We have the talent to succeed in 2012

From Sue Campbell, chair, UK Sport
Seb Coe and his team at the London Olympics Organising Committee are already making great strides in delivering the Games. At the same time, my team at UK Sport are hard at work with our partners aiming to produce the largest and most successful British Olympic and Paralympic teams ever. And nowhere is this truer than in the critical search for new talent.

Talent identification is something that we often paid little more than lip service to in the past, but that simply had to change once we had won the 2012 Games. It has been the catalyst to considerable activity and some very meaningful things are now happening on the ground. Only last week I attended a “Talented and Gifted” performance camp run by the Youth Sport Trust at Loughborough, where 100 14 to 17-year-olds from five sports were being put through their paces, learning about what it takes to be an Olympian from a number of medal winners including Kelly Holmes.

We are working with other partners, such as the armed forces, to uncover the Paralympic athletes of the future. And elsewhere the BOA have taken another 100 or so youngsters representing Team GB to the Australian Youth Olympic Festival, delivering some 47 medals and gaining multi-sport event experience in the process.

For the first time we can also claim to have dedicated talent ID specialists out in the field, scouring the country for potential talent, and working with our “new” Olympic sports, such as basketball, handball and volleyball, to help find young athletes who could break through into their senior ranks on the home stage in five years time.

Our talent experts are looking for opportunities to transfer talent across sports. Rebecca Romero, already an Olympic rowing medallist, is now a major cycling prospect. There is no reason why swimmers with upper body strength and a feel for water could not quickly become canoeists. We have already seen a number of gymnasts move over to diving with promising results, and some of our Paralympic swimmers have also won medals on the world cycling stage.

It takes on average six to eight years to produce an athlete capable of mounting the Olympic podium. But if that athlete has already been immersed in another high-performance sport, the time can be halved. So we’re now trawling through around 1,200 world class athletes we have funded who didn’t quite make it in their chosen sport, to find suitable candidates for a quick transfer. If another sport suits, their Olympic dream may well not be over.

We have managed to come a long way in a short period of time – that is the power that 2012 is bringing to our sporting system. Things are happening that simply would not have been possible without the focus and urgency 2012 has brought.

This work will not cease once the team for London is selected. It should in fact be one of the great legacies from the 2012 Games. Long after they are over, we should have a systematic process for producing a conveyer belt of talented Olympic and Paralympic athletes for 2016 and beyond.

But the window in which we can discover and nurture talent to peak at the 2012 Games is small and closing fast. In another year’s time the turnaround time for athletes aiming for London will be too short. Focus will instead have switched onto unearthing talent for 2016. Winning medals – be they Olympic or Paralympic – is now so unbelievably tough that it takes a completely uncompromising approach, money and, above all, time, to make it possible. That’s why we had to start quickly.

Read swimming’s Bill Sweetenham’s outlook for 2012 by clicking here

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