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Feature: London 2012 – One Year On

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Feature: London 2012 – One Year On

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A year on from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, St Mary’s Head of 2012 Preparations Prof Richard Fisher reflects on St Mary’s involvement in the Games and the lasting legacy it has provided. The day that the Olympic Stadium hosts its first major event since the Paralympic closing ceremony seemed an appropriate point to reflect on St Mary’s Olympic experience and how the legacy is unfolding. The dominant memory of 2012 for us was Mo Farah cementing his place as the greatest British distance runner of all time and being proud that St Mary’s helped him to get there, as he observed earlier this year: The University College and the London Marathon supported me in my transition to world class distance running and provided a level of help that I had not received before then and I still appreciate it. I go back there to train whenever I am in the UK and I was proud to be inducted into the University College’s Hall of Fame for Sport last October. This time last year the campus was buzzing with Olympians undergoing their final preparations and many staff and students from across the University College were ensuring that they were happy, well looked after and able to train and prepare in a secure, quiet and well organised environment. There were many highlights of the camps but one of the best was staff together with a number of Olympians mixing with the local community by the white gates on to Waldegrave Road to cheer ‘Wiggo’ to his Olympic title. We delivered highly successful pre-Games training camps for squads from China, South Africa, Japan, Ireland, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway and Mozambique and the teams were most appreciative of our efforts: Sonia O’Sullivan, Chef de Mission Irish Olympic Team: We now know what a good training camp looks like and this will shape our expectations for Rio 2016. Gideon Sam, President South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee: I can quite happily say that our athletes were extremely happy with their experience at the University College during their 2012 Olympic Games preparation. It was extremely comforting knowing that our athletes had everything they needed during their stay. As can be seen by the fact that international sportsmen of the calibre of Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and many leading Kenyans have used this facility to prepare for the European track season, this venue is absolutely world class. Our team manager, Hezekiel Sepeng, has been to many training camps around the world and he would opt for the University College wherever possible because of both the facilities and the efficiency of the staff involved. I am sure that our silver medallist Caster Semenya's success was made all the easier due to the excellent preparation facilities at the University College. Between them the squads won two Gold medals, three Silver and one Bronze. The University College’s own alumni added the two Gold medals from Mo Farah (athletics), who was one of 11 University College runners in the GB team, and one Bronze from Mo Sbihi (men’s rowing eight). Later David Weir who trains at the campus added another four Gold medals in the Paralympics. Overall the University College helped to prepare the bid for the Games, played a regional and national role in planning and delivery and ultimately came an impressive sixth in Podium’s Olympic medals table for UK universities, topping the table for London. However, the real significance for St Mary’s of Olympic and Paralympic success was that it celebrated a milestone in a 15 year journey to review and restructure sport. A cultural shift in the structure and concept of sport at the University College led to changes in the relationships with academic work, students and external sports bodies and organisations as well as the community at large. Consequently, as soon as the Olympic and Paralympic Games were awarded to London St Mary’s was able to seize the opportunity to complete the last and most important part of its infrastructure plans – the creation of a new sports centre, assisted by a Sport England grant. This further investment of £8 million has ensured that an institution of 4,000 students now has a large sports centre with one of the best strength and conditioning suites in the country, three sports halls, well equipped laboratories and a sports injury clinic, together with extensive playing fields and a track, which became home to the local athletics club and a hub for coach development. The building was opened by Lord Coe in October 2011 who observed that: The University College is world class ... and that it was ... at the epicentre of everything we are trying to achieve from 2012. The core of our contribution to the Games was based on our mission in sport to serve the common good through inclusion, opportunity and the achievement of excellence. Whilst the headlines were about performance sport we also provided invaluable support to the Borough’s cultural programme (Olympic Dreams), offered three excellent Olympic lectures, helped to create the nation’s largest faith based Olympic initiative (The John Paul II Foundation to promote ethics and values in sport for young people) and enhanced academic work in three of our academic schools. We closed our Olympic year with our own Olympic dinner where we celebrated the successes of St Mary’s students and alumni at the Games and recognised the superb efforts of staff, students and volunteers across the whole Olympic agenda. We also inducted Mo Farah and Matt Wells (Rowing - four Olympic Games) to St Mary’s Hall of Fame for Sport as well as celebrating our highly successful partnership with the London Marathon. In the last year, the focus on legacy has intensified to see if the nation is delivering on its promises. St Mary’s view has always been that the official targets were probably a bit ambitious in some respects but if you look underneath them a wealth of opportunities have opened up and there is a rich legacy on the ground. Indeed the University College has already featured in University Business Magazine in 2011 as an example of how that was beginning to work. Post Games the University College’s community sport programmes have flourished, the institution’s profile in sport and related area is established worldwide and the University College’s own community is enjoying the benefits of a successful Games and a wonderful sport centre. One year on St Mary’s can be proud of its part in delivering the London 2012 agenda, satisfied that it made the most of the opportunities that were available and confident in its contribution to legacy: Richard Sumray, Chair, London 2012 Forum: The University College made a significant contribution to the success of the Olympic Games and to ensuring that a strong sporting legacy is achieved. The commitment that Seb Coe made in Singapore to ensure that young people would have better opportunities at all levels in sport has been demonstrated through their actions. In my view, it is an institution that put in the most and, as a consequence, got the most out of London hosting the 2012 Games. It was able to attract a number of Olympic and Paralympic teams to use the University College as their base prior to the Games. At the same time, it used these developments to reach out into the community and the collaborative programmes they devised have secured the University College’s place as an important community hub. The University College, therefore, covers all parts of the sporting pyramid and must now be considered as one of the best sports HEIs in the country. The benefits arising out of what it has worked on over the last seven years will be felt for decades to come and I believe is a great example of recognising the potential value of London hosting the 2012 Games and fulfilling it to its maximum.  
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