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Local heroes & sporting legends share podium at the Bowes Museum
Polar explorer Robert Swan.

COUNTY DURHAM.- Local heroes are to share the podium with sporting legends in an exhibition taking place at The Bowes Museum, inspired by the 2012 London Olympics.

Our Sporting Life, which opens at the Barnard Castle treasure house on Saturday 9th June, will be officially launched by horsewoman Karen Dixon - who rode for Britain at four Olympic Games, winning a team silver in Seoul in 1988 – on Sunday 10th June. Our Sporting Life is part of an initiative created by the Sports Heritage Network which has seen a nationwide programme of community exhibitions bring together objects and memories to tell the story of great British sport.

Karen, who is both sporting legend and local hero, is loaning her medal from the 1988 games, as well as photographs and the dressage coat she wore to compete. These will be shown alongside the gold medal of her father-in-law, Major Thomas ‘Robin’ Valerian Dixon. He won the medal at the 1964 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, competing with fellow bobsledder, Tony Nash, after having been granted leave from the army to compete.

Organised with assistance from the Friends of The Bowes Museum, the exhibition has received funding of £11,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). It will feature key items of interest loaned by other well known sporting stars, including Sir Ian Botham who has offered his entire medal collection, including his MBE and knighthood. Polar explorer Robert Swan, who will be giving a talk at the Museum on 5th July, has loaned the sledge which he dragged to both North and South Poles.

Ivor Crowther, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: “HLF are proud to be supporting The Friends of the Bowes Museum with this fantastic project that will open up and share Barnard Castle’s sporting heritage with the local community. This project will not only capture people’s memories – creating a record for future generations - but in doing so will give different sections of the community the opportunity to come together and learn about their past.”

Football fans will be able to see the replica of the Thomas Lipton Trophy, classed as the first football World Cup, and learn the story of how the humble West Auckland team first lifted the trophy against Switzerland in 1909 before beating mighty Juventus 6-1 in 1911 to retain it.

Commemorative medals were struck to mark their achievements and one of these very rare medals will also be on display. But not everyone was impressed by their victories at the time; while they were away from their jobs at the pit their wages were stopped by the bosses.

Other local heroes include young tri-athlete Ross Landon, who hails from nearby Cotherstone. Ross is loaning the bicycle he rode to win silver at the 2011 World Duathlon Championships, while swimmer Catherine White, originally from Startforth, has loaned her silver 1982 Commonwealth Games medal plus her uniforms from those and the 1984 Olympic Games.

The exhibition will also contain two Olympic torches – one from the 1948 London Olympics, known as the austerity games as they were the first to be held following World War II, and one from Beijing.

Barnard Castle School, which boasts many sports stars among its alumni, is contributing memorabilia relating to rugby greats such as Rory and Tony Underwood, Rob Andrew and Mathew Tait.

Gerald Blake, Chair of the organising committee, said: “When a small group of us embarked on this project we had no idea of the breadth and depth of our sporting heritage in and around Teesdale. It has surprised us all, and I suspect that many who come to see the exhibition will be similarly surprised and delighted. I feel sure the exhibition will inform and inspire the many visitors expected to see it.”

The exhibition – which features many more items of sporting memorabilia - is complemented by an Our Sporting Life Family Fun Day, which takes place on Sunday 10th June from 10.00am – 4.00pm. A fun packed day of drop in activities includes making medals and trophies, a blow football game or finger puppets of sportspersons. If the weather is fine there will be an opportunity for a taste of outdoor sports such as bowling and tennis. The activities are free for children under 16, who must be accompanied by an adult for whom normal admission applies.

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