Tag Archives: Team GB

Ollie Hynd MBE: I was really close to quitting swimming

The golds, the glory, the honours – Paralympic swimming champion Ollie Hynd has done it all. But it took a ‘light bulb’ moment whilst watching older brother Sam race in Beijing in 2008 to set him on the path to success.

“Sam also used to compete and he went to the Beijing Games. My parents took me to China to support him,” says the 25-year-old. “At the time I was quite reluctant and didn’t really want to go as I wasn’t very interested.

“But as soon as I got there, I was really inspired by the whole thing. I’d seen how much work that Sam had put into his swimming and his dedication. That inspired me to try and make London 2012. That was the first moment where I thought ‘I want to give this a real good go’.”

It wasn’t going to be easy, though. The swimming star was dealt a tough start to life. Just like his brother, he was diagnosed with neuromuscular myopathy at the age of 12; a condition that affects his whole body.

Hynd explains: “It’s more distally than proximally, so my hands are worse than my shoulders and my feet and knees are a little bit worse than my hips.

“With day-to-day stuff, walking is the big one. There’s a struggle with the stairs, writing and opening things. Little things like that affect my day-to-day life. Obviously, that translates into the pool and my impairments in the pool as well.”

Hynd first entered the swimming pool as a youngster when his parents encouraged him to be more water-safe – and it wasn’t long before he picked up a passion for the sport. He joined Sutton Swimming Club aged eight, then moved to the Nova Venturian Swimming Squad after that trip to Beijing made him start to believe that a bright future in the sport was possible.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Gold rush

Hynd’s hard work and dedication paid off. Not only did he qualify for the 2012 Paralympics in London, he took a gold medal home in the 200m individual medley as well – an experience that he will never forget.

“London 2012 as a whole experience was absolutely incredible. For any athlete wanting to compete at the highest level, competing at a home games is amazing.” says the Mansfield-born athlete.

“For me to not only be able to compete but to win a gold was an absolute dream. The only regret I have from London 2012 is that, because I was so young at 17, I didn’t really appreciate exactly what it was or the magnitude of what I was taking part in.

“For instance, I didn’t really take any photos at all whilst I was there which is kind of crazy. But it was a great experience and something that I will never forget and feel very really lucky to have been a part of.”

After being awarded an MBE for services to swimming a year later – an experience he describes “crazy” – Hynd turned his focus to bettering his achievements in London at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

“As much as London was great, the four years from London to Rio was really special. The training group that we had and all the competitions we had in between, it was just a really special time in my life and career.

“It was tipped off with Rio 2016 as the pinnacle of four years and even longer of really hard and very obsessive work for that one, sole goal.

“What made it more special was the negative stuff [about Brazil’s preparations] going into the games. We didn’t really know how it was going to go or what it was going to be like. But we got there and the village was fantastic, the people were great, the venue was great, food was great, transport was great.”

Hynd took gold in his opening event, the 400m freestyle, smashing the world record in the final. He then repeated the feat in his closing competition, winning and setting a new world record in the 200m individual medley.

He was riding on the crest of a wave. Everything that he touched was literally turning to gold. But he was soon dealt a blow out of the blue that left the triple gold medalist questioning his future in the sport.

Re-classified

In March 2018, the swimming star received news that as part of new IPC rules, he would be moved from the S8 classification that he’d competed in for his whole career, up to the S9 category. It was a major blow.

“It was pretty devastating,” says Hynd. “It was just a really difficult time and I didn’t really understand it or have the answers for it.

“You’re swimming against people with less of an impairment, I guess. If you were comparing it to fighting, it would be like moving up a weight class.

“It was really difficult because I’d been obsessed with my craft, and everything has got to be focused around it, so when that all happened, my identity was so wrapped up in me as a swimmer. But when that rug was pulled from beneath me, everything went.”

Hynd admits that the experience took its toll on his mental health, too: “It was really challenging and I’m not ashamed to admit it led to some mental health issues as well. It was a challenging year.”

Fellow para-athletes Matt Wylie, Jonathan Fox and Josef Craig retired from their respective sports after also having their classifications controversially changed but Hynd, after much consideration, decided to stick with it.

He says: “I came really, really close [to retiring]. What made it more complicated is that we appealed the decision and that dragged on for a few months afterwards. Until the final decision was made, it was ongoing. But in the summer of 2018, I was really close to calling it a day and saying ‘that’s it, I’m done with the sport’. Really, really close.

“But I didn’t make that decision and a year down the line, I’m happy that I continued. It’s just given me a bit more perspective I think – not just in swimming, but in life in general. There’s so much more to the sport and to life than just the gold medals”

The future

Hynd’s focus is now firmly on qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics, with the all-important trials taking place in April. Despite fears that the coronavirus outbreak might delay or even lead to the cancellation of the Games, the three-time champion only has one thing on his mind.

“You’ve just got to trust the powers that be to make the right decision [about the Games going ahead]. The health and well-being of athletes is the most important thing, so I’m sure that they’ll make the right decision.

“I’m just giving 100% in my training and focusing on Tokyo. I’ve also already been selected for the European Championships in May. So, again, that’s just the focus again in my training, making sure I’m ready for those as well.”

Beyond that, Hynd is still undecided about what his future entails. He’s dipped his toe in the water of motivational speaking but maintains that, in an ideal world, he’d still like to remain in swimming in some capacity.

“I still think I’ll be involved in the sport in some regard whatever happens,” he says.

“I’m just passing on that message and hopefully inspiring people to make positive changes in their life. Whether that be in sport or anything else, it’s something that I’m really passionate about so that’s definitely that’s going to be in my future.”

Lawson’s recipe for sporting success

“Nutrition is the fastest growing area, that is why more players are paying for their own care, because it’s that important,” says sports nutritionist and Uefa-qualified football coach Matt Lawson. 

Michelin-starred chef Jonny Marsh works with a number of Premier League footballers as their personal chef

With the rise of sportspeople having their own personal chefs, meal plans and specifically tailored diets, Lawson is much in demand.

“Dietetics was not something I started out in, I was mainly interested in the human body, what happens to us day to day,” he explains.

“Through biology at school I found nutrition and that led to becoming a Registered Dietitian at the University of Nottingham. It is the gold standard of diet and nutrition service.”

Patriotic pride with Team GB

In what has been an established career in football already, Lawson has worked with Team GB, Notts County’s first team, Notts County Ladies and Doncaster Rovers.

“Working with Team GB is the highlight of my career without a doubt,” he says.

“People represent their country, for me to be involved —  wow! I felt undeserving really. This is a special country and I love it deeply. Being a dietitian and helping people, being involved is what makes it worthwhile.”

‘Working with Team GB is the highlight of my career’

Lawson was also part of his boyhood club Notts County’s 22 match away-game unbeaten streak, an all-time club record, under manager Keith Curle.

“On top of that, winning Coach of the Year in 2016, for the Notts County Ladies team doing the cup and league double whilst taking my UEFA badges, it was something I was very lucky to be involved in. Really the players did it for me,” he says.

Measuring success

Following the release of his new book Recipes for Success Lawson believes sports nutrition is more important than ever.

“My book is all about working to simple recipes that we know help people in day-to-day life,” he explains. “Nutrition and the way we look at training is the main thing that drives performance.”

“The greatest change recently is the move towards technology. Now we measure urine, blood, sweat, diet, as well as weight, body fat and distance. More methods come around and we need to utilise them,” emphasises Lawson.

No more parties

Gone are the days of top-level athletes and sports people eating and drinking what they like, with Lawson claiming nutrition can be the vital factor to sporting success.

‘My book is all about working to simple recipes that we know help people, in day to day life’

“Footballers have changed, only very few get away with the party life. Most of them will get injured, football is paid well and there are sacrifices,” he states.

“Overall, I want the athlete to care about it, that is the main thing. We need to work with players to make them the best, continually improving. Nutrition impacts genetic and metabolic function, it is this that affects the very small margins between winning and losing.”

The future looks exciting for Lawson, who is aiming to expand his horizons both off the pitch in nutrition and on the pitch with coaching.

“I am developing my own football academy, nutrition consultancy and charity that can help people find a pathway into football,” he explains.

“We need more pitches for young people, especially women, and more joining the battle against diet-related ill health in our country.”

You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattLawson7 and find out more on his new book Recipes for Success on his website.

 

Bush busy fundraising as GB target Deaflympics gold

Alex Bush is in a race against time to raise funds to pay for her place in Team GB’s football squad at the 2017 Deaflympics.

The 18-year-old from Letchworth, Hertfordshire, has made the 24-strong provisional line-up for this summer’s event in Samsun, Turkey.

But each player has been asked to raise £500 towards the cost of competing at the Deaflympics.

Central midfielder Bush, who plays for Letchworth Eagles, was influential in Britain’s bronze medal-winning run at the 2016 Deaf World Cup.

“If selected, this will be my first Deaflympics and my second international tournament which will be a big step for me as a deaf footballer trying to represent their country,” she said.

“I would really appreciate any help that people can give.”

Donations

GB Deaf Football receives no central funding and needs to come up with £125,000 to send its men’s and women’s teams to the Deaflympics.

“We are aiming for gold, and being able to raise this money will mean the squad can fully focus on training”

It has currently raised just over half of that amount. Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville has donated £20,000 to help reach the target.

Manchester City have opened their state-of-the-art training facilities to the GB women’s team to train at in March ahead of the Deaflympics.

Bush said: “The money we’re raising will support our preparation for the Deaflympics with training weekends and matches in the build-up to the competition.

“It will also help cover costs for both teams to represent Great Britain in Turkey, paying for things such as flights, hotels and physiotherapy.

“We are aiming for gold, and being able to raise this money will mean the squad can fully focus on training.”

The final GB Deaflympic squad will be named in April.

To help Alex Bush raise £500, you can donate here. To help Team GB raise £125,000 you can donate here.

Team GB will feel pressure at Worlds, says Kwakye

This summer, five years after it hosted its third Olympic Games, London will stage the 16th World Athletics Championships – the first time the capital has staged the competition.

Former British 100m champion and Beijing 2008 Olympic finalist Jeanette Kwakye says the competition is a fantastic opportunity for British athletes, but will bring with it a unique set of challenges.

“It’s a rare opportunity to have the World Championships in your home country, for the British athletes it will mean everything, especially for those who missed out on London 2012,” said Kwakye, whose own chances of competing on home soil at the 2012 Games were ruined by injury.

“I don’t believe there will be as much excitement around the World Championship as there was for the Olympics, but for Team GB there will be pressure because it’s a home games.

“There’s more exposure and it’s easier for friends and family to watch, so it will feel the like stakes are a bit higher.”

‘Worlds are as tough as the Olympics’

The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games should have been the start of great things for Kwakye.

She was the only European to reach the 100m final, and the first British woman to do so since Heather Oakes in 1984.

“I believe the Worlds should be on the same level as the [football] World Cup”

Her sixth place finish was done in a personal best of 11.4sec, and she came home ahead of 2000 Olympic relay gold medallist Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie, and 2003 world champion Torri Edwards.

The future looked bright but, sadly, injuries kicked in with a vengeance after Beijing, and Achilles tendon problems forced her to miss the entire 2010 season.

The following year, the outlook was better, as she won the British 100m title, adding the British 60m indoor title in 2012, but as the London Olympics grew closer, injuries intervened once again, ruling her out of the Games, and in January 2014 she retired from competing altogether.

Athletics has always played a huge role at the Olympics, but at the World Championships it has the stage all to itself.  But in the eyes of many spectators, an Olympic athletics gold medal still seems to a higher prize than a world title.

Kwakye says this is partly down to the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) not making the best job of promoting the world championship as a truly global event.

Burnout

“Spectators hold the Olympics in higher regards because of its history,” she said. “I believe it should be on the same level as the World Cup.

“If you had a successful Olympic campaign, it can really push you on psychologically to continue the good form”

“World championships are tough – as tough as the Olympics, it’s just that the Olympics have more prestige, so any UK athletes being crowned world champion will be a big deal, especially if it’s a woman – we’ve never had a female sprint world champion.”

Athletes’ preparations for major tournaments happen in cycles, and with London 2017 taking place less than 12 months after Rio 2016, there is a risk athletes who competed in Brazil last summer may suffer physical or mental burnout trying to raise their game for another major tournament so soon.

“A lot of this is down to coaching and experience,” Kwakye said. “A younger robust athlete can carry over the training effect from the year before and will probably benefit.

“But those who are less robust will have to adapt their training in the winter months because it can be very stressful on the body and mind,” she said.

Experience

“Nerves and excitement always kicked in for me at the preparation camp. It takes place two weeks before a championships and is usually in close proximity, but with them being at home this time, it’s likely that British athletes will go somewhere warm abroad”.

“There needs to be more profiling of athletes in the media… once young people show an interest then corporate sponsors will take notice”

“Older athletes use their experience and you may find many of them will not go back in to training until November to December following an Olympics”.

“If you had a successful Olympic campaign, it can really push you on psychologically to continue the good form. On the flip side a terrible campaign can also drive the athlete to do better. A lot of it is down to individual personality.”

Despite her retirement in 2014, Kwakye remains the national 60m record holder and retains a close interest in Britain’s athletic stars of the future through her involvement in schemes such as the Youth Sport Trust.

With London 2017 just six months away, Kwakye says she would like to see the competition being given a higher media profile.

“There needs to be more profiling of athletes in the media,” she explained. “We need more engagement with education organisations and schools – once young people show an interest then people and corporates will take notice.”

Team GB: Ones to watch 

Whilst Team GB may not have many clear favourites to win at London 2017, Kwakye says there are certainly plenty of medal hopefuls to look out for.

“For British female sprinters, this year I think Desiree Henry in the 100m and 200m will be the standout athlete.

“Adam Gemili who runs the 100m and 200m has had a coaching move, so I will be keen to see what manifests,” she added.

“There is also Lorraine Ugen and Jaz Sawyers in the long jump, Laura Muir over the middle distance; I think they are the ones to look out for.

“I would like to see how Sophie Hitchon capitalises on her Olympic bronze medal in the women’s hammer throw, too.”

‘We had this look in our eyes like this is our day’

“You’ve got to believe in yourself because if you don’t believe it’s going to happen and you don’t make it happen, it won’t.”

Nicola White is recalling the advice her mother gave her long before she won women’s hockey Olympic gold in Rio de Janiero.

White lives by those words and is honest when discussing the turnaround that led her from failing to make her first England trials at the age of 15 to becoming Great Britain’s hero as her late equaliser to make it 3-3 in the final against reigning Olympic champions the Netherlands forced the game to a shootout decider.

White and the GB hockey squad ensured hockey became compelling viewing in Rio. When it comes to discussing the team’s journey from London in 2012 to Brazil four years later, White’s steely undercurrent and strong motivation becomes apparent.

“My journey wasn’t particularly perfect,” she admits. “I had my first England trials when I was 15 and I didn’t make it. I didn’t get my second England trials until I was 19 and I was quite a latecomer really because under 16’s and under 18’s is crucial for the development. To come in at under 21 level fairly late, I was really lucky.

“One of the things that we worked really hard since London was our culture. There’s 31 of us that train and it was sometimes hard to agree on something and get the best out of ourselves, but we improved our values and we embraced it.”

Competition 

Her and the team’s success is a result of perseverance and dedication but it is also a tale of competition. “Everyone in the squad had a responsibility to do their best,” she says.

“We wanted to make a difference and it created this massive bond of trust within the team. I think one of the most amazing things was stepping onto the pitch having built this culture. The competition for places was so high and we used to play high-paced games on a Thursday within the squad.

“The coaches would send out the game plan on a Wednesday night so we knew what we had to bring and what we had to do.

“Everyone brought their best games, and it ensured this amazing standard of hockey and brought out the best in us all.

“These little things impact hugely because when you get into an Olympic final, the pressure is massive but you know how to deal with it.”

Golden moment 

White is still overwhelmed by the team’s stunning success this summer. When it came to Rio and taking on the Netherlands, who were vying for a third Olympic gold in a row and huge favourites, there was a determination among the GB players.

The game was drifting away at one point, but Britain’s never-say-die attitude led by an indomitable White performance, paid off when she made it 3-3 in the final period.

Goalkeeper Maddie Hinch then pulled off some stunning saves in the shootout as the GB girls achieved history.

White remains refreshingly low-key about her golden moment. 

The forward says: “I knew we had eight minutes to go and we were losing against the reigning champions of the world.

“Holland are historically a really good team and I was so glad we played them because they were the elephant [in the room] and people thought we couldn’t beat them when it came to the crunch.

“All I remember is we had a short corner and I was just on red alert, and I’ve never been on red alert like that before and I thought if we can get this level, I knew we would hold on and it would go to penalties.

“The ball just fell and I put it towards the goal and I thought nothing else of it. Everyone’s faces were the same as we had this look in our eyes like this is our day. We just had this confidence about us.”

Overwhelming 

Looking back on the summer heroics, White admits the feeling of winning an Olympic gold medal has only just recently sunk in.

“It’s a real cliche, but it’s pretty much a dream come true for me and my team-mates. I’ve started to come back down to earth now but at the time it was just so overwhelming.

“I had so many emotions going through my head when we actually won it. It was just sort of flicking from happiness and emotion and I had happy tears, but it was an amazing experience.

“The girls who took the penalties were confident and I knew that if we stuck to what we did, we would win.

“We all knew, as much as we were nervous at the time, that if anyone was going to win it, it would be us. We are so used to that feeling of being under pressure in penalties that we thrived on it.”

Support

The support of her family has been key for White, particularly in picking her up from that England trials rejection aged 15.

“My mum has supported me massively on my journey. I remember she used to tell me a lot when I was young that you’ve got to believe in yourself because if you don’t believe it’s going to happen and you don’t make it happen, it won’t.

“That’s probably what’s stuck with me the most. Her telling me that if I keep working and don’t give up in the first hurdle, it’ll all pay off, and she was right.”

Spotlight

With success comes greater attention, and White agrees that more interest from the media and general public in hockey can only be a positive thing for her sport.

“We have gained lots of media attention as a team,” she says. “That’s really good for our sport, and I think the biggest thing is how much the sport has grown.

“I guess the legacy started at London 2012, when we won bronze, and has grown since our gold medal.

“When we go around the country, people tell us how they didn’t watch hockey before but now they love it.

“People have warmed to us and that’s probably the biggest change because people are now talking about it.

“When I say ‘I’m Nicola White, I’m one of the hockey girls’, they’re like ‘we love you’! Previously they would have been confused as many people didn’t know about us, so it’s nice to now hear them say that.”

Mindset

As a seven-year-old in Shaw and Crompton, Greater Manchester, White dreamt of being a hockey player.

White and the rest of the GB women’s hockey team

“I was lucky that my school played hockey because a lot of schools didn’t,” she explains. “I was lucky to get involved with it at such a young age, and that my teacher was involved in the pathway to internationals.

“She was in the county and regional set-ups, had the best hockey knowledge and knew where to go and how to make it happen. She guided and started me off.

“Skills-wise you’ve got to have a certain talent to be good at any sport. What I’ve realised on my journey is that your mindset is just as important.

“It’s all good and well having the talent but you’ve got to apply yourself. Every day you have to wake up and want to give it your all, and it’s that commitment, that desire and hunger that’s needed to be successful.”

Women in sport 

As a youngster, the GB hockey star idolised female athletes such as Kelly Holmes and Tina Cullen, and says she has seen progress in the amount of media attention women in sport receive.

“I think there’s more of an acceptance that women are successful and need to be given as much credit as the men get, and it’s a major thing that’s been highlighted probably in the last decade.

“Women haven’t had as much recognition as they should have had. People are pushing for more equality. Tennis now offers the same wages for men and women, and things are becoming more equal.

“That should be the norm and moving forward, I think it will be. It’s being driven by the successes we have had in football, hockey, rugby union and other sports.

“I love it and I’m so proud because that’s all we ever wanted. We just want people to accept us for what we’ve done and give us the recognition.”

Tokyo 2020 

White regularly refers to her competitiveness in her downtime when playing other sports like tennis and golf with her two brothers, but the main objective is to get prepared for another four years of gruelling build-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Preparation is well underway, and White says it will be harder to stay at the top of the tree in 2020 because everyone will be aiming to knock GB off their perch.

“We have to not just be happy with the gold we won, but say to ourselves that we can win it again”

“It sounds so scary thinking about how we will be back in four years time,” she says. “No doubt we will be looking for a gold medal because you cannot go from this success to not target another gold medal.

“I remember our coach Danny Kerry, after the Olympics we sat in a room in Rio and he was talking about success on success and how much of a difficult challenge it is and that’s what we are accepting.

‘As much as the journey is hard to get to the top, it is much harder to stay there. You’re now at the top and everyone’s chasing you, so it’ll be about rebuilding the culture, replacing the players who have retired with new players.

“There’s nothing holding us back now so we have to relish it. We have to use it and not just be happy with the gold we won, but say to ourselves that we can win it again. That’ll be the challenge but we are aiming to go for it again.”

You can follow Nicola White on Twitter @NicolaWhite28 and on Facebook @NicolaWhiteGB28 

Women’s hockey on the rise after Olympic success

University of the Arts London’s women’s hockey president Dhalyn Warren discusses the rising participation in her sport after Team GB’s gold medal success at the 2016 Olympic Games.

Women’s hockey has seen a surge in interest since Britain beat favourites the Netherlands in the final in Rio, including plenty of interest at university level.

Warren also reflects on the university’s use of London 2012 Olympics venue Lee Valley, explains what her role entails, and the talks about the benefits hockey brings to players both on and off the field.

Produced and edited by Daniel Racheter and Shannon Gambling.

Watch the full interview here:

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Meet Heiner Alzate: UAL women’s volleyball coach

Elephant Sport’s Oliver Norgrove, Shan Gambling and Daniel Racheter visit a UAL women’s volleyball training session to speak to the team’s new coach, Heiner Alzate.

Originally from Colombia, Alzate played professionally for 10 years before turning to refereeing and coaching. He hopes to instil in his young players the tricks of the trade that he learned as a player in South America.

Norgrove asks him about the transition from playing with men to coaching women, comparisons between volleyball in Colombia and the UK, the challenges that the sport of volleyball faces, and how UAL’s season is progressing.

The video can be watched in full below. You can also find out more about the UAL women’s volleyball team here.

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Hodge aiming to get back in the fast lane

There are some interviews when you really have to strain to get some reluctant sporting character to say anything even vaguely interesting or unanticipated.

Marcel Hodge, with his easy-going attitude and willingness to talk, is very different.

The Ascot-born athlete has overcome Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Asperger’s Syndrome to make his mark in the T20 (learning disabilities) category of track and field.

“I was never really fond of team sports, I couldn’t play football to save my life, so running was just an easy decision for me”

However, the 24-year-old’s career has been stop-start so far, ranging from becoming the fastest T20 sprinter of all time in the UK over 100m and 60m to defeat by female athlete Louise Bloor in a 200m indoor race in Manchester in 2016.

But first, back to the beginning, and Hodge’s decision – or rather his mum’s – that he should take up running as at eight-year-old at Slough Junior Athletics Club

“In all honesty, in the beginning it was just a way for my mum to get me out of the house,” he admits. “I have ADHD, so I was hyperactive as a child, running around everywhere and swinging on the chandeliers – not literally…

“But at the same time, I loved sitting around watching Cartoon Network and Fox Kids while eating snacks. I knew I was always quick but I was useless at every other sport.

“I was never really fond of team sports, I couldn’t play football to save my life, so running was just an easy decision for me.”

“Not really represented Great Britain” 

Hodge speaks with great maturity as he reflects on being classified as a T20 athlete in 2012, opening the door for him to compete for Great Britain’s learning disability athletics team due to his promising times.

“Ha ha, well, I won’t say my times were amazing,” he laughs. “I for one was not impressed. I think people knew I was capable of much faster times. Running the 100m in 11.1 seconds and running 22.6 in the 200m in 2012, is nothing to brag about.

“It’s sort of controversial. Ever since I was 15 years old, I wanted to compete at international mainstream level [non-disability] such as the World Juniors and the European Junior Championships.

“I felt you get more respect and appreciation, hitting those sort of levels. It made me feel okay but not Tony-the-Tiger great.”

Then there was the cost factor, with learning disability athletes effectively expected to pay their own way.

“The whole squad had to fund themselves,” he explains.

“It was about £80 for my kit and about £500 to compete at the INAS World indoor championships in Manchester and in the same year, I competed at the INAS European Uutdoor Athletics Championships in Gavle, Sweden.

“We had to fork out a £250 deposit plus £850 on top of that, so that’s £1,100 in total we had to pay to represent our country.

It might as well have been called a Thomas Cook all-inclusive holiday package to Sweden! Utter joke. It’s the same every competition.

“So I feel that personally, I haven’t properly represented Great Britain as in simple terms: if you can’t afford it, you can’t be on the team. And that’s not fair on anyone.”

Disappointments 

Hodge has, however, continued to strive to be the best in his sport, but he’s still smarting over his loss to Louise Bloor over 200m in March.

It came in an open competition where runners were seeded by time, and Team GB’s Bloor was looking for a fast run as she chased qualification for the World Indoor Championships.

“Getting beaten by her was hard,” Hodge recalls. “She wasn’t just any girl, though. She’s competed at World and Olympic level and is coached by Tony Minichiello, Jessica Ennis-Hill’s coach.

“I’m not making excuses, but running an indoor 200m is very different to running an outdoor 200m. The last time I ran an indoor 200m was back in 2012 and I’d had no practice at running an indoor since then.

“I also had a cold, but honestly I was just slow. I was still in my winter phase with no proper speed work in me.

“I thought I would break the world T20 200m indoor record of 22.17 seconds, which isn’t that quick by mainstream standards, or even destroy my old indoor 200m personal best of 23.09. Instead I got 23.86. I felt humiliated and embarrassed.”

Paralympics 

For any aspiring athlete with a disability, the main objective is to compete in the Paralympics.

But after missing out on going to Rio this summer, Hodge insists he is focused on competing at future Games.

“I was training fine for the Paralympics but the 400m was not my natural event,” insists the sprinter.

“Everyone said I would be good at 400m, but boy were they wrong”

“I only took it up so I could go to Rio for my category as they haven’t yet added  in the 100m and 200m. I did try long jump but I couldn’t jump to save my life, and I don’t compete in long distances, so my last and only choice was to do the 400m.

“I didn’t like the event from day one. I couldn’t even jog 400m when I started athletics. My mum had to run with me and she was pregnant at the time!

“People at British Athletics were telling me to take it up because of my 200m times, and they said I could make the top four in the T20 world rankings if I did a full 400m winter training programme.

“I was naive enough to believe them. Everyone said I would be good at 400m, but boy were they wrong. Despite that knockback, I want to compete in five Paralympics and I believe I can still be 40-plus years old and still hold my own as long as I stay on top of everything.”

Team GB won 64 Paralympic gold medals in Rio, their highest total since 1988, however Hodge was disappointed by the lack of support from the general public and the TV coverage.

“One thing I despise is adverts. Why put the Olympics on the BBC where it’s uninterrupted coverage and the Paralympics on Channel 4? It’s unfair. Paralympic stars do not get the same coverage as able athletes because they have a disability, it’s as simple as that.”

Ambassadorial work 

The highs and lows Hodge has experienced make him ideal as an ambassador for the UK Sports Association’s My Sport, My Voice project, and he says it’s important to give opportunities to young athletes with learning disabilities.

“I want to make a difference,” he says.

“Learning disability athletes don’t get half the recognition as other disabled athletes and it’s my duty to change that.

“The governing bodies are doing a lot right now. However, it’s about adding more events to our category for the 2020 Paralympics, so athletes such as myself have the chance to show what we can produce.”

Hodge’s career has not progressed in the way he’d hoped, but he is optimistic about the future.

“To be honest, I just want to be competitive again,” he says.

“I want to go back to the level I know that I was capable of, when I was 18-years-old. I may aim to break the T20 60m world record which currently stands at 7.01 in 2017, or I hope to become the world outdoor champion over the 100m and 200m, if I can afford it and if we have a team.

“I want to continue to progress and put my name into T20 sprinting history because at the end of the day I aspire to be myself, I am my own inspiration.

“Learning about yourself is limitless, there is always something new you discover about yourself.”

Wyatt thriving on skeleton’s adrenaline rush

Adrenaline-fuelled Marcus Wyatt describes hurtling headfirst down an ice run on a thin metal sled as “breath-taking”.

With his keen interest in motorsports and skiing, it’s perhaps not surprising that he’s making a name for himself in the high-risk winter pursuit of skeleton.

“It’s like being inches from the ice on a rollercoaster that sends you into hard walls at 70mph,” said the 23 year-old.

“The first ever run I did was just a blur of speed, adrenaline, ice, hitting walls, concentration, G-force, fear and many more emotions and feelings that were just too much to comprehend at the time.”

The Devon-born athlete is in the midst of his first full winter season, after being first selected to train with Team GB in December 2014.

British skeleton has enjoyed great success since its formation in 1989, winning four Olympic medals, including golds for Amy Williams and Lizzy Yarnold.

Hunger

Wyatt and the his fellow Team GB competitors are based at Bath University, which the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association (BSSA) opted to make the team’s permanent home in 2011.

His main motive for getting into skeleton was the chance to represent his country, and his sights and ambitions are rising higher all the time.

“The chance to go to the Olympics and win gold motivated me more than anything and still does”

“I’d seen skeleton at the Olympics before and was also drawn to the fact that it involved a lot of speed and risk, so that also made it a sport I wanted to try,” he told me. “I’m also someone who is driven by the desire to win.”

That desire proved vital when the selection processes began, and continues to fuel his ongoing hunger for Olympic success.

“During the selection phases, it was made clear that they were not just taking athletes on to be good, they wanted athletes who had the potential to win Olympic gold,” said Wyatt.

“The chance to go to the Olympics and win gold motivated me more than anything and still does.”

Crashing

For Wyatt, the beauty of skeleton lies in its dangers. However, as well as providing the thrill factor, there is the obvious threat of things going badly wrong.

“When it starts to go wrong and you are fighting to correct what could turn into a big crash, the adrenaline rush comes back as you know you are possibly over the edge,” he explained.

10945674_658119364294463_6299536193675216641_nMotorsport is one of the few sports which can rival skeleton in terms of ever-present danger, and where timing is so important. One of the world’s most infamous tracks is in Germany, at Nurburgring – and not far away lies skeleton’s own equivalent.

“The track I’m currently at – Konigssee – is notoriously difficult and has a 360-degree corner where the difference between flipping and crashing and a fast line could be a few inches or the timing of a steer to the 10th or 100th of a second,” said Wyatt.

As with any sport, the harder you work, the bigger the potential rewards, and Wyatt is making plenty of sacrifices in order to pursue his dreams.

Mindset

“Training is tough,” he said. “Often when away, we will have 12-plus hour days, six days a week – you have to push yourself every day as you know everyone else in the world is doing the same. I like to think that if I outwork everyone in the sport that day, then slowly I am catching them up.

“We have great coaches that definitely give us an edge, but it is up to us to act on what they say and actually do it. If you aren’t fully invested in the sport, then you will never make it to the top.

“The actual gym training itself is very hard and tiring on top of the other training sessions we do each day. The mindset I have now is not ‘should I go to the gym today?’ I just wake up and go to the gym.”

Although Wyatt is developing his skeleton skills, he is still very much a newcomer to the sport, so is picking his events carefully to ensure he gains the most valuable experience.

“This season started in October and finishes in mid-March after our first-ever race in Lake Placid, USA, as a warm-up to hopefully competing in the eight-race Europa Cup circuit next winter season, starting in October.”

Full-time

The BSSA boast some of the best coaches in the sport, with results consistently improving over the last 10 years. Wyatt says he is thrilled to be part of the British skeleton programme.

“Representing GB is a huge honour and something I take very seriously, I now realise that it’s not enough”

“As of May I will have to be living in Bath so that I can train there full-time. To keep working my way up will be long and difficult as GB has a lot of talented and more experienced athletes who’ve been on the programme longer than I have, and who have the same goals – and that’s before you count the rest of the world where some athletes my age have already been sliding for 10 years.

“It’ll be tough and testing but I’m willing to give it everything I’ve got.”

Having achieved his initial aim of representing his country, Wyatt’s main goal is the ultimate – appearing at the Olympics.

“Although [representing GB] is still a huge honour and something I take very seriously, I now realise that it’s not enough,” he said.

“My main aim is to win gold in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. World Championships would also be a big aim as well as overall World Cup champion – but the main one is the Olympics.”

Iftakhar sets his sights on Rio 2016

Wrestling is arguably the lowest-profile Olympic sport in Britain, but Adil Iftakhar is hoping to put it in the spotlight at the 2016 Games in Rio.

The 21-year-old became a Team GB competitor in 2011, narrowly missing out on the London Games in 2012 due to his inexperience.

In order to compete in Olympic wrestling you must be the best in your weight category in your national team, which he wasn’t at the time.  However,he now feels he has got what it takes to make it to Brazil.

“I’m definitely looking at it, you’ve got to dream and make it a reality,” he said. “There’s certain events that I have to participate in. I’ve got to go to these tournaments, get a good placing – if possible a medal – and then from there the doors open for Rio,” he said.

On the GB wrestling team there are seven weigh-class categories with three people in each.  Iftakhar will battle against the other two in his category to reach Rio next summer.

“The two people in my category tend to be my main competitors,” he said. “I have to be better than them. Only one out of the three of us can get to Rio, but I still need to qualify by excelling in the tournaments as well.”

Self-belief

Iftakhar, who competes at 86kg, trains three days a week but just once a month with the rest of the GB Academy in Salford.

He stressed just how important training and dedication are, allied with confidence and self-belief, to achieving success in the sport.

“The training that makes you is club level,” he said. “I train in Slough once a week, and on top of that I train in London twice a week,” he said.

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Iftakhar in action

“I do my own conditioning separately with weight sessions on top. I’ve also now started to do altitude training with masks, and this has improved my performance greatly.”

Having recently turned 21, Iftakhar is now a senior and admits there are no more excuses if he doesn’t qualify.

“I’m a senior now and can’t say ‘Oh I wasn’t old enough,’ because now I am. I’m confident that I can be [good enough], 100 percent.

“You’ve got to be confident – it’s an individual sport, one versus one. You’ve got to be confident in your skills and ability because if you’re not you’ve lost half the battle. Wrestling is very mentally-oriented.”

Iftakhar is currently studying law at City University in London. Finding the right balance between training and study is tough but something he says he deals with.

It is very difficult with the work and training,” he admitted. “My frame of mind changes when I’m working, I’m calm and very relaxed, but when I’m training it’I become stressed out because I am so determined.

“The sessions are intense and repetitive, and if I don’t get it done I feel as if I’ve let myself down.

Right now I’m putting more effort into my work as wrestling won’t support me for the rest of my life compared to a sport like football,” he said.

“I still get in enough wrestling sessions and I would like to do way more, but it’s not realistic for the long term.”

Minority sport

The last GB Olympic wrestling medal winner was Noel Loban in 1984 at the Los Angeles Games. Iftakhar believes from what he has seen it will be very difficult for his country to end the 32-year drought in Rio.

“People need to understand that it is a minority sport in this country,” he said. “It hasn’t got a lot of funding and it is not supported well by the government, and therefore our chances are slim.

“If anyone does win it will be down to individual effort. If I’d gone and trained in Russia for a year that would have been done with my own resources and money.”

Iftakhar holds an outstanding record, winning 90% of his 50 tournament-based matches so far. He would like nothing more than to win a medal in Rio but knows it’s a challenge.

“My aim is to win one, obviously. I’d aim for the highest one but that’s not to say I wouldn’t be happy with a bronze,” he admitted.

“For a sport that is probably one of the most difficult in this country, and is not supported as much as others, it would be a great achievement.”

Adil Iftakhar is on Twitter @Adil Still; for more information about the sport, visit the British Wrestling website.