Leeds Beckett athletes at Rio 2016

Among the world-class athletes at the Olympic Games in Rio this year will be a number that have honed their skills as students at Leeds Beckett and we will be keeping a close eye on their progress.

Here are the men and women from our university to keep an eye out for when the Games of the 31st Olympiad begins…

Tom Bosworth - BSc (Hons) Sports Performance

Tom Bosworth says it will be ‘an honour’ to represent Leeds Beckett University as well as Team GB after realising his dream of reaching the Olympics.

British record-holding Race Walker Tom, who graduated in 2013 after studying BSc (Hons) Sports Performance, reached Rio after winning the British Olympic 20km Race Walk Trials at Woodhouse Moor in June.

That came four years after suffering the heartbreak of missing out on a place at London 2012 by just 19 seconds.

Tom, who still trains on campus under the tutelage of national coach Andi Drake, says he was better for that experience and he is now relishing the prospect of competing on athletics’ biggest stage.

He said: “I probably won’t (realise what I’ve achieved) until I get on the plane and that is when the real emotions will come to the fore and I will think: Oh my word, this has been one crazy season.

“I have finally achieved what every athlete wants to achieve and qualified for the Olympic Games.

“Four years ago, missing out on London was agonising. Everything was going so well. I was a very different athlete then. I had a lot of time to take off my personal best over 20km to reach the qualifying time for London. There was a challenge to get to that level.

“Coming into this season I already knew I was at that level. I got a number of qualifying times for Rio already. So the pressure was off in that way but I also had to tick the boxes: Qualify top two at the trial and stay fit and healthy. This time I made sure there was no chance I wasn’t going to make that qualifying time.”

Tom has enjoyed a breakthrough year ahead of the Games, smashing the 28-year-old British record over 20km at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge in Dudince, Slovakia.

The 26-year-old says he is now looking to outperform his 24th-placed finish at the World Championships in Beijing last year.

“The British 20km record was the most important to me because that’s the international distance and completed my set a little bit. That really put my name out there and showed I can be competitive up at the front now,” he said.

“That’s what I want to go and do in Rio: be as close to the front as possible. I was 24th in Beijing at the World Championships last year and wasn’t happy with that so that is the lowest minimum possible and hopefully I’ll be a lot, lot higher than that.”

As for the role Leeds Beckett has played along the way, Tom is unequivocal that he wouldn’t have been in the position he is without the help and support of staff and coaches.

He added: “I enjoyed being a student and that enabled me to train full-time as well. That’s what is brilliant about this university, how willing to support their athletes they are and how accessible the courses are for someone like me who’s travelling all the time and committed to my training but also has the passion to study at the same time.

“Leeds Beckett is my home still. I have been here seven years now even though I’m not a student anymore.

“It’s that family vibe. I’ve got the same coaching set-up and training partners as when I was a student. Everything from psychology to nutrition is the same and has been throughout this journey which means this season has come together so well because we are well-practised in what we do.

“Representing Team GB will be the greatest honour but also I wouldn’t be here without Leeds Beckett so it’s an absolute honour to fly that flag as well and I can’t wait until I step out onto that racecourse and become an Olympian.”

Sarah Barrow - BSc (Hons) Sport & Exercise Science

Leeds Beckett graduate Sarah Barrow says studying and training in Leeds has played a massive part in her Olympic journey – after defying the odds to reach a second Games.

Sarah, 27, will compete in the 10m platform in Rio after winning gold at the British Diving Championships at the start of June.

That comes four years after a fifth-placed finish in the 10m synchronised event alongside Tonia Couch at London 2012.

Securing an appearance at consecutive Olympics has been far from straightforward, though.

Sarah was diagnosed with an Osteoid Osteoma – a non-cancerous tumour – in March 2014, after suffering with pain in her shins from September 2013.

Following two operations to remove the tumour, pain persisted and it was discovered she had tibial stress fractures in each shin.

Between July 2015 and February this year, Sarah was taken out of the synchronised team, reinstated, and then taken out again.

She says the disappointment left her seriously considering her future in the sport.

BSc (Hons) Sport & Exercise Science graduate Sarah said:“I was completely devastated. I had to work out whether I wanted to continue in diving.

“I made my way up to Leeds again and worked with physios Alison Rose and Lucy Gledhill. I stayed with Rebecca Gallantree (City of Leeds diver) who is one of my best friends in diving.

“That was quite nice to have friends around me and work really hard.

“The line-up they had at the European Championships in May kind of looked like the team they would be taking to Rio. Watching it was quite sad really.”

Plymouth-born Sarah and her team from home devised a six-week plan for the Diving Championships in Sheffield, ahead of which she was told by the performance director she would need to get the required qualifying points in both rounds and win.

She duly delivered - securing gold in the final with a score of 347.90 after winning the earlier prelim with 320.80.

“On my third dive – the one that’s make or break really – if I hit it I knew I could do my last two really well and I hit it. As soon as I saw the scores I kind of smiled. You know that’s it. I felt like I had done it. The fourth dive ended up going really well. I just kind of got out of the pool and looked at my parents and a lot of friends came from Plymouth as well. The cheering was so loud.”

Sarah’s performance and never-say-die attitude means she will take her place in Rio as part of the 11-strong diving squad, which was revealed in June.

Unlike in London where she competed in the synchronised event, in Rio she will take her place in the individual 10m platform.

She added: “The individual is a completely different competition. I am proud I have done it myself – it’s different to synchro. When you get up there, it’s all about you and it’s enjoyable in a different way.

“In the synchro you are in the top eight but in the individual you have to go through 36 people and get into the top 18 for the semi-finals.

“My set target is to get into the final. Once you are in the final, anything can happen. I found that out in the European Championship in 2013 when I reached the final.

“There was no pressure on me and I ended up fourth. I feel I want to put that experience into the Olympic Games.”

As for the influence of Leeds Beckett and Leeds, Sarah says she is grateful for the role it has played from her student days to now.

"I loved university, I had a scholarship which I was grateful for. It was so helpful and everyone was so supportive and I graduated with a 2:1.

"This time going up to Leeds… I wouldn’t have qualified and wouldn’t be going to the Olympics. It’s because of them that I’m kind of here.”

Yona Knight-Wisdom - BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science

Yona Knight-Wisdom, who will compete for Jamaica in the men’s three metre springboard in Rio, has also graduated after studying for a BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science degree at Leeds Beckett.

Yona, 21, took up the sport after being inspired watching the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and first represented Jamaica in 2012. He competed in the World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona the following year, and at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, before winning a silver medal at the Diving World Cup in Rio in February this year, confirming his Olympic selection.

Yona, who was born in Leeds to a Jamaican father and Barbadian mother, is a sports scholar at Leeds Beckett and was able to complete his studies alongside his commitments as an elite athlete. He said: “I’ve really enjoyed my time studying at Leeds Beckett and have appreciated the support I’ve received which has allowed me to combine my studies with my sporting commitments.

“I’m delighted to graduate in the same year as I compete in the Olympic Games and couldn’t be more proud. Unfortunately I’m not able to attend my graduation ceremony as I’ll be on a training camp as I prepare for one of the biggest events of my life, but I wish all the other graduating students at Leeds Beckett the best of luck in whatever career path they choose to follow.”

Dr Laurie Patterson, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Leeds Beckett, added: “Yona has been a fantastic student and was a pleasure to teach at every level of the course, including during my supervision of his dissertation this year. He was always enthusiastic about learning and engaged with every activity wholeheartedly.

“As an athlete, Yona has come on leaps and bounds over the time that he has been diving, which is a testament to his hard work and dedication. The fact that he is the first male diver to represent Jamaica at an Olympic Games is a great achievement and I’m sure he will act as an outstanding role model for future generations who will be inspired by his involvement in the Games this summer.

“I think his success within and beyond sport is down to his willingness to fully commit himself to being the best he can be and his desire to make the most of every opportunity. I have been truly impressed by Yona’s ability to balance high-performance sport and university during his time at Leeds Beckett; but especially this past year where he managed to achieve a first-class mark in his dissertation despite being away at various training camps or competitions throughout the process. We are incredibly proud of him and wish him every success at Rio - we will be watching every dive!”

Emily Scarratt - BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science

Leeds Beckett graduate Emily Scarratt has been named Team GB women’s rugby sevens captain for the Rio Olympics.

Emily, BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science, will lead a squad of 12 players as the sport makes its Olympic debut alongside golf.

Team GB will face Canada, hosts Brazil, and Japan at the pool stage. Other nations involved include Australia, United States, Fiji, Colombia, New Zealand, France, Spain and Kenya.

Emily will be looking to add to personal success in recent seasons which has included finishing top points scorer at the 2014 Rugby World Cup as England claimed a first global crown in 20 years.

Emily, who was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Sport Science by our University’s School of Sport last year, said: “To wear the GB shirt and compete in the Olympics is a childhood dream that we are now, as a team, turning into reality.

“As a squad, we are looking forward to being among the first athletes to play rugby sevens on the world's biggest sporting stage. I am immensely proud to be representing Great Britain and introducing women's rugby to new audiences.”

Team GB Head Coach (Women), Simon Middleton, added: "This is a hugely exciting moment for women's rugby with sevens making its debut at the Olympic Games and we believe we have selected the best possible group of players to achieve success in Rio.

“The World Series this season proved how competitive the women's rugby sevens circuit is and we're very much looking forward to competing against the very best as a Team GB squad.

“The strength and depth of the wider training squad has not made the final selection easy. The players have been together since October and have trained so hard and really pushed the standards up of this group. I would like to thank the players who didn't make the final squad for their fantastic contribution and putting us in the best possible place to play in Rio.”

Laura Weightman - BSc (Hons) Sport & Exercise Science

Leeds Beckett athlete Laura Weightman says she is hoping to make a second successive Olympic final after building on her London 2012 experience.

Laura, BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science 2013, was just 21-years-old when she featured in the 1,500m final at her home Games – going onto finish 11th.

Now she has qualified for Rio after finishing in the top two at the British Championships in Birmingham in June.

After a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, she has set her sights on mixing it with the world’s very top middle-distance runners again.

Laura said: “It feels really exciting. I think, growing up and starting athletics, the dream is to go to the Olympic Games.

“To achieve that in London but to now be going to my second Olympic Games is really exciting and I can’t quite believe I’ve achieved that I will be going to my second Games.

“In 2012 I was a 21-year-old, I was fresh on the scene and never been to a championships before so I think now to be going to my second Olympic Games I have gained such a wealth of experience since then.

“I have been to a lot more championships – Commonwealth, European and Worlds – I feel so much better equipped and a better and stronger athlete for it so I really think I’ll be going to Rio with a lot of experience and can hopefully use that to perform.”

Laura still trains at Leeds Beckett with our University’s coach Andy Henderson and she says living in the city has continued to play a role in her success.

“Had I not come here, I wouldn’t have met some of the key people here at Leeds Beckett who have been really influential on my career,” she said.

“My physio Alison Rose is just around the corner. The coaching set-up here at Leeds Beckett is also important with Andy Henderson and more recently I have been working with Dane Mitchell on the strength and conditioning side.

“Both of them, alongside my home coach Steve Cram, have really put together a good team, a good place for me to train and live and progress through my career. I don’t think I would have made it to London and the Rio Olympics had I not moved to Leeds.”

“Leeds Beckett have got a number of athletes going to the Games. I think it’s really good we are representing over in Rio and hopefully we can put some strong performances on and bring some string performances back to Leeds.”

While Laura thinks her appearance in the final at London will take some topping, she is looking forward to a first trip to Brazil where she says anything can happen.

She added: “I don’t think there will be any greater moment in my career than being stood on the starting line of a home Olympic Games in that final. It was an incredible experience. I feel very lucky to have experienced that. I think Rio is going to be a different experience but I’m really excited.

“London was a home Games so everything that came with that you expected. Going to Rio I don’t really know what to expect. I’ve never been to Brazil, I’ve never experienced anything out there so I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how they put on the Games and what the experience as a whole is going to be like out there.

“I have been going well in my early-season form so I’m looking forward to the Games and I do think a realistic aim would be to make that Olympic final and I think build up what I achieved in London and put in a good performance.

“1,500m racing is so tactical: anything can happen on the day and I think if I’m in the best shape I can be I’ll put in a strong performance.”

Alistair Brownlee - MSc Finance 2013

Alistair Brownlee will be looking to defend the Olympic Triathlon crown he won thrillingly in front of his home crowd at London 2012.

Alongside brother Jonny, who was third on the podium four years ago, Alistair still trains on the Leeds Beckett University campus where he graduated in 2013.

Both work under the watchful eye of Leeds Beckett Head Triathlon Coach, Jack Maitland.

Alistair geared up for Rio by winning the ITU World Triathlon Series race held in Leeds back in June.

Javier Gomez, the reigning world champion who took the silver medal in between the Brownlees at London 2012, finished back in fourth.

Alistair will be hoping for a similar result in Rio on August 18.

Speaking after that victory in Leeds and looking ahead to the Olympics, coach Maitland said: “Obviously that’s been a major focus for a long time now and is one of those events where there is an emphasis on preparation for it specifically.

“I wouldn’t read too much into this race. Rio will be a different race, time and field. All we can say is those guys are in good shape and form at the moment. Hopefully they can carry on to be in the shape and form they need to be.”

Our other Olympians

Brendan Boyce, 29 - 50km Race Walk, Ireland

BSc (Hons) Sports Performance graduate Brendan, of Letterkenny Athletic Club, has been selected after previously competing at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow and London Olympics.

He finished 29th in 2012 and 25th in Moscow and is coached by current 50km Race Walk World Champion, Rob Heffernan.

Alex Wright, 25 - 50km Race Walk, Ireland

Leeds Beckett alumnus Alex, of Leevale Athletic Club, has been selected alongside Brendan having finished 31st at the 2013 World Championships.

Quentin Rew, 31 - 20km Race Walk and 50km Race Walk, New Zealand

Leeds Beckett graduate Quentin was 27th in the 50km race at the last Olympic Games and is back in Rio after finishing a highly-creditable 10th at the Beijing 2015 World Championships in the 50km race and 17th in the 20km event.

Alastair Brogdon, 28 – Men’s Hockey, Team GB

Alastair, BA (Hons) Marketing 2010, has more than 100 caps for England and helped Great Britain to fourth in the recent Hockey Champions Trophy. He was included in the 16-strong squad when it was revealed at the end of June.

Sam Quek, 27 – Women’s Hockey, Team GB

Sam, BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science 2010, recently made her 100th international appearance for Great Britain against the Netherlands and realised her Olympic dream after being included in the women's squad when it was unveiled. Team GB won bronze in 2012 and will be hoping for similar success this time around.

Qais Ashfaq, 23 - Boxing, Team GB

Qais secured his place in Rio at the Olympic qualifier in Samsun, Turkey, in April and has set his sights on gold in the Bantamweight division in Rio. He studied Sports Performance at our University.

Lauren Smith, 24 - Badminton doubles, Team GB

Lauren, who studied Sports Coaching at our University, will partner Heather Olver in the women's doubles. The duo are among eight badminton players selected by the British Olympic Association (BOA).

Research Excellence

Leeds Beckett is home to some of the country’s leading sport scientists and coaching experts. Recently published research revealed that National Curriculum Physical Education lessons are failing to deliver enough health enhancing physical activity, whilst Leeds Beckett obesity experts have explored the link between food environment and childhood obesity.

Biomechanics at Leeds Beckett are currently investigating the mechanics of barefoot running, meanwhile further research has looked at the pack behaviour of long distance runners, the psychological factors in sports injury rehabilitation and clean athletes’ experiences of doping.