Meet Norfolk’s Major Astley.. the first man to win Winter Olympic gold for Britain - and he was from Norwich

Norfolk Snow Sports Club, Trowse celebrating the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi with decents of the slope in darkness with glow sticks. Photo: Steve Adams Norfolk Snow Sports Club, Trowse celebrating the start of the Winter Olympics in Sochi with decents of the slope in darkness with glow sticks. Photo: Steve Adams

Monday, February 17, 2014
10:47 AM

With the Winter Olympics in full swing, reporter LAUREN COPE looks back on a famous gold medal secured by a Norfolk Man

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Delaval Graham L’Estrange Astley. Photo; EDP LibraryDelaval Graham L’Estrange Astley. Photo; EDP Library

A Norfolk-born curler was the first athlete to win gold for Great Britain in the Winter Olympics – although it was only recognised 82 years after he competed.

Major Delaval Graham L’Estrange Astley, who was born in 1868 in Aylsham, and competed for Great Britain in the 1924 games, where curling made its first appearance.

Great Britain won gold, but Astley, who was 55 at the time of the games, also played for the Swedish team in a play-off match against France and won silver, according to book Curling, Etcetera: A Whole Bunch of Stuff About the Roaring Game.

This bizarre twist means that Astley is the only athlete to have won two medals in the same event in a single Games.

Dismay as ice rink lays empty and unloved

What used to be Norfolk’s only ice rink should currently be enjoying a boost brought on by the Winter Olympics.

Instead the site, on Norwich’s former Sports Village, next to the Asda supermarket in Drayton High Road, lays empty and unloved.

And today ice enthusiasts told of their continued disappointment the county doesn’t have such a facility.

Craig Jacobs, president of UEA Avalanche, the University of East Anglia’s ice hockey and skating team, said that the closure of the rink “made a world of difference” to the team, who now have to travel to Peterborough for games.

He said: “We used to pay £5 per hour in Norfolk and now it is £12.50. It has essentially doubled our cost for everything and takes three hours. We struggled with members because they didn’t get as much dedicated time to practice and are only just managing to pick our numbers back up.

“It is good to raise awareness that there are still clubs out there who want a rink back.”

Norwich’s Planet Ice rink first opened in October 2006, but was plagued by a string of problems and closed months later. It opened and closed regularly before shutting in summer 2009.

The owners then spent £300,000 refurbishing the rink, before it eventually closed for good in June 2012.

At the time, however, curling was considered to be only a demonstration event and the medals the British team won were not included in the official count.

It was only at the 1998 Winter Olympics that curling was adopted as an official sport.

Research by Scottish newspaper The Herald in 2006 led the Independent Olympics Committee to declare that the medals won in those games should also be in the official count.

This confirmation meant that Astley was part of a team that won Great Britain’s first Winter Olympics gold medal.

Games give a big life to snow sports club

The popularity of the Winter Olympics are helping Norfolk’s biggest Snowsports Club, with popularity rising and sold-out events.

The Trowse club, which currently has around 4,000 members, marked the opening of the games last week with a celebratory Sochi slide, with around 150 members descending the slope by torchlight.

Club manager Debra Anstee said the club, which was founded in 1972, has seen a marked rise in interest since the beginning of the winter games.

Ms Anstee said: “We’ve had a lot more enquiries about snowboard activities. I think after Jenny Jones got her bronze a lot more people started ringing up about it.

“We’ve sold out of snowboard tasters and our holidays activities are also nearly sold out. We are looking to see whether we can put ones on but this is our busiest time of the year.”

The club is also proud of its connection to famous faces in the games. Eighteen-year-old professional freeskier Katie Summerhayes, from Sheffield, who came seventh in the ski slopestyle final, is a regular visitor to their popular annual freestyle festival.

“Kate has skied down here quite regularly at our Farmers’ Jam freestyle festival,” Ms Anstee said.

Pat Sharples, Great Britain’s head freeski coach, also visits the club regularly to hold freestyle camps.

For more information visit www.norfolksnowsports.com

Sadly, Astley died at his home in Wroxham on May 17, 1951, at the age of 82, meaning he was never aware of the official recognition of his achievement.

As well as being a talented curler, Major Astley was involved in many sports including boxing, rugby, football, cricket, golf, yachting, fishing and hunting.

In fact, an obituary in the Eastern Daily Press on May 18 1951 wrote that ‘few men had had a more versatile sporting career’.

The keen sportsman also represented Norfolk in a number of roles, including as an alderman of the council for 46 years, a magistrate for 45 and Deputy Lieutenant.

He was chairman on various committees on the council, including the mental hospital, highways management and mental deficiency acts committees.

In 1941, Major Astley was made a Companion of the Bath.

He was survived by two daughters and
his wife Kate Clark, who he married in
1897.

Are you related to Major Astley? Contact Lauren Cope at lauren.cope@archant.co.uk

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