Dick Thompson MBE was a multi disciplinary athlete who represented Great Britain at 4 Paralympic Games from Rome in 1960 to Heidelberg in 1972, winning 7 gold, 2 silver and 5 bronze medals and as a pioneer of wheelchair sport he inspired many young wheelchair athletes.

Head and shoulders of a young Dick Thompson

Early life

Dick was born in Tynemouth, Northumberland in December 1930. He went to school at Newburn and worked at a Ponteland bank before breaking his back in a climbing accident in 1948 when he was aged 17. He was left paralysed from the chest down but soon took up sport again as part of his rehabilitation journey. Dick about his accident:

I suppose I was bitter at first but all that passed long ago. You learn to adjust to an entirely different way of life.

Later, Dick lived in Ponteland, Northumberland, with his wife Diane Gubbin, who was also a Paralympic athlete.

Life as a Paralympic Athlete

Before becoming a Paralympic athlete, Dick represented the Spinal Injuries Unit at the General Hospital, Hexham, Northumberland, which opened in 1949, at the Stoke Mandeville Games six times between 1950 and 1957. He was part of the winning Javelin team six times and was awarded a prize for the best individual throw on three occasions.

From 1958 he represented Duchess of Gloucester House, Isleworth, Middlesex. This was opened in November 1949 by the Duchess of Gloucester, as a permanent home for war veteran paraplegics who could work but were unable to live at home without assistance due to their impairment. In 1953 control of the facility passed to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (subsequently known as the Department of Employment and Productivity) and it started admitting both ex-servicemen and civilians injured in industrial accidents. 

Having qualified for the first ever British Team, Dick was honoured by being selected as one of four ‘runners’ to carry a scroll with a message from Dr Guttmann for the opening ceremony of the Stoke Mandeville Games. He carried it from Mansion House, London to Stoke Mandeville.

Dick Thompson in his adapted car

Dick Thompson in his car advertising the Stoke Mandeville 1958 Games. Image ©Ian Brittain

Dick Thompson handed the scroll to Richard Thompson at the 1958 Stoke Mandeville Games

Dick handing the scroll to his namesake Richard Thompson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, for the official opening ceremony of the 1958 Games. Image ©Ian Brittain


Dick Thompson competing in the shot put at Stoke Mandeville Stadium

In 2012 Caz Walton remembered Dick

When I first started in Paralympic sport, there was an amazing athlete called Dick Thompson, going back a-ways, because he goes back further than I do, which is quite a long time. But, he was just a natural athlete. He looked the sort of a-typical athlete, a Greek god. But he was such a good field eventer, he threw the javelin with amazing technique, he put the shot, he was good at discus. He was good at all three of those events. On top of which, he was a nice guy. I aspired to be like him.

Paralympian Alan West remembering his friend Dick Thompson:

Dick always approached life with a great sense of infectious enthusiasm always trying some new activity or finding a way around a difficulty. Over the years he has been an inspiration to countless disabled people, particularly in the field of wheelchair sport, where he was an early pioneer.

Achievements and awards

Paralympic Games

Margaret Maughan, Dick Thompson and Barbara Anderson returning from Rome 1960 Paralympic Games

Margaret Maughan, Dick Thompson and Barbara Anderson returning from the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games. Image ©IWAS

As part of the first British Paralympic Team, Dick represented Great Britain at the Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, Tel Aviv 1968 and Heidelberg 1972 Summer Paralympic Games. He won a total of seven gold, two silver and five bronze medals in javelin, club throw, shot put, discus throw, pentathlon, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair track events. At the Rome Paralympic Games, he also competed in swimming.

Other sporting events

Dick attended the First Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Perth, Australia, in 1962 where he won five golds, two silver and bronze. There, he was also awarded the Peter Wilson trophy for the outstanding British Performer. After the success he competed in both the Second and Third Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in Jamaica, 1966 and Scotland, 1970.

Other awards and recognition

Dicks’ performance at the Rome 1960 Summer Paralympic Games earned him a mention in the Italian encyclopaedia Treccani

In 1965, he was awarded an MBE for services to Paraplegic Sport in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Dick died aged 62 at Newcastle's St. Oswald Hospice in 1993.

Oral history interview about Dick

Interview by Dr Rosemary Hall with Diane West, 6th November 2020

Diane talks about her godfather, Dick Thompson and dad, Alan West, both of whom were involved in the Paralympics. Listen to the interview below.


  • Brittain, I.S. (2012) From Stoke Mandeville to Stratford: A History of the Summer Paralympic Games. Champaign, Illinois: Common Ground Publishing