The 2012 Olympic Games were responsible for inspiring a whole generation of athletes. Those who had only ever seen their heroes on television could now witness the magic with their own eyes. In the heat of the capital, proud Brits cheered the likes of Andy Murray and Jessica Ennis to gold medals.
A young Leah Williamson and her family were in the Olympic Village at those games. They were backing Greg Rutherford – a long jumper from her hometown, Milton Keynes. It was then that Williamson caught the Olympic bug.
After seeing the sheer oceans of red, white and blue around London, she dreamt of pulling on the kit. But for which sport?
No more doubts
Against odds that she may have thought were against her, the Arsenal centre-back was chosen for this year’s games. Hege Riise named her Team GB squad – including Williamson’s fellow Gunners Kim Little and Lotte Wubben-Moy.
With so much talent available for selection, the 24-year-old expressed her emotion at being given the opportunity to represent her nation in Tokyo.
“It was the best feeling ever, really. These are the type of moments that, when you’re younger, and you imagine in your career that these are boxes that you’ll end up ticking off, and then as you get older you realise ‘oh actually, that might not happen.’
“So to actually be here on a day like today, with a Team GB squad even available to be in, it’s literally beyond my wildest dreams.”
Spikes or studs?
In a bid to represent Team GB, Williamson once considered swapping her beloved football for a pair of running spikes. The competition of gaining a spot in the football team lingered in her mind, and so did her dream of becoming an Olympian. Luckily for both us and her, she stuck with her first love – football.
“For me, growing up, this [the Olympics] was always something that felt like it was slightly further away, and made it give me all the more reason to want to achieve it,” she admitted. “So, like I say, it’s so surreal to be here now. I always had a glimmer of hope. I was always considering what other sport I could do, to get myself to be in a position to be an Olympian, and then settled on football. To actually be here is pretty cool.”
“Actually, I was always a good runner – athletics, cross country. I don’t think I’ve ever been a marathon runner. When I was younger, that was always an option for me, in terms of competing locally. But I just remember saying – I think my mum actually told me – I said to her ‘what can I change to make sure I can be an Olympian?’ Because football seemed a little bit unattainable, but I probably wasn’t good enough to do anything else, to be honest.
“To be able to do something that you’re so in love with, at such a high level, and then being this very sort of sentimental person that I am, to put all the pieces together in such a way… the only thing that could make this any better would be if it was in London, and that I was nine years older.”