Nick Westby: Ups and downs in the long race to proclaim legacy of Olympics

I cycled Jawbone Hill the other day. It’s a gradient as fearsome as it sounds and is likely to test even the best cyclists in the world during the closing acts of stage two of next year’s Tour de France here in Yorkshire.

Bradley Wiggins racing towards the finish line during the Men's Individual Time Trial at Hampton Court Palace, London.

The Jawbone is 1.6km in length, has a maximum gradient of 15 per cent and an average of 8.9 per cent. The elevation gain on the Sheffield climb is 159 metres, with the maximum elevation coming in at 249 metres.

Those are the numbers to describe the penultimate climb of stage two on July 6 next year.

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The VeloViewer blog describes it as “real leg breaker of a climb, especially this late in the stage”.

With a steep slope that narrows at the top and twists right and left, I can wholeheartedly concur that Jawbone Hill is an absolute beast.

Thing is, I was going downhill when I tackled Jawbone.

I don’t have the nerve yet to try and tame the beast.

Right now, I’m far more at home bombing down the descent in the highest gear available, the view of Oughtibridge village rapidly getting bigger as I scream “weeeee” and free-wheel to victory.

The problem with living and very amateurly cycling around north Sheffield is that for every wind-in-your-face descent there is a breathing-out-of-your-backside hill to climb as soon as you hit the bottom.

The fun you’ve had trying to get as fast as you can by leaning forward and trying to make yourself an aerodynamic bullet is quickly forgotten when you’re swaying from side to side, aching all over and gasping for oxygen.

The point of this rather self-deprecating story is that it combines the two elements of what has taken up most of my time at Yorkshire Post headquarters in recent weeks – the Tour de France and the Olympic legacy.

The Tour bit is obvious – I’m on a bike. A mountain bike in my case, as I’m still not convinced a racing bike would handle my girth.

The Olympic legacy element is in reference to the fact that I have been inspired to get off my backside and get healthy.

I know that approaching mid-30s, I’m never going to catch the likes of Bradley Wiggins, pictured, and Chris Froome – although I am getting pretty quick going downhill – but it’s not about that for me, it’s about exercise, health and well-being.

I’ve always tried to keep my body ticking over with at least one spell of exercise per week, whether or not I had the motivation or not.

Since covering the Olympics last year, when chasing from one great Yorkshire story to another burnt the calories I was putting on in fast-food outlets, I have tried to increase the amount of exercise that I do.

And I’m delighted to report that I have now increased that work-rate 100 per cent – or rather, gone up from one exercise per week to two.

But at least it’s a start.

And it was good to see during the week-long series looking into Olympic legacy that I am not alone.

Across Yorkshire, local authorities are reporting that the number of people participating in at least half an hour’s exercise per week is on the increase since London was awarded the Olympics in 2005.

That is all down to the facilities that were built up and down the country, the initiatives that were put in place eight years ago that still last today, and the deeds of our heroes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games last summer.

Without the personalities and superstars, though, there is no-one for the average Joe like me to pretend to be when I step onto a bike, head out for a run (yeah right, as if I’m going that far), or clamber into a rowing boat as I did last week when Leeds Rowing Club took the time to teach me how to row for a feature that is coming to a news stand near you in the near future.

If participation numbers are up – and in women’s boxing across the country following the exploits of Leeds’s Nicola Adams they are soaring – then there remains other areas where the legacy has been stopped dead in its tracks.

In Sheffield, council cuts have brought about the closure of Don Valley Stadium and the reduction of top-class coaching provision for swimming and diving at Ponds Forge.

At the English Institute of Sport, the office and courts that used to house the British male and female volleyball squads in the years leading up to London 2012, are occupied by someone else as complete funding cuts ended the national programme.

It wasn’t just the lesser-performing sports last summer that have suffered financially.

Athletics and rowing – two staples of the Olympic programme in which Britain, particularly in the latter, enjoy great success – lost their major sponsors after the Games.

Aviva pulled out of sponsoring British athletics last winter after 13 years, while Siemens did not renew their contract with rowing when it expired at the end of last year.

Athletics has a shiny new big-name sponsor in Sainsbury’s, but rowing has embarked on the cycle to Rio in 2016 without one.

Granted, it is not a mainstream sport, but after 30,000 fans a day watched the riveting Olympic regatta unfold at Eton Dorney, it is difficult to see how it could not have attracted a new sponsor.

The state of global economics comes into play, naturally, but without major investment, the dominance of Britain’s rowers may be undermined in three summers’ time.

What a waste of the Olympic legacy that would be.

There are winners and losers in the race to proclaim the Olympic legacy is alive and well.

We may have to wait until the decade is out before making a final announcement on whether the promise to “inspire a generation” was met.

Our job as the people who watched those wonderful moments unravel last year is to ensure we play our small part by getting out and getting involved in sport. Even if it’s just downhill.

And another thing...

Time to raise a glass to some of Yorkshire’s rising stars.

Hannah Starling reached the final of the women’s 3m springboard event at the world championships in Barcelona at the weekend, and finished seventh.

At just 20 years of age, this was a significant achievement by Starling, and capped a great week for the City of Leeds Diving Club which had five members competing in the Catalan capital. That diving venue, in front of the backdrop of Barcelona, has to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing in sport.

Hull sprinter Annabelle Lewis was part of the British women’s relay squad at the Anniversary Games on Friday that broke the national record. Next stop for Lewis is the world championships next month in Moscow.

Leeds’s Jon Lancaster is battering down the door of Formula 1 with a string of impressive performances in GP2. He just needs a few million quid in his back pocket for F1 bosses to let him through.

And finally a couple of 18-year-olds who are showing all the potential to really be big names – Beverley tennis ace Kyle Edmund who debuted in the men’s singles at Wimbledon and Sheffield’s Matthew Fitzpatrick who won the silver medal at the Open last week.