Five funded athletes nominated for prestigious One-to-Watch award

Backing the Best is part of our plan to build the best talent progression pathway in the world

Five Sport England-supported young athletes are in the running for a prestigious award thanks to their impressive performances in 2019.

SportsAid’s One-to-Watch award has previously been won by athletes that have gone on to win 42 titles at Olympic, Paralympic, World or European level – including Tom Daley, Hollie Arnold and Courtney Tulloch.

Five of the 10-strong shortlist for this year’s award are funded by our Backing the Best programme, with Aaliyah Powell, AbdAllah Eissa, Antonia Bunyan, Ellie Challis and Enriko Itauma set to find out the overall winner next week at SportsAid’s ‘Celebrate the Next’ event.

The judging panel is made up of prominent former Olympic and Paralympic athletes, as well as journalists and a representative of the GB Olympians’ Association.

Last year’s winner, boxer Caroline Dubois, was also a recipient of Backing the Best funding that allows athletes to focus on their sport and lighten the financial load that comes with forging a path as an elite athlete.

The programme, which launched in 2016, makes annual awards of up to £5,000 to athletes – via SportsAid – on a case-by-case basis and now supports more than 100 talented young athletes to pay for essential costs such as equipment, travel, coaching and competition entry fees.

Get to know our nominees

Antonia Bunyan headshot

Antonia Bunyan

Sport: Goalball
Bio: 19, from York, North Yorkshire

• Bronze at the IBSA Goalball World Youth Championships 2019 (Under-19s)
• Finished sixth at the IBSA Goalball International Paralympic Qualifier (senior)
• Second-top goalscorer at the IBSA Goalball World Youth Championships 2019 (Under-19s)

“I honestly can’t even put it into words how enthusiastic and happy I am about this; I think it’s a privilege to be nominated. I’m speechless. I didn’t think I’d be able to play goalball ever again at the start of the year [due to a serious wrist injury] and then I was playing at the European Championships. I am really happy with how I’ve gone through this year and managed to get through it.

“My ultimate ambition with goalball is to get to the Paralympics. We were so close this time – just one goal away from going – but it’s still my dream. I want to be world class one day. I want to be at the top of my game and I want people to know who I am because of what I’ve done and how hard I’ve worked.”

Ellie Challis para swimmer

Ellie Challis

Sport: Para swimming
Bio: 15, from Little Clacton, Essex

• Bronze in the women’s S3 50m backstroke at the IPC World Para Swimming Championships 2019 (senior)
• Set one world and two European records at the British Para Swimming International 2019 (senior)
• Finished fifth, eighth and 10th in multiple classifications at the IPC World Para Swimming Championships 2019 (senior)

“SportsAid has supported me for the last three years now and it’s lovely to be recognised for all of my achievements. Their funding has been really important as it’s allowed me to make more choices. It’s been a really quick rise for me over the last eight months. The bigger the event, the bigger the swim. I just take it all in and try to enjoy what I’m doing and never put too much pressure on myself.

“In London when I won my [world] medal there was a school trip to come and support me and that was very special. I don’t know what my targets are if I get to the [Tokyo] Paralympics just yet – I would love to win a medal but just to go there and get that experience is the main thing and I’d be absolutely thrilled if I got that chance. I just take everything in my stride and don’t get nervous or overwhelmed.”

Squash player AbdAllah Eissa

AbdAllah Eissa

Sport: Squash
Bio: 13, from Warwick, West Midlands

• Winner of the British Junior Open Boys’ Squash Championships 2019 (Under-13s)
• Gold at the Five Nations Team Squash Championships 2019 (Under-15s)
• Gold at the European Team Squash Championships 2019 (Under-15s)

“I got into the sport because of my dad. He used to play when he was younger and when I was five I started going on court with him. He’s now my main coach and he trains me every day. We have the father and son relationship so it’s good to discuss things with him. There are quite a lot of positives with it; he knows me best. It’s still competitive when we play but now I beat him most of the time!

“Long-term I would like to be world number one and win the World Championships. When I was nine or 10, I realised I was quite good and had a chance of becoming a champion. But between Under-13s and Under-15s the physicality of the game jumps up another level. The older I get, the more demanding the game will get. When I play older players, I need to be able to keep up with them.”

Boxer Enriko Itauma

Enriko Itauma

Sport: Boxing
Bio: 14, from Chatham, Kent

• Gold in the men’s +80kg category at the EUBC Junior European Boxing Championships 2019
• Gold in the men’s +80kg category at the Schweriner Boxturnier 2019 via stoppage (junior)
• Gold in the men’s +80kg category at the EUBC Schoolboys European Boxing Championships 2018

“I’ve been boxing for the past four or five years in total. One year I’ve won the national title and one year I’ve won the European title but this year I won both. For my age that’s the best I can do because I’m not old enough for the [Youth] World Championships or Youth Olympics yet. I want to go [to them both] in the next couple of years and then I want to turn pro and become world champion.

“I would say my brother [Karol] is a big inspiration. I don’t want to be second but neither does he, so we push each other to the limits. I know Caroline Dubois who won it [One-to-Watch Award] last year and she told me more about SportsAid when we were on a trip to Germany. It’s a proud moment to be nominated because I’ve been working hard and all that training has finally paid off.”

Taekwondo fighter Aaliyah Powell

Aaliyah Powell

Sport: Taekwondo
Bio: 17, from Huddersfield, Yorkshire

• Bronze in the women’s -53kg category at the World Taekwondo Championships 2019 (senior)
• Gold in the women’s -52kg category at the Luxembourg Open 2019 (junior)
• Gold in the women’s -46kg category at the World Taekwondo Junior Championships 2018

“My highest point this season was definitely the World Championships – my first senior competition. It was pretty nerve-wracking but exciting. I wanted to perform my best and, because it was at home, my family were watching. At first I was quite upset because I hadn’t done as well as I wanted to but afterwards everyone reassured me. Once I got the medal, I felt a lot happier about it and prouder.

“It was tough because I did my GCSEs around the World Championships. I did a few exams the week of the competition. Then the day after I got my medal I had an exam the next morning. My dream is to be Olympic champion and have a medal at every major competition.”