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Doing Britain Proud: Team GB’s Olympic medal hopefuls

union jack_women_23_07_12Sally Gunnell gives us a run down of her Team GB medal hopefuls for London 2012

1. Jessica Ennis
Heptathlete
Age: 26
Club: City of Sheffield Athletics Club
Main honours: Gold at 2010 World Indoor, gold at 2010 European Championship, gold at 2009 World Championship, silver at both 2012 World Indoor and World Championship

One of the most high-profile members of Team GB, all eyes will be on the super-toned Jessica Ennis as she bids for an Olympic Gold. Jessica gained victory in the 100m hurdles as well as the high jump at the Olympic trials in June.

She will be relishing the opportunity to compete at London 2012 since she missed out on taking part in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 due to three stress fractures in her right foot. She took 12 months off and returned with a bang, winning gold at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin with a personal best points total of 6,731 – 238 ahead of silver medallist, Jennifer Oeser of Germany.

The European heptathlon champion’s personal best of 12.79 seconds in the 100m hurdles puts her in second place on the British all-time list, with only Tiffany Porter (12.56 seconds) having achieved a better time in the event.

Jessica says… ‘I feel pretty good and everything’s going well, but my long jump needs a bit more work.’

Sally says… ‘She’s in the shape of her life and I believe Jess has got what it takes.’

2. Phillips Idowu
Triple Jumper
Age: 33
Club: Belgrave Harriers
Main honours: Silver at Olympics 2008, gold at 2009 World Championship

Brought up in the host borough of the London 2012 Games, Hackney, Phillips made his first senior international appearance at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, finishing in sixth position.

Despite displaying tremendous success in his career – with his silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Games and numerous golds at World and European Championships – concerns have been raised over his injury-prone nature.

Having suffered a knee injury in 2003, Phillips underwent surgery and most recently withdrew himself from the 2012 Olympic trials – but, at the time of going to press, Phillips is still selectable for the team and will have a discretionary place this summer.

Phillips says… ‘East London’s where I discovered sport, and now I’m coming home, it’s a good feeling.’

Sally says… ‘Phillips is a great athlete. He is one I want to watch, for sure.’

3. Mo Farah
Runner
Age: 29
Club: Oregon Track Club
Main honours: Gold at 2011 World Championships for 5,000m, gold at 2010 European Championships for 10,000m and 5,000m

Somalian-born, Mo Farah, is the UK’s finest ever distance runner, arriving in London from Mogadishu at the age of eight. He began running at school and went on to become a successful junior athlete winning the European Junior 5,000m title in 2001. His big break came on the senior stage in 2008 when he won a silver medal at the 5,000m in the European T&F Championships, then won the European Cross Country Championships also in 2008. Last year was a dream for Mo when he became the first British man to win the 5,000m in the World T&F Championships a few days after winning the silver medal in the 10,000m. He heads to London as favourite for the 10,000m and the 5,000m – if he decides to run the latter.

Mo says… ‘I’m going to run the 10,000m for sure because it is the first race, but I will see how I feel after that. I would like to be fresh for 5,000m and not have any niggles.’

Sally says… ‘It’s going to be tough with the Kenyans and Ethiopians there but the home advantage will help.’

4. Laura Trott
Cyclist
Age: 20
Club: Moving Ladies
Main honours: Double World Champion in team pursuit in 2011 and 2012 and the omnium 2012

Younger sister to fellow team GB cyclist, Emma Trott (who now races in Belgium), Laura was raised in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. Born with a collapsed lung, and having suffered with asthma throughout her childhood, she took to cycling with her mum as a way to improve the regulation of her breathing. After winning gold in the omnium at the World Junior Track Championships 2012 – accompanied by silver medals in both the individual pursuit and points race – Laura looks to be one of Team GB’s greatest – and youngest – chances of winning gold come the London Games.

Laura says… ‘I’m really excited about the Games now. I’ve just competed in my last track race before the Olympics, so now I just want it to come around already.’

Sally says… ‘A great talent – she’s been phenomenal in the last six months. She’s still young but will be hard to beat.’

5. Mark Cavendish
Cyclist
Age: 27
Club: Team Sky
Main honours: A total of 20 Tour de France stages from 2008 to 2011

Mark began riding BMX at a young age in his home town of Douglas, Isle of Man. He was the star of the European road sprinting scene in 2007, when he rode his first full season with German sponsor, T-Mobile. With 11 wins, his was the most successful professional debut in European road racing history.

Mark won the prestigious Points Jersey in five major races and, most impressively of all, beat some of the established legends of road sprinting. Mark had his most successful season in 2011 riding for HTC, spectacularly winning the Green Jersey (Tour de France) and the Rainbow Jersey (World Championships) in Copenhagen, Denmark. He now has the opportunity to win the first gold medal of the London Olympics on the opening day.

Mark says… ‘I’m both excited and nervous. There are only six days between the Tour and the Olympics. In between I’ll just keep my body ticking over – like a car stuck in neutral for six days.’

Sally says… ‘Mark has great mental attitude and a real focus to win.’

6. Chris Hoy
Cyclist
Age: 36
Club: Sky Track Cycling
Main honours: Three Olympic golds in 2008 for keirin, individual sprint and team sprint. Olympic gold in 2004 for 1km time trial

Sir Christopher Andrew Hoy – better known as Chris Hoy – is Britain’s most successful male cyclist of all time. He became the first British competitor after 100 years to win three gold medals during one Olympic Games – at Beijing in 2008. He came top in the men’s keirin, team sprint and individual sprint. He also won Olympic gold in Athens and has 11 World Championship titles to his name. Affectionately known as the Real McHoy, Chris was awarded an MBE in 2005 and was knighted in the New Year Honour’s list of 2009

Chris got into cycling as a child after watching the film E.T and then worked in a bicycle shop, becoming obsessed with all things bikes.

He hopes to add to his tally of four gold medals in London, as he pursues his dream with Sky Track Cycling on the road.

Chris says… ‘This will be my fourth Olympics but my first home Games, and it’s going to be an amazing experience and a once in a lifetime opportunity for all of us.’

Sally says… ‘Chris hasn’t been on top of his game for the last couple of years but when it gets to a major championship like the Olympics, he is such a great competitor and I wouldn’t bet against him winning a medal this year.’

7. Victoria Pendleton
Cyclist
Age: 31
Club: Sky Track Cycling
Main honours: Reigning Olympic and World champion for the sprint

Victoria’s father was the British national grass-track cycling champion and she has inherited his talent and more, saying she started cycling at the same time as she started to walk. Spotted at the age of 16, Victoria decided to concentrate on her studies, gaining a degree in Sport and Exercise Science from Northumbria University. She enjoyed some success on the track at this time but it was after graduating that she became a full-time cyclist and started winning major competitions.

Her first World Championship title in 2005 was in Los Angeles when she became only the third British woman to become a cycling world champion in 40 years and she then struck gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the women’s individual sprint event. She won her sixth World Sprint Championship in Melbourne that year and has won nine track cycling world titles in all. She is well primed for another medal on home soil and is set to retire after this Olympics.

Victoria says… ‘What happens in London will define the rest of my life. It’s silly really, it’s just another race, on a bike with one gear and no brakes. But London isn’t just any old Olympics, it’s the most important of all Olympic Games for British athletes.’

Sally says… ‘A wonderful top class athlete. She can get herself in shape and deliver when she really needs to.’

8. Ben Ainslee
Sailor
Age: 35
Club: Skandia Team GBR Finn Class
Main honours: Three-times Olympic gold – in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Silver in 1996 Olympics and CBE

Born in Macclesfield, world-champion sailor, Ben, started learning the ropes at the tender age of eight, and went on to compete in his first competition aged 10. He has gone on to win Olympic gold for Britain in the 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics, a silver in the 1996 Atlanta games, and has won the International Sailing Federation top award more times than anyone else. He also bagged the ISAF World Sailor of the Year title in 1998, 2002, and 2008. This year, on 19 May, Ben also had the major honour of becoming the first person to carry the Olympic torch on UK soil.

Ben says… ‘There’s still plenty to work on and improvements to make so I won’t be relaxing in the run up to the Olympics. I’m looking forward to it.’

Sally says… ‘He’s going for his fourth Olympic gold. I have total belief he has done his preparation.’

9. Kate Walsh
Hockey Player
Age: 32
Club: Reading Hockey Club
Main honours: Silver at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Silver in the Women’s Hockey Champions Trophy this year

Kate first picked up a hockey stick at the age of 11 and nine years later she was competing at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. She is hockey’s fourth most capped woman and in 2010, during the World cup in Argentina, Kate won her 250th international cap. The 32-year-old has led England to the podium at the World Cup, European Championships, Champions Trophy and Commonwealth Games.

Kate says… ‘We are now good enough to compete at the top level. It gives us a lot of confidence for the Olympics.’

Sally says… ‘They have been doing well and home advantage will play a big part.’

10. Helen Jenkins
Triathlete
Age: 28
Club: Giant Racing
Main honours: 2008 and 2011 ITU World Champion

Raised in Wales, Helen is the current women’s triathlete champion. After an Achilles tendon injury saw her out of action in 2006, Helen came back at the top of her game and went on to become the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Champion in 2008, followed by another championship gold in 2011. Helen’s success saw her representing Britain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she finished in 21st place. After such a disappointing result, Helen is now determined to go for gold.

Helen says… ‘A familiar environment is always nice and I’m also a far more experienced athlete now compared to Beijing.’

Sally says… ‘Helen has dominated her event for the last couple of years and has been winning so much that unless something goes wrong there will be a medal around her neck.’


This article was first published in at home with Sally Gunnell in August 2012. [Read the digital edition here]


Photograph: Wayne Howes / Shutterstock

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