Team GB's new heroes: Meet the medal-winners
Friday 03 August 2012
The 6ft 6in farmer's son who found an unlikely mentor in Dubai
The double trap shooting victor from Dorset owes his success to his unlikely mentor and benefactor, Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum, a member of the Dubai Royal Family.
The 6ft 6in farmer's son, 25, lost his Lottery funding after the British shooting team's failure at the 2008 Beijing Games. Wilson worked as a pub waiter to keep his dream alive, until he forged a friendship with Mr Maktoum, a champion shooter who won his country's first Olympic gold in double trap at Athens in 2004.
Wilson, pictured right with his girlfriend Michelle McCullagh, recalled: "He [Mr Maktoum] said he was going to quit after Beijing. I said, 'Well, I'm about to lose my funding.' And we had a deal over a coffee and a handshake."
Wilson escaped the British winter for Dubai, where Mr Maktoum coached him free of charge. "That was where the magic happened," he said. "Since then I haven't looked back."
Wilson learned to shoot his Perazzi MX2005 High Rib shotgun in the Arab-style, standing sideways. "He's fairly famous out there,'' Wilson said of his mentor. "I suppose it's like being coached by Prince William or Prince Harry back in the UK for whatever they have won an Olympic gold at."
The improvements in his performance ensured that Wilson, who is the double trap world record holder and current world No 2, won his funding back. Although Mr Maktoum has been ill, he travelled to the Royal Artillery Barracks to help Wilson end Britain's 12-year medal drought in shooting.
Despite shooting from the age of eight, Wilson took it up competitively only in 2006. He hopes his success will convince youngsters that shooting is a safe sport to take up. Reflecting on his victory, Wilson said: "How can a farm boy from Dorset possibly prepare for that? It's just impossible. I just tried to enjoy every moment and the crowd were amazing. I was on my knees. I could not believe the emotions that came right over me. I think it was Ian [Coley, GB coach] who grabbed me first and then I saw dad and the rest of the family." Asked how he was going to celebrate, Wilson said: "I'm going to get very, very drunk and probably do something silly."
Asked what he would do now, he said: "I'd love to set up a business around shooting. You don't get paid a huge amount of money, as fortunate as I am to get funding. I would like to try to support myself and base that around shooting."
The south Londoner who fought back after losing the mother who inspired her success
Londoner Gemma Gibbons, above, – ranked only 33 in the world – became the first British judo medallist for 12 years. She was encouraged to take up the sport at the age of six by her mother Jeanette, who died of leukaemia in 2004. After her semi-final she looked up to the heavens and mouthed "I love you mum."
Gibbons, 25, from Greenwich in south London, lost her mother a year after winning her first gold medal, aged 16, at the British National Junior Championships.
She continued to make her mark at junior level before graduating to the senior circuit in 2006. Despite winning Gold at the Orenburg European Cup in 2010, she was a rank outsider for the Olympics. Yet she impressed from the outset, battling past the seventh seed, before overcoming the world champion, Audrey Tcheumeo, in the semi-final.
Though Gibbons lost out to Harrison in the final, silver was a superb achievement, especially as she was not competing in her first-choice weight category.
She said afterwards: "It does not quite feel real at the moment. It has been difficult to get here, but it is not easy for any athlete. Deep within, though, I always knew I could do something special, and that is what drives you on."
The Mancunian who overcame injury to make the canoeing squad
Etienne Stott's previous sporting accolades include Bedford Sports Personality of the Year 2008. Yesterday he became an Olympic champion. His surprise canoeing gold medal was particularly impressive given that both he and his partner Tim Baillie had to battle serious injury to even compete in the Games. The 33-year-old from Manchester, who now lives close to the site of yesterday's golden run in the Lea Valley, had to be operated on after dislocating his shoulder last year. Stott, pictured below, said: "The moment after the dislocation, the dreams and ideas for that year instantly disappeared."
At the same time, Aberdeen-born Tim Baillie had to have an operation on his elbow. The injuries kept them out until the turn of the year. Yet the pair battled back into contention for Team GB and were ranked sixth in the world.
Stott, who is half-British and half-French-Canadian, began canoeing while in the Scouts, following the troop's leaders who were "all action guys". He grew up in Bedford where he joined his local kayaking club, the Vikings. "That's where I started getting into the competitive side of things," he said.
Baillie, also 33, was born into canoeing. Both his parents were slalom paddlers at a local level and he was "out in a kayak" as soon as he could swim. His uncle, Mick Jones, was a famous kayak explorer who drowned before Baillie was born.
Stott said last night: "Saying it's unbelievable 100 times won't do it justice. It's a massive thing for our sport and hopefully it will help Team GB. It's a scary thing what we have done today."
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