Britain’s Paralympic Hopefuls – Jemma Morris

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This week’s subject in the series on women Olympians is Jemma Morris.  In 2010, at the age of fifteen, Jemma  became the youngest archer to shoot for the GB Senior Paralympian team.  She goes in to this summer’s games as one ofBritain’s best hopes for a medal, and she’ll barely be seventeen.

When Jemma was quite young she was diagnosed with a disorder leading to muscle wastage and loss of touch sensation.  At the point when her younger brother, Iwan, began to show symptons, her father Damian asked Carmarthenshire council if there were any sporting pursuits the whole family could enjoy together.

The whole family became keen archers, with Jemma making her debut for the Welsh Junior team in the British Junior Indoor Championships in 2010, where she won a silver medal.  A few months after this, Jemma competed in the British Outdoor Championships where once again Jemma won a silver medal while shooting for the Welsh Junior team.

In the same year, Jemma was selected to shoot as part of the Great Britain Paralympian team.  She then went on to take part in the European Disabled Championships in France as part of the Great British team.

In her time, Jemma has set nine Welsh records in was awarded the Des Clarke memorial trophy for being the most promising junior archer in theUK.

Jemma’s success is incredible for someone so young and, whether she medals or not, this summer will be a wonderful expreience and she will no doubt be a regular feature of the British Paralympic team for many years to come.  Having said that, there’s no reason to believe that this young, prodigious talent can’t bring home the gold this summer.

Britain’s Olympic Greats – Judy Grinham MBE

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Judy Grinham remains the only British woman to have won a gold medal at in a backstroke event at the Olympics.

Judy was born in 1939 in Hampstead,West London, to Norman Frederick Grinahm and Flora Edith Grinham. Six months after she was born her father was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Forces, having survived Dunkirk, he was then posted to the Middle East and did not return until Judy was nearly 7 years old. On his return, to build a relationship with his daughter he took her swimming in the open air pool in Gladstone Park, Neasden.

Over the next few years Judy learnt to swim so well that he put her up for trials at the newly formed Hampstead Ladies swimming club. She trialled three times before they felt she was good enough to join the club, and in January 1950 she was finally given a place. Her progress was slow at first, but she was determined and motivated to do well. As she gradually began to improve she started to train regularly, but training in those days was not the same as the Olympic athletes of today. She would train in public swimming pools, with no dedicated lanes, dodging members of the public. No training facilities, no sponsorship deals, the sport was strictly amateur, and the cost was funded by her family.

Over the next five years, slowly but surely, Judy began to start winning and eventually progressed to national competitions.  Six years later, in 1956, at the age of 17, she was picked for the Olympic squad and went to the Melbourne Olympics, where she outswam the favourite and by a hairs breadth won the Olympic Gold Medal in a new world record time (and the first British Swimming Gold Medallist for 32 years). She also went on to be the first athlete in any sport to hold the Olympic, Commonwealth and European gold medals at the same time.

Judy retired at her peak and went on to report on the 1960 Rome Olympics for the Daily Express.  Many years later she was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queens Birthday Honours list, a full 50 years after winning gold inMelbourne.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Gemma Spofforth

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Continuing with my series of profiles of British women at the Olympics, today I am writing about one of our greatest hopes for a medal this summer, the backstroke swimmer Gemma Spofforth.

Gemma was born in Shoreham-by-Sea, England.  A keen water baby, she began swimming at the age of three after encouragement from her parents. Her mother wanted her to get a head start in the pool so told her swimming teachers that she was two years older in order to get her in to a better class.

Gemma overcame pancreatitis in 2005, taking a year in and out of the water not sure whether or not to go on with swimming.  In the end she decided to continue and made her decision on where to attend university on whether or not she could continue swimming.

Gemma represented Great Britainat the 2008 Summer Olympics coming fourth in the 100-metre and ninth in the 200-metre backstroke swimming events.  She was very frustrated though in the 100-metre, as she missed out on an medal by just 0.04 seconds, leaving her fourth behind the USA’s Margaret Hoelzer.

At the 2009 World Aquatic Championships in Rome, she took the gold medal in the 100 metre backstroke, in a world record time of 58.12 seconds. Spofforth broke the 100-metre backstroke world record on her way to winning her first world title in Rome, her time of 58.12 erased previous record holder Anastasia Zuyeva time of 58.48 set in the semi finals of the event.

Gemma accepted an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville, where she enjoyed a huge amount of success, swimming with the Florida Gators swimming and diving team in National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) competition.

This summer will give Gemma the chance to prove herself and earn the Olympic medal she deserves.  She has mentioned how much she hates coming fourth because she hears it in her name; Spofforth.  I’m sure that will just be extra motivation for her to push on and claim her medal this summer.

Britain’s Olympic Greats – Helen Reeves

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Helen Reeves is the only British woman to have won a medal in canoeing at the Olympics since the event was introduced.  Helen competed in the kayak slalom event (K-1).

A canoeist since the age of ten, Helen was a World Junior Championship gold medal winner in 1996 but her competitive career was blighted by a succession of shoulder injuries and she was forced to watch the Sydney Olympics in 2000 from a hospital bed awaiting an operation. She won bronze medals in the K-1 team event at both the 2002 and 2003 World Championships and was placed in the top 10 of the individual K-1 on both occasions as well.

But her biggest success came at the 2004 Athens Olympics.  Helen received the medal in a very unusual manner. She had originally been placed fourth on aggregate times but, whilst she was being interviewed by a television crew about her disappointment at missing a medal, several members of the crowd shouted at her to look at the scoreboard. The official results had been changed and an extra penalty had been judged against Peggy Dickens. This was enough to lift Helen into third by a fraction of a point.

Sadly for Helen the injuries that have blighted her career returned after the victory in Athens and she has now retired from competitive kayaking.  She still has a great passion for the sport though, working as a commentator during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and as a press office for GB Canoeing.  She will be present again to support on the new generation of kayakers this summer inLondon.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Fiona Pennie

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The woman Olympian continuing the series this week is Fiona Pennie. Fiona will be competing in her second Olympics this summer as a British slalom kayaker. She is by far the most experienced woman on the British canoeing team and has a good chance of bringing home a medal this summer.

Fiona got the taste for kayaking from her mother, an international flatwater sprint paddler, when she was very young.  Fiona was taken on her first boat when she was just a few months old and began learning on flatwater when she was five, competing for the first time aged eight. She was encouraged to try out slalom racing by her instructor and became hooked immediately.

After that Fiona won a bronze medal at the Junior World Championships in 2000 and won the overall Junior World Cup Series in the same year. As an Under 23 athlete, she won a team bronze medal in 2004 and an individual bronze medal in 2005, both at the European Under 23 Championships.

Fiona then moved on to adult competitions and enjoyed even more success.  She won two medals at the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships with a silver (K-1: 2006) and a bronze (K-1 team: 2007). She also won three bronze medals at the European Championships.

Unfortunately for Fiona, she failed to get past the qualifying rounds when she went to Beijing in 2008, but I’m sure that this will inspire her to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen again in London.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Tina Fletcher

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This week’s Olympic hopeful is Tina Fletcher. Tina is one of Britain’s leading showjumpers with over 30 years competition experience and will be part of Team GB this summer in London.

Born on 12 June 1965, she is now married to former Olympic silver medallist Graham Fletcher. They have two sons, William and Oliver, and run a yard near Wantage in Oxon.

Tina began her riding career in the Pony Club at the age of four and was very successful throughout the 1990s, winning the National Grade C Championship at Horse Of The Year Show in 1996 with her horse Sparticus II and then had a repeat victory the following year with McCoist.

Having regularly represented Britain in nations cup competitions during her career, Tina is now back competing at the highest level with a stable of top class horses.

Tina has won The Queen Elizabeth II Cup three times (1992, 1993, 2007) and narrowly missed out on becoming the first lady to win the Hickstead Jumping Derby since 1973 when riding Promised Land in a tense jump-off against Guy Williams in 2010.

She achieved her “lifetime ambition” in 2011 when Promised Land jumped a second clear round in the Hickstead Jumping Derby in succession to lift the famous Boomerang Trophy.

She may not go in to this summer’s events as the favourite but her skills and experience should give everyone reason to be hopeful.

Britain’s Olympic Greats – Davina Ingrams, Baroness Darcy de Knayth, DBE

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Davina Ingrams is not only holds a gold medal for swimming, but was used her position of influence as a member of the House of Lords to help start the Paralympics.

Davina was born in 1938, the daughter of Mervyn Herbert, 17th Baron Darcy de Knayth.  She inherited the barony in 1943, when her father was killed in action during the Second World War, flying in the RAF.

Davina was educated at St Mary’s School, Wantage, and later in Florence and the Sorbonne. She married publisher Rupert Ingrams in 1960 and had three children.

Tragedy struck only a few years later when Davina and her husband were involved in a serious accident, returning from a dance, when their car hit a tree. Rupert Ingrams was killed outright, and she was paralysed from the neck down. She was treated at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and later recovered some movement in her upper body.

Davina became a wheelchair user, and took up table tennis and archery. She decided to become involved in campaigning for disabled rights and was soon one of the leading voices in the campaign that led to the creation of the Paralympic Games.

Not only did she help create the Paralympics, but she successfully competed in them.  She won a gold medal in swimming at the 1968 Summer Paralympics inIsrael, and a bronze for table tennis at the 1972 Games in West Germany.

Davina continued to be a pioneer away from the sporting arena when she became one of the first 16 hereditary peeresses admitted to the House of Lords in 1963.  She used her position within the House of Lords to speak on disabled rights.  This led in 1996 to her being made a Dame (DBE) for her services to disabled people in 1996.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Heather Frederiksen

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This week British women Olympians featutes Heather Frederiksen. Heather is already a very successful British Paralympian and is expected to carry on that success at this summer’s games in London.

After a serious accident in 2004 that left Helen with limited use of right arm and leg it was clear that she would need to use a wheelchair.  At the time, the doctors had told Helen that she would never swim again.  Before that point, Helen had won both the British 10 km Open Water Championship and 4.5 km British Grand Prix on the same day.

Despite this, in 2006, whilst watching television coverage of the swimming events at the Commonwealth Games, in Melbourne, that Helen decided she wanted to swim again. After her Paralympic success she said of the experience, “I saw Joanne Jackson win the gold in the 400 m and I just said to myself, ‘I’m not ready to finish. I’ll finish when I want to finish, not when someone else tells me to’.

Helen now competes in the S8 (backstroke and freestyle), SB7 (breaststroke) and SM8 (medley) classifications. Her first senior swim meet came at the 2007 German Open, in Berlin.

In her first appearance at the British Championships in 2008 Helen won two gold and two silver medals from her six events and set a number of national records. At the 2008 Summer Paralympics, in Beijing, she competed in five events and won four medals. Her first medal, a silver in the women’s 100 m freestyle – S8 final on 8 September, was followed two days later by gold in the women’s 100 m backstroke – S8 in a new IPC world record time of one minute 16.74 seconds. Helen won bronze in the 200 m individual medley and her final medal of the games came with a silver in the 400 m freestyle. In her final event, the 50 m freestyle, she reached the final but finished in 7th position.

Amazingly Helen holds a number of different records in addition to her 100 m backstroke world record.  She is also the current holder of the 50m freestyle world record, the 100m freestyle world record, the 200m freestyle world record and the 400m freestyle world record, European records in the 50m, 100m, 200m, 400 m freestyle, 100 m butterfly, 100m backstroke S8 classifications, and holds the British record in a total of six different events.

Britain’s Olympic Greats – Isabelle White

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Isabelle Mary “Belle” White was the first British woman to win an Olympic medal in a diving event.  Four years later, another woman, Beatrice Armstrong, would claim a medal in diving for Britain. These two remain the only Brits ever to have claimed a medal at the Olympics in diving.

Belle was born in Muswell Hill, London, in 1894.  At the age of 18 she was selected to represent the United Kingdom in Stockholm.  It was her first Olympics and turned out to be her most successful.

The event was quite unlike the modern diving, being rather more challenging.  The competition was actually held from both 10 metre and 5 metre platforms. Divers performed a standing plain dive and a running plain dive from the 10 metre platform, a running plain dive and a backward somersault from the 5 metre platform, and three dives of the competitor’s choice from the 10 metre platform. Five judges scored each diver, giving two results. Each judge gave an ordinal placing for each diver in a group, with the five scores being added together to give a total ordinal points score. The judges also gave scores more closely resembling the modern scoring system.

The competition was dominated by Swedish competitors, with the final being comprised of seven Swedes and Belle.  Despite the advantage the other competitors had playing at home, Belle still managed to claim the bronze in a tough competition.

Belle went on to take the gold at the European Championship in 1927, but never enjoyed the same level of success, despite competing in every event from 1912 until 1928, though she came close a number of times.

Britain has not been very competitive at diving recent history. I hope that our divers at London 2012 take inspiration from Belle White and Beatrice Armstrong, Britain’s only Olympic diving champions.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Megan Sylvester

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Megan Sylvester is a very exciting prospect for Team GB at London 2012.

The series on British women Olympians continues today with Megan Sylvester. Megan was born in Barnsley in 1994 at took up diving at the age of eight.  She was inspired by her brother whose coach suggested that she try diving.  Up till then Megan’s main interest had been in gymnastics, which she still practices as well.

For someone so young she has a very impressive record.  As a junior she showed great skills by winning all three platform events at the British junior nationals. She has progressed very quickly and won silver at the junior European championships platform final in 2008 following with a 4th place finish at the junior world championships later that year. In 2009 she teamed up with Monique Gladding and won 6th place at the senior world championships in the synchro event the same year.  She was just fifteen years only, making Megan the youngest athlete at the competition.

Megan has drawn huge inspiration from her family, particularly her brother, another talented diver.  She has also received a lot of advice from another of Britain’s young hopefuls in diving, Tom Daley.  Her dream is to take home the gold at London 2012; I’m sure everyone will be hoping she achieved that dream this summer.