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Wednesday, 01 October 2014

Experience of a lifetime

THE Olympic Games were a long way away from England’s northernmost county, but a small – yet determined – number of athletes made the journey to the capital to be a proud part of Team GB.

From water polo to archery to athletics, Great Britain had an infusion of Cumbrian talent loving every minute of their experience.

There were no medals brought back to the Irish Sea coast or the Lake District, just a wealth of happy memories and amazing experiences.

There was also history for women’s water polo players Chloe Wilcox and Alex Rutlidge – who were part of the first GB team ever to compete in the Games.

Wilcox, from Reagill, near Shap, became the first Briton ever to touch the ball in the women’s competition and the first to score a field goal.

She ended the tournament with seven goals.

“It has been amazing – I just can’t even put it into words, I’m overwhelmed,” said the 25-year-old, who plays as a driver – someone who pushes into opposition territory and creates gaps and opportunities. I’m just so lucky to have been given the chance to play at a home Olympics. It’s something that is going to be with me for the rest of my life.

“To be part of Team GB, the most successful British Olympic team ever, it’s amazing. It’s something to tell the grandkids.”

There were similar sentiments from Kendal’s Glen Robinson, who competed in the first British men’s water polo at the Games since 1956.

He managed to score in GB’s final game – both the men and women lost every match, but proved they can compete with the world’s best and said of his Olympic experience: “I really don’t know how to put the Olympic experience into words. It’s surreal.

“Performing at the Olympics is the highest level an athlete can ever dream of playing at and to do it in your home country is just amazing.

“Having your family and friends all supporting you, it’s just fantastic.

“I’ll never forget this – it has been amazing, it really has.”

Away from the pool, Alan Wills, who competes for Sellafield Archery Club and lives in Frizington, had the time of his life at Lord’s. All the archery events were held at the home of cricket, in front of more than 6,000 enthusiastic spectators.

Wills was another unable to taste success, as the GB team lost to Ukraine and he went out of the individual event to Australian Taylor Worth.

That did not mean the event was a disappointment to him, however, and he said: “There is winning and losing, but when you walk in there and you hear it, it’s like you’re floating down to the line.

“I hope I gave the crowd what they wanted to see by playing up to them a little bit as well. It has been brilliant.”

On the track, Barrow’s Chris Thompson battled his own body through the 10,000m final, coming home in 25th behind winner Mo Farah.

A hamstring tear and a lower-back stress fracture meant his Games were never going to be about winning medals, but he was thrilled just to take part.

“I’m really proud and I’m an Olympian – that can never be taken away,” he said.

“This experience was always going to be to experience it. That’s what it was, it was never going to be performance-oriented because of my injury.”

As well as the athletes, there were numerous volunteers and officials all putting a Cumbrian mark on the Games.

Alan Bell, from Wetherall, near Carlisle, started the men’s 100m final when Usain Bolt wowed the world once more, and there were Barrow accents aplenty at the athletics stadium and the ExCel.

And that is not to mention all the spectators who travelled down to enjoy their piece of history.

Cumbria may have been a long way from the games, but Cumbrians certainly were not.

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