Forget London, the Olympics will be what we make of them

I was never very sporty. In fact, my only moment of glory was winning the wheelbarrow race during a school sports day when I was seven.

And, to be fair, most of the credit for that narrow victory has to go to the hands and arms of my best friend Glyn Shelley.

At secondary school I was always last pick for football – either stuck in goal where there was no running about to be done or lurking about in my favourite position of striker (AKA goal-poacher).

In my head I was Kenny Dalglish, pouncing on a through ball from Graeme Souness, turning on a sixpence and lashing the ball home.

In reality, I occasionally stuck out a leg, got lucky and claimed a soft goal from eight yards out.

Meanwhile, my classmates bemoaned my lack of effort and mobility, questioned my sense of fair play and wittered on about the off-side rule.

The truth is the fat lad with asthma just didn’t want to have to use his Ventolin inhaler more than twice in PE.

But if I was useless at football, I took sporting incompetence to even greater heights on the cross country course.

To say I dreaded this weekly chore would be an understatement.

If memory serves me correctly, our county ‘athletes’ could run the course in under 20 minutes.

I shambled round in about 45 – leaving me just enough time in the hour-long session to get changed out of and back into my school uniform.

I would, of course, comically run at the start and end of the course to give the impression that I gave a monkey’s.

My mates Richie and Rob would always walk part of the course with me, thus undermining any chance they had of finishing in a respectable time. But that’s what mates are for, isn’t it?

My PE teacher, Mr Gilson, would simply roll his eyes as I trotted back through the school gates and mutter under his breath, presumably questioning the point of waiting to record my umpteenth last place.

Amazingly, Mr Gilson is still doing his bit to nurture sporting talent in Stoke-on-Trent two decades later, but he now works as a sports coach and mentor at the hugely successful St Peter’s School in Penkhull.

However, rather than wasting his time with no-hopers like me, he is now overseeing rising stars such as teenage England cricketer Danielle Wyatt and cycling sensation Kian Emadi – one of number of Potteries prospects hoping to secure a place with Team GB.

Believe it or not, The Sentinel’s circulation area has more than its fair share of Olympic hopefuls to shout about as London 2012 approaches.

Aside from Kian, we have sprint siblings Alex and Ashlee Nelson, pole-vaulters Steven Lewis and Kate Dennison, sharp-shooter Glenn Eldershaw, rower Anna Bebington, cyclist Shanaze Reade and triple-jumper Ben Williams. And that’s just off the top of my head.

So when Lord Coe, or Seb as he likes to be called, comes to the Potteries in April as the guest of honour for the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Awards, my guess is he will enjoy the trip immensely.

Having the man who is heading up the UK’s Olympic plans on our turf is a fantastic endorsement for the city’s event, which has now been running for 35 years.

Like many others, I’ve been a cynic. I’ve asked just what an Olympic Games for London actually means for the rest of us.

I’ve wondered what the benefits are of an event that is costing the taxpayer countless hundreds of millions of pounds – other than helping to regenerate run-down parts of the capital.

And the conclusion I’ve come to is that it is up to us to make the most of the Olympics.

We can sit around bemoaning the fact that the event is truly London-centric and will have no tangible benefits for the rest of us. Or we can get in on the act.

Local companies can tender for contracts and also help to fund our Team GB hopefuls, who are wonderful ambassadors for the region.

They should be touring schools and inspiring future generations to chase their dreams.

Why? Because sport – and keeping fit – matters in a city saddled with a chronic obesity crisis and where too many people have low aspirations.

It’s one of the few mediums that can bring all ages together behind positive goals and genuinely inspire people to better themselves.

Although, sadly, I have to confess I can’t see the International Olympic Committee ever acknowledging the true magnificence of the wheelbarrow race…

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