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LOCAL: Eastbourne’s Olympians ready for London

The Olympics aim to do many things; celebrate sporting excellence, inspire youngsters to become engaged and active, create a legacy for the country and unite a nation regardless of race, religion, money or mentality. But, while those things are all well and good, the question remains, how do the Olympics and Paralympics coming to the UK really affect the smaller and quieter corners of Britain?

Eastbourne isn’t renowned for its sporting excellence, far from it. As a seaside town more stereotypically associated with Zimmer frames rather than zippy adolescents, this is one of the last places you’d expect to be getting actively involved with the London 2012 Olympics. But, you couldn’t be more wrong. From the pre-games preparation right to the track and the volunteers around it, Eastbourne will be represented in many more ways than one.

Firstly, it has recently been announced that the Swedish national tennis team will be using the facilities at Devonshire Park and right here at the university as their official pre-games training camp. The team, which includes twice French Open finalist Robin Soderling, came to visit the site in January before choosing it as their base leading up to the competition. Eastbourne will be frequented with stars of the tennis world earlier in the summer too as Devonshire Park will host the annual AEGON International Tennis Championships just a few weeks before the Swedes arrive.

Not only is this a fantastic coup for the town as a whole, but also for the University of Brighton, whose state-of-the-art Sports Science Centre at the Chelsea School in Eastbourne was impressive enough to attract the high-class competitors. The team will be staying for four days at the end of July before heading up to London to compete in the games. If the residents of Eastbourne don’t get involved in the Olympics in any other way, at least they can rest assured knowing they had potential medal-winning sportsmen on their doorstep for a short while.

When it comes to the actual event though, Eastbourne could have a part there too. While the selection process is still on-going, there are a handful of sportsmen and women hoping to represent Eastbourne on the world’s biggest stage. The best chances lie with badminton player Heather Olver and rower Joe Guppy. The duo both grew up on the south-east coast and their promising talent has been evident from a young age. Heather and her partner Mariana Agathangelou are hoping to participate in the women’s doubles at the London games providing they can creep into the top 16 in the world rankings before May 3.

Heather started playing badminton at the age of six, and by 11 she was already representing England. Since then, she has gone on to achieve numerous national and international accolades, including a team bronze medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Heather moved away from Eastbourne to attend Bath Spa University, where she graduated with a BA(Hons) degree in Coach Educations and Sports Development. She now lives in Milton Keynes but still represents her home at county level.

Heather has admitted it is ‘now or never’ for her to compete in the Olympics, which has been one of her dreams since she started playing. She faces a tough task to climb up ten places in the rankings though, especially after having been knocked out in the first round of the Yonex All England Open and losing the opportunity to gain valuable ranking points. With just over a month left to achieve her dream, the race is on for Eastbourne’s resident badminton star.

From the court to the canal, Eastbourne’s other Olympic hopeful is rower Joe Guppy. The Eastbourne local is only 18 years of age, but has already achieved more than most will do in a lifetime. Having won junior titles and senior championships, he was selected to row for Great Britain in April last year and is now competing for a place on the Under-23 World Rowing team.

Joe started rowing when he was 13, following in the footsteps of his father. He was shown the ropes by Eastbourne Rowing Club and has stayed there ever since, staying close to his roots. However, it isn’t all fun and games for the teenager, who trains twice a day, six days a week, starting at 5:30am. Even in the freezing cold weather, Joe can be found rowing along the river in Waller’s Haven, which is halfway between Bexhill and Eastbourne. However, the hard-working individual admits his chances of reaching this year’s Olympics are narrow, what with his young age, but that he certainly has his eyes set on a place in the 2016 competition. And, in the meantime, he will still make his Olympic debut when he travels to Australia in January to compete in the Youth Olympics and will, no doubt, be on the banks cheering on his teammates when they fight for a medal in London this summer.

While it’s exciting to have home-grown talent with a realistic chance of making it big, there continues to be equally as huge achievements surrounding the Olympics from those not competing. The volunteers and helpers of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games are just as important as the competitors in ensuring the games go ahead as successfully as everyone hopes. And, once again, Eastbourne needn’t look any further than its own front yard for a special individual who will be partaking in the Olympics.

Benjamin Feist is a second-year student at the University of Brighton studying a BSc (Hons) in Nursing. Not only does Ben volunteer for the Medical Services team for London 2012, but he has also been selected to be one of the torchbearers leading up to the London Olympic games. Ben, who is a massive fan of the Olympics and Paralympics, is the featured torchbearer for Lewes and will carry the Olympic torch through the town on Tuesday 17th July.

The great honour came about after his mum nominated him following all the charity and volunteer work he has done, and continues to do. Even at the tender age of 20, Ben has so far raised around £20,000 for Shooting Star CHASE hospice care for children and teenagers, including £2,000 last year alone. The charity is one close to Ben’s heart and he’s been fundraising and raising awareness for them since he was nine years old. Ben has also volunteered for St. John Ambulance, South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust and Ashford and St. Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. When you consider that, it’s really no surprise he was chosen to bear the Olympic Torch out of about 8,000 nominees.

He said: “I am very excited. I feel a sense of acknowledgement and achievement and I’ll be proud to be raising the Olympic Torch for Britain!”

The London 2012 organisers promised many things in the build-up to the Olympics; that these games would create a legacy in this country and that we will all be touched in some way by this momentous event. And, even if you’re not the biggest sports fan or sick to death of hearing about the competition, there’s no denying that they have already, and probably will still continue to affect us in some way, shape or form. Whether it’s through the inspiring stories of the individuals involved, cheering on the sportsmen representing our country or even revelling in the atmosphere and excitation created by such a big event, every single person will be left with a lasting memory from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games.

Maria Hudd – @mariahudd

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