Raising a champion

'She liked dolls!' - Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams' mum

Mo Farah, Nicola Adams and Alistair and Jonny Brownlee have all won medals representing the UK and continue to inspire the nation. But what were they like as children and how was their sporting talent spotted and honed?


Alan Watkinson (Mo Farah's PE teacher): At school, we had opportunities for the children to show aspects of sport that they were good at. We did a little cross country trial and everybody could join either as a fun run or as a competitive activity. Mo was 11, he very competitive and he did very well in that.

Dee Adams (Nicola's mum): Nicola loved sport. She's run for Leeds City, she's done karate, she's done a bit of kickboxing and like all children they just want to get into everything. She's done swimming as well so it wasn't just boxing. She just kept busy.

Keith Brownlee (Alistair and Jonny's dad): Both boys have been sporty from the very beginning but they've both tried everything. Alistair was into his swimming, his running, cricket, rugby, football, flute, piccolo, singing - tried everything. Jonathan was into team sports in a big way. He played football locally for the local football team all the way up to about 14. But he was also into his swimming and his running and his piano.


Dee Adams: I took her down to the gym with her brother Kurtis, because I didn't have a babysitter and I didn't want to leave them at home while I did aerobics. There was a boxing gym and she just took to it naturally, there was no encouragement. I didn't know anything about boxing - female boxing wasn't around at that time. Then one day, one of her coaches said: "she's got talent".

The Brownlee brothers' dad shares tales of the incredible competitive spirit that exists between his all-conquering triathlete sons

Keith Brownlee: They were good swimmers, ran and cycled to school. Their uncle Simon Hearnshaw was into triathlons in the early 1990s and it was through him that Alistair heard about triathlon and we went to watch him do the Yorkshire Dales triathlon. Alistair was actually blown away by the whole thing and that's what enthused him to give it a go and that's how he got hooked.

Alan Watkinson: Mo didn't really take to running as a love, he absolutely loved football, so actually getting him to understand that running was possibly his best attribute was quite difficult at times. In the early days, football came first and running definitely came second


Alan Watkinson: When Mo arrived in this country, his English was very very poor so he learnt English through his access to sport. He was ultra competitive in sport, others were competitive and wanted to win, but he was fiercely competitive and desperately wanted to win.

Dee Adams: In 2009 Nicky suffered a serious back injury which saw her bed-ridden for three months and unable to box for a year. But I told her 'there's no way you're going to give up' and she dusted herself down, got up and the rest is history

Keith Brownlee: Alistair and Jonathan have always been very competitive with each other. From playing table tennis in the garden to emptying the dishwasher, to results at school, running races, swimming times, you name it - they've been competitive with each other over it. I think one of the best anecdotes is I bought them a tomato plant each for them to grow, just for a bit of fun and they were so competitive over whose tomato plant was going to be the biggest that they poisoned each other's and both plants died after a fortnight.


Dee Adams: When Nicky started, female boxing wasn't an Olympic sport. There was no sponsorship, there was no funding, it was basically like hitting a brick wall. It was a struggle financially. There was a lot of discipline in the boxing world where there's certain things you can do and certain things you can't do and Nicola knew she had to be disciplined regarding going out and drinking.

Mo Farah's former PE Teacher Alan Watkinson shares how he inspired the double Olympic champion to get into running.

Alan Watkinson: As Mo got older he did gain in focus and actually did tend to work harder at his sport. It was difficult to get him into training initially, but, as he realised the talent and ability that he had, he actually took that talent very seriously and worked hard

Keith Brownlee: As a parent of an athlete there's a very fine line between encouraging, facilitating, financing and pushing and I think it's inevitable that you stray either side of that line from time to time. So it could get quite expensive but it was fun as well and we often tagged it on to family holidays and weekends away. But the most important thing by a long way is it has to be fun, the child has to want to do it, it has to come from within because if it doesn't, it just won't work.


Keith Brownlee: I was massively proud when they achieved what they wanted to achieve at the Olympics. I was proud of that fact that they'd set themselves a goal, an objective and they'd worked towards that and they'd managed to achieve it.

Dee Adams: I really can't describe that feeling when she won the gold medal. I managed not to blub. It was something she'd always wanted, she followed her dream, she did, she said she was going to do it one day and she actually did it

Alan Watkinson: Being in the Olympics Stadium for both of his golds was definitely my proudest moment, the first one intensely so, I was very emotional when that happened. But, I think the way he conducts himself, the way he is a role model to others, his humility as well.