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Beijing boost to East End sport

PUBLISHED: 11:33 04 September 2008 | UPDATED: 13:35 05 October 2010

By JONATHAN CLEGG THE closing ceremony of the Beijing Games last month saw the Olympic torch officially passed to London and it has already ignited sporting ambition across the East End. Cycling, rowing, sailing and swimming clubs have all seen an influx

By JONATHAN CLEGG

THE closing ceremony of the Beijing Games last month saw the Olympic torch officially passed to London and it has already ignited sporting ambition across the East End.

Cycling, rowing, sailing and swimming clubs have all seen an influx of membership requests, sparked by the prospect of London 2012.

Inspired by the success of Team GB, whose tally of 19 gold medals in China marked the country's greatest haul for a century, young people are signing up in their droves and hoping to follow in the footsteps of this year's record-setting Olympians.

The achievements of Britain's sailing team, who excelled on the water by winning four golds medals, one silver and one bronze, has brought a booming trade to a Docklands sailing club.

Judi Sanders, manager of the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre, said: "We've been extremely busy since the Olympics started especially with children.

"They've watched it and now they're trying to get involved. The most popular requests have been to do laser and windsurfing, which Britain did really well in."

Some youngsters are attempting to emulate the homegrown heroes from east London.

Poplar, Blackwall and District Rowing Club has noticed a sudden spike in interest following the gold medal success of Mark Hunter, who began his rowing career with the Isle of Dogs club.

John Roberts, the senior coach, said: "We have starter courses in March and September and this month's course has been very popular.

"We've seen a lot of young guys, who rowed a few years ago and then drifted away from the sport. Now they're 18, 19 and 20 years old and they saw the Olympics on the telly and want to get back into it."

Roberts believes Hunter's triumph in the lightweight double sculls in Beijing shows local youngsters that they can reach the top in the sport.

"Mark started off here and I can say to our young lads, 'There's nothing different between you and him - he just wanted it and worked hard for it. There is no reason why you can't do what he did.'"

Britain's success on the water was replicated in the pool in China, where Rebecca Adlington won two swimming golds and set a new world record in the 800m freestyle.

Tony Ansell, head coach of the Bethnal Green Sharks swimming club, expects her inspirational efforts to have an impact on young swimmers, who will also be drawn to the sport by the phenomenal achievements of US star Michael Phelps.

"We won't be in a position to know exactly what the effect is until the season starts again this month but I'm sure there's additional excitement and interest and everybody's spirits are lifted by what the British swimmers have done," said Ansell.

The Sharks head coach is optimistic that the new Olympic swimming facility in Stratford in 2010 will also generate excitement and believes British swimming is now better placed to take advantage of a boom in interest.

He said: "There's a structure in place now where children who do have potential, we can give them the right guidance.

"Previously, coaches were working in isolation but now there are more links and more support networks."

Britain's dominance in the Beijing velodrome has generated huge publicity for cycling and Bill Wright, London Regional coach, believes the new Redbridge Cycle Centre will help east London clubs like the Lee Valley Youth Cycle Centre capitalise on the wave of enthusiasm.

"The results in Beijing have created an awful lot of interest and the opening of the new Redbridge centre was brilliantly timed to coincide with all our success in the Olympics," he said.

"We've already had many more people there than we would normally expect at this time so it looks like cycling has really captured the imagination of people in east London."

One area that has yet to see a notable increase in numbers is athletics.

With only one gold courtesy of Christine Ohuruogu coming back to the UK, the next generation of British athletes do not appear to have been stirred into action.

Alf Vickers, athletics coach at Victoria Park and Tower Hamlets athletics club, said: "I would say at this time, there certainly hasn't been a great influx. But the big problem we have is that we haven't really got that many athletics heroes, have we?

"Christine is one but once you move past her, the person that the majority of people were talking about was Usain Bolt. And it is only British success that will really stimulate interest."

Track and field is yet to feel the Beijing effect but Vickers is hopeful that future success from east London stars Philips Idowu and Perri Shakes-Drayton will lead to a boom as London 2012 approaches.

He continued: "I think the big thing will be the Games in 2012 because there's nothing like having it at home.

"It's been the same with the football when we've had major competitions here - interest levels go up incredibly.

"The impact will be great and we need to make sure that we get those people involved - not just up until 2012 but after the Olympics as well."

With four years to go it remains to be seen whether new recruits will make the transition to sporting greats.

But youngsters have certainly begun to realise that they can make a career in the sports that they have carried a torch for - and by doing so, they may get to see the world's most famous torch when it lands on their doorsteps.

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