As a proud English footballer, I can only imagine how the “team of ‘66” felt walking out at Wembley, in front of their fellow countrymen, aiming to win their sport’s most coveted prize.
Well, 15 months from now a few of our local sportsmen and women will be looking to emulate this feat, competing for the top prize in their sport at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Over the coming months I’ll be trying to catch up with our prospective Olympians to see how their plans and preparations are coming along.
Recently I was fortunate to catch 20 minutes with our World Junior Champion hammer thrower, Sophie Hitchon. A product of Ivy Bank School (now Hameldon Community College), Sophie’s hobbies were netball, ballet and trampoline, so where on Earth did the notion come from to throw the Hammer?: “My parents were always involved in athletics and that’s how I got into the sport. I started off with sprinting and shot putt, but tried the hammer because there was no one to do it! I started to get coached at it and it all went from there.”
And go it did, Sophie has blazed a trail from the moment she picked up the hammer, breaking 11 British Junior records and three British Under 23 records on her rise up the ladder. At 19 years of age she is already ranked number two in Britain and has her eyes on the top spot in the coming season. “It’d be great to become Britain’s number one and to be recognised as such this year. It’s definitely up there with goals that I’ve got set for this season and beyond.” But when it comes to targets, they come no bigger than the Olympics, and they’re already in her sights: “It’s a dream that it could be possible for me to go and compete for Britain on British soil, it’ll be a massive achievement for anyone that gets to go. Everybody wants to say they’re an Olympian, it brings a lot of pride to represent yourself and your country.”
The route to London 2012 isn’t straightforward though. Whereas team sports pick an Olympic squad that trains together for a couple of seasons in preparation for the tournament, individual event athletes have to meet qualifying targets in the competitions prior to the tournament, making rank and previous honours immaterial: “We have to qualify for each major competition every year, so you have to make your mark again basically! The UKA and IAAF set the standards that you have to reach to be on the team and that’s how they select you.” Sophie made her mark last season, throwing a British Junior and U23 record 66.01metres to win gold at the World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada. “It’s probably the best moment I’ve felt in my career so far. The Olympics and the World Championships are the two main events for an athlete. To go to either one and represent your country is a great honour, to wear your vest and compete, but to compete and to win is just something else!” Just reward for committing full time to the sport, a decision that has seen her re-locate to Loughborough in order to receive full time coaching from Canadian Derek Evely. “Derek is one of the best coaches around and it was a great opportunity for me to go down and work with him full-time, so that’s basically why I moved.”
The hope is that the continuation of Sophie’s commitment and full time coaching will further her rapid development, pushing her ever closer to the qualification standard of 67.50m. In the recent European Winter Throwing Cup, she registered her best start to a throwing season, reaching 64.16m to take second place in the U23 category. Further evidence that the future is very bright for this daughter of Burnley, bright enough to bring the Olympic dream back to the town.
I wish you every success Sophie, God bless!