Athletics: Paris or London, ambition thrives at grass roots to get there in the long run

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The Independent Online

"I'm going to get to the Olympics," announced Hannah, who had just finished second in her 800 metres. Tessie was set on the same goal. "Even if I can't qualify, I would love to help there," she said. The wind stirring the trees around a pastoral version of a stadium - truly, this was grass roots athletics - suggested she would struggle to beat her 1500m best of 5min 46sec. In fact, she ran 5.40. Don't rule this girl out for Paris - or should that be London?

The boys' team manager, Tim Rayner, having bid at the Christmas auction for The Independent to report this event - with proceeds going to Save a Cow, WaterAid and the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation - had only limited time to explain proceedings. He was co-ordinating 30 athletes covering more than 60 events, who eventually finished fourth out of six.

This match represented, in Tim's analogy, the Coca-Cola Championship of junior athletics, with the Premiership inhabited by rivals such as Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, who share Copthall Stadium with Barnet and District and are not averse to nabbing their more obvious talent.

Soon enough they might be taking a second look at Andrew Cameron, a 12-year-old with a natural affinity for throwing events and an interesting line in diamond-style earrings. "Andrew came along out of the blue, and he listens - don't you?" said the chief coach, Steve Harris. So, too, do the brother and sister, Ryan and Nikki Mills, who are both promising performers.

Steve was scouted himself recently, winning the London Unsung Hero award run by BBC London and earning a starry night out at the BBC Sports Personality Award.

Meanwhile Tim's 14-year-old daughter, Louise, had sacrificed warming up for the 200m so she could do the javelin. It seemed a good time to ask her how often she had thrown it before. "Never," she replied with a grin. As you might expect, her technique lacked a little - it was like watching someone deposit gum in a bin. But, hey, she earned two points for second-to-last before finishing a stylish third in her main event.

The racial mix within Barnet and District broadly mirrors that within British athletics - white middle-distance runners, black sprinters.

Stephan Philip, a self-possessed 12-year-old, was playing Nintendo on the grass. "My Dad said I had natural talent," explained Stephan, who won his 100m race. "But he said someone who trains will probably beat natural talent. But if you have natural talent and train, then you're a champion." He's working on it.