Two Leeds athletes will be flying the flag for England at the Commonwealth Games. Claire Schofield talks to them about 5am starts and medal prospects.
With our attention split between the World Cup in Brazil and closer to home, Wimbledon and with excitement building for the forthcoming Tour de France in Yorkshire, you could be forgiven for forgetting that other huge sporting event which is also just around the corner - the 20th Commonwealth Games.
The games will begin on July 23 and run until August 3.
The Glasgow-based games will bring together some of the world’s best athletes from around the globe for 11 days of intensive competition.
Two of Leeds’ up and coming young athletes are among those taking part and have been busy gearing themselves up for the major event having only recently received confirmation of their selection for Team England.
They will be hoping to make their mark on the world stage in addition to the event being a springboard for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
City of Leeds swimmer Sophie Taylor, 18, from Harrogate, and Leeds Gymnastics Club’s Nile Wilson, 18, from Pudsey, are two of Leeds’ most promising future sporting stars ready to make their mark in the Commonwealths this summer.
The young athlete’s talents were recently recognised as both were selected to be baton bearers in the Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton Relay when it visited the John Charles Centre for Sport in Leeds in June.
The two rising stars were singled out to take part in the prestigious event in recognition of their sporting achievements and now the successful junior athletes are ready to step up and tackle their first major international senior competition.
Having started swimming at the age of 10, Sophie has spent her fair share of hours in the pool.
After moving to Leeds when she was 14, she joined the City of Leeds Swimming Club and began to train more rigorously, clocking up more than twenty hours in the pool.
As a member of the City of Leeds Swimming Club, which counts Olympic breaststroke gold medallist Adrian Moorhouse, World butterfly gold champion James Hickman, and London 2012 Olympic triathlon gold and bronze medallists Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee as former members, Sophie could be the next successful swimmer to join this elite list of famous athletes who have trained and developed at the Leeds club.
Her training at Leeds placed her in an environment where she was surrounded by serious and dedicated swimmers, leaving no time for fooling about.
Pushed by her coach, Sophie soon began to master her strokes and quickly progressed into competitive swimming.
“Competing was quite intense and scary at first as you don’t really know who you will be up against.
“You could be competing against people who were much older and much faster than you so it was quite scary but I did really enjoy it at the same time.
“You just have to try and hold yourself together because if you let the pressure get to you then it can have a detrimental effect on your performance. It is hard but I just try and stay positive and stay focused.”
After years of gruelling training sessions of more than six times a week, most of which involved a painfully early 5am start in the pool, alongside keeping on top of her studies at school, Sophie’s hard work is certainly paying off.
In August last year, she claimed a silver medal in the World Junior Championships in Dubai and she is heading to the Commonwealths next month ranked in the top three in her events, 1500m and 200m breaststroke, making her a fierce competitor in the Games.
She said: “It is a bit of pressure going in ranked in the top three, but at the same time it is also a bit of a confidence boost knowing that you are one of the fastest, so although it is a lot of pressure it is also a good feeling at the same time and just getting selected for the Commonwealth team was amazing; it was one of the best feelings ever. I never thought it was something I would do.”
With her chances of claiming a Commonwealth medal looking promising, Sophie is well on her way to becoming Leeds’ next young sporting star and the games could be her stepping stone to reaching the 2016 Olympics in Rio: “I have a good chance of qualifying the way that I am going now. I know it is two years away yet, but I am definitely looking ahead to it.”
Leeds gymnast Nile Wilson is also preparing to make his mark as he gears up for his biggest competition to date.
Beginning gymnastics at the tender age of four after his parents took him along to a Saturday morning session, Nile has been taking part in the sport for a remarkable fourteen years.
His passion and dedication to gymnastics, which sees him clock up a punishing thirty hours of training a week, is proving to be worth all of the aches and pains and injuries that come along with it after he recently won an incredible five gold medals in the Junior European Championships in Sofia earlier this year, leading Great Britain to their greatest medal haul ever.
Following his successes at the Junior World Championships, Nile hopes to establish himself as a serious competitor at a senior level amongst the world’s best.
He said: “I have just come back from the European Championships and won five gold medals there so it is going really well at the moment.
“The Junior European Championships is definitely my biggest achievement to date; getting five gold medals was just unbelievable and I’m unbelievably happy to be selected to compete for England in the Commonwealth Games. I’m the baby of the team so it is nerve-wracking but I’m so excited to be competing on the senior stage.”
As his first senior competition, Nile does feel like he is being thrown into the deep end as he now finds himself on a team with Olympic gymnastics medallists Louis Smith and Max Whitlock, but he is hoping to battle with the pressure of competing by staying focused and relaxed.
He said: “I do put in the work and the practice in the training, so as long as I am well prepared I know I can do the routine.
“My favourite events are parallel bars and high bar and I think they are the ones I excel on so I really feel like my scores on them pieces can go towards the team score, so I am hoping to do well on them events.”
He added: “I am just hoping to go there and do my routines well and enjoy it as much as I can so whatever comes after is a massive bonus.”
With his fair share of championship medals already under his belt, he is on track to putting Leeds on the map as a centre for budding young gymnasts to train and excel. Having already contributed to Great Britain’s biggest ever medal haul at the Junior European Championships, Nile could go on to make local history by becoming Leeds’ first Commonwealth gymnastics medallist.
And whilst he is yet to make his debut in his first major competition, like Sophie, he is already looking to the future and has is sights set on competing in the Rio Olympics in two years’ time:
“The main goal is definitely Rio and beyond that, but I like to take it in my stride, one competition at a time, one step at a time, and if I keep progressing like I am at the moment I think it is definitely possible.”
The Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton had already visited 68 out of the 70 Commonwealth nations before it made its visit to Leeds.
The iconic sporting symbol, which traditionally contains a special message from the Queen to be read out at the opening ceremony of the Games, made its way back through Scotland to the start of the Commonwealths after being carried some 118,000 miles.
Joining the torch on its journey up to Scotland were Leeds’ London Olympic 2012 medallists Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee.
The Commonwealth is made up by 53 member countries.
More than two billion citizens live in the commonwealth and in 2009 447,043 of those people lived in the Highlands and Islands.
Scotland has previously hosted the Commonwealth Games twice, in 1970 and 1986, both in Edinburgh.