Our big Games plan

15th September 2006 at 01:00
The UK School Games aim to build an Olympic champions league. They start with confidence, writes Roddy Mackenzie

The T-shirt on one competitor proclaimed "Champion 2012" after his event, and if that self-confidence has permeated throughout the rest of the athletes, then the inaugural UK School Games will have fulfilled one of its aims.

More than 1,000 young athletes from five sports took part in the four-day competition in Glasgow last week, which was designed to give a competitive outlet as they build towards possibly competing at the London Olympic Games.

The organisation was of Olympian proportions with ranks of volunteers and officials providing back-up for the competitors. That backdrop was to prove as important an experience as taking part.

Very few young athletes will have experienced before accreditation procedures, staying in an athletes' village or dealing with the media. The UK School Games gave them that chance. With the Games moving to Coventry next year and to other cities throughout the country in the build-up to the London Olympics, more children will get such an opportunity.

"It has been a great experience," says fencer Chris Harding, who won a silver medal in the epee and led Scotland to the team gold with the same weapon, denying England a clean sweep.

"It has been an eye-opener. I've never been to anything like this before.

To see how other athletes in other sports prepare for their event has been really good," says the 17-year-old pupil from Queen Anne High in Dunfermline.

"The athletes' village was just really a couple of hotels, and we were with the athletics competitors. I've never known anyone from athletics. Just to learn how they do something like the pole vault gave me a new perspective.

"It has taught me that you have to really stay focused on your own sport and your own ambitions, because otherwise you can get easily distracted with so much going on around you.

"I feel I've formed some good friendships and met people I'll be in contact with for a few years to come."

Chris has excelled at a sport that is mainly the preserve of private schools. Under the guidance of coach Ken Rose, he has risen to number one in Britain in the epee in his age group. He lost narrowly in the final in Glasgow to England's Ben White (15-13).

A stream of young fencers are following in Chris's footsteps, training four nights a week at Dunfermline High with West Fife Fencing Club. It boasts "something like eight British youth champions".

Chris was a bronze medallist at the Commonwealth Junior Championships in India last summer and is now hoping to make his mark in the senior ranks.

He has already won his first adult competition and has ambitions to spend a year in Hungary to develop his fencing.

Competing at the 2012 Olympic Games in London would, he admits, be a dream come true. But he is realistic enough to know that such a target is a long way off.

"In fencing, most people peak at 30-35, so to get into the 2012 Games would be amazing," he says. "There will be people just as fit as me with six or seven years' more experience and it's really hard to fence without knowing your opponents. I'd really like to go, but I don't think I'll do very well because I'll still be so young.

"The Games experience has been something else. I was amazed at the opening ceremony. To have 1,000 athletes who are the best in their age group was fantastic."

The organisers will have learnt a lot from the inaugural event, not least in terms of media arrangements, which were convoluted, confused and chaotic.

Steve Chisholm, the head of media for the event, admitted there had been teething troubles and clearly a review was needed before Coventry next year.

The competitors themselves will be the richer for the four days in Glasgow.

On the track, Nathan Woodward (West Midlands) scorched to a British under-17 record in the 400m hurdles and Scotland's Rebecca Hillis, of Bellahouston Academy, won two gold swimming medals.

It was good to see Northern Ireland high jumper Gary Coulter cheered and encouraged by his rivals after winning the event as he tried, vainly, to clear 2.05m and take his winning margin to new heights. It showed that rivals in Glasgow could soon become team mates in Great Britain vests in events to come.

www.ukschoolgames.com

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