In an honorary celebratory event held in the Great Hall yesterday evening (Monday), three University of Birmingham alumni and one current second year student who won gold medals as either an athlete or coach at this summer’s Rio Olympic and Paralympic games, were awarded with medals from the university’s Vice Chancellor, David Eastwood, in recognition or their phenomenal achievements.
In front of a healthy audience of varying ages in the Aston Webb Building, Paul Manning MBE, three times olympian and coach of the the Team BG Woman’s cycling team in Rio, Sophie Bray and Lily Owsley, both gold medalists with the victorious 2016 Team GB Woman’s hockey team, and Lora Turnham, a bronze and gold medalist at the Rio Paralympics, all took their turn in receiving their medals, before being seated for a Q&A session with the audience.
We’re underway for the Q&A. Lily Owsley, Sophie Bray, Paul Manning, Lora Turnham & Myra Nino are all on stage with host Simon Brotherton! pic.twitter.com/t2gmhi84CU
— BurnFM Sport (@BurnFM_Sport) October 24, 2016
Hosted by BBC Sport commentator and fellow UoB alumna, Simon Brotherton, the hour-long session gave all of the Olympians the opportunity to answer questions on topics varying from the importance of sport, the pressures of the being an Olympian, and of course, what they will be up to next in their sporting careers.
Paul Manning (left), graduated in Earth Sciences from the university in 1996, and after picking up bronze, silver, and then gold in three successive Olympic games as a cyclist himself, he then looked to prolong his career as a coach, a decision that saw him lead the ever-impressive woman’s Team GB team in Rio.
Paul spoke insightfully about his transition from athlete to coach in cycling, and about the remarkable progression and future ahead of the sport as a whole. Aware of his vast experience dating back years in the sport, the audience were noticeably fascinated by every word the former world champion had to say.
Alongside Manning sat two Olympic hockey champions, Sophie Bray and Lily Owsley (right), who
drew particular attention from the younger members of the audience. For both, this was their first opportunity to represent Team GB at an Olympic games, and it ended perfectly as the pair helped the team win Great Britain’s first ever Olympic woman’s hockey title.
In the game that won them the title, the gold medal match against the Netherlands, the two worked well together as Bray’s silky skills lead to Owsley’s goal during the match which ended 3-3 before being decided on penalties, and they were showing similar chemistry on stage together in answering questions, as they discussed life in the Olympic village, superstitions, the routine of the squad in between games, and the city of Rio de Janeiro.
The fourth Olympian on stage was Paralympic cyclist, Lora Turnham (left), who’s presence on stage grew with
every word she said as the audience became increasingly gripped by her remarkable story as a visually-impaired athlete. Her performance on both the track and road in Rio was staggering as she won gold in the 3000m pursuit, setting a new Paralympic record on her way to the final, as well as bronze in the road time trial.
The story of her success however would come as no surprise to audience members now as she discussed in depth her gruelling training regimes and the ways she dealt with pressure, in the Great Hall.
Her achievements, alongside those of the three other Olympians who accompanied her on stage, were rightly recognised in some style by the university. After the Q&A, in concluding the event, Vice Chancellor Eastwood expressed his desire to have those same faces, and some new ones, back on stage in October 2020, after hopefully more success for the University of Birmingham at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.