The legacy of London 2012 is alive and well in Yorkshire with participation on the increase across the county and the White Rose one of the best performing regions in England.
Figures collated by the Yorkshire Post suggest that although it is hard to say with clarity whether the Olympics was worth the £8.77bn investment or not, the signs across the county are encouraging.
Today marks the first anniversary of the opening ceremony of last summer’s Olympics, which together with the Paralympics helped unite the country in sporting and national pride.
The motto of the Games was to “inspire a generation” and if that is to be the mantra on which a legacy is judged, then the people of Yorkshire are responding as well as anyone.
A recent Sport England study found that as of April 2013, 1.521 million people play sport in Yorkshire, which equates to 35.2 per cent of the county’s population.
Comparatively, Yorkshire has almost the same proportion of people playing sport as the north east and north west (both 35.5 per cent), three per cent more than the lowest region (West Midlands) and one per cent less than the highest-performing region, the south east.
Nationwide, more than 15 million people are active in sport at least once a week.
Since London was announced as host of the 30th Olympics in Singapore in 2005, more than 171,000 people have taken up sport in Yorkshire.
For Peter Elliott, a former Olympic silver medallist and now active administrator in sport, the numbers point to a legacy in action.
“There’s been a lot of talk celebrating one year on from the Games and what legacy London 2012 has left, so to hear these numbers shows the influence the Olympics has had on us as a region,” said Elliott, who was a silver medallist in the 1,500m in Seoul in 1988 and is now a regional director at the English Institute of Sport.
“The Olympics is about inspiring people of all ages to get out on their bikes, or to head out for a run etc. It’s not just about elite athletes, it’s about people being inspired to go out and do some exercise, it’s about the the health and well-being of everyone.
“It’s great to see how many sporting initiatives have come out of the Olympics.”
The figures were collected by the Active People Survey on behalf of Sport England, for which spokesman Guy Bilgorri said: “Yorkshire is among the top portion of those that are performing strongly.
“It’s a really strong upwards trend both nationally and in Yorkshire.”
Local authorities in Yorkshire have also reported favourable returns in the amount of people taking up sport.
Leeds is one of the best performing in the country with an overall increase in the numbers of people taking part in 30 minutes of exercise a week from 36.5 per cent in April 2012 to 39.9 per cent in April 2013. Since the Olympics was won in 2005, participation has risen nine per cent in the West Yorkshire city, and is the seventh-best performing local authority out of 326 in the country.
Leeds City Council created a £100,000 annual ‘legacy fund’ with a focus on activities for young people aged 14 and under, especially in areas of limited existing provision and parts of the city where there are greater health inequalities.
Nigel Harrison, chief executive of West Yorkshire Sport, said: “There is significant evidence that there is more people playing sport as a result of the Olympics and we need to continue that, because it is not just a one-year thing, it is a long-term ambition.”
Doncaster has seen an increase of eight per cent in people taking part in sport at least once a week, which is one of the biggest rises in the region.
Doncaster Athletic Club have seen an increase in adult members over the past year.
Chairman Kevin Lincoln said: “It’s great to see more and more local adults keeping fit and taking part in sport.”
Luke Campbell’s victory in the boxing ring at London 2012 has had a lasting impact on the people of his hometown of Hull, with the city council reporting an upsurge in interest in boxing among the area’s youth.
Participation in sport in Hull has mirrored that of other regions of the county, with swimming also proving popular in the East Riding.
York has been very pro-active in building on the legacy, particularly in cycling, with stage two of next year’s Tour de France beginning in the city and a new cycle track built at the University of York, which was part-funded by the local authority.
In terms of individual sport, women’s boxing is on the rise in Britain thanks to Nicola Adams’s historic victory at London 2012, when she became the first woman to win an Olympic title.
And England Athletics reports that Yorkshire people have led the way in taking up track and field events, with the organisation’s director, Don Lennon, saying the uptake in participation has been “absolutely phenomenal”.
It is not just the local heroes like Adams, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Alistair Brownlee who have inspired people, but also the international superstars of the age, like Usain Bolt, who was back in the Olympic Stadium in London last nightwhere he recovered from an awful start to win the 100m in 9.85 secs.
The Jamaican returned to the scene of his triple London 2012 triumph, but was made to sweat before blasting through to take the victory.
It was still his fastest time of the year, though, and in the end he was a comfortable winner, with Mike Rodgers second in 9.98.