Teachers take the Olympic plunge

Stephen Lucas

At least nine British Olympians are taking a break from the staffroom in the quest for sporting glory. Stephen Lucas reports

An ex-Gladiators champion, a Commonwealth Games winner and a Sydney Olympics veteran are among the teachers on the British Olympic team panning for gold in Athens this summer.

At least nine British teachers are taking part in the Olympics, which start today, in competitions ranging from synchronised diving and judo to weightlifting and rowing.

The hopes of the nation in the three-metre synchronised diving contest rest on Tandi Gerrard, a PE teacher, and Jane Smith, who has just been accepted on Wakefield council's graduate teacher programme.

Miss Gerrard, a 26-year-old who has taught at Lawnswood school, Headingley, Pudsey Grangefield school, Pudsey, and Leeds girls' high, West Yorkshire, is thrilled at the prospect.

"It is absolutely fantastic," she said. "Britain has never qualified in this event before."

She has a tried and tested way of keeping her cool between dives: "I read Harry Potter. I'm on the fifth one now. It really helps me to relax, it's a nice children's novel."

Miss Smith, meanwhile, is unlikely to be phased by the big arena and is no stranger to the Olympics.

The 28-year-old came 16th in the individual dive at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and in 1999 was also crowned the supreme champion of ITV gameshow Gladiators at the National Indoor Arena (NIA) in Birmingham.

She said: "The NIA got me used to big arenas so I was not so phased by the Sydney Olympics."

Miss Smith, who taught sports therapy at Sheffield college between 2002 and 2003, will start as a PE teacher on the training programme at Cathedral Church of England high school, Wakefield, in September.

She said: "I only get a week off after the games before I start at school.

It is not long but it will have to be enough. It will be nice to focus on something other than the games."

Georgina Singleton, 26, a maths teacher at Furze Platt senior school, Maidenhead, Berkshire, will be taking part in the women's under-52kg judo.

"The pupils love the idea of me being on television because they can claim that they know me. They keep asking me if I am really going to be on TV. I have been on BBC Grandstand and they have seen that, but they still keep asking if I am really definitely going."

Weightlifter Michaela Breeze, 25, won a gold medal for the snatch, and two silver medals for the clean-and-jerk and the combined total in the 58kg category at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, and is competing in the same category in the Olympics.

She has taught PE at Ivybridge community college, in Ivybridge, Devon, for three years, and has been weight-training at the 11 to 18 school, squeezing sessions in before and after school and during breaks.

"My social life has gone to pot because of the training," she said. "I am looking forward to the pressure being over but it is not something I want to whizz past."

Other teachers taking part in the Olympics include Graham Dunlop, 28, a PE teacher at Hutcheson's grammar school, Glasgow, and Michael Johnson, 24, a PE teacher at Rugby school, who are in the British hockey team.

PE teacher Hayley Tullett, 31, from Hoebridge preparatory school in Woking, Surrey, is on the athletics team and will be taking part in the 1,500-metre event.

Alison Mowbray, 33, who joined Wycombe high school, a girls' grammar in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, as a chemistry teacher in 2000, will be in the women's quad rowing race.

Ms Mowbray, who came 10th in the single-skulls rowing at Sydney, has been training at Eton college's new 2,000-metre rowing course and on a stretch of the Thames near Marlow.

She said: "When I came back from Sydney, the Year 7 girls were asking me if I knew Steve Redgrave because some of them live around the corner from him.

The older girls wanted to know if I knew James Cracknell because they fancied him."

Ms Mowbray, who trains with both rowers, said: "It is very common for pupils to try to get their teacher off the subject they are supposed to be learning."

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