Tom Daley one of four Plymouth College athletes heading for London 2012
Published: 11 June, 2012
Plymouth College pupil and world diver, Tom Daley, 18, will be joined by three fellow students at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Swimmers Ruta Meilutyte, 15, Jamila Lunkuse, 15 and Jade Howard, 17, will be competing for Lithuania, Uganda and Zambia respectively.
While the European 10m diving champion Tom needs little introduction, Ruta is the third fastest woman in the world so far this year at 100m breast stroke, Jamila won five medals at the African Swimming Championships in April and Jade is one of only six athletes on the Zambian Olympic team.
Despite swimming a time this year that would have won her a bronze medal in Beijing, Ruta is modest about her expectations for London. "I would love to make a final but the main thing is to swim the best I can and get a good time", said Ruta. "I'm a bit nervous the closer it gets to the Olympics but I am mostly excited and very proud to be representing my country."
The girls are part of the school's elite swimming programme, which attracts the top young swimmers from around the world. The school has its own 25-metre indoor pool but the recent opening of Plymouth's £46m Life Centre just across the park means that the swimmers can now train in a state-of-the-art 50-metre pool. As well, a specialist boarding house at the school provides specific welfare, dietary, academic and medical needs of the athletes. The house has its own physio room and teaching staff visit in the evening for additional academic support.
"I really feel supported at Plymouth College", said Jamila. "It took me a little while to get used to being so far away from home but I soon made friends and it really helped that I was in a boarding house with the other swimmers. We have a pretty heavy schedule and are in the pool by 5.30 a.m. most mornings. We don't usually get back to the boarding house before 7p.m. when I have to do my homework. But the teachers are really understanding and I am able to get an extra day to hand things in if I need to."
However, the school's reputation for mentoring and supporting top athletes goes way beyond the swimming programme and it boasts a 60-strong elite athlete family of day and boarding pupils, which includes modern pentathletes, fencers, rugby and basketball players, as well Tom and other divers.
"Everyone at Plymouth College is so supportive," Tom said. "My teachers have helped me to do as much work as I can when I'm in school as well as keep in touch with me when I'm away. Sport is a big deal at Plymouth College and there are lots of swimmers and other athletes so everyone understands the amount of effort that has to be put in.
"This year there are going to be four pupils from Plymouth College at the 2012 London Olympic Games. This is an amazing achievement for the school but it is also great for Plymouth because we're quite a small city and to be put on the map like that is just brilliant."
Plymouth College Headmaster, Dr Simon Wormleighton, concludes: "To have four athletes from the same school competing in an Olympics Games is quite phenomenal. The fact that they are representing different countries really reflects the international aspect of the school, which has pupils from 15 different nations on the swimming programme alone.
"It is incredibly important that we do all we can to ensure our athletes can perform at world level in the sports arena but at the same time achieve their academic goals. I believe we have created a unique environment that offers top sports people like Tom and the girls the flexibility and support to do well in both.
"But our elite athletes form just 12% of our school community and the environment in which they thrive translates itself to all parts of our school. For example, we are very successful in economics and business studies with the school winning 11 national competitions in recent years and getting the top mark in the country at GCSE, A Level and DipFS on a number of occasions in this subject. Equally, performing arts takes centre stage with a thriving number of music ensembles and school productions that would give a professional theatre company a run for its money.
"Enrichment is the fabric of life here with something for everyone and we make the most of being in such a beautiful part of the country with the moorland and coastal landscapes of Devon and Cornwall close to hand. Our ethos is to embrace individual talents and to encourage success and instil confidence across a broad front.
"For now, though, London 2012 is very much at the forefront and I for one will be avidly watching the aquatics events, taking pride in the knowledge that Plymouth College has played a massive part in helping these young athletes to achieve their dreams."