Meet the Yorkshire athletes competing at Rio 2016

PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 August 2016

Hannah Cockroft  training  in Rio

Hannah Cockroft training in Rio

"2016 Getty Images"

At the London Olympics in 2012, Yorkshire finished higher in the medal table than many competing nations. Andy Greeves speaks to three athletes who will be hoping for a repeat of that feat in Rio.

Hannah Cockroft on the trackHannah Cockroft on the track

Hannah Cockroft MBE

Sport: Athletics (Paralympics)

Hannah Cockcroft MBE became one of the great success stories at the London 2012 Paralympic Games by winning gold in both the T34 100m and 200m events, aged just 20 at the time.

The Halifax-born wheelchair racer, who also won double gold in the IPC World Championships the previous year, currently has seven world and two European titles to her name. And as Cockcroft acknowledges, that level of achievement carries with it a certain weight of expectation. ‘I’m trying not to think about this year’s Games,’ she laughs. ‘The Paralympics are fast approaching and the pressure is building every day. It makes me very nervous when I think about them!

‘Going into London, no-one knew who I was and there was no expectation. Now, four years down the line and with another seven international titles under my belt, it’s a completely different story.

‘My expectation and aim is three gold medals, in the T34 100m, 400m and 800m but in reality, I just want to retain the one title that I hold from London that is still in the Games which is the T34 100m.

‘The other two races are new events in the last three years, so they will just be wonderful extras if everything goes to plan.’

Lasting mementos of Hannah’s successes at London 2012 come in the shape not just of her medals, but of two golden postboxes which can be found in Halifax town centre and her home hamlet of Mount Tabor. There are two other golden postboxes in Yorkshire dedicated to Paralympic gold medallists with archer Danielle Brown’s in Skipton and cyclist David Stone’s in Rawdon.

‘I don’t see my one in the Halifax town centre very often, as it’s outside the town hall and is a little hidden away,’ Hannah says. ‘I do drive past the one by my house every day though and I think it would look strange red now! I feel a lot of pride that I could bring something to Mount Tabor to mark my home and I think, or I hope, my neighbours are proud of it too.’

On the subject of pride, Hannah is certainly not lacking any when it comes to the subject of her home county. ‘Having travelled the world and the UK, the thing that strikes me the most when I come back home to Yorkshire is the people,’ she beams.

‘The people here are so friendly and I really think it’s one of the things that makes Yorkshire genuinely wonderful. That and just the beautiful scenery we have here. There are so many incredible, undisturbed, natural views so much clean air and so much green. Yorkshire’s beauty makes me incredibly proud and also makes me feel incredibly lucky that I come from such a place.’

Away from the athletics track, Hannah established sports agency 17 Management ( after London 2012 with UK Athletics Approved Athlete Representative Ian Byers. The company represents a number of athletes set to be performing at this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, including Tom Bosworth and table tennis star Will Bayley, who trains in Sheffield.

‘The company has grown more than we could have imagined and we now work with 12 athletes,’ adds Hannah.

Tom BosworthTom Bosworth

Tom Bosworth

Sport: Athletics (Olympics)

In 2009, race walker Tom Bosworth moved to Yorkshire to further both his sporting and academic prospects. The 26-year-old enrolled on a BSc Sports Performance at Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett) where he also continues to train to this day.

‘The facilities at Leeds Beckett University are fantastic,’ said Tom, who graduated in 2013 and subsequently completed a PG Cert in Sports and Exercise Nutrition at the university a year later.

‘I’ve got a full-time coach here and I’ve also got every other element of support I need such as sports scientists, physiotherapists, sports nutritionists. The race track is literally on my doorstep where I live in Headingley too. I feel like I have everything I need here and I wouldn’t want to change any of that ahead of Rio and then the London World Championships next year.’

Kent-born Tom started competing in race walking in 2009 and was selected to represent England at the Commonwealth Games a year later. In 2012, the excitement of carrying the Olympic torch through Potternewton in Leeds would prove a consolation for the athlete who missed out on an appearance at that summer’s Olympic Games.

‘I missed out on qualification for London 2012 by a couple of seconds,’ he recalls. ‘Having carried the Olympic Torch though made that disappointment ever so slightly easier to deal with as I still felt like I’d been a part of the Games in some way. Carrying the torch through Potternewton was incredible. I nearly turned the opportunity down as I had a race the same day, but I managed to get there on time. I didn’t expect it to be quite the buzz it was it was an unbelievable feeling carrying such an iconic object with all the crowds out. I still have the torch each bearer was given to this day. It’s something I treasure.’

Four years on, Tom’s disappointment of missing out on London 2012 has been put behind him as he has been confirmed as Team GBs representative in the 20km for this summer’s Olympic Games. He heads to Rio in fine form, having smashed the British record for the 20km distance that had stood for 28 years at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Dudince, Slovakia earlier in the year.

‘While it was obviously hugely disappointing to miss out on London, I feel so much 
stronger, fitter and better at my sport four
 years on,’ he says.

‘This season has gone so well for me and bar a bit of a problem with my right hip, I am in great shape. My performance in Slovakia is definitely my career highlight to date, having shaved a minute and 22 seconds off the British record and my target in Rio is to keep up with the leaders for as long as possible and then who knows.’

As well as targeting success in Rio, Tom is hoping to obtain a Masters degree from Leeds Beckett University in the next couple of years. The multi-talented athlete, who is also a qualified trampolining coach and runs his own massage business, says that while Kent will always be his home, Yorkshire and Leeds is very much his adopted county and city.

‘Yorkshire is a beautiful county and Leeds in a fantastic northern city. Leeds has changed so much just in the space of time I have been there. Headingley is a great part of Leeds to be based in with its sporting traditions and I find that very inspirational as an athlete.’

Paul Drinkhall

Paul Drinkhall in actionPaul Drinkhall in action

Sport: Table tennis (Olympics)

2016 has been a good year so far for Paul Drinkhall. The 26-year-old table-tennis star won a bronze medal at the World Championships in Kuala Lumpur in the team event and also became individual English champion for the fifth time back in March. Now he has his eyes on the ultimate prize – an Olympic medal in Rio this summer.

‘I’m obviously very happy to have qualified for Rio and proud to be representing Team GB once again,’ says Paul, who was born in Middlesbrough and brought up in Loftus on the North Yorkshire coast.

‘I’m not seeded to win a medal at Rio, but then my colleague and I weren’t when we won bronze at the World Championships recently. I’m hoping I can be the table tennis equivalent of Leicester City by coming back from Rio with a medal.’

Should Drinkhall win a medal at this summer’s Olympic Games, it wouldn’t quite be quite as big a shock as Leicester’s Premier League triumph. After all, Paul has four Commonwealth Games medals to his name having won silver in the team event at both Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014, while his bronze in the mixed doubles in 2010 was followed up with gold four years later alongside wife Joanne.

‘The gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 was obviously the pinnacle of my career to date,’ Paul says. ‘Winning bronze in the team event at the World Championships earlier this year was also fantastic and it puts me in a good place for Rio.’

Paul’s passion for table tennis began when he was just seven and by the age eleven, he was training at the National Table Tennis Centre in Sheffield.

‘I was put into the top squad at my table tennis club from the age of nine when I was competing against players up to about 15 years of age,’ he recalls. ‘There was a guy locally called Dave Pashley who spotted myself and my brother playing and kindly coached us and encouraged us to train at the Ormesby Club in Middlesbrough. The coaches at the Ormseby Club were brilliant and both my brother Bryn and I were in the national team from an early age and my brother went on to be National Junior Champion.’

While Bryn eventually stopped playing on a competitive basis, Paul’s rise and rise as a youngster continued. By the time he was 18, he was World Junior Champion and a professional player with German club TTC Indeland Jülich. Between 2005 and 2007, he was nominated for three successive years for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year Award.

‘It was a huge honour to be nominated and to get the recognition for the sport of table tennis,’ reflects Paul. ‘I was disappointed not to win it, coming second twice but it was always going to hard competing against a footballer,’ (he lost out to Arsenal footballer Theo Walcott in 2006).

More recently, Drinkhall won the men’s singles at the Aquece Rio International Tournament in November 2015 that saw him secure his selection for Team GB for this summer’s Olympics prior to those successes in the world and national championships. He lives in Surrey these days with wife Joanna and one-year-old son Dougie but remains a North Yorkshire lad at heart.

‘I went back to my old school Loftus Juniors recently and opened the new school there which is now called Handale Primary,’ he says. ‘It was great to get back there and give something back, so to speak.

‘I’ve still got a lot of friends and family back in Loftus so it’s always great to go back. When I’ve got some spare time there, I like to play golf at Hunley Hall Golf Club in Brotton where my dad and brother are members. It’s a great course there overlooking the sea.’

Follow some of our athletes on twitter

Jessicca Ennis-Hill, Sheffield - Heptathlon @J_Ennis

Nicola Adams, Leeds - Boxing @NicolaAdams2012

Ed Clancy, Barnsley - Cycling Track @Ed_Clancy

Alistair Brownlee, Dewsbury - Triathlon @AliBrownleetri

Jomathan Brownlee, Leeds - Triathlon @jonny_brownlee

Lizzie Armistead, Leeds - Cycling Road @L_ArmiTstead

Danny Willet, Sheffield - Golf @Danny_Willett

Gordon Benson, Leeds - Triathlon @gordonleeds

Eleanor Faulkner, Leeds - Swimming @elliefaulkner

Lois Toulson, Huddersfield - Diving @LoisToulson

Gabby Adcock, Leeds - Badminton @gabbywhite011

Max Litchfield, Sheffield - Swimming @maxlitch1995

Jack Laugher, Harrogate - Diving @JackLaugher

Marcus Ellis, Huddersfield - Badminton @ellis_marcus111

Rebekah Tiler, Keighley - Weightlifting @rebekahtiler

Nile Wilson, Leeds - Gymnastics Artistic @NileMW

Fredrick Woodward, Sheffield - Diving @freddiebevis

Alicia Blagg, Wakefield - Diving @AliciaBlagg

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