Photograph courtesy of AEPhotos
Loughborough graduates paddle their way to Olympic qualification
31 May 2012
Loughborough University graduates Jon Schofield and Liam Heath have qualified for the London 2012 Olympic Games in the K2 200 metres event.
Their qualification was secured following victory at the first National Sprint Regatta for the season, held at the National Water Sport Centre in Nottingham in April.
Jon and Liam formed a partnership late in 2009, when the canoeing programme for the London 2012 Games introduced a K2 200 metres event. Both had previously excelled at the shorter distances, and made the commitment to aim for London 2012.
Their progress in the event on the world stage has been rapid. In 2011 they won the European Championships in Spain, and claimed the silver medal at the World Championships in Hungary.
We caught up Jon and Liam following their nomination for selection to Team GB had been secured.
For Jon and Liam when it came to choosing a University, Loughborough was their number one destination. Jon said:
“For me it was a sporting decision. The main thing in my life was paddling. I wanted to go to a place that enabled me to do my studies and but also where I could receive top quality sporting provision. That place was Loughborough.”
Proximity to the National Water Sport Centre was also a factor for both. Liam added:
“I was a junior and under 23 sprint canoeist. Nottingham at the time was the hub for canoeing, so I used nip over every morning to do the training. But I also came to Loughborough to study an awesome course, plus I also got a scholarship which really helped.”
Although Jon and Liam both studied at Loughborough their canoeing partnership didn’t develop until after the 2008 Beijing Games.
Liam studied Industrial Design and Technology from 2003-06 and was in Telford Hall in which he ‘had a great group of friends, including fellow athletes whose attitudes towards their sporting ambitions were in line with mine.’
Jon was in Butler Court and took longer to complete his degree in Human Biology.
“One the best things about going to Loughborough is that they understand in order to compete at the top level of sport you can’t always study on the same schedule as other people. They supported me and nurtured my academic studies and sporting ambitions.
“They also allowed me to take two years out to try and get to the 2008 Beijing Games which I unfortunately missed out on. I also stretched my final year over two years.”
Both have been canoeing since a young age. Liam started at the age of nine, thanks to a holiday scheme run in his home town of Guildford. Jon started through the cub scouts up in Clitheroe, Lancashire.
Recreational paddling turned into joining clubs, progressing through the ranks and winning at national regattas. Although they excelled at their sport, both had knock backs along the way.
For Jon that was missing out on the chance for competing in the 2008 Beijing Games.
“I was racing in the K2 500 metres event with Ben Brown. We had to be top eight in the world Championships to qualify for Beijing. We finished ninth by 0.6 of a second!”
For Liam he had ‘subbed out of the sport’ for two years towards the end of his degree in order to focus on his studies.
However a turn of events was to bring Jon and Liam together, and reignite their Olympic aspirations.
Both travelled to Beijing as part of the Igniting Ambition programme that provides an experience to up and coming athletes of what the Games are like. It also provided them with the motivation not to miss out next time.
But also the decision to alter the Olympic programme for canoe sprint, with the K2 500 metre event replaced with a shorter 200 metre race, was a significant turning point. As Liam explains:
“Basically a door was just opened in front of us. We wanted to step through it and grab the opportunity.”
For Liam particularly, returning back into the sport was influenced by a number of key people.
“I got brought back into the sport thanks to Paul Dimmock our coach at the club. He gave me more structure to my training, and started doing it recreationally again.”
As Liam was no longer part of the system he had no lottery funding. But thanks to mum and dad he was soon back in the picture.
“In 2009 the 200 metres was announced as an Olympic discipline, and I had always been better at the shorter distances. So my parents initially supported me to get back into competition. Then in 2010 Jonny and I paired up and we started winning things.”
In all great partnerships there has to be chemistry or an ‘X Factor’ that leads to success. For Schofield and Heath this is no different, As Liam explains:
“We work well together in boat. We are both driven athletes and both talented in aspects needed for the event. Both fast twitch paddlers, plus we get on well which helps.”
For Jon the fact that Liam was not lost on the sport was also a key moment.
“The coaches backed the talent he had. Then success started coming when we raced the other nations. Plus we train in a competitive group. In our first World Cup we won it alongside our training partner Ed McKeever who also won his race. We knew we were fast but that showed us we were all competitive on the international stage.”
Looking forward to London 2012 now that selection has been achieved both can now plan for the biggest event in their careers. However they will try and treat it like any other race, Liam states,
“We have done it a thousand times before, it’s now just a case of replicating it on the day.”
But Jon does concede that their first Olympic Games, with the added significance of being on home soil will be different.
“We have to think of it as any other race, but we are incredibly lucky. To say that we competed at this Games will be very special.”
The pair will also make a return trip to Loughborough to collect their Team GB kit at the Preparation Camp. Jon concludes by saying
“It’s always nice to go back to Loughborough. But to go back for a moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life, will be absolutely brilliant. Plus to have the opportunity to meet some of the other GB athletes for the first time, will make us really feel part of the team.”
You will be able to watch Jonny and Liam in action in the canoe sprint K2 200metres event from Friday 10 August.