THE biggest gathering of sports competitors in the world outside the Olympics will take place next week, when over 7,000 schoolchildren converge on Southampton for the BAA Millennium Youth Games.
Competitors hope to follow in the footsteps of Linford Christie, the former Olympic 100 metres champion, who is among those who have gone on from competing at youth level to senior sporting success.
Forty-nine teams from regions in England plus representative teams from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be at the games. The teams of girls and boys aged 11 to 15 came through regional contests to get to the four-day grand final which begins on Thursday August 17.
Like their Olympic counterparts they will stay in an athletes' village during the games.
The team format is designed to ensure that the enthusiastic, as well as the talented, get the chance to take part. Only children below county standard were allowed to be on the teams, which each represent a local district within their region.
Children will compete in teams in each of eight sports: athletics, basketball, football, hocey, netball, rugby, tennis and swimming. The teams will also get the chance to mingle with established sports stars, including former Olympic hurdles champion, Sally Gunnell.
Ms Gunnell said: "What's so good about the BAA Millennium Youth games is that they go out of their way to involve young people who are not at the top of their sport.
"It's still possible that we'll discover a few stars of tomorrow, but what really matters is that the participants enjoy sports and inspire others to get involved."
Although this is the first year that a national final has been held, the event is based on the London youth games which first took place in 1977 and subsequently spread to other areas.
The competition, funded by Sport England (formerly the Sports Council) and sponsored by airport group BAA, is the biggest youth sporting event in the world. Between them, the competitors in the grand final will rack up a total of 464,240 minutes of sport.
Information on how to enter next year's youth games can be obtained at www.baamyg.org.uk.
More on the games at www.sportscore.co.uk