WITH London 2012 in full swing, British sport is entering a golden age. Hosting an Olympic Games offers huge possibilities – increasing the profile of athletics in this country and building a gateway for all the aspiring young athletes coming through the system.
Many young people watching these extraordinary athletes will be thinking “next time around it’s going to be me.” And you only have to look at the stadium, pool and velodrome to realise that one of the greatest benefits of hosting the Games is that we now have some of the best sporting facilities in the world.
Many sports have suffered from decreasing participation over the last four years and hosting the Games will help turn the tide. Cycling is a clear example of how medals can boost the profile of a sport. With such great success in the Beijing Games, the Tour de France and gold medals so far for Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton, the men’s team sprint, and the men’s and women’s team pursuit, I’m certain these outstanding achievements from Britain’s cyclists will prove to be a further catalyst, encouraging participation and unearthing future Olympic champions.
And it’s not just cycling. Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah won big over the weekend. Farah winning the 10,000m is a massive achievement for this country. Prior to the Games we had never won the Olympic 5,000m or 10,000m, and now we’ve got a man who has won latter and has every chance in the 5,000m this weekend. While we have depth in the sport now, the achievements of Britain’s medallists will make us faster, higher and stronger.
We have already got some real stars in the making as we look ahead to Rio 2016. Katarina Johnson-Thompson (heptathlon), Adam Gemili (sprinter) and Holly Bleasdale (pole vault) have all shown at London 2012 that they could be serious medal contenders in four years time.
The vital sponsorship money has been there for the run up to the London 2012, with the commercial trend over the last five years seeing national governing body rightholders signing deals with one major lead partner, who sponsors the sport from grassroots through to major events. With us at UK Athletics it’s Aviva, tennis has Aegon, cycling has Sky and swimming has British Gas.
A lot of these deals will come up for renewal over the next 18 months, so it will be interesting to see if the rightholders and sponsors continue this trend, or whether the commercial landscape changes. For athletics, there has never been a better time to get involved.
After the Olympics, we have the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and the World Championships in London in 2017. Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow are investing heavily, building world-class facilities. London 2012 is just the beginning.
Ian Stewart is UK Athletics’ head of endurance and 1972 Olympic Games bronze medallist (5000m). Back the team and watch the world’s best athletes in action at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium on 26 August.