Saturday 27th August was a day of celebrations – a day to celebrate our 2016 Rio Olympic successes under the nationwide banner of #IAmTeamGB. Sports clubs, sports centres, community groups, parkruns and others all got in on the act, all across the country. Cox Bank Publishing headed out on the day, sporting a brand new TeamGB T-shirt, to sample what was on offer in the local area.
Stoke on Trent, as a European City of Sport, had pulled out all the stops and had a host of Olympic sport-themed activities taking place through the day. My plan was to try and do as many of them as I could in the course of the day. Planning was made simple by the excellent IAmTeamGB website (http://iamteamgb.com/) which listed all the registered events on the day, searchable by location. Stacks on locally, so I split the day into hour-long slots and set off early for my 9.00 kick-off in Hanley Park with the Hanley parkrun. This is my local parkrun so good to catch up with fellow-runners, former work colleagues and a sprinkling of contributors to Sporting Stories. Quite a few folk there sporting TeamGB kit. Lined up next to me at the start is a lady wrapped in a Union Jack flag – on a warm and humid morning not the coolest of choices but certainly a ‘Cool Britannia’ look! I get chatting her: she’s Margaret Taylor and a relative newcomer to parkrun, but getting faster each time so PBs on each outing. Not today though – she’s going to take it easier and enjoy flying the flag for TeamGB.
Knowing that I’ve got a long day of sport ahead of me I start near the back vowing to take it easy but of course after 1k and the first hill that goes out of the window and Mr Competitive kicks in so I end doing a semi-respectable (for an old person) 22:53, 51st place and 2nd VM55-59. Not that it’s a race…
I find ace race photographer Mick Hall at the finish and ask for a copy of any shots he’s got of Margaret and her flag – and here she is, ‘in the zone’ on the hill.
Next up for 10.00 is table tennis but the Ping table in the park is minus its bats and balls so I head over to Trentham Gardens and a spot of Nordic walking with my mate Jake and an event he’s organised under the guise of his social enterprise Human-Nature Escapes (link). There’s half a dozen of us there and we spend a pleasant, if wet, 30 minutes doing warm up drills with the walking poles - not your ordinary poles but serious bits of carbon fibre sporting hardware – and then Nordic walk across a field or two before the rain defeats us. Great exercise though, and gentle on the knees which is good, they’re feeling the effects of the hilly 5k earlier.
Soggy, but enthusiasm undampened, I head next for Nuffield Health’s #IAmTeamGB event. The swimming pool looks pretty tempting so I dive in there first and knock out a few lengths of front crawl and breast stroke before heading up to the gym where I have half an hour’s fun trying out the various weights equipment and a couple of bikes. I set the second bike up for ‘undulating terrain’ and whizz through a few miles of virtual hills – which will count as minimal preparation for next the next weekend’s Tour of the Potteries ride in Stoke…
Time for a cup of tea and a spot of social media (link?) in the café there and then on to Northwood Stadium to see what’s on there for #IAmTeamGB.
There’s some badminton going on inside, and a couple of families trying out the table tennis tables. I haven’t ticked off a racquet sport yet, so ask one of the mums if I can take on her young son. He loves it and we’re soon joined by a slightly older lad from the other table wanting to play. This is Henry and he’s a serious competitor so we end up in a keenly fought match of ‘Henry’s rules’ table tennis in which Henry comes out the 10-9 victor.
Next up the athletics track: again a couple of families here trying it out and some long-jumping going on too. I can’t resist testing my 400m form (1:29.96 – bit of work needed there!) and get a real buzz from sprinting around the track. I wander over to watch the long jumpers and recognise Neil Gilson, our local Olympic Ambassador and leading sports coach. He’s coaching a couple of girls in the long jump – no doubt future Jaz Sawyers, with Neil’s expert input. The girls’ dad is helping with the rake and tape measure. I chat to Neil and feel privileged to watch him in action – he’s been coaching locally for 50 years – 2016 is actually his half century anniversary which surely deserves some kind of reward or honour? If ever there was a deserving case it’s Neil, who has coached hundreds of juniors in rowing and athletics through the school and club system and on to regional and national honours and record-breaking performances. It’s also nice to discover that the dad is Richard Dawson, ex-professional footballer and coach to Leek United U-12 girls team. Georgia, his older daughter is competing at the national long jump championships in a few days, so the fact that both she and her sister pop PBs as I watch augurs well.
I stay longer at Northwood than I’d intended, but it’s so inspiring chatting to Neil and so in keeping with the spirit of #IAmTeamGB to see him coaching the next generation of future Olympians – watch out for the Dawson girls in 2024…
Next stop is Stoke Staffs Boxing Club. It’s late pm now and I’ve missed the earlier crowds – they were really busy earlier in the day – but Liz, one of the coaches, takes time to open up the club especially for me and gives me a tour. It feels exactly like a boxing club should be: down a little backstreet, in a side door, up a flight of steps and into a set of three rooms, one almost completely filled by a boxing ring, another kitted out with punch-bags and the third with gym equipment. All run on a shoestring by Liz and her partner, but producing their own little crop of national champions – the latest being Stoke on Trent’s Junior Sports Personality of the Year, Barney Stokes. Barney won both the England and Great Britain titles in his age group in 2015. He’s not at the gym today because he’s on a week-long training camp with the GB squad - #IAmTeamGB Olympian hopeful for 2020.
Last up is a judo club on the way home from Stoke, but I can’t find the venue. The sports centre I turn up at is however hosting a crunch league match between Market Drayton and Newport Town cricket clubs, first and second in the table. So I end the day watching a local derby (albeit not an Olympic sport) and thinking that sport locally is in pretty good shape. Roll on #IAmTeamGB next year – surely this should be an annual celebration of all things Olympics?
The icing on the cake: a couple of days later I get a tweet from #IAmTeamGB thanking me for my participation on the day. If I had to pick an Olympian to celebrate with then a triathlete is spot-on!