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Monday, 2 October, 2000, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Inspiring armchair athletes

As the British Olympians head home with a swag of medals, are we now all wannabe rowers, pentathletes and triple jumpers? If so, how long will the craze last?

As veteran rower Steve Redgrave steamed over the finish line to claim his fifth Olympic gold medal last weekend, some 6.6 million Britons screamed encouragement at their television screens.

Rowing
The coxless four's rowing victory in Sydney
Some "rowed" the 2km course with Redgrave from the comfort of their sofas, and wondered what could have been if they, too, had spent years in training.

Similarly, wannabe athletes, sailors and shooters may well be inspired by the national team's tally of 11 gold, 10 silver and seven bronze medals - the highest since the 1920 Antwerp games.

Dr Amanda Daley, of Sheffield Hallam University's sports science research institute, says major events typically spur spectators into trying out a sport.

"It's well known that the tennis courts get very, very crowded during the Wimbledon tournament," she says.

Venus Williams at Wimbledon
Wimbledon: Tennis becomes a national obsession for a fortnight
"It's probably more the case with tennis than the Olympics because it's such a British sport, whereas the Games cover such a diverse range of events.

"But generally speaking, it's a short-lived effect."

She cites research by Rod Dishman, an academic from the United States, who found that most people drop out within six months of taking up a new sport.

"There's lots of reasons why people give up - but enjoyment is the most important factor in getting them to stick with it," she says.

Everyone's a winner

"Olympic successes do give the governing bodies a kick up the bum to invest in their sport. But we're quite far behind at sticking money in at a grassroots level," Dr Daley says.

Eric  Moussamban - Olympic underdog
Eric the Eel: Splashing, not sinking
One Olympian she doubts will inspire British youngsters is Eric Moussambani, the novice swimmer from Equatorial Guinea who splashed his way through his 100m freestyle heat.

"Denise Lewis, who won the heptathalon, is more likely to be a role model because this country values success," Dr Daley says.

Unlike in countries such as Australia and France - which both topped Britain in the medal table - pupils in the UK are often only encouraged to persevere if they show real promise.

"Our sporting culture is based on gifted children, rather than participation for all," Dr Daley says.

"In a number of countries, teachers are paid to stay after school so it's the norm for children to join sports clubs. Here, the majority go home after school."

Rowing glory

Sophie Mackley, of the Amateur Rowing Association, says viewers inspired by Redgrave's achievement - and Britain's subsequent rowing successes - logged on to their website to find out more about the sport.

Spectators
Try this at home: Spectators on the rowers' dias
"I got in last Monday, after the fours and the eights races, to about 40 e-mails from people asking 'How do I start rowing, where do I go?'

"A lot said they had rowed in the past and wanted to get back to it; others used rowing machines at the gym and wanted to get out on the water."

But will their interest wane as the winter nights draw in?

"It's a tricky time of year to get into rowing because it's getting a bit rough and windy. But they can get into the ethos of rowing through land training," Miss Mackley says.

The association has also had inquiries from clubs and schools wanting to join its junior rowing programme, launched last December to involve more state schools in the sport.

The British Cycling Federation also reports increased participation in its introductory cycling sessions at regional velodromes following Jason Queally's medal-winning time trial two weeks ago.


It kind of makes you feel it's easy to get medals

Stephanie Cook
Members of the Olympic team have also said the early successes lifted their own performances.

The modern pentathletes, Stephanie Cook and Kate Allenby, had to wait until the final days of the games to compete.

They placed first and third respectively.

Cook has said: "People kept coming up and saying 'We've got more medals, we've got more medals'. It kind of makes you feel it's easy to get medals."

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See also:

03 Oct 00 | Olympics2000
Britain's heroes arrive home
25 Sep 00 | UK
The cost of gold
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