Considering that this was the toughest preparation for any Olympic Games in modern times, Team GB’s achievements at Tokyo exceeded all expectations. To match the amount of medals won at London 2012 was extraordinary and it was phenomenal to see that no nation won medals across more sports than Britain. From swimming to boxing to BMX to weightlifting: medals were seemingly being won by Team GB across the board in Japan.
What of our Derbyshire athletes though? How did they get on? Did they exceed expectations too? In this review, we’ll have a look at everyone with strong Derbyshire links who competed at the Tokyo Olympics. It’s fair to say that it was a mixed bag of success and disappointment. Some of the disappointments though, as we will soon discuss in detail, were out of their hands. The most important thing though is that were plenty of positives and plenty of very encouraging signs for the future from our younger athletes. In short, there’s a lot to be proud of from Derbyshire’s athletes and sport within the county is in a very healthy place.
We can’t go through this review without mentioning gold medal hero Adam Peaty. Whilst Peaty is not from Derbyshire directly (the swimmer is from Uttoxeter), Peaty does have strong Derbyshire links in that he used to train at the City of Derby Swimming Club and also at Repton in the very early stages of his career.
Peaty was one of the stars of the Tokyo show for Team GB as a whole. The 26 year-old won a gold medal in the men’s 100m breaststroke event, a gold medal in the 4x100m mixed medley event and a silver medal in the men’s 4x100m medley event. In his career, he has now won three Olympic gold medals and two silver medals overall. With the next Olympics only being three years away, Peaty should certainly be in contention to win more medals at Paris 2024 at the age of 29. Adam is now a household name in the UK and has done much to raise the profile of a sport that should now break into the mainstream due to Team GB’s outstanding success this year in the swimming pool.
What was also extremely impressive about Peaty at these Games, were his comments regarding mental health after his events were over. Peaty made it public that he was going to be taking a short break from the sport after these Games to recharge his batteries and support his mental health going forward. Whilst he faced some criticism and derision from the usual suspects of professional bed-wetters, Peaty’s honesty was widely praised and it’s sports figures like Peaty who are doing a fantastic job in helping to end the stigma around being vocal about your mental health. We seem to talk about Olympic legacies a lot these days; Tokyo 2020’s legacy as a whole has probably done more for mental health issues within sport than any of the other Olympic Games put together.
In terms of athletes directly from Derbyshire, a bronze medal arrived on the final Friday of the competition in the small hours of UK time. Belper’s Hollie Pearne-Webb and Derby’s Anna Toman played a huge role in securing a bronze medal for Team GB in the women’s hockey tournament. Whilst it wasn’t a repeat of the gold medal that Pearne-Webb won at Tokyo 2016, the bronze that she won as part of the women’s hockey team last week has still got to be considered a fantastic success. As Hollie pointed out in her interview us around three months before the start of the Olympics, Britain’s women’s hockey team was a lot different this year than the squad that won gold in 2016 thanks to a spate of retirements and a change in coach and leadership. Due to this, Pearne-Webb had a challenging task ahead in captaining what was essentially a very different squad and trying to match the medals that were claimed by Britain’s women’s hockey team at the previous two Olympic Games.
Team GB got off to a shaky start after losing to Germany 2-1 in their opening pool game. Convincing wins though against South Africa and India put the team back into strong contention for qualifying for the knock-out phase. A narrow 1-0 defeat to gold medal favourites and arch-rivals The Netherlands folowed but Britain ensured qualification for the quarter-finals after defeating The Republic Of Ireland in their final pool game. Britain knocked out Spain in the quarter-finals in dramatic fashion after going through on penalties following a 2-2 draw after normal time. In the semi-finals, Team GB came up against The Netherlands once again and were comfortably beaten 5-1 to be sent into the bronze medal match. The battle for bronze against India was a thrilling affair and was one of the highlights of the entire Games. After going 2-0 in front, India came back in style and went 3-2 up. It needed a captain’s example to get Britain back in with a chance of a medal and Hollie Pearne-Webb (not for the first time) stepped up to the plate in a huge match. An excellent (and rare!) goal from her made it 3-3 in the third quarter and GB went on to win the match 4-3 to claim an excellent, hard-fought bronze medal against a spirited India side which has a very bright future ahead of the Paris Games.
Pearne-Webb’s goal from defence was her only one of the Olympics tournament but what a crucial goal it was! Anna Toman also scored one goal in the tournament which came during the pool stages. We mustn’t forget Repton’s Sabbie Heesh by the way, who was the team’s reserve goalkeeper throughout the tournament. Unfortunately, as she didn’t actively play a part in any match, she was not able to claim a bronze medal for herself too. Here’s hoping she gets a chance to play in the Paris 2024 tournament.
Team GB’s women’s hockey team has now won a medal at the last three Olympic Games with Pearne-Webb winning a gold and a captain’s bronze as part of this feat. She now has to go down as one of Derbyshire’s finest ever Olympians and can be hugely proud of the hockey team’s achievements in Tokyo.
In terms of medals won, that was it from Derbyshire’s contingent unfortunately but there were plenty of hugely impressive and very encouraging performances from some of our younger athletes who could well be real medal contenders for the Paris Games.
Team GB had an absolutely outstanding Games in the swimming pool. While Derbyshire didn’t win any medals in the sport, they couldn’t have got much closer in the form of Abbie Wood. The 22 year-old from Buxton came within a tenth of a second from securing a bronze medal in the women’s 200m individual medley event. She set a personal best in the race too, in where she finished in fourth position. Abbie also came close to a medal in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay event as they set a superb national record to finish fifth in an extraordinarily competitive final. In her final event, the women’s 200m breaststroke, Wood also reached the final where she finished seventh. Considering this was her debut Olympics and that she will be 25 when it comes to the Paris Games, there’s a lot of reasons to be very optimistic about the next few years of Wood’s career. After securing two gold medals and a silver medal in the European Aquatics Championships earlier this year, 2021 has been a superb breakout year for Abbie Wood.
Remarkably, Alfreton’s Jacob Whittle will still be a teenager by the time the Paris Games arrives. Like Wood, Whittle may not have won a medal but couldn’t really have performed any better on the grandest stage of them all at the age of just 16.
In his first event, Whittle swam a superb anchor leg in the heats of the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay and was pretty unlucky to find that Britain came within one position of qualifying for the final of the event. In his only individual event, the men’s 100m freestyle, Whittle reached the semi-finals. Despite not qualifying for the final, Whittle recorded an excellent personal best in the semis. At the age of just 16, Whittle clearly has unbelievable potential and could be a huge star at the Paris Games. His progression between now and 2024 will be fascinating to witness and is very much a swimmer to keep an eye on.
Elsewhere in the swimming pool, former Derbyshire Institute of Sport athlete Molly Renshaw impressed in the 200m breaststroke event. Renshaw reached the final in this and finished sixth – one position ahead of Abbie Wood.
Derby’s Sarah Vasey reached the semi-finals of the women’s 100m breaststroke event but will have been a bit disappointed to have exited at the heats stage in the women’s 4x100m medley relay event.
We move now from the swimming pool to the athletics track.
Derbyshire’s only competitor in a track and field event was Derby’s Jess Turner; sadly, her Olympic Games was ruined by the recurrence of an achilles injury that has been an issue for some time now. Turner managed to reach the semi-finals of the women’s 400m hurdles but a flare-up of her injury plus having to race in rain of biblical proportions meant she finished well adrift of a qualification place for the final. It was a cruel blow for Turner who had been in excellent form this year when able to compete. Sadly, because of this injury, Turner played no part in the women’s 4x400m relay event. Hopefully, Turner can use this experience to spur her on for events such as the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year.
There was also bad luck when it came to the county’s marathon runners. Jess Piasecki was having an incredible race up till the halfway stage when she was in 24th position and still amongst the chasing pack of runners. Unfortunately, Piasecki has commented on social media that terrible stomach problems halfway through ruined her race. Considering what happened and the extreme heat weather warning that the race was being staged in, Jess did extremely well to finish the race. Out of 88 athletes that started the race, 15 retired before the end of it. Like a warrior, Piasecki dragged herself to the finish line in 71st position in a time of just over two hours and 55 minutes. It’s such a shame that it ended the way it did, as Piasecki was running extremely well in that first half. Like Jess Turner, hopefully Piasecki can use her debut Olympics experience to spur her on for next year.
In the men’s marathon, Ben Connor also struggled and was forced to retire before the end of the race. He wasn’t the only one, as 29 others called a premature end to their marathon run too in yet more sweltering conditions in Sapporo.
In the table tennis, it was a big case of what if for Chesterfield’s Liam Pitchford. Pitchford was in the form of his life in late 2019/early 2020 and looked to be in fantastic shape for the Tokyo Games when it was initially scheduled. It’s been commented on plenty of times before that the year’s delay was really beneficial for some athletes, but for Pitchford this was certainly not the case. The postponement seemed to massively halt the Chesterfield man’s momentum and he never seemed to regain it ahead of the re-arranged Games. With very few competitions to play in since the start of the pandemic, a successful Olympics was also going to be a tough ask and, unfortunately, Pitchford’s Games lasted only one match. Liam only competed in the men’s singles and for this event, Pitchford was seeded 11th and therefore received a bye through to the third round. When the third round came along though, Pitchford was defeated 4-2 by Slovenia’s Darko Jorgic and his Games was over before they’d barely begun. This will have been a tough defeat to take for the British number one, but there should now be no shortage of competitions to get his teeth stuck into for the rest of this year and next year.
Charlie Tanfield may have been down as just a reserve for the men’s team pursuit event in the cycling velodrome but his Olympics appearance was certainly an explosive one! The former Derbyshire Institute of Sport athlete was called in as a replacement for Ed Clancy at short notice and took part in the opening heat of the men’s team pursuit event against Denmark. Team GB were eliminated by Denmark in controversial circumstances when the lead Danish driver cycled right into Tanfield on the track causing a big crash. The crash automatically relegated Team GB but there wasn’t much Tanfield could have possibly done to have escaped the incident! Tanfield showed great resilience though in dusting himself down and getting back on the saddle for Britain’s race-off against Switzerland for seventh place. Tanfield did a great job given the circumstances and helped Britain beat Switzerland comfortably to finish in seventh place overall in the men’s team pursuit.
Over on the golf course, it was a tough Olympics campaign for Derby’s Mel Reid.
Unfortunately, Reid just never got going and her second and third round scores were well over par. She did finish on a high note at least, with her final round score being three under par. Reid finished 55th overall in the women’s golf tournament and will now switch her attention to the upcoming British Open.
Finally, Chelsea Women’s Millie Bright (who is from Chesterfield) played in every game bar one in Team GB’s run to the quarter-finals in the women’s football tournament. Britain finished top of their group after wins over Chile and hosts Japan plus a draw against Canada, who ended up winning the gold medal. Team GB, frankly, threw away their chances of a medal in their quarter-final tie against Australia. After going into the interval 1-0 down, Britain managed to go 2-1 in front after a rejuvenated second half performance. Bright herself came on as a substitute ten minutes into the second half. Sadly, Team GB defended appallingly in the final five minutes of normal time to allow Australia’s world-class striker Sam Kerr all the time in the world to equalise and take the game into extra-time. Team GB appeared to learn their lesson and took their game to Australia instead of just sitting back. Britain won a penalty in the first half of extra-time but again threw away their chance and missed the spot kick. Australia immediately went up the other end on the counter attack and took the lead. In the end, Team GB were knocked out 4-3 after extra-time by Australia when they had a semi-final spot in their grasp. It was a bitterly disappointing end to Team GB’s football campaign after such a promising start and Millie Bright’s quest to win her first major international honour continues.
All in all, this has to be an Olympics to be proud of from a Derbyshire perspective and not just a national one. Considering the trials and tribulations going into this occasion; medals from Adam Peaty, Hollie Pearne-Webb, Anna Toman and a near-miss from Abbie Wood has to be considered a very good return and there is much to be encouraged about for the future. Wood and Whittle in particular have shown that even brighter things are on the horizon and the great thing is that we now only have to wait three years rather than four for the next Olympic Games to take place. Many of these sports will also take place at next year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year, so there promises to be plenty of Derbyshire medal interest in that too.
We now can’t wait to see how Derbyshire’s Paralympians get on starting from August 24!