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Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Over the course of the London 2012 Olympic Games, dreams will be realised, legends created and history made. In the second of a two-part special, David Powles tells the stories of some of our previous Olympic heroes
On September 21, 1988, Norfolk had a great deal of interest in the Games, with three swimmers taking part in the swimming events.
One of those was Gorleston swimmer Sharon Page.
Looking back on the experience, Miss Page, now 42, said: “It is just amazing to have been part of that Olympic legacy and I have been left with some amazing memories.”
After working her way through the ranks, Miss Page joined the British senior team aged just 15, and remembers the day she found out she had been selected for the Games.
She added: “Because we were amateurs I think that for a lot of people it was an even bigger thing then than it is now. It was what everyone aimed for and, of course, it only came around every four years, which made it even more of a big deal.
”I had devoted such a large part of my life towards getting there, but there had been so much hard work put in by my parents and trainer as well so that meant I felt extra pressure to be selected.
“I had posted the time needed to qualify but still wasn’t guaranteed a place. We were marshalled into a room and they read out a list of those who had made it.
“When my name was read out I just burst into tears.”
At the actual event, the then 17-year-old managed to clock a personal best time in the heats of the 100 metres backstroke.
But her time of 64.75 seconds was not good enough to beat any of the other swimmers in heat five and she missed making the final. She did, however, finish 18th overall out of a field of around 60.
Fellow Gorleston swimmer Kathy Read also missed the final after clocking 64.62 seconds for fifth place in heat six. Yarmouth’s Karen Mellor also missed out on the medals.
Miss Page added: “When it came around I thought to myself I would just be happy to make the finals. Although I didn’t manage to, I was still happy with what I achieved.
“We were used to smaller crowds and we had been told to expect to swim in front of around 10,000 people. That brought about a different type of pressure.
“But it was amazing, just an incredible buzz. I got goose bumps just walking out in front of that many people.”
The Norwich City Council communications officer still has many friends amongst those involved in this year’s swimming event and will be watching with interest from home.
Also at the 1988 Games, Norfolk rowers Kate Grose and Susan Smith, however helped Great Britain reach the finals of the women’s coxed fours.
Archer Jo Franks, meanwhile, was a mere nine points away from securing an Olympic medal. The Thetford woman’s seventh place was hailed at the time as one of Britain’s finest moments in the sport.
The then 21-year-old said at the time: “Every round I got through was a bonus. My aim in the final was not to come last and I managed that.”
Kath Johnson from Grimston, near King’s Lynn, won a hockey bronze for Team GB at Barcelona ‘92. Such was her influence on the Great Britain team as they struggled to qualify through the opening rounds she was nicknamed by players and commentators “The Lion of Barcelona”. Her two goals against Korea earned the team a place in the semi-finals against Germany, where they were ultimately defeated.
Upon returning to the county, she said: “Although I was thrilled, as I was standing on the rostrum, it still hadn’t sunk in that we had won.”
Oulton Broad runner Paul Evans, meanwhile, showed the best form of his life to qualify for the 10,000 metre final. The hot and humid weather meant he came third in his heat, but still managed to book a place in the final.
His wife Karen, who watched the race from home on TV alongside their two children and her parents, said at the time: “It’s fantastic. He did a lot better than he ever expected.” He finished seventh in the final and also went on to compete in Atlanta in 1996.
Norfolk also tasted a share of success at the 1992 Games when Chris Boardman powered to gold in the 4,000m individual pursuit to become the first British cyclist to win an individual title at the games for 84 years.
His bike was Norfolk born and bred. The original concept by Norwich designer Mike Burrows was developed by Lotus Engineering.
Project director Roger Becker said at the time: “We knew the bike was a winner. We have been through very difficult times and this has boosted team morale. The whole thing has snowballed beyond our wildest dreams.”
At 25, former Norwich schoolgirl Emma Pooley made history, becoming the first British woman to win a medal in the Olympic time trial.
The Beijing Games, which saw Britain’s biggest medal haul for 100 years, was the PhD student’s first Olympics after only taking up cycling a few years previously.
Not only did she win a medal of her own after she rode the ride of her life to take second place on the podium, but she also played a crucial pace-making role in Nicole Cooke’s gold medal win – Britain’s first gold of the Games.
The 5ft 2in hill climber said the whole experience had been overwhelming but she was pleased to be home.
She said at the time: “I’m obviously still really pleased. It’s great to be home though because I was getting a bit home sick. I like my daily routine, my training, my food.
“It was really exciting when you first got to the Olympic village. When you get there you are welcomed by the BOA (British Olympic Association) and you feel really special. The whole place is huge and you can’t believe the scale of it all.
“But then after a few days you get a bit fed up with it – you’re there for a job, and your focus is on that.
“It’s not one big party, although I did leave before most of the events had finished.” Pooley will be hoping for more success this time around.
Norwich-born windsurfer Nick Dempsey claimed bronze in the Mistral class in Athens in 2004, but was devastated to miss out on a medal in Beijing, finishing fourth after sitting in second heading into the medal race in August.