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?
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing