Kent’s entrants into the Olympics and Paralympics Rio 2016
- Credit: British Athletics via Getty Imag
Meet the athletes who will be flying the flag for both Great Britain and Kent at this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio
Name: Kat Driscoll
Sport: Gymnastics (Olympics)
Chatham-born Kat Driscoll’s route to being a world number one trampolinist began when she was in primary school and got the chance to have a go at the sport for the first time at Lordswood Leisure Centre.
“The coach spoke to my mum and said I had a good natural aptitude for the sport and after that, I joined Jumpers Trampoline Club in Gillingham, just before their new centre was open. I did my first national event with them and then a year later, I took part in my first international event (World Age Games in 1998).”
The World Championships in Birmingham in 2011 saw Driscoll win a team silver and also a bronze medal in the synchro event. Two years later, she won gold in both events at the same tournament in Sofia.
Kat has also won a total of three gold, two silver and a bronze in the European Championships, bagging a gold and bronze in Spain earlier this year. Her vast array of medals includes a gold from the World Games in 2013 and silver from the 2015 European Games.
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“I think my silver medal at the European Games in Baku last year was a very important moment for me,” says Kat. “I had been struggling a bit from a mental perspective, feeling drained and tired and questioning what I wanted to do. That silver medal really put me back on track and was the perfect springboard into 2016. I’ve won gold at bigger events, but the silver in Baku and for Great Britain was very special.”
Rio will be Kat’s second Olympics after she finished ninth in the qualifying round at London 2012.
“I’m very excited about representing Great Britain at this summer’s Olympics,” adds the 30-year-old. “I think the difference this time compared with four years ago is that a lot less people expected me to be in this position (having achieved qualification for the Games). It feels like more of an accomplishment making it to Rio than London because of that.”
Name: Susannah Townsend
Sport: Hockey (Olympics)
Since making her international debut in 2008, midfielder Susannah Townsend has become a regular for both England and Team GB’s ladies hockey side.
Born in London but raised in Sevenoaks, she was still waiting to learn of her inclusion in the Rio squad at the time of writing but is a strong candidate to be wearing the GB vest.
“I had the disappointment of missing out four years ago,” she says. “Being part of an Olympics would be the dream, it’s been my major ambition of the last four or five years along with winning a medal.”
Team GB’s hockey ladies have been paired in a group with Argentina, Australia, India, Japan and the USA in Rio with the top three nations qualifying for the knockout phase. The first challenge awaiting Townsend, if selected, will be a match against old rivals Australia on 6 August.
“It’s a tough draw in terms of who is in our group and there’s been a lot of attention on our opening game against Australia on 7 August,” she says.
“We’re two teams who know each other inside out and there’s always that sporting rivalry between us. The Australia match is no more or less important than any of our other group games, however, and we’ll be doing all our homework on the other nations too.”
Susannah, who attended Russell House School in Otford and Sutton Valence School near Maidstone, has won a total of 95 caps for England and Great Britain.
Part of the England team that won silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and gold in the European Championships in 2015, at home she is the captain of Canterbury Hockey Club.
“When I drive home and see the sign ‘Kent, Garden of England’, that sums it up for me,” smiles Susannah. “I know I’m biased because I live there, but Kent is my absolute favourite county in the UK,” she beams.
Name: Will Bayley
Sport: Table Tennis (Paralympics)
One of Great Britain’s strongest medal hopes in Rio is table tennis star Will Bayley. The 28-year-old, who is the current Class 7 World Champion, is looking to go one better than 2012, when he won silver at the Paralympics in London.
“From the minute I lost in the final in 2012, my mind quickly started thinking ahead to Rio 2016,” says Bayley, who was born in Tunbridge Wells. “I’ve played well in a lot of competitions since London 2012, so I’m hoping that will stand me in good stead for Rio. I feel fitter and stronger this time around too.”
Bayley was born with arthrogryposis, a rare congenital disorder that affected all four of his limbs, and then aged seven was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. He got into table-tennis while recovering from cancer after his grandmother bought him a table.
“I started off by playing and beating my brother,” smiles Will. “I ended up joining a table tennis club in Tunbridge Wells called Byng Hall Table Tennis Club and I got to represent Kent at county level fairly soon after that.”
Will made his debut for the GB table tennis team in 2006 and two years later represented them at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.
In 2011, he won gold at the European Championships in Croatia and then became World Champion in 2014. “My ultimate achievement was winning World Championship gold in China in 2014,” says Will.
“Without any shadow of a doubt, however, London 2012 is the best tournament I’ve ever taken part in. That experience is a major driving force in me wanting to win the gold in Rio.”
Since the age of 17, Bayley has been based at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield where he trains full-time, but he is back in Kent whenever his training schedule permits.
“I’m back in Kent a fair bit seeing my family (mum, dad and brother) and friends who are all around the Tunbridge Wells area,” he adds. “I like to get to the cricket when I’m back in the county and to relax. I also like to get into London when I can to watch Arsenal play as I’m a huge Arsenal fan. I only managed to watch them a few times last season.”
For information on Will and the British Table Tennis Team: www.tabletennisengland.co.uk
Name: Tom Bosworth
Sport: Athletics (Olympics)
Sevenoaks’ Tom Bosworth recalls his early attempts at his chosen sport of race walking with a big smile on his face.
“I was really bad at race walking for quite some time,” laughs the 26-year-old, who will be representing Great Britain in his first-ever Olympic Games in Rio this summer.
“I joined Tonbridge Athletics Club when I was 11 and it was my sister that got into race walking initially. I thought ‘I can beat my sister… I have to give this a go!’ There was a race walking team at the club and I went into the sport knowing absolutely nothing about it.
“I started competing in 2009 and about 18 months down the line, I was selected for an England team to compete in Switzerland and then got to compete in the Commonwealth Games in India in 2010.
“I moved to train and study at Leeds Beckett University, then known as Leeds Metropolitan University, and the rest is history!”
Tom has been in fine form ahead of his Olympic debut. In winning the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Dudince, Slovakia, he smashed the British record for the 20k Olympic standard distance that had stood for 28 years, putting him in a great frame of mind for this summer’s Games. That is in stark contrast to four years ago when he suffered the disappointment of missing out on London 2012 by a matter of seconds.
“I was absolutely gutted at the time, but the disappointment of missing out on London has been a positive for me to go forward,” says Tom, who attended St Michael’s Preparatory School at Otford and Bennett Memorial Diocesan School in Tunbridge Wells.
“The disappointment of London 2012 has stopped me being complacent and I’m so much better at my sport now than I was four years ago. I would have been going to London to finish mid-pack, whereas in Rio I want to keep up with the leaders for as long as possible; then who knows.”
Last autumn Tom revealed that he is gay on Victoria Derbyshire’s show on BBC Radio 5 Live. He feels his decision to make his sexuality public knowledge is a major positive ahead of Rio.
“There is a lot of attention on you in the run-up to an Olympics and I just decided I didn’t want that question about my sexuality lingering,” says Tom. “It has been a good thing for me, I feel completely happy, honest and focused on my training and it’s taken something of a pressure off my shoulders.
“The public reaction has been really good and perhaps the best thing is that it has given publicity to the sport of race walking.
“It’s been something of a forgotten event and I’m happy that my 15 minutes of fame might mean people have now heard of the sport.”
Name: Adam Gemili
Sport: Athletics (Olympics)
Aged just 22, London-born, Kent-raised Adam Gemili has already achieved so much in his athletics career. The sprinter won two gold medals at the European Championships in 2014 in the 200m and 4x100m events, while he also collected two silvers in the 100m and 4x100m at the Commonwealth Games that same year.
Gemili, who lives in Dartford, is also a past European U23 and World Junior Champion. At London 2012, he competed in both the 4x100m and 100m events despite being just 18 years old at the time.
“Making the Olympic team for a home Olympics back in 2012 aged just 18 has to rank right up there in terms of career achievements,” admits Gemili. “I never even imagined that would have been possible at the start of that year, so it was a real dream come true.”
Earlier in the year, Gemili was contracted as a professional footballer at League Two team Dagenham & Redbridge. As a youth player, he had progressed through the ranks at Chelsea and Reading but in 2012, made the decision to choose athletics over football as his full-time career.
“The main reason to choose athletics over football was because an athletics career offered me the opportunity to study,” says Gemili, who obtained a 2:1 in Sports and Exercise Science with Human Biology from the University of East London last year. “I couldn’t have done anything like that if I’d signed a contract as a professional footballer. The other inspiration was that I looked at what I had done in athletics with such a small amount of training and thought, ‘what could I achieve with proper training?’”
The former Dartford Grammar School pupil is the first Brit ever to run sub-10 secs for 100m and sub-20 for 200m and a medal is a real prospect for Gemili at Rio 2016.
“The aim in the 4x100m, in fact in all the sprinting events, is to challenge the Jamaicans and the Americans for medals,” comments Gemili, who is set to appear in the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay events.
For more information on Great Britain’s athletes and para-athletes visit www.britishathletics.org.uk
Name: Tom Ransley
Sport: Rowing (Olympics)
Despite winning a bronze medal in the men’s eight at London 2012, Ashford-born rower Tom Ransley admits he has bittersweet memories of the Games four years ago.
“Pretty much as soon as I got off the water at Eton Dorney (venue for the rowing events at London 2012) I was keen to go again, to put in another four years of hard work to make sure I was in the position to compete for a gold medal in Rio,” SAYS Tom.
“I took a couple of months out from training after London 2012 to clear my head and focus on the future. There was never any real doubt that I wouldn’t continue (with the sport).
“As time goes on, however, the disappointment of missing out on gold is tempered somewhat by being able to show people your bronze medal from an Olympic Games. It’s still a big achievement and something that means a lot to my friends and family as well as myself. The Games themselves were fantastic and the atmosphere from the home crowd is certainly something I’ll never forget.”
Tom was raised on a farm in Woodchurch and educated at The King’s School in Canterbury. He initially got into rowing aged 15, though it was during his time at the University of York when the possibility of competing as a full international arose.
“I rowed at York City Rowing Club while studying and a few of my team mates thought I had good potential,” says Tom, who won in the World University Rowing Championships in 2008.
“I was 20 or 21 when they drove me down to the Team GB trials. My initial objective of the trial was to get to the start line without falling in! Luckily, I didn’t fall in and the trial went well.”
Having represented the development squad of Great Britain for the first time in 2006, Tom’s first senior international call-up came in 2009. A year later he won the first major medal of his career as he was part of the men’s eight that took silver at the World Championships in Karapiro, New Zealand.
“That has to be one of my biggest career highlights to date. The year before we had got to the final but had failed to get onto the podium. Out in New Zealand, there was a crowd of about 10,000 for our final and I can remember the immense feeling when we won the silver medal.
“We then won the World Championships in 2013, which was very special as it was the first time a men’s eight team from Britain had won gold at that event. And we defended our title in Amsterdam the following year.”
Tom has won a total of five medals at the World Championships, also taking a silver as part of the men’s eight in 2011 and a bronze in the coxless four in 2015.
The run-up to the Olympic Games has yielded further success with a gold in the coxless four at the European Championships last year, while the men’s eight took bronze in the same tournament earlier this year.
For more information on Tom and the GB Rowing Team visit www.gbrowingteam.org