Scouser to samba: Merseyside’s Rio Olympic hopefuls

A wealth of Merseyside talent will be aiming for this year’s Rio 2016 Olympics.

With just months to go until the global tournament, we’ve tracked down the region’s hopefuls looking to make their mark on the competition to athletes hoping to round off their sporting careers on a high.

 

James Tartt image

James Tartt

Track

Dream to make the team

A fully-qualified architect in Liverpool, James Tartt embodies the original Olympic spirit of amateurism by balancing competing with a full-time job. James is aiming for Rio having just missed out on London 2012 but is also returning from a lingering ankle injury that ruled him out for all of 2015.

Could you tell us about your background?

Once I had completed my studies and gained my architecture degree and Masters qualifications after six years of studying, I started to develop a burning desire to revisit my athletics journey. My first season back consisted of competing in local events and learning to enjoy athletics again. However, after 18 months of training I was back in the top 20 in the UK over 1500m and I found myself preparing for the Olympic trials for London 2012.

How did you find the trials and how have you performed since?

Unfortunately, I think the trials came around a little too quickly for me and I wasn’t as fit as I was going to be moving forwards. I was then injured for most of 2014 after a fall on my ankle in training and out for most of 2015 after a fall in a race on the same ankle. It’s safe to say I’ve not had the best of luck since 2012 and it has been very frustrating. I’m almost back to full fitness, relishing the 2016 season and fulfilling the potential I know I have.

What is the journey for qualification like?

Given that I’ve not registered a competitive time in the last 12 months, I will have to first obtain the Olympic trials qualifying standard before June/July 2016. This should be very much achievable as long as I stay healthy. The next step is then to get my times lower and get into fast races to achieve the necessary standards. I have the belief to mix it with the top guys, so it’s just a case of getting fit and getting fast now.

Will this be your last time to try and qualify?

As long as I continue to improve, I’ll continue to run competitively. Athletes such as Kelly Holmes, Helen Clitheroe and Jo Pavey are great examples of athletes who showed improvement well into their 30s. I believe if your mentality is right, you can still achieve your goals.

 

Anyika

Image: ©British Athletics

Anyika Onuora

track

The big one

Anyika Onuora will head into her third Olympic games having now established herself as a top-class 400 metre sprinter after a transition from the 100m and 200m. In 2015 she was part of the bronze medal-winning relay team at the World Championships in Beijing and sees 2016 as her big year.

Given the Commonwealth, European and World Championship medals in the last two years, are you in the prime of your career?

I would say so, yes. I’m enjoying track and field more than when I did many years ago. I’ve gone from competing in mainly 100m and 200m to now establishing myself as a world class 400m runner. It hasn’t been the easiest transition to make but it has been worth it every step of the way. It has also changed my outlook on running as well as the sport as a whole.

What will make this year and the Rio Olympics special to you personally?

My performances in the last two Olympics weren’t great, especially London 2012 as I was dealing with the loss of my dad six months prior but I am now excited to see what I can do with another year under my belt of doing the 400m. I love a challenge so during the 2015 season I was able to become competitive with some of the world’s best. I could see my confidence was growing through each race; hence how I ran two personal bests at the Beijing World Championships. I would love nothing more than to accomplish my dreams and come home with an Olympic medal.

How has being from Liverpool added anything to your personality and character as an athlete?

Yes! All my teammates love the fact I’m from Liverpool. It makes me different from all the other athletes on the team as most are from down south or in London. They all say how friendly and chatty I am and that’s how most scouse people are.

You’ve said Rio is your big one where you want to put everything together. How much are you looking forward to this challenge?

I love that I’m able to do this job professionally and train for an Olympic Games, with Rio being my third games. I was used to training for the sprints but now I’m doing the 400m work with the combination of speed and it has definitely been a change but I enjoy it as every workout is different and it never becomes boring as my coach has me trying something new all year in preparation for Rio.

 

walkden

Image: ©GB Taekwondo

Bianca Walkden

Taekwondo

Trying for a treble

After suffering a serious knee-ligament injury, Bianca Walkden came back in 2015 to win the gold medal at the World Championships in Russia. As European and world champion and on her Olympic debut, Bianca is the favourite for the gold in Rio and to hold the ‘big three’ titles, realising her dream.

You were world champion in 2015. How do you feel about your achievement?

I feel over the moon. It was the biggest competition that year and it was a massive opportunity for me to get myself back in the running for Rio. To become the world champion was amazing.

What can you take from the past two seasons going into 2016 and Rio?

I have learnt so much in how I fight and [calm my] mind because of my injury. I am definitely a lot calmer now and I have learned to just enjoy it.

With your European and World Championship medals in the last two years, you are now on track to complete the big three. What would that mean to you?

If I could hold all three titles it would be unbelievable! That’s the aim so fingers crossed.

Do you feel pressure as the favourite for Rio?

I’ve learned to deal with pressure now. I will be going into Rio as world champion so I know everyone will be trying to beat me, and all I can do is take it as a positive or negative. Hopefully I take it as a positive and say bring it on!

What will make this year and the Rio Olympics special to you personally?

It would just feel like I have done what I wanted to in my life and achieved my dream. After everything I have been through with my injury it would be amazing.

 

Daniel Purvis image

Image: ©Alan Edwards/British Gymnastics

Daniel Purvis

Gymnastics

Solo goal

Crosby’s Daniel Purvis is part of a Team GB gymnastics squad that is going places. Daniel helped the men’s team claim historic medals at both London 2012 and the World Championships. Individually, Daniel is determined to add the Olympic title to his World, European and Commonwealth Games medals.

What personal experiences can you take from the London Olympics into Rio?

How have you progressed since then? I came away from London 2012 with tremendous pride that I had played a huge part in the team winning its first Olympic medal in 100 years. I would have loved an individual medal also which is partly what has spurred me on towards Rio. I am a better gymnast now and I’m stronger. I have also matured mentally and, therefore, I’m able to compete better when under pressure.

The GB gymnastics team is young. How far can it go over the next few years?

It’s hard to imagine that a British team could ever challenge to be world number one but we’ve seen recently that it’s no longer a pipedream. Record numbers of youngsters are taking up the sport. National coaches are as good as any in the world and facilities are on the increase in most areas. The younger seniors coming through are better than us older guys were at that age. Seeing British teams regularly challenging for team gold could happen over the next few years.

How impressed are you by the athletic talent from Merseyside in Team GB?

Although I love representing GB and Scotland I am also tremendously proud to represent Liverpool and Merseyside and I’m always boosted by the performances of other local athletes. We seem to produce stars in so many different sports which says a lot for the region. I hope that one day I can get involved locally with young gymnasts in a way which helps them to push for Team GB places in the years ahead.

 

Stamper image

Image: ©GB Taekwondo

Martin Stamper

Taekwondo

Retiring after Rio

Martin Stamper just missed out on an Olympic medal in London and is hoping to enjoy 2016 more by relaxing and not being too focused on the gold. Martin intends to retire from the sport in 2016 and hopes to go out on a high, on the top step of the podium.

You competed in London 2012 and just missed out on a medal. What experiences can you take from those games into Rio?

I think [my aim is] to try and enjoy the whole experience a bit more. I was so focused on going for gold in London that I didn’t feel I experienced as much as I could have. Obviously I will still be trying to perform to my best and hopefully achieving a medal but sometimes that happens when you are more relaxed.

What will make this year and the Rio Olympics special to you personally?

My aim has always been to go out on a high and retire after the Rio Olympics so it’s going to be an emotional year for me one way or another.

You’ve won medals at the World and European Championships. Can you take any experiences from them or are the Olympics too different?

London 2012 was something I have never experienced before, being a home Olympics, and the support we had was unbelievable. Rio is going to be different and will probably be more like a World Championships or Grand Prix.

There is a lot of athletic talent from Merseyside in Team GB, including Taekwondo. How proud are you about that?

I am proud to be from Liverpool even though I have been living in Manchester for the last eight years and get a lot of stick from my mates. After London 2012 all the Olympians from Liverpool met at the town hall and were presented with an award. That was a great moment for me and the talent in that room was great.

Has being from Liverpool affected your mentality for competition?

I am a very passionate and determined person and that’s one of the reasons why I have got to where I am today. Being from such a proud sporting city has definitely helped that.

About Author: YM Liverpool