You are browsing the archive for Team GB.

Team GB will feel pressure at Worlds, says Kwakye

February 20, 2017 in Interviews

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’

December 5, 2016 in Interviews

“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

November 29, 2016 in Multimedia

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:

YouTube Preview Image

Meet Heiner Alzate: UAL women’s volleyball coach

November 21, 2016 in Multimedia, UAL Sport

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.

YouTube Preview Image

 

Hodge aiming to get back in the fast lane

November 3, 2016 in Interviews

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.”

Skip to toolbar