Oldham lad and Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Gold Medalist Anthony Harding has unveiled a plaque from Golden Gateways at Oldham Leisure Centre to recognise his success as an athlete and to celebrate the part the leisure centre played in kickstarting his impressive diving career.
The 22-year-old brought home Gold at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in the Men’s 3m Synchro with Jack Laugher and is currently training to secure a spot in Team GB for the 2024 Olympics, but his career all started at Oldham Sports Centre when he was just four years old.
Golden Gateways is a legacy-leaving initiative launched to commemorate the 57 Team England gold medals won at Birmingham 2022, by installing a plaque at a location relevant to the athletes’ route to glory.
Anthony was reunited with his first-ever coach, Louise Bishop, at the plaque unveiling at Oldham Leisure Centre, as well as meeting Oldham Active’s CEO, Stuart Lockwood, and some of the aquatics team.
Anthony says: “The Olympics is my main focus and goal. It’s something I have dreamed about for a long time. Pairing up with my synchro partner, Jack Laugher, MBE has been life-changing and has been massive for my career. It’s been great to partner with such a successful diver; he’s taught me so much.
“Individually, we have already achieved great accolades, but the Olympics in Paris is the coming together of our ambition. Jack and I are currently working extremely hard. We are competing in the World Championships in Japan in July 2023 and are hoping for success there and to qualify for the Olympics. Things are looking good, we are feeling confident, and training is going well.”
Anthony, who was born in Oldham Hospital, added: “But none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t started learning to swim and been spotted as having the potential to go far by an instructor at an early age. It’s so important that all children have the opportunity to learn to swim and to participate in sports either at their school or in the community.
“I started swimming at Oldham Sports Centre as a young child and joined the diving club when I was almost six years old. I really didn’t want to start diving, it was quite scary, and there were tears at first, but my parents and my first coach, Louise, really encouraged me, and I soon grew to love the sport. It was fantastic to see Louise again today. She really started it all for me, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to say thank you.
“Oldham’s Diving Club was instrumental to my career, and my second coach, the legend Geoff Eccles, who sadly is no longer with us, was significant in giving me the belief I could go far. He was such an inspirational man, and he would have been so proud of my success.
“Although I moved to Leeds in order to pursue my diving career, leaving my family here when I was 16, it feels right that I should acknowledge and recognise where it all began. I want to inspire the young people of Oldham, and the kids that come to their weekly swimming classes, that anything is possible. If I could share any insights with them, it would be to ‘always have the belief that you can.’
“Aquatics has taught me so much; it has gained me valuable life skills and taught me discipline and given me self-confidence. I know that times are difficult for people right now, but I really want to show that a kid from humble beginnings, just like me, really can go for gold.
“It’s been fantastic to return to Oldham, to meet with some of my old coaches and the team at
Oldham Active. I really hope the local community is inspired by the plaque.”
Stuart Lockwood, CEO of Oldham Active, says: “It’s been wonderful to welcome Anthony back to Oldham Leisure Centre to acknowledge and celebrate his success. We hope his visit and his legacy plaque will inspire local children who are just starting out on their learn-to-swim journey for years to come. When Anthony and Jack get to the Olympics, which I am sure they will, you can guarantee the Oldham Active team and local community will be cheering them on to gold!”
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