‘Gold Rush’ will ‘Inspire A Generation’…

6 08 2012

“It was just a remarkable feeling… From Knowing him 17,18 years ago and seeing him develop from that youth who had a few troubles at school but who was charming and good-humoured, to see him go from that to the stadium in London, you couldn’t make it up. I was jumping up and down and screaming…Tears were rolling down my cheeks. I don’t think I even saw him go across the finish line. I was so emotional.” 

Alan Watkinson (Mo Farah’s former PE teacher)

Mr Watkinson first met 10,000m Olympic Champion, Mo Farah, as a gawky eleven year old kid, recently arrived in the UK from Somalia. Mo, struggling with a new language in a predominantly white school, was a lively character with a tendency to get into scrapes. But the, Feltham Community College, PE teacher spotted young Mo’s potential, guiding him towards athletics, and starting a journey that culminated on ‘Super Saturday’ with a truly golden moment – shared by a British TV audience of 16.3 billion!

We have heard a lot about the legacy of London 2012, through the much publicised ‘Inspire A Generation’ slogan, and Mo’s historic victory, the first ever by a GB athlete in the 10,000m, most certainly will.         

There is another advertising and recruitment tagline, with which I’m very familiar, ‘Teachers Can Change Lives’. In the case of Mo Farah, he openly admits that Mr Watkinson turned his life around. Mo has undoubtedly worked hard, and rightly deserves his GB Olympic hero status, but his former teacher deserves to feel part of that gold medal success too – as I’m sure do many others that have touched Mo’s life and helped support him along the way.

Mo’s Olympic story is typical of countless others that have captured the hearts and imaginations of the British sporting public.

Tales of undying ambition and a cherished opportunity taken, of sacrifice, dedication and endurance, selfless support from others, and unwavering self belief, leading to eventual triumph and the tears of joy, that are flowing like never before at these Games. I’ve even found my own eyes welling up at medal ceremonies, as GB athletes proudly mount the Olympic podium, and the Union Flag is raised to the playing of the ‘national dirge’ – oops, national anthem – but that’s a debate for another time…

At the time of writing, Day 10, Team GB is sitting third in medal table with 16 Gold, 11 Silver 10 Bronze. It barely seems credible given that we were rather slow out of the blocks, and it wasn’t until Day 5 that the ‘Gold Rush’ began. It’s all been rather reminiscent of London buses, after an impatient wait, once the first Gold arrived several others followed close behind, and they continue to keep coming…

In the words of @chrishoy , 5x Olympic Champion track cyclist and Team GB flag bearer, “Does anybody remember a few days ago when some people were moaning about a lack of GB medals? Seems like a long time ago now!”      

Team GB, who came home with 19 Gold medals from Beijing 2008, has been set a minimum Games target of 48 medals, across 12 different sports, for London 2012, with a fourth place finish in the medal table. It seems they are well on track.

It was subsequent to the 2008 Games that, Colin Moynihan, Chairman of the British Olympic Association proclaimed, “It is wholly unacceptable that over 50% of our medallists in Beijing came from the independent sector…It is one of the worse statistics in British sport”      

Given that only 7% of the population ‘enjoy’ a private education, his message for state schools was quite clear, they were not doing enough to identify and develop young sporting talent.

While I agree entirely with his call for future governments to make it a priority that sport should be less exclusive, it is rather easier said than done. Independent schools have far more financial resources and enjoy much better facilities in the, so-called, ‘elitist’ sports in which Britain traditionally excels – such as rowing and sailing.

It is, however, somewhat ironic that Moynihan was Minister for Sport (1987-’90) in a Thatcher government committed to selling off school playing fields. Nevertheless, the former Olympic rower should be buoyed by today’s Guardian-London 2012 Olympics Datablog which indicates that, currently, 68% of all Team GB medals at London 2012, have been won by former state school pupils, with 100% in athletics.

Also, 36% of them have been won by women, which is tremendously encouraging. These include the first Team GB medal Lizzie Armistead’s Silver in the cycling road race (a whisker away from Gold), Helen Glover and Heather Stanning rowing to the first GB Gold, and heptathlete Jessica Ennis, Lord Coe’s ‘face of the Games’, providing what will forever remain defining moments of London 2012, as she ran, jumped and threw her heart out to become the first athletics Gold winner in the Olympic Stadium.

At this point in time the Sheffield psychology graduate, with ‘girl next door’ looks and personality, is probably the most influential role models for young girls in the country – long may such a healthy situation continue.     

And let’s not forget Victoria Pendleton, ‘Queen’ of the velodrome, who has been in blistering form, breaking world records, every time she climbs into the saddle, already going Gold in the women’s keirin, and with the individual sprint yet to come.

The days are rolling by, and if there were Gold medals for Olympics ‘couch potatoes’ I’d be in with a shout. It is nigh on impossible for me to capture, in this post, the euphoric nature of an Olympic fever which is overtaking an entire nation. Austerity has temporarily been swept from the front pages to be replaced by a succession of smiling, heroic, GB Olympians, draped in the Union Flag.   

Even with 24/7 media coverage, it is a challenge of Olympian proportions to keep abreast of the latest happenings in so many events. In the time I’ve been trying to put this together, Beth Tweddle has won a gymnastic Bronze on the uneven bars, the equestrian team have showjumped their way to Gold (the first in 60 years), and cyclist Jason Kenny has justified his selection in the Track Men’s sprint final (ahead of Sir Chris Hoy, who could not therefore defend his Olympic title) by blazing his way to Gold. So that now makes 40 medals with 18 Gold – and still six days of competition to go.

It has been an Olympic Games with so many high points to savour and remember. Though hard to choose, for me, the most memorable GB achievements, to date, have been:

  • Jess Ennis (heptathlon), Greg Rutherford (long jump), and Mo Farah (10,000m), each winning Gold in a single, remarkable, athletics session – unprecedented in GB Olympic history.
  • The atmosphere in the velodrome, which has been electric throughout, but in particular on the night that Sir Chris Hoy powered his way to a 5th Gold medal, assisted by Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny, in the men’s team sprint event. He now sits alongside Sir Steve Redgrave as GB’s all-time top Olympic Gold medallist.
  • An exhilarating bronze medal winning performance by a young, talented, men’s gymnastics team –   the first for GB in 100 years.   
  • Bradley Wiggins, following up a historic Tour de France win with Gold in the men’s cycling time trial – his 7th Olympic medal and 4th Gold making him the most decorated GB athlete ever.      
  • Perseverance paying off for plucky Katherine Grainger, who finally gained Gold, with double sculls partner Anna Watkins, after taking Silver in three previous Games.
  • Ben Ainslie becoming the world’s most successful competitive sailor, racing to a 4th successive Gold in the Finn class.
  • A smiling Andy Murray bouncing back from Wimbledon Final disappointment, just four weeks ago, to gain Olympic Gold revenge against the legendary Roger Federer – and winning in convincing style. He also picked up Silver with mixed double partner Laura Robson. It was wonderful to see the Scot celebrating, wrapped in the Union Flag, and singing the national anthem – Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, take note!
  • The rapturous Olympic Pool applause for Rebecca Adlington, Mansfield’s finest who, although failing to repeat her amazing double swimming Gold in the Beijing Games, put everything into the 400m and 800m freestyle. She handled her Bronze medal disappointment with great candour and good grace – a true sportswoman in every sense of the word.     

It would be quite remiss of me not to mention the remarkable performances of two towering, non-GB Olympians: the amazing US swimmer Michael Phelps, who won a world record 18th Olympic Gold in his final Games, and Jamaica’s Usain Bolt who struck again, retaining his 100m crown, destroying the field in an Olympic record 9.63 seconds – officially the fastest man on the planet. And he still has to go in the 200m…





One response

8 08 2012

Yep, I agree wholeheartedly. Well said. I’m not the world’s biggest sports fan but even I’ve been caught up in all the excitement. I’ve also been mightily impressed by the great performances and sportsman/(woman)ship displayed by so many. And the medals haven’t stopped coming in yet!

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