In 2005 I had the pleasure of hosting a special Sportathon event at the Royal Artillery in Woolwich attended by school children from across the Borough. It was special because this was the day that the decision was being made as to which City would be staging the 2012 Olympics, London or Paris. When I announced that London had won, the excitement and pride on everyone’s faces was fantastic to see.
A year later in the summer of 2006 I was invited by the then Leader of Greenwich Council Cllr Chris Roberts to become a Trustee of ‘Greenwich Starting Blocks’ – the charity established by Greenwich Council to financially support talented Greenwich-based athletes and to help them achieve their sporting dreams. I was pleased to be asked, but my initial thoughts were ‘great idea but in reality, how many elite athletes have we got in Greenwich?’ I was soon to find out that the answer to that question was ‘quite a few actually’!
Seven years later and just months before the start of London 2012, I stood on stage at the Indigo2 as host of the annual Greenwich Starting Blocks Trust Dinner introducing our chief guest, Lord Seb Coe. That night, probably for the first time, there was a general realisation that Greenwich-based athletes supported by Greenwich Starting Blocks, would be taking part in the 2012 Olympics. Singer Heather Small, our special guest at that Dinner, completed what had been a fantastic evening by singing the 2012 anthem, ‘Proud’ – it couldn’t have been more apt.
None of us connected with Greenwich Starting Blocks will ever forget the huge sense of pride we all had when we knew that our dream of having Greenwich Athletes at the London 2012 Olympics had become a reality, with the confirmation that we would have 5 of our athletes in the Olympics and Paralympics. Gemma Gibbons (Judo) and Zoe Smith (Weightlifting) were chosen to represent Team GB and Tosin Oke (Triple Jump) was selected to represent Nigeria, while in the Paralympics, Greenwich Starting Blocks athletes Andy Barrow (Wheelchair Rugby) and Susie Rodgers (Swimming) were chosen to represent Team GB.
You can therefore imagine our intense pride when Gemma won the silver medal and gave us arguably, one of the most iconic images of London 2012 when, at the exact moment she knew she had won she looked upwards and mouthed ‘I love you Mum’. But Gemma’s fantastic success wasn’t our only achievement as we also had Zoe making a national record lift and Susie winning an incredible three Bronze medals.
This success was followed up four years later at the Rio 2016 Olympics when our own Daryll Neita won a Bronze medal in the Team GB 4x100m Relay, while Susie Rodgers carried on where she left off In London by winning an amazing one Gold and two Bronze medals.
At our initial athlete awards ceremony at Woolwich Town Hall in 2006 we gave bursaries to seven talented young Greenwich-based athletes At our recent athlete award evening held at The Now Gallery at Greenwich Peninsular in April, our Chairman, Peter Bundey announced that we now have over 100 athletes across 23 different sports with National and International champions as well as athletes looking towards Tokyo 2020.
My fellow Trustees and I are immensely proud that three quarters of these awards are given to athletes under the age of 21 years old and 88% of awards are given to athletes who have no other financial support from UK Sport, National Governing Bodies or independent award agencies. This highlights the scale of the challenge facing Greenwich’s talented athletes, who are trying to live and fund their dreams to become successful elite athletes.
The impact of the awards and the growth of the programme gives the Greenwich Starting Blocks Board a firm belief that there is both a vital need to support our local athletes and that we should continue to look to the future to help the next generation of young Greenwich athletes perform at the highest level.
If you’d like to find out more about Greenwich Starting Blocks and how you can get involved, please visit our website.
As Heather Small’s iconic anthem asks, ‘what have you done today to make you feel proud?’