Thursday, October 18The Voice of London

Athletics: Can grassroots clubs mould the next Olympic star?

More young people have been inspired after the Rio games to join grassroots clubs in a hope to become the next Olympic star. But how likely is it for these so called gold medallists of the future to actually achieve it. Here at the Voice of London, I was fortunate to visit Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, Hendon. In this local athletics club in London and I saw how grassroots athletics live on, long after the hype of Rio Olympics.

Reporter: Sajid Hassan | Sub-editor: Maria Llamas

Getting kids into athletics is easier than you may think. As Shaftesbury coach, Ty Holden said to VoL: “If you’ve got a group that isn’t achieving, then it goes to the lowest common denominator. If you’ve got a group that achieves, people want to be as good as the best. They say ‘what are they doing? They’re going to the gym.’”

(left to right) Ty Holden and Jeremy Sothcott

left to right: Sprint squad leader Ty Holden and Director of Coaching Jeremy Sothcott.

At this year’s Games in Rio, Great Britain smashed their tally from four years’ prior totalling 67 medals and moved up to second place behind China. GB’s success inspired many to take part and grassroots athletics have followed suit. Athletics is one of the top five sports to have people (16 and over) joining and taking part once a week at 2.2. million.

Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers is one of many sports club that has seen a rise in children’s interest to emulate their favourite Olympic stars. It is a grassroots athletics club based out of Allianz Park – the home of reigning Premiership and European champions Saracens. I attended two training sessions and spoke to a few young athletes and coaches about their experiences while training and working at Shaftesbury.

Shaftesbury Harriers get funding from a range of different charities and organisations; it seems that grassroots clubs have to fundraise as well to cover any shortfalls. This view is supported by fellow grassroots athletics club Serpentine Running Club:

“The club receives a very small grant from Westminster which we have used to set up and continue to run our new juniors section, but we receive no government or charity funding at all. Our income comes from the membership fees our members pay each year and a small profit from the small number of open races we organise.”

Now, in early November, the publicity for the Olympics has died down, but these young athletes are still training – fighting for a dream. Their determination to work out at least twice a week at Allianz Park and do more outside of the club will surely make them into focused adults and dare I say it Olympians. This looks good for the future but like any professional sport, the jump between levels are blurred, and for some athletes, the help and support at grassroots level may be the most they’ll ever get.