London 2012: Five-star encounter with Russia's Olympic hopefuls

Students from Fairlands Middle School pose with Russian Olympic hopefuls Students from Fairlands Middle School pose with Russian Olympic hopefuls

Would you be star-struck if you met an Olympic athlete?

How about if you had to interview five?

Meet the athletes - five Olympic stars

  • Maria Kiseleva - Olympic gold, synchronised swimming, 2000 (x2), 2004
  • Buvaisar Saitiev - Olympic gold, free-style wrestling, 1996, 2004, 2008
  • Svetlana Masterkova - Olympic gold, middle-distance running, 1996 (x2)
  • Dinara Safina - Olympic silver, tennis, 2008
  • Alexei Nemov - Olympic gold, gymnastics, 1996 (x2), 2000 (x2)

This became reality for 14 students from Somerset, who struggled to contain their excitement as they found themselves in a room with a selection of Russia's most decorated Olympians, past and present.

The athletes, who have won an impressive 12 Olympic gold medals between them, were in town for a three-day recce to celebrate Russia's involvement in the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The students, from Fairlands Middle School, were given the opportunity to meet the stars through their partnership with School 108 in Yekaterinburg, Russia, which was attended by another of Russia's medal hopes, high-jumper Ivan Ukhov.

They spent an hour grilling the athletes on their hopes for the Olympics, as well as sharing their own sporting hopes and ambitions.

In an interview with BBC Somerset, student Beth was effusive about the encounter.

"(The athletes) were all impressively nice, asking us lots of questions and involving us a lot," she said.

"They told us that if you follow your dreams, you can achieve (what you want), as long as you try hard. If you have the confidence in yourself, you will get there in the end."

When asked to name the athletes, the Fairlands pupil did an excellent job with the ensuing verbal gymnastics, before running out of steam - listeners were left to wonder who the mysterious "Safina something" might have been, before host Ben McGrail revealed all.

Teacher Rebecca Sheppard recalled how Fairlands students had been following Russian sport for almost two years, after winning a competition run by BBC World Class and the British Council.

Fairland Students pose in front of first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, outside the British Council offices Fairland Students pose in front of first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, outside the British Council offices

Following visits to School 108 and the growing excitement around London 2012, student enthusiasm for the partnership was running high, and choosing which students should travel to the British Council base in London to meet their heroes was no easy task.

"It was really difficult," Ms Sheppard said. "We've had some children who have worked really hard on the project in school, so we've rewarded them with a trip to London."

After the interview, the students were able to take advantage of a more relaxed atmosphere, chatting with the athletes over lunch and getting some all-important photos and autographs.

And in the summer, the students will be keeping an eye out for Safina and Saitiev as they seek glory for Russia in their respective events.

The school hopes, too, that the end of the Games will just be another stage in a fruitful partnership which has made light of the 5,000-mile distance between the pair.

Fairlands International Co-ordinator Sarah Boyes commented: "Winning a link with a school in Russia through the BBC World Class project has created so many opportunities for our school - and we can only look forward to more exciting projects with School 108 in Yekaterinburg."

The Olympic Dreams Network is a group of British schools partnered with the schools of the World Olympic Dreams (WOD) athletes.

Fairlands Middle School is twinned with School 108, which was previously attended by Russian high-jumper, Ivan Ukhov.

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