Meeting Team GB and ParalympicsGB medal winning athletes from Hampshire
PUBLISHED: 15:17 01 December 2016
canoephotography.com / Balint Vekassy (ICF)
Between them, Team GB and ParalympicsGB brought 214 medals back from this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio. Andy Greeves caught up with three athletes from Hampshire who enjoyed medal success in Brazil
Hampshire's medal winners
Georgina came first in the 100m and 400m T37 events (Credit: onEdition)
Jon in action at the 2016 Olympics in Rio (Photo by Balint Vekassy)
Joint top goal scorer, Southampton's Alex Danson (Photo by Frank Uijlenbroek)
David Smith from Eastleigh won Gold in the boccia mixed individual BC1 (Credit: onEdition Media)
During London 2012, Binsted-based Georgina Hermitage was pregnant with daughter Tilly. She was inspired by the performances at those Games and especially Mo Farah’s win in the 5,000m event at the Olympic Stadium, which she was there to see on August 11, 2012. Shortly after, Hermitage decided to become classified as a para-athlete with the hope of one day providing a sporting legacy for Tilly. At Rio 2016, she managed to deliver just that…
The 27-year-old, who has cerebral palsy, returned home from Brazil with three medals around her neck, claiming gold in the 100m and 400m T37 events, while she was also part of the women’s 4x100m relay T35-38 team that won a silver.
“All of the medals I won in Rio are very special, but I’d say two of them standout more than the other,” reflects Hermitage. “The relay medal means a lot to me because that came competing as part of a team. When you’re in a team, nobody wants to let each other down, so there’s that pressure, but it’s also incredible when you succeed. The 100m was the one I was most targeting heading out to Rio, so that’s right up there too. The gold in the 400m sits in third place for me because I think that’s the one people were expecting of me.”
Hermitage, who originally moved to Hampshire and the village of Upper Froyle back in 2009, says she is looking forward to enjoying time with her family over the coming months. A trip to Disneyland Paris and also a holiday to Mauritius are on the cards for Georgina, partner Ricky and their daughter before the end of the year.
Having gone to Brazil over the summer to inspire her daughter, the big question is, what has Tilly made of her mum’s recent achievements?!
“Apparently when Tilly was watching me compete in the 400 metres in Rio on TV, she was saying to my partner ‘why is mummy wearing your sunglasses, daddy?!’” laughs Hermitage. “She gets what’s going on to a certain extent. She has spent the last few weeks walking around, clanging the medals together and scratching them to bits, which is exactly the point of them!”
Back in 2014, Georgina received support from the Hampshire Talented Athlete Scheme (HTAS) – a county council-funded initiative co-ordinated by Sport Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The scheme provides athletes with grants for competition and travel costs, free training at leisure centres and free bus travel. It also offers fast-track physiotherapy and sport science.
“That support was crucial towards helping me train,” says Hermitage. “I train out of Alton Sports Centre and my strength and conditioning coaching is done at Mint Condition in Binsted.”
Petersfield-born Jon Schofield and his canoe sprint partner Liam Heath followed up on their bronze medal at London 2012 by taking silver in the K-2 200m event in Rio. The 31-year-old, who had previously won gold at the European Championships in 2012 and has a host of World Championship medals to his name, says his latest success ranks as his best career achievement to date.
“It was probably the hardest field that has ever been assembled in that race,” Schofield said, “Your performance pretty much had to be perfect to take a medal given the competition, so I’m obviously delighted with how it went.
“The Olympics is the biggest thing in our sport, so even though we have won European and World medals, the silver from Rio tops all of those achievements. The final of the K-2 at the Olympic Games is the one occasion every four years when everyone competes at their top level, so to get to the top, or close to it is a fantastic achievement.”
Schofield describes his Rio experience as “slightly like being in a bubble”, with respect to being unaware of how much Team GB’s successes were being celebrated back in Great Britain.
“When you’re out in Rio, you don’t have any idea of what’s going on back home , so to find out quite how popular the Games had been was great,” adds Schofield. “Of course, the Olympics are held over the school holidays and it’s a great thought knowing youngsters would have been watching sports they’ve never even seen before, and getting inspired to want to have a go themselves.”
Schofield, who was raised in Liss, now divides his time between his training bases in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire and his family home in Lancashire. With the canoeing season now over, the silver medalist says he is looking forward to a more relaxing period ahead than usual.
“I’ll be having Christmas at home this year for the first time in a while,” he adds. “I’m really looking forward to spending time at home in Lancashire, catching up with my parents and the rest of the family.”
Of the 67 medals won by Team GB at this summer’s Olympic Games, one triumph that particularly captured imaginations was the gold won by the women’s hockey team. A television audience of around nine million people in the UK tuned in to see the ladies’ penalty shootout victory in the Gold Medal Match against Holland, which even delayed the start of BBC News at Ten!
Southampton-born forward Alex Danson was the joint top goal-scorer at the Olympics - along with Maartje Paumen of the Netherlands and the United States’ Katie O’Donnell. Unsurprisingly, the 31-year-old looks back on her summer in Rio with huge pride and happiness.
“Rio was an incredible experience,” confirms Danson, who was part of a team that won all seven of their matches in the tournament. “Ahead of the Games, we had a full-time programme in terms of training and preparation. We benefitted hugely from that because of the dedication we were able to put in to being in the best shape we could be. We had a great support team around us and we were able to create a feeling of togetherness and a winning philosophy.”
The unity amongst the British players was evident in the final against the Netherlands.
“We felt we had a good chance of winning when we got to the penalty shootout,” reflects Alex. “We’d beaten the Dutch before (in the 2015 Euro Hockey Nations Championship) and (Goalkeeper) Maddie (Hinch) revels in those situations so she saved each one of Holland’s penalties. Then Hollie (Webb) scored the winning penalty and the feeling was just incredible.
“I felt this mix of shock and elation and I can just remember jumping up and down and everyone grabbing one another.”
Before moving to Buckinghamshire to be close to England Hockey’s National Training Centre at Bisham Abbey, Alex lived in Odiham. A recent return home to the village where her parents still live saw another incredible 2016 memory created for the former Trojans and Alton player.
“My local community put on a ‘welcome home’ event for me,” smiles Danson. “It was so nice to see so many people I had grown up with and I was touched by their efforts.”
And not forgetting…
In addition to Georgina Hermitage, there were a number of Hampshire-based Paralympians that won gold in Rio this summer. 17-year-old Alice Tai was one of ParalympicsGB’s youngest medalists. The swimmer from New Milton won bronze in the 100m backstroke S10 and was also part of the 4x100m medley relay line-up that took gold alongside Claire Cashmore, Stephanie Millward and Stephanie Slater. Also in the pool, Michael Jones secured gold in the men’s S7 400m freestyle. Like Tai, Jones is also from New Milton and was also making his Paralympic debut in Rio.
Eastleigh’s David Smith returned home from the Paralympics with a gold medal, having won the boccia mixed individual BC1 event alongside competition partner Sarah Nolan. Smith beat Daniel Perez of the Netherlands in the final of the tournament.
Southampton Solent University graduate Helena Lucas MBE collected a bronze in the 2.4mR sailing event, following up on the Paralympic gold she won in London. In the Olympics, Southampton-born Melanie Wilson was part of the women’s eight rowing team that won silver on August 13.