BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Race to get fit in wake of Olympics

South Wales Argus: NEXT GENERATION: Matthew Winchester, six, and his classmates at the Fighting Fit Martial Arts and Fitness Centre, Griffithstown, which has seen a boost in membership as a result of the Olympic coverage NEXT GENERATION: Matthew Winchester, six, and his classmates at the Fighting Fit Martial Arts and Fitness Centre, Griffithstown, which has seen a boost in membership as a result of the Olympic coverage

It is fair to say that the nation was gripped by the London Olympics. With the Paralympics to come, is that feelgood factor here to stay and are the Games living up to their slogan of ‘inspiring a generation’?

ZENA JARJIS, EMMA MACKINTOSH and ALISON SANDERS spoke to sports groups in Gwent. PEOPLE in homes, offices and pubs across the country spent the last fortnight glued to their television screens watching the London Olympics.

But beneath the glamour and record number of British medals, the organisers of London 2012 always said it was all about using the power of sport as a catalyst for positive change.

Lord Seb Coe had said: “Our primary mission has been to use London 2012 to reach young people across the globe and connect them to sport.”

Sport Wales chairwoman Laura McAllister said London 2012 has given us a glimpse of what is to come and said she is passionate about ensuring the impact of the Games is not lost.

“London 2012 has undoubtedly been a huge advertising campaign for sport; the sheer numbers of people supporting Team GB and getting into the Olympic spirit are testament to that.

“We’ve been working with our partners to ensure that interest has been – and continues to be – harnessed here in Wales; to ensure that any child who has been inspired by what they have seen over the last few weeks is able to get involved in their chosen sport, and ultimately stay hooked for life.”

She said the Community Sport Strategy has seen an extra £9 million come from the National Lottery to help develop opportunities for children and adults to access formal and recreational sport.

So what impact has the Olympics already had on sports clubs across Gwent?

Cycling and rowing have been particularly successful events by Team GB.

Monmouth Rowing Club is an established and well-known club in the area which has produced Olympians like TomLucy, who won a silver medal at Beijing.

The club’s captain, Eric Froggatt, went to watch some of the rowing at London 2012 and said it went beyond his expectations.

Mr Froggatt said: “The club’s existing membership is infused and invigorated and we’ve had a lot of new applications. It’s certainly had an immediate impact and I can see that continuing.”

If winning the Tour de France wasn’t a big enough boost for British cycling, the gold medals won by Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy sealed the deal, and the effects are being felt across Wales.

Martyn Ashfield Cycles in Risca has seen a “massive” surge in interested customers.

Store owner Tim Ashfield, whose family has owned the business for 27 years, said: “It’s been crazy since the Tour de France.

“With that and the Olympics I think people are being given a boost and think ‘I want a bike’ and to get more active.”

He said the biggest interest has been in road bikes but with brother Martyn having lent his mechanical skills to Team GB’s BMX athletes in London, he is hopeful that interest in off-road bikes will increase, too.

Cwmcarn Paragon Cycling Club has also noticed a similar impact.

The club, founded in 1932, already has more than 100 members.

Pete McDonnell from the club said: “I’ve seen so many people wandering around the bike shop, everybody wants to be Bradley Wiggins. I think our track will explode, I think it will be so busy.

We’re expecting to see so many people coming down. You can see so many new riders around.”

Mr McDonnell said: “Success breeds success. We’ve produced so many great cyclists and we’re only a small Valleys club.”

At The Fighting Fit Martial Arts and Fitness Centre in Griffithstown, Pontypool, numbers have crept up in recent weeks thanks to Olympic events like judo and taekwondo.

Team GB won bronze and silver in women’s judo, and centre manager Alastair Eustace is hopeful that budding martial artists are spurred on to sign up after watching the taekwondo.

“We have definitely had a few new faces since the Olympics began,” Mr Eustace said.

“I would say people are influenced by the amount of TV coverage it’s getting. We’ve gained between five and 10 students over the last month, most of whom are complete beginners.”

The centre, which is a registered charity, teaches people from the age of four upwards.

Mr Eustace said: “Taekwondo boosts fitness, co-ordination, flexibility and confidence.”

Gymnastics also proved to be another successful event in the Olympics for Britain, particularly in the men’s gymnastics with an individual bronze and silver and a bronze in the team event.

The head coach of Crumlinbased Valley Gymnastics Academy said the club’s waiting list has grown over the last couple of weeks with interests from boys and girls of all ages and has had to turn some people away.

Melissa Anderson said: “I think the success of our British gymnasts has pushed it into the forefront and has made people sit up and pay attention to the sport. I think everyone’s proud of the success of our athletes.”

Wye Gymnastics, based in Caldicot, has also had an increase in interest.

Head coach Carly Hawke said it has had ten new starters, aged between four and 13, in two weeks and expects to see these numbers increasing until September.

Blaenau Gwent Athletics Club based in Ebbw Vale said it has been inundated with phone calls over the last two weeks, particularly from adults wanting to get back into sport.

Head coach Diane Breeden said: “We’ve seen a lot of new members and our existing members have become inspired to go into new areas.”

She added: “The Olympics help at grassroots level. It gives the youngsters something to focus on in the long term.”

Monnow Swimming Club’s chairman, Richard Spark, described the impact as ‘the Wimbledon effect’.

He said the Monmouth-based club has had three new members in the past week when it usually sees two or three each month and none over the summer.

Mr Sparks added: “It amazes me that the children know the names of all the Olympic swimmers.

They were watching for tips and they’re trying to emulate that. It encourages children to try it out.”

Team GB’s Peter Wilson won gold in the shooting and this has inspired a growth in the participation of clay pigeon shooting.

At Treetops Sporting Ground in Coedkernew, Newport, which offers clay pigeon shooting, director Steve Kirby said it has had a “tremendous” amount of interest.

Mr Kirby said: “His win has shown the sport to a lot more people. It jogged their minds and people are getting back into it.”

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