Dagenham judo ace sets her sights on Rio Olympics

Judo ace Hayley Willis is back in training after getting a taste of the Olympics as part of an official “ambition team” at the London Games.

Here, the young black belt from Dagenham tells us about her hopes and dreams of competing in the Rio Games in 2016.

As thousands of teenagers await their GCSE results with a mix of dread and anticipation, Hayley is like her peers pondering her next move to a sixth form college, but also her gruelling training camp to prepare for the European judo championships in Croatia next month.

The student at Jo Richardson School in Gale Street, Dagenham, is too coming to the realisation she could compete at the next Olympics in Rio in four years’ time.

Hayley scooped a bronze medal at the South Africa junior world championships in 2011 and became one of a select few young athletes to be enrolled into the Great Britain Olympic Ambition Team for the London Games.

The judo player did not compete but it she watched with glee as Team GB sensation Gemma Gibbons beat French judoka Audrey Tcheumeo to win a silver medal at the ExCel centre.

Hayley soaked up the atmosphere as she stood near the mats with the British judo team and is now starting to believe she may join top British athletes like Gemma at the next Games.

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“It was kind of crazy when we were there,” she told the Post. “The atmosphere at the ExCel was immense. Everybody was shouting.

“She really fought out of her skin.

“When I saw her afterwards, Gemma seemed to be kind of shocked.

“The Olympics were a bit surreal. There were so many people about around Stratford.

“When we went into the athletes’ village it was like a mini city - It was a whole new world.”

Just 130 sportsmen and women were given places in the ambition team, which gave them access to the Olympic Village and an unprecedented insight into the way the Games are held.

The British Olympic Association unveiled the Olympic Ambition Team in Beijing and the success of this new crop of sporting talent speaks for itself.

Athletics champions Hannah England and Perri Shakes-Drayton and penthalon ace Mhari Spence ended up competing at the London Games and triathlon number two Jonathan Brownlee won a bronze medal.

Hayley, of Romsey Road, Dagenham, said: “It makes me feel it could be me in four years’ time. If it did that for them, it could do that for us.

“I’ve got to get my A-levels and keep training and training. I’m going to need to do a lot of events and build up to it.

“I’m training 17 to 20 hours a week. It gets more difficult as you get older. It’s nice to see some of the improvements and changes in your judo.”

Hayley was also inspired by British judo veteran Karina Bryant as she won a bronze medal at the ExCel after taking part in her fourth Olympic Games.

Hayley said: “It’s given me a lot of experience and understanding of how the Games work. It’s brilliant the home nation wanted to perform and I think we did that.”

Her judo instructor dad Paul, 47, added: “It’s given her a great opportunity to go round and see what it’s all about. Hayley enjoyed it. Now she’s back in training.

“I got to see it all. I’m on the Games makers programme. I was behind the scenes. I met athletes from Japan and Korea. No wonder they took medals. They work as a team.”