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Project uncovers stories of diverse British Olympians to inspire current team

·3-min read

The inspirational but little-known stories of diverse British Olympians have been uncovered in a bid to further boost the performance of the Team GB athletes.

The contributions of largely unknown competitors, including many women, black and Asian athletes, have been central to the University of Hull project, which was commissioned as part of a bid to inspire the British team in Tokyo, as well as at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing and the next summer Olympics in Paris in 2024.

Among the stories featured is that of Cardiff-born Paulo Radmilovic, who won three gold medals in water polo (1908 to 1920), a swimming gold in the 4x200m freestyle in 1908, and who became the first GB athlete to compete in five Olympics in 1928.

Senior lecturer in 20th century history Catherine Baker said a highlight for her was engaging with Team GB about the team’s place in black British history.

Dr Baker said: “While we were finding out new details about athletes like Harry Edward – the first known black British Olympian, who won 100m and 200m bronze in the 1920 Games – in order to help today’s Olympians understand the team’s past better, we were also able to have open dialogues about difficult histories of racism in Olympic sports.”

She said: “Being able to come together with a common purpose meant even more to our students and staff during lockdown when we started helping Team GB find out about its Winter Olympic histories as well.

“It was wonderful to see how the skills they’ve strengthened through our teaching – critical thinking, independence, precision, research, and the ability to weigh up evidence to draw the strongest conclusions – can gather results that mean so much to a high-profile partner like Team GB.”

A key focus was on the last time the Olympic Games were held in Tokyo, in 1964, including the story of Louise Martin, who came to the UK as part of the Windrush Generation in the mid-1950s and remains Britain’s most successful weightlifter.

Head of the history department Jenny Macleod said: “We all tell stories about who we are based on the past. That’s true of individuals, families, organisations and nations.

“It has been really exciting to find out more about the history of Team GB so that they can enrich the story of who they are as a team, and by extension, who the British are as a nation.”

The project came about as a result of the University of Hull’s partnership with Team GB, which began in 2019 and has multi-gold medal gymnast Max Whitlock as its ambassador.

Team GB commercial director Tim Ellerton said: “The contribution the students have made to Team GB has been invaluable.

“The concept, which was developed prior to the London 2012 Olympic Games when we fielded the largest team in over 100 years, is crucial to driving success.

“Our athletes only come together as Team GB for the month of the Olympic Games. At other times of the Olympic cycle they compete as individual sports and athletes – so effective team building and having a shared ethos and goal is essential.”

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