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Athletes step up to create own 2012 legacy

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Katharine Merry | 14:02 UK time, Monday, 26 July 2010

This Tuesday marks two years to go until the Olympics, and two events taking place around that date - another of what seems like an endless number of milestones - give us a great chance to see some of those who will win medals.

A lot has already been said about the legacy of the Games, as it was such a big part of us being awarded the event in the first place.

Is the "L" word really going to materialise? Great strides are being made by many organisations, seizing the opportunities that an Olympic Games can bring.

Organisations like Sports Leaders UK are determined to make the Games have an impact in young people's lives. There are those who really want the Games to make a stamp on the whole country.

But what about the athletes, who could make history and become part of that legacy? You could argue they have the biggest part to play.

I believe most of the candidates are already on top of their game. The likes of Philips Idowu, Lisa Dobriskey and Jess Ennis will fly the flag at the European Championships in Barcelona next week and again at London 2012.

But in two years time we could be talking about names that aren't yet that well-known, and some of them took part last week in the 13th IAAF World Junior Athletic Championships in Moncton, Canada.

Jodie Williams (second from left) in action in Moncton

One name that keeps cropping up is Jodie Williams, who won the 100m in Moncton - her 149th successive race win - and came second in the 200m. She is also the current senior UK number one over 200m.

At 16 years old she is exciting and fresh. I see so much of myself in her. I read the articles and opinions of some who want her to fly and be Britain's greatest female sprinter ever, and others who don't believe she will continue to develop and say we shouldn't be excited by junior results.
The pressure and expectation on her takes me back 20 years!

When I started internationally I was 13. By 14, I was running 7.35 seconds for the 60m at Cosford in Staffordshire and the pressure arrived like a ton of bricks.

I had progressed quickly to that point but there was no way I was ever going to continue at that rate. If I had, I'd be running 10 seconds flat for 100m - physically impossible.

Instead I had to keep a fine balance between gaining experience and not putting myself under too much pressure.

Coaching and parental guidance plays a big part - those are the people who make the decisions for you. I was lucky, with sensible people around me. I've met Jodie and her family and I know she's in same environment, along with Mike McFarlane, who is an experienced coach.

There were previous junior greats like Lynsey MacDonald over 400m, who trained at the age of 15 as if they were 25 and burned out. They were directed wrongly.

Jodie is not doing the senior Euros and I think she should ignore the people who say she should join the relay for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in October because there's a danger in doing too much.

The majority of successful junior athletes are bigger physically at the time, and unable to continue their progress when everyone catches up with them.

But Jodie is a whippet and will get stronger. I can see how she will develop more. She will plateau at some point but if she can do that at running 11.2 sec for the 100 or 22.7 for the 200 for a couple more years, then she will develop into senior medal contention.

I feel I coped well with the expectations and many off-track issues, to win a bronze medal in one the biggest Olympic races ever.

Williams is just one candidate from the current junior crop who could follow the same path. Deji Tobias and Jack Meredith are others.

But although there is more centralised training now, little has changed since my day in the development of young athletes: you still have to look after the basics yourself.

I'm not sure if we are doing enough for our juniors. We still wait for a great talent to come along - rather than having a national talent identification scheme - and simply see if they succeed or fail.

Do you think we should do things differently to bring talent through? And who are you tipping for medals in 2012?


  • Comment number 1.

    I attended my younger sister's sports day at her primary school a few years back, and I was taken aback by a girl younger than her (about 6 or 7 yrs old) who ran the sprint race against the boys. She was lightening quick, so much faster than them and her running action was like a seasoned sprinter. I'm no scout, but I could see that this was an exceptional runner.

    I commented to someone that I hoped the local sports club were watching that, as she should be snapped up and given training/nutrition advice or whatever support needed for that age. I asked my sister recently what happened to this girl and if she was still running, and sadly, she isn't, and never got encouragement to continue it.

    I think this is such a shame, as this girl was clearly a talent, but I don't think the athletics clubs have liaison officers where they attend these type of early stage events. Divert money from the richers sports and put it into athletics!

  • Comment number 2.

    Most athletic clubs will not take children until they are at least 8 years old. Also the clubs are generally run by unpaid volunteers who have to work so are often not able to attend the school sports days. In the club I belong to we try to get to the major school events in our City to try and recruit athletes. There should also be a link between the schools and the clubs. However I have seen a lot of children who can run very fast at a young age, it often means they are a bit more developed than their school friends and they just turn out to be average runners when they are older. Of course they can still get a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from joining a club providing the volunteers are there to run it which is the main problem really.

  • Comment number 3.

    I asked my sister recently what happened to this girl and if she was still running, and sadly, she isn't, and never got encouragement to continue it.

    I think this is such a shame, as this girl was clearly a talent

    Or perhaps she didn't want to?

    Talent is about far more than physical ability, people have to really want to buy into the whole lifestyle to become successful and a lot of the time those with the most natural abilities physically are not interested. Perhaps that girl has her own dreams of being a scientist, actor, swimmer or fashion designer.

    I have seent too many kids in this country forced into things that they do not want to do because of their physcial traights, while those who do want it but are not so advanced get discarded at stupidly young ages.

  • Comment number 4.

    There is very little support for junior talent in the UK. My daughter is a top U17 athlete in Scotland, over the next 7 weeks I will cover at least 1700 miles getting her to major Championships. Apart from the UK school games there is no fundig to help cover this expense. That does not include over night accommodation for UK Champs in Bedford or the expense of a 50 mile round trip to meet her coach twice a week.

    If my family were not willing to make sacrafices to support her she to would be lost to the sport.

  • Comment number 5.

    Appreciate the comments above, the girl obviously would need to want to become an athlete, but look at all elite sportsmen and women, they would have been encouraged (or forced in some people's definition) into playing sport from a very young age (e.g. Andy Murray), arguably they wouldn't know what they would want to be so young.

    The point is, the option should be given and the support provided. Maybe Yoyomac spotted the talent their daughter had, and is now making the personal sacrifice to make it possible. I'm just saying some assistance and spotting this talent early would help matters greatly. If you look at all nations that punch at or above their weight in sporting terms, they have a system in place to spot talent early.

    If I was a talented kid and I was told by a coach if I worked hard, I could be an athlete, it would help encourage me to try harder.

  • Comment number 6.

    Greetings from Barcelona!
    What a great couple of days here already with Mo, Chris and tonight Mark.

    In regards too some of the posts.

    I agree totally. The option should be given to talented kids in any area and support provided. So further down the line if they want to stay involved in the activity they can because they enjoy it.
    How do kids know what they may be good at if they are not offered the opportunity to try and then given the right facilities, support and guidance to pursue it?
    There should be alot more links between schools and clubs.
    I know some of this goes on, but to the right level?

    I visit schools that have very proactive teachers and some schools that have great links with local clubs. Teachers that go out of their way to help and assist kids, others there is nothing.

    There surely has to be at some point and system introduced into our country where talented kids in whether it be athletics, dance or any physical activity have access.
    There is too little connection between the establishments that can make it happen.
    Too much, as always, is left to chance and the support of many helpful caring people. People with good intentions that deserve a helping hand or at least some proper direction.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Katherine,

    I apperciated your comments tonight on Chambes on Drugs cheats. Fully behind you & Steve on that one.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi again from Barcelona.
    The medal rush continues.....well done Phillips and Martyn!

    I am glad you are enjoying the 5Live coverage of the Championships. I wasn't asked to comment on Dwain as I am working the mixed zone and doing the interviews, so it must have been Steve and Allison's comments you agree with. I will pass on your appreciation!

  • Comment number 9.

    Every year, in my various coaching roles around the world, I come across quite a few very talented athletes who have the genetic, god-given ability to make their respective National athletics teams. Perhaps they could even go on to become Olympians.. They key reason why very few of them do is..coaching.

    There simply are not enough quality coaches out there to help guide these kids towards what could be their destiny.

    I have a shrewd idea that the reason for this is that coaches are simply not valued enough - not necesarily in a financial way - but by parents and ultimately, the governing body.

    Throughout this championships the commentators have mentioned numerous 'celebrity' coaches who have achieved amazing things as athletes and are then automatically assumed, upon retirement, to possess similarly amazing ability as coaches. This rarely follows and worse still, totally dis-incentivises club coaches who will believe that, because they have never achieved great things as athletes are never 'worthy' enough to coach champions, even at County level. I come across it all the time and it saddens me because the sport loses out on some very good people. What especially saddens me is hearing that an athlete, who is looking promising, has left their perfectly good coach to go off and be coached by XYZ ex-Olympic athlete who, I know, does not possess sufficient knowledge to maximise the potential of any athlete except perhaps themselves. Imagine doing all your coaching badges diligently in soccer, over many years and with countless cost, only to find yourself overlooked as a coach by someone like Paul Gascoigne? A truly sublime football player - but a coach? I think I would just give up.

    The much talked about 'Golden Age' of British athletics occured under the guidance of some fairly unfashionable middle aged men, Anderson, Paish, McNab e.t.c. who between them produced hundreds of International athletes including world record holders and Olympic medallists of every colour. They spent their time between coaching sessions on the road 300+ days a year, teaching other coaches how to do what they did. Much is talked about 'passion' in sport and these guys had it in droves. This pitifully 'thin' team in Barcelona would never have occured under their leadership. And not a celebrity amongst them! Except perhaps John Anderson who laterly appeared as the Gladiators referee..

    A rant maybe, but when I hear of young athletes ignored or faced with poor/no training facilities, little support and encouragement I know that we need to do something. Celebrity coaches are happy to take on the glamour athletes who will enhance their reputation but the athletes slightly beneath that level are left largely ignored.

    A bit like the premier league taking all the good players from around the globe, but leaving the national team in a mess..

    Every athlete here in Barca has done well, but they have been lucky to find support - as you were Katherine - and it's sad that, in my experience, this support is far less widespread than it should be - for a number of lamentable reasons..

  • Comment number 10.

    This has been a brilliant championships so far. 16 medals with a day of relays & Lisa to come.

    The Men's 4 x 400 look great & I am sure Lee McConnell & the girls can medal.

    Pity about the rumours about the Russians performances but I guess it is inevitable as the women in particular seem so dominant.

    CVC wanted 10 - 15 medals, he could be looking at 18 - 19. Surely now pride has been restored in UK Athletics.

    Katherine what are the athletes saying about CVC ? From the outside he is doing a great job !

  • Comment number 11.

    Looks to me like the British team in Barcelona is a well-disciplined, focussed bunch of athletes.

    It's noticeable, though, that the mens team is a track and jumps team and the women's is only a track team. Throwing doesn't exist, despite many spear medals in the past 20 years. Perhaps this decade will add a sustainable throwing coaching system to what is a quite robust track and jumping system already in place??

    Worth also looking at how many of the current team are near the end and what's coming behind. Mens sprinting? Triple jump? Apart from that, it looks in pretty good shape.

    I just hope politicians realise that medals at Europeans is not the same as medals at the Olympics, particularly in long distance running. There won't be 16 athletics medals in London unless some races are rigged, I wouldn't think! But if there are 20 finalists across the team in London and 6 - 10 medals, that would be a fine return, I would think?

    Or am I wide of the mark there??

  • Comment number 12.

    The style of CVC has taken a little time for some athletes and coaches to adjust too. What I mean by that is his directness and his hard work ethic.
    He came in and shook up the system whereby athletes and coaches are very accountable. (As they should be)
    The athletes know this is the way now. Several athletes may not like it and what should never be overlooked is the different personalities of our athletes and how some respond better to a method than others.
    The key is the athletes and coaches know where they stand. When they perform they have to deliver to the best of the ability, or they will know about it!

  • Comment number 13.

    I was wondering if anyone could suggest where I could go as a starting point for trying to arrange a visit from an athlete to our school? I'd really like the children to hear first hand what it means to be an athlete and how athletics has changed over the past few decades. Does anyone know of any outreach programmes in place for this, particularly geared towards younger children? I feel it would genuinely inspire the children to develop a love for sport and what they can achieve at an early age.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Manfa
    My old friend Darren Campbell runs team superschools.
    Check out the website:
    This is where they arrange an athlete to come into the school as well as raising funds for the school it's self. Also it is great fun!
    I hope this is a starting point for you.


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