Simon Turnbull: Schools hopefuls seek to follow in footsteps of Coe, Ovett and Holmes

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The Independent Online

It might have been different for Gordon Sumner. In 1967 he won the intermediate boys' 100 yards final at the Northumberland Schools' Track and Field Championships in Ashington and was chosen to represent his county at the English Schools' Championships in Peterborough. The 16-year-old speed merchant, having never been beaten before, got knocked out in the first round heats and hung up his spikes.

As Sting, he was to find another field of gold, away from the unforgiving athletics arena. "Excellence in sport is cruelly definitive," he wrote in his autobiography Broken Music, reflecting on his English Schools' experience.

For those young athletes who are good enough to succeed in the Olympic-style environment of the English Schools' Championships – with its 1,700 hopefuls from 45 counties – there are quite often bigger things to come in athletics. Indeed, those who have missed the boat on the Olympic ticket front for 2012 should consider heading to Gateshead International Stadium today and tomorrow for the 81st English Schools' Track and Field Championships. There is a fair chance that you will be seeing Olympic medal winners of the future.

From the 1980 Games in Moscow to the present, there have been 11 individual Olympic track and field gold medal winners from Great Britain. Only three of them were not English Schools' champions. Christine Ohuruogu was a late-comer to athletics after representing England as an age-group netball player; Allan Wells emerged through the Scottish schools' system, and Linford Christie finished runner-up in the senior boys' 200m final in 1979.

The other eight all graduated to the highest Olympic honour having been top of the class for their counties: Steve Ovett of Sussex, Sebastian Coe of Yorkshire, Daley Thompson of London, Tessa Sanderson of the West Midlands, Sally Gunnell of Essex, Jonathan Edwards of Devon, Denise Lewis of the West Midlands and Kelly Holmes of Kent. Three of the winning 100m relay quartet at Athens were English Schools' champions: Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis.

Other former English Schools' champions include Jessica Ennis, Phillips Idowu, Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe and Goldie Sayers. We can only hope that London 2012 might be the ultimate field of gold for them.

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