Tom shows true sporting spirit

Teenager Tom Barber is off to the Beijing Olympics as part of Great Britain's archery squad, but the mature and loyal youngster risked it all for his friend.

Teenager Tom Barber is part of Great Britain's archery squad for the Beijing Olympics - but the mature and loyal youngster risked it all for his friend.

The 16-year-old, who lives in Denton, travels as a first reserve alongside the three-man team after he finished fourth in a long-running qualifying series.

The teenager is at a pre-games holding camp in Macau, busy training before watching his team-mates launch their bid for a medal at the Games.

But the mature youngster - who has only just finished school - was ready to give up his place on the plane after his selection meant heartache for his fellow Suffolk resident, training partner and close friend Michael Peart.

The 31-year-old Ipswich resident had led qualifying after the first of three final qualifying rounds but a poor second round shoot meant that he had slipped down to fourth out of six.

With the top three automatically qualifying for the final round of qualifying, coach Peter Suk was left with a tough decision between taking Peart - who himself has only been shooting the Olympic style of Recurve for seven years after a difficult conversion from Compound - and the fifth-placed Barber through to the final round.

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When Suk announced that he had chosen Barber the teenager made a decision far beyond his years by asking his coach to change his mind and put Peart through instead.

“I'm good friends with Michael and knew that this is what he has been working towards for the past four years,” explained Barber. “Michael has been a big help to me and, in many ways, is responsible for getting me to where I am. I felt quite down to think that I had suddenly come along in the last two years and robbed him of his opportunity, but a lot of people commented to me that it wasn't my decision to make.

“I know that Michael is a tough cookie and will bounce back. Hopefully after these Olympics we can really help push each other on and will be shooting alongside each other in 2012.”

Peart said: “What Tom did for me was very touching. It's hard to put into words my gratitude for that gesture.

“It was a hugely mature thing for him to do because the coach could easily have turned around and said 'OK I'll send Michael'.

“In that instant he showed a lot of character, a lot of sportsmanship and a lot of friendship and it that is something I will never, ever forget.”

The future now looks hugely bright for Barber, a member of Norwich's Thorpe Hamlet Junior Archery Club, who will still only be 20 by the time the London 2012 Olympics come around.

Looking back on the time when he first picked up a bow as an 11-year-old at a Cub Scout activity evening, Barber said: “If you'd have told me four or five years ago that I would be in this position I would have laughed.

“I've just got on with my shooting really and not really though too much about where it would take me. It's only now that I've been able to reflect and see how far I've come.”