Games stars of track and Millfield

Sunday Times, 31.07.16, nine current and former pupils from HMC leading independent school Millfield will be competing Rio 2016.

Like many teenagers who have recently finished their A-levels, Cameron Kurle is going abroad this summer. But instead of InterRailing in Europe or travelling in the Far East, the 19-year-old will be seeking gold in Rio de Janeiro.

Kurle is one of at least nine past and present pupils of Millfield School in Somerset who will compete at the Olympic Games, which begin next weekend.

It is believed to be the largest number of competitors from a single UK school and is larger than the squads being sent by countries including Costa Rica, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Kurle, a freestyle swimmer from Glastonbury in Somerset, has spent months juggling revision with up to five hours each day in the pool and gym at Millfield, a private school where fees are as high as £33,000 a year.

“Without Millfield, I wouldn’t be in this position,” said Kurle, who won a team gold and individual silver for Team GB at the European Games in Azerbaijan last year. “I can’t wait to get going.”

Old Millfieldians Helen Glover, a rower who won gold at London 2012; swimmer James Guy; hockey player Simon Mantell; rugby player Ollie Lindsay-Hague; and long-jumper Jazmin Sawyers will also be part of Team GB.

They will be joined in Rio by former pupils Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe, who will represent Ireland in the modern pentathlon, and Nikki Hamblin, a 1,500m runner for New Zealand. The Old Millfieldian and golfer Joanna Klatten is expected to represent France.

Two of the school’s teachers — Tristan Parris and Jolyon Finck — have been selected as Olympic coaches, in fencing and swimming respectively.

“It is a higher total representation than from any other school in the UK,” said David Faulkner, Millfield’s director of sport and a member of the British Olympic gold medal-winning hockey team in 1988.

“The final tally will be even higher because we have pupils from all over the world and some countries have not yet announced their teams.”

The success of Millfield may reignite the debate about the proportion of privately educated members of Team GB.

An analysis of its 366 athletes by The Sunday Times suggests the proportion has increased since London 2012. Of the 262 athletes whose schools could be identified, 72 (28%) were privately educated and 190 (72%) went to state schools. Only 7% of English pupils are privately educated.

A similar exercise in 2012, when the Team GB squad numbered 542, found 20% of the 440 whose schools could be identified were from private schools.

Faulkner, who went to a state school, said: “I would like there to be more state-school kids coming through. I know there is plenty of talent.

“At Millfield we can influence the environment to help children be the best they possibly can be. We have great facilities — an Olympic-size pool, a state-of-the-art gym and hockey pitch, a fencing salle . . . I could go on and on.”

Faulkner said that when he won gold in 1988, only “25% of the team was state-educated” and that he did not enjoy the world-class facilities of the youngsters he now coaches.

“To be frank, it was jumpers for goalposts in the playground . . . but in the Eighties I made the best of it,” he said.

Faulkner is confident that Millfield — whose 63 previous Olympians include Mary Rand and Duncan Goodhew, who won gold medals for long jump and swimming respectively — will enjoy further success in Rio. In 2012, the school secured more medals than Canada.

He credits much of the success to the relationship between athlete and coach. Lanigan-O’Keeffe refers to Parris, his former teacher and an Ireland fencing coach, as Yoda — the Star Wars character who trains Jedi Knights.

“He [Parris] gets me — he has from the start. Having him in my corner at the Olympics gives me a huge sense of confidence,” said Lanigan- O’Keeffe. “My hope this summer is to finally realise the dream that I developed as a 16-year-old boy arriving at this school for the first time.”

Athletes at Millfield are also supported by psychologists, nutritionists, physiotherapists and performance analysts.

Yet Faulkner believes the real secret is not to push children into a single sport too early, citing research showing that elite sportsmen and women often try a range of events before settling on one. Helen Glover played hockey at Millfield, while Jazmin Sawyers was part of Britain’s bobsleigh programme. “Early specialisation can lead youngsters to sports that are not motivating or suitable for their abilities,” he said.

Kurle certainly has plenty of motivation this summer. After returning from Rio — perhaps with a medal — he will be opening his exam results.

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