Ultimate Sports Day

Ultimate Sports Day storms out of the blocks on CBBC

Meet Sports Scientist Professor Greg Whyte

There are no sports shows for kids that showcase young, elite sporting talentProfessor Greg Whyte
Category: CBBC
He has won a World Championship silver medal, competed in two Olympics, swum from Europe to Africa and pushed David Walliams and Eddie Izzard to their physical limits for Sport Relief. Now Britain’s leading sports scientist Professor Greg Whyte faces a new challenge – putting the nation’s most athletic 12 – 16 year olds through their paces for CBBC’s Ultimate Sports Day.

By providing the rationale behind each of the games, Greg ensures that each challenge encompassed the core sport skills of balance, speed, strength, agility and co-ordination, providing the ultimate sporting test.

“I became involved with USD through Jonathan Marks who devised the series,” explains Greg, who acts as technical advisor. “I met Jonathan through James Cracknell, who I had coached during his cross-continent challenge for Sport Relief back in 2006, and he obviously thought that with my sports science background, work with the British Olympic Association and my experience with Sport and Comic Relief I could bring something useful to Ultimate Sports Day.

“I was attracted to the programme because there simply isn’t anything like it on television at the moment,” he adds. “There are no sports shows for kids that showcase young, elite sporting talent and I think it’s really important that young people see their peers competing on TV. There are entertainment programmes which are physical and competitive but nothing that focuses on actual sporting achievement and prowess so hopefully Ultimate Sports Day will plug that gap.”

Greg’s first role was to find the nation’s best young athletes to compete in USD, he explains: “Firstly we invited young sportspeople to send a CV of their sporting background and achievement. One of the key things we were looking for was international participation so that we could be absolutely sure of getting the top sports people in their respective fields.

“We then put the young athletes through their paces on the Ultimate Sports Day course at the Ravenscraig sports centre in Scotland and narrowed it down to the finalists who represented their individual countries. And we were thrilled with the quality. They were absolutely at the top of their fields and age groups and it was a tremendous achievement for those chosen to be representing the best athletes in their countries."

With his reputation as the leading authority on exercise physiology and sports performance, Greg was the ideal person to put together the challenges on Ultimate Sports Day.

“To devise the challenges we looked at the physical determinants which make up great athletes – aerobic endurance, speed, agility, strength, control – and devised activities which would test those,” explains Greg. “One major challenge was to devise activities that didn’t favour any particular type of sport. We had participants from sports as diverse as snooker, gymnastics and rugby so we had to ensure that the activities didn’t favour a particular skill set. The other challenge was to make sure that they tested the athletes but were also entertaining for the audience at home.”

Having been involved with sport for most of his life, Greg is passionate about its benefits for young people. He says:

“The benefits of sport for young people are manifold. Firstly there’s the physical side. Children who are physically active tend to be ill less often and are also less likely to contract series illnesses like diabetes later on in life. But sport is also great for children’s mental development. They have fun doing it, they learn about team work and about hierarchy and they also learn about being a good winner and a good loser which is a really important lesson. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s a competitive sport, it’s just important for children to participate and to enjoy that participation.

“Ultimate Sports Day was a great opportunity for the youngsters who took part and I can honestly say with my hand on my heart that every single participant had a fantastic experience and thoroughly enjoyed their sporting participation.”

Greg Whyte has become well known for his work with Sport and Comic Relief, in particular coaching and training Christine Bleakley to waterski across the English Channel, David Walliams on his Channel and Thames swims, Gary Barlow, Cheryl Cole and Chris Moyles to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and Eddie Izzard on his stunning achievement of 43 marathons in 50 days.

“Obviously I was a sportsman myself. I was a silver medallist in the Modern Pentathlon World Championships and I’m an Olympian. But I think my two biggest challenges have been David Walliams’ Thames swim and helping Eddie Izzard run 43 marathons in 50 days,” says Greg.

“There really isn’t much difference working with people with a non-sporting background. The challenges have all been about determination, belief in yourself and the ability to push yourself to your absolute physical limit and I don’t think you particularly need to have a sporting background to be able to do that.”

As a modern pentathlete, Greg represented Britain in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and in Athens in 1996. What does he think will be the legacy of London 2012 for sport in this country?

“There’s going to be a huge amount of focus on and interest in sport this summer but I think one of the most important benefits will be that people, particularly young people, see the vast range of sports that are out there,” says Greg. “Too often sport can be narrow-minded in this country. If you’re a boy and you’re not good at football or rugby or a girl who isn’t good at netball and hockey then quite often you’re put on the sporting scrapheap. But there is a huge variety of sports out there and the trick is in finding the one that’s right for someone and that they enjoy. I think the other important benefit will be that it will hopefully encourage a massive amount of national pride in the UK. We’re not very good at that in this country, unlike the Americans and Australians! But I hope it will instill a sense of pride in our country and in the amazing range of talented young people we actually have here.”