team GB at opening ceremony

British Olympians inspire Team GB in Tokyo

University of Hull students have shone a light on British Olympic champions of the past in order to inspire current Team GB athletes to achieve success at the Games this summer – as part of a research project with Team GB.

Designed to celebrate and drive forward the ethos of ‘One Team GB’ – a concept encompassing the cultures, ways of working and the collective beliefs of all team members –, the project has uncovered heroes of the past, highlighting the team’s heritage of success as athletes compete at the Games in Tokyo.

This exclusive opportunity for students came as a result of the University’s unique partnership with Team GB. The partnership, which is now in its second year, covers a six-year period and includes the Tokyo 2020, Paris 2024 Olympic Games and the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

Team GB 1900x600

The University of Hull's partnership with Team GB is now in its second year

Students have been able to harness their creativity and historical research skills developed during their studies to bring little-known but incredible stories of early Olympians to life. New facts and timelines for champions – women, Black and Asian athletes from diverse backgrounds – have been uncovered, revealing their journey as they established themselves in Olympic sport. One Olympian was Cardiff-born Paulo Radmilovic who won three gold medals in water polo (1908–20), another gold in swimming (4x200m freestyle, 1908), and became the first GB athlete to compete in five Olympics in 1928.

The students also researched well-known Olympians such as figure skaters Torvill and Dean, as well as Team GB diver, Tom Daley.

Dr Jenny Macleod, Senior Lecturer in 20th Century History and head of the history department at the University, said: “We all tell stories about who we are based on the past. That’s true of individuals, families, organisations and nations.

“It has been really exciting to find out more about the history of Team GB so that they can enrich the story of who they are as a team, and by extension, who the British are as a nation.

“The Department of History’s work with Team GB is just one of a number of great opportunities we provide to our students to apply their skills as historians to real world challenges. It reflects the philosophy behind our degree programme: that history is deeply relevant to the present day.” Dr Jenny Macleod, Senior Lecturer in 20th Century History

Tim Ellerton, Commercial Director at Tema G, said: “The contribution the students have made to Team GB has been invaluable. The concept, which was developed prior to the London 2012 Olympic Games when we fielded the largest team in over 100 years, is crucial to driving success.

“Our athletes only come together as Team GB for the month of the Olympic Games. At other times of the Olympic cycle they compete as individual sports and athletes – so effective team building and having a shared ethos and goal is essential.”

Students supported the concept by researching past Olympians’ personal stories that represent Team GB’s rich diversity and demonstrate One Team GB values. A focus on the last time the Olympic Games were held in Tokyo in 1964 brought the background stories of some of the Olympians who represented Great Britain to life. For example, Louis Martin – who came to the UK as part of the Windrush generation in the mid-1950s – and remains Britain’s most successful weightlifter to date.

Grace Hawkins, a second-year BA History student, said: “Working on a project for Team GB has been an incredibly unique opportunity. I have been able to discover how Team GB had many trailblazing athletes and how they overcame specific obstacles to represent their country.

“I have also developed skills which have enabled me to use the many digital databases we have at our disposal to the best of our advantage and find unique stories about many past GB athletes.

“As I am hoping to become a secondary school history teacher the skills I have learnt will hopefully enable me to teach the next generations about all aspects of our history.”

Olanrewaju Folorunso, who is studying MSc Business Management, said:

“Working on a project with Team GB has been an amazing aspect of my masters journey at the University of Hull. It has helped improve my skills and changed my attitude towards positivity, staying motivated and being goal-oriented by learning from life experiences of athletes like Margaret Adeoye.

“I was inspired by her zeal and determination to be successful, starting out as a child that moved in to London from Nigeria to representing Britain in the Olympics just shows anyone – no matter your background – can be whatever you want to be, with determination.

Max Whitlock

Earlier this year, the University announced Olympic Champion, Max Whitlock, who has retained his Olympic title with victory in the men’s pommel horse at Tokyo 2020 – his third gold medal – as its Team GB ambassador

The content will be used to engage fans with both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games using Team GB social media channels and will feature in some of their marketing materials to help promote the games and create excitement amongst fans. Some of the performance moments of Team GB’s history were shared with fans through this video.

Dr Catherine Baker, a Senior Lecturer in 20th Century History at the University of Hull, said: “Being able to come together with a common purpose meant even more to our students, and staff, during lockdown when we started helping Team GB find out about its Winter Olympic histories as well.

“It was wonderful to see how the skills they’ve strengthened through our teaching – critical thinking, independence, precision, research, and the ability to weigh up evidence to draw the strongest conclusions – can gather results that mean so much to a high-profile partner like Team GB." Dr Catherine Baker, a Senior Lecturer in 20th Century History

“For me, a personal highlight was engaging with Team GB about the team's place in Black British history. While we were finding out new details about athletes like Harry Edward – the first known Black British Olympian, who won 100m and 200m bronze in the 1920 Games – in order to help today’s Olympians understand the team’s past better, we were also able to have open dialogues about difficult histories of racism in Olympic sports.”

Team GB is only one of the organisations and businesses the History department works with to create opportunities for students through the Hull History Network. In total there are more than 40 organisations, mostly across the East Riding/North Lincolnshire region. More than 50 students during the past 21 months have taken up opportunities to co-operate with a range of partners and to apply the skills they've gained during their History degrees to help partners meet direct organisational needs.

team GB at opening ceremony

Team GB at the opening ceremony

Student Lewis Carter, shares his thoughts on his opportunities with Team GB

“Working on these projects for Team GB has been a fantastic and rewarding opportunity for me. It has allowed me to engage with fascinating, inspiring and positive areas of the history of British athletes that I would otherwise not have had the opportunity, or even awareness, to look into.

“Furthermore it has helped me increase my skills as a historian through challenging me into using new methods and sources that I would never had considered, which in turn helped improve my own work throughout my studies.

“Some of the research I did regarding athletes for Team GB included looking into athletes such as rower St George Ashe, who was perhaps one of the first British athletes we know of to suffer from mental health issues. Another was Evie Pinching who won gold medals in Skiing at the 1936 Winter Olympics but also trained a "British Ski Force" in the British Army, as well as competing in the 1950 World Skiing Championships despite fracturing her spine 2 years earlier. These athletes, and others that have been researched can prove inspirational to the current generation of athletes and fans.

“This has been a fantastic experience for me, and has even given me the opportunity to appear on several panels talking about my experience of the project which has helped build up my confidence and expertise at doing such events.

“It has also broadened my awareness of the work that can be done, and relationships that can be made with other organisations outside of the university, knowledge which I think will be valuable when looking for employment or a career.”

Summary of Team GB activities

The Team GB research project is the latest example of the exciting range of Team GB activities that have taken place at the University since the partnership began in January 2019. Earlier this year, the University announced Olympic Champion, Max Whitlock, who has retained his Olympic title with victory in the men’s pommel horse at Tokyo 2020 – his third gold medal – as its Team GB ambassador.

Additional activities include designing a 360 virtual environment package to help prepare athletes for the Games and student internships.

Events on campus have included a Give it A Go event last month as part of the I am Team GB Festival of Sport encouraging students to try new sports. The event was attended by Team GB gymnast and Olympic medallist Beth Tweddle as part of the launch of the I Am Team GB ‘Festival of sport’. This festival, which is presented by Team GB partner Toyota, sees a programme of events being hosted across the nation on August 14 and 15, drawing on the excitement and success of Britain’s athletes in Tokyo to encourage people to get up and get active. The University will also be encouraging staff, students and the local community to join a special 5k event ‘5k Your Way’ on campus on Saturday 14 August – as part of the celebrations.

There has also been a series of other Team GB appearances where athletes have shared their personal goal-setting and medal-winning experiences with students, a marketing challenge for first-year students and a family sports event for local schools and colleges.

In May, the partnership announced its Get Set To Find Your Extraordinary programme to inspire young people to achieve their own extraordinary dreams. The programme uses the real-life journeys of Team GB athletes and University of Hull students as a springboard for 11 to 18 year olds to reach their full potential.

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