Middlesex University was proud to see its students represent Team GB in the Olympics – and Team Middlesex’s Olympians said it would not have been possible without the support of the University.
Sports Science student Lutalo Muhammad became the first British man to win an Olympic taekwondo medal when he won bronze, while psychology student James Davis won praise for his performance - beating the world champion - in the men’s foil team event.
“To be honest, if it wasn't for Middlesex, I probably wouldn't have been at the Olympics,” says James, who started fencing at the age of four. “Middlesex University has been excellent for me. I'm on a scholarship, so they have supported me for the past few years.”
“Various people helped. John Cree (Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science) made me lose the weight and got me to the fittest I’ve ever been. Stella Sipple (Deputy Head of Sport) has been excellent; she is the mum of the group. And the other important figure is Linda Duffy (Director of Programmes, Psychology) who has been very supportive,” says James.
Lutalo also thanked the support from Middlesex. When he was picked for the Games, the 21-year-old was concerned about balancing his studies and training in the lead-up to London 2012.
“The Uni's been so flexible and helpful. They sorted out a great programme for me so that I can still stay at Middlesex, even though I train at Manchester most of the time. I don't think any other Uni could have supported me like Middlesex, and I'm so proud and happy to be a student here,” says Lutalo.
The sports science student had to wait till the end of the Games to finally make his bow in the tournament – taekwondo did not start until the last Friday of the Olympics.
When the competition kicked off, it did not all go according to plan. After making a good start, Lutalo was distraught when he lost in the quarter-finals against Nicolas Garcia Hemme due to some dubious refereeing decisions: “I know it sounds a bit clichéd, but I don't think I've been at such a low point in my life. It really was a horrible feeling, missing out on the gold medal,” Lutalo says.
But the 21-year-old got a reprieve, via the repecharge, when the Spaniard reached the final. Under immense pressure, Lutalo grabbed the second chance, beating the reigning world champion along the way to secure a well-deserved bronze.
“It was absolutely fantastic,” says Lutalo. “Obviously a great honour to represent the country, even more so at a home Olympics, and even more so for me, as I was born in East London.”
“I enjoyed it immensely, from start to beginning - the highs and the lows. The fact that I walked away with a medal just made it even more special,” adds Lutalo.
Medalling was not the only memorable moment of the Games for Lutalo. In the athletes’ village, Sir Chris Hoy took a five-minute detour to help a lost Lutalo to the laundry room – even though the Scot was on his way to the Velodrome for the Kierin final. Despite the slight diversion, Sir Chris did win his sixth Olympic gold medal to become the most successful British Olympian of all time. “If he’d lost that day, you would know who to blame,” Lutalo says. But his best moment was hearing his father say he was proud of him. “I know it's kind of cheesy…but for him to say that, it really touched me, and made me proud that I was involved in these Olympics.
James did not medal but he beat the current world champion and world number two in the men’s team event. The GB team though succumbed to the Italians in the quarterfinals: “I came out on top against the Italians, who are world number one. So for me, I was over the moon. I learned a hell of a lot. I loved being up there - 8,000 seats, packed with Brits cheering your name and shouting for you.”
Lutalo and James were not the only athletes in London 2012 with Middlesex connections. The two spent time in the Olympic village with Middlesex alumni Simeon Williamson, who unfortunately could not set foot on the track in the men’s 4x100 as Team GB were disqualified in the heats.
For the future, the two are determined to progress further in their sport – but also in their studies at Middlesex.
“Rio 2016 is the first thing to mind - definitely want a gold one (medal) round my neck,” says Lutalo. “With my studies I hope - when I'm talking to you in four years’ time with a gold medal - I have a degree in my hand as well. I think with the support this Uni has given me it's definitely going to be possible.”
James too is eyeing Rio 2016: “I want to have a gold medal around my neck too - maybe two, because I have a team event as well.” But he is also committed to finishing his studies at Middlesex. The psychology student still has two years to go after the University allowed him to defer a year to concentrate on the Games – something James is really grateful for.
“The University as a whole - with all the support from staff and the sports department - has been excellent,” he says. Because of them…this year I went full time fencing and it has made a big difference. The University really has supported me, and I hope I can give a lot back to them.”