Olympic Games Rio 2016: Essex’s athletes

PUBLISHED: 10:14 08 August 2016 | UPDATED: 10:14 08 August 2016

Saskia Clark © Richard Langdon

Saskia Clark © Richard Langdon


Andy Greeves profiles some of the athletes who will be flying the flag for both Great Britain and Essex at this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio

Saskia ClarkSaskia Clark

Name: Saskia Clark

Sport: Sailing (Olympics)

Saskia Clark was one of Team GB’s 65 medallists at London 2012, winning silver alongside Hannah Mills in the 470 Women’s Class. It was one of the biggest achievements of the 36-year-old’s career so far, which has been laden with medal success.

Born in Colchester on August 23, 1979, Saskia started sailing when she was eight years of age in a Blue Peter dinghy at West Mersea. Thereafter, she joined Royal Harwich Yacht Club where she sailed a yellow and black striped Optimist dingy called Bumblebee!

Saskia made her international debut in an Optimist at the European Championships in Denmark in 1992. She also competed in the Laser Radial as a youngster before making the switch to the 470 Class.

In 2005, Saskia achieved her first major medal triumph, winning silver in the Women’s 470 at the ISAF World Championships in San Francisco. She followed that up two years later with a bronze at the same event in Cascais, Portugal. Her Olympic debut in 2008 came alongside Christina Bassadone, with the pair finishing sixth in Beijing.

Saskia partnered Welsh sailor Hannah Mills as the duo won silver at the World Championships in 2011. She was set to sail with Sarah Ayton at London 2012, but Sarah retired to focus on family life and it was announced that Saskia would take to the water with Hannah once again. The sailing events during those games were held in Weymouth & Portland, where Saskia lives these days. It proved to be a happy hunting ground as the pair won silver in the Women’s 470. The year also saw the girls land gold at the World Championships in Barcelona.

More recently, Saskia won a silver medal at the European Championships and a bronze at the World Championships in 2014, along with a World Championship silver in Haifa last year.

Hannah Stodel © Richard LangdonHannah Stodel © Richard Langdon

Name: Hannah Stodel

Sport: Sailing (Paralympics)

Born and raised in West Mersea, the coastal surroundings Hannah Stodel grew up in proved to be the inspiration for her future career.

Hannah, who was born without a lower right arm, was first introduced to sailing aged three when she operated a Mirror dinghy. In 1995, she joined the Royal Yachting Association’s Mirror National Junior Squad, which consisted largely of able-bodied sailors. It wasn’t until 2003 that Hannah started competing in disability events and teamed up with John Robertson and Stephen Thomas in the mixed sonar class.

Success was quick to follow with the trio securing the bronze medal at the IFDS World Disabled Sailing Championship in Athens in 2003. A year later, they finished sixth in the Paralympics in Athens. This successful crew has yielded a total of seven medals at the World Championships with gold in 2005, 2006 and 2015, silver in 2010 and 2011 and bronze in 2003 and 2012. But they are yet to win a Paralympic medal, with a sixth place finish in Beijing in 2008 and finishing fifth at London 2012. At that Games, officials deducted Team GB four points after discovering damage to their craft. Prior to that, the bronze medal had been in their grasp but the deduction saw the medal go to Norway, who would finish three points ahead of them.

For more information on Hannah, Saskia and the British Sailing Team, visit www.rya.org.uk

Jonathan Broom-Edwards, British Athletics © Getty ImagesJonathan Broom-Edwards, British Athletics © Getty Images

Name: Jonathan Broom-Edwards

Sport: Athletics (Paralympics)

High jump star Jonathan Broom-Edwards first got into the sport while studying at Loughborough University. At the time, the Colchester-born para-athlete had been playing able-bodied basketball when a friend suggested they try high jump to help them improve their basketball leaps. Jonathan was born with a condition called Talipes Equinovarus (club foot), a deformity mostly affecting his left foot, although he also has issues with his right foot and knee. Despite this impairment, he took to the high jump with ease, competing at county and university level and achieving a personal best of 2.03m in 2009. A year later though, he stopped competing.

In 2011, Jonathan graduated from Loughborough with a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree in Aeronautical Engineering. With the engineering principals he had obtained during his four years of studies, he started working as a clinical biomechanist and postural analyst at Cione Wellness Centre, where he is still based.

While watching the Paralympic Games at London 2012, Jonathan realised he could be eligible to compete in para-athletics. He took up long jumping again and was classified as a T44 athlete the following year, when he was also selected by Team GB. During 2013, he achieved a new personal best, with a 2.06m jump at the Bedford International Games in May of that year. Two months later, he took part in the IPC Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France in the T42/T44 event. He marked the occasion by winning a silver medal and was only denied the gold by world record holder Maciej Lepiato of Poland.

Jonathan landed another silver medal, this time at the IPC European Championships in Swansea in 2014. His jump of 2.15m set a new world record and would have been enough for gold at the 2012 Paralympics. But Maciej once again proved to be his adversary, setting a new world record of 2.17m to take the top prize.

Maciej’s domination of the T44 event continued at the IPC World Championships in Doha last year with Jonathan coming second to the Polish star once more. Jonathan, who is a member of Newham & Essex Beagles Athletics Club, will once again be going head-to-head with his rival in Rio this summer, hoping it is his turn for victory.

For more information on Great Britain’s athletes and para-athletes, visit www.britishathletics.org.uk

Jonathan CogganJonathan Coggan

Name: Jonathan Coggan

Sport: Wheelchair Rugby (Paralympics)

Wheelchair rugby was first contested at the Paralympics as a demonstration sport in 1996, before becoming a medal-awarding event at Sydney 2000. The United States collected the gold at that Games and have been the most successful in the event with two gold and two bronze medals to date. Australia, New Zealand and Canada have been the only other nations to medal in the event, while those four nations (plus Great Britain) are the only countries to have competed in every wheelchair rugby tournament since it was first staged in 2000.

Jonathan Coggan, who was born in Chelmsford on April 24, 1983 and lives in South Woodham Ferrers, has been included in Team GB’s 12 player squad for the Rio Paralympics. This will be the fourth Games he has appeared at having also been selected for Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

Jonathan was injured in a car crash in 2000 and watched the Sydney Paralympics from his hospital bed. During his rehabilitation at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, he was introduced to a range of Paralympic sports and decided to focus his attentions on wheelchair rugby because, as a team sport that allowed physical contact, it came closest to his previous experience as a footballer. At Stoke Mandeville, he shared a ward with Mandip Sehmi, who himself has made the 12 player squad.

Having started playing club rugby in 2001, Jonathan’s first international call-up came in 2002 when he went on a World Rugby Tour with the GB development squad. A year later, he participated in the World Wheelchair Games in Christchurch, New Zealand and then went on to gain his first full international cap at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, where the team finished fourth.

Jonathan has been a regular fixture in the GB squad for the last 12 years and is one of the finest players in the game. He was named best in class at the 2006 World Championships and at the 2009 and 2011 European Championships, while his major medal successes include winning gold with Team GB at the European Championships in 2015 and bronze in 2013. The three previous Olympic campaigns with Jonathan in the side have seen Team GB finish fourth twice and fifth at London 2012.

For more details on Team GB’s Wheelchair Rugby team, visit www.gbwr.org.uk.

Ryan Crouch copyright on Edition 2016Ryan Crouch copyright on Edition 2016

Name: Ryan Crouch

Sport: Swimming (Paralympics)

22-year-old swimmer Ryan Crouch is in excellent form ahead of Rio 2016, having won two gold medals at the Cerebral Palsy World Games in Nottingham last year. At the time of writing, he is ranked sixth in the world and third best in Europe in the 50m freestyle.

Ryan, who is from Lawford near Manningtree, has been swimming competitively since the age of 11 and has broken four British records to date. Growing up, he took part in four UK Schools Games between 2007 and 2010, collecting three gold, three silver and three bronze medals over ten races while managing to get nine GCSE grade A-Cs around the same time.

Crouch achieved the qualification time set for Rio 2016 on the final day in the S9 Category 50m freestyle event at the British International Trials Meet in Glasgow back in April and on May 16 was included in GB’s Paralympic squad of 31 swimmers for the Games.

Four years ago, Ryan suffered the disappointment of narrowly missing out on selection for London 2012. The road to Rio has been a tough one for the youngster, who has suffered a number of seizures since 2012 and was advised to give up the sport for health reasons. The former Manningtree High School pupil has refused to give up his dream of appearing at a Paralympics though and has been rewarded for his persistence and dedication with a place at Rio.

Crouch also works as a swimming coach with Team Ipswich, while he was one of two coaches that accompanied the British swimmers at the Invictus Games back in 2014. w

British Swimming’s official website can be found at www.britishswimming.org.uk

Fiona Pennie. Image courtesy of Balint VekassyFiona Pennie. Image courtesy of Balint Vekassy

Also featuring…

Among the other athletes with Essex connections who are set to appear at Rio 2016 is canoe slalom star Fiona Pennie. Born in Scotland in 1982, Pennie is a four-time medallist at the ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships and six-time European medallist. The Epping Forest-based canoeist has been selected to appear at this year’s Olympics – her second Games - after having previously competed at Beijing 2008.

Team GB’s gymnastic squad for the Games had yet to be announced at the time of writing, but Brinn Beven from Southend was in the running for inclusion. The 19-year-old from Benfleet trains at South Essex Gym in Basildon. Also based at that gym, and coached by Scott Hann, is Hertfordshire-born Max Whitlock, who won two bronze medals at the London 2012 Olympics.

Wheelchair racer Richard Chiassaro from Harlow, who is one of 25 inspiring athletes from across Essex who have been successful in their applications for funding from Active Essex ahead of Rio, was still in contention for a place at the Paralympics at the time of writing. Swimmers James Hollis and Roberto Pavoni, who also receive Active Essex funding and are both from Harlow, sadly failed to make the cut for Team G, however. James’ sister, Emma, also a swimmer, misses out as does shooter James Huckle from Harlow.

Elsewhere, the 2011 Tour de France Points classification winner Mark Cavendish MBE is set to be part of Team GB’s cycling squad. Mark is originally from the Isle of Man and still has a house there as well as one in Italy, but day-to-day he lives with wife Peta and their two children in Ongar.

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