Seasonal growth

Simon Fry rounds up news, developments and achievements across the indoor and winter sports spectrum

The Michaelmas term may have seen sporting battle drawn across the UK’s independent schools – but two individuals are aiming for altogether more distant horizons, with Olympic Game in Rio and Tokyo in their sights. Meanwhile another global sporting carnival, last autumn’s England-hosted Rugby World Cup, has left an inspirational legacy.

Artistic gymnast Amy Tinkler (below), a pupil at Durham High School for Girls, celebrated her 16th birthday in style by helping to make history at the 2015 World Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow. The 2015 British champion, participating in her first World Championships, helped take the GB team to their first ever team medal, securing bronze in a packed Hydro Arena.

The GB girls needed a top-eight finish in qualification to book Team GB places for Rio 2016 – and they did just that, continuing their fine form into the final where Amy’s amazing vault helped the team overtake Russia to clinch the bronze medal in style.

“My last year has been simply life-changing,” enthuses Amy, who trains daily and misses a large amount of class time – but, with the support of her school, manages her time exceptionally well. Amy is currently in Year 11 and is taking her GCSEs over three years: last year she sat her PE exam a year early, obtaining an A grade. This year she will sit Maths, English and Science before, next year, completing her other GCSEs and starting her A-levels at the same time.

Amy feels very lucky to have support from her teachers and, indeed, the whole school. Her ambitions going forward are to represent Great Britain at next summer’s Rio Olympics, followed by the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Longer term, her dream is to study a sports degree in the USA.

Fencer Connor Head (below, left) meanwhile, started at Whitgift School back in 2010. Benefiting from the school’s ‘From Foundation to Excellence’ sporting ethos, Connor took a shine to fencing and, with the help of Whitgift’s top-class coaching and facilities, has honed his skills to international status.

He represents Great Britain in two weapons, épée and foil – an impressive feat which has not been achieved for years. He also represents his country both individually and in team events. The 15-year-old is currently ranked number 34 in the world: his dream is to stand on the podium in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Further north, Repton School’s Athletic Development Programme is benefiting from expert help after a new partnership was created with Perform, the sports medicine and science provider based at St George’s Park National Football Centre in Staffordshire.

Now in its third year, the programme helps young sportsmen and women to become complete all-round athletes, developing their speed, power, strength and agility while also helping them to avoid injuries.

Perform has been selected by Repton as its athletic development provider, which means that the Perform team is in school three times a week delivering sessions to teams and small groups in addition to individual attention for pupils who require specific injury rehabilitation or training support.

Repton’s Director of Sport and programme leader, Ian Pollock, explains: “Sport can often be a game of small margins, and this programme gives our young players that extra edge on the field. As well as educating them in the necessary extra investment they should make in their physical development, our approach undoubtedly enhances their athletic performance. It addresses the specific needs of growing teenagers as they develop
their competitive abilities.”

The Perform centre at St George’s Park is home to top-class clinicians and state-of-the-art equipment, resulting in an internationally-renowned centre of excellence for sports and exercise medicine, performance science, injury rehabilitation and strength and conditioning.

Elsewhere, pupils are going up in the world and then coming down again – at great speed – at Colwyn Bay’s Rydal Penrhos School. And, as Head of Skiing Dave Robson explains, the school’s location is crucial here. “We are fortunate to be within an hour’s drive of three artificial ski slopes, while the real snow of Manchester’s Chill Factore, the UK’s longest indoor ski slope, is just a little further away.’

Skiing has been a significant part of the school’s extracurricular programme for a number of years. “Around 70 pre-prep and prep school pupils, from as young as four, take part in weekly ski sessions through the autumn and winter, along with race training and racing in both the senior and prep schools,” Dave reveals. “Most pupils will develop their skiing during the weekly Thursday afternoon sessions, and the racers will continue competing throughout the senior school. Both the prep and senior schools run recreational ski holidays to the Alps, Dolomites and North America.”

For these promising young skiers, there is plenty of action to be had across Wales. “Ski racing in Wales is organised by Snowsport Wales, the national governing body, and the race cycle starts with the North Wales Championships, usually held in September at Snowdonia’s Plas y Brenin,” Dave explains. “The better teams will then progress to the Welsh Championships on the coast at Llangranog. Finish positions in this competition will then qualify the top senior teams for the British Championships. This year our Senior Girls team finished a close second in the Welsh Championships, and came 14th in the British Championships in Pontypool.

“The competition is open to the top 25 school teams from across Britain. Previous racers have gone on to secure places in Welsh and British squads and can head out to join one of the ski academies in the Alps for the winter months.”

Last but not least, Brighton College’s first XV received advice from newly-installed England rugby union coach Eddie Jones in September, when the latter was still coaching the Japan team and using the college’s training facilities during the Rugby World Cup. Two days after the Brave Blossoms shocked the rugby-playing world by defeating South Africa on September 19, all 1,300 college pupils provided Japan’s players with a guard of honour.

Such behaviour demonstrates the respect that sporting endeavour instils in pupils across the country. Given their great potential in the gymnastics, skiing, fencing and many other arenas, some of the UK’s rising young sportspeople may yet receive their own guards of honour when returning from future Olympics.


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