Sports fans pick up the baton as Olympians are welcomed home

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It was as if the Olympics had never left London. Armed with blue foam fingers and Team GB T-shirts, crowds at the Olympic Park’s Copper Box arena gave double gold-medallist gymnast Max Whitlock and taekwondo silver medallist Lutalo Muhammad a heroes’ welcome.

Free sports sessions were held at the arena, which hosted handball and fencing at London 2012. There were 2,600 such events across the UK,as clubs and sports centres opened their doors to celebrate Team GB’s Rio Olympics success.

The national sports day, titled I Am Team GB, represented the latest attempt to kickstart popular participation in sport after the slightly disappointing non-legacy of 2012. Sport England figures show that 15.8 million people play sport or exercise at least once a week, down 0.4% on four years ago.

ITV, which helped to organise the event along with the National Lottery, switched off all seven of its TV channels for an hour at 9.30am to encourage people to get involved.

Nicole Sherapin, from Stratford in east London, brought her two children to the Copper Box arena to try out the bikes, badminton and table tennis.

I watched the Olympics every time it was on. It’s great that Team GB came second in the medal table, said Sherapin. I thought I’d bring the kids here because they’re really into sport. Caitlin Taylor, 13, from Cardiff, wanted to meet Whitlock. I’ve loved watching the Olympics – one minute we were 12th and then all of a sudden we kept winning golds, she said. We kept setting our alarms to watch events during the night. We’ve had it on 24/7. Gymnastics was my favourite.

Hundreds of thousands were thought to have taken part in the sports day, which included free activities at the Sport Wales National Centre, the Gateshead International Stadium, the Glasgow National Hockey Centre and on the sets of Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

Events also took place in parks and smaller venues – including in long jump world champion Greg Rutherford’s back garden in Woburn Sands, near Milton Keynes, where he has a practice track that he opened to local youngsters. It’s an interesting concept: come to my back garden and jump into the pit that I train on, he said. He has a 52-metre runway and a nine-metre pit for children from the local athletics club to try out.

It’s just very important for kids to be getting involved, said Rutherford, 29. We live in a day and age now where there’re so many different distractions and there’re so many different things youngsters can do. When I was growing up, we didn’t have a computer in the house until I was 13 or 14. Nowadays kids learn to walk and they can play on an iPad. When I was younger, I was getting out climbing trees and being active.

Many of the Olympians taking part tried a new sport alongside members of the public. Gymnast Beth Tweddle, an Olympic bronze medallist and three-time world champion, visited a session at the Wirral and Chester Taekwondo Academy. She said the day was about bringing the Olympic message home.

I was lucky that my parents were into sport, so they got me to try out different sports, she said. They gave me the opportunities and said have a go at it – I tried hockey, athletics, swimming, ballet, and then it was just my dad’s friend who said, ‘Why don’t you take her to gymnastics because she lives her life upside down’? It’s important to create these opportunities, whether in school or in clubs – we need to send that team message and create the opportunities for people.

Jamie Barry, event director at the Stretford parkrun run in Greater Manchester, saw 495 turn out, including 108 first-timers who had the chance to meet cycling team pursuit gold medallist Joanna Rowsell as part of the event.

This sporty summer we’ve been experiencing has definitely impacted on the number of runners at the park run, said Barry. The Olympics have really brought everyone together through celebrating and now taking part in sport. It’s great to see people enjoying their local area or park too.

Adam Chataway, marketing manager at Camelot, co-sponsor of I Am Team GB, said that a one-day event alone wasn’t the answer to getting Britain active, but that for some it could be their first steps on the path to becoming more active.

The Olympics has obviously caught the imagination of the nation and what we really wanted to do was bottle that and use the excitement of the Olympians returning to their communities to get out there, get active and give people the encouragement to get involved and give sport a go, he said.

News Source TheGuardianNews

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