten joined the 6th form at Sherborne School, where he specialised in mathematics and science.  Torsten’s father had died in 1914 but we do not know why his mother sent Torsten to Sherborne and, although he remained at  the School until July 1927, he was not a member of the School’s shooting eight.

After leaving Sherborne, Torsten went up to Clare College, Cambridge where in December 1928 The Shirburnian reported that he had been seen ‘on a fearsome-looking motorbike’.  After Clare College, Torsten returned to Sweden and studied at Uppsala University, becoming a civil engineer.

1936 Olympic Games

In 1936, Torsten represented Sweden at the summer Olympic Games in Berlin.  The Games that year were opened by Hitler and the Germans were considered favourites in the free pistol events.  Torsten, however, had other ideas, setting a new world record at the Wannsee Shooting Range where he registered a record score of 559 points beating his own previous best.  Torsten returned home with a gold in the men’s free pistol (50m) and a bronze in the men’s rapid-fire pistol (25m).  The following year he established another world record, winning the world pistol shooting championship at 50m with 555 points and was awarded the Bragdguldet, the Svenska Dagbladet gold medal for the most significant Swedish sports achievement of the year.  In 1933, 1935, 1937, 1947 and 1952 Torsten also won the World Championship in free pistol.

1948 Olympic Games

In 1948, Torsten was on the shooting range at Bisley representing Sweden in the men’s free pistol (50m) at the 1948 London Olympic Games.  Five days of shooting opened at Bisley on 2 August 1948 with 49 competitors from 21 countries taking part in the free pistol events with 60 shots at 50m.  Torsten, a strong favourite in the event, appeared ‘dressed in abbreviated white shorts and a yellow skull cap’.  It was noted that by his side he kept a bucket of water into which at intervals he plunged his pistol hand to refresh it.  His efforts were rewarded with a bronze in the men’s free pistol (50m).  The men’s rapid-fire pistol event that year was won by Hungarian Károly Takács who had taught himself to shoot with his left hand after his right hand had been shattered by a grenade in 1938.

It is claimed that Torsten was one of the first pistol shooters to bring a scientific approach to the sport.  His interest in science can perhaps be traced back to his 6th form studies at Sherborne which he built on at Cambridge and Uppsala.

Torsten went on to represent Sweden in the men’s free pistol (50m) at three successive Olympic Games in 1952 (Helskini), 1956 (Melbourne) and 1960 (Rome).  In 1992, his youngest daughter won the European Junior Championships in 10m air pistol.

Torsten Elis Ullman died at Växjö, Sweden on 11 May 1993, aged 84.

Compiled by Rachel Hassall, July 2018.

See also:
Shirburnians and the Olympic Games
Swedish Olympic Committee website: Torsten Ullman

For further information please contact the School Archivist.

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