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Joel Thompson

Brighton swimmer Joel Thompson insists the financial support of Entain Holdings and SportsAid helped ease the mental toll of this year’s lockdown, as he continues in his bid to compete at next summer’s Olympic Games.

The 19-year-old is a recent recipient of the award, with the two bodies having partnered up in a three-year agreement in 2019, aiming to help young athletes across the UK realise their potential.

Having reached the semi-finals of the 200m IM at last year’s European Junior Championships, Thompson was preparing himself for the Olympic trials before the coronavirus epidemic iced the majority of 2020 competition, and delayed his Tokyo Olympics dream for at least another 12 months.

While the funding will help Thompson equip himself with the tools to perform at the top level going forward – having left home to enrol on a mass communication degree at Louisiana State University – the former Ellesmere College student explains the support enabled him to stay mentally and physically fit during the break.

“The backing from Entain and SportsAid is amazing, especially during uncertain times like we’ve had over the course of this year,” said Thompson, one of 50 beneficiaries of Entain’s programme which is part of the Pitching In initiative.

“When some of the restrictions were lifted I was able to go on a training camp to Malta, which helped me massively mentally. None of the pools were open in England, and I was finding it really tough trying to go running and do things out of the water.

“The funding has also been a big help in terms of allowing me to buy equipment I’ve never had before, and I feel in a really strong position to keep progressing and go on and achieve what I want in the sport now.”

As well as funding for training, travel and equipment, athletes on the SportsAid programme receive valuable mentoring by Olympians and Paralympians on topics such as nutrition and sports psychology.

The young athletes will be following in the footsteps of legendary figures such as Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sir Mo Farah, Dame Sarah Storey and Ellie Simmonds OBE – all of whom received SportsAid support – and more recent beneficiaries including Dina Asher-Smith and Adam Peaty MBE.

Thompson added: “Knowing that there are people out there who have identified you as someone worth backing is a big confidence boost, and it really does motivate you to kick on in training and in competitions.

“I’ve had the chance to network with some of the other athletes on the scheme this summer on Zoom, and while it’s been great to learn off of all of them, I really do feel like part of a family now because everyone wants to help each other.

“It’s a special feeling knowing some of the most famous British sporting stars were once in the same position that I’m in now. That gives you belief that you can replicate their success and that anything’s possible.”

Entain 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, Entain are supporting a diverse group of 50 UK athletes per year from a variety of spots and para-sports. Visit entaingroup.com to find out more.