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Concerns raised over Olympics 'legacy'


Tom Bateman
Today programme

As London 2012 Chairman Lord Coe guest edits the Boxing Day edition of Today, we look into his concern that it's harder than ever to convince young people that competitive sport is a worthwhile endeavour.

The subzero temperatures at Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium mean the recently fallen rain has turned to ice on the running track.

It's a Friday night, and a dozen children aged between 11 and 16 are out training for their local athletics club, Hallamshire Harriers.

A bold letter H on their red running tops denotes membership to a club that boasts as its most outstanding graduate Olympic gold medalist Sebastian - now Lord - Coe.

Samuel Hand (13), Oscar Bryce (14) and Gabby Craft (11)
Hopeful Harriers: Samuel Hand (13), Oscar Bryce (14) and Gabby Craft (11)

It's a legacy that leaves many of the young Hallamshire Harriers in little doubt about their own ambition.

"I want to be an athlete," says Gabby Craft, 11, fresh from a sprint down one length of the running track.

"I like running and long jump... I like pushing myself to get new PBs (personal bests)."

Gabby shows a precocious commitment to her sport - training for up to two-and-a-half hours, four times a week.

There's no doubt that Gabby and the many young athletes like her have the determination eventually to become world class professionals.

But coaches and officials in the sport still harbour concerns over whether the UK is producing them in sufficient numbers to secure a strong legacy of elite athletes after the 2012 Olympics.

X Box generation

While Great Britain had its best medal haul in a century at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, just 4 of the 47 were won in athletics categories.

"The drop off rate is quite high," says Hallamshire Harriers coach Rachel Roper.

"We do have a lot of kids that come down to training and they just don't want to put the effort in to get better.

"It requires effort. It requires you being tired and feeling a bit sick and coming to training every week even when you can't be bothered... It is the X Box generation," she says.

We can't miss this opportunity next year
UK Athletics' Andy Paul

Among Rachel Roper's concerns is what she refers to as a "nobody wins" culture in schools, some of which she claims lack sufficient competitive sport to give young people the necessary drive.

The sport's governing body UK Athletics is aware of the challenges in motivating young people and has set up schemes to help deliver athletics programmes directly into schools.

Programme Delivery Manager Andy Paul says the solution lies in using a "different way of coaching and teaching" potential young athletes.

"It's understanding where the kids today are coming from in terms of their backgrounds and experiences," he adds.

Some coaches argue that the social narratives followed by young people too often omit the "long story" in the creation of icons - a kind of "reality TV" culture that suggests success can come without effort.

But others see this as misplaced nostalgia, and claim work being done to restore the young talent pool is paying off.

Olympic momentum

There are no long term statistics for athletics club membership in the UK but the number of registered athletes in England has actually increased in each year of the last four - currently standing at 114,000, according to figures from England Athletics.

And UK athletes have won more than 900 medals at the 12 major international athletics competitions over the last 12 years.

Amir Khan
Amir Khan

Andy Paul says "there is no better time than right now" when it comes to building momentum in athletics.

"We can't miss this opportunity next year," he says.

"The Olympics slap bang on our doorstep... It's going to be a fantastic opportunity."

One man who knows exactly how transformative the Olympics can be is the boxer Amir Khan.

He made his name aged 17 at the Athens Olympics in 2004 by becoming Britain's youngest ever boxing medallist.

Back in London after his controversial recent defeat in the US, the boxer recalls how his life changed after "two weeks of boxing" in 2004.

"That's why every time I speak to kids when I go to school I always tell them: 'Look if you ever get a chance to be involved in sport or go to Olympic games, go. Because everywhere I go now people respect me for doing what I've done'.

"My faith and my family, I mean they were always there for me," he says.

"At times it does get tough. But with the support I had, and with my faith, it took me through the tough obstacles - and look where I am now."

Get in touch with Today via email , Twitter or Facebook or text us on 84844.

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