Meet some of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic athletes flying the flag for Surrey

PUBLISHED: 22:01 11 August 2016 | UPDATED: 22:01 11 August 2016

Andrew Willis (Photo Alex Broadway / SWpix.com)

Andrew Willis (Photo Alex Broadway / SWpix.com)

Simon Wilkinson - simon@swpix.com

As excitement builds for this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio, Andy Greeves meets some of the athletes who will be flying the flag for Surrey

Georgina Hermitage (Photo Chris Lee - British Athletics via Getty Images)Georgina Hermitage (Photo Chris Lee - British Athletics via Getty Images)

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2016

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Name: Sophie Bray

Sport: Hockey (Olympics)


Claygate’s Sophie Bray is a member of Great Britain’s 16-player women’s hockey squad looking to achieve medal success in Rio this summer. At the time of writing, the 26-year-old had won 91 international caps, 21 of them representing Great Britain, and she was part of England’s squad that won silver at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and gold at the European Championships last year.

SL: Congratulations on your call-up for Team GB for this summer’s Olympic Games. How are you feeling?

SB: I am incredibly excited. The team has enjoyed a great cycle of results over the last few years and are in full confidence heading into Rio. I can’t wait to experience the carnival atmosphere out in Brazil; it is sure to be a very special Olympics.

SL: Great Britain’s first match of the Olympics is against Australia. What are your thoughts on that game and your other group opponents – Argentina, India, Japan and the US?

SB: It’s a big opening clash (against Australia) but it’s probably the best time to play them as they are still finding their feet in the competition. It’s a tricky group but ultimately all the teams will take points off each other and it’s key that we remain positive, win, lose or draw. The spirit in the group at the moment is fantastic. It was a difficult couple of weeks at the recent Champions Trophy and results certainly didn’t go as we would have wanted. Nevertheless, it was good to finish on a high with a victory against New Zealand. Winning the Europeans last year has given the group a huge amount of confidence and we believe we can go far in this competition.


SL: Finally, how big a part did sport play in your life growing up?

SB: I was born and brought up in Claygate, a lovely small village, and I always made full use of the sporting facilities. I loved playing football at the Recreation Ground and tennis at the Claygate Tennis Club. I’ll never forget playing for the Claygate Royals, my first football team. At first, I played with the boys and then there was a girls’ team, which was great. And of course my earliest hockey memories are playing as a colt for Surbiton. 
I’ll never forget where I started.


• Investec, the specialist bank and asset manager, supports women’s hockey from grass roots to national level. See investec.co.uk 


Name: Paul Drinkhall

Sport: Table tennis (Olympics)


Originally from North Yorkshire, 26-year-old badminton ace Paul Drinkhall now lives in Addlestone with wife Joanna and son Dougie. Since taking up the sport at the age of seven, he has won a gold, two silver and one bronze medal at past Commonwealth Games while he also collected a bronze medal at the World Championships in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year. Paul will be taking part in his second Olympic Games in Rio, having also competed at London 2012.

SL: How are preparations for the Olympics going?

PD: Things are going well. I’m not seeded to win a medal in Rio, but we (Great Britain’s table tennis team) were never seeded to do so in the World Championships in Kuala Lumpur (earlier this year) and we came back with a bronze. I also won the Spanish Open from being the 24-seed, so seeding really doesn’t mean everything.

SL: What do you class as your biggest career achievement to date?

PD: Winning gold in the mixed doubles at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. To achieve it playing alongside my wife (Joanna Drinkhall née Parker) made it even more special.

SL: Lastly, what do you enjoy most about living in Surrey?

PD: I’ve moved around a lot, so it’s nice to have that feeling of being settled. My wife will always have that strong affinity with Surrey, having come from the area originally and with her family still here too. We live in Addlestone and we got married at the Holy Family Church here in 2013 and then had a reception at the Ramada Hotel in Guildford. Our first son Dougie, who has just turned one, was born in Surrey and we have a second child on the way.


• For more information about table tennis in the country, visit tabletennisengland.co.uk

Name: Georgina Hermitage

Sport: Athletics (Paralympics)


At the time of writing, Georgina Hermitage had been chosen to represent Great Britain in both the women’s T37 100m and 400m events at this summer’s Paralympics and looked likely to be part of the 4x100m relay team too. The 27-year-old, who attended George Abbot School in Burpham, heads to Rio in red-hot form having won gold in the 400m and 4x100m events and silver in the 100m at last year’s IPC World Championships. Her performances are all the more impressive considering that the Guildford & Godalming AC sprinter only received her T37 classification to compete in 2013, while she spent much of 2014 sidelined with a stress-fracture to her foot.

SL: What inspired you to get involved in athletics?

GH: I got into athletics properly after London 2012 when I watched from the crowd as David Weir won the 5,000m event, which was a magical moment.

SL: How will you feel representing Great Britain at this summer’s Paralympic Games?

GH: Being selected to appear at a Paralympic Games myself is a huge honour and a real childhood dream come true. For me, there is no greater aspiration than to represent your country.

SL: As well as running for Guildford & Godalming Athletics Club, can you tell us about your other connections to Surrey?

GH: I was born at St Luke’s Hospital in Guildford and grew up in Burpham and Sutton Green before going to St Teresa’s Preparatory School in Effingham and then onto George Abbot School (in Burpham). These days, I divide my time between Binsted in Hampshire and Guildford. I do all my track training at Guildford Spectrum and I still spend a lot of time in the county walking my dog at Newlands Corner, in the Surrey Hills, and seeing my school friends who all still live in and around Guildford.


• For more about Great Britain’s athletes and para-athletes, see the British Athletics website at britishathletics.org.uk

Name: Tania Nadarajah

Sport: Archery (Paralympics)


Banstead-based Tania Nadarajah only took up archery two years ago, but she has already been the highest-scoring female recurve para-archer at the National Indoor Championships and is now in Team GB’s squad for the Paralympic Games in Rio. The 35-year-old, who is an experienced public relations professional and works for the charity Sportability (see more about them at sportability.org.uk), will compete in both the women’s individual recurve and the mixed team recurve open this summer.

SL: How excited are you at the prospect of competing at the Paralympic Games?

TN: I’m incredibly excited about being selected! It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and intense training. I only started archery just over two years ago so being chosen to be part of the Paralympics and representing the country at this highest level is a real honour.

SL: What first attracted you to archery?

TN: I tried archery with Sportability, a charity that provides sporting opportunities for people with paralysis, and really enjoyed it. A few months later, I saw a tweet from Archery GB calling for female recurve archers so I applied and was invited to a talent identification day. They obviously saw some potential in me as they put me on a fast-track training programme and I was selected for the GB para squad just six months later. I first represented Great Britain at an international competition just a year after first starting the sport.

SL: How long have you been living in Surrey and what do you enjoy doing when you have some down-time in the county?

TN: I moved with my family to Sutton in 1994 where I lived for four years before going to university. I lived in various places around London after graduating but I returned to Surrey in 2012 when I moved to Tadworth and I now live in Banstead. I don’t get much down-time at the moment but, when I do, I enjoy meeting up with friends. We like going to the gardens at RHS Wisley, near Woking, as there are always things to see and it’s a lovely, tranquil place.


• For more information on Tania and archery throughout Great Britain, visit archerygb.org

Name: Andrew Willis

Sport: Swimming (Olympics)


Swimmer Andrew Willis will be appearing in his second Olympic Games this summer having been selected to represent Great Britain in the 200m breaststroke in Rio. Four years ago, he finished third place overall in the heats, qualifying for the final of the 200m breaststroke where he came eighth. The 25-year-old was fourth in the World Championships in 2013 before winning the first major medal of his career, collecting a bronze at the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

SL: What was it like competing in a home Olympics four years ago?

AW: London was an experience of a lifetime for me; competing in front of a home crowd was something I’ll never forget. It will always be my career highlight as nothing can beat the noise of the home crowd as I walked to my lane. My first international medal at the Commonwealth Games is another massive highlight for me.

SL: Where in Surrey did you grow up?

AW: I was born in Frimley and lived in Yateley growing up. I went to Yateley School and then the Farnborough Sixth Form College. I moved to Bath in 2009, where I studied Chemical Engineering at Bath University, and joined the Bath National Training Centre.

SL: What brings you back to the county these days?

AW: Now I mostly go home to Surrey to see my family and relax with them. A change of scenery always helps when I’m in the midst of a hard training schedule.

• British Swimming’s official website can be found by visiting britishswimming.org.uk

***

The Olympic legacy

Here, Campbell Livingston, director of Active Surrey, which promotes sport and physical activity across our county, shares his thoughts on the legacy of London 2012

“The 2012 Games gave everyone a renewed sense of pride in what Britain could do – i.e. delivering world-class events – and the Games Makers showed how much fun it is to volunteer,” says Campbell. “In Surrey, we still have 2012 volunteers helping at local activities such as the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100, and are recruiting even more people (young and old) to volunteer at events such as the Surrey Youth Games.

“Post-Games, sports participation numbers increased and Surrey is the most active county in England! Also, national and regional campaigns to encourage more females to be active (This Girl Can) and to coach their peers (Project 500 and Run England) have been great successes with more women than ever being involved.

“But whilst the overall increase has been sustained, more than half of the country still don’t exercise enough and this has triggered a new strategic approach from Government and Sport England to shift the focus to solving the inactivity problem once and for all.

“So, for me, the real legacy of the Games has been the wider understanding by decision-makers that sport and physical activity is not just about competition or elite athletes but is also about every single resident’s mental, physical and social wellbeing.”

• For more on sport and physical activity in Surrey, see the Active Surrey website at activesurrey.com/about-us

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