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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Daniel O'Mahony

Humble beginnings of school pals now going for Team GB glory in Tokyo Olympics

School pals who left the opposition standing on the athletics track are now hoping for success on the world’s biggest stage.

Keely Hodgkinson is dreaming of 800m Olympic glory while Ella Toone would love to score for Team GB football.

European indoor champion Keely, 19, who ran a personal best this month, is seen as a genuine medal contender.

And Ella, 21, a forward for Manchester United in the Women’s Super League, is one of four reserve players – but will be hoping for some game time.

The Tokyo Olympics, which begin on Friday, are a world away from where the ­amazing young athletes started out.

The pair were typical teenagers at Fred Longworth High School in Tyldesley, Greater Manchester, but “stood out a mile” thanks to their sporting prowess.

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The school’s PE teacher, Simon Rigby, said: “For a comprehensive to produce one Olympic athlete is amazing but to produce two, two years apart, is unreal.

“They liked everything your average teenage girl liked to do, like going out with friends – but sport was kind of always the priority.

“They’re just really grounded, all-round great girls.”

Mr Rigby spotted Keely’s talent soon after she joined Fred Longworth.

He said: “I remember Keely just ­absolutely taking off.

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“She had a smile on her face and she’s just running round the 400m track and we’re thinking wow, this girl is a special runner. That’s at 11 years old.”

Meanwhile, Ella, who scored nine goals for the Reds last season, would turn her hand to any sport going.

Mr Rigby said: “She wasn’t a one-trick pony – she does football, badminton, she does netball, she does anything. She is ultra competitive.”

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games logo (Getty)

Last month, Ella tweeted a 2014 photo of her and Keely hugging each other in triumph at the Wigan Schools Athletics competition. Ella had run the 400m.

It was captioned: “Just 2 girls living their dreams! See you in Tokyo.”

Mr Rigby added: “Looking back, it’s as though we manufactured that picture. But that’s what they were both like – they recognised they were both good and were congratulating each other.

Ella in action during the Team GB Football Training Session (Getty)

“We’re hoping for them to recreate that picture in Tokyo.”

The signs are certainly looking good for Keely.

In January, she set an under-20 800m ­indoor world ­record and two months later was victorious at the European Indoor Championship in Poland.

The teenage sensation, who is also studying criminology at university, is coached by Trevor Painter and his wife, former world 800m medallist Jenny Meadows.

She has tipped Keely to break double Olympic gold medallist Kelly Holmes’ 1995 800m British record.

The girl's former PE teacher, Simon Rigby (The school’s PE teacher, Simon Rigby, said: “For a comprehensive to produce one Olympic athlete is amazing but to produce two, two years apart, is unreal.)

But while nothing will dampen the old school friends’ will to win and enthusiasm, Tokyo may prove to be the strangest Olympics ever.

Firstly, like the Euros football championship, they are a year late because of the pandemic.

And as Japan battles a fourth wave of ­ coronavirus infection, strict rules mean it will be a Games like no other.

Competitors will face stadiums ­without fans, Covid bubbles and an 8pm curfew.

Between events, athletes will be confined to a newly built Olympic Village in Tokyo Bay, which has been declared a Covid bubble.

At previous games, these complexes have been a hotbed for raunchy relations between athletes from all over the world.

But organisers are taking no chances – they have urged no “unnecessary” physical contact and will only be ­distributing condoms as “souvenirs” when athletes leave the village.

Winning athletes will have to wear masks when stepping on the podium.

And all competitors will be given a smartphone to track their Covid status and for contact tracing.

Covid cases in Tokyo hit a six-month high this week and bars and restaurants will be unable to serve booze – and must shut at 8pm.

Despite the tough ­measures, the decision to hold the Games at all has angered many in Japan.

The International Olympic Committee has ­repeatedly insisted the games can go ahead safely.

But at one point in May, more than 80% of Japanese polled thought the event should scrapped or ­postponed. Their concerns were echoed by Japan’s Emperor Naruhito.

The grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency said last month: “The emperor is ­extremely worried about the current status of ­coronavirus infections.”

But British middle-distance Olympic running legend Sebastian Coe said he doesn’t believe there is a major health risk.

Four-time gold medallist Lord Coe, now the president of World Athletics and an IoC member, praised planning for the event.

He said he did not think “any event in the last 40 or 50 years has ever had so much forethought given to the ­protection of the key assets, in our case the athletes, but crucially, the ­protection of the local communities that are going to be hosting our events.”

However, Covid is not the only ­problem organisers will have to ­contend with in the coming days.

An athlete competing in swimming events, set to be held in Tokyo Bay, reportedly claimed that the water “smelt like a toilet”.

The bay has historically contained dangerous levels of E.coli, which can cause serious stomach problems – ­including diarrhoea and vomiting.

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