PLYMOUTH, England (Reuters) - Cheers will ring out from a small southwest England school when the Summer Games come to London, but not just for British Olympic diving hopeful Tom Daley.
Three swimmers, all from different nations, are also enrolled at Plymouth College, a 530-student Independent school which never before could boast an Olympian in the class room.
“With everything going around, like the Olympic torch and all the other events happening around the country, it’s made reality hit but it’s still hard to believe,” said Jade Howard, 17, who swims for Zambia.
“It’s brilliant, it’s like going to Olympian school,” said class mate Ruta Meilutyte who will represent Lithuania.
“It makes me really proud and I think it is something different, isn’t it, just knowing that there are other people in the same position as you.”
The Games will be the first for Howard, Meilutyte and Ugandan Jamila Lunkuse.
Meilutyte, 15 and the top female Lithuanian swimmer, has a genuine chance of winning a medal in the 100 metres breaststroke after having swam the third quickest time in the world this year(1.07:30). But as it is her first Olympics she is setting a more modest target.
“I‘m not expecting to win a medal,” she said. “I think I‘m still quite young and I just don’t want to try to achieve something unachievable. To make a final would be quite a challenge.”
Howard and Lunkuse, like Meilutyte, are the best female swimmers for their nations.
“Obviously Zambia is nowhere near as developed as Britain so there’s not many sporting facilities,” said Howard. “There’s not many opportunities for loads of people to get training in, so it’s quite sad.”
It was for these reasons she moved to Plymouth last year.
The school has a partnership with local swimming club Plymouth Leander, and their 60 swimmers at national standard and nearly 20 at international standard.
Swimmers from 15 different nations are members of Leander and attend Plymouth College.
The school’s swimming programme provides them with scholarships, boarding house accommodation, pastoral support and mentoring so they can achieve high results both in the pool and in the classroom.
It has been the top swimming school in England for the last five years, consistently winning national awards.
“We’ve had swimmers at world level, European, Commonwealth levels in recent years but these are our first Olympians and that’s a very special moment for us,” said John Rudd, Plymouth College’s director of swimming and the head coach of Leander.
The link between the school and Leander was all important, he said.
“One would not have been successful without the other, so Plymouth Leander provides a lot of the swimming support and Plymouth College provides the boarding support for the athletes that come from around the country and around the world and provides what we all think is a first class education,” Rudd said.
“It’s a really good partnership.”
Lunkuse and Daley agreed.
“The school’s been really supportive with all my school work and training. They understand,” said Lunkuse, 15. “I found it hard for the first six months I was here because training back home was so much different, but when you get used to it it’s really good and you come away with good aspects at the end.”
Daley, the most experienced of the four athletes having competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, has found life at the school a good mix.
”It’s very important to try and balance diving with school work and social life, he said.
“I can have lessons when I‘m away, so Plymouth College have been fantastic with helping me stay with my A-Levels and also dive to the best of my ability too.”
Daley, 18, has won gold medals at the world championships, Commonwealth Games and the European Championships since he joined the school in 2009.
”For Tom to win a medal at his young age would be absolutely fantastic,“ headmaster Simon Wormleighton said. ”I mean he has to stand a good chance. He has achieved so much.
“But we hope he’s not our only medal. We have high expectations for the three swimmers as well.”