Somerset's Olympic Hopefuls
PUBLISHED: 17:07 11 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:18 20 February 2013
Unless you've been living on another planet you will know that the 2008 Olympic Games kicks off in Beijing this August. From 8-24 August, 10,500 of the world's elite athletes will compete in 302 events across 28 sports. But as Olympic fever sweeps...
On 24 August 40,000 people are expected to head for The Mall as the Olympic flag is handed over from the Mayor of Beijing to Boris Johnson the Mayor of London. The occasion is being described by Sebastian Coe, chair of the London Organising Committee, as 'The beginning of a four-year journey'.
Although we may be far from the spotlight, Somerset has its own role to play in the build-up to 2012.
In the lead-up to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, athletes from around the world will be training, and some will be using the 60 venues in the South-west listed in the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) Pre-Games Training Camp Guide.
The high-quality sporting facilities include a number in Bristol and Somerset such as Huish Park Stadium (home of Yeovil Town Football Club), the Bath and West Showground in Shepton Mallet, Millfield School and Somerset County Cricket Club.
Famous for hosting mountain bike events, Broadway House Caravan and Camping Park in Cheddar could be providing accommodation and a cycling venue for some of the world's top competitors. Meanwhile, the facilities in the Princess Royal Sports Complex at Wellington School have been included in the guide for the Olympic sports of archery, fencing, handball, judo, table tennis, tae kwon do and wrestling.
The guide will be launched on 14 August in Beijing to National Olympic Committees across the world, and Martin Reader, Wellington School's headmaster, says their inclusion is fantastic news.
"We are very pleased that the outstanding facilities we have to offer at the school have been recognised in this way by the LOCOG. The London Olympic Games will undoubtedly be one of the greatest sporting events ever seen in the UK and we really hope that Wellington will be able to play its part by welcoming an Olympic team to the town."
Although we may be far from the spotlight, Somerset has its own role to play in the build-up to 2012
Team Bath is the University of Bath's sports brand and is based within world-class, £30-million sports facilities including a Sports Training Village. It is used as a training base by Olympic and Paralympics athletes as well as providing facilities and services to local, regional and national sports groups, squads and individual members of the public.
A spokesman for the training centre and former Olympic sailing gold medallist Bryn Vaile says, "Our aim is to get British Olympic athletes to the starting line in the best possible condition, but we want to offer the facilities to other teams if we have the capacity. All of the facilities are available on the one site here, which is an attractive package for a number of sports."
A new initiative aimed at supporting local talented athletes has been launched by North Somerset Council's sports development team. Supporting International Sportspeople in North Somerset (SISNS) is aimed at any athlete who is in training to represent their country, by offering free access to facilities at local leisure centres.
Somerset County Council has launched a unique scheme which should ensure the county reaps lasting benefits from the 2012 Games. Through the Olympic 500 Club, companies or individuals can donate 500 or more a year for four years, with the aim of raising 1 million. The money will be split between supporting Somerset's potential Olympians and projects promoting sporting activities and healthy lifestyles beyond 2012.
The project has been spearheaded by Somerset County Council chair Alan Gloak and the fund is administered by The Somerset Community Foundation - an organisation independent of the local authority.
Teenage cycling sensation Dougie Dewey from Somerton was the first Olympic hopeful to benefit from the 500 Club. The 19-year-old, who was British Time Trials and Track Champion, is now balancing his training with mechanical engineering studies at Cardiff University.
Others who have received a jump-start to their sporting dreams with a grant from the Olympic 500 Club include basketball ace Andrew St John from Coleford, near Radstock. The former Wells Blue School pupil has already played for Wales and is thriving in the National Basketball League.
Naomi Hoogesteger's Olympic dreams have been kept afloat as her grant has gone towards a much-needed new kayak. The 27-year-old from Westbury-sub-Mendip has already won a medal at the Rowing World Championships held in Japan in 2005.
Taunton fencing ace Nat Lewis has received a 1,000 grant towards the cost of equipment and travel. The reigning British under-18 champion and member of Taunton Deane Blades was inspired to take up fencing by Hollywood blockbusters. "I saw the Zorro films and thought 'that's for me'. Now it's become something that is part of my life. I can't imagine living without it," says Nat. "I want to take it as far as I can and if that takes me all the way to the Olympics that would be fantastic."
Sophie Burr from Emborough, near Shepton Mallet, was just five years old when she took up trampolining and the 15-year-old has already represented Great Britain at two World Championships and was National Trampoline Champion for her age group three years in a row. Under the guidance of coach Lesley Pleasant, the youngster trains four times a week and has attended a staggering 93 competitions around the country and overseas since 1999.
"The Somerset 500 Club is all about teamwork and giving opportunities to young athletes"
Sophie, who has been Somerset Schools' Champion for the last six years, says that being in the 2012 Olympics would be a dream come true and she has been inspired by meeting swimmer Mark Foster. The six-times World Champion, who trains at Team Bath based at Bath University, is headed for his fifth Olympics this month where he will compete in the 50m freestyle.
Sophie joined Mark during filming of the BBC's 'Inside Out West' programme when he investigated benefits the 2012 Olympics could bring to the region, and he was impressed by Somerset County Council's Olympic 500 Club.
Sophie's grant will go towards the cost of equipment and training and her mother, Sally, is grateful for the help from the scheme. But she stresses that more funding is needed for groups like Lesley Pleasant's Skydivers Trampoline Club in Somerset.
"It's a struggle and they desperately need to replace the equipment. We have shown that things can be achieved with nothing but Lesley has done such a lot for the children of Shepton Mallet and she now needs help."
Another grant has gone to ten-year-old trampolinist Shannon Collings, who bounces for the Tone Trampoline Club at Wellsprings Leisure Centre in Taunton. The Minehead School pupil has qualified to compete for the title of British UK Champion.
"Shannon has great potential and her dedication to the sport at such a young age is truly remarkable," says Cllr Alan Gloak who has been impressed by the talent demonstrated by all the grant recipients.
"The Somerset 500 Club is all about teamwork and giving opportunities to young athletes. By supporting people like them and backing projects promoting healthy living, the 2012 Olympics will have a wonderful legacy here in Somerset." BY SARAH FORD
Companies or individuals interested in donating to the Olympic 500 Club can contact County Hall on tel 0845 345 9166.
THE ONES TO WATCH IN 2008
• Hockey player Simon Mantell, born in Bridgwater and lives in Baltonsborough.
• Modern pentathlete Sam Weale, born in Yeovil and lives in Bath.
• Bath-based modern pentathlete Nick Woodridge. Sam and Nick are the first British pentathletes to compete in the Olympics since 1996.
The Paralympic Games runs from 6-17 September and a number of Somerset athletes have been confirmed as part of the GB team:
• Table tennis player Will Bayley moved to Filton last year to train at the Bristol Table Tennis Academy at Filton College.
• Taunton's Deborah Criddle is in the para-equestrian dressage team.
• Swimmer Kate Grey, from Thornbury, who's studying at Bath University.
• Visually-impaired judo athlete Darren Harris lives in Bristol.
• Sprinter Ben Rushgrove, who lives in Bath, won two golds at the Paralympic World Cup in 2007 - setting a world record in the process.
• Women's wheelchair tennis player Lucy Shuker, who lives near Taunton.
• Swimmer Anthony Stephens is originally from Highbridge and now lives in Swansea to train for his sport.