East Lancashire Olympians honoured at civic receptions

Blackburn Harriers Holly Bleasdale, Samantha Murray and Sophie Hitchon at the reception

Samantha Murray shows her silver medal to Mayor Coun Zahir Khan

First published in London Olympics 2012 - Latest News

BLACKBURN’S London 2012 athletic heroes were hailed for their outstanding performances at a civic reception last night.

The reception, hosted by the Mayor and Mayoress of Blackburn with Darwen, was held at the Town Hall in honour of three Blackburn Harriers.

Modern pentathlon silver medallist Samantha Murray was presented with gifts and flowers from the town’s dignitaries alongside her teammates pole-vaulter Holly Bleasdale and hammer thrower Sophie Hitchon, both British record holders.

The event was attended by around 70 people Guests included representatives from the Harriers, Olympic torchbearers, representatives from sporting bodies and council officers and councillors.

Formal speeches and presentations were made to the three women and the club, followed by refreshments.

The three athletes performed to great acclaim at London 2012.

Samantha, 22, from Clitheroe, won a silver medal in the modern pentathlon; Sophie, 21, from Burnley, qualified for the hammer final - setting a new British record to get there - and Holly, 20, from Chorley, finished in the top six in the pole vault.

Holly, who attended with her mum Debbie, dad Chris and sister Abby, said: “When the club told me about the reception I was really honoured that the town hall is holding such a great event for three Olympians.

“Blackburn Harriers, which is a small club, has produced three Olympians and it’s great that they are being recognised and appreciated.

“It was great to meet people and talk about my experiences.”

Sophie, who attended with her mum Wendy and dad Michael, as well as her grandma and grandad, said: “It’s amazing that this event is being held for us.

“The Olympics has been a great experience and I feel privileged that people are supporting us like this. “The three Olympians, taking part in one Olympic Games, from one club, is incredible. Hopefully this will encourage people to come and try new events that they wouldn’t have chosen in the past.”

George Davies, secretary of Blackburn Harriers, said: “It’s a fantastic public statement of support for our three Olympic athletes and what they have achieved in such a short time and at such a young age.

“For the club, it is a great vote of confidence about the ability of Blackburn Harriers to provide athletics opportunities in the borough. It just highlights what can be achieved.”

Leader of the council, Councillor Kate Hollern, said: “We are so proud of the Blackburn Harriers and their Olympic athletes. We hope they will be an inspiration to other young people and encourage them to realise their ambitions.

“It’s a fitting heroes’ welcome for them.”

Cyclist becomes freeman of Pendle

Campaign Series: Steven Burke becomes a freeman of Pendle

  • Photo: Steven Burke receives the freedom of Pendle from Mayor Coun Asjad Mahmood

CYCLE ace Steven Burke topped off an amazing year by being named Pendle’s youngest ever freeman of the borough.

The 24-year-old former Park High student joined an elite band in a ceremony at Nelson Town Hall last night.

And the honour, after a colourful homecoming parade, gold postbox and even standing ovations in the town’s pub, rounded off a tremendous year for the modest London 2012 team pursuit gold medallist.

He was presented with a framed scroll by Mayor of Pendle Coun Asjad Mahmood in front of a packed council chamber.

After receiving the honour Steven said: “It’s an absolute privilege to be made an honorary freeman of the borough. I’m totally bowled over to be one of just a few people to have this status.

“This means a lot to my whole family and the framed scroll will take pride of place at my mum and dad’s house in Colne.”

Council leader Coun Joe Cooney said: “This is the highest honour that a local authority can bestow upon one of its residents and Steven is only the third person to receive it in the history of Pendle borough.

“He is the first individual who is not a councillor to be awarded the freedom of the borough and he deserves it because it was such a great achievement at the Olympics.

“As a fellow Colne resident, I can say the whole town is bursting with pride about him being honoured. I’m sure his recent success is just the start of something very special and he will continue to inspire a generation for years to come.”

Long-serving councillor Frank Hartley, who represented the electorate in Nelson for 45 years, was the first to be given the honour in 2001.

The same year saw the Queens Lancs regiment, now the Duke of Lancaster’s regiment, collectively given the same distinction.

Coun Hartley was joined the following year by councillors Roy Clarkson and Ken Spence, a former Mayor of Nelson and county councillor.

Steven also follows in the footsteps of sporting icons Jimmy McIlroy and James Anderson, who have each been given the freedom of the borough in the past year in neighbouring Burnley.

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