Windsurfer and former horse owner Helen Nicholls, who led Britain’s medal-winning boccia campaign at the Tokyo Paralympics, is taking over as British Equestrian’s (BEF) performance director from Dickie Waygood.
Dickie acted as interim performance director in Tokyo, leading Britain to one of its most successful Games ever, and will take on the new role of technical director alongside his position of eventing performance manager.
Helen will join in early May to provide leadership of the World Class programmes, funded by UK Sport and the National Lottery, and the senior championship teams in dressage, eventing, showjumping and para dressage.
She joins the BEF with more than 20 years of experience in elite sport. As an athlete, she represented Britain at windsurfing, finishing on the podium in international regattas and claiming multiple national titles.
She narrowly missed out on Olympic selection for Sydney 2000 and turned her focus to studying, completing a degree in applied sports performance at Liverpool John Moores University. This led to a 10-year career with British Sailing (the Royal Yachting Association) in roles covering sport management and coach development in pathway and elite programmes.
Helen then joined UK Sport as a performance advisor, working with a number of sports including equestrian, with a focus on maximum medal return for investment. In 2018, she became performance director at Boccia UK and led the British side at Tokyo, which included the highlight of David Smith winning individual gold.
“I feel privileged and excited to be given this opportunity to join British Equestrian and I look forward to building on the outstanding success in Tokyo,” said Helen.
“My role will be to lead the [World Class programme] team, work closely with Richard Waygood, the performance managers, athletes, coaches, and the wider staff to continue delivering successful programmes which enable riders to fulfil their tremendous potential.
“My time with boccia over the past four years has been hugely rewarding and I would like to convey my deepest appreciation for all at Boccia UK for their commitment, support and drive to be the best every single day and I am sure that the team will go on to thrive and prosper as we move towards Paris.”
She added: “Having worked in elite sport for over two decades at both UK Sport and British Sailing I am very much looking forward to joining equestrian, a programme which is hugely respected, with committed, dedicated and highly talented athletes. I’m excited to be working alongside the existing team, and with Dickie in particular, to provide the riders and community of elite equestrian with the platform to flourish and deliver success in Paris and beyond.”
Dickie, who has been involved with the BEF World Class programme for more than 12 years, agreed to take on the performance director role and lead the Tokyo campaign on the basis it was an interim appointment.
“I’ve worked closely with Helen previously during her time with UK Sport and as a fellow performance director in the run-up to and during the Tokyo Paralympics and her credentials are exceptionally strong,” said Dickie.
“She understands elite sport programmes and how to deliver results, which is key, as is a solid relationship with UK Sport and other key partners, which Helen can provide. I believe that the technical director role will give our programme a new dimension and with Helen and myself, plus our outstanding group of support staff, working with our immensely talented athletes and horses, it’s never been a more exciting time for us.”
BEF chief executive Jim Eyre added that Helen impressed during the recruitment process with her “knowledge, experience and ability to work in complex environments”.
“We’re grateful for the stability and leadership provided by Dickie to see us through two very successful Tokyo Games, and to retain him in a new role alongside Helen really is a boon for equestrian sport,” he said.
“Paris is on the horizon and the World Championships later this year provide us with our first chance to secure qualification which will be our primary objective – I look forward to working with Helen, Dickie and the World Class programme staff and athletes to make it happen.”
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