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England flagbearer Jack Laugher will float through the Commonwealth Games on memories of his biggest backer.
The Olympic champion has been mourning the loss of grandmother Bernice, who hailed from host city Birmingham, in recent months.
Indeed the ‘classic grandma’ who was ‘bubbly, very honest and emotionally open’ lived in Sedgley, a few miles from the Sandwell Aquatics Centre where he will compete.
Laugher said: “She was such a supportive figure.
“I’ve made some choices in my life, opting not to go to university and to go into diving, and she always supported me.
“She always had my back through everything and she’s been a great figurehead for our family, who I’ve always looked up to and respected.
“I know that she would be extremely proud of me and want me to do well here, so I would like to do this for her.”
Laugher recently returned to Bernice’s home, filled with photos of her grandson competing at his first Commonwealth Games in 2010 and receiving his MBE from Prince Charles.
Earlier this month he had to make the gutwrenching decision to miss her funeral.
He had planned to attend and leave his preparation camp for the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest but then Covid struck a number of family members.
“I had to think about the biggest competition of the year,” said Laugher, who is one of more than 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.
“The risk was too high unfortunately because we were Covid testing out in Budapest.
“Sometimes unfortunately you have to put your sport ahead of some things. It was very difficult knowing that and dealing with it because she followed my career so closely.
“Obviously it’s something I slightly regret but it worked out well in the end.”
This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise of over 400 athletes, and having secured his place on the squad, Laugher is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in his home country.
Laugher and weightlifter Emily Campbell will carry the England flag at Thursday’s Opening Ceremony with the home team the last to walk into the Alexander Stadium.
The Leeds-born star is the second diver to get the honour after Tony Ally did so at Melbourne 2006.
“Being chosen as flagbearer is a massive honour,” he said.
“There have been some unbelievable names who have gone before me and to be considered among one of those is an honour I will carry for the rest of my life.”
With five gold medals Laugher is one of the most decorated English athletes in recent Commonwealth Games history.
There has always been something about the ‘friendly Games’ that has connected with Laugher ever since he made his debut in Delhi aged 15.
“It’s an environment I really thrive in,” he said. “Everyone feels quite happy just to be there and I thrive when I’m in my happy place.
“I get bogged down when I take things too seriously, but when I’m feeling good, I compete my best and that’s why I do well at the Commonwealth Games.”
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