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Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009
Essex athletes in new art project
By Oliver Rogers
BBC Essex

Alex O'Connell (C) with Lucy and Jack
Winners of the Shenfield High School fencing championships with Alex O'Connell

Nine top athletes are set to be immortalised in art as part of a new project run by Essex County Council.

The sports stars are all 2012 hopefuls and are part of 'Team Essex', acting as ambassadors in the county for their different sports.

Olympic fencer, Alex O'Connell, met his artist at a visit to Shenfield High School near Brentwood.

Alex, 21, told BBC Essex: "The students have been doing some drawings of me and so I've given them a taste of fencing."

Artist, Ben Dearnley (R), having a go at fencing

The arts project is called 'Journey to the Podium' and goes hand-in-hand with sports coaching from the athletes.

Brentwood-born Alex met professional artist, Ben Dearnley, who will produce a sculpture of him at Shenfield High School.

For his part, Alex organised a fencing competition with students using foam foils and protective masks.

Alex O'Connell - Fencing, sculpture
Anne Wafula-Strike - Athletics, multimedia
Chloe Rogers- Hockey, sound
Daniel King - Athletics, photograph
Dominic King - Athletics, photograph
Francesca Whitby - Basketball, illustration
Ryan Crouch - Swimming, animation
Russell Hampton - Cycling, photograph
Sarah Claxton - Athletics, painting

"They were all absolute beginners and I had a lot of fun and they had a lot of fun and it's great to be able to introduce my sport to other people," he said.

"A lot of sport is about [the moment] being captured and with the Olympics there are a lot of iconic images, so the two things go hand-in-hand."

Ben Dearnley has already made one sculpture of Alex and now he will be creating a new piece for the 'Journey to the Podium' project.

His recent work included making castings of key British Olympic heroes, such as Christine Ohuruogu, for the 'Avenue of Champions' exhibition.

Chloe's hockey stick
The hockey stick with recording equipment strapped on

"This project is a fabulous opportunity to deepen my understanding and for me to get further under the skin, behind the mask," said Ben.

"It will try and push my understanding, in an artistic sense, of what these supreme athletes are about at their core.

"It is like finding a block of stone and, as Michelangelo would have said, revealing the figure within," he added.

Also involved in the project is British Olympic hockey player, Chloe Rogers from Great Dunmow, who ran a hockey training day at Chelmer Park in Chelmsford.

Students from three schools in the town attended and the sound of Chloe's hockey stick was recorded by sound artist, Tim Skinner.

Chloe Rogers (L) and Tim Skinner (R)
Chloe Rogers (L) and artist Tim Skinner (R) at Chelmer Park

"I think it is a great idea to get artists involved with athletes, and I think it is a nice combination that doesn't happen very often," she said.

"Tim wanted to capture all the different sounds that happen during a hockey training session and he attached different microphones on my hockey stick," she added.

The pieces of art will go on display at the Gibberd Gallery in Harlow and at Colchester United's Community Stadium at the beginning of 2010.

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