Lessons from the Olympics

Welcome back everyone to a new year at Churchill! I hope you all had a great summer. I certainly did, enjoying several trips away with the family and lots of rest and relaxation time. I even got a fair bit of reading done!

summer books

Some of my summer reading! 

I also spent a lot of my summer glued to the coverage of the Rio Olympics, tracking Team GB’s incredible success and binge-watching track cycling, diving and gymnastics amongst many others! It was hugely inspiring, and in this week’s blog I want to share a few of my highlights which I think captured the values we hold to at Churchill.



Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand comes to Team USA’s Abbey D’Agostino’s aid in the 5,000 metres heats

Athletes train for years for the Olympics, and it can all be over in a heartbeat. In the women’s 5,000 metres heats, New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin stumbled and fell, taking out the athlete immediately behind her – Abbey D’Agostino from the USA. In the fall, D’Agostino tore her cruciate knee ligament, and in that instant, through no fault of her own, her Olympics was over. Hamblin was distraught at the injury caused to her fellow athlete and stopped to help her up and aid her, limping, around the remaining mile so that they both finished the race. Olympic organisers reinstated both runners to the final, but D’Agostino’s injury meant that she could not take part. However, their sportsmanship and care was recognised in the award of the Pierre de Coubertin medal to both athletes – an honour that has only been handed out 17 times in the history of the games. I found the story really moving: even in the heat of competition, and in the moment that all their hopes were evaporating, their first reaction was not anger or recrimination but care and support for another human being.

Nikki Hamblin And Abbey D'Agostino Portrait Session

Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino have been commended for their sportsmanship after they helped each other up to finish the race. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)


ruby harrold team gb

Ruby Harrold representing Team GB in Gymnastics

I wasn’t fortunate enough to be working at Churchill when Ruby Harrold was a student here, but I felt the rush of support for her from the community through our posts on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.  By the time the Artistic Gymnastics Team Final came round I was bouncing with excitement! To see an ex-Churchill student, who walked our grounds and sat in our classrooms, on the biggest sporting stage of all was a true inspiration. It shows that, with enough hard work and dedication, you can achieve anything.


Ruby is now heading off to the NCAA in America to compete with Louisiana State – we wish her well!


There were many amazing moments which showed athletes overcoming huge challenges. There was this moment from the track cycling:

laurine van riessen

Laurine van Riessen (Netherlands) rides up the advertising hoardings to avoid a crash in the women’s keirin qualifying

There was the moment Mo Farah fell over in his qualifying race, then got up to win both his heat and double gold medals:

mo farah medals

Mo Farah: overcoming any challenge!

But for me, the story that encapsulated “challenge” the most was Nick Skelton.

nick skelton

Nick Skelton: gold medallist at 58 years old

Nick Skelton broke his neck in 2000. He had a hip replacement in 2011. His horse, Big Star, tore his lower suspensory in 2014. Careful, meticulous rehabilitation for both horse and rider saw them come back to win showjumping gold in a tense six-way medal jump-off. The tears in his eyes as he stood on the podium told the story of the challenges he and Big Star had overcome to get there: nobody deserved it more.



Team GB medal tally: 27 gold, 23 silver, 17 bronze

I didn’t think anything could match London 2012, but in Rio Team GB won medal after medal after medal. It soon became clear that the team had got their careful preparations absolutely right: attention to detail, team unity, and investment of lottery funding was paying off. I got completely caught up in a spirit of national euphoria! And, after the games, I reflected on the lessons we could learn as an Academy from the incredible success of Team GB in Rio.

  1. Small changes can make a big difference

The so-called “marginal gains” philosophy has long underpinned British Cycling’s success, and seems to have spread! We should all look for the small changes we can make to help us improve and do better every day.

2. Working together maximises the chance of success

When Laura Trott won her Omnium gold medal, she thanked her nutritionist, her power data analyst, her coach, and the “people at home, the people that you don’t see.” There was a massive team behind her, helping her be the best that she could be. Each of our students should be a Laura Trott, with all the staff at school, family and friends supporting them to achieve their very best.

3. There is no success without effort

The hours, days, weeks, months and years of dedicated training that elite athletes put in to achieve their medals shows us what it takes to be successful on the biggest stage. We may not all be the best in the world at what we do, but we need to dedicate ourselves to hard work, perseverance and determination  if we are to achieve success on our own terms. And, at Churchill, we have plenty of examples of just that approach:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We are celebrating the great achievements of our students in their A-level and GCSE exams this year – achievements that are only possible because of the hours, days, weeks, months and years of dedicated hard work and effort that the students have put in to deserve them. Well done to all of you!


Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals in the Berlin Olympics in 1936 – and it’s as true today as it was then!

I wish all of our Academy community every success this year!



Anything is possible


John F Kennedy, September 12th 1962

On September 12th 1962, John F Kennedy stood up at Rice Stadium near Houston in Texas and declared his intention to put a man on the moon before the decade was out. I’ve always found this speech inspiring as Kennedy set out the goal without understanding how it was to be achieved. As he said at the time: 

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

John F Kennedy, Rice Stadium, September 12th 1962

I love this kind of ambitious thinking. The kind of thinking that sets the goal and then works out how to do it, or even if it is possible. The kind of thinking that is about challenging yourself to push beyond what others think is possible. Of course, hindsight gives Kennedy’s words even more resonance, as we know that on 20th July 1969 Neil Armstrong stepped down from Apollo 11’s Lunar Module as the first human being to set foot on the surface of another world.  

Neil Armstrong reflected in Buzz Aldrin’s visor on the surface of the moon in 1969


Would we still admire Kennedy’s words if the lunar missions had been unsuccessful? Is it only success that makes the ambition so inspiring? I don’t think so. Setting ourselves ambitious goals and pushing ourselves beyond what we believe be to possible is the only sure way to make progress. Even if we fail, we will have learned much from trying and come so much further than we would have done otherwise. 

Michelangelo didn’t paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel beacuse it was easy


Taking the easy option is ultimately unsatisfying. If you get a set a questions to do and you find them all easy and get 100% right, you won’t have learned very much. You will have wasted your time. If you really have to work at it, and it’s so difficult that you make a couple of mistakes, then you’ll have learned something. Taking on hard challenges if how we grow. 

It’s little wonder, then, that Google adopted “moonshot thinking” as part of its Project X approach to developing new products. They’re currently working on self-driving cars and balloon powered Internet. Are these things impossible? I’m sure that even a few years ago to working 3D photographic maps of the whole world were impossible, but we use them every day – and we have them for Mars and the Moon as well. 

Moonshot thinking in action – climbing the “unclimbable” Dawn Wall of El Capitan

 Climbers Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell remind us that, if you set your mind to it, anything is possible. Eight years of planning and nineteen days of climbing saw them ascend the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in January 2015 using nothing but their fingers and feet to climb with.

The pair suffered bruising falls, when their grip slipped, and they would bounce off the mountain face. Only their safety ropes saved them from further harm. At one point on the climb, Jorgeson had posted online: “As disappointing as this is, I’m learning new levels of patience, perseverance and desire. I’m not giving up. I will rest. I will try again. I will succeed.”

If you set your mind to it, you can accomplish incredible things – things that we don’t currently believe are possible. What will you achieve?