Hockey, tennis, soccer, she's a star at them all

Sophie Bray is 18 and has already scored the winner in an Olympic final – but which sport will she choose to go for gold in 2012?

Alan Hubbard
Sunday 08 February 2009 01:00

Sport has never been richly endowed with great multi-taskers, those who have successfully turned a dab hand to more than a couple of activities. True, there have been legions who have doubled up to win international fame or Olympic medals, from Reggie Jackson (baseball and American football) to Denis Compton (cricket and football), Eddie Eagan (boxing and bobsleigh) and Rebecca Romero (rowing and cycling).

But when it comes to triple-headers or more, they are few and a long time between. In fact they even had to invent the world's greatest all-rounder – the incomparable Wilson of The Wizard, who ran the 100 metres in 4.7sec, beat the Aussies in an Ashes Test single-handed and then climbed Everest.

One who was for real was C B Fry, the England cricket captain who played in an FA Cup final, turned out for the rugby union Barbarians and also held the world long jump record; then there was little Lottie Dod, the youngest Wimbledon singles champion at 15 and a British ladies' amateur golf champion, who also helped found the England women's hockey team, won an Olympic silver at archery and shares with the American Babe Zaharias a Guinness Book of Records entry as the most versatile female athlete of all time. America's legendary Babe achieved success in golf, basketball and track and field (winning two Olympic golds and a silver).

Now there is a new contender for sport's field of dreams. Into it steps supergirl Sophie Bray, an 18-year-old Birmingham University psychology student who scored the gold-medal goal against the hosts for the GB hockey team at the recent Australian Youth Olympic Festival. Hockey may currently be Sophie's choice, but she has also played county tennis for Surrey and kicked a mean football as a left-sided midfielder for Fulham Ladies. "I never set out to be an all-rounder,"she says, "it just sort of came naturallyto me to be good at ball games."

It was knocking a ball around with her two brothers outside their home in Esher, Surrey, which set things rolling for Sophie, who was born in France, where her father worked as a marketing consultant. She joined local tennis and football clubs but did not take up hockey until she went to Tiffin School in Kingston. As an 11-year-old she represented her county at tennis for a couple of years but was spotted by Fulham Ladies when playing for a local girls' side. She gave up tennis to concentrate on football because, she says, she preferred a team sport.

She joined Surbiton Hockey Club while still at school, playing for their colts before progressing to the senior team. "This meant the games were on Saturday, which clashed with football, so I had to give up one sport. It was a tough decision but it was clear I could not do both. I stuck with hockey because I felt there was more future in it for me." She began as a centre-half but is now a striker, winning a European gold medal with the England Under-18 team, a bronze at Under-21 level and two England senior caps.

"My ambition now is to play for Britain in the London Olympics," she says. "Obviously to be in London is my dream, but I know there is a lot of hard work to be done."

One of her sporting inspirations is the former athlete Allan Wells, whose wife, Margot, has helped with her conditioning, although Sophie says she has never really been into athletics. "There are a few other sports I would like to try but I just haven't got time at the moment."

Her winning goal, which stunned the Aussie favourites in the Sydney final, sealed another phenomenal Games for Team GB in an event which unearthed more young sporting gems. The festival, she says, was an amazing experience. "We did really well and it was a knock-on effect from Beijing. We all wanted so much to emulate those Olympic results."

That they did – in some style. Team GB's showing at the 17-sports Games for 13- to 19-year-olds produced 68 medals, with 26 golds, improving on the 2007 event, which had seen the emergence of youngsters such as diver Tom Daley, gymnast Louis Smith and taekwondo's Aaron Cook. The names to watch for in 2012 include Sophie, shooter James Huckle, gymnast Sam Oldham and canoeist Jess Walker.

There was the usual return from rowing – seven golds, two silvers and three bronzes – and more evidence that British gymnastics is on an upwards swing, with five golds, five silvers and eight bronzes. Equally impressive were fencing and shooting, both winning eight medals, including four golds for the fencers and three for the shooters – somewhat embarrassing given last week's severe funding cutbacks for both these and hockey.

But there is other good news to brighten these chilly times. Team GB have climbed from 25th to 12th in the world of winter sports thanks to Kristan Bromley's gold at the bob skeletonWorld Championships, his partner Shelley Rudman's European gold, the Scottish men's silver at the curling Worlds, a men's relay bronze at the short-track speed skating World Championships, and a European ice-dance bronze for Scottish siblings Sinead and John Kerr. All encouraging results for next year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Moreover, it shows that Britain does have talent – not only on ice, but Down Under and all round.

The great all-rounders

C B Fry: Unbeaten as England cricket captain; played football for England in 1901, then reached an FA Cup final with Southampton; played rugby for Blackheath and Barbarians; and held the world long jump record. A novelist and journalist, he claimed he was offered the throne of Albania.

Charlotte 'Lottie' Dod: Best known for winning Wimbledon five times, first in 1887 when she was only 15, and remains the youngest ladies' singles champion. Competed in top-level golf (English amateur champion), hockey and archery, winning a silver medal at the 1908 Olympics.

Ella 'Babe' Didrikson Zaharias: Gained world fame in golf, basketball and track and field, winning two gold medals and a silver in 1932 Olympics. The first US female golf celebrity, and amateur and professional champion in the 1940s and early 1950s. Also a competitive pool player.

William Wilson: 'Wizard' readers will recall him running a mile in 3min 48sec before collapsing in a brief coma; his "record" would have stood until Seb Coe's in 1981. Ran 100m in 4.7sec; beat the Aussies in an Ashes Test when the rest of the team didn't show up; and climbed Everest with no oxygen or protective clothing.

Alan Hubbard

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