Olympic bronze medallist Claire Hamilton was one of 39 Young Ambassadors chosen to support and inspire young athletes at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016. Here, the British curler tells Olympic.org about her experiences.
As a 13-year-old, Claire Hamilton remembers being transfixed by the British women’s curling team that won gold at the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002.
She had taken up the sport herself just five years earlier, beginning a journey that would one day culminate in an Olympic medal of her own, when she was part of Eve Muirhead’s bronze-winning rink at Sochi 2014.
“The 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, when Rhona Martin and her team won the gold medal, really stands out for me,” recalls the 27-year-old. “I can remember being allowed to stay up late to watch the final – from then on my aim was to have the same success.”
Martin, the victorious skip from 2002, would eventually have an even greater impact on Claire’s burgeoning career, becoming a role model and mentor to the talented youngster.
“We were lucky enough, in the British curling programme, to have Rhona as one of our coaches,” Claire explains. “We were working alongside her day-in, day-out, which was a massive advantage.”
Last year, Claire assumed the position of role model herself when she was chosen as one of 39 Young Ambassadors to support and inspire young athletes at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016. And it was an experience that she found incredibly rewarding.
“It was a great opportunity because it was the first time I’d really been on the other side of the team,” she explains. “It was really nice to get to know the athletes and be able to pass on my experience and help them prepare for their events and support them while they were there.
“I just tried to remember all the advice that I have been given along the way and tried to pass on as much knowledge as I could to the younger athletes.”
One of Claire’s main aims in Lillehammer was to encourage as many athletes as possible to engage in the Learn & Share activities that were offered alongside the sporting competitions.
“There was a whole range of different workshops, all geared at helping them to prepare for their future athletic careers,” she explains. “My job was really to make them aware of what was available and take them to all those activities. I think they were really well received and I think that the athletes got quite a lot out of it.”
Among the many workshops on offer were those that taught young athletes about how to balance sport with education – something that Claire has first-hand experience of, having studied to become a pharmacist while also competing internationally in curling. She was therefore well placed to offer her own guidance to the young athletes as well.
“Time management can be quite hard for young athletes, and it seems like you’re constantly busy. But, I suppose, when there are two things that you really, really want to do, then you’ll find the motivation to work hard for both of them.
“I think it is good to have something outside of your sport as well, to focus on. It gives you something else to think about than just sport all the time.
“That was one of the things that I tried to help with the young athletes in Lillehammer. Emphasising that it’s important to get that balance.”
Claire herself certainly has plenty to balance in her own life. After winning Olympic bronze in Sochi, she decided to take a break from curling and began competing in track cycling, finishing second in the individual pursuit at the Scottish National Track Championships later that year. She has also continued her work as a pharmacist, in addition to taking up a position on the Athletes’ Commission of the British Olympic Association.
“When I took a break from competing in curling myself, I was still keen to have some involvement in sport and the Athletes’ Commission allowed me to act as a voice for the athletes and discuss the issues that are important to them within the BOA.”
Claire has since returned to curling but admits that her experience in Lillehammer has inspired her to think about working with young athletes again in the future.
“I would quite like to continue competing for a while yet and possibly work within sport beyond that. I really enjoyed working with the younger athletes and I think that’s something that I would like to do again,” she says. “I was really impressed with the athletes I worked with [in Lillehammer]. I think they all had the right attitude and took on board as much as they could so that they could get as much as possible out of the event.”
If those young athletes took on as much as the teenager Claire did from her own role model, then we can be sure of seeing them back on the Olympic stage again in the future.
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