Right, we admit it. We’re more than slightly in awe of the women on today’s photo shoot.
Everywhere we turn there are lithe, toned limbs and eye-popping six-packs (giving us a serious case of stomach envy). These girls are at the absolute peak of physical fitness.
Which is probably just as well seeing as all five of them will be competing for their country in the Olympic Games in a few weeks’ time.
For every Jessica Ennis and Victoria Pendleton, who have become the poster girls for London 2012, there are hundreds more Team GB female athletes quietly ploughing away at their chosen sport, hoping to claim a medal at the Games. And for a fair few of them, all that hard work looks set to pay off, big style.
We meet some of the lesser-known girls going for gold. Expect them to be household names by the time the closing ceremony comes around…
‘Winning is the reason I train so hard’
Helen Jenkins is 28 and a triathlete. She lives in Bridgend, Wales, with her husband Marc, 35, who is also her coach.
As Fabulous covers Helen’s toned, bronzed body with oil for our photo shoot, she glances down at her legs with clear distaste.
“I’ve got really big calves,” she groans. “They’re bigger than Marc’s.”
That’s Marc, her husband, fellow triathlete, coach and the man charged with landing her an Olympic gold this summer. The couple married in October 2008. But theirs was no traditional church do – they tied the knot at Disney World, Florida.
“We’d both been injured and had a rubbish year,” explains Helen, 28. “We wanted something to look forward to, so we booked a holiday and married at a Disney hotel. It was really relaxed, with 30 family and friends. A biker friend ordained us and afterwards we all went straight to the water park.”
Wacky, maybe. But then nothing about Helen’s life has been normal. → While other girls were meeting boyfriends, she was ploughing lengths of her local pool.
“Fifteen is the age when many people get a social life and quit sport, but it never seemed a sacrifice to me,” she says.
Instead, she added running and cycling to her repertoire. Supported by her dad Ed, and mum, Joanne, both 51, she combined A levels with travelling the country at weekends to compete in triathlons. She turned professional in 2005, when she was 21.
“I was lucky that I found a sponsor in Asics. I know triathletes who put expenses on their credit cards. My parents helped me too. They’ve driven me to training and dad cycled with me so I didn’t have to do it on my own.”
Two years later Marc, who she met at her local swimming pool, became her coach. “Marc was the only one who cared as much about my training as me,” she says. “In some ways it’s more stressful for him. Once I start racing I’m not nervous, but it’s out of his control.”
There’s not much time to chill out at home in Bridgend.There’s not a scrap of fat on her 8st 6lb, 5ft 6in frame. In order to stay strong enough to complete the gruelling 1,500m swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run, Helen is in the pool by 5.30am four times a week. After a breakfast of crumpets, she cycles for up to three hours, and in the afternoon runs for up to an hour and 45 minutes. All that training and competing is tough, and Helen has the battle scars to prove it
Currently a world champion, she says the thought of collecting a gold medal this summer spurs her on.
“If I’ve had a bad day I do think how nice it would be to stand on that podium,” she says. “Winning is the reason I train. Sometimes I don’t sleep the night before, and I’ve thrown up with nerves before a race.”
She says she’s addicted to the sport, not the celebrity aspect. “When you’re doing the last few kilometres, you’re not thinking of having your photo in a magazine. If you’re motivated by fame you won’t last.”
The Hockey Captain
‘Meeting Kate Middleton was a great boost’
Kate Walsh, 32, is the captain of the Great Britain women’s hockey team. She lives in Reading with her girlfriend, Helen Richardson, 31, who also plays for the team.
Forget about the Olympic Games. It’s meeting and greeting Kate Middleton which has proved the biggest test of nerves for Kate Walsh.
The Duchess of Cambridge visited the Olympic Park to meet Team GB’s women’s hockey squad in March, and as captain, Kate had the honour of introducing her to the rest of the girls.
“I was nervous, but she’s lovely and knows how to put people at ease. We all felt relaxed around her,” says Kate.
“She’s passionate about hockey and she joined in with our practice. It was a great boost for the sport, and for the team, ahead of the Games.”
Kate first picked up a hockey stick at the age of 11 during a school PE lesson. Mum Barbara, 57, played for a local club, but Kate hadn’t ever felt the urge to join her before then.
“I’d never been keen, associating it with spending hours on the sidelines in the cold watching her. But after that first lesson I realised I really enjoyed it, and picked it up quickly.”
After playing for her county and later the north of England, Kate, who was born in Manchester, was picked for the England Under-16 squad.
“I played for one year, then didn’t get selected for the second year. I was gutted and it was then I realised this was much more than a hobby to me. I needed to knuckle down and dedicate myself to it. I got back into the England squad and got my first senior cap on my 19th birthday.”
Kate was voted captain of the squad in 2003 and has held the title ever since.
“Being part of a team is why I love hockey. Gelling with people from different backgrounds, of different ages, all with the same, goal is a very special experience. The camaraderie is fantastic.
“Competing at this level I’d be lonely if I didn’t have the other girls to chat to and have a laugh with. We all live near one another so that support network is available 24/7.”
The squad – funded by UK Sport – are currently training six days a week, splitting their time between the hockey pitch and the gym where they work on their back, core and arm strength, plus general fitness.
“Hockey’s a full-body sport, and you need a lot of stamina with all the running and hitting you’re doing. We follow very healthy diets with plenty of carbs and protein for energy,” says Kate, who is 5ft 7in and 10st 7lb.
The team came 6th in the Beijing Games in 2008 and has won bronze and silver medals at international events. Their last gold medal was in 2002 at the Champions Challenge, where the top eight teams in the world compete.
“We won silver in the same competition this year so we’re aiming for an Olympic gold and are feeling very positive,” says Kate.
“I can’t wait to run out on to the pitch and hear the roar of the home crowd. And hopefully Kate Middleton will be cheering for us too!”
The Synchronised Swimmers
‘We’ve made huge sacrifices – but it’s worth it’
Katie Skelton (left), 24, and Asha Randall (right), 22, are members of the Team GB synchronised swimming squad. Katie lives in Aldershot, Hampshire, with two teammates. Asha lives in Camberley, Surrey, with her parents.
This is the first time Team GB has had a synchronised swimming squad in the Games, so the heat really is on. Not that you’d know it looking at Katie and Asha, who are calm, cool and collected today. However, both admit they are incredibly nervous about the Games.
Katie is one of four women who have been on the nine-person squad since it was founded back in 2007. Before then, funding wasn’t available, and GB only entered solo and duet performances.
“To be one of the founding members of the team, and be part of the first GB squad to enter the Games is a huge honour,” says Katie. “Five years of hard work has led to this moment.”
The girls train for seven hours a day, six days a week, and stick to a strict diet of fruit, chicken, salad and pasta.
“We do core work, weights and Pilates, then practise our routines in the pool until they’re perfect,” says Asha.
Slight but toned, she is 5ft 6in and weighs 8st 3lb. Katie is 5ft 3in and just over 8st. They need to be light but strong so they can be lifted and lift other girls during their routines. To make sure they all stick to their goal weight they have weekly weigh-ins.
The girls have had to make huge sacrifices. Both chose swimming over further education and neither has time for a man. “I’m too focused on the Games,” says Katie. “When you’re as passionate about a sport as I am, all those sacrifices are worth it.”
Asha, whose sister Jenna, 23, competes alongside her in the team, made the nine-person squad in late 2007.
She was inspired to take up the sport after seeing Jenna and older sister Tia, 27, in the pool. “I loved to watch them, so at the age of seven I took it up too,” she says.
Because we were so passionate about it, my parents paid for each of us to have a private coach. I think that’s essential if you want to progress in the sport.”
Asha left school when she was 17, after sitting her AS levels. Until then she’d juggled studying with training.
“It was tiring doing both and I had to be really organised when it came to getting my homework done,” says Asha. “Sometimes I had to miss school when I was away at competitions. I remember doing my GCSE coursework in China!”
Katie has made similar sacrifices. When she steps into the 50m Olympic pool in the Aquatics Centre in Stratford it will be the culmination of 17 years of hard work, since she joined her local synchronised swimming club in Reading aged seven.
“My neighbour did it and because I loved dance, gymnastics and swimming she suggested I try it. I took to it like a duck to water. What I enjoy most is that it looks artistic and elegant but requires a huge amount of strength and stamina.
“Since I was selected for the senior GB squad, all I’ve been thinking about is London 2012. To be making my Olympic debut on my home turf is a dream come true.”
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‘I get a lot of Robin Hood jokes!’
Naomi Folkard, 28, is an archer. She lives in Kidderminster with boyfriend Jonathan, 37, a warehouse administrator.
From the first moment she picked up a bow and arrow at the age of just five, Naomi was hooked on archery.
“Hitting a perfect shot is addictive,” she says. “I love the buzz I get from it.
“And it’s definitely a conversation starter at parties. People are really interested in finding out more about it, although I do have to put up with a lot of Robin Hood jokes! Traditionally, archery’s been a male-dominated sport, but more and more women are taking it up, which is great to see.”
Take a bow
Naomi, who first tried the sport at scout camp and joined an archery club two years later, trains five hours a day.
“It takes a great deal of upper-body power to pull the bow back, and a good level of fitness means you can handle nerves, keep your balance and posture, and shoot under pressure,” she says.
“Jonathan is a great support and is really understanding about all the time I have to spend training and working out.
“He does archery too, and we met nine years ago at a competition.”
Jonathan will be watching Naomi at the games with her parents Kathy, and Denis, both 65. Their support helped Naomi become the youngest female archer on the Team GB squad at Athens 2004, when she came 11th.
“I was studying music at Birmingham University at the time, so while other students were going backpacking that summer or getting a job, I was heading off to represent my country,” she says.
And, Naomi was part of the GB team which won gold at the Archery World Cup in 2007.
“I’ve been working really hard for these Games and want to do my best in front of the home crowd. The support we’ve had has been amazing, hopefully I can give them something to cheer for.”