Legacy of London is set to bear fruit with girls in Rio

Leeds boxer Nicola Adams, on her way to Olympic gold at London 2012, has inspired a new generation of sportswomen (Picture: PA).
Leeds boxer Nicola Adams, on her way to Olympic gold at London 2012, has inspired a new generation of sportswomen (Picture: PA).
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Girl power could pave the way for Great Britain to more than match their 2008 haul of 47 medals when they head to Brazil for the Rio Olympics which are exactly one year away.

A key post-London legacy push to involve more females in sport paid off handsomely with Sport England figures suggesting around half-a-million more girls were participating within a year of the 2012 closing ceremony.

The first fruits of that achievement are likely to be reaped in Rio where a new generation of female talent – some directly inspired by the achievements of pioneers such as Nicola Adams and Jade Jones in London – are ready to come through at the top level.

For Adams, Jones and Jessica Ennis-Hill read Sandy Ryan, Charlie Maddock and Katarina Johnson-Thompson – fast-rising stars who all cite the respective successes of their illustrious team-mates for helping raise their own levels of expectation.

The 17-year-old shooting star Amber Hill presents a more palpable measure of success as it was her own experience of watching the sport in London – she got a ticket from a friend after missing out in the ballot – which inspired her to set her goals towards a world-class level.

For British Olympic Association chief executive Mark England, the surge in female sporting contenders looking towards Rio is one of the most satisfying aspects of the often difficult push on from the high of a home games.

England said: “We have been blessed with some very, very talented women athletes for many Olympiads and this really came to fruition in London where we had a fantastic return in terms of medals and performances.

“We have a number of talented young athletes who are now stamping their authority and establishing themselves on the world of sport at Olympic and world level, and as that goes on the legacy will only continue.”

The often maligned inaugural European Games in Baku in July underlined the emergence of fine young British female talent with gold medals for the likes of Hill – who beat a former world champion in an epic 60-shot shoot-off – and Maddock, who just two years previously had been picked out of GB Taekwondo’s successful Fighting Chance programme.

Hill said: “It’s an amazing feeling to know that I’m going to Rio already. All the training and hard work I’ve put in over the last four years has paid off.

“I applied for tickets for London but didn’t get any, but my friend took me for one of the days and I was blown away by the scale of it.

“At that point I had not even done World Cups but I told myself, ‘this is the level of competition I want to get involved in’. I am going to make the most of it in Rio. I want to be there from the start and just take everything in. To be recognised as an Olympian will just be unreal.”

Maddock is well placed to follow British taekwondo trailblazer Sarah Stevenson, a 2008 bronze medallist and two-time Olympic champion who, now retired, will fulfil a role as one of the BOA’s athlete mentors for the build-up to the Rio Games.

“It’s so important for young girls in particular to have that support and inspiration and I wish I had had that sort of opportunity to learn from others when I went to my first Olympic Games at the age of 17,” said Stevenson.

“Opportunities for girls are increasing all the time and particularly in the combat sports the perception has changed and the success of the likes of Jade is encouraging girls and showing them it is okay to want to get involved in these kinds of sports.”

England admits there is a unique set of challenges when it comes to following a home Games – not least the surge in expectation that brings – with no nation having improved their medal tally directly after hosting, and the London level of 65 medals surely unattainable.

A significant decrease in medal numbers is anticipated in cycling, for example, while chances in other sports will be naturally diminished by more stringent qualification procedures now that the right to host nation entry has been passed to Brazil.

“It will be tough following a home Games and going into a different environment – the first Olympic Games in South America – with a number of athletes who will have limited experience of a multi-sport Games,” added England.

“We are up to the challenge. I won’t be drawn on medal targets but I think it is a hugely exciting time for British sport. We know the expectation is high and we will set an incredibly high benchmark for success.”