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Sportsmail"s Magnificent Seven, including Louis Smith and Tom Daley, come together for the final time

Thanks for being MAGNIFICENT! Sportsmail pays tribute to the seven athletes we have followed from 2005 to the 2012 Olympics

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UPDATED:

00:04 GMT, 28 December 2012

Seven years ago, Sportsmail began following seven young athletes as they set out on their journeys to try to reach the 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games in London.

Three of the original seven made it to the Games but two called time on their sporting careers before the start of this year. Their replacements, however, were both part of Team GB and Paralympics GB last summer.

It has been an enlightening experience, punctuated by extremes of success and disappointment, watching the development of these athletes' careers since 2005.

Recently, Sportsmail's Magnificent Seven met up for the final time and shared memories of their experiences.

Then and now: From left, Gemma Howell, Tom Daley, Louise Watkin, Sportsmail's Andy Hooper, Emily Pidgeon, Shanaze Reade and Louis Smith met up for one final time recently

Then and now: From left, Gemma Howell, Tom Daley, Louise Watkin, Sportsmail's Andy Hooper, Emily Pidgeon, Shanaze Reade and Louis Smith met up for one final time recently

As they were: The original Magnificent Seven lined up at Lord's, from left, Tom Daley, Louis Smith, Jean-Rene Badrick, Emily Pidgeon, Giles Scott, Rachael Latham and Shanaze Reade

As they were: The original Magnificent Seven lined up at Lord's, from left, Tom Daley, Louis Smith, Jean-Rene Badrick, Emily Pidgeon, Giles Scott, Rachael Latham and Shanaze Reade

Tom Daley, Diving, 18, from Plymouth

The youngest of the Magnificent Seven has become a superstar. Daley was selected for the Beijing Games aged just 14 after becoming a British and European champion in the 10-metre platform.

He added the world title in 2009, two Commonwealth golds (in the individual event and synchronised 10m platform) in 2010 and then won an emotional Olympic bronze medal in London, despite intense pressure and expectation and the passing of his father, Rob, in May 2011.

'When I look at some of the photos from 2005 I'm so small! It's crazy how much I've changed since then and what I've achieved in that time.

'Life's changed, too. In fact, it's stacked up to a whole new level since London. Going out anywhere, there are so many people who stop you and say, “Congratulations”.

'It's nice to feel appreciated and respected but it does feel weird that seven years of training were geared towards London 2012 and now it's been and gone.

Superstar: Tom Daley won a bronze medal in the men's 10m platform at the London Games

Superstar: Tom Daley won a bronze medal in the men's 10m platform at the London Games

In the spotlight: Daley (right) presented the Young Sports Personality of the Year award to Josef Craig (centre)

In the spotlight: Daley (right) presented the Young Sports Personality of the Year award to Josef Craig (centre)

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN…

The Magnificent Seven series originated in 2005 through Sportsmail selecting seven talented athletes to follow through to London 2012.

The National Lottery joined as partner in 2006 to promote their funding into the seven chosen athletes, along with over 1,200 other competitors, on their journey to the London 2012 Games.

National Lottery funding, originating directly from the Lottery-playing public across the UK, enables elite athletes to benefit from the world-class coaching, facilities and medical support, giving them every possible chance to succeed during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

As the nation's attention moves from the London 2012 Games to Rio 2016, The National Lottery will continue to invest in sports facilities, support staff and coaching, providing opportunities for future generations to succeed on an elite level.

No-one has contributed more to our athletes than National Lottery players, with more than 1,200 athletes having benefited from world-class coaching and support. www.national-lottery.co.uk/London2012

'I think 2012 changed the face of British sport but there was a bit of a crash after the Olympics when I thought, “I can't believe it's all over.” I'm slowly, gradually, building my way back up there.

'After the Games, I went on holiday with my family and then got two golds at the World Junior Championships: one in the 10-metre event and one in the 3m synchro with Jack Laugher. Then I went to Dubai with my friends and have been back at school catching up on my maths and Spanish A-levels. I want to get three A*s rather than three As.

'Rio in four years' time does seem a long way away, but there are also World Championships, European Championships and Commonwealth Games in between, so there's plenty to look forward to.

'I think in total I might make maybe four or five Olympic Games – depending on how diving moves on – but we'll get to Rio first. It's outdoors, which the Chinese don't like, and I love diving outdoors.'

Louise Watkin, Paralympic Swimming, 20, from Redhill (replaced Rachael Latham)

Latham, who was born with Erbs Palsy, which limits the use of her left arm, made two swimming finals at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.

She retired in 2010 due to injury but went on to become a Channel 4 presenter and was a Sportsmail columnist during the London Paralympics. Watkin, who has upper limb deficiency, won two Paralympic silvers and two bronzes in London.

Dazzling: Louise Watkin won four medals in the London Paralympic Games

Dazzling: Louise Watkin won four medals in the London Paralympic Games

'The Paralympics were amazing. I didn't want them to end. You could hear the crowd when you were under water in the Aquatics Centre. I came away with two medals from the individual events and two in the relays. It went brilliantly.

'In the past four years, the Paralympics has moved on so much. People are still talking about it now. It's nice so many people have got the Paralympics bug. 'I hope there will be more integration in the future. Come and watch us at the World Championships next year. Then hopefully I'll get my gold in Rio!'

Giles Scott, Sailing, 25, from Huntingdon

Scott was a world youth champion in the Laser class when he joined us in 2005 and became world champion in the Finn in 2011. The one major disappointment was missing out on London 2012.

Scott competes in the same class as Ben Ainslie and GB could only send one sailor. With Ainslie now retired, Rio 2016 cannot come soon enough.

Disappointed: Giles Scott missed out on the London Games as he was in the same division as gold medal winner Ben Ainslie

Disappointed: Giles Scott missed out on the London Games as he was in the same division as gold medal winner Ben Ainslie

Who they are

'I wouldn't call it bad luck, being in the same division as Ben. If I had performed at the right regatta it would have led to me being selected to go to the Olympics.

'I was unsure whether to watch the Olympics and some of it was hard, but I got into it and was probably as addicted as everyone else by the end. Since then I have joined an America's Cup team (Team Korea) and moved away from the UK. I wanted to broaden my horizons so I don't mess up for Rio like I did this time around.'

Emily Pidgeon, Athletics, 23, from Cheltenham

Pidgeon was an outstanding junior 5,000 metres runner but has struggled with injuries and found it difficult on the senior circuit. She still hopes her best years are to come.

Her boyfriend, GB runner Andrew Osagie, was in the fastest 800m race in history, the Olympic final in London.

'It has been an amazing journey. It's scary how quickly it's gone. I always thought I'd be there in London, so it's been up and down.

'When I realised I wasn't going to be
able to compete, it wasn't that I didn't want anything to do with the
Olympics but I just knew I'd find it hard to go and watch.

A first: Emily Pidgeon ran around the Olympic Park stadium before anyone else

A first: Emily Pidgeon ran around the Olympic Park stadium before anyone else

'But because I got injured in May I had dealt with that by the time the Olympics came round.

'I was determined to enjoy the experience and I'm so glad I did. I was there to watch Andrew in his heat and his final. I think there's a reason I was injured and I hope Rio will be my time.'

Gemma Howell, Judo, 22, from Telford (replaced Jean-Rene Badrick)

Badrick, then 16, won bronze at the European Youth Olympics but retired in 2010 through injury. Howell replaced him, battled back from serious injury and was selected for London.

She was disqualified in her first-round fight against world champion Gevrise Emane.

'It was the worst and best week of my life. I was devastated. When I came off the mat I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible but then I thought, “I just have to use this going forward to Rio.”

Devastated: Gemma Howell was disqualified in her first round bout at the 2012 Olympics

Devastated: Gemma Howell was disqualified in her first round bout at the 2012 Olympics

'I was more nervous than I'd ever been. I have dreamed since I was little of being Olympic champion and I was a bit overwhelmed. Hopefully I can just get on with the job next time around.

'I've started a sport and exercise science degree at Bath University. My brain hurts after four years out of education. But while I want an Olympic medal more than anything, it's education and judo going forward.'

Louis Smith, Gymnastics, 23, Peterborough

In 2006, Smith won the Commonwealth pommel horse title aged 16 and has not looked back. He won Britain's first individual Olympic gymnastics medal for 100 years with a bronze in Beijing and went one better with silver in London.

He also won a bronze in the men's team event. Since the Games he has won the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. 'No one would ever have thought we could have got that bronze in the team event. I didn't even think we could do it. It was a big statement to the rest of the world.

'It was really hard to come back again for my individual event. Winning the bronze was such a high and then you've got to come back down again for the event that was most important for me, and the one everyone expected me to do well in. It was tough but I'm glad I finished it the way I did.

Enjoying it Smith posed for Sportsmail on the back of a real 'pommel horse'

Enjoying it Smith posed for Sportsmail on the back of a real 'pommel horse'

Proud: Smith put in a sterling performance on the pommel horse to take silver home

Proud: Smith put in a sterling performance on the pommel horse to take silver home

A different route: Smith recently won the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing

A different route: Smith recently won the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing

'There are about seven different paths I could take now: fashion, property, sport. Do I carry on to Rio The Commonwealths When do I call it quits It's about making the right and the best decision, not necessarily the one everyone wants me to make.

'I want to start my own fashion range. It's something I've wanted to do for a while, although I won't be keeping any clothes I've worn on Strictly. They love their glitz and glam and shiny stuff!

'Magnificent Seven has been remarkable in so many different ways. It's been fantastic and we've done some funky stuff along the way.

'I never want to go on a horse again after that photoshoot when I pretended it was a pommel horse! I was scared stiff. I did it, although I probably wouldn't do it now!'

Shanaze Reade, BMX Cycling, 24, from Crewe

Reade went to Beijing as a world champion but crashed out in the final after deciding she would not settle for silver. Reade regained her BMX world title in 2010 and has also won two world championship golds on the track, but that Olympic medal still eludes her. Reade finished sixth in the BMX final in London.

'It was quite hard, mentally, after the Games. Everyone in British cycling did so well and I was tipped to get a medal but, again, I didn't fulfil my potential. I can definitely see what went wrong. It's about staying injury-free moving forward and just getting on that good mental pathway of getting some success under my belt and getting my confidence back.

'I have “Team Reade”, a group of people who I trust and I know will push me, to help me do that, but first and foremost it comes down to me.

Crushed: Shanaze Reade finished sixth in the final of the Olympics BMX Cycling

Crushed: Shanaze Reade finished sixth in the final of the Olympics BMX Cycling

Crushed: Shanaze Reade finished sixth in the final of the Olympics BMX Cycling

'I'm at a crossroads now where I feel I want to be world champion again in BMX, hopefully in New Zealand next year, and win a BMX Olympic medal. But then I've been world champion on the track and I also want to get further in that because I've only ever done six- to eight-week blocks of training. I would like to do the Commonwealth Games, and BMX isn't in it, so we'll see.

'I went to Beijing on such a high. I hadn't lost a race for six or seven years so I thought, “Why should it be any different”

'Coming into London was the opposite. I had been injured, missed races, crashed out of finals. I had never really fulfilled what I was capable of doing on the day. Now I don't want to short-change myself any longer.'

London 2012 Olympics: Sportsmail"s Magnificent Seven

Seize the moment! Sportsmail checks up on our Magnificent Seven ahead of the Games

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 22 July 2012

Seven years ago Sportsmail began following seven young athletes as they aspired to make it to the London 2012 Olympics.

There have been ups, downs and changes along the way with some wonderful stories of determination and success.

Three of the original seven are going to the Games as well as two others called in as replacements, while two from the initial line-up haven’t made it. Now, on the eve of the Games, we bring you our Magnificent Seven.

Magnificent Seven: (From left to right) Giles Scott,Louis Smith, Louise Watkins, Emily Pidgeon, Tom Daley, Gemma Howell and Shanaze Reade

Magnificent Seven: (From left to right) Giles Scott,Louis Smith, Louise Watkins, Emily Pidgeon, Tom Daley, Gemma Howell and Shanaze Reade

Then: Tom Daley, Louis Smith, JR Baldrick, Emily Pidgeon, Giles Scott, Rachael Latham and Shanaze Reade

Then: Tom Daley, Louis Smith, JR Baldrick, Emily Pidgeon, Giles Scott, Rachael Latham and Shanaze Reade

Tom Daley – Diving (10m platform) Age 18, from Plymouth

In 2005: The pup of the group at just 11. At 10 he won silver at his first international in Germany in the 14-15 age group, then won the British Under 18 title for the three-metre springboard and came fourth in the senior event. This was the year he tried a full list of dives internationally off the Olympic 10m board.

What he said: ‘I was in Australia with the British team on July 6. We were having a meal but the team manager was on his phone constantly. When he said, “London’s won”, we all cheered. It really motivates you. I will be old enough for Beijing, just. I’d like to go for the experience but London’s where I’m aiming.’

What happened next: He became a global name. In 2007 he won silver in the 10m platform at the British Championships and began competing on FINA’s international diving circuit, twice finishing fourth, leading him to win the BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year award. The following year he broke records by winning the British title and European gold at just 14 and then earned selection for Beijing 2008 to become one of the youngest British Olympians ever. He was under huge focus and synchronised partner Blake Aldridge caused a storm by phoning his mum for support during the pair’s final.

They came eighth while Daley came seventh in the individual.

Head over heels: Tom Daley has two chances to strike gold in the diving competition in London

Head over heels: Tom Daley has two chances to strike gold in the diving competition in London

The next year he won the world title at 15 and in 2010 won two Commonwealth golds in Delhi.

Tragedy struck in May 2011 when his father Rob died at 40 from a brain tumour. Daley returned to competition almost immediately but his form suffered.

In 2012: A poor display at the test event in February saw performance director Alexei Evangulov criticise Daley for too much media work.

Since clear-the-air talks his form has been sparkling. He has won six FINA World Series medals and finished top overall in both the individual and synchronised, with partner Pete Waterfield, and won European gold again.

What he said: ‘Winning a medal would make all the struggles I have had worthwhile. Now I want a good performance. I’m doing it for myself and my dad, he was so supportive.

‘It would make it extra special. I’ve got to try to win the medal first. I’d dedicate it to him.’

Louis Smith Gymnastics (Pommel Horse) 23, from Peterborough

In 2005: Already had a European Junior title and Commonwealth Youth gold medal. He was invited on to the British senior team and finished second in the national senior championships. Was the youngest man at his first World Championships.

What he said: ‘After Athens the men’s side of gymnastics lost a lot of Lottery support, so it was always going to be difficult for us to qualify a team for Beijing. If we get the funding back because of London getting the Games, it will give me a good chance of making it in 2012.’

What happened next: Things kept getting better. In 2006 he won the Commonwealth pommel horse title aged 16 and the following year won World Championships bronze at his first attempt.

Beijing was his big moment. Qualifying fifth for the final, he won a bronze, becoming Britain’s first individual gymnastics Olympic medallist in 100 years.

Brit special: Louis Smith will captain the gymnastic squad at the Olympics Games in London

Brit special: Louis Smith will captain the gymnastic squad at the Olympics Games in London

In 2009 he won silver at the European Championships, his first as a senior, and retained the position a year later. That was followed by more success with silver at the 2010 World Championships and bronze at last year’s competition.

In 2012: Everything is looking positive. He had a scare when he fractured a thumb in training before a World Cup in China but recovered quickly to win silver.

At the European Championships in May he claimed another silver behind long-term rival Krisztian Berki of Hungary, but the judges had incorrectly given the two-time world champion a high start score and later wrote to Smith to apologise. Had they got it right he would have won.

What he said: ‘I probably have the hardest routine in the world at the moment. There is pressure from the public, media and sponsors — they all want to see me win gold. My target is to go to the Games and do my routine clean. If I do that and am beaten by people who were better on the day, then what more could I have done’

Shanaze Reade Cycling (BMX) 23, from Crewe

In 2005: Won two Under 18 world titles the previous year when 15. At 17, she was world No 1 junior and beating the boys regularly.

What she said: ‘The first shock was finding out that BMX was going to be in the Olympics in 2008. Then to hear that 2012 would be in London, wow!’

What happened next: Title after title before a big bang. In 2007 she crossed over to the track and, incredibly, won the team pursuit world title with Victoria Pendleton having only started specific training six weeks before.

That year she also won the senior BMX world crown for the first time and went to Beijing aged 19. However, a crash on the last bend of the final left her hopes in tatters.

Flying the flag: Shanaze Reade will be hoping to enjoy better luck than she endured in Beijing

Flying the flag: Shanaze Reade will be hoping to enjoy better luck than she endured in Beijing

In 2012: Reade has spent even more time out than usual through injuries. She went to the World Championships in Birmingham but crashed in the quarter-finals.

What she said: ‘I’m feeling fantastic. When I went to Beijing I treated it as if it was like this do-or-die kind of thing.

‘I want to get that balance right where I really appreciate that I am at an Olympic Games, but at the same time treat it like a normal race.

‘If you add that element of being at home, it gives that extra excitement and I want to really enjoy the event. If I win gold I’ve done everything I want to achieve.’

Gemma Howell Judo 22, from Telford (replaced Jean-Rene Badrick)

In 2005: Aspiring judo player Jean-Rene Badrick, 16, was our pick seven years ago, having won bronze at the European Youth Olympics earlier in the year.

He said: ‘The Olympics was always going to be 2012 if I was serious. Competing before your home crowd and in your own city would make it that bit more special.’

What happened next: Badrick claimed the British senior title in 2007 at 18, but was forced to withdraw from our programme in 2010 through injury. Howell joined us two years ago having won silver and bronze medals at consecutive World Cups in Korea and Britain.

In 2012: Howell suffered another cruciate ligament injury at the end of last year and spent seven months recuperating.

Grapple: Great Britain's Gemma Howell (right) with Sensei Go Tsunoda during a training session

Grapple: Great Britain's Gemma Howell (right) with Sensei Go Tsunoda during a training session

Upon her return in May she was forced to move up to the -63kg and Olympic qualification was hanging by a thread.

But she won bronze in her first competition back, the Baku Grand Prix, and then won the British Open. Three more wins followed — as did her call-up to Team GB.

She said: ‘(Because of my injury) it was hard to have motivation, but I just had to keep seeing the light. The selectors told me I had to win the British Open to have any chance of being picked. I’m really happy.’

Louise Watkin Paralympic Swimming 19, from Redhill (replaced Rachael Latham)

In 2005: Original choice Rachael Latham was born with Erbs Palsy, which limited the use of her left arm. She had taught herself to swim with just her right, setting British and European records for freestyle sprinting by the time she was 16. She ended the year ranked third in the Paralympic 100m event.

She said: ‘I heard the news (about London) on TV at home. I’ve always been focused on Beijing 2008, but a Games in London makes it 10 times better.’

What happened next: Latham made two finals in Beijing and became European record- holder for 200m butterfly and world record-holder for 50m butterfly.

Injuries meant she had to give up swimming in 2010, but she will still be part of the Paralympics — as a presenter for Channel 4’s coverage.

One to watch: Louise Watkins won four medals in Beijing despite her tender years

One to watch: Louise Watkins won four medals in Beijing despite her tender years

We brought in Watkin, who moved to Britain from Stockholm aged four, as she had won one silver and three bronze medals in Beijing despite being only 16. Born with upper limb deficiency and missing her left hand, her events were the 50m and 100m freestyle, the 100m breaststroke and the 200m individual medley.

In 2012: Watkin stormed the Paralympic trials in March — qualifying fastest for the S9 50m and 100m freestyle and S9 200m individual medley. Her 50m time of 29.30sec was half a second quicker than the one which earned her bronze in Beijing.

She said: ‘The trials went really well so I’m really pleased. Like in Beijing, I want to make a final. Of course everyone has a dream, but I’m going to keep that to myself. I don’t want to tempt fate.’

Giles Scott Sailing (Finn) 25, from Huntingdon

In 2005: He was world youth champion in the Laser class by the time he became one of our Magnificent Seven. Made his senior debut for Britain this year, finishing 21st in the European Championships and 20th in the worlds in Brazil. Was also studying geology at Southampton University.

He said: ‘My dad phoned me to say we’d won the 2012 Olympics. Then it came home to me that the Olympic sailing was going to be where I had spent most of my time training (in Weymouth).

‘All I could think was, “That’s a massive advantage”. The 2012 Games was always going to be my focus as an Olympics.’

What happened next: A lot of success, but one major disappointment. He switched to the heavyweight division of Finn because he was 6ft 5in and 14st, meaning he would compete against the great Olympian Ben Ainslie, with whom he started training in 2007. Missing out on Beijing was no surprise, given only one sailor per event per country could go to the Games and Ainslie was reigning champion.

Gutted: Giles Scott was overlooked for the London Games in favour of Ben Ainslie

Gutted: Giles Scott was overlooked for the London Games in favour of Ben Ainslie

After coming fourth then third in the 2009 and 2010 World Championships, a place at London was tangible. But the selectors chose Ainslie again after he won the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta and the Olympic test event last year.

In 2012: Terrific racing, which has only underlined his status as one of the best Finn sailors in the world. Beat Ainslie again in the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta in June on the Olympic waters. He will be Sportsmail’s expert columnist at Weymouth.

He said: ‘I didn’t qualify because there is just one place in the Finn and Ben edged me out. I will put a campaign together for 2016, but this is an opportunity to look at other forms of sailing, learn some new skills and earn some money.

‘There will be an element of difficulty watching Ben race, knowing I am good enough to win a medal but I’m not there.’

Emily Pidgeon Athletics 23, from Cheltenham

In 2005: At 16 she was ranked No 1 among Britain’s Under 20s at 3,000m and 5,000m.

What she said: ‘The moment it was announced as London, my thought was, “I’ll do whatever it takes to be there”. Of course I make sacrifices. I don’t get to too many parties!’

What happened next: Struggled to go from promising junior to accomplished senior. Suggestions she was the next Paula Radcliffe didn’t help, nor accusations of over-training under then coach David Farrow.

Answered critics with amazing 5,000m personal best of 15min 41sec at 17. Changed management in 2007. In 2009 she won 5,000m bronze at the European Under 23 Championships, but unable to kick on in the last two years.

Missing out: Emily Pidgeon will hope to take her chance in four years time after failing to qualify for London

Missing out: Emily Pidgeon will hope to take her chance in four years time after failing to qualify for London

In 2012: This season hasn’t really got off the ground. Trip to America in April, where she hoped to secure the 5,000m qualifying time, went badly wrong and a race in Watford was disappointing.

She decided not to run in the British trials, where a top-two finish plus an A standard time would have been needed.

What she said: ‘Obviously, I’ll be gutted but I’m definitely not disillusioned.

‘There are more Olympics and I know I will probably be in much better shape in four years.’

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