FOUR rowers from the Chester area have earned the right to compete on the greatest sporting stage of all.
Tom James, Chris Bartley, Olivia Whitlam and Vicky Thornley were celebrating yesterday after being named in Great Britain’s 52-strong rowing squad for the 2012 Olympic Games.
James, Bartley and Whitlam are all former Chester King’s School students who learned to row on the River Dee.
Thornley, 24, is a former semi-professional show jumper and model who took up rowing in 2007, rising rapidly through the ranks since then.
The quartet’s selection underlines Chester’s long and proud rowing tradition – and ensures there will be plenty of local interest in this summer’s Games.
The selection of three former pupils is something King’s School headmaster Chris Ramsey is rightly proud of.
Mr Ramsey said: “We rather like competitions and we try to teach our pupils to have a go at them. If they are great at sport, we encourage them to get better and embrace the spirit of what I guess we have to call sportsmanship.
“You might call it the ‘Olympic spirit’.”
James is one of the most well-known names in the largest rowing squad Britain has ever entered into an Olympic Games.
The 28-year-old won Olympic gold with the men’s coxless four in Beijing four years ago and has once again secured his place in Team GB’s flagship crew for the 2012 Games.
James, who was made an MBE in 2009, hails from Coedpoeth near Wrexham and started rowing 14 years ago on the Dee under the watchful eye of King’s rowing coach Neville Orme.
Former world champion Bartley, 28, of Farndon, will race in the lightweight men’s four while Whitlam, 26, of Daresbury, is one of 10 rowers named for the women’s eight crew.
Thornley, a former Abbey Gate College and Bishop Heber student from Holt, is also on the shortlist for the women’s eight.
The final line-up will be picked closer to the Games, with the two rowers who miss out kept on as reserves.
Britain’s rowing squad was announced in Windsor yesterday afternoon. The Olympic races will take place at Eton Dorney in Buckinghamshire, one of the finest rowing venues in the world.
Olympic King’s – for more on the Chester school’s sporting heroes, see page 84.