Croydon have been crowned Panathlon champions after winning a thrilling London final in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
175 disabled students from 19 London schools battled it out at the Copper Box Arena as Croydon triumphed over of Barking & Dagenham (2nd), Sutton (3rd) and Hammersmith & Fulham (4th) in the champions final to win their fourth Panathlon title.
Brent were crowned Panathlon plate winners, overcoming the challenge of Newham (2nd), Wandsworth (3rd) and Kensington & Chelsea (4th) as back-to-back finals created a wonderful atmosphere at the iconic London 2012 venue.
Croydon won two of the day’s six events – polybat and field athletics – before securing victory with second place in the day’s final event, the relay races, to get their hands on the Panathlon trophy, presented by triple Paralympic medallist Liz Johnson.
“It’s fantastic. It was so close,” said Fiona Bell, PE teacher at St Giles School. “I thought we’d come third if I’m honest, but the commitment of the team was great. This is the pinnacle of any sporting achievement that a lot of these kids are ever going to have.”
St Giles student Toyin Fabusiwa (right), aged 16, said: “It’s amazing. I wasn’t expecting it to be honest, but we got it. This is my last year in my school as well, so this is an amazing way to go out.”
Twenty-six students from St Giles, Priory and Riddlesdown Schools came together to form the Croydon team, demonstrating a strong cohesion that helped push the team to victory.
Wendy Martin, teacher at Priory School, said: “We work as a team and we’re getting our kids to learn what it’s all about. It is a competition at the end of the day, so our team have learned that if you want to win something, you’ve got to work at it. This is like their Paralympics really, and to have the final at a place like this as well is very special.
This is the second year that Panathlon’s showpiece event has been held at the Copper Box, venue for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The huge arena was a sea of colour as back-to-back finals took place, with Brent going one better than last year’s runners-up place to win the Panathlon plate.
“It’s amazing. I’m extremely proud of my students today – a really proud teacher,” said Jonathan Bath, teacher at The Village School, after his team collected their trophy from Paralympian Steve Brown and TV presenter Alex Brooker.
“They implemented everything we’ve been doing in training: the techniques, the tactics. We were a bit unfortunate last year but we’ve come here today and we’ve won. We’re over the moon.”
He said: “It’s amazing. It feels so great. Oh my gosh, I feel so proud. We came last year but came second. This time we upgraded, we improved.
“It’s all been about teamwork and it’s really special to compete in a venue like this.”
The Copper Box finals were the culmination of months of Panathlon competition in the capital, that saw 1,500 students from all 32 London boroughs competing in 16 qualifying rounds, with the four regional winners of the champions and plate competition getting the chance to compete in the Olympic Park.
Panathlon ambassador, swimming medallist at three Paralympic Games, including London 2012, said: “Today has been even better than last year, which no one thought possible. We’ve got almost 200 pupils here today, the noise is incredible, everyone’s having a brilliant time and the standard of the competition is so high.
“The significance of the finals being at the Copper Box gives the pupils something extra to aim for. I’m sure it stirred the emotions in them as it did for us making it to the Olympics and Paralympics.”
Panathlon patron Alex Brooker, star of Channel 4’s ‘The Last Leg’, spent lots of time in the Olympic Park when reporting on the Paralympics in 2012, but he enjoyed his first trip to the Copper Box for a Panathlon final.
“I’m so pleased I got to come today,” said Alex (pictured right having a go at polybat). “It’s amazing that Panathlon are hosting such a big final here in the Copper Box, an Olympic venue, with so many kids. It just shows how far the charity has come.
“If there’s anything that demonstrates an Olympic and Paralympic legacy, it’s this. Some of the legacy has got a bit lost along the way, but not here. That’s why I love it so much.”
Steve Brown, Team GB wheelchair rugby captain at London 2012 and Panathlon patron, also enjoyed watching the action and was impressed with the intensity of competition on display.
“The teams here today have earned it. Although everyone’s here to have fun and enjoy it and go outside their comfort zone and try new things, this is a competitive environment. I was over watching the boccia and got in trouble for talking too much! That’s how seriously they’ve been taking it.
“It’s nice to have that competitive environment, but also one that’s safe and honest and open, for these kids to compete in. For Panathlon to put that level of competition together and then come here to the home of the Paralympics and London 2012, it’s a privilege to be here and watch these people giving it all they’ve got.”
Panathlon’s work in London is funded by the Jack Petchey Foundation, the Mayor of London and the St. James’s Place Foundation.
Trudy Kilcullen, Chief Executive Office of the Jack Petchey Foundation, said: “It’s fantastic. The atmosphere compared to last year – it’s just raised the game again. It’s great to see more young people involved, more young leaders involved and more supporters here as well.
“At the Jack Petchey Foundation, our core belief is that we want every young person to think that they can, so if you think you can, you can. Panathlon just epitomises that. The young people here are giving it everything they’ve got and to see them achieve, it just fits perfectly with our objective too.”
A full breakdown of scores from both finals is available on our results pages, while you can check out the action from finals day in our photo gallery, left (more to follow).
Thanks to all of our sponsors for making today’s final possible and to our fantastic young leaders from Sir Herbert Leon Academy, Colchester High School, Featherstone High School, John Payne School, Enfield College and Farlingaye High School for doing such a great job officiating both finals.