By Steven Oldham, Sports Correspondent
In the first of a new regular series, I will be speaking to Olympians – past, present and future – about their defining Olympic moments, sporting heroes and more…
Our first contributor is Team GB fencer Natalia Sheppard. The foil specialist qualified for London 2012 on merit after winning the European qualifying tournament in Slovakia in April.
Had she not done so, she would’ve been relying on selectors choosing her to fill a host nation place.
The 27-year-old became the second British fencer to qualify directly for London 2012 after Richard Kruse, who will be competing in his third successive Games in London.
What is the first Olympic Games you can remember watching?
The Atlanta Games in 1996. I remember watching a lot of the sports – I’m interested in a lot of different ones, not just fencing! The most memorable moment I remember from Atlanta was the athletics – Michael Johnson breaking the 400m Olympic record.
Who is your favourite Olympian (past and present) and why?
That’s really tough! I’d have to say Dame Kelly Holmes. To come back from the injuries she had and put in the performance she did in Athens was amazing.
Of those still competing, it’s got to be Sir Chris Hoy. In many ways he’s the perfect athlete. After Beijing his favoured discipline was dropped for the London Games, and he had to readjust his focus. To continue training in this way to remain competitive is brilliant.
If fencing didn’t exist and you had the talent to represent Team GB in another Olympic sport, which one would you choose?
I’d love to be a cyclist. Cycling provides the ultimate athletic performance I think. It tests your brains as well as your body – it’s quite tactical. I’m quite sporty and enjoy many different ones.
If you could pick another sport to add to the Olympics, what would it be?
I wouldn’t add anything. I’d rather take some of them out! To me, winning an Olympic medal should be the pinnacle of your sport and the best moment in the competitor’s life. Sports such as tennis, football and golf have enough internatonal tournaments already. Winning gold in the Olympics isn’t as prestigious in those sports as it is in other Olympic sports, including fencing.
Besides competing, what are you most looking forward to at London 2012?
I want to show people what fencing’s all about – it’s a sport many people won’t have seen before and this gives us a great opportunity to get people involved.
Natalia will be hoping to add to Great Britain’s sole gold medal in fencing to date – Gillian Sheen won in the 1960 Rome Games. Keep your eyes on MM in coming weeks for more My Olympics.
Follow Steven Oldham on Twitter – @spoldham