Four OU students have qualified for London 2012 and will have the honour of competing for Great Britain this summer.
The four Olympians – hockey player Alex Danson, synchronised swimmer Katie Dawkins, badminton player Imogen Bankier and cyclist Dani King – are all undergraduates at the OU and combine high level sporting excellence with the dedication of distance learning.
From business studies to politics and from sport to religion, the students are all utilising the OU’s flexible study methods, combined with the tough training regime required for competing at the highest level in their chosen discipline.
Alex Danson, a forward in the ladies GB hockey team, is nearing completion of an Open Degree and aims to become a teacher in the future.
'After lots of hard work I hope eventually to pick up my OU degree – in some way that will feel a bit like a podium moment'
Alex, whose team is ranked fourth in the world, has managed to fit her studies around her training, although now she admits the training is becoming more concentrated.
“Being a full-time sports woman is extremely demanding and in a different way studying with the OU is challenging too, but the tutor support is great and studying is something I really enjoy. After lots of hard work I hope eventually to pick up my OU degree – in some way that will feel a bit like a podium moment.
“The biggest thing that sport has taught me is to manage my time and that has helped with my studies. Being in a team it is even more important because nobody is going to wait for you if you’re late and you have to get things done.”
Swimmer Katie Dawkins, 23, has qualified for the GB synchronised team and will compete at the Aquatics Centre, fulfilling a lifelong dream. The Bristol-born swimmer is doing the Foundation Degree in Sport, Health and Fitness.
'I enjoy studying through the Open Uni as it gives me a focus outside of my badminton, and I enjoy learning while I have some time away from training'
She trains from 7am to 5pm and fits in her OU study at evenings and weekends. Talking of her selection to the Olympic synchro squad, Katie said: “It felt amazing and a little unreal when I got selected! All the hard work of the last five years has paid off and I am officially going to compete at a home Olympics. So exciting!”
Katie says she wants to compete in synchro for as long as possible and then I would like to become a primary teacher as I love children.
“I think being a sportswoman does help with study, I’m an organised person so I definitely think this helps as I like to have a plan for everything.”
Glaswegian badminton player Imogen Bankier, 24, is studying for a BA in Social Sciences with Politics and is studying with The Open University in Scotland. A player since the age of seven, she has qualified for the 2012 Olympics in the mixed doubles with Chris Adcock, with whom she won silver at the World Championships in 2011.
Imogen, who is preparing for the Games at the National Badminton Centre in Milton Keynes, said: "I enjoy studying through the Open Uni as it gives me a focus outside of my badminton, and I enjoy learning while I have some time away from training."
'Universities play a vital role'
Cyclist Dani King – part of GB sprint pursuit team, is currently working towards a BA in Business Studies with the OU. She says universities play a “vital” role in providing technical support and inspiring people to “go on to be the best they can”.
The national, European and World Team Pursuit Cycling Champion is aiming for gold for Great Britain at 2012.
OU Director of Students Will Swann congratulated all the athletes, saying: “We are very proud that four Open University students are representing their nation at the Olympics. Every OU student needs real determination to succeed, balancing their studies with the rest of their lives. Alex, Katie, Imogen and Dani are great ambassadors for their university and their country.”
The Open University has a number of high achieving sports people currently studying, with professional footballers, power lifters and cross country skiers among its undergraduates. A new sport-themed course has also launched this year, a BSc (Hons) in Sports, Fitness & Coaching, which expands the existing Foundation Degree in Sport & Fitness to full honours.