From Klute to Tokyo: Durham students and alumni shine in a full summer of sporting success

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Easter term may have ended in June for Durham University, alongside a whole host of seasons. However, that did not stop Durham students and alumna alike achieving sporting success over the summer period.

Durham boasted its fair share of students of the past and present at the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games with some going a step further and grabbing medal-winning headlines.

Perhaps the most notable success was Fiona Crackles’ bronze medal gain with Team GB Women’s Hockey. The Sport and Exercise student began the full-time training programme for Great Britain Hockey mid-way through the academic year and becomes the only Durham student currently studying at the university to medal at an Olympic Games.

Following her Team GB debut in October, Crackles has featured in every international match for England and Great Britain leading to a nomination for the FIH Hockey Stars Award.

Over in the men’s hockey, two Durham alumna represented Team GB in their Tokyo 2020 campaign. History graduate Jack Waller and Sports, Exercise and Physical Activity graduate, Ollie Payne both wore the lion crest.

A record number of Durham stars headed to Tokyo.

Although their run-in to an Olympic medal was cut short by a 3-1 loss in the quarter finals against India, their Games proved to be an encouraging indicator for the future with some solid group stage victories.

Waller and Crackles both come from Great Britain’s EDP (Elite Development Programme) that targets youth talent in a bid to help develop international stars of the future. Tokyo 2020 was perhaps an indicator of the success of the programme, set up in 2016, not to mention the feature of two Durham University athletes.

Meanwhile in the Paralympics, Durham alumna Gemma Collis-McCann featured on the first and second day of the Games in the individual sabre and the épeé. 

Although there was defeat on the opening day, Collis-McCann, who took up fencing during her time at Durham, is now a three time Paralympian and is eagerly preparing for Paris 2024.

Following the Games, the athlete, who has funded her own sporting career since 2013, tweeted, “Though I performed to or above my ranking in both weapons in Tokyo, I know I could have fenced so much better. And that’s what hurts! But I learnt lots & CANNOT WAIT to resume the hard work in pursuit of a medal in Paris!”

Over in the men’s rowing there was further achievement for Durham alumna. Angus Groom bagged silver in the Olympic men’s quadruple sculls, coming second to a world record setting Netherlands side. The former Team Durham Sportsman of the Year came fifth in the same event in Rio 2016 and went from strength to strength to medal in Tokyo.

Despite much success there was also disappointment. Matt Rossiter, in the men’s coxless four, alongside Sholto Carnegie, Oliver Cook and Rory Gibbs, could only manage fourth in a race where Team GB have bagged gold in every since Athens 2004. Competing at the highest level proved tough for the four whose boat appeared to veer sharply off course coming into the last few hundred metres.

Matt and Angus were also joined by two other Durham alumna, James Harris and Dan Moore, who formed part of the Team GB rowing coaching team.

There were a record number of Durham stars that headed to Tokyo in the summer, both as part of Team GB and further afield such as former MSc Management student Eli Schenkel – he made his Olympic debut and represented Team Canada in the individual and team foil fencing event.

Summer 2021 also brought with it the new cricket tournament, The Hundred. It certainly proved to be eye-catching, putting Durham graduates and alumna alike on a national platform.

And what a show the Durham stars put on. DUWCC’s success story Cordelia Griffith became a regular for Manchester Originals, while recent graduate, Chris Benjamin, who spoke to Deputy Sports Editor, Harvey Stevens, in August, relished in his personal achievements with the Birmingham Pheonix. This was following his 60-run innings for the Birmingham Bears in the T20.

The former first team Captain scored an impressive 24 match-winning runs against London Spirit and has since received praise from the greats of Moeen Ali, Kevin Pietersen and former Durham student and cricket legend, Nasser Hussain.

Benjamin described how his opportunity over the summer was a great chance “to entertain people” which is a very fitting way to summarise Durham star’s successes over this period. 

Their achievements on a national and world stage are a testament to their individual capabilities and Durham’s successful sporting programmes that attract the country’s best talent.

Image: Durham University/Fiona Crackles

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