Sussex swimmer has to get to Olympics - he promised his mum he would

Having brushed shoulders with some of the world’s best swimmers at last year’s European Junior Championships, Brighton’s Joel Thompson is determined to go on and realise his Olympic dream.

The 19-year-old started making waves on the national scene six years ago, and quickly came accustomed to podium places, claiming seven gold medals at the 2017 British Championships.

A year earlier England had come knocking for the first time, but in 2019 Thompson was handed the biggest opportunity of his career so far when selected for the European Juniors in Russia, where he reached the semi-finals of the 200m IM.

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Thompson insists that experience has further fuelled a desire to compete on sports biggest stage, having told his mum during London 2012 that he would one day line up at an Olympic Games.

“I told my mum I’d be there in Rio 2016 – little did I know how hard that was going to be, especially for a 15-year-old!” said Thompson, who is financially supported by a three-year partnership between GVC Holdings and SportsAid as part of GVC’s Pitching In initiative.

“The Olympics has always been the dream, and I think European Juniors was a great learning experience for me because it showed me where I’m at and how much work I need to do to get to the required level.

“I’ve seen various champions getting gold medals and breaking records, and it’s made me want it more. I’ve raced against the likes of Duncan Scott and I want follow in his footsteps.

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“I was really excited for the Olympic trials that were supposed to take place in April because I was a contender, until coronavirus brought everything to a halt. Hopefully with another year to prepare I’ll be in even better shape when they go ahead in 2021.” Supported by Paralympian Baroness Grey-Thompson, GVC announced a three-year partnership with SportsAid in 2019 to help young athletes realise their potential and promote grassroots sport.

The investment will provide funding for training, travel and equipment and allow athletes access to mentoring by Olympians and Paralympians on topics such as nutrition and sports psychology.

Thompson has recently enrolled on a mass communication degree at Louisiana State University in America, where he hopes he can make use of the first-class facilities and take his swimming career to the next step.

While lockdown halted his progress over the summer, Thompson is now fully back in the swing of things, with his attention firmly focused on the NCAAs (National Collegiate Athletic Association Championships), and the coveted Olympic trials.

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He said: “I found lockdown tough because essentially I wasn’t able to do any of my normal training for 20 weeks. I was trying to run every day, and doing circuits and different exercises, but it was big mental challenge trying to put a lot of work in without really knowing what you were aiming for.

“It’s much better now I’m allowed in the pool, and in America the environment is second to none. I don’t think there’s anything the American colleges don’t know about swimming and I’m hoping I can really kick on now.

“I’d like to do well at the NCAAs but the Olympic trials is definitely the main goal for 2021. Qualifying for GB for the biggest competition there is would be a dream come true, and it’d mean I’d keep my promise to my mum!”

* GVC is proud to be championing the next generation of British sporting heroes by providing talented young athletes with financial support and personal development opportunities in partnership with SportsAid. As part of this three-year partnership, GVC are supporting a diverse group 50 of UK athletes per year from a variety of spots and para-sports. Visit to find out more.