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Durham University torchbearers get ready for Olympic Torch Relay

(8 June 2012)

Three rising international sportswomen from Durham University, selected to carry the Olympic Torch, are getting ready for their once in a lifetime opportunity.

The three athletes, who have represented Great Britain in their respective sports of hockey, rowing and fencing, will carry the torch through County Durham on Sunday 17 June. 

Among them will be England U21 hockey player, Steph Elliott, who hails from Middlesbrough, rower Naomi Hoogesteger whose crew broke the Atlantic crossing world record, and top five British fencer Kira Roberts.

The athletes and the University are also looking forward to welcoming the Olympic Flame to the University’s Racecourse on Saturday 16 June.  This momentous occasion will be celebrated with a free evening of live music, performances and celebrations, organised by Durham County Council.

Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “We are very honoured to welcome the Olympic Flame to the University’s Racecourse.  I feel it is fitting that this symbol of sport and teamwork should come to the University where we pride ourselves on not only offering our students an excellent academic degree, but also ensure they develop their skills in teamwork through sport, the arts and volunteering.

“Our three student torch bearers, who are all rising international sportswomen, are shining examples of the quality of sport at Durham University and the opportunities available to our students alongside their degrees.  I hope our staff and students as well as other members of the local community join in the celebrations on the Racecourse and show their support for the Olympic Games.”

The Durham University torchbearers, who compete on the national and international stages as well as representing Durham University, are combining their studies and work with their sporting careers.  They have been able to do this at Durham which prides itself on academic excellence combined with opportunities in sport, the arts and volunteering.

Steph and Kira are both full-time students whilst Naomi studies part-time in addition to a teaching post at the University.  The athletes represent the quality of women’s sport at Durham University, which is ranked 1st in the British Universities and Colleges Sport league table, beating competitors such as Loughborough, Leeds Met and Bath universities to the top spot.

Steph Elliott, who is from Nunthorpe in Middlesbrough, is studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sport at Durham University’s Queen’s Campus.  She said: “Throughout my time at Durham University, not once did I ever think I would be captaining the University side, playing for England U-21s or carrying the Olympic Torch, ever.  It’s down to the help of everyone around me, my family, friends and coach, who have really pushed me to achieve these things.  I can’t believe that I was even considered to carry the Olympic Torch, but I’ll hopefully manage it without any embarrassment!”

Durham University cemented its global reputation as a centre for sporting excellence in February with the opening of its £6.7m new sporting facility, which boasts one of only three powered indoor rowing tanks in the country and the only world-class standard fencing specific facility in the UK.  The facilities in Durham complement the £5.5m sports centre which was opened at the University’s Queen’s Campus in Stockton in 2010, with badminton, basketball, volleyball and netball courts, a dance studio and rowing room.

Dr Naomi Hoogesteger, who combines part-time postgraduate study with a teaching post in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, hit the headlines last year when she broke the world record for the fastest Atlantic rowing crossing as the only female crew member.  She completed the crossing in 31 days and 23 hours raising over £40,000 for charities along the way.  Naomi has already set herself her next challenge as she plans to canoe down the Amazon river in the summer of 2014 to set another world record.

Naomi said: “Although I am a firm believer that true inspiration to achieve must come from within, the support that I have received during my time at Durham University, and in particular from my academic department and college, is unparalleled.  Along the various sporting paths that I have taken, I have come to realise that having such a rock to rely upon is of utmost importance in order to achieve ambitions and dreams.”

Kira Roberts is doing a Masters degree in English Literary Studies.  She won gold medals in fencing at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and at the British Universities and Colleges Sport Championships.  With the opening of Durham’s new fencing facility in February, it is now one of four national centres that host British Fencing’s National Academy and advanced junior training as part of the national 2020 strategy to produce Olympic podium potential.

Kira said: “My ambition in fencing is to be placed among the top fencers in the world and compete in the Rio Olympics in 2016. To carry the torch means a great deal to me as it represents the hope, support and passion that has led me so far in my fencing and will continue to lead me on.  It would not just be my moment in the spotlight but a chance to show all of those who have helped me, believed in me and continually supported me that they were not mistaken in doing so!”

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