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Preparing for London 2012 - and beyond

By Matt Moore & Jonathan Ireland
BBC London

There are a number of people training in gyms, fields, pools and running tracks across London whose goal it is to compete at the London 2012 Olympic Games. But how many of them have considered what happens next?

Anya Tarasiuk, Hannah McLeod, Jamal Lewis
Anya Tarasiuk, Hannah MacLeod, Jamal Lewis. London 2012 hopefuls

Competing in Olympic sports is tough. It's tough on the body, it's tough on the mind. Careers can be short, unpredictable and interrupted by loss of form or injury at any time.

BBC London spoke to Wimbledon-based, six time world champion and two time Olympian canoeist, Anna Hemmings, who explained the difficulties she faced once she finished competing:

"In the beginning it's quite daunting really, you have inhabited a world that has been your world for 20 years.

"So to leave that behind, not really knowing what to do next, how I was going to do it, and if I was making the right decisions was really quite challenging.

Kelly Holmes celebrates winning gold in Athens
Kelly Holmes celebrates winning gold in Athens

"You're 10 years behind everyone else in terms of your skills in the business sense."

While Anna has since gone on to form her own successful business, there is clearly a need to better support athletes for a career after sport.

Anna is not alone. Speaking as ambassador for the DKH Legacy Trust, Dame Kelly Holmes admits: "I never once thought about post my dream to become Olympic champion.

"Suddenly I was in a world where people were saying to me, am I retiring? And what am I going to do next, I didn't have a clue!"

I never once thought about post my dream to become Olympic Champion. Suddenly I was in a world where people were saying to me, am I retiring? And what am I going to do next, I didn't have a clue!
Double gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes

Arguably, there has not been the foresight over the last 10 years in considering jobs and sustainable careers for athletes retiring from competition.

But with the London 2012 Olympic Games less than two years away, there is an opportunity for this to change.

Future planning

Stephen Mitchell, strategic lead for the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE) scheme, aims to address this: "To be able to say to a young person, here is your programme - it's focused on you becoming the best athlete you can be… but also allows a number of progression opportunities, most young people would bite your hand off."

Anya Tarasiuk
Anya Tarasiuk trains with the GB synchronised swimming squad

Anya Tarasiuk, a 17-year-old Olympic hopeful for the GB synchronised swimming team and member of the AASE programme, has taken this opportunity: "With sport you never know what can happen next - you can get injured, anything can happen. So it's really important to have something running alongside, as your career in this sport is not very long."

Anya is being supported by AASE, so alongside her training she is working towards swimming and lifeguard qualifications.

Other young Londoners are equally keen to ensure they have alternative options in place. Jamal Lewis, 18, hopes to make the basketball team for 2012.

"As a basketball player born and bred in Britain, training in Britain, I would obviously like to play for Team GB and if I get a chance to contribute would like to bring a gold medal home."

Jamal trains four times a week, but combines this with a Sports Science B-Tech at Hackney Community College and has plans to be a PE teacher should he not be successful in his goal.

Given that some athletes do not peak until their mid 20s to late 30s and many Olympic sports are not professional, there are a host of athletes who have not been able to plan for the future.

Second life

Hannah Macleod, a member of the GB women's hockey team (which has moved to London to dedicate the time to Olympic training), recognises the danger of failing to prepare.

She has already embarked on a marketing role two days a week in preparation for a life post-hockey.

Hannah says: "It's far easier to keep things going than picking up the pieces in four years.

"Once they [employers] have realised there are a set of unique skills that athletes can bring to the company, they are very receptive."

The commitment and dedication athletes show with sport can provide them with the skills employers are looking for.

Anya's coach Biz Price said: "Athletes at a high level will be high level students - they know how to set their time correctly and set goals, prepare for important exams since they have been preparing for important meets all their lives… so usually they are also great employees once they move on."

However, an arrangement like Hannah's is hard to come by as Dame Kelly Holmes explained:

"Not every sportsperson has been in a business industry so they can be scared and intimidated by the prospect - it's daunting to see themselves in any other way."

Jamal Lewis
Jamal Lewis hopes to compete for Team GB at 2012

Her Trust works with a raft of Olympians who have all competed at major championships, some of whom were medallists and champions.

Not all of these people are household names but all represented their country at the Olympics and found it hard switching careers.

Olympians like Anna Hemmings now give their time to ensure the athletes of 2012 don't suffer the same problems.

The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) often talks about legacy and there can be no greater legacy than ensuring the next generation of aspiring London Olympians like Anya, Hannah and Jamal are not left in limbo once the Olympic Games have moved on to Rio.

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