Philanthropist who backed silver medallist hails ‘mind-blowing’ success

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The millionaire businessman backing a teenage athlete who clinched a silver medal in Tokyo said he has always believed in her.

Teenager Keely Hodgkinson, who is not funded by British Athletics, claimed second place in the 800 metres and smashed the long-held national record.

The 19-year-old has been backed by Barrie Wells, a millionaire businessman and philanthropist who has previously helped fund 18 athletes, including Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, to the London 2012 Olympics.

A personal message from Mr Wells, posted on the Barrie Wells Trust – Box4Kids Facebook page said: “Nearly speechless! Always believed in Keely’s unique ability and maturity but silver in 1.55.8 is mind blowing!

“Love being on her journey and part of her incredible team! Bentley, Aston Martin, WHAT NEXT?!”

Mr Wells had promised Hodgkinson the chance to drive an Aston Martin if she made the final.

According to the Daily Telegraph, she said her dream would be to drive one of the classic Aston Martins from the 1960s James Bond films.

Hodgkinson is not funded by British Athletics as, amid the pandemic, they did not add anyone further onto the World Class Performance Programme in 2020.

Mr Wells told The Times last week that it struck him as “ridiculous given her potential” that she was not being funded.

He said he decided to give her the same as lottery funding, telling the newspaper: “It’s the most I have given to any athlete but I was willing to do that for someone who is clearly an exceptional talent.”

Hodgkinson clocked one minute 55.88 seconds to finish behind winner Athing Mu of the US – beating Kelly Holmes’ 1995 record of one minute 56.21 seconds.

The rising star, who has gone from being virtually unknown to claiming a podium place at the Olympics, said: “That was such a good race from every single person in that race, it was so open and I wanted to leave it all out there.

“It’s going to take a couple of days to sink in but I’m so happy.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Day Eleven
Keely Hodgkinson reacts after the women’s 800m final (Martin Rickett/PA)

“I’m pretty speechless right now. Kelly Holmes is a legend, she’s going to be a legend for British athletics for a long time.”

Hodgkinson is listed as one of the athlete ambassadors on the Barrie Wells Trust website.

Born and raised in Liverpool, Mr Wells is a lifetime financial services entrepreneur and has founded, owned and managed insurance operations in both the UK and overseas, according to the Barrie Wells Trust website.

It says Mr Wells has been passionate about sport throughout his life and that he is an ex-athlete and grandson of former world pole vault record holder Ernest Latimer Stones.

“His biggest sporting passions lie within Olympic sports, especially track and field,” the website adds.

His idea to back elite athletes first came about when he was a spectator at the Beijing Olympics, according to the website.

“Watching from the stands he knew he wanted to make a real difference in 2012 and beyond, and that he could offer more than just cash … a real interest and in-depth knowledge of sport,” it says.

The website says Mr Wells took a break from sponsoring athletes after 2012 to “focus on supporting the well-being of seriously ill and disabled children through the trust’s Box4Kids initiative”, adding many of the athletes are still actively involved with the charity by helping to promote and host Box4Kids events.

Box4Kids invites seriously-ill children to enjoy sporting and entertainment events from the comfort of executive boxes.

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