Rio 2016: Yorkshire set to lead GB charge for golden Rio games

Sheffield's golden girl Jessica Ennis-Hill.
Sheffield's golden girl Jessica Ennis-Hill.
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The success of Yorkshire’s athletes at London 2012 was one of the many uplifting narratives from that memorable summer.

If Yorkshire had been a country it would have finished 12th on the medals table with seven golds, two silvers and three bronze medals. Above Cuba, Spain and Brazil among others.

Lizzie Armitstead.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Lizzie Armitstead. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Well, in Rio in 2016, I dare say this county will do even better.

And here are the athletes who will again give us goose bumps.

Athletics

Where better to start than with Sheffield, Yorkshire and Britain’s golden girl, Jessica Ennis-Hill.

Alistair Brownlee

Alistair Brownlee

Questions were asked in the wake of London 2012 about whether the poster girl for those Olympics had the appetite to do it all again in Rio.

In 2013 she got married and had to miss the world championships through injury.

In 2014 she had her first child and took the entire year off.

After all that in 2015, and aged 29, the issue was would she have not only the physical ability to get back to the top step, but that will to win and drive that characterised her. Well, in the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing in August she emphatically answered those questions by winning a second world title.

You could count on two hands the number of days Ennis-Hill has competed at the top level since winning gold in London and yet she heads to Rio Games as the world’s No 1 heptathlete.

Boxing

Nicola Adams provided one of the stories of London 2012 when she made history as the Olympics’ first female boxing champion.

Four years on, without history hanging over her, and with a name that strikes fear into opponents, she will be just as unstoppable.

Two other Leeds fighters, Jack Bateson and Qais Ashfaq are in the qualifying hunt. Once at the Games they cannot be discounted, given this country’s ability to produce champions.

Cycling

Team GB has dominated the boards this century and that success is now translating onto the road. Here in Yorkshire, we have two of our strongest bets.

Barnsley-born and Huddersfield-raised Ed Clancy is this county’s most decorated living Olympian. He is a two-time gold medallist in the team pursuit and in London he also added a bronze medal in the multi-discipline omnium.

He has not had the easiest time since his multi-medal haul three and a half years ago. Injury towards the end of this year set him back and his struggle with motivation outside of Olympic year got so bad he was publicly denounced by his coach. That kick up the backside, allied with the return of his old mate Sir Bradley Wiggins to the pursuit squad, should ensure he is back to his best next summer.

On the road, Otley’s Lizzie Armitstead has gone from strength to strength since winning a silver in the rain-lashed road race in London. Encouragingly for the world champion, next year’s course should suit her down to the ground.

One more cyclist for you is Leeds’s Katy Marchant, who three years ago was a member of Ennis-Hill’s heptathlon training group but is now part of the team sprint set-up at the Manchester Velodrome and pushing for a seat on the plane to Rio.

Diving

For an outside bet at the medals, try Harrogate’s Jack Laugher. At London 2012 he slipped off the board and splashed out, but instead of letting that haunt him, it has merely fuelled his rise to become one of the best 3m springboard divers in the world. He underlined that status by winning a pair of world championship bronze medals this year and he is the leading competitor from the diving production line that is the City of Leeds Diving Club.

Gymnastics

While Laugher was having a breakthrough Commonwealth Games 16 months ago, so was Leeds gymnast Nile Wilson, winning four medals.

Still only 19 and yet to qualify for Rio, if he travels he has shown he has big-time credentials.

Rowing

Hebden’s Andrew Triggs Hodge was a gold medallist in the coxless fours at the last two Games, but there is a question hanging over him because he missed the whole of 2015 with glandular fever. Does he have the fitness and the desire – he will be 37 by the time of the Olympics – to give it one last push?

If so, there are few as driven.

And if not him, then look to Middlesbrough’s Kat Copeland to shine as she did at Eton Dorney, or Leeds’s Paul Bennett in the men’s eight.

Swimming

For another outside bet try Middlesbrough’s individual medley specialist Aimee Willmott. Eleventh three years ago, the 22-year-old has since won medals at European and Commonwealth level.

Triathlon

Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, triathlon royalty from under the same roof. Both have been injury-plagued since London 2012 but when fit they are unbeatable – just ask Javier Gomez.

Paralympics

LET’S not forget our Paralympic force of nature ‘Hurricane’ Hannah Cockroft.

Already a champion in two events, she could win a hat-trick of gold medals next September.