The Ospreys are now an integral part of sporting life in Cambridge. They encourage athletes to train harder, offer sporting grants to student athletes, and ultimately help Cambridge smash O*ford year in year out.
The Blue Bird talked to Caesar, one of the founding members of the Ospreys and Athletics Blue, to shed light on the setting up of the historic society. We also got a snapshot of her views on the state of women’s sport, and the University’s support for it, across the Ospreys’ history.
Thank you for talking to us Susi! For starters, could you tell us a bit about your role in setting up the Ospreys?
I was the Founder Secretary of the Ospreys when the Club was formally established in 1985-86. I believe that there were other groups of sportswomen that had started to come together and talk about the need for a club where we could meet before that, but the founding committee consisted of:
- Liz Potter – the Founder President (Full Blue Swimming; Economics and History, 83-86) – now Head of New Ventures at Spire Healthcare
- Fiona Macdonald – (Full Blue Golf; the first woman to compete in the (then) 108 year history of the golf match (off the men’s tees) and get a Blue)
- Rachel Murray – (Full Blue Rowing; Veterinary Medicine) – now a Senior Orthopaedic Advisor, Animal Health Trust, Newmarket, who specialises in research into lameness, sport horse performance problems and the use of MRI as well as being an advanced dressage rider and supporting the GB Dressage and Show Jumping Teams
- Sarah Montgomery-Smith (it says on-line in The Strathallian 1983 that she did hockey, tennis and skiing at school, but I cannot remember which was her Blues sport)
- Jodi Kelly
- Nato Fredericks
- and myself – the Founder Secretary (Full Blue Athletics; Natural and Medical Sciences 84-87) – now a GP, and the Health Education England Wessex Appraisal Service Lead and RCGP Medical Director for Revalidation
What made you decide that there was a need for the Ospreys, and that you were the ones to get things done?
It may be hard to imagine for today’s students, but in 1984, when I matriculated very shortly after my College, Emmanuel, admitted women, in 1979, women’s sports in Cambridge were much less well established than they are today. Even so, it is only recently, in 2015, that the Cambridge Women’s Varsity Match for Rugby was moved to Twickenham, to be played in the same place and on the same day as the men’s match, so there is still some catching up being done.
It seemed obvious to us that women from different sports and colleges needed a ‘home’, a base where we could meet like-minded women, and support each other to greater sporting achievements. The ability to make on-line groups, and chat, seem like second nature now, but then there had to be physical structures in place, otherwise an Athlete, like me, would only meet Blues from any other sport by chance, such as being in the same College or on the same course. We were all rather envious of the Hawks Club with its long history and traditions and felt that sportswomen deserved something similar.
What were your original goals for the Ospreys in the first few months and years after the club was set up?
We had several goals in mind, but the most pressing was to bring female Blues together for mutual encouragement and enjoyment. We aimed to create what might nowadays be known as a ‘brand identity’ and had a lot of fun deciding on our name and colours. We chose Ospreys as our bird of prey, because they are a widespread raptor (also called Fish Eagles, Sea Hawks, River Hawks and Fish Hawks) but are generally bigger than most hawks. Among hawks, they are unique in having a reversible toe that enables them to grab slippery fish very effectively. It seemed appropriate to create a connection to the Hawks Club in our name, but underline the inherent competitiveness of sportswomen.
Obviously, Cambridge Blue had to be one of our colours and we enjoyed experimenting with various options (that were not already College or Club colours) before we settled on adding the femininity of the pink.
I think we all felt that there was still some way to go, for our sports to be recognised on a level playing field with the men, and that there would be a value in having a forum that gave us a voice in negotiations with the University and other sporting bodies.
How did it feel at the time when you managed to complete the creation of the Ospreys?
At the time, I don’t think that we were really thinking about posterity, or how it might appear on looking back after more than 30 years, but it felt deeply satisfying to win the battles that we did. It was certainly not all plain sailing.
And how does having been a part of setting up the Ospreys make you feel now?
Being so closely involved in the birth of a club that has grown and developed as The Ospreys has remains a very proud achievement. My younger daughter, Emma Pierce, has just matriculated at St Catharine’s College and been awarded her Full Blue CURUFC, 2016, and joined The Ospreys. She will be one of the first ‘second generation’ Ospreys – if not the first! Seeing her gain so much from being able to connect seamlessly with current, and former, Blues brings home to me how much this Club matters.
How helpful were the University and other existing institutions (i.e. the Hawks) when you were establishing the Ospreys?
There were some very supportive individuals, but I have to say that the overall impression that I had at the time was one of indifference from the University and others. I suppose we had to prove that we had the energy and determination to succeed and the commitment to make the Club sustainable before they would take us seriously.
What are the moments you’ve been most proud of / impressed with in women’s sport before or since the Ospreys were set up?
I think that this is an impossible question. There have been so many wonderful moments. In my own event, 400mH, Sally Gunnell is only a year younger than I am, and went on to win the 1992 Olympic Gold Medal, in Barcelona, and win the World title and break the world record, in Stuttgart in 1993, dramatically raising the profile of women’s athletics. I would have been about 10 seconds behind her at my best, even though I held the Varsity Match record for a time.
Closer to home, Steph Cook is an illustrious athlete who rowed at Cambridge, took up modern pentathlon while doing clinical medicine at O*ford and won the 2000 Olympic Gold Medal in Sydney, in the first time the event was included in the games. Meeting her and hearing her speak at the Ospreys Women in Sport Breakfast event at Twickenham in December was inspirational. Her message about the importance of resilience, and bouncing back from setbacks, is as true for me, in my 50’s, as it is for all those who are still competing at a high level in their sport.
Do you feel that the status of female athletes and the coverage they receive has improved since you set up the club?
Slowly, slowly – but yes, it is undoubtedly true that there is better coverage of women’s sporting events and there are more high profile female athletes and female sports correspondents and presenters than there were in the 1980’s.
There is still more to be done before we can feel that there is a level playing field for women in sport, and we all have a responsibility to encourage physical activity for everyone.
Do you feel more should/could be done for sportswomen at Cambridge and beyond the University?
My daughter certainly seems to have been well supported in her first couple of terms. I think that identifying keen sportswomen, who are due to come up for their first term at Cambridge, and inviting them to pre-season training events, is a great way to get to know about new talent and to start to build the team for the Varsity Match. Perhaps more effort could be put into making sure that this happens for all those who have representational honours on their application form?
How were you involved with sport at Cambridge before the Ospreys were set up?
I was mainly involved in Athletics throughout my time at University – taking it seriously at College and University level. I remember taking part in ten events in my first Athletics Cuppers, in order to ensure that Emmanuel had a female entrant in every track and field discipline I could fit in. Between two of us, we came second overall. After that, I went on to be the Ladies Captain and then the President of the Emmanuel College Athletics Club, getting all my friends and acquaintances to turn out so that I never had to do so many events again. Doing so many events did get me noticed by the CUAC scouts in my first year and I was privileged to be selected for the Achilles Club (joint O*ford and Cambridge Athletics Club) team to tour the US in 1985. Although I had not yet ‘found’ my event, as there were no competitions for girls of school age to do 400m or 400mH, I thoroughly enjoyed the sprints and relays.
In Athletics then, as now, I think, you not only had to compete against the Other Place in the Varsity Match to get a Full Blue, but you had to achieve a standard that was set against the national ranking for your event. In the days before Sally Gunnell, the Full Blue standard for 400mH looked attainable, and so I targeted it in the 1985-86 season, finally achieving it on the last possible attempt, on the cinder track at Madingley Road (before the magnificent new tartan track was built at Wilberforce Road) in the Achilles match. I credit my success to the Ivy League competitor I was chasing, who set the pace I needed, and the glass of champagne I had drunk, because I had just seen my second year Tripos on the results board and been awarded a First. Champagne would not be considered good pre-race preparation these days – but I think I floated round!
I have often thought that I may be unique in Cambridge sporting history in having achieved a First and a Blue on the same day, as I can’t imagine another sport where there is a chance to get a Blue on the day the results come out. My third year was even better for me as an athlete, with Full Blue times in the 400m and the 400mH, but, alas, I did not repeat the First and graduated with a 2i.
Are you still involved with sport in any capacity? Or still involved with the Ospreys at all?
I was proud to be one of the resilience GPs for the 2012 Olympics in Weymouth (where I work) but I am not an active sportswoman at all. My competition days ended when I became a junior doctor and medicine took over. Nowadays, I enjoy being a passionate and enthusiastically noisy spectator!
Susi was a pleasure to interview, and represents the true legacy of Cambridge sport.
If you would like the chance to meet and talk to people as interesting as Ms. Caesar, let us know.
Contact the Blue Bird at firstname.lastname@example.org