Our moment to change the course of history

Britain’s brightest hopes for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games today spoke of their desire to make it the greenest sporting event yet, writes Mark Prigg
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The Independent Online

Athletes such as the cyclist Victoria Pendleton, double gold medal-winning swimmer Ellie Simmonds and dressage rider Natasha Baker all believe they can set a positive example for their fans, friends and family by doing their bit for the environment ahead of the Games.

They have been leading by example as part of EDF Energy’s Team Green Britain, which aims to inspire schoolchildren, companies and individuals across the UK by adopting lifestyle changes such as sharing car journeys with team-mates, establishing composting bins for organic waste and even washing their clothes less often.

They have even encouraged energy-saving competition between schools through the Pod scheme, which has seen 2.5 million schoolchildren sign up to games, talks and videos about saving energy.

Victoria Pendleton

Pendleton is aiming to defend her Beijing gold medal next year at the London Velodrome, the construction of which was completed this February. She says she started cycling about the same time that she started to walk, as a result of her father being a keen cyclist. She has always been an advocate of greener lifestyles. “I’ve always been quite environmentally conscious, and I’ve always made sure I turn things off at the plug – it’s almost verging on OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder], in fact,” she admits. “It’s something that I’ve always felt responsible about, and I’ve always felt that I need to do my bit.

“At home I don’t waste energy, I don’t make unnecessary journeys in the car, and try and share car lifts with team mates who live locally. I even have a compost heap, and I recycle absolutely everything, which is something that’s always been normal for me.”

It was a natural step for Pendleton to sign up to be an EDF Team Green Britain ambassador. “When EDF approached me, I really thought this was something that interested me and that I’m the right person for this... I feel a lot of moral responsibility for doing your bit.”

According to Pendleton, athletes are perfectly suited to turning their lives green. “Athletes have a tendency to do things to the extreme – when we do things, we do them 100 per cent. As an athlete you have to be extremely conscious of your actions, everything in your life – your food, your sleep – counts towards your performance,” she says. “You can’t be lazy, because it will fundamentally affect your performance, and that’s the difference between being OK and being good. I think that’s why a lot of us have really embraced environmental issues.”

She says that planning is vital, but admits to finding it frustrating when people complain that they simply don’t have the time to recycle. “Planning is the key, and I find it really frustrating when people says it’s a bit of a chore – if you’re going to go to the supermarket there are a lot of recycling bits there – it just requires a bit of planning. There are also gadgets like the EDF EcoManager, which let you switch off all your appliances at once, and makes life a lot easier.”

However, Pendleton, who is planning to get married after the 2012 Games, admits that her partner does suffer the brunt of her eco-consciousness. “My fiancé tells me I nag for switching everything off, but I tell him it’s for his own good.”

Marc McCarroll

Marc McCarroll is hoping to compete in both the singles and doubles wheelchair tennis tournaments, which will be held at Eton Manor, in the north of the Olympic Park at Stratford. "We’re at the start of the qualifying period for 2012, so it’s a case of getting as many points as possible,” he says.

McCarroll is a recent convert to tennis, but has quickly risen through the world rankings to become one of Britain’s brightest medal hopes. “I’ve only been playing for five years, since I had a car accident in 2003. I had never played tennis before, but really enjoyed it, although I also tried basketball and swimming as well.

When it was announced that London had won the 2012 Games, I was relatively new to the sport, and it was a real dream to play there. As time has gone one, it’s become more and more of a realistic target. I’m fairly confident of a medal in doubles, but in singles it’s very tough, and a lot will depend on the day.”

McCarroll currently trains for five days a week, and has shot up the wheelchair tennis world rankings. “I’m fairly confident that I’ll qualify,” he says. “I’m currently 19th in the world, and I need to be in the top 48 to qualify, so it’s nice to get a good start. Hopefully I can stay there, and then for the rest of the year I hopefully won’t be stressing about qualifying.”

He has also been working with EDF to reduce his carbon footprint, and has visited several schools in London as a green ambassador. “I’ve been involved with EDF for a year, and it’s been a really interesting time. Personally, it’s made a big difference to my life. The main change has actually been with my washing. I used to come back from a tournament, and do half a wash. Now I wait for my sister, and do far less. I always used to leave the television and computer on standby as well, and I no longer do that after seeing how much it costs. I’m converting the rest of the family as well, but it’s hard to make them realise – using a power monitor made it very easy, as you can show them how much money they’ll save.”

Natasha Baker

Natasha Baker is a 21-year-old grade II para-dressage rider from Uxbridge aiming to win gold at Greenwich in 2012.

“I’ve just won my last competition before European selection, which is great, and everything is already planned out for 2012,” she says. “It’s very exciting. It’s a huge deal, I watched the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games with my parents, and said to my parents I wanted to compete, and to have the opportunity to compete on home soil in front of a home crowd is just amazing. Just to be there will be amazing, but to compete will be just out of this world.”

Miss Baker initially considered entering the swimming competition, before deciding on dressage as her event. “I can’t jump to save my life, and I thought that dressage was so elegant that I wanted to try it. It’s all about control, and horse and rider have to work together – you can’t have a relationship with a ball. It’s a difficult event. They are horses, they are not perfect, and we are not perfect, but you do your best.”

Baker’s current horse, JP, has since become a part of the family after they built stables and an arena for him on the family 28-acre farm in Uxbridge. “Everyone is always amazed there is a farm 10 minutes from Heathrow. But it’s been in our family for three generations, and it’s a livery yard, so I work with my mum there, although my job is mostly my riding.

“Since the beginning of May, I’ve been out every single week either training or at an event, it’s been insane. I’ve been living in a horsebox for so long that I sometimes forget what my own bed looks like. [But] it’s great fun, and we do it as a family unit.”

However, recent months have seen the family farm given a sustainability-driven makeover as part of Baker’s work with EDF. “I’m quite new with EDF, and it’s been an amazing process, they’ve really opened my eyes. Before we used to leave everything on standby, and not really think about it. I spent a week having my electricity usage monitored, it was phenomenal how much we were wasting. I used to leave the phone charger in all day “We’ve now got a pound jar in the house – if anyone leaves an appliance on, they have to put money in. We don’t know what we’ll do with it, although it will probably be something horsey,” she says. “It’s really filtered through to the whole family and the farm. We’re really into recycling, and we recycle rainwater in they yard, and use it for washing the horses down, it’s incredibly handy and saves tap water.”

As the construction projects near completion at the Olympic stadiums, Baker has already been lucky enough to compete in the Greenwich arena where she hopes to claim gold next year. “To actually ride there was phenomenal, I’ve never had an experience like it. The facilities are out of this world and there is just nothing negative to say about it. It’s going to be an amazing Games,” she explains.

The Paralympic dressage team will also be defending a unique record. “There’s a lot of pressure as it’s a home Games, and since the Paralympics started in 1996 in Atlanta we are unbeaten, so we need to keep our gold medal as a team. Quite a few of my friends have applied for tickets, so I’m hoping there will be quite a crowd behind me – everyone is really excited about it.”

Ellie Simmonds

Double-gold-medal-winning-swimmer Ellie Simmonds has turned to cycling to do her bit for the environment. “I like to ride my bike to and from training, as it makes me feel like I have done my bit for the environment, and at the same time helps with my health and fitness,” she said.

She admits that she is just as excited about watching the rest of the events at the London 2012 Games as she is to be competing in them. “I’ll be watching it all on television, as we will be in our final preparation [phase] for the Paralympics in a holding camp. I am going to be watching Usain Bolt in the 100m [sprint] and the Michael Phelps versus Ian Thorpe rematch [in the swimming].”

Simmonds, who says Michael Phelps is her idol, says that she hopes the Games will bring about a major change in the lives of British people. “I think that the focus on sustainability and the legacy [of the Games] will inspire us as a nation to become more active,” she explains.

“It’s important for everyone to think about the environment and to do their bit. I want to make sure that I can look back and say that I had a positive effect on improving the environment,” says Simmonds. “I think that 2012 will also give London good, much-needed facilities that will be put to use afterwards by an inspired next generation of athletes, as well as a lovely new park. I visited it two years ago and it looked awesome, but since then I’ve driven past it a couple of times and I can’t wait to go there for real next year. My aims are hopefully to qualify and then swim to my best, which should mean that I can do well in the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”