'I taught him all the sports': what teachers say about their Olympian pupils

What is it like to teach a pupil with Olympic medal-winning potential? How early does their talent show? And what are they like when they’re not doing sport?

Adi Bloom

News article image

Throughout the summer, teachers across the country have been nervously anticipating their pupils’ results. But, for some teachers, those results are higher-profile than others.

TES has been speaking to teachers who taught Olympic athletes competing in Rio, as their former pupils triumphed for Team GB.

The swimmer

Ronnie Jeffries, head of PE (retired this summer) at North Berwick High, taught Dan Wallace, 23, who won a silver medal for 4x200m freestyle relay

“Dan was always focused on his swimming, rather than his lessons. He had the intellect to do whatever he wanted to do, but swimming was his life. If I’m being honest with you, his mind was somewhere else most of the time. This is a boy who at 4am was in Edinburgh swimming. By the time school started at 9am, he’d been up for five hours.

"I taught him all the sports: from basketball to badminton to Scottish country dancing. I couldn’t teach him much about swimming. So, if we had a swimming class, we’d excuse him. Two kicks and a couple of strokes and he’d have been at the other side of the North Berwick pool.

"He was probably one of the quieter students. He definitely wasn’t one of the A-listers, socially. He was taking a more mature approach: he was more focused on his life goals, in a school where kids were just being kids.

"Last year, we were over in Florida, and we went off to the University of Florida at Gainesville, where my wife went to uni. Half an hour out of Gainesville, my son said, 'Dan’ll be there, training. It’ll be great for him to hear a Scottish accent.'



"Dan showed us around. My two boys spent the evening with Dan, but best not go into the details of that. Dan’s not too big an athlete to still have time for his pals.

"He’s not lost his humility. He still says, 'Oh, Mr Jeffries! How are you doing?' He’s a very proud Scot, very proud of his heritage.”

Dan Wallace Olympic swimmer

Dan Wallace 'still has time for his pals' despite his gruelling training regime. Photo: Getty Images

The rower

Annette MacKay is depute headteacher at Bearsden Academy, attended by Katherine Grainger, 40, who won a silver medal in the double sculls

“Katherine was girls’ captain in 1989-90, so she was obviously quite a leader when she was at school. The main person she always said was a real influence on her was Ken Davis, the art teacher, who also took the judo club. Katherine has said that Ken’s influence on her – 'Keep going – you can do it' – gave her that real determination.

"When the Olympic torch was doing the rounds of the UK, Katherine nominated Ken to carry it. We all sat in the school hall and watched it.

"She didn’t row at school at all – she only started rowing when she went to Edinburgh University. She’s tall and broad. Someone there said, 'Why don’t you try rowing?' But she had a background in sport: judo, but also sport in general.

"She was also highly academic. She was a very hard-working, dedicated student. She got good grades, and went to do law in Edinburgh. And she’s done a PhD since the last Olympics. She’s quite a focused person.”

Katherine Grainger Olympic rower

Katherine Grainger, right, with her double sculls partner Victoria Thornley. Photo: Getty Images

To read more interviews with the teachers of some of Team GB's biggest stars, pick up a copy of tomorrow's TES magazine. Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES on Twitter and like TES on Facebook

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

Latest stories

Super-curricular activities: are you offering them?

Is your school offering super-curricular activities?

Students need more than qualifications to get a place at a top university - and super-curricular activities are giving their applications that boost. But how do they work in practice?
Kate Parker 24 Sep 2021