Rower Holly Dunford, 18, from Tadworth in Surrey, was named as the winner of SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award by five-time Paralympic champion Ellie Simmonds OBE at the charity’s annual SportsBall yesterday evening (23 November).
She received the award, previously won by the likes of Tom Daley, Hollie Arnold, Jodie Williams, Harry Martin, Amber Hill and Morgan Lake, after a sensational year which saw her win gold for Great Britain at the World Junior Rowing Championships alongside fellow SportsAid beneficiary Zoe Adamson in the women’s double.
Holly edged out BMX racer Beth Shriever, 18, and wheelchair racer Craig Boardman, 17, as they finished in second and third position respectively. Holly, who has been helped by SportsAid this year through the GLL Sport Foundation, will receive an additional £1,250 to help with her sporting costs following the victory.
“I wasn’t really expecting it, it feels really good,” said Holly. “It’s a privilege to be next to names like Tom Daley and Morgan Lake, especially seeing what they’ve gone on to do. This is just the icing on the cake, all my achievements in rowing this year have led to this and it’s great to be recognised.
“SportsAid’s help has been great, paying for petrol, kit, lots of things - I wouldn’t have been where I am this year without them.”
Ellie received SportsAid support in 2007 when she was just 12 years old. The following summer she became a household name across the country after her stunning success at the Beijing Paralympics. Ellie was pleased to be able to present the One-to-Watch Award to Holly and predicted a bright future for all three finalists.
“Seeing the top three, who are all incredible at their sport, and to be able to present the award to Holly just makes it a great night,” said Ellie. “To be recognised by someone like SportsAid is amazing. They are so important and so helpful - they were a huge help to me personally.
“The award recognises not just Holly, but the whole support group around her, her family, her friends and it’s a good confidence booster for the future.”
Holly, Beth and Craig were selected from over 1,000 rising British stars supported by SportsAid across more than 60 different sports in 2017. Each year, athletes are nominated by their sport’s governing body on the strength of their talent and potential, before a judging panel identifies the winner from a shortlist of 10.
Six previous recipients of the One-to-Watch Award – Tom, Hollie, Jodie, Harry, Amber and Morgan – represented Great Britain in Rio last summer, while a total of 26 Olympic and Paralympic medals have been won across all the nominees who have been put forward for the award since it was launched back in 2006.
This year has also seen Holly secure three first-place finishes in the single sculls at the GB Rowing Team Junior trials, as well as setting the new British record for junior women on the ergometer over 2km and 5km. Jessica Eddie, an Olympic silver medallist in the women’s eight in Rio, has been impressed with Holly’s displays.
“The sheer determination it takes to break into the competitive junior rowing team is the initial proof of Holly’s talent,” said Jess. “Secondly, to then withstand the pressure of the World Championships final, to hold her calm and nerve whilst teetering on the edge of absolute physical exhaustion, is phenomenal.”
SportsAid alumna Jess continued: “In such a closely fought battle, Holly, alongside her doubles partner Zoe, managed to have the grit and prowess to grab that gold medal. In doing so, she joined a very elite club of Great Britain Junior World Rowing champions. Holly has the proven ability to go right to the top of our sport.
“She has outstanding physiological results, from powering big ergo scores, to her on water talent. These two factors combined set her above a lot of juniors, and certainly marks her out as a very exciting one to watch. I am in no doubt that we will see her standing on that Olympic podium in the not-too-distant future.”
For finishing runner-up, Beth, from Braintree in Essex, will be given an extra £750 in funding. She had an outstanding season which saw her don the rainbow jersey after taking gold in the junior women’s class at the UCI BMX World Championships. She also won five junior titles across the UEC BMX European Cup Series.
“Beth has the potential to go to the top,” said Marcus Bloomfield - Great Britain Cycling Team BMX Coach for the Junior and Senior Academy. “She’s excelled at junior level these last two years, and although she’s about to turn elite, she has the attributes to have a very positive first season in the class.
“Beth’s biggest strength lies in her jumping ability and also her overall track speed. Even as a junior, her jumping and track speed is on par with some of the very best elite women in the world. Having already made a SX World Cup final whilst still a junior, she will look to build upon that experience and put in positive performances.”
T34 wheelchair racer Craig, from Thruxton in Hampshire, will be given a £500 boost for his third-placed finish. He claimed three titles at the World Junior Para Athletics Championships in August, and his coach Richard Chiassaro, a Paralympian and World Para Athletics Championships bronze medallist, is excited for what lies ahead.
“Craig is a great athlete to be around and I can’t wait to see all his hard work over the winter come together on the track next year,” said Richard. “He’s shown his potential this year by winning titles at the World Para Athletics Junior Championships and I’m looking forward to seeing his progression into the senior ranks in 2018.”
Richard, 36, who also received help from SportsAid earlier in his career, is balancing coaching while also still competing in the T54 classification: “Uniquely, myself and Craig will both be aiming for the World Para Athletics European Championships next August where we will both be aiming to win medals for the British team.”
The annual SportsBall was attended by over 500 guests, including more than 30 Olympians and Paralympians who previously received SportsAid support, as the charity celebrated the achievements of young athletes while also raising funds to help support the next generation of British sport stars coming through.
Young athletes rely heavily on their parents to help them cover training and competition costs including accommodation, transportation, equipment and nutrition. SportsAid is often the first external body to recognise the potential of young athletes as they look to progress in their sporting careers and achieve their ambitions.