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A giant leap for teaching

Olympic pole-vaulter's former PE instructor inspires him to go back to school. Michael Shaw reports

OLYMPIC pole-vaulter Kevin Hughes, who represented Great Britain in the Sydney games two years ago, is returning to his old Essex secondary as a PE teacher.

The 29-year-old was persuaded to try teaching by his former PE instructor Tony Mescall, who helped Kevin develop an interest in pole-vaulting while at Fitzwimarc school in Rayleigh.

Mr Hughes is taking a Graduate Teacher Programme course at a nearby secondary school, Greensward College, where his old instructor now teaches, and will start a job at his old school in September.

He said: "I was very lucky. I think you have to be a bit of a character to teach PE, and Tony and the others were certainly characters.

"I stayed in touch after I left, and Tony rang my family from France when he heard I was in the Olympic team."

In the Sydney Olympics Kevin ranked a respectable 16th by clearing a height of 5m and 55cm, only 10cm below the winner. He hopes to qualify for the 2004 Olympics in Athens and fits in regular training sessions after work at an indoor track in Chelmsford.

However, he fears the long teaching hours and regular Friday night pub trips with the other PE staff may affect his performance. "The last time I trained I thought 'I shouldn't be going to the pub', but it's part of learning about teaching.

"Teaching's quite draining - you never get a chance to relax. But every day I look forward to work."

Fitzwimarc head Jim Fuller said he would give Kevin the support he needs to continue his Olympic career, including time off, in thanks for his loyalty to the school.

"He's come back to speak at the school many times and he's a great role model for the kids," he said.

"The next Olympics will probably be his last chance, so we'll give him any support he needs."

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