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Sisters' vaulting ambition

Athletes Natalie and Hannah Olson will board miles from home as they develop their talent for the high life. Helen Ward reports.

Sporting sisters Natalie and Hannah Olson have moved 175 miles to a new school as they chase their Olympic dream.

Pole-vaulters Natalie, 17, and Hannah, 15, from Eastling, Kent, started at Burleigh specialist sports college, Loughborough, this term after a summer of success.

Both sisters won their age category in pole-vaulting at the All England Schools Athletics Championships in July. And Natalie went on to reach fifth place in the girls' pole-vault at the European Youth Olympics in Paris in August.

Burleigh college, which has a boarding house, has modified the girls'

timetables to help them fit their GCSE and AS-level studies around their six-day-a-week pole-vaulting regime.

They are training at the UK Athletics high-performance centre on the Loughborough university campus. The manager there, Steve Rippon, is also a pole-vault coach.

Gerry Olson, their father, said: "Their coach here, Derek Laws, has done a tremendous job getting them to this stage.

"During the summer the outdoor facilities here are fine, but when the nights draw in they cannot use them. Last winter we had to spend hours on the road maybe getting just one pole-vault session a week at Crystal Palace or Chelmsford."

The girls have lottery funding under the World Class Potential scheme which pays for use of the centre's facilities.

Mr Olson, who runs a building design business with his wife Penny, said:

"Natalie was due to change schools anyway to do her A-levels, but Hannah would have been left here facing problems with winter training.

"I put the problem to Steve Rippon. We made a combined approach to the university and Burleigh sports college. The whole thing was put together in a rush and we didn't know whether Hannah would have a boarding place until the day before she was due to go. It's the chance of a lifetime."

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