THE County Durham girl who went to Rio and returned as an Olympic champion – all before finding out her GCSE results – has been crowned The Northern Echo’s Local Hero 2016.

Gymnastics bronze medallist and South Durham’s biggest star, Amy Tinkler, was named the overall winner at the 17th annual Local Heroes Awards to celebrate the region’s grassroots sport stars.

The sold-out ceremony honoured inspirational North-East athletes, coaches, teams and clubs in front of hundreds of guests at Wynyard Hall, in County Durham, last night.

Miss Tinkler, 16, from Bishop Auckland, earned the evening’s top accolade as well as the Sporting Excellence Junior Award after being selected to become the youngest member of the entire Team GB for Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Coaches, Rachael Wright and Nicola Preston, in charge of Miss Tinkler’s training at the South Durham Gymnastics Club, or Pink Gym, in Spennymoor, were among millions who watched the teenager become the first British female gymnast ever to win an Olympic medal on the floor.

Fellow Olympian, rowing silver medallist Jess Eddie, and Commonwealth silver medallist and 2012 Olympic finalist, athlete Laura Weightman, were joined by Middlesbrough goalkeeper Dimi Konstanopolous and former Sunderland and Hartlepool midfielder Tommy Miller as VIP guests.

Peter Barron, former editor of The Northern Echo and Local Heroes Awards founder, compered the star-studded evening and told guests that Miss Tinkler had become an inspiration to young athletes across the North-East.

 
Mr Barron said: “Our Local Hero for 2016 is someone who epitomises the importance of nurturing sport at the grass roots.

“This is someone who started out at the grass roots and has gone on to achieve mighty things indeed.

“It is someone whose talent was first celebrated at these awards in the Most Promising New Talent category several years ago.

“She was only nine then but she’s grown into a superstar – an ambassador, an example, an inspiration.”

Tributes were paid to the talented Tees Valley Titans wheelchair basketball star and Paralympic hopeful, Stephen Johnson, who died aged just 14 in July.

His cheeky smile was remembered during the evening as the Tees Valley Titans display team took to the stage in honour of their inspirational teammate.

The counterpart award to Miss Tinkler’s, honouring senior Sporting Excellence, went to 21-year-old Jack Laugher, from Ripon, who earned a gold medal alongside Chris Mears for their 3m synchronised springboard in Rio.

Just days later Mr Laugher clinched a silver medal for his outstanding individual 3m springboard routine.

Fifteen-year-old Josh Hogarth earned the Outstanding Performance Award for an incredible round of golf when he hit a 65 South Moor Golf Club, near Stanley, with fellow golfer, Lucca Jackson, from Seaton Carew, becoming this year’s Most Promising New Talent, aged just seven.

The Bedale Bolt, 11-year-old Charlie York, was named Remarkable Achievement Junior winner after overcoming the odds to become a keen runner despite being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and undergoing a lung transplant in 2015.

The Leading Light Award was picked up by 76-year-old Gordon Lake, from Stockton, who has dedicated his life to grassroots cricket, overseeing Stockton, Cleveland Schools and the junior North Yorkshire Area Cricket Council.

North Yorkshire’s Sessay Cricket Club were also honoured on the night with the Senior Club of the Year Award following their national success after walking away with the Davidstow Village Cup from Lord’s this summer.

The Unsung Hero Award went to England Athletics-qualified coach Harry Binyon, who trains Crook and District Athletics Club’s junior section, and Andrew Robertson, 46, from Chester-le-Street, won the Remarkable Achievement Senior Award for continuing to complete duathlons and triathlons while undergoing gruelling rounds of chemotherapy.

Darlington District Primary Schools Football Team was revealed as the Junior Team of the Year, with under-11s boys and girls winning both leagues in county five-a-side competition.

The boys’ team also won all of their North-East Regional Competition of the English Schools’ National Competition without conceding a single goal.