My best teacher - Amy Williams

1st October 2010 at 01:00
A boys' rugby coach taught the Winter Olympics gold medallist that winning is nothing to be ashamed of

I went to two very different schools for my secondary education: Hayesfield Girls' School in Bath and then Beechen Cliff, a boys' school in Bath that had only just started to accept girls in the sixth form.

I got on really well with all my teachers, but the one who most inspired me was Simon Newbold, a PE teacher at Beechen. He was always getting pupils to aim high.

He used to tease me that there had been articles printed about his own sporting prowess in a newspaper and would say, "Until you make it into a newspaper, I'm better than you."

I knew from then on that I had to make sure I got into a paper. When I did make it into national newspapers - when I was about 19 - I posted the article to him.

He was a big guy who mostly taught rugby, but he also did gymnastics at school. He was always saying how we had to believe, but he wasn't too serious. In fact, he was a very funny man.

The girls' school was linked to Beechen, so I knew quite a lot of the teachers before I got there. I was already into sports. I trained in swimming and athletics - especially the 200 and 400 metres.

I remember at Hayesfield trying to slow down in the races on sports days because it was a bit embarrassing that I always won. It wasn't that cool to be good at sports.

But at Beechen I felt much more able to push myself. I was quite often the only girl in a 400-metre race in the inter-school competitions. I wouldn't win but I beat quite a few of the boys.

Simon would be proud that "my girl won" or nearly won, at least. A lot of people found him scary. He had a voice on him. He could really shout - something that was necessary perhaps to keep all those boys in check.

We haven't really kept in touch. He went to work in Beijing, but a few months ago he got in touch with me through Facebook, which was really nice.

He congratulated me on my gold medal and seemed pleased for me. Even though Simon never really trained me, I will always remember how encouraging he was. He was always interested in how I got on in competitions.

At school I probably spent more time with the art teacher than with Simon, but Simon was the one who encouraged me to pursue sport and give it 100 per cent.

He was almost more of a friend to me than a teacher. I think because there were only 10 to 15 of us girls in the sixth form, he had a different relationship with us, as opposed to the boys who had started at the school aged 12.

He was still my teacher, and a disciplinarian at that, but we had such a friendly relationship, too. I hope, when he gets back from Beijing, we can meet up and reminisce about the good old days.

Amy Williams won gold in the skeleton bob in Vancouver earlier this year, the first British athlete to win an individual gold in the Winter Olympics for 30 years. She is promoting the British Heart Foundation's campaign to get children physically active: She was talking to Hannah Frankel.

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