As Team Great Britain enjoys an Olympic gold rush in Beijing, PAUL MANNION reports on how Chester’s Olympic hopes for the future are shaping up.
Great Britain’s impressive Olympic haul is the country’s best performance for a century. Facilities like Manchester’s Aquatics Centre and Velodrome have helped bring success, but what is Chester doing to help mould the stars of tomorrow?
Ian Tordoff has been Chester City Council sports development officer for 13 years and is delighted with the sports and facilities on offer.
He said: “Chester has about 250 clubs providing 49 different sports but the reality is most local clubs are stepping stones towards development teams and centres of excellence. They are the first steps on the ladder giving people the basic skills.
“All sports clubs rely on parents providing on-going support but there has been a huge progression in terms of facilities and more coaches in the region.”
The Active People survey by Sports England, carried out in 2006, showed more than a quarter of adults in Chester regularly participate in about 30 minutes of sport, three times a week, putting the city in the top 25% nationally
Ian added: “We have some of the best figures in the North West in terms of participation in sports and providing quality physical education in schools.
“The City Baths have a range of coaches and run different sessions. It is a very strong club that performs very well with good facilities and offers opportunities to progress, especially with lane swimming.
“For athletics we have the West Cheshire Athletics Club based at Cheshire Oaks High School, Ellesmere Port, which is one of the strongest in the North West. It’s only up the road and will be within the new authority boundaries.
“Cycling is massive and the river is one of the best around for training and is regularly used by universities and the national teams.”
Director of England’s Amateur Athletics Association and president of Cheshire Athletics George Bunner has been involved in coaching new talent for more than 40 years.
George, stalwart of Halton and Frodsham Harriers, said: “All the Chester clubs are doing very well. The improvement has been fantastic and numbers are growing. They have all made amazing progress and I am full of confidence for the future. Some of the training programmes, particularly from Frodsham, have been adopted all over the world.”
With just four years until the London Olympics, preparations are already being put in place across the country – before the flame has gone out in Beijing – and Chester is hoping to be part of them.
“The University of Chester has put itself forward as a training venue, and for the Paralympic Games too. The Race Course has offered itself for equestrian and Kelsall Hill Equestrian Centre for cross country training,” added Ian.
“And for Chester’s clubs we are starting to work towards quality standards, which eight or nine clubs have achieved, and we are employing a clubs development officer to help with that.”
Teenagers Stephen Jameson, 17, Sam Harvey, 17, and Saul Chambers, 16, of Deva Handball Club, Northgate Arena, have been picked in a provisional squad to represent Great Britain in 2016 and may even make the London games.
Stephen, currently studying for his A-levels at Queen’s Park High School, said: “It’s a dream come true. To go to the Olympics would be the ultimate goal.”
All three will undergo a rigorous training regime over the next eight years, attending summer camps in Denmark with other members of the development squad who have been picked from across the UK.
Jon Kelly, operations manager of Chester and District Sports and Recreational Trust (CADSART), which runs Northgate Arena, started Deva Handball Club in 2003.
He added: “It will be fantastic for Chester to have some local lads in the Olympic Games.”
West Cheshire Athletics Club was established 10 years ago and is throwing open its doors to anyone inspired by the Beijing Olympic Games who wants to try sprinting, middle distance running, throwing, and jumping events at the club.
Club chairman and coach Dennis Wall said: “Thousands of people within the district of Chester and Ellesmere Port will have watched the Olympic Games in China and I am sure many will have been inspired by what they have seen.
“Athletics is a sport that can be enjoyed by people of every age, size, and ability, and we want to make those people who want to try the sport as welcome as possible.
“Anyone wanting to try athletics is always welcome to pop down to the track on one of our training nights.”
Contact details of all 250 sports clubs are at www.chester.gov.uk.