Five years ago to the day Sir Steve Redgrave stood in Trafalgar Square and issued a rallying call to tall athletes with the potential to become the Olympic heroes of the future.
Launching the first UK Sport and English Institute of Sport (EIS) Talent ID campaign, Sporting Giants, in 2007, Redgrave helped set the wheels in motion as the nationwide talent search got underway.
With London having won the bid to stage the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games the previous year, appetite was high, and nearly 4000 people applied for the chance to become a ‘sporting giant’, with an average of 200 people an hour logging on to the Sporting Giants website throughout the day of the launch.
Following a rigorous period of testing and trialling, 58 athletes were selected onto Olympic talent development programmes, across Handball, Rowing, Volleyball and Canoeing, 17 of whom have competed internationally, achieving between them:
- 3 senior World Championship medals (2 silver, 1 bronze)
- 5 senior World Cup medals (3 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze)
- 1 Under-23 World Championship medal (gold)
UK Sport’s Head of Talent, Chelsea Warr, said: “Running projects like ‘Sporting Giants’ has taught us a huge amount about the identification and development of talented athletes, and this intelligence is helping us to develop sustainable elite athlete talent pathways for the UK high performance system, which will be a key legacy of hosting the London 2012 Games.”
Among the biggest successes are World Championship medallist rowers Helen Glover and Vicky Thornley, neither of whom had set foot in a rowing boat prior to Sporting Giants. Glover, along with partner Heather Stanning, and Thornley, as part of the women’s quadruple scull, are now both strong medal prospects for the London 2012 Olympics.
Speaking about the process, former model and show jumper Thornley said: “To go from total novice to Olympic standard in under five years would be hard but I have picked it up quickly and have lived rowing. I’m so glad my mum saw the advert. I feel like I’ve found what I was born to do.”
Handball is another sport to have benefitted from the scheme, with former semi-professional footballer, Bobby White, having made the transition to the sport and now captaining the GB men’s team.
Former rugby and netball player and current GB handball goalkeeper, Laura Innes, was another novice to the sport in back 2007, she said: “My uncle rang me after he heard the appeal by Sir Steve Redgrave on the radio. At the time I was playing rugby and netball, so I filled out the huge application form online of my sporting history, even down to what my parents did, and from there handball offered me a trial so I quickly went online to see what handball was!
“Our team selection will be in June so we’re all training really hard now to try and make the final cut.”
Following the success of Sporting Giants, UK Sport has since launched six other Talent ID campaigns: Paralympic Potential, Fighting Chance, Tall and Talented, Girls4Gold, Pitch2Podium and Power2Podium, whose athletes have produced 232 international appearances, 85 international medals and one world record (Para-Cycling).
Natalie Dunman, EIS Senior Talent Identification Scientist, said: “Sporting Giants was the first systematic national search for sporting talent and we’ve been really pleased with the success that has come from it so far, with 17 athletes competing at international level and 13 international medals won to date.
“Whilst talent recruitment is just one area of our work, Sporting Giants has been the springboard for a further six campaigns and whilst we can expect to see a number of athletes that have come through these initiatives competing in London this summer, we have the evidence to show there are even more in the pipeline for Sochi 2014, Rio 2016 and beyond.”