Olympic stars put ‘Great’ into Britain

Mo Farah with his gold medals. Picture by Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
Mo Farah with his gold medals. Picture by Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.

We have just witnessed that amazing spectacle that comes around once every four years when athletes from every corner of the world live out their Olympic dreams.

Four years ago the Games were held in London and the country was gripped by Olympic fever, heightened by the journey of the torch through our cities, towns and villages. Who can forget that rainy day in 2012 when the torch was carried through Morpeth by, among others, the town’s very own Olympian Jim Alder?

There are so many different dreams to be followed, no matter where your skills lie.

The feeling seemed to be that nothing could match London, but how wrong that turned out to be. Team GB has had its most successful Olympics, with 67 medals, 27 gold — more than we achieved at our ‘home’ Games.

The superstars were there — Mo Farah with two golds to add to his double from London, cyclist Jason Kenny joining Sir Chris Hoy as Britain’s greatest Olympian with a total of six medals and his wife-to-be Laura Trott retaining her two London titles. Plus Andy Murray taking the tennis title again, the Brownlee brothers Alistair and Jonathan, boxer Nicola Adams, dressage star Charlotte Dujardin, Bradley Wiggins, and Jade Jones.

But there were other unexpected triumphs — the women’s hockey team, gymnast Max Whitlock, divers Jack Laugher and Chris Mears, and the sailing, rowing, kayak and canoeing squads.

Medal winners also showed that age is no barrier, from 16-year-old gymnast Amy Tinkler securing a bronze to equestrian Nick Skelton winning gold at the age of 58, making him the second oldest GB Olympic champion behind Joshua Millner, 61, in 1908.

Our Olympians exceeded all expectations, ending second in the medal table behind the USA and ahead of China and Russia — a phenomenal achievement for a country the size of Britain.

Every one of our Olympians had praise for the funding that has gone into their sports. A huge amount has come from the National Lottery, which has helped transform Team GB from also-rans into the best in the business. Twenty years ago, Team GB won a single gold medal at Atlanta.

Also, our Olympians all talked about the way they have followed their dreams from the day they first walked into their local club or gym wanting to take up sport, and there is a lesson there to be learned. There are opportunities at local clubs run by people dedicated to their sport.

In the Morpeth area we can look to football, swimming, athletics, golf, rugby, cricket, tennis and badminton clubs, to name a few, that can give young people a start in their chosen sport. For Team GB success came in 16 different sports — more than any other country. That shows there are so many different dreams to be followed, no matter where your skills lie.

Experts say one of the reasons for success is that lottery investment has given our talented sports stars not only the best equipment and training facilities, but the right coaches, trainers and support staff.

It’s fair to ask does Olympic success really matter when we have so many other issues to contend with and where, it could be argued, money could be better spent on the economy, security, homelessness, unemployment and the poverty trap? Surely the answer lies in the affirmative.

The Government produced its report on obesity during the Games, with proposals to reduce sugar in food and drink and encourage youngsters to eat healthily. There has been comment that it does not go far enough. Concerns have also been expressed that more needs to be done to encourage children to be more active.

It would be good to think that our Olympic success can be the catalyst to make that change. We must do all we can to encourage youngsters to be inspired. Funding must also be driven into the grass-roots level. Local clubs need financial support to help them find that talent that may one day shine at the Olympics.

As a country we have been through some tough times lately and our reputation as a world power has perhaps been tarnished by our decision to leave the European Community. But Team GB has shown that the word ‘Great’ rightly deserves its place in front of that second word ‘Britain’.