Tokyo 2020: How we’ve raised so many Olympians

If Loughborough were a country in the Olympics, they’d be 12th in the table. Loughborough College principal Jo Maher reflects proudly on the town's success

Jo Maher

Tokoyo 2021: How we’ve raised so many olympians

My favourite Olympic statistic is that if the town of Loughborough were a country, it would currently sit 12th in the Olympic medal table. And the college I lead, Loughborough College, would – by itself – be 33rd. It's not just sheer competitiveness that makes me delight in that – it goes way deeper than that. The pride I feel in seeing a current student or alumnus of my college on the podium epitomises everything that is great about FE. 

I understand that Loughborough is a unique place. We are home to the world’s best sports university, which is ranked in the top 10 in every national league table. SportPark is home to a number of national governing bodies, and the university has some of the best facilities and coaches in the world. For an FE college across the road (literally), all of this could feel overwhelming and create a sense of jealousy and disillusionment. We simply cannot compete. Luckily, we don’t have to. 


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For generations, Loughborough’s success has been built on the shoulders of values-driven leaders who have recognised that collaboration is key. Through a shared values set that is as ambitious as it is culture driven, the result is the “Loughborough family”. It sounds cheesy and anyone who knows me knows that my style can be much more forthright. However, you have to feel it to experience it and we can get this right across FE.

Giving talent the opportunity to thrive

Olympic success happens when talent meets hard work, receives great coaching and is given the opportunity to thrive.

Loughborough College and FE colleges can play a part in this journey across that spectrum. A brilliant education that enables an athlete to have a post-athletic career may be the only contact with academia that some athletes have. For all of the athletes, sporting success is down to application and effort. However, for some, adapting timetables to enable an athlete to train, having a supportive personal tutor to provide holistic support, and even talented coaches on your staff are key enablers. 

In my opinion, the very best people who achieve success take pride in lifting others up to inspire the next generation. We should celebrate all success and shine a light on the fantastic athletes who have been part of our unique sector. Our job is to change lives and enhance social mobility. Through creating a culture of aspiration, we can reach young people who may not have considered FE.

Elite sport may not be for everyone, but a love for sport can spark an interest in so many different and diverse career pathways. The link between physical activity and human health is inarguable and we need to train more professionals to support the nation and our economic post-Covid recovery. This will involve multiple stakeholders coming together to meet the pressing health demand of long Covid. Our regional Skills Development Fund pilot, which involves all colleges in the region, will be seeking to provide solutions to this challenge and demonstrates how we can collaborate across sport regionally, as well as locally.

Sport can change and save lives. Sound familiar, FE…? 

Jo Maher is the principal of Loughborough College

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