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Rio Olympics 2016: British athletes followed by Sportsmail

We're on the road to Rio! Meet the seven young British athletes who Sportsmail will follow all the way to the Olympics in 2016

, these seven athletes are aiming to follow in their footsteps.

Sportsmail seven for Rio

1 HARRY BROWN

Sport: Wheelchair basketball

Age: 18

Where are you from

I was born in Halifax in Yorkshire and brought up there as well. I’ve lived there my whole life with my two brothers and the rest of my family.

Tell us about your sport…

I lost my legs to meningitis when I was two years old. When I was eight, my mum got a job in Asda and one of the people at the store played in the local wheelchair basketball team. He started talking about basketball and that’s how it began. I play for the Sheffield Steelers and am part of the Team GB squad.

Who was your hero growing up

In my family my grandad has helped me hugely. He always helps drive me to training and he enjoys watching me play.

Wheels of steel: Basketball player Harry Brown stars for the Sheffield Steelers and Team GB

Wheels of steel: Basketball player Harry Brown stars for the Sheffield Steelers and Team GB

What were you doing during London 2012

I wasn’t playing but me, my mum, my two brothers and my grandad all went down to watch the Paralympics.

What are your hopes and dreams for Rio 2016

I’d definitely like a medal, but I don’t know how high we can go. Realistically I think we could get into the gold medal game.

Tell us something interesting about yourself…

When I was little me and my older brother used to collect Buddha statues and it became a tradition to bring back a family Buddha if you’d been away. The biggest one is about twice the size of a basketball — he’s just outside my bedroom.

VIDEO Harry Brown on his Road to Rio 2016

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2 SALLY BROWN

Sport: Paralympic athletics

Age: 17

Where are you from

I live in Ballykelly, Northern Ireland, with my mum, dad and little sister. It’s a tiny village in the middle of nowhere.

Tell us about your sport…

I’m a sprinter and I run the 100 metres and 200m in the T46 classification. When I was born, my left arm wasn’t fully developed and has stayed that way. This year I’ve moved up to 400m as well. The ultimate dream for me would be to compete across both the Olympics and the Paralympics.

Sally Brown

Sally Brown

Flying the flag: Spritner Sally Brown has targeted a medal in Rio in three years' time

Who was your hero growing up

When I was younger I ran cross- country so I looked up to Paula Radcliffe. Recently Jess Ennis has become another hero of mine.

What were you doing during London 2012

I competed in the 100m and 200m. I didn’t run as well as I’d hoped to. I was injured and only started running in April. The experience was amazing but really scary.

Previous: Brown competed at the London Olympics in the 100m and 200m

Previous: Brown competed at the London Olympics in the 100m and 200m

What are your hopes and dreams for Rio

I’d definitely like to win a medal. I’ll be 21 and nearing my peak. My aim is to go there and be in the top three for at least one of my events.

Tell us something interesting about yourself…

I’m dating Jonnie Peacock (T44 Paralympic gold medallist in the 100 metres). It became official after the Paralympics but we were really good friends before that.

VIDEO Sally Brown on her Road to Rio 2016

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3 CHRIS MEARS

Sport: Diving

Age: 20

Where are you from

I’m from Reading, born and bred. I live with my parents but spend most of my week in Southampton, where I train.

Tell us about your sport…

I’m a diver, specialising in the 3m springboard individual and synchro events. When I was seven my parents were fed up with me trying to do somersaults on the sofa, so they took me to the local pool to take my anger out.

Head over heels: Chris Mears hopes to replicate Tom Daley's achievements on the diving board

Head over heels: Chris Mears hopes to replicate Tom Daley's achievements on the diving board

Head over heels: Chris Mears hopes to replicate Tom Daley's achievements on the diving board

Who was your hero growing up

When I was nine I started training in Southampton and looked up to Pete Waterfield. He’s been an inspiration, getting to be one of the best in the world. It’s great now as he’s my training partner. He’s a good friend — and an old man!

What were you doing during London 2012

I was diving and reached the final. It was the best experience of my life. On my last dive, the board was shaking because the crowd was so loud. I could feel the vibrations and was so scared but I pulled off the best dive of my life. I almost died on an operating table a few years ago from a ruptured spleen so it’s incredible what happened.

In the medals: Mears (right) enjoyed a successful start to the year at the British Gas Diving Championships

In the medals: Mears (right) enjoyed a successful start to the year at the British Gas Diving Championships

What are your hopes and dreams for Rio 2016

It depends on so much but I would really like a medal. I will train hard and hopefully it will be possible.

Tell us something interesting about yourself…

I recently posed naked for Gay Times magazine. I’m used to being almost naked the rest of the time so it was no big deal. I’ve had lots of good feedback.

VIDEO Chris Mears on his Road to Rio 2016

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4 ADAM GEMILI

Sport: Athletics

Age: 19

Where are you from

I was born in London but moved to Kent aged two when my sister was born. I’ve been in the same house for 17 years. There are four of us there — me, my mum, dad and sister.

Tell us about your sport…

I run the 100m and 200m and the sprint relay. After being a footballer, I started training full time last January and got quicker as the year went on. At the World Junior Championships in Barcelona I won the gold medal in the 100m.

Adam Gemili

Adam Gemili

Sprint king: Adam Gemili shot to prominence last year and earned a place at the London Olympics

Who was your hero growing up

Michael Owen was the biggest. He was a great player but it was the way he looked after his family. I really respected him.

What were you doing during London 2012

I was competing for Team GB in the 100m and the relay. I reached the London 2012 100m semi-final and missed out on the final by 0.04 seconds. It was the best experience of my life. I competed in a lane next to eventual silver medallist Yohan Blake and I was in a race with Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell.

Brit special: Gemili is poised to be the next sprint sensation from these shores

Brit special: Gemili is poised to be the next sprint sensation from these shores

What are your hopes and dreams for Rio 2016

I want to be up there alongside the world’s best sprinters, running around 9.7sec regularly. If I’m still progressing the way I am, hopefully I’ll win gold.

Tell us something interesting about yourself…

I do yoga to help with my flexibility. I started doing it just before the summer and do it twice a week. It helps a lot with peace of mind.

VIDEO Adam Gemili on his Road to Rio 2016

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5 KATARINA JOHNSON-THOMPSON

Sport: Athletics

Age: 20

Where are you from

I spent the first year of my life in the Bahamas because my dad, Ricardo, is Bahamian. My mum, Tracey, is from Liverpool — she was a showgirl and used to dance all around the world — and we moved back when I was one to live with my nan, who ran a pub in the city.

Tell us about your sport…

Mum wanted me to dance so she pushed me — like, literally, when I was in a nappy — into lessons. I was a tomboy though, so I hated it. I then went through a number of different things — football, but they wanted me to be in goal, then keyboard, then ice skating. I didn’t really get into athletics until the summer of 2005 but I loved it. Now I do the heptathlon.

Dressed to impress: Katarina Johnson-Thompson made a promising start to her Olympic career in London

One to watch: Katarina Johnson-Thompson has made an encouraging start to her athletics career

What were you doing during London 2012

I came 15th — I certainly didn’t expect that. I told my nan I would probably come last because I was just happy to be there. I see it as a bonus because in September 2011 I was still having injections in my left knee, my take-off leg for high jump and long jump. They wouldn’t let me jog until November, so my training was really compromised and, at the start of 2012, all of my personal bests added up didn’t meet the Olympic qualifying standard.

Who was your hero growing up

Carolina Kluft. She was the queen of the heptathlon for so long. Also Usain Bolt, because 2008 was the first Olympics I watched.

Best of British: Johnson-Thompson (left) celebrates with Olympic champion Jessica Ennis

What are your dreams and hopes for Rio 2016

It’s always been about Rio for me, but I’m still only going to be 23 in 2016 which, for a heptathlete, is really young. At the 2020 Olympics I’ll be the same age as Jess was when she won in London.

Tell us something interesting about yourself…

Everyone always used to think Daley Thompson was my dad. In the European juniors I finished the competition and this girl came up to me and said: ‘My father competed with your father in the Olympics.’ No he didn’t!

VIDEO Katarina Johnson-Thompson on her Road to Rio 2016

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6 REBECCA JAMES
Sport: Cycling

Age: 21

Where are you from

I’m from Abergavenny but have lived in Altrincham since July 2010. My mum and my dad are in Wales with my five brothers and sisters.

Tell us about your sport…

I’m a sprint cyclist. I do the team sprint, the 500m time trial, the individual sprint and the keirin. I started off in year six, then joined the Welsh talent programme at 13. After finishing my A-levels I trained with Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton. The Commonwealth Games in Delhi is my highlight so far, coming up against Anna Meares.

Sprint queen: Rebecca James

Sprint queen: Rebecca James

Who was your hero growing up

I began by following Nicole Cooke and really looked up to her. Then when I got on to the track it was all about Chris Hoy. He is so great to train with and an inspiration.

What were you doing during London 2012

An achilles injury and then appendicitis meant I missed lots of training so didn’t make London 2012. I did go down one day for when Chris won the keirin and I’m glad I did so I could sample the atmosphere.

What are your hopes and dreams for Rio 2016

I want to be stood on top of the podium. I want that feeling having seen everyone else up there. I want to help Jess Varnish get over her heartbreak of missing out on a medal in London too and our form is looking good.

Tell us something interesting about yourself…

I love to bake. Every Thursday I bring lots of cake to the velodrome. I’m addicted to The Great British Bake Off. My trademark dish is caramel slices.

VIDEO Rebecca James on her Road to Rio 2016

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7 MAX WHITLOCK

Sport: Gymnastics

Age: 20

Where are you from

I was born in Hemel Hempstead and I still live there now but I train in Basildon in Essex. I live with my parents and I’ve got an older brother Ben who is a landscape gardener.

Brit special: Max Whitlock

Brit special: Max Whitlock

Tell us about your sport…

I’m a gymnast. I started doing it aged seven. When I was nine I was put into a squad and it’s moved on from there. I do all six disciplines but the pommel horse is my best and favourite.

What were you doing during London 2012

I was competing and I won two bronze medals — in the team event and pommel horse. I wasn’t expecting to win anything but to be part of the first British team to win a gymnastics medal in 100 years was amazing. I haven’t really done anything special yet with my medals — they are just on the sofa at home!

Who was your hero growing up

I really didn’t have one. I didn’t even have posters on my walls, nothing. I know that is unusual.

What are your dreams and hope for Rio 2016

Getting there will be tough. There were 15 of us going for five places in London and it will be more now. Assuming I do, I want to get medals in the pommel and all-round.

Tell us something interesting about yourself…

I swam a lot when I was young and had to pick between that and gymanstics when I was nine.

VIDEO Max Whitlock on his Road to Rio 2016

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Nick Compton recalls grandad Denis" advice – Alan Fraser

EXCLUSIVE: Grandad Compton's advice He just told me to hit the b!**#y ball!

|

UPDATED:

23:00 GMT, 2 November 2012

There will come a time in his England career, perhaps while standing at the crease preparing to receive the next ball, when Nick Compton recalls the words of his grandfather.

‘Oh for heaven’s sake, just hit the bloody thing.’

You only have to be a certain age — not even one of the millions who hero-worshipped England’s most dashing batsman — to imagine the legendary Denis Compton barking out such an instruction.

Nick Compton needs no imagination. He was there. That particular piece of advice was aimed at him, then just a slip of a lad born and brought up in South Africa, during a family holiday at the home of his larger-than-life grandfather.

Run machine: Compton is in contention to open the batting in India

Run machine: Compton is in contention to open the batting in India

Run machine: Compton is in contention to open the batting in India

Legend: Nick's late grandfather Denis

Legend: Nick's late grandfather Denis

‘We were in the back garden,’ Compton told Sportsmail. ‘My dad was throwing balls to me underarm and I was hitting them back to him with a high elbow. Grandad was sitting on the porch drinking a glass of brandy. I remember it so vividly.’

‘And without doubt his advice has come back to me at various stages of my career. Whenever I start to get over-analytical, I think of what he said. I tended to analyse and analyse in my younger years,’ said the 29-year-old right-hander.

‘But there are certainly times you have to remind yourself just to hit the ball. There are occasions when you are trying to do too many things and you just need to let go, to stand there, stand tall, watch the ball, and leave the rest to the gods.’

The gods — if, indeed, they played any part — decreed that grandson should be carved from a very different willow to grandad. Much more Jonathan Trott than Kevin Pietersen in terms of batting style and much more Nasser Hussain than Ian Botham away from the wicket.

‘I am cut from a different cloth,’ Compton stated. ‘I worry about what I eat. I don’t go out at night a lot. I don’t drink that much alcohol. Grandad probably did not give a s***. He had a good time, drank plenty, went to bed at 5am and still went out and scored 100 the same day.’

Comparisons come with the family tree. First as a precocious boy, then as a fledgling professional at, where else, Middlesex, and now as a Test cricketer. There is an inevitability to the comparisons, even if everyone knows the footsteps of Denis Compton can be vaguely followed but never filled.

‘I actually don’t think my grandfather played any part in my playing cricket at all. I did not wake up at five years old and think I want to be like my grandfather.

Cutting it: Compton lashes out for England Lions against Australia A

Cutting it: Compton lashes out for England Lions against Australia A

‘He was living in England, I was in South Africa. I remember him coming over when I was about eight. He saw me score a hat-trick for the football team I was playing for. I can see it now. One from a corner, one from the edge of the box and the third a tap-in.

‘I was 12 when my prep school came over to England. As president of Middlesex — and as my grandfather, of course — he showed me around Lord’s. He gave me a Middlesex shirt. He watched me score something like 28 not out for my school. He constantly had a drink in his hand, regaling my father with old stories in that Peter Alliss-like rich tone of voice. It was great to listen to.

‘But I was quite young and I had other things on my mind. At that age you are not going to ask him about batting in Test matches and that sort of stuff. A shame, really. When I grew up a bit and learned about him, however, it kind of fitted into place.

Duck: Compton failed to trouble the scorers in the warm-up match against India A

Duck: Compton failed to trouble the scorers in the warm-up match against India A

‘I wanted to be as good as him just as I wanted to be as good as Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara. Having heard all the stories about Grandad, however, I thought I would love to be able to tell a few of my own.

‘It took me a long time to accept that I could not play like Lara or Compton. It took me a while to accept that I could not bat like them and that I had to bat like myself. I used to reject who I was. Now I am much more comfortable in my shoes. I am a top-order batsman. I value my wicket. I bat for long periods of time. I don’t like giving away my wicket. These are my qualities.

‘I am not as good as Grandfather. But who was and who is No-one in this country. He played in such a carefree fashion. He was a real entertainer. It was a different era with different pressures. He brought joy to a lot of people at a tough time in postwar Britain.’ Compton is proof that runs in county cricket — he averaged 99 in the first division at No 3 for Somerset last season — can still lead to an England call-up.

Chance to shine: Compton is vying for a starting place against India in the first Test

Chance to shine: Compton is vying for a starting place against India in the first Test

Chance to shine: Compton is vying for a starting place against India in the first Test

And although he fell to a three-ball duck against India A on Wednesday morning, he now has the opportunity to bring some pleasure of his own to England cricket fans. He now has the chance to fulfil the potential shown when three times being named ‘most promising’ player at Middlesex, in 2001, 2002 and 2006. The winner receives the Denis Compton Award. No pressure, as the saying goes.
And, 16 years on, he will again wear the same badge as Pietersen in a throwback to their time at the Natal academy.

‘I was a young teenager. Kevin was 18 or 19. I knew who he was,’ Compton recalled.

Was he the big cheese

‘I think he thought he was,’ Compton replied with a smile.

No change there then.

Tom Huddlestone vows to grow his until he scores again

Hair we go! Huddlestone vows to grow his barnet until he scores again

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UPDATED:

11:54 GMT, 2 November 2012

Hair-raising: Huddlestone

Hair-raising: Huddlestone

When Tom Huddlestone vowed last year not to cut his hair again until he scored he must not have envisaged a 19-month goal drought. But that is exactly what has ensued.

In fairness, the Tottenham midfielder has been injured for the vast majority of the time since his last strike against Arsenal in April 2011, but he has kept to his promise nonetheless.

During his battle to regain fitness following ankle surgery Huddlestone has turned his afro into a weapon for charity as he aims to raise 75,000 for Cancer Research.

Huddlestone has so far raised 11,000, and although he is back playing regularly for Spurs, he says he'd happily let his hair keep growing provided Andre Villas-Boas' side finish in the top four.

'I won’t mind if I end up with hair down by my hips if we make it back into the Champions League next May,' the 25-year-old told the Daily Mirror.

'It started out as just a bit of banter with my mates, but although I’ve got more than a year’s growth up there, I won’t cut my hair until I score.

'I thought I would be back for the last three months of the season, and any growth would be manageable, but I suffered a setback towards the end of my rehab and it’s spilled over into this season.

Back in action: Huddlestone is back in the Spurs first-team

Back in action: Huddlestone is back in the Spurs first-team

'To make sure I stuck to my promise, I set up a page for Cancer Research and a lot of people have been kind enough to donate.

'I lost my grandad, and a few family friends, to cancer, and fortunately I’m not too concerned with the way I look at the minute.

'But if I play regularly and stay fit, I would expect to score at least once between now and the end of the season – and the barber will need a large pair of scissors.'

Huddlestone earned himself three England caps in the build up to the 2010 World Cup and just missed out on Fabio Capello's squad to go to South Africa.

Two injury-ravaged seasons have since set Huddlestone's progress back, but injuries to Mousa Dembele and Scott Parker have given him a chance in Villas-Boas's starting XI and the ex-Derby man is delighted to be back in the thick of the action and the think Spurs can finish in the top four.

Distant memory: Huddlestone drills home his last goal - against Arsenal in April 2011

Distant memory: Huddlestone drills home his last goal – against Arsenal in April 2011

'I like to think the top four will be our natural habitat as a club. We’ve been to the Champions League before, we’re aiming high again and it’s good to be back,' he added.

'Basically I’ve lost nearly 18 months of my career to injury at a time when I should be coming into my prime,' said Huddlestone.

'I had half-cemented a place in the team, we had finished fourth under Harry Redknapp and we were going well in the Champions League when I first picked up the ankle injury, and it was the start of a long struggle.

'Last year was a write-off and a nightmare, especially watching the lads do so well up until February, when they were in with a chance of the title, and then not being able to help out when results dipped a bit.

'Luckily, since we reported back for pre-season, I’ve been fully fit and I’ve enjoyed being involved with the boys again.

'Benni is the main man for Afros at this club, but he’s probably got two or three years’ growth there – I hope it doesn’t take me that long to score a goal.'