The first Andalusian woman in the Summer Olympics

The first Andalusian woman in the Summer Olympics
  • María (Mary) Shaw. Born in Cordoba, in 1960 this fencer with a Spanish mother and English father made history by becoming the first female Andalusian to participate in the Summer Olympics

María Shaw was a member of the group of eleven Spanish women who participated for the first time in the Summer Olympic Games in Rome in 1960. Born in Cordoba, she became the first Andalusian woman to compete for a medal in the summer Games.

The way to Rome

She was known by two names, María del Rosario and Mary. It reflects her heritage - Spanish-English. Her mother, Concepción Martos, was from Ronda, and her father was English - Arthur Shaw. However, María del Rosario 'Mary' Shaw Martos was born in Cordoba, where her parents settled to work. Cordoba boasts another female athlete, Ernestina Maenza, who participated in the Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in 1936, thereby being the first Spanish female Olympian.

María Shaw was born on 31 January 1939. As a girl she was fond of swimming and horse riding. Later, she moved from Cordoba to Madrid to study Physical Sciences. In the country's capital she kept up on her sports activities, and even started playing basketball for the faculty team.

In 1958, María came across fencing and the Italian maestro Azzara. Thanks to him it took María only three months to become quite proficient with the foil (one of the three weapons used in the sport of fencing).

Moreover, during that year she was proclaimed champion of Castile. Not long after, María Shaw made her international debut at a tournament in Marseille, and later competed in the World Junior Championships (under-20) which was held in Paris, in 1959.

The Olympic Games

In 1960, the Spanish Olympic Committee was preparing the national team with a female representation for the Summer Games in Rome. Men competed in both individual and team events for each of the three weapon types - épée, foil and sabre - while women competed only in foil events (the last time being during the Games in Paris in 1924).

In Rome, Great Britain's male épée fencers won silver medals as a team and in individual. The female fencers from Germany, the Soviet Union and Romania were also strong.

Mary Shaw fell to the Romanian Maria Vicol who finally received a bronze medal. In the end, the Andalusian finished up in 28th place but still ahead of two other Spanish fencers, Carmen Vall and Pilar Tosat.

After experiencing the Olympic adventure, María became even more enthusiastic. She emerged dominating the national foil scene for the next five years, and won five national titles from 1961 to 1966, with the exception of 1964, when she was runner-up. Additionally, she took part in different international championships.

After graduating in 1962, Mary took a programmer course at IBM. She also carried out research work at the Centre for Energy, Environmental and Technological Research. In 1965, she went to Paris with an eight-month scholarship from the Spanish Fencing Federation to learn the new French technique.

A year later she came back and participated in the Costa del Sol Tournament, and then won the gold medal at the Spanish Championship.

Meanwhile, Mary fell in love and married. She began to work at the Centro de Investigaciones Físicas (Physics Research Centre) in Madrid. This was her first break from fencing that lasted nine years, in which time she gave birth to her children - Thomas, Andrew, Jane, and Anna.

Never too old to fight

It is believed that attending a competition as a spectator in 1979 rekindled María Shaw's desire to return to the arena. She put on a suit and mask again went on wo win her sixth and final victory at the Spanish Championship. This achievement surprised everybody, even herself. She proved that age is just a number and that even in her 40s she was able to triumph over younger athletes thanks to her indomitable spirit.

At 55 María Shaw founded the Spanish Association of Fencing Veterans by contacting many retired Spanish fencers. In 1999, she debuted in the Veterans World Championship in Hungary, and won the silver medal in foil.

The following year she won the bronze medal in the contest held in Italy. Her last World Cup was in 2009, in Moscow. At the age of 70 she retired, due to a knee problem.

María Shaw is now 82 years old. It appears she continues to live in Madrid with her husband. Andalucía and Spain have recognised the legendary Andalusian for her sporting career.

In 2014, the Andalusian Olympic Foundation arranged a tribute in honour of María, as the first female Andalusian athlete to participate in the Summer Olympic Games.