London 2012: Sports membership enquiries soar amid Team GB medal success


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The Independent Online

Team GB's medal success has sparked interest in sports among Londoners, with a rapid rise in enquiries about club membership.

Rowing clubs, gymnastics schools, judo teachers and cycling teams across the capital have all reported a huge spike in interest as Team GB’s medal tally has soared over the last week.

The “Olympics effect” is being seen particularly among people who have not tried sports such as rowing before, following on from the success of medal winners such as Helen Glover — who hadn’t even picked up an oar four years ago but won Britain’s first gold in the women’s coxless pairs.

Kate Taylor, membership secretary at the Putney Town Rowing Club, said: “The reaction has been unbelievable; we’ve had over 50 enquiries in the last two days alone and I’ve been getting emails and phone calls every day since the rowing began, from people asking about joining.

"The great thing is that a lot of the people who’ve been enquiring are women who have never rowed before and most of them are saying that it’s the Olympics that has got them interested.

“They have watched those people win medals and read about how some of them hadn’t even picked up an oar four years ago, and it’s made them realise they can get involved in the sport even if they don’t have a background in it.”

Following the success of the British men’s gymnastics team and Beth Tweddle’s bronze on the uneven bars, the Sutton School of Gymnastics in Carshalton now has a 150-strong waiting list and has scheduled five extra classes a week beginning next month.

Head coach Liz Jones said: “Our receptionist can’t cope with the amount of enquiries and we had 24 emails in the space of two and a half hours.

“It has been absolutely manic, with people calling me up at 9.30 at night to ask for a place. We have had enquiries regarding two- to three-year-olds, all the way to a 15-year-old former national standard boxer who wants to be the next Louis Smith.”

Terry O’Connell, chairman of Haringey Cycling Club, has also seen a surge in interest following the multiple successes of Victoria Pendleton, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy and other Team GB members in the velodrome.

Mr O’Connell said: “There’s been a lot of interest in the last few days and it’s been from all ages, which is great.

“One thing that’s always been hard is that you spot a young kid who’s got great potential but then they go off to university and discover drinking and they drop the cycling.

“Watching the cyclists in the British team can show the kids in our club some great examples of what can happen if you stick with it.” 

At the Serpentine Swimming Club in Hyde Park, where the triathlon was held, there have been more people turning towards outdoor swimming since the Games began.

“We have had quite a few enquiries about membership and I expect there will be even more following the triathlon and swim marathon,” said club secretary Brian Thomas. “We have members aged from 10 to 89, ranging from recreational level to Channel swimmers. It was fantastic to have the triathlon where we practise every Saturday and it made me feel very proud.”

At Lea Valley athletics centre, where Team GB have been staying during the Olympics, duty manager Brian Hopkins said the centre had received a “huge amount of calls” from people interested in taking up track and field sports.

He said: “A lot of them are parents of youngsters, mostly around 16, who want to learn about athletics. We’ve even had calls from people in their twenties who haven’t done much before but want to give it a go.

“It could be a bit of a problem in terms of the number of coaches. I think we will manage but it could be a problem for other clubs who don’t have the same resources.”

But some say the Games have had a negative effect. Sampson Sampson, chief instructor at the Sobell Judo Club in Islington, said: “We’ve had a real backlash and I think the judo that has been exhibited during the Olympics has been appalling.

“It’s a very aggressive form, almost like boxing at times, and I think the international federation needs to look at that. I’ve never seen such bad judo in all my 40 years. We’ve had parents calling up saying they didn’t realise that’s what their children were being taught, or people saying they had been thinking of joining but had been put off.

"I’ve had to reassure them that what we do is nothing like that, it’s much more technical and skilled. I think it’s a real shame.”