Legacy is in league of its own when it comes to perception

Fireworks mark the opening of the London Olympic Games 2012
Fireworks mark the opening of the London Olympic Games 2012
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How do you measure the Olympic legacy?

Is it gauged by the amount of people who peel themselves off their armchairs and take up a sport after watching their hero cycle, sprint or swim to a gold medal at London 2012?

Is it quantified in terms of economics, as in the net gain from the initial outlay?

Are we asking the question of whether there is an Olympic legacy too early?

Or does a legacy lie in the memories that our sporting heroes created in that golden summer, some of which will last a lifetime?

What is quite clear a year on from the opening ceremony of London 2012 is that legacy is not a black and white issue.

The child who saw Jessica Ennis-Hill raise the roof of the Olympic Stadium early last August, and now leaps into the school sandpit with greater gusto than ever, will tell you they have been inspired like never before by the deeds of their heroes.

The bean counters in suits who summised that the delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games cost £8.77bn and is forecast to generate £13bn for the UK economy, will concur.

As will the employee who cycles to work now because of what he saw Sir Bradley Wiggins achieve last summer, instead of taking the car.

All will answer in the positive, but for very different reasons.

Equally, Sport England will tell you that according to a recent study the number of people participating in sport once a week fell by 200,000 between October 2012 and April 2013.

Players on the British male and female volleyball squads at London 2012, who have now had to find new careers because UK Sport funding was cut and the national programmes were brought to a close, will tell you that the L-word is a dirty one in their vocabulary.

Likewise people in Sheffield who are seeing Don Valley Stadium close later this year, and the residents of Stocksbridge, whose leisure centre is being shut by the city council, will ask how is this a legacy if there is nowhere to play sport?

Legacy depends on who you ask, who is willing to create one and who wants to make it happen.

The closure of Don Valley in Sheffield is the starkest example of where the wonderful memories created last summer seem to have been quickly consigned to the dustbin.

Watching Ennis-Hill climb to the top step of the podium was one of the highlights of a Games in which sport was front and back page news every day.

For her home city council to then announce a few months later that the place where she honed her world-beating skills, the Don Valley Stadium, was to be closed due to council cuts, felt like local government’s way of sticking two fingers up to the so-called legacy.

The council are well within their rights, given it costs £700,000 to maintain a stadium that rarely hosts top-line sporting events.

But they could have timed it better, given the stadium has been open for over two decades and sport has never had a stronger feelgood factor than it has now.

But to offer up the old Woodburn Road athletics track as an alternative, when it is in no state to host a school sports day let alone be the base for the best heptathlete on the planet, has been a bitter pill to swallow for Sheffield’s golden girl.

Ennis-Hill describes losing the stadium, that was built for the 1991 World Student Games and was her training headquarters for more than a decade, as a “huge disappointment”.

She said: “That’s where my career started. If there wasn’t that iconic, amazing stadium in Sheffield when I was a 10-year-old getting into athletics, I perhaps wouldn’t have got involved.

“If there aren’t the facilities, the academies and the different avenues to get involved, then it’s very hard to keep people in sport.”

Ennis-Hill’s coach Toni Minichiello has been very outspoken about his disappointment that Don Valley’s closure is forcing him and his protege down the road to the dilapidated Woodburn Road track.

The council say they will spend £300,000 to bring Woodburn Road up to speed for its opening at the start of October, but Minichiello remains sceptical.

“There are no changing rooms, there aren’t enough storage facilities, the irrigation system doesn’t work – it’s a huge list,” he said.

“I’m a little bit cynical but I don’t think it will be ready at the start of October.

“There will be times when we have to pack our bags and go to other venues outside of the city.

“That may be for long periods of time, it may be for short periods of time.

“That’s sad when you consider Sheffield was the first city of sport, but it just had no sports plan to back that up.

“So it will be difficult. We’ll find other places – we’ll have to.”

The successful City of Sheffield Swimming Club based at Ponds Forge has also been the victim of funding cuts, at local government and UK Sport level, which threatens the future productivity of London Olympians like Ellie Faulkner and Rebecca Turner.

At present, the club is producing swimmers of a very high national standard but with the city council cutting provisions for swimming and diving coaching, they could be forced elsewhere.

Sheffield head coach Russ Barber said: “It is a travesty that we have athletes in the region that are struggling to make ends meet.”

For the city that was home to Sebastian Coe – the mastermind of the Olympics – to be regressing in terms of the bricks and mortar of a legacy, is a smack in the mouth. Counter that, though, with the fact that the Grand Depart of the Tour de France is coming to Yorkshire next summer, and the legacy of the Games is alive and well. The capital’s execution of one of the best Olympic and Paralympic Games of the modern era paved the way for other regions to have the confidence to play their own part in bringing world class sport to their regions.

Combine that with the number of people now playing sport and the fact that a number of clubs have over-subscribed waiting lists, and again it points to a legacy in action.

Quantifying it all, though, is not easy. It is very much a numbers game, and the truth is with such a vast plethora of ways to measure the impact of London 2012, it may be years, even up to the end of the decade, before a respected figure of authority can say unequivocally that yes, the Olympics in this country made a positive lasting impression. Or no it did not.

Until then the best thing to do over the next few days is to cast your mind back to the individual brilliance and collective magic that got you out of your seat.

London 2012 produced 
sporting memories that will last a lifetime, from the opening ceremony on July 27 to the closing act of the Paralympic Games on September 9.

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk