COLUMN: Olympic heroes are the real deal - so let’s make it count

Jessica Ennis-Hill with her gold medal.
Jessica Ennis-Hill with her gold medal.

As Olympic fever begins to grip the nation, all eyes will be on Sheffield’s Jessica Ennis-Hill tomorrow as she starts the defence of her title.

I’m sure everyone will be fully behind her as she bids to retain her heptathlon title and looks to become just the third athlete in history to win Olympic gold, have a baby and then return to successfully defend their crown.

With that in mind, I think it is important to remember that the golden girl of UK athletics has had a long road to the top. Coupled with her own talent, hard work and dedication, she will have needed to rely upon all the help she could get in her quest for glory.

And this is why the ‘Olympic Legacy’ is so important. After all the fanfare and fireworks of the closing ceremony next week, talk will turn to how we can cement the success of our Olympians and inspire the next generation.

This is something we need to get right, and the evidence shows that we largely have in the last generation or so - compare the London 2012 medal haul of 65 to just 15 in Atlanta 1996.

Four years ago, Yorkshire’s athletes were leading Team GB to its record medal haul, and would have finished 12th if it were an individual country.

But what has happened since London 2012?

A recent survey suggested interest in sport in the county is on the decline. It showed participation in Yorkshire and the Humber fell by 1.7 per cent - the steepest decline in the country - over the last four years.

And this is despite a number of high-profile initiatives, such as the Yorkshire leg of Le Tour de France. In addition the last four years has also seen the closure of Don Valley Stadium - a former training base of Jessica Ennis-Hill. Sport England has also said investment from local councils in sport has fallen by £389m since 2010 due to budget cuts.

So have we really capitalised on the astounding success of 2012?

What is clear is that we need to do more. In place of Don Valley Stadium will be the 35-acre Olympic Legacy Park, set to include a £3.5m basketball arena, a 3G pitch and a research centre for sport.

But building these fantastic new facilities is only half the job. To make the Olympic Legacy ethos count, then our sporting directors need to make every effort to ensure people are getting out there and using these grand sporting hubs. We don’t want to be left with another pile of rubble.