Schoolchildren from eight London boroughs are looking forward to a very rare sporting opportunity next month – the chance to compete in an Olympic and Paralympic venue at the London Panathlon finals.
Teams from Croydon, Hammersmith & Fulham, Sutton and Barking & Dagenham will compete at the Copper Box Arena in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on Thursday 18th June for the right to be crowned 2015 Panathlon champions.
Joining them at the iconic London 2012 venue will be teams from Kensington & Chelsea, Brent, Wandsworth and Newham, who will battle it out in the London plate final.
Over 100 schools representing all 32 London boroughs have taken part in this year’s Panathlon Challenge, with over 1,500 disabled young people involved.
Between January and March, eight local qualifying heats split the 32 teams into champions cup and plate sides of the draw, before four regional finals – north, south, east and west – saw the winners of both competitions progress to the final.
It is the second time that Panathlon has held its showpiece event at the Copper Box, which played host to the handball and modern pentathlon’s fencing competitions during the Olympics and goalball during the Paralympics.
Last year’s final saw a dominant Harrow team retain their Panathlon title, but the favourites were denied the chance to complete a hat-trick by a magnificent peformance from Hammersmith & Fulham in the north London final, which saw them qualify for their first London final.
“I’m really excited,” said 10-year-old Jamie Keat, after he’d helped Hammersmith & Fulham to their first ever London final. “I cannot believe it. It’s going to be really exciting and the competition is going to be really high, so we’re going to try our hardest to win.”
Other first timers at the Copper Box include Croydon, who will be hoping to improve on their third place finish from the 2013 champions final, and plate finalists Kensington & Chelsea, Newham and Wandsworth.
“To go to the Olympic Park will be amazing and these guys will get such a sense of pride in being able to do that,” said Jess Russell of Paddock School, after Wandsworth won the west London plate final. “Everyone in the school will be so excited. This will mean a lot to everyone.”
Returning to the Copper Box for a second consecutive plate final are Brent, who lost out to Redbridge in 2014, while Barking & Dagenham and Sutton are back for a second tilt at the champions title.
Danielle Smith, Sports Development Officer at Barking & Dagenham council, said: “It means a lot to our kids. They don’t often get to participate in sporting events, so to be able to participate somewhere like the Copper Box, it means a lot. They’ll be very excited by it.”
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: “I am thrilled that so many Panathletes who have already taken part on the track previously, will be competing at the Copper Box and the Aquatic Centre this year. The Panathlon Challenge gives thousands of children the opportunity to put their sporting talents to the test. Watching Panathlon go from strength to strength is a wonderful legacy of the 2012 Games and a great pleasure to support.”
One person who can’t wait for the final is 15-year-old Rebecca Cavanagh from Eastlea Community School, part of the Newham team that won the East London plate title.
“I’m so excited to be going to the Copper Box,” said Rebecca. “It’s a big honour. When I get older I want to be in the Paralympics and it feels like I’m one step closer to that dream.”
Find out how each of our eight finalists reached the Copper Box in our reports from the four London semi-finals below or, for all the round-by-round details, check out our results tables.
– South London (Champions: Croydon; Plate winners: Kensington & Chelsea)
– North London (Champions: Hammersmith & Fulham; Plate winners: Brent)
– West London (Champions: Sutton; Plate winners: Wandsworth)
– East London (Champions: Barking & Dagenham; Plate winners: Newham)
Mike Wilson, Chairman of the St. James’s Place Foundation, said:“We are extremely proud to support Panathlon and their vital work to improve the lives of so many young people and their families through participation in sport across the UK
Another one of our long term supporters, Jack Petchey CBE, said: “We are delighted to have been able to give long standing support to Panathlon and are exceptionally proud of what they have achieved, it is a pleasure to see young disabled people getting involved with such enthusiasm and commitment – the events provide much enjoyment for all involved.”
Watch a great time-lapse video of the 2014 London Panathlon final at the Copper Box Arena. We look forward to seeing all of our finalists there on 18th July!