Olympian or legal champion...but why can't I be both?

Flexible university policy allowed hockey star to train and study. Elizabeth Gibney reports

July 26, 2012

Great balance: with Bristol's help, Georgie Twigg was able to multitask

When Harold Abrahams (immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire) dedicated his time at the University of Cambridge to pursuing a 100m gold medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics, no one seemed concerned about whether his studies might suffer.

But when Georgie Twigg, 21, was called up to join the Great Britain women's hockey programme halfway through her law degree at the University of Bristol, the pressures of a 21st-century education meant there were tough decisions on the table.

"Hockey had become a full-time thing. At that time I didn't know what my chances of making it to the Olympics were, but we were training Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with gym sessions on Wednesday and Friday," she told Times Higher Education.

"I didn't know what my options were, but I thought to myself: 'I'd quite like to do both'."

After meeting with Ms Twigg, Jonathan Hill, at that time head of the Bristol Law School, decided that rather than suspend her studies, she should be allowed to spread her final year over two years.

"She was obviously a rising star and had a reasonable expectation of getting in (to the Olympic team)," said Professor Hill. "We don't run a part-time degree and wouldn't want to, but this was a special case.

"As with most things in university life, there are regulations that suggest you have to follow the rules to the letter, but there are ways you can tailor studies in appropriate circumstances. Obviously you take a small risk she might crash and burn, but we didn't think that would be the case."

The law department arranged for Ms Twigg to take all her seminars and tutorials on a Friday while she trained at the Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre during the rest of the week.

She was also able to select coursework options that most closely fitted her commitments and catch up on missed lectures via podcasts.

Apart from a tricky two months in May and June (which included both her selection as the youngest member of the Olympic hockey squad and her final exams), the situation "worked perfectly", said Ms Twigg, who achieved a 2:1.

After winning silver in the 2012 Champions Trophy in Argentina in February, the women's hockey team is aiming for gold in front of home crowds.

Besides Ms Twigg, none of the rest of the team, currently ranked fourth in the world, had to juggle training with study, with most devoting themselves to hockey full-time.

Ms Twigg hopes to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but will still pursue a career in law.

For Bristol Law School, this was not the first time it had made an exception for a sports star: in the early 1990s, the England rugby union scrum-half Kyran Bracken was allowed to sit his exams early after being selected for a summer tour.

"It would be hugely problematic if everyone were doing it," said Professor Hill. "But if it is for a good reason and one student in 200, the system can absorb that.

"It's not everyone who plays hockey for Great Britain."


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