Surrey athletes going for gold at the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics

PUBLISHED: 12:32 16 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:44 20 February 2013

Joanna Rowsell

Joanna Rowsell

With Olympic and Paralympic excitement reaching fever pitch, here we speak to three of the Surrey athletes who will be hoping for medals at this year's Games

Joanna Rowsell

A member of Team GBs track cycling squad, Suttons Joanna Rowsell, 23, has already had a phenomenal year in the sport and, rest assured, shes not finished yet

Olympic success is all about peaking at the right time to ensure that four years of hard work culminate with the right performance on exactly the right day.

Some key members of Team GBs all-conquering track cycling squad, however, have already achieved greatness in 2012. Suttons Joanna Rowsell is a member of the Womens Team Pursuit line-up, which has twice broken the 3,000 metres world record this year and, ominously for the many opponents left in their wake, she isnt finished yet.

That was a great confidence boost for myself and for the team as a whole, she smiles, remembering Februarys World Cup at the new London Velodrome. We laid down a greatmarker by setting the new world record and beating all of our rivals on the Olympic track. I am really excited to race there again in August. The track is fast and hopefully we will better the world record again.

If that sounds nonchalant, it is probably because winning has become almost second nature for Dave Brailsfords team. As Rowsell appreciates, success breeds success. Being part of such a successful team is very inspirational. It gives me a lot of confidence.

Sporting ambition has long been a catalyst for building self-esteem and, after that world record, Joanna has suddenly found herself as something of a spokeswoman for sufferers of alopecia.

I have never thought of myself as a role model, but since the World Cup I have received a lot of messages from other sufferers so I am really pleased to be able to help inspire others as well as raise awareness, explains the 23 year-old, who compares the work ethic she found, as a way of combating the teenage stresses of growing up with the condition, to the demands of professional sport.

One of my mottos in life has always been not to worry about the things I cant change, only the things I can. This applies a lot to the world of sport, where it is important not to worry about your competitors and just focus on yourself. Inthat sense, it has been a positive for me and I try to have a positive outlook onlife.

It is an attitude that has been evident throughout her cycling career, having taken her first steps towards Olympic glory in a workshop run by British Cycling talent scouts at Nonsuch High School in Cheam. When I first started cycling, I was pretty hopeless, she admits. I had no idea about race tactics or the different cycling disciplines, but I worked hard and persevered.

It has taken a lot of hard work and dedication. Those scouts saw that I had natural power and endurance, as well as the ability to hurt myself!

A mere eight years later, Rowsell has already served ample notice of her intentions, but is not about to rest on previous laurels. We are being kept on our toes and working hard, which is what we need to do to stay ahead of the rest of the World, but a gold medal is definitely the aim.

  • POST-GAMES: Part of Team GBs all conquering track cycling squad, Sutton-based Joanna Rowsell, set a new world record with Laura Trott and Dani King in the women's team pursuit final a golden post box now sits in Ewell Road, Cheam village, not far from Nonsuch High School for Girls where Joanna was discovered by cycling scouts.

Vanessa Raw

Based in Kingston, triathlete Vanessa Raw will be giving it her all at London 2012 but if things dont go her way, at least this talented 27-year-old has another very different career she can fall back on

To many devotees, sport is an art form initself, but Vanessa Raw, triathlete and artist, is all too aware of the complex relationship between the physical and the cerebral.

I think my problem is that I have the body of an athlete and the head of an artist, she admits. Its hard to get them working together when theyre both wanting to do separate things, but I have to try and make them work together to get the best out of myself.

Harnessing such diverse instincts is key to her ambition of a place in the Team GB squad for London 2012, but at least the Fine Arts graduate recognises such a glaring dichotomy.

Most artists Ive met are much more laid back than I am, admits the Kingston-based 27-year-old, but my art helps me keep a balance. Having said that, Ive got a typical artists head, in that I cant switch it off. I do envy other athletes who can just switch off, and only think about training.

When your own event combines a 1,500 metres swim, 40km cycle ride and 10km run, rest and recuperation can be vital. Atorrid, injury-hit 12 months saw her 99 per cent sure of quitting, but Raw is finally back in contention to join the three-strong team in London.

Im really excited to be back, she enthuses. I just want to fulfil my potential. I feel obliged to see what I can do in triathlon. I wont feel rested until I know that Ive done everything I can.

A new management team, led by a representative of Sir Elton Johns Rocket Sports Management Group, has afforded Raw a whirlwind of opportunities in both her sport and art resulting in a stellar guest list for her latest painting project: a series of portraits depicting inspirational people such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes, David Walliams and Sir Ben Kingsley.

Despite admitting that art was always my first passion, there can be no half-measures until Vanessa achieves her Olympic goals, in her phlegmatic style.

Theres definitely no downtime, she agrees. Ill probably be like this for the rest of my life. I want to do a few big expeditions cycling across Africa and all that sort of business. For now, though, Ill just go with the flow and see what comes up.

  • POST-GAMES: In the end, Vanessa Raw was pipped to the three Team GB women's triathlon places by Helen Jenkins, Vicky Holland and Lucy Hall.

David Weir

Paralympic champion David Weir MBE, 32, who lives in Wallington, is the British record holder in every distance from 100 to 5,000 metres, as well as 10km and the marathon, and is hoping to add to his haul of medals

Should Usain Bolt ever win the London Marathon, or Paula Radcliffe break the world record for the 100 metres, one Surrey athlete will understand exactly how much they have achieved.

Wallingtons David Weir MBE, double reigning Paralympic champion, six-time London Marathon winner and British record holder in every distance from 100 to 5,000 metres, as well as 10km and the marathon, must surely be one of the worlds most versatile athletes.

Im not the best sprinter any more, because Im concentrating on the longer distances, but you still need that sprint finish in the marathon, is his overly-modest assessment of a remarkable talent.

This summer, he will be defending his T54 class titles at 800 and 1,500 metres and seems certain to add to his six Paralympic medals in London.

Just one gold medal is Weirs relatively humble aim. That would be the best Olympics ever for me, because its on home soil. The reason I do four events is not because I think Im going to get four golds, its because Ive got four chances. Four gold medals would be a dream come true, but in my mind Im just training for one.

Yet such are the levels of expectation that follow David into any major competition, he feels the need to talk down his own chances.

As long as Im fit and I do my best at the Olympics, thats all I can ask for, he says. It is a bit frustrating, but if you look at the Diamond League, I havent won for a few seasons because of Marcel (big Swiss rival Marcel Hug) and other racers. I will give my all to win a gold medal but someone might be quicker than me on the day. You cant guarantee anything.

Weir, though, continues to set new standards for wheelchair racing, and recognises that his success has helped to advance the sport as a whole.

Everyone is catching up on what Ive been doing with my coach, and their training is now very similar to what Ive been doing for the last 15 years. I knew they were going to catch up eventually, but Im not getting any slower.

He says hes reacted to these new challenges by improving his own tactical awareness and recognising the need to race clever, especially after recovering from a bad shoulder injury to win the 2010 New York Marathon.

I think that was my biggest achievement really, says the 32 year-old. I wanted to show the world that Im still up there with the youngsters coming through. Im getting older now and I cant lead from the front all the time, but its about crossing that finishing line first. Awins a win.

Whatever his personal achievement in London, the event will surely be another boost for the burgeoning Paralympic profile.

It would be nice to see a Paralympic athlete nominated for the Sports Personality of the Year, he concludes. Itshouldnt take London 2012 to change peoples perceptions, but the way ticket sales have gone, it shows that people are passionate about Paralympic sport in
this country.

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2012

With Olympic and Paralympic excitement reaching fever pitch, here we speak to three of the Surrey athletes who will be hoping for medals at this years Games

Interviews by Steve Gibbs

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