Ten of Lancashire's brightest Olympic medal hopes
PUBLISHED: 12:44 16 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:38 20 February 2013
This could be a golden summer for some of Lancashire's best athletes. We profile ten of our brightest medal hopes
Wigans Jenny Meadows has been a Team GB regular for a decade and has won medals at World and European championships. A year ago she claimed her first national title, winning the 800m in Birmingham and is the third fastest British woman ever over 800m. Her dedication to the sport started early, she passed on the chance to have an eighth birthday party in favour of competing in her first race eight was the qualifying age.
British record holder Holly Bleasdale is one of our best medal chances. The Manchester Metropolitan University student, who was born in Preston, is among the worlds best pole vaulters and is currently third on the all-time list. The 20-year-old first tried the sport just four years ago. In March she won bronze at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul and her personal best is better than world-record holder Yelena Isinbayevas was at the same age.
Few athletes will face a tougher job at the Games than middle distance runner Tom Lancashire. The 26-year-old will have to contend with not only the pressure of competing on home soil, he is also yet to fulfil the potential he has shown since he started to compete as a youngster. Five times the national 1500m champion in his teens, Bolton-born Tom has failed to shine at the major championships and to make things even harder, his event is dominated by a seemingly limitless supply of world-class Kenyans.
At the ripe old age of 38 Helen Clitheroe will be one of the oldest athletes on the track this summer. And she will be hoping her experience of competing at four Commonwealth Games and two Olympics will stand her in good stead. Having previously raced in the 1500m and 3000m steeplechase, Helen, who lives in Hutton, now concentrates on the 5000m and 10,000m. In an interview with Lancashire Life after she won gold at the European Indoor Championships last March, Helen said: Ive got experience and I am strong from years of training. Ive not qualified for an Olympic final in two Olympics, so it would be a massive goal for me.
Things could have worked out very differently for Martin Stamper. When he was growing up in Liverpool the football-mad youngster wanted to play on the right wing but was put in the centre of defence. Frustrated, Martins mum took him to a taekwondo club where he was instantly hooked. He is now an eight time British champion with a real chance of a medal in London.
Lancaster-born Thomas Young just missed out on qualification for the Beijing Games but since 2009 he has been among the best performing British swimmers. He won gold at last years European Championships and helped Team GB to Paralympic World Cup glory and took silver at the British Championships earlier this year in the 100m breaststroke and 400m freestyle. The 6ft 5in former member of Kendal swimming club is now based at Manchester Aquatics Centre.
A bronze medal at the Modern Pentathlon World Championships in Rome in May secured Samantha Murrays place in Team GB. Sam, 22, finished behind the British number one Mhairi Spence and a former world champion but will face tough competition for medals in London. Preston-born Sam is hitting form at just the right time though she claimed her first World Cup medal in April in the event which combines shooting, fencing, swimming, cross-country running and show jumping.
Sophie Hitchon is hoping to create history at this summers Olympic Games. The 20-year-old from Burnley wants to become the first British woman to win a major international hammer event. A former netball player, trampolinist and ballet dancer, Hitchon first competed in the hammer in 2007 and has smashed her way through the national junior records and this year alone she has set three new British senior records.
Arguably Lancashires best hope for gold this summer is Shelly Woods from Blackpool. Now 25, Shelly already holds British, European and world records and has an impressive haul of medals from marathons and championships all over the world. She won silver and bronze medals at the 2008 Games in Beijing and missed out on another bronze by 0.03 seconds. Having won this years London marathon, Shelly will be looking to repeat the feat at the Games and will also compete in the 1500m and 5000m.
The North West has developed an enviable reputation in the velodrome in recent years. Since the cycling arena was built in Manchester this region has produced scores of world class cyclists and while trailblazer Bradley Wiggins from Eccleston will not compete at these Games, Steve Burke from Colne is a good bet for a medal. The 23-year-old, whose mother was also a Team GB track cyclist, won a host of junior titles and took bronze in the Individual Pursuit in Beijing.