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Olympic Glory
ImageWith the 2012 Games heading for Hackney, high jumping hero Dalton Grant describes what it  really feels like to compete in the Olympic Games.

My mum and dad came to London from Jamaica. Our family lived in Brooke Road, Clapton. When I was born, England had just won the World Cup, and like all the kids I was totally crazy about football. Pele was my big inspiration. At my primary school – Benthal – I was the fastest runner.

I was the kind of kid that climbs anything – walls, trees, lamposts – but what I really wanted was to be a footballer. When I was picked to try out at the Hackney Trials, my heart leapt. I thought my big moment had come! It really hurt when my teacher wouldn’t let me go (as a punishment for something I’d done wrong). So I never got that chance.

When I started at Secondary School - Hackney Downs - I was still into football. But the PE teachers, Mr Chatwin and Mr Wilkinson, must have spotted something in me, and they started me on the high jump. Once I got going on it, I was hooked. Those teachers really inspired me: they were the ones that taught me the art and tactics of high jump, which you’ll find out about if you ever do it. They were passionate about what they taught us kids. I was really determined to succeed – I don’t mean I wanted to be good; I mean I wanted to be the best. Thinking back, I can see that being stopped from going to the football trials was one of the things that drove me on, to show what I could achieve.

It helped me that Hackney Downs School had good sports facilities – we even had our own swimming pool. But I had to go all the way across London to Crystal Palace to train. My school teachers carried on supporting me – they even came to watch me train and compete. They wanted to get the very best out of us all, which is how great teachers are, whatever subject they are teaching.

I kept winning competitions, working hard at it. I was National Schools Champion at 15 and – to cut a very long story short – in 1988 I was picked for the British Olympic team. I had to keep pinching myself – me, Dalton Grant, a kid from Hackney, there in the Olympics competing alongside my heroes! It doesn’t come much better than that. I would see people like Daley Thompson, Sebastian Coe, Steve Cram around, and be really embarrassed, catching myself saying ‘Hi,’ as if I knew them! They were such familiar figures to me. I’d admired them from afar for so long. So there I was, a lad of 22, in the Seoul Olympics in 1988 – literally jumping for Britain.

It was like my dream playing out in real life. I got through the heats. My heart was pounding as I looked up at the scoreboard in the Final. Of all the people in the world, it was me, a boy from Hackney, leading the field in the Olympics! I think at that point maybe I lost my nerve. In the end I didn’t win a medal, but coming in 7th place in the Olympics is OK! I was so fortunate to have all of this. Now I want to help the athletes of the future achieve their potential.”

To read more about Hackney’s Olympic history have a look at Issue 9 (it takes a little while to load).

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