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Sporting debuts: first impressions count

Written by Sport, Sport Features

After Haseeb Hameed, the youngest person to open the batting for England, scored a total of 113 runs on his test debut, our writers give the low-down of five other sportspeople who made a first rate first impression on their first appearance.

Adam Peaty

One of this summer’s Olympic heroes, swimmer Adam Peaty, claimed Great Britain’s first gold medal of Rio 2016 at his debut Olympics. He stormed to victory in the 100m breaststroke, and it was quite a performance.

Once the Staffordshire born swimmer got halfway through the race, there was no looking back and he powered to victory in a phenomenal 57.13 seconds, beating his own World Record which he set the previous night.

The Brit left memories of Adrian Moorhouse, Duncan Goodhew and David Wilkie in the past, becoming the new poster boy of British swimming.

Peaty drummed up quite the fan base with his heroics and down-to-earth personality, which came across in the disbelief he showed during interviews afterwards. His 74 year-old grandmother, Mavis Williams, also warmed the hearts of the British public with her Twitter presence as #OlympicNan.

There was something quite brilliantly British about Peaty’s gold medal which made it one of the summer’s standout moments.

Toby Bryant

Eddie the Eagle

Prior to entering the 1988 Olympics as a fearless ski jumper, famous British skier Michael Edwards was an experienced downhill skier, and his initial intention was to participate in the 1984 Olympics in the downhill event. He narrowly missed out on qualification of this event and this resulted in him entering into the 1988 Olympic games for ski jumping – the first competitor since 1929 to represent Great Britain in this event.

The press coined his rather unusual and charismatic nickname after he arrived in Canada for the games, where a fan club was waiting for him holding a banner welcoming him to Calgary and naming him ‘Eddie the Eagle.’

Ski jumping at the 1988 Winter Olympics consisted of three events: two individual events and one team event, but as Edwards was the sole competitor representing Great Britain, they didn’t enter into the team event. The Men’s Normal Hill event saw Nykänen of Finland take home gold with 229.1 points, whilst Edwards finished bottom of the table in 58th place with 69.2 points.

“A fan club was waiting for him holding a banner welcoming him to Calgary”

Finnish competitor Nykänen stole another gold after his incredible jump in the Men’s Large Hill, walking away with a mighty 224 points, leaving plucky Brit Eddie, at the bottom of the table once more with 57.5 points; a whole 53.3 points behind Canadian skier Gillman, just one place above him in the table.

Many would say that Eddie’s performance didn’t exactly reflect a successful debut, but he did manage to avoid injury – certainly an impressive feat in such a dangerous sporting event. He also beat his own personal record and, above all, achieved celebrity status, later becoming an embodiment of the try-hard, determined underdog-like figure for Britain.

Frank King, chief executive of the games was famous for saying during a speech in the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, “You have captured our hearts. And some of you have soared like eagles,” making a clear reference to Edwards’ performance.

Unfortunately for Edwards, in 1990 stricter rules were imposed for the qualification for the ski jump event at the Olympics and, despite his attempts to qualify for future Olympics, he didn’t manage to. He did, however, become the British ski jumping record holder, and a stunt jumping world record holder for jumping over 6 buses.

Emma Bancroft

Eddy Merckx

1969: the year that defined the career of Eddy Merckx. Four years after becoming a professional cyclist, Merckx took on his most prestigious race to date, the Tour de France.

In the year of his Tour de France debut, Merckx already had several victories under his belt. He had already won the Tour of Flanders, the Vuelta a Levante and the Paris–Nice, but the Tour de France was his opportunity to establish himself as ‘the one to beat’.

After doping allegations earlier on in the year, Merckx had even more of a point to prove in the Tour. With this drive and determination to clear his name and make his mark, Merckx started his first ever Tour de France.

Nearing the end of the 4,117 km Tour, on the 17th stage, Merckx began to pull away from the other contenders. With still five stages left, his team, worried that he wouldn’t sustain the lead, told him to wait for the chasing riders.  He ignored this instruction and pushed on gaining, at first, a forty-five second advantage and then finished the stage with an eight-minute advantage.

This huge lead meant he won the race overall by eight minutes. Out of the 22 stages, Merckx won six and claimed the end classification, the points classification and the mountains classification. He is still the only cyclist to have won all three of these titles in a single tour.

The first Belgian in thirty years to win the Tour de France, at twenty-four Eddy Merckx had not established himself as ‘the one to beat’ but ‘the one who couldn’t be beaten’. Eddy ‘the cannibal’ Merckx had arrived and he wasn’t going anywhere.

Merckx went on to win the Tour de France another four times and, in total, 525 competitions in his professional career, making him the most successful cyclist in history.

Josie Baugh

Simone Biles

Rarely does a debutante in any sport arrive with such expectation, particularly at an Olympic Games. The 19 year-old didn’t falter under the intense spotlight, however, and her success catapulted her to a superstardom that transcended gymnastics.

Biles was going for glory in five events in Rio, beginning her stunning feat with gold in the team event as part of team USA. Two days later, she followed this up with her first individual Olympic medal, claiming gold in the women’s individual all-round event.

She soon added further gold, in the vault, to her already incredible collection, but had to settle for bronze in the balance beam, behind Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands. She completed the games with a spectacular floor routine, beating her teammate Raisman, who finished in second place.

“Biles ensured the eyes of millions remained firmly on her throughout the competition”

The tiny Biles had cemented her place as a giant of her sport, becoming the first quadruple gold medallist in women’s gymnastics since 1984. It was not just her astounding achievements though; it was the manner in which she accomplished them. The world was watching the teenager in her Olympic debut, we’d all been promised one of the greatest talents the sport had ever seen, and she definitely delivered.

Biles ensured the eyes of millions remained firmly on her throughout the competition. Underneath her glistening smile purred a quiet confidence; she had succeeded on every other stage, now it was time to show everyone why she received top billing. After rounding off her Games on the floor, the smile sparkled once more – job well done. If they hadn’t before, the world had now been introduced to a phenomenon.

At the closing ceremony, Biles was chosen to bear the flag of the United States, an honour never before bestowed upon a female gymnast. With the era of Michael Phelps ending in Rio, that of another US sporting behemoth began in breathtaking fashion.

James Harris

Paula Radcliffe

You can accomplish many things in 2 hours, 18 minutes and 56 seconds: watch a film; do some shopping or even start that four thousand-word essay you’ve been neglecting. But how about running your first ever marathon whilst smashing the course record? This was all in a day’s work for British athlete Paula Radcliffe, who’s exceptional 2002 London win defied all odds.

An avid runner since the age of seven, Radcliffe refused to let a childhood diagnosis of asthma and anaemia interfere with her passion. Aged twelve, she came 299th out of 600 in a national cross country championship, but her motivation was clear from the start and she then went on to place fourth at the same event a year later.

Fast-forward seventeen years to the 2002 London Marathon. With two World Cross Country Championship titles tucked safely beneath her belt, Radcliffe’s debut was more than a mere continuation of an already-fruitful career.

By both winning and breaking the female course record by a whole 2 minutes and 10 seconds, she set a powerful precedent, especially given that she had previously never competitively run more than a half marathon.

At London the following year, Radcliffe once again made history and beat her personal best from Chicago whilst setting the new record for the world’s fastest female marathon at an incredible 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds. Her record remains unbeaten to this day.

A woman of many talents, Radcliffe graduated from Loughborough University with a first-class honours degree in modern European studies. Now retired at the age of 42, she lives in Monte Carlo with her husband Gary Lough and her two children, Isla and Raphael. A well-deserved break after such a successful career.

Lily Earnshaw

Last modified: 13th April 2018

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