One school, four athletes and a splash of Olympic spirit
Just one student competing in the London Olympics would be enough to make most schools proud, but a private school on the south coast will see no fewer than four of its pupils line up when the 2012 Games begin next week.
Plymouth College, a #163;24,000-a-year boarding school, will be cheering on diver Tom Daley (pictured left), one of Great Britain's big medal hopes. But staff and pupils will also be supporting athletes from Lithuania, Uganda and Zambia who are hoping for glory in the swimming pool.
At just 15, Ruta Meilutyte is already the third-fastest woman in the world this year at the 100m breaststroke and she could be fighting for a place on the podium. The young Lithuanian will compete in the 100m breaststroke, the 100m freestyle and the 50m freestyle. But despite appearing on the biggest stage possible, she insists she is not nervous.
"I am very excited. I am just anxious to compete," she told TES. "I am not expecting to win a medal; I just want to go out there and get a personal best. I would love to make the finals and I will do everything I can."
Ruta's boarding school fees are shared by the Lithuanian Swimming Federation and the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee. Such are her talents that she enjoys similar celebrity status in her home country to Tom Daley in the UK - although she pays little attention to it, she said.
Instead, she is excited about meeting some of the biggest stars in world swimming, such as 14-time gold medallist Michael Phelps. "I am really looking forward to competing with all of the top people in the world, but I really want to see Michael Phelps because this will be his last Games," Ruta said.
Plymouth College's headmaster, Dr Simon Wormleighton, said that four athletes from the same school competing in an Olympics was a "phenomenal" achievement. "I, for one, will be avidly watching the aquatics events, taking pride in the knowledge that Plymouth College has played a massive part in helping these young athletes to achieve their dreams," he said.
The school arrived in the public eye when it offered Tom Daley a scholarship after he was bullied at his state school, Eggbuckland Community College, also in Plymouth. But its sporting pedigree was already well established and it now boasts a 60-strong family of championship athletes.
Joining Ruta in the Olympic Village will be 15-year-old Jamila Lunkuse from Uganda and 17-year-old Jade Howard from Zambia. They live and train together as part of the school's elite programme, which boasts top swimmers from 15 nationalities. Training is split between a 25m pool on school grounds and an Olympic-sized 50m pool at the #163;46 million Plymouth Life Centre.
Jade only moved to the UK in September and is now looking forward to competing in the 100m freestyle at what she described as the "biggest meet of her life".
"I just decided to move to the UK because I heard about the college through a friend and the local swimming club is one of the best in the country," she said.
Jamila's family was unable to secure any tickets for the Games but will watch her compete in the 50m freestyle on television from Uganda. She told TES that she was nervous but was looking forward to meeting another of Britain's medal hopes, 100m freestyle swimmer Fran Halsall.
"She's really fast," Jamila said. "It will be exciting to compete. I am not expecting to win a medal or anything, I just hope to achieve a personal best."
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Next week these young athletes will perform on the biggest stage of their lives, but it has been an often gruelling slog to get there. Life is intense for the swimmers, who regularly train for between five and six hours a day.
A typical day starts with breakfast at 4.50am. The athletes are in the pool by 5.30am, ready for two hours' training before school starts.
After a second breakfast, school begins, but it is punctuated by more training during the day. When school finishes, the swimmers train for a further two hours before the day is out.