Why London's victory represents big incentive to nation's children

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The Independent Online

There was an urgent topic of conversation among junior members of the Barnet and District Athletics Club at the weekend as they competed in the London Olympics.

The sense that the Modern Games might actually end up 20 miles down the road in Stratford gave added force to the assertions of several 15-year-old middle-distance runners that they wanted to run in the London 2012 Olympics.

"I'm going to get to the Olympics," announced 15-year-old Hannah Sheridan, while her friend Tessie Sarsfield was equally adamant. "Even I can't qualify, I would love to help," she said.

Now they have a chance. All they have to do is train like demons and dedicate their lives to their sport.

That is the commitment required of Britain's young generation of up-and-coming athletes. At the other end of things, London's victory in Singapore will ask other urgent questions of a Government which took a long time to nail its colours to the Olympic mast, and which had previously lost standing within international sporting circles by reneging on its promise to host the 2005 World Athletics Championships.

Currently, through its agency UK Sport, the Government has pledged £95m of Lottery funding to elite sport over the next five years. But that money is only aimed at sports which have proven success in the Olympic environment.

There remain 10 Olympic sports which are currently without Lottery funding, including basketball, table tennis, handball and softball. Five Paralympic events, are also without support.

Nick Bitel, a UK Sport council member and chief executive of the Flora London Marathon, is in no doubt that that funding gap has to be bridged if Britain is to be widely represented.

"We have to invest now - we have plans in place, but we haven't got the money yet," he said. "It's something that must happen, because these Olympics can be a catalyst not just for sport, but for health and social issues.

"A lot of youngsters in this country will be thinking today: 'What can these Games do for me?' But after a while, people should come round to the John F Kennedy stance - 'What can I do for the Games?'

"What happened at the Manchester Commonwealth Games three years ago shows the kind of effect these Games could have. Many of the people who volunteered to help helped out at Manchester events like the Paralympic World Cup and the Partially Sighted World Cup for football. And they are also helping out in social inclusion programmes.

"I hope the London marathon can play its part in the 2012 Games in this respect. We have 7,500 volunteers and they can offer the London Olympics a fantastic resource."

One of the strengths of the London bid was its consideration of what would happen to facilities after the Games had moved on. The Telstra stadium in Sydney was a classic instance of this problem - the Australians have struggled to find uses for it since the 2000 Games.

London's stadium will be converted for community use, rather than being taken over by a Premiership football team. "With Wembley and Twickenham, London has no need for another, 80,000-seater stadium," Bitel said. "So it will be reconfigured to hold 30,000. Elsewhere, the aquatics centre was always going to be built, and long-term funding has been agreed with the Mayor's office.'

The last time Britain hosted the Olympics, in 1948, they managed only three gold medals. If the enthusiasm and the determination in funding remains, that total will look considerably healthier when the Olympics return to the capital.

Too young for 2012 - but they can still benefit

Ian McGhee, two days short of 10, stepped into the discus pit at St Vincent de Paul primary school yesterday feeling the familiar competitive pressure every Olympian feels.

The discus might have been made from foam and the pit a small patch of grass on the corner of the school field in Knutsford, Cheshire, but every St Vincent competitor was preparing for the Olympics.

That included five-year-old Joshua James Reeves and four-and -a-half-year-old Matthew Higham (pictured) who span around a fair bit in the discus pit before deciding they would throw the thing backhand, frisbee-fashion.

All the talk was of the Olympics, and Amir Khan who was 17 when he won his boxing silver in Athens last year - as Suzanne Kerwen, their teacher, reminded them, the same age Master McGhee and co will be in 2012. In the meantime, he says, the seven-year wait will create more pressure. "It's great we've won it because the children who hear about it on TV will think 'wow, the Olympics is on, I'm going to do loads of sport'. That's tough. It means there'll be more to compete against."