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Bexley judo fighter inspired by Olympic medal friend
4:12pm Thursday 16th August 2012 in Sport
By Nate Saunders
ANDREW Panayi had his hands on an Olympic medal this week, but now the Bexley judoka has his sights set on winning one of his own.
The 19-year-old lives with London 2012 bronze medallist Karina Bryan and asked immediately to hold the medal for himself when she returned home from her exploits in Stratford.
The former West Kent College student has been sidelined since the start of the year due to an operation on a thumb injury sustained during an awkward fall in training, but is edging closer to a return to competitive action.
On top of having Bryant’s medal for inspiration, Panayi got the chance to work as a volunteer at the ExCeL Arena during the Games and says what he may be lacking in fortune he is making up for in abundance in motivation.
“Seeing the medal was really incredible,” said the former St Columbus Catholic Boy’s School pupil.
“It’s unbelievable how big they are when you actually have them in your hands.
“Getting to volunteer at the Games was really great as well, I got to see it all for myself and that was something I wanted to do.
“My ultimate aim is to compete at an Olympics myself so obviously it was great to be there, to be able to see it from the outside really showed me what I am striving for.”
While Panayi is not sure exactly when he will be making a return to competitive action, he knows this is a crucial year if he wants to be on the plane to Rio with January’s British trials on the horizon.
He is also hoping to compete in the host of B tournaments next year, as he looks to secure additional funding and support from the British Judo Association, which he will do if he is able to pick up a medal.
“It’s the next logical step for me,” said Panayi.
“My injury has been frustrating because it’s kept me off the mat.
“Those tournaments give me the chance to get funding and keep progressing.
“Getting a medal at a B tournament would open up doors for me, it’s a step-by-step process to Rio and that it the next big one.”
Panayi now lives in Camberley and trains full-time, but takes the 40-minute journey to Bexley to visit mum Leslie every weekend, something he says he would not be able to do if it was not for the support of the Lloyds TSB Local Heroes Scheme.
“It’s helped massively,” added Panayi.
“It pays for travel but also means I don’t have to worry about getting a new judo suit and stuff like that.
“It really is important to my development; it certainly makes training a lot easier knowing there’s some financial support there.”
Lloyds TSB Local Heroes, in partnership with SportsAid, provides support and funding to 346 of Britain’s most talented developing athletes on their journey to London 2012 and beyond.
Since 2008, the programme has supported 1,000 athletes.
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