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World Para-athletics Championship: Hollie Arnold targets sixth title

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After a turbulent few years former Paralympic javelin champion Hollie Arnold says she has “fallen back in love” with the sport again.

The 29-year-old Briton has faced challenges on and off the track, but is now focused on the future as she bids to win her sixth consecutive Para-athletics World Championship title in Japan on Friday before aiming to regain her Paralympic title in Paris later this summer.

Things looked bright for Arnold as 2020 dawned. She was world and European champion and world record holder in her F46 category and was well on track to defend the crown she had won at the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

But then the Covid pandemic struck, throwing everything into disarray. The Tokyo Games were postponed for a year and the situation had a huge impact on Arnold’s mental wellbeing.

“It was like having my heart ripped out,” she tells BBC Sport. “I felt I had lost my identity. I know there were so many worse scenarios that were happening to people, but this was my life and my dream and what I train for and things slowly started to slip.”

The Welsh athlete already had experience of mental health issues, external after her mother Jill was diagnosed with depression in 2013, and started to see some similarities with her situation. Although Arnold was never medically diagnosed, the struggles continued even after she eventually returned to training.

In the midst of it all, Arnold travelled to the Tokyo Paralympics to defend her title and, after leading going into the final round of the competition, she saw rivals Holly Robinson from New Zealand and Noelle Roorda of the Netherlands overtake her and she finished with bronze.

But she regrouped and went to last year’s Worlds in the French capital, throwing a season’s best to win a fifth world title.

“There was extra fire in my belly last year and being able to go out and prove myself was the best feeling ever,” she says.

“I felt like I had finally got a bit of my happy Hollie confidence back and I wanted to build on that for this year.

“When I am a happy and confident Hollie, I am a dangerous Hollie in competition.

“Although Tokyo is always a sore point, I’ve realised now that it was there to teach me, not that I am invincible – I knew that – but that it’s OK to not be able to come out at a major event after a pandemic because I really struggled.”

Her own experience and that of her mother have helped Arnold, and she wants more people to be open and honest about their feelings.

“There are so many people who suffer with mental health, but the more people who speak up about it, the better,” she says. “You are not alone. Never feel afraid or that you don’t want to burden others.

“Talking is the best therapy and there are so many different outlets you can use – things like family, friends and helplines.

“It took me a long time but time is a great healer.”



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Real Madrid and Kylian Mbappe – a Champions League combination?

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Playing against Bondy’s best was no mean feat given the tally of professional footballers among their alumni – which includes Arsenal defender William Saliba – is in double figures.

Project Mbappe didn’t stop there.

While a teenage Mbappe pinned up pictures of Ronaldo and watched old footage of Zinedine Zidane, another Real Madrid superstar, there was a third role model far closer to home – Jires Kembo Ekoko, his adopted brother.

Ekoko was taken in by Mbappe’s parents when he was nine and was selected for the French Federation’s national academy at Clairefontaine before playing professionally for Rennes in Ligue 1.

Ekoko was more than a decade older than Mbappe but had a big impact.

At the age of six, Mbappe had learned the French national anthem, explaining to his teacher that “one day, I’ll play in the World Cup for France”.

It wasn’t only Wilfried and Fayza who believed Mbappe was destined for big things.

Nike came calling with free shoes when he was just 10. A little over six years later, he made his first-team debut for Monaco. But the progress between those two points was not smooth.

Allan Momege was a classmate of Mbappe at Clairefontaine.

“At the time I met him, he wasn’t the player who impressed me the most,” Momege says of Mbappe in the BBC Sport documentary.

“He didn’t stand out for me as a player during the trials. The first time I saw him play, I didn’t think, ‘Wow!’

“There were regional selections and Kylian wasn’t in the best team.”

Matt Spiro, an author and French football expert, echoes Momege.

“Kylian initially found it a bit difficult at Clairefontaine,” he says. “He was there for two years and during the first year, he certainly wasn’t the best in his group. I think even Kylian would admit that.

“Mbappe would play out on the wing and would quite frequently be in a sulky mood. He had a growth spurt, I think towards the end of his first year in Clairefontaine, and by the second year, he was really starting to look the business.

“Then people were thinking, we’ve got a very, very special talent on our hands.”

That talent was picked up by Monaco scouts in July 2013, when he was aged 14.

Moving from the Parisian suburbs to the wealthy, sunny Cote d’Azur at such a young age could have made others go inside themselves.

Not the boy from Bondy.



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Women's ODI Cricket

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The best of the action as England took on Pakistan in the final game of their ODI series.



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England vs Pakistan: Sciver-Brunt century leads hosts to 2-0 ODI series win

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Nat Sciver-Brunt’s stunning century led England to a 178-run thrashing over Pakistan in the third one-day international at Chelmsford.

The all-rounder struck 124 not out, including 14 fours and two sixes, which propelled England to an imposing 302-5.

Sciver-Brunt then claimed figures of 2-11, as Pakistan reached 124-9 in pursuit of an unlikely all-time record run chase, with captain Nida Dar unable to bat with an injury.

Only opener Muneeba Ali, with a composed 47, and Aliya Riaz’s 36 offered any resistance for the visitors as Sophie Ecclestone took 3-15, including her 100th ODI wicket.

The comprehensive victory handed England a 2-0 win in the ODI series, ensuring the visitors end their white-ball tour without a win.

The gulf in class between the sides was most evident in this series finale, as Pakistan’s fielding let them down amid a generally positive effort.

Opener Maia Bouchier made 34 but was dropped on 25, Amy Jones was dropped on six before making 27 and there was a double missed chance of a stumping and a catch when Sciver-Brunt was on 86.

The last was the most costly, as Sciver-Brunt and Alice Capsey, who made an unbeaten 39, launched a brutal onslaught of 47 runs from the last three overs.

England’s home summer continues with another white-ball series against New Zealand starting in June, before the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh in October.



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