WITH a year to go to the start of the London Olympics, Sheffield is already reaping the benefits - with the local economy boosted by millions of pounds and more people than ever encouraged to participate in sport.
“Sheffield will have a greater benefit from the games than any city outside London,” revealed Ben Brailsford, the Sheffield Council officer responsible for making sure the city capitalises on the games.
Mr Brailsford said that of 500 athletes representing Great Britain next summer, one in seven will have trained in Sheffield.
The country’s diving, boxing, volleyball and table tennis teams are all based in the city and individual athletes also train at venues such as the English Institute of Sport and Don Valley Stadium, including Sheffield’s own star heptathlete Jessica Ennis.
Mr Brailsford said: “As well as Jess, and the likes of diver Tom Daley, who is based here for training, we hope several local sports men and women will compete at the games. There are several members of the Sheffield Swimming Club and women’s water polo team who are hoping to be selected.”
It is not only UK-based athletes who will be preparing for London using Sheffield’s sports facilities. The USA diving team, Brazilian judo squad and several Serbian Olympic teams are holding training camps in the city over the coming months. Negotiations are ongoing with China and Canada. Mr Brailsford estimated the camps could bring in £1 million for the local economy.
As well as hotels and restaurants, teams have made use of facilities such as Hallam University’s sports science department and Claremont Hospital, Sandygate.
But a bigger benefit has come from Sheffield hosting a range of national, European and global competitions.
“We have always hosted some competitions but the UK has attracted many more since being given the Olympics to help get the country used to hosting such a big event,” Mr Brailsford said.
There are 60 competitions taking place in the city in 2011 alone, which Mr Brailsford said will bring in a total of £6 million.
Among them are the FINA world diving contest, the European fencing championships, the European synchronised swimming championships - and national junior swimming championships are ongoing at Ponds Forge.
Mr Brailsford revealed Sheffield hopes to send volunteers to help run the games next year - including dozens of members of Sheffield Young Leaders Club, an organisation for 16 to 21-year-olds which helps them develop through sport.
He said more than a dozen extra staff have been taken on at the English Institute of Sport. There has been extra business for Claremont Hospital and Hallam University’s sports science department.
Meanwhile, local firms are involved in building the Olympic village in London. Arnold Laver is providing timber for the velodrome, while Fullflow, a drainage company from Halfway, and Sheffield architects have been hired.
Mr Brailsford credits the growing profile of sport in Sheffield with a rise in grassroots activities, after a decline last decade.
The city now has the highest participation rate of any large city in England, with a quarter of adults doing at least three sessions of physical activity each week.
He hopes the proportion will rise further as a ‘legacy of the games’.
Clubs are being helped to expand with grants available from Sport England’s local organisation South Yorkshire Sport.
And events are planned as part of the national 2012 Cultural Olympiad programme, including the Olympic torch relay through Sheffield on June 25 next year, when members of the public will be able to join with celebrities and locally-based athletes to celebrate the arrival of the games.
Museums Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University are also hosting an exhibition at Weston Park Museum showing the history of sport science - which runs until December but is then moving to the Museum of Children in London’s East End to coincide with the games.
Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore said: “It is fantastic news that Sheffield is benefiting to such an extent before the Olympics have even taken place.”
Among the groups which have sprung up in efforts to promote grassroots sport is the Activity Sheffield Jogging Group, attracting recruits including Sue Goodman, aged 55, from Bradway, and Marian Tattersall, from Banner Cross, who are feeling the benefits.
Sue said: “I used to go running years ago, but it’s so difficult to find the motivation by yourself. When I saw the group advertised, I thought it was a great opportunity. I feel much better now, I’m going running twice a week and I feel fitter and more toned.”