How will Olympic sport fare in 2013? Questionnaire responses in full

In writing the blog on Olympic sport in 2013, I asked club-level athletes to get in touch, and put the same questions to each, aiming to see whether trends are similar, and whether there are any communal lessons that sports can learn from the people at their grassroots.

Hockey

Mani Kochar has played for Great Britain and England, and is still involved at Reading HC.

How has your sport changed since London 2012 bid was confirmed in 2005?
The sport in England/GB has changed massively. If ever a set of governing bodies grabbed the bull by the horns it was the GB/English governing bodies. They essentially stripped back the infrastructure, conducted an audit of each and every element in extreme detail and then said, “This is what we want and this is hows it’s gonna be”. The GB coaching staff was already in place, so the pitch side of things was already in motion, but clear direction from the Performance Director David Faulkner, and off-field drive from the likes of Sally Munday and Philip Kimberley have made hockey in this country as strong as it could be. It still has work to do, but there is now something for everyone who wants any part of hockey in their life.

How often do elite athletes compete for their clubs and how does that compare to a decade ago?
The greatest bugbear for the domestic clubs is the lack of contact time in Olympic year. This has always been the case and always will be. The middle-class, public-school nature of the sport, and the lack of earning potential means good hockey players choose career over even solid domestic hockey, meaning the standard once the internationals disappear is quite poor.

Does the national governing body have any initiatives to boost participation? Who do they target?
Everyone; check out Hockey Nation. There is In2Hockey, Back2Hockey  and Rush Hockey  all launched this year to target absoutely everyone and anyone. Within these areas are schemes like the ‘BIG PUSH’ which is the travelling roadshow based around pushing a hockey ball for 2012 miles/kms before the Olympic starts with stops at Roadshow venues.

How do you think medals at London 2012 would change the sport as a whole?
No-one will forget the impact of Sean Kerly and the success of 1988. It will help so much more.

What do you expect will happen to the Great Britain team after the Olympics?
The British have a swansong mentality after an Olympics, which has been a problem for countless cycles. The same applies here, however the target for this group isn’t simply to be able to say “I played in an Olympic Games”; this bunch are genuine medal hopefuls and they know it. The fact they know it means that mentality is firmly put away. They will dispand, but they are hockey’s golden age of players.

Both the mens and womens sqauds will disband, Kate Walsh, Helen Richardson, Beth Storey, Rich Mantell, Jonty Clarke, James Fair are all in their 30s so will almost certainly call it a day, but others are young enough and good enough to carry. Ashley Jackson is world class and still young, Adam Dixon and Andy Bull are two others likely to have another Olympics in them. And the women have several players still in their mid-20s who will certainly provide the continuity. As for the coaching staff, Danny Kerry and Jason Lee have been in charge for a long time, so i expect them to go and be replaced by the likes of Bobby Cruthchley (men) and Craig Parnham (women).

Do you have any other hopes or fears for your sport as the 2012 Olympics loom?
None [no fears] at all, hockey doesnt hit the headlines as often as it should. So the Olympics is the ‘cash cow’ of our sport. We are genuine medal contenders, we have the new “SmurfTurf” blue astroturf pitches to capture the non-hockey viewer and our sport contains players with real Xfactor in Ashley Jackson and Alex Danson – I don’t see how it can be a bad thing. There are sporting hangovers post Olympics in every sport, but the initiatives being set up by English Hockey will capture these people when they decide to check out hockey in September 2012 and beyond!

Swimming

Laura Fell will race for Gloucester  SC again this year after three years off, having swum competitively from the age of seven to 19, attending Loughborough University during that time.

How has your sport changed since London 2012 bid was confirmed in 2005?
The real changes in the profile of British swimming really came after international success, most notably Rebecca Adlington’s two gold medals in Beijing 2008 and successful world championships since. With swimming, participation levels are high at a young age and then numbers decrease. It is quite rare to find swimmers aged 21+ who are not in/on the cusp of the GB system. Your shelf life as a swimmer is far shorter than in a sport such as rowing. You would never see a Greg Searle comeback in the pool! Ian Thorpe is only 29.

Following ’08, British Swimming set up five Intensive Training Centres (ITCs) of world-class standard as a long-term strategy for 2012.

How often do elite athletes compete for their clubs and how does that compare to a decade ago?

Loughborough University collects elite athletes from a variety of clubs, and creates the most professional and impressive set-up I have seen in a club environment. The coaching staff are incredible, the training sessions brutal and therefore it is an honour to represent the university. Elite athletes at Loughborough would compete for their home clubs at league galas, where clubs race other clubs domestically. Sometimes, the elite athletes would only race the final meet, to allow club swimmers a chance to compete. A decade ago, I believe [the concept of] where and when athlete could compete would have been a bit more relaxed. Most notably, chances are, some elite athletes would have been with home clubs anyway, as it is only in the last four years that ITCs were set up.

Does the national governing body have any initiatives to boost participation? Who do they target?
The swimming.org website (a sister site of britishswimming.org) is the home of grassroot participation. Swimming recruits looking to compete and potentially go on to become elite swimmers have to start young. My home swimming club really doesn’t look for children over the age of 10/11 to start swimming. The site also targets those swimming recreationally for health and fitness.

How do you think medals at London 2012 would change the sport as a whole?
It would again raise the profile of swimming in the country, both in the media, and in participation numbers. Following Beijing, swimming became a sport to watch.

What do you expect will happen to the Great Britain team after the Olympics?
As with other Olympic teams, some will retire, and new talent will come through. It will be a good period of renewing and refreshing a progressively competitive team. Depending on results, certain members will become stars: Fran Halsall, Lizzie Simmonds, Gemma Spofforth, Liam Tancock, Rebecca Adlington, Hannah Miley, Jemma Lowe and Kerri-Ann Payne are the ones to watch.

Do you have any other hopes or fears for your sport as the 2012 Olympics loom?
I think swimming is on a constant upward spiral in terms of participation and media profile. This can only continue to improve after 2012. My fears are that the media hype may prove too much and certain swimmers will fall short of targets. Rebecca Adlington sometimes comments on the pressure she feels, and there won’t be much more pressure than that of a home Olympics.

Cycling

Josh Morris is a club cyclist who presents the Saturday Sports show on Radio Cardiff as well as the podcast for ProcyclingLive.com, and occasionally writes on his cycling blog.

How has your sport changed since London 2012 bid was confirmed in 2005?
It’s a bit of an odd one, for the track side of things there’s been lots of excitement, although cycling is a sport that isn’t much affected by the Olympics – after all, most cycling is done on the roads, and there are only four Olympic medals up for grabs there, so there’s certainly a parallel to be drawn with tennis in that respect. The most tangible effect is the fact that with UK road cycling on the up: the test event the Surrey Cycle Classic hit the headlines, and murmurings were soon heard of other potential pro races around the UK.

How often do elite athletes compete for their clubs and how does that compare to a decade ago?
This isn’t something that happens much with cycling clubs, but I’ve certainly taken note of the number of pro cyclists that call Cardiff, where I’m from, home: that is Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas. Ten years ago it would’ve been unthinkable you’d have two top tier pro cyclists from one town in the UK.

Does the national governing body have any initiatives to boost participation? Who do they target?
There’s particular races put on at various tracks and race meets called “Go Races” that [young] people can have a go at, plus discount sessions for kids during half-terms at various velodromes: useful if you live in Manchester, Newport or Southampton. But much of the initiatives is done through clubs, be it lending bikes for things, or block-booking sessions for training or races at the velodromes or outdoor tracks.

How do you think medals at London 2012 would change the sport as a whole?
Well, seeing as the UK dominated track cycling events at Beijing, it’s certainly expected. Cycling has been the UK’s most successful sport in recent years, and it’d certainly be nice if it stayed that way!

What do you expect will happen to the Great Britain team after the Olympics?
The GB women’s team has been outstanding these past few years, but a few are moving on after this, although with the likes of Dani King, we’re not short of exceptional talent for the track. As for the men’s team, this is more than likely Sir Chris Hoy’s last Olympics, and a few of the younger athletes will more than likely be targeting the spring road races rather than doing track events to prepare for Olympics beyond this

Do you have any other hopes or fears for your sport as the 2012 Olympics loom?
The 2011 season has been a breakthrough year for Brits on the road in cycling, with Brits taking second and third at La Vuelta a España, plus a silly amount of medals at the world road race championships, as well as Mark Cavendish’s historic victory, and I’d hate for the UK to once again merely focus on the track, and turn off [road] cycling for another four years until the next Olympics. The Australians are the only other nation to focus on track cycling so much; everywhere else, it’s primarily just an off-season discipline.

Even with with that taken into account, British Cycling’s dictation of it’s racing programs at track meets is a bit silly – British athletes only compete in Olympic events, meaning some of the most exciting races to watch, like the madison, individual pursuit and the scratch race have no British participants, which is certainly a shame given the numbers of athletes to previously develop through these events, like Brad Wiggins, Pete Kennaugh and of course, Mark Cavendish.

Rowing

Christopher Revell competes for Cambridge University’s Caius Boat Club, and at Marlow RC.

How has your sport changed since London 2012 bid was confirmed in 2005?
As far as I can tell it hasn’t really changed much. Increased use of Twitter by athletes has been an interesting phenomenon but I don’t think that has any correlation to the London Games. Obviously with rowing the facilities at Dorney already existed so there hasn’t been the change in infrastructure that some sports may have felt.

How often do elite athletes compete for their clubs and how does that compare to a decade ago?
There seems to be no involvement at Marlow of elite rowers such as Zac Purchase and Kath Grainger. At Caius, however, Cambridge University Boat Club draws in a lot of top international athletes wanting to row in the Boat Race, and many of these will later for for their colleges after that. These athletes tend to come and go in a year or two, though, and college rowing is probably more novelty than anything else for them.

How do you think medals at London 2012 would change the sport as a whole?
Rowing is accustomed to large medal hauls, so medals at London will probably have little effect.

What do you expect will happen to the Great Britain team after the Olympics?
I would imagine after the Olympics there will be a small turnover of athletes but the team as a whole will carry on as always.

Christopher passed on the question about national governing body initiatives to boost participation. British Rowing started much of this a decade ago, with talent identification programme World Class Start, now known as “Start” and Project Oarsome, focused on junior particpation. It recently launched Explore Rowing, which focuses on enjoyment in particpation, rather than competition.  Specifically for this year, there is the Row for Gold programme, aiming to help clubs, members and others to feel a part of the London 2012 experience.

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This entry was posted in cycling, funding, hockey, olympics, rowing, swimming, talent identification. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How will Olympic sport fare in 2013? Questionnaire responses in full

  1. Pingback: How will Olympic sport fare in 2013? | Martin Gough

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