A TEENAGER from Milton Keynes has won the right to compete at the Olympic Stadium in London just a few weeks before the 2012 Games – and is hoping to use the occasion as a springboard to his own athletics career.
Lewis Barnes will be competing in the U17 discus at the UK School Games in May after emerging as the leading thrower in the south west region in which Milton Keynes falls into for qualifying.
The 16-year-old Marshall Milton Keynes member has broken both club and county records while dominating his event across the region. He’s currently ranked second in the county for his age group when it comes to discus throwing, but Barnes is not just a one event man – he’s also ranked second in the shot putt and fourth in the hammer.
And he’s really begun to make his mark on the national stage, twice competing at the English Schools’ Championships – winning the U15 shot putt in 2010 – before taking gold at the English Championships in the same year.
But his outing at the UK School Games at the Olympic Stadium in May could prove to be a defining moment in the Stantonbury Campus pupil’s promising career as he takes on the best qualifiers from the country’s other regions.
More top competitions could also be just around the corner too, as another top two finish at this year’s English Schools’ could see him compete on the international stage for his country.
But like most 16-year-olds, Barnes will be sitting his GCSE exams this summer, and he admits that revising is currently the last thing on his mind as he attempts to get into the best shape of his life before the biggest competition of his life so far in London in less than two months.
Like every other School Games competitor, Barnes will stay in the brand new Olympic Village for three nights in preparation for his individual event, and the significance of the opportunity put in front of him isn’t lost on the youngster.
“This is the biggest competition of my life, and one day I’d like to compete in the Olympic Games for real,” said Barnes, whose personal best throw in the discus stands at just over 43 metres.
“But I’m still a long way off that. I need to go up another two weight levels before I’m at the same level as the best. I probably won’t peak until I’m about 24 or 25 and I’ll only do that with years of hard work.”
If all goes to plan then Barnes will join the British Army in April 2013, but it’s competing for his country rather than fighting for it that remains his number one priority. Signing up for at least four years of services, he’ll still be able to compete in the same competitions as he normally would, but he’s also keen to keep his options open in the event that his career in athletics doesn’t work out.
In fact, Barnes is a very bright young man, epitomised by the fact that he’s keen not to waste the few months between finishing his GCSEs and joining the Army, and hopes to stay on at sixth form for the time in between.
But for now his focus is on being the best he can be, and winning gold at the School Games – a test event for London 2012.
He trains for the best part of three hours after school every day, and dedicates every hour of his weekends to training with coach Jack Kee – when he’s not off competing somewhere that is.
However, forging a career in athletics isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t cheap. Like most young athletes hoping to fulfil their potential, Barnes and his family – younger sister Paige also throws for Milton Keynes AC – struggle to meet the financial demands of travelling around the country and being able to buy all the equipment and kit needed.
That’s particularly challenging when you throw the discus, shot putt and hammer. So the youngster is keen to attract a sponsor to help him in that respect.
But no matter how difficult the challenge is, Barnes seems to be the type of character who will find a way to overcome it. Only the most dedicated will make it to the very top of their field, and after proving that he’s the best in his region to qualify for the School Games, Barnes is focused on becoming the country’s best in the years to come.