The Hampshire athletes heading to Rio 2016

Nicola Groves (Photo: onEdition)

Nicola Groves (Photo: onEdition) - Credit: onEdition

With London 2012 just a distant memory, all eyes are now on this year’s Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. Viv Micklefield tracked down some of the county’s elite athletes hoping to bring home a medal

Jon Schofield (left) with pairs partner Liam Heath winning Bronze in London 2012 © AEphotos/Antony E

Jon Schofield (left) with pairs partner Liam Heath winning Bronze in London 2012 © AEphotos/Antony Edmonds - Credit: Archant

Nicola Groves, Sailing

“It’s always been a dream of mine to go to the Olympics but I don’t think I ever thought it would happen,” says Nicola, who tasted immediate success after partnering fellow Southampton based sailor Ben Saxon with a top ten finish in the 2014 Sailing World Cup Finals, before the pair became European Champions in the Nacra 17 Class the following year.

Although as she goes on to explain, her route into top-flight sailing has not been a conventional one. “There wasn’t a boat that I was really the right size for in the Olympics when I finished school. So instead I went to university and then had a full time job. But I was still doing as much sailing as I could possibly do – anything I could get my hands on at weekends or in the evenings. Then when the Nacra and 49erFX came into the Olympic Games suddenly I was like ‘ooh I could do this’!”

“I’m unbelievably excited, and so proud. It’s a huge honour to be able to represent Team GB, I think it will be great fun to be a part of, and the atmosphere out there in Rio is going to be amazing.”

So, how does she rate the pair’s medal winning chances?

Olivia Federici (Photo: Alex White/SWpix)

Olivia Federici (Photo: Alex White/SWpix) - Credit: Alex Whitehead/

“I think there’s about six or seven boats which are really, really tight; really, really good boats, and really good competitors, so I think we are definitely up around there. If I sail my absolute best and give it every-thing, then I will be very happy with my performance.”

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Olivia Breen, Paralympic Long Jump

“I’ve been giving training my all and hopefully this time might come home with an individual medal too,” says Olivia who having already tried on the new Team GB kit is bursting with enthusiasm ahead of her second Games.

At just 15 she was selected as one of the rising stars of the squad at London 2012 and since winning Bronze in the T38 sprint relay, has really seen her athletics career take off.

“I got offered a Sky Academy Sports Scholarship in August 2013 and it’s changed my life completely,” she confirms, adding: “The support of my coaches has been really positive. I now train for five hours, five days a week, whilst at the same time finishing a BTEC Diploma in Coaching and Fitness at college.”

Although this means spending many hours away from home, Olivia remains a member of Portsmouth Athletic Club and continues to run for them. Refusing to let a hearing impairment and cerebral palsy hold her back - if the last Games were all about leaving a legacy for the next generation, this teenager is an inspiring role model and, as she reveals, continues to challenge herself.

“I’ve noticed a big difference since London 2012, we now have a much younger team of athletes going for glory.

“There’s always something you can find that you’re good at. After trying the long jump for the first time during the 2014 Commonwealth Games I really liked it and now there’s also a chance I might be trying the 400m in Rio.”

Jon Schofield, Canoeing

For Petersfield born Jon, 31, selection for the six-strong sprint team is another chance to go for Olympic glory after winning Bronze four years ago with long-time partner Liam Heath. “You plan for success, but you don’t take it for granted so it’s nice when it comes along,” he’s reported to have said. While the five-times World medallist admits that the sport is developing fast, his sights remain set on paddling to K2 victory over 200m of the Lagoa Rodrigode Freitas.

Jess Andrews, Distance Running

In only her second competitive 10,000 metre track race, Isle of Wight runner Jess smashed her PB by 83 seconds to qualify for Rio. Speaking afterwards she said: “It’s weird – I’d had vibes in training, thinking I was feeling really good, and I had nothing to lose.”

The 23-year-old, who earned her spikes competing in the Hampshire Schools Championships and the Hampshire U20 and U23 League, belongs to Aldershot, Farnham and District Running Club, and has been spurred-on thanks to a scholarship from the Mo Farah Foundation.

Helena Lucas MBE, Paralympic Sailing

After first going sailing with her parents, aged eight, Helena’s passion for the sport rapidly accelerated. This culminated at London 2012 in her becoming the first British sailor to win the 2.4mR Class Gold since the sport was officially introduced, a feat she describes as: “The icing on the cake”. Now ready to throw caution to the wind at her fourth Games, back on dry land 41-year-old Helena has completed a degree in Yacht and Power Craft Design at Southampton University.

Olivia Federici, Synchronised Swimming

Rushmoor Synchro Swimming Club will be holding its breath when Olivia, 26, takes to the water for her third Olympics, with her new duet partner Katie Clarke. Dispelling any notion that synchronised swimming is all about floating around in pretty patterns, she’s quoted as saying: “It’s very fast, powerful and dynamic, and we are one of the sports who train the most”. Olivia knows all about performing on the big stage but announced on social media that she’s absolutely buzzing’ to be heading to Rio.

Micky Yule, Paralympic Power Lifting

Micky had the recent honour of winning Britain’s first Gold medal at the 2016 Invictus Games, but it’s been a long journey for the Southampton based former Royal Engineers’ staff sergeant who lost both legs whilst serving in Afghanistan. Having secured his Rio place, the 37-year-old is ready to do battle with the rest of the world, telling the BBC: “My whole house is covered in Brazilian flags and I’ve been training with the flag right above me for about three years now”.

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