LET the party begin.
Victorious in Rio, Team GB’s samba spirit is now coming to Yorkshire as plans are confirmed for a massive homecoming celebration for this county’s heroic Olympians and all those Paralympians, headed by the one and only Hannah Cockroft, expected to rule the world in the coming days.
Unprecedented in its size thanks to the vision and ambition of the organising team, the parade – which will take place in Leeds on September 28 – is a golden chance for the whole region to come together and show its appreciation for those champions who represented their county, and their country, with such distinction.
Their tenacity, resilience and humility, three traits which go to the very core of Yorkshire’s DNA, won a new generation of admirers as Ed Clancy, Andrew Triggs Hodge, Alistair Brownlee and Nicola Adams became multiple gold medal winners, while Jessica Ennis-Hill, the poster girl of the 2012 Olympics, came agonisingly close to a second gold.
And everyone will have their own special memory – the emotional embrace of the Brownlee brothers at the end of the triathlon, the sheer joy etched across the faces of divers Jack Laugher and Chris Mears and gymnast Nile Wilson’s nerveless performance on the high bar are just three on a very long list.
Yet, while a national victory parade is planned for Manchester, Team Yorkshire’s level of success was so awe-inspiring - the county was 17th in the final medal table – that our local lads and lasses deserve a chance to acknowledge the public’s acclaim and also pay tribute to all those who supported them on the long road to Rio, whether it be their families, support staff or members of the public who faithfully purchased Lottery tickets so they could receive world-class coaching. This was the ultimate team effort – competitors from the white rose county won a rousing 14 medals in total, more than one fifth of Team GB’s record haul of 67.
However it is also about legacy – and using the exemplary example of our Olympians and Paralympians to show sport’s value to contemporary society. People of all ages and abilities don’t have to be like the Brownlee brothers – not many are! – to forge lifelong friendships or appreciate the health benefits that can be derived from regular exercise, or team sports like hockey, at a time when the country is facing an obesity crisis.
It’s about making sure school sport is not marginalised; that grassroots clubs are accessible to all following the success of last Saturday’s I am Team GB open day and that this region continues to attract top class events to inspire a generation, starting with next year’s world series triathlon in Leeds and, with luck, cycling’s world road championships in 2019. Professional football is no longer the be-all and end-all.
If Yorkshire can provide a show of support like no other to celebrate its status as a sporting powerhouse, there’s every reason that a homecoming on this scale will give some gentle encouragement to those who still need persuading about the merits of going for a jog, riding a bike or learning to swim. If it can truly inspire a generation to lead more active lifestyles, this will be, arguably, the greatest gold of all. The potential prize is that big if this moment is seized.