TWO local sports stars will be heading for the 2024 Paris Olympics next month after being officially selected for Team GB.

Former Monmouth Comprehensive pupil Jacob Draper and Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne from St Weonards both competed in Tokyo three years ago, and will be looking to make the podium in Paris in hockey and rowing respectively.

Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, left, with Beccy Wilde at Kew Gardens after being selected for the Paris Olympics
Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, left, with Beccy Wilde at Kew Gardens after being selected for the Paris Olympics. Photo: British Rowing/ Benedict Tufnell (British Rowing/ Benedict Tufnell)

Jacob, 25, was announced as part of the men’s hockey squad yesterday (Tuesday, June 18) at a special event at Birmingham NEC, following Mathilda's selection for the rowing team announced beside the Thames at Kew Gardens.

Wales and GB midfielder Jacob, who started playing hockey at school, has just helped his Amsterdam team take the European Hockey League title - the equivalent of football’s European Cup.

His club, Pinoke, beat fellow Dutch outfit Kampong 1-0, in the final, and Jacob – who helped GB to fifth in Tokyo, and Wales to the World Cup for the first time ever in India last year – said of victory: "’I’m overwhelmed. If you’d asked at the start of the tournament whether we’d win it, then I probably didn’t 100 per cent believe we would.

“It’s a dream that I’m now a gold medalist – a dream come true.

"There were some seriously good players on the pitch. It becomes a game of moments and we delivered on ours and they probably didn’t deliver on theirs.

“It’s horrendous when you have a 1-0 lead, because all the pressure’s on you...

“The clock was going down so slowly. But we managed to defend well and eventually get the win."

For former World U23 double sculls champion Mathilda, 29, who has trained in the past at Monmouth RC and Monmouth School, it's a remarkable achievement having given birth to son Freddie two years ago, and having to race outside the GB team as a sculler last summer.

Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, right, and crew mate Becky Wilde racing in Switzerland
Mathilda Hodgkins-Byrne, right, and crew mate Becky Wilde racing in Switzerland (British Rowing)

While balancing the demands of motherhood and intensive training, she was selected for the GB double scull with Wales rower Beccy Wilde for the last chance qualifying 'Regatta of Death' in Switzerland last month, where they grabbed the last place in Paris finishing second.

And lifting the lid on her battle to get there, she told Sportsbeat how she continued training while 40 weeks pregnant, doing an hour of low-level cardio every day.

Ahead of becoming the second mum on the Olympic rowing team alongside two-time Olympic champion and mother-of-three Helen Glover, she said: "When I became pregnant, it changed my outlook. I don't think having a baby should be the end of your career.

"My identity is obviously being a mum, but it's also an athlete. I'm definitely a better mum for rowing, and I'm a much better athlete because of Freddie.

"It's hard. Your recovery is terrible at times, but you never get stuck in the stress bubble," added Mathilda, who raced alongside sister Charlotte in the GB quad scull in Tokyo, winning the B final for seventh.

And with British Rowing soon to publish a maternity policy, Mathilda says: "The sport has changed hugely. I'm proud to be part of a team that makes it possible.

"Helen and I have both shown it is - we've had different journeys, her children are older - but Freddie has come on all three training camps with me. He's been staying in the hotel with me and there's some flexibility now with childcare.

"It's a huge step. If this keeps more girls in rowing and encourages more people to stay in the sport, that's literally all I wanted from this journey."

And on winning through the "unique pressure-cooker" qualifying event in Lucerne, she said: "This is your last chance, there's no other option... had we not qualified, I'd have been gutted, but I'd have been more sad not to have been back in this boat. It's great, and I really enjoy being part of it."