Heroics of Bradley Wiggins and Laura Trott ensure boom in cycling

Overall figures for those taking 'meaningful exercise' once a week on the increase

This afternoon amid the historic surrounds of the Tower of London, Britain's sport of the moment had further cause for celebration with Bradley Wiggins winning the first of what will no doubt prove a Christmas sackful of end-of-year awards, this one as the Sports Journalists Association's sportsman of the year. Yesterday morning cycling was revealed as the sport most people have turned to in the wake of this summer's London Olympics. There is no need for any Mark Cavendish-style single-fingered salutes, just V for victory signs – this is a British sport in the rudest of health.

The success of British cyclists has been the story of this sporting year, whether it was Wiggins making history in the Tour de France or Sir Chris Hoy doing likewise in the London Velodrome. Allied to this has been a grassroots expansion, one roused by the headline grabbing of its heroes but propelled by a governing body that has recognised it has a moment to seize. Lance Armstrong may have damaged the sport globally but in this country at least it appears enveloped in a burst-proof bubble.

Yesterday's publication of Sport England's first Active People survey since the Olympics was a significant moment for sport in England. Lord Coe promised the Games would inspire a generation as part of his rhetoric for bringing the Olympics to the capital – history shook its sage head: no host nation has ever experienced a lasting post-Games rise in participation.

Yesterday offered the first indication of whether history might be rewritten, and the overall figures are encouraging. A rise of 750,000 people taking meaningful exercise once a week since last year is a good start, particularly the rise of half a million among women. It was also a "moment of relief", as someone involved put it. If this survey, carried out in October, had not shown an upturn it would have been disastrous.

Even amid the flat-lining of the 16-25 age group numbers there is cause for optimism. There is anecdotal evidence of younger age groups having been moved to try sport because of the Games. Those will begin to show next year – if the sports have managed to retain their interest.

"I think there has been quite a big Olympic effect in terms of an appetite to try things," said Sue Tibballs, chief executive of the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation. Post-Games polling by the WSSF found 30 per cent of women felt inspired to be more active because of the Olympics. "The big question is whether that can be sustained," said Tibballs.

That is the question that needs a positive answer if Coe is to be proved right and one that we will have a better indication of in a year's time when the Olympic glow has died down. Whether it can be sustained comes down in large part to individual governing bodies.

British Cycling has combined success at the higher level with continued expansion down below – if somebody is inspired to get on a bike by Hoy or Wiggins, there are programmes in place. "Breeze", female-led bike rides, is one: 63,000 more women have begun cycling over the past year.

"After Beijing, [we] set out to inspire a new audience to get involved in cycling at all levels," said Ian Drake, British Cycling's chief executive. "We have programmes for all ages and abilities – from families who want to cycle for fun, to young people aspiring to be the next Bradley Wiggins or Laura Trott. With almost two million people cycling once a week following a summer of unprecedented cycling success, this is our legacy in action."

While there is an Olympic effect – sailing enjoyed a surprise increase – it is not the be-all and end-all according to Jennie Price, chief executive of Sport England. "It's only part of the story," said Price. "The Games definitely helped cycling but they already had very solid plans."

There is life beyond the Olympics too, and beyond the mainstream. Netball offers a glowing example of how a grassroots programme should be run. In terms of numbers playing the game it has overtaken basketball – a sport that seems to have squandered its Olympic opportunity – and has three times as many participants as rugby league.

"Netball is a market leader in how you grow participation," said Price. "It has become sport of choice for young women."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future