How to help your child become a future Olympian

By Jane Dorrian

The Olympic and Paralympic games show us that there is a sport for everyone. Dr Jane Dorrian looks at the ways you can inspire your child to be a future star.

From archery to wheelchair basketball, there’s guaranteed to be something that got you watching. For lots of children, the games give them their first taste of less well known sports, or shine a light on the superstars of more popular events and they want to have a go themselves. So if your child hasn’t stopped sprinting around the garden since the 100 metres final, or is skateboarding down the staircase after watching Sky Brown’s tricks, here are some ideas about how you can help them

1. Mix it up

Research shows that doing lots of different sports and activities during childhood is more likely to produce an elite athlete than just doing one. This is because over-practicing one set of skills or actions is more likely to result in injury, and it gets boring! All sports have a whole range of transferable skills that are important in any competitive situation, things like teamwork, resilience, persistence and co-ordination and learning these in different situations keeps children motivated and interested.

2. Do it yourself

Children of active parents are much more likely to be active themselves, so dust off your trainers and get out there too. This doesn’t mean that you need to be working to the Olympics yourself, or even have to try and win the parents’ race on Sports Day, just find something that you like.

Lady and child doing yoga togetherIf you’ve been walking laps of the local park in lockdown take that a step further and join a walking sports team – there’s walking rugby, football, netball and lots more. Have a look at what’s happening in your local leisure centre or sports hall, there is plenty going on. It doesn’t matter what sport you do, it shows your child that you value being active and see it as something worth doing which is a positive message they’ll pick up.

“Becoming an Olympian is the pinnacle of a sporting career and not many athletes will get there, so it is important to ensure that there is fun and enjoyment on the sporting journey up to whatever point your child gets to.”

3. It’s never too early to start

The more opportunities children have to be active and move around right from birth the better their outcomes are. Giving new babies tummy time, limiting the amount of time toddlers are in their pushchairs and getting children outside building rockets out of cardboard boxes might not seem to have much in common with elite sport, but the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are critical to their future development and getting into the habit of being active will help the physical and emotional well-being needed to be a successful sportsperson.

4. Remember – this is fun

Becoming an Olympian is the pinnacle of a sporting career and not many athletes will get there, so it is important to ensure that there is fun and enjoyment on the sporting journey up to whatever point your child gets to. Being a sporting parent can be challenging, supporting your child when they’ve lost, spending hours waiting around during training sessions and having a washing machine constantly on the go are just a few of the downsides but the benefits outweigh these. Sport gives you the chance to celebrate successes, share experiences and spend time together so make sure you make the most of these opportunities.

Active children are happier, healthier and more resilient so take every opportunity to get them involved and who knows, maybe we’ll see them at Paris in 2024!

This article was originally posted on OpenLearn.

How does educational background shape Olympic success?

By Jim Lusted

You don’t have to have attended private school to be a member of the British Olympic team for Tokyo 2020 – but it may have helped, particularly for some Olympic events. Dr Jim Lusted, Lecturer in Sport & Fitness, explores the role that educational background can have in athletes reaching the highest levels of Olympic sports like rowing, hockey and archery.

Rowing crew

The level playing field of sport

The Olympic games provides an opportunity for us to witness some sporting achievements that push ever further the boundaries of human performance limits – with only the very best claiming Olympic gold.

Sport is a meritocracy, right? That is, the most successful sportspeople achieve their awards because they deserve them – they are the fastest, strongest, most talented and/or hardworking of their generation, and the sporting competition determines the best from the rest. Who can argue, for example, that the person who reaches the finishing line first in the 100m sprint doesn’t deserve their victory? It’s an alluring idea that draws many of us to watch and enjoy elite sport events – perhaps never more so than a summer Olympics like the delayed Tokyo 2020 games.

The strong connection between sport and meritocracy is in part because it is so obvious – and yet you may already have thought of some examples where the winner might not have always been the ‘best’ athlete. Take the infamous sporting doping cases like Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, US cyclist Lance Armstrong and more recently the whole Russian Olympic programme. These – and many more – would certainly challenge the ideas that Olympic ‘winners’ achieve their success on hard work and talent alone. It is also not uncommon to hear the world’s best athletes talk about how they were never the best in their sport at school – but somehow they had ‘made it’ to success as an adult while others had fallen away as they grew up.

The influence of school background

Sutton trust chart - education of medallists
There are, of course, a range of complex factors that can influence people’s opportunity to fulfil their athletic potential and then go on to compete at the very highest levels. One of these might be an athlete’s own educational background. What school you attend might not be immediately significant, yet it seems to have an impact on who ends up competing for Britain at the Olympic games. Across the UK, independent (private fee-charging) schools educate 6.5% of the total school-age population (ISC 2021). However, research completed by The Sutton Trust just after the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics found that 36% of British athletes who won medals had attended independent (private, fee paying) schools compared with 60% who attended comprehensive (state funded) schools (with the remaining 8% coming from Grammar schools – usually free to attend but with a selective entrance policy of some kind).

For some Olympic sports, including rowing and women’s hockey, the majority of medal winners in 2016 had been privately educated. In others, former state or Grammar school pupils dominated the medals, such as cycling where only 8% of medallists had studied at an independent school in 2016.

This research also looked at the figures for the London 2012 Olympics and saw a slight increase in the proportion of state school medallists in 2016 – it will be interesting to see how the figures compare again with Tokyo 2020. We should be a little cautious of reading too much into the statistical trends given the relatively low numbers involved being open to fluctuation. But educational background seems influential, particularly in some sports.

Why is educational background important?

The substantial over-representation of privately educated athletes as British Olympians is probably of no particular surprise; certainly, many independent schools use sport to market the desirability of their education, by investing heavily in expensive specialist facilities and infrastructure and emphasising the priority placed on pupil participation in PE and sport. This investment often includes paying for particular coaching expertise along with ring-fencing additional time in and out of the school day for sport training and competition. Sport in the state sector has always compared poorly in such sporting provision and the gap is arguably getting wider, particularly since the promising School Sports Partnership scheme which was set up in the early 2000s to grow PE and school sport in the state sector was closed down by government in 2010 (Lusted, 2014).

 

Young women playing hockey

‘Buying’ access through social capital

But it is not just economic investment that can shape the sporting journeys of the most promising athletes attending private and state schools. As social theorist Pierre Bourdieu has observed, there are other forms of ‘capital’ (not only economic) that are available to some people to ‘buy’ access to (and power in) sport (Bourdieu 1988). We can draw on one of these forms – ‘social’ capital – to explore more deeply why some sports appear to be more accessible to some than others, and the role that education plays in this process.

Social capital refers to the networks of contacts, friendships and relationships that can help gain access to spaces and opportunities that we may not otherwise have. In this respect, the interconnections of private school teachers, coaches, parents and other relatives and local (often professional) sports club contacts can often help smooth an athlete’s journey to further progression. For sports such as cricket, hockey, archery and rowing, talent pathways are heavily informed by the inter-personal and organisational connections that congregate around independent school environments (and often, later, the associated elite Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge). Access is therefore often secured not only by an individual’s outstanding sporting talent, but by being in a position to ‘cash in’ regularly throughout one’s career development on the networks of social capital that such pupils have to hand. This allows us to entertain the idea that the different educational background of two otherwise equally talented young athletes might lead them on different athletic journeys.

Breaking the cycle of the traditional pathways to success

For Bourdieu, networks like these can be extremely difficult to break into without the ‘right’ social capital. It is not just a case of ‘talking to the right person’ or ‘getting in with the right crowd’ – such social capital is slowly accrued over time, is often informal, rarely acknowledged but heavily guarded by those who possess it. This can help explain why such networks are reproduced over time and can create long-term trends in sport participation.

Sport organisations are starting to recognise the often ‘exclusive’ nature of traditional pathways for some sports and have more recently looked to widen their talent identification programmes beyond their usual sites in the search for the next gold medallist. UK Sport’s ‘Fromhome2theGames’ offers an opportunity for all young people to be considered for development in one of many Olympic sports, initially just by completing 3 online physical tests. Whether this open-access approach can significantly challenge the existing development networks of some sports remains to be seen. Perhaps more of the next generation of British Olympians will be able to buck participation trends and find their educational background was lower down on the list of reasons for their eventual sporting success.

 

This article was originally posted on OpenLearn.

Olympics 2021: The story of how a small Shropshire town influenced the modern Olympic movement

By Steph Doehler

Whilst this year’s Olympic Games will almost certainly suffer from COVID-19 constraints, the event remains the largest sporting spectacle in the world. Over time the Games have evolved from their modest beginnings into something incomparably grand. In this article, Steph Doehler discusses how a rural English town has closer links than most to the modern Olympics.

Despite the perception that it was Baron Pierre de Coubertin who revived the modern Olympic Games there were in fact many Olympic events taking place throughout Europe before Coubertin was even born. One of these, set in the small Shropshire town of Much Wenlock, has been widely considered by sports historians as one of the key influences on the modern Olympics, and even delegates for the Tokyo 2020’s organising committee noted its importance and legacy.

Much Wenlock

Going to Much Wenlock is like taking a step back in time, with quaint bakeries, country walks and old-fashioned pubs. The town has a modest population; at the time of the 2011 Census it had just 2,877 residents. Each summer they host a special sporting competition, the Wenlock Olympian Games, attracting amateur athletes who compete in events including archery, clay pigeon shooting and a seven mile road race. The tale of the Wenlock Games in the present day fails to do justice to their inception in the 1800s and how their legacy developed. One of the London 2012 mascots was named Wenlock in recognition for its influence.

The annual sporting event

William Penny Brookes Much Wenlock’s most famous figure is Dr William Penny Brookes (pictured right), born in 1809. In 1850 Brookes formed the Wenlock Olympian Games, an event that emphasised his admiration for the ancient Greek Olympics. Excluding a few short breaks, the Wenlock Games have continued annually since their inception. Whilst the Olympics of today boast a modern programme of events, the first annual Wenlock Games invoked a more rustic feel with competitions such as quoits and a blindfolded wheelbarrow race. Soon, the Games became an important event in the athletics calendar, attracting competitors from afar.

Mirroring Olympic philosophies

Brookes sought to reflect ideologies of ancient Olympic Games highlighting one’s intense desire to win and be recognised as the best. Similarly, whilst nowhere near the level of grandeur experienced at the modern Olympics, pageantry was an important element of early Games. A band would lead the parade of flag bearers, competitors and officials from the town, in similar vein to a contemporary opening ceremony. The Games took influence from similar competitions in Greece, as Brookes discarded many rural events and the Games became more consciously ‘Olympic.’

By 1859 international relations had emerged as Brookes became more involved in the Greek Olympic movement, which was being initiated by poet, Panagiotis Soutsos. Later, Greece’s Zappas Games, offered more inspiration for Much Wenlock; Greek mottos and banners were displayed and medals featuring Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, were introduced. The Wenlock Games experienced a turning point in 1860, assuming an independent identity known as the Wenlock Olympian Society (WOS).

International relations

By the early 1870s Brookes regularly communicated with ambassadors in Greece and London to encourage the restoration of the Olympics Games. One notable individual was John Gennadius, the Greek Chargés d’affaires, who later wrote to Brookes: “I cannot but feel indebted to you that you continue with this idea, the project of a revival of the Olympic Games.”  In 1880 Brookes took his boldest step towards his Olympic pursuit by conceiving the idea of a recurring international event, and by the end of the decade he found someone with similar views of Olympic values, Baron Pierre de Coubertin.

The Frenchman was invited to attend an autumn edition of the Wenlock Games in 1890. Brookes wanted to enlighten Coubertin on the WOS’s efforts, with a view to develop something similar in France. It was here where Coubertin drew inspiration for the inclusion of medal ceremonies, an innovative (for its time) celebration that had been commonplace in the Wenlock Games for years. As Brookes’ lifelong dedication to Olympic values began to wind down, he passed the torch to 27-year-old Coubertin. In June 1894 Coubertin held a conference in Paris to discuss a revival of the Olympic Games – 79 delegates unanimously voted to restore them, leading to the birth of the International Olympic Committee.

A lifelong dream achieved

The first modern Olympics was originally nominated to take place in London. However, Coubertin opposed, suggesting Athens instead, echoing Brookes’ own wish. It was Brookes’ life dream that the first international Games would happen in Athens and that he would be able to attend. Half of his dream came true in 1896 as the inaugural modern Olympics were held in Athens. Unfortunately, Brookes was not able to witness it as he passed away just five months earlier.

The Panathenaic Stadium, Athens, Greece

The Panathenaic Stadium, which hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896, Athens, GreeceBrookes was the missing link between Soutsos and Coubertin, or simply put, the missing link between the Zappas and the 1896 Athens Games. This is not to discredit the work of Coubertin; he was the first to formulate many Olympic principles – all sports, all nations, all people. In many ways Coubertin preserved Brookes’ life’s work; had the Olympics not been revived much of what Brookes had dedicated his time to would have been in vain.

So, when you sit down to watch the Tokyo Games take a brief moment to consider that had Coubertin not visited Much Wenlock in 1890, the modern Olympic movement as we know it today could look very different.

This article was originally posted on OpenLearn.

Tokyo 2020 in 2021: Do the best things come to those who wait?

By Caroline Heaney

The life of an Olympic or Paralympic athlete is characterised by highly planned and structured 4-year cycles designed to lead to peak performance in Olympic/Paralympic year, but what happens when that cycle unexpectedly stretches to 5 years and is threaded with uncertainty?

Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

The COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented situation with Tokyo 2020 being the first Olympic/Paralympic Games to be cancelled or postponed since the Second World War. The postponed 2021 games will likely be a different experience to previous games with, for example, no spectators at most events (BBC, 2021) and a scaled down opening ceremony (Telegraph Sport, 2021). So, what effect does the postponement have on the athletes and their preparation? This article will explore some of the psychological and physiological impacts of this unusual situation.

What impact did the postponement have?

Obviously, there is variability in how athletes reacted to the postponement of the Olympics/Paralympics in 2020, but feelings of disappointment, frustration, confusion, and uncertainty seemed to be common (Taku and Arai, 2020). For example, in response to the announcement that the Olympics would be postponed British Olympic Taekwondo champion Jade Jones stated:

“I’m truly gutted – you give your heart and soul to something for four years, then for it not to go ahead is just horrible. Obviously, health comes first, […] but as an elite athlete, it is very demotivating and mentally tough. I’m a very positive person but the idea, right now, of having to devote myself to another year’s slog is a very difficult one” (BBC, 2020).

As well as the impact of the games being postponed, the lockdowns also had a significant impact on athletes and their preparations from both a psychological and physiological perspective. Lockdowns and the associated quarantine has been shown to have a negative impact on the mental health of the general population (Henssler et al., 2021) and elite athletes are not immune to this. Elite athletes were found to experience increased symptoms of mental health difficulties (e.g. depression) during COVID-19 lockdowns (Simons et al., 2021). As such the need for psychological intervention to support athletes is paramount (Reardon et al., 2021).

The impact on the training schedules of athletes was also significant. During the first UK lockdown, for example, many training venues were closed, and consequently many athletes lost face to face contact with their coaches and teammates and were forced to train alone in sub-optimal conditions. Research has shown that there was a reduction in the quality of training and sleep for many athletes (Mon-López et al., 2020), which could lead to a detraining effect and loss of fitness as well as an increased risk of injury (Sarto et al., 2020). To prevent these potential effects, athletes and coaches were required to be creative with their training sessions and develop innovative training programmes away from normal training venues.

Athletes who successfully managed to maintain their fitness ready to peak for a 2021 Olympics/Paralympics were faced with further difficulties when it came to qualifying for the games. Many qualifying tournaments and competitions were cancelled due to COVID-19 giving athletes far fewer opportunities to qualify.

For many, participating in an Olympic or Paralympic Games is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a postponed games may well make that opportunity unavailable for some, such as those who were at their peak in 2020, but injured or retired in 2021.

The ones who didn’t make it…

Postponing the Tokyo Olympics/Paralympics meant that some athletes who would have been there in 2020 didn’t make it to the 2021 Games. Retiring athletes are one example. It is common for athletes to retire after an Olympic/Paralympic Games and many athletes approaching the end of their career might having been looking at the 2020 games as their final swansong. The pandemic left these athletes with a difficult decision – hang on for one more year or bow out now. Some, such as Japanese volleyball player Risa Shinnabe and New Zealand cyclist Eddie Dawkins, chose to retire in 2020. Shinnabe said:

“That one year, to me, felt very long […] I could no longer imagine that I would be able to go through the same cycle for another year and maintain my condition” (Rowbottom, 2021).

The ones who hung on…

Those who decided to hang on include Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles who had originally planned to retire after the Olympics in 2020 but has decided to postpone her retirement. In fact, Biles is now considering continuing to the 2024 Olympics. She is not alone in this, with some athletes deciding that another three-year cycle is not as daunting as a four-year cycle. As Paralympic volleyball player Lora Webster puts it “three years seems like nothing when you look back on what these five years have felt like” (Radnofsky, 2021). These athletes seem to have benefited from the delay and they are not alone.

The ones who benefitted…

There are many athletes who appear to have benefitted from the postposed games. Take for example, an athlete who was injured in 2020 and would have missed the games, but now has the opportunity to compete. In many ways 2020 was the best time for an athlete to be injured as the entire world of sport effectively stopped for a while.

2020 also provided athletes with a unique opportunity to take a break from the physiological and psychological stresses of elite sport. This will likely have benefitted many athletes giving them a chance to recover and rejuvenate. The pandemic also allowed athletes to develop important skills such as resilience.

Tokyo: The games of the resilient athlete?

Resilience is considered to be an important quality in athletes, and those who have come through a pandemic and successfully qualified for the delayed games have certainly had the opportunity to demonstrate resilience. It will perhaps be the athletes who have the best skills in this area and have been able to adapt and thrive in this unprecedented situation that will rise to the top of the podium this year. Researchers exploring resilience have identified that the COVID-19 pandemic has created unexpected and novel adverse experiences for athletes and that resilience can help athletes to adapt positively (Gupta and McCarthy, 2021).

There has certainly been evidence of athletes demonstrating a positive approach. For example, in response to finding out that the games had been postponed, reigning Olympic champion swimmer Lily King posted on social media “Just one more year to get better #Tokyo2020” (Klosok and Church, 2020).

Let’s hope that such positivity and optimism will lead to a spectacular summer of Olympic and Paralympic performances.

References

BBC (2020) Tokyo 2020: How athletes reacted to Olympic Games postponement. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/olympics/52027542  (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

BBC (2021) Tokyo Olympics: Spectators largely barred as Covid emergency declared. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-57760883  (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

Gupta, S. and McCarthy, P. J. (2021) ‘Sporting Resilience During COVID-19: What Is the Nature of This Adversity and How Are Competitive Elite Athletes Adapting?’, Frontiers in Psychology, 12(374).

Henssler, J., Stock, F., van Bohemen, J., Walter, H., Heinz, A. and Brandt, L. (2021) ‘Mental health effects of infection containment strategies: quarantine and isolation—a systematic review and meta-analysis’, European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 271(2), pp. 223-234.

Klosok, A. and Church, B. (2020) Athletes come to terms with ‘heartbreaking’ Tokyo 2020 postponement. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/25/sport/athletes-reaction-tokyo-2020-olympics-postpone-spt-intl/index.html  (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

Mon-López, D., García-Aliaga, A., Ginés Bartolomé, A. and Muriarte Solana, D. (2020) ‘How has COVID-19 modified training and mood in professional and non-professional football players?’, Physiology & Behavior, 227, pp. 113148.

Radnofsky, L. (2021) ‘Athletes Who Waited for the Tokyo Olympics Are Asking: Why Not Stick Around for Paris 2024, Too? After a long wait for this summer’s Games, some old hands who had planned to retire are figuring they can also hang on another three years’, Wall Street Journal (Online), 04/11/2021 Apr 11. Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/simone-biles-will-push-on-to-2021probably-11585738819?mod=article_inline .

Reardon, C. L., Bindra, A., Blauwet, C., Budgett, R., Campriani, N., Currie, A., Gouttebarge, V., McDuff, D., Mountjoy, M., Purcell, R., Putukian, M., Rice, S. and Hainline, B. (2021) ‘Mental health management of elite athletes during COVID-19: a narrative review and recommendations’, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 55(11), pp. 608-615.

Rowbottom, M. (2021) A bridge too far – the athletes who retired instead of waiting for Tokyo. Available at: https://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1109206/big-read-athlete-retirements-tokyo-2020  (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

Sarto, F., Impellizzeri, F. M., Spörri, J., Porcelli, S., Olmo, J., Requena, B., Suarez-Arrones, L., Arundale, A., Bilsborough, J., Buchheit, M., Clubb, J., Coutts, A., Nabhan, D., Torres-Ronda, L., Mendez-Villanueva, A., Mujika, I., Maffiuletti, N. A. and Franchi, M. V. (2020) ‘Impact of Potential Physiological Changes due to COVID-19 Home Confinement on Athlete Health Protection in Elite Sports: a Call for Awareness in Sports Programming’, Sports Medicine, 50(8), pp. 1417-1419.

Simons, C., Martin, L. A., Balcombe, L., Dunn, P. K. and Clark, R. A. (2021) ‘Mental health impact on at-risk high-level athletes during COVID-19 lockdown: A pre-, during and post-lockdown longitudinal cohort study of adjustment disorder’, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 24(4), pp. 329-331.

Taku, K. and Arai, H. (2020) ‘Impact of COVID-19 on Athletes and Coaches, and Their Values in Japan: Repercussions of Postponing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games’, Journal of Loss and Trauma, 25(8), pp. 623-630.

Telegraph Sport (2021) Tokyo Olympics 2021 Opening Ceremony: when is it, what time does it start and how can I watch? Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/olympics/0/tokyo-olympics-2021-opening-ceremony-time-does-start-can-watch/  (Accessed: 12 July 2021).

 

This article was originally posted on OpenLearn.

What can we expect at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games?

By Simon Rea

Simon Rea previews the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, looking at the new sports featuring, plus who are Team GB’s best chances of winning medals.

The Games are going ahead despite a host of problems

After the successes of Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and London in 2012, the 2021 Olympic Games land in Tokyo amid difficult circumstances. Only domestic spectators will be allowed in the stadiums due to concerns about athletes and spectators bringing in the COVID-19 virus. It looks like the New National Stadium in Tokyo will not allow any spectators as a national state of emergency has been called in Tokyo, due to rising numbers of coronavirus infections. Athletes will have to undergo regular testing and their movements will be restricted and monitored. Unfortunately, the Olympic flame that began its journey in Fukushima in March before being scheduled to travel across 47 prefectures and arrive in Tokyo on 23rd July has been beset by protests and eventually its journey through Tokyo was cancelled due to fears over COVID-19.

However, at least the greatest sporting spectacle in the world is going ahead and there is plenty to look forward to. The Olympics will run until 8th August and will involve a record number of 339 medal events across 33 sports. The organisers have taken inspiration from the London Games by putting together high-profile events for Super Saturday (31st July) and Golden Sunday (1st August) that includes the 100m finals.

Four new sports and new competitors to look forward to

Four new sports, surfing, climbing, karate, and skateboarding have been introduced to cater for a younger audience and to keep the Games relevant to all generations. Also, softball and baseball return to the Olympics after being dropped for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

Female surfer Shino Matsuda from JapanCopyrighted image IconSurfer Shino Matsuda of Japan

Surfing will take place at Tsurigasaki Beach roughly 100 km away from the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo and will involve a series of heats of 4-5 surfers who will each have 30 minute to showcase their skills and catch as many waves as they can. They will be judged on five criteria including difficulty, innovation, and variety. Currently, the top surfers come from USA, Australia, and Brazil. Americans John John Florence and Carissa Moore are the top Americans while Australian, Stephanie Gilmore, is a seven time World Champion.

Player at Bouldering tournament in Doha beach games in Doha, Qatar Player at bouldering tournament in Doha, QatarSport climbing will feature three disciplines, speed, bouldering (pictured right), and lead, in a combined competition. Speed is measured by athletes climbing a 15-metre-high wall at angle of 95 degrees as quickly as possible. The current men’s world record in 5.63 seconds and the women’s is 6.96. Bouldering involves a climber being faced with a 4.5 metre wall that they will ascend as many fixed routes as they can. They must try and ascend as many routes as they can in four minutes. Lead climbing is where a climber uses a rope to make a vertical climb. They have to keep attaching their rope to the climbing wall over a 15-metre climb. They have six minutes to get to the highest point and if they are tied with other climbers they are separated by time. The six medals will be competed for by 20 men and 20 women with Czech Republic climber Adam Ondra a favourite in the men’s event, while Slovenian climber Janja Garnbret is favourite in the women’s event. She has competition from GB climber Shaunna Coxsey who has a chance of a medal.

Japan is the home of karate, so it is fitting that it is making its debut here. There are six events in Tokyo – three weight categories for men (67kg, 75kg, 75+kg) and three for women (55kg, 61kg, 61+kg). Japan have high hopes in these events with Kiyou Shimizu in the women’s event and Kiyuna Ryo in the men’s event.

The introduction of skateboarding seems like a radical move for the Olympics and will hopefully engage a different audience to the traditional Olympic sports. There are two disciplines of skateboarding – Street and Park. Street skateboarding is held on a straight street-style course and includes stairs, handrails, benches, and walls. Athletes are judged based on originality and execution, and the number of tricks they perform. American skater Nyjah Huston has won more prize money than any other skater in history and has over 4.5 million Instagram followers.

Park skateboarding takes place on a hollowed-out course that features curves and deep bowls. They often include halfpipes and quarter pipes. This is the event where we will see Team GB’s youngest ever Olympian Sky Brown who will be just 13 years old when she competes. She is a very modern athlete who has a huge Instagram following and learns her moves on YouTube rather than having a coach.

What about Team GB’s chances of medals?

While Sky Brown does have the chance of a medal Team GB having some hot favourites, such as swimmer Adam Peaty in the 100m breaststroke event. Cycling golden couple, Laura and Jason Kenny, are both close to creating British Olympic history as Laura is one gold medal away from Katherine Grainger’s record of 5 gold medals and Jason is one medal short of Bradley Wiggins’ record of 7 medals. There is real interest in the athletics as well where World and European champion Dina Asher-Smith takes on American Gabby Thomas and veteran Jamaican athlete, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce over 100m and 200m. There are medal hopes in the middle distance events with Scottish athletes, Jemma Reekie (800m) and Laura Muir (1500m) in the women’s events and the trio of Elliott Giles, Oliver Dustin and Daniel Rowden in the men’s 800m.

GB's 4x100m medley relay team featuring Adam Peaty during medal ceremony at the Rio 2016 Olympic GamesCopyrighted image IconChris Walker-Hebborn, Adam Peaty, James Guy and Duncan Scott at the medal ceremony during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

There are a couple of less known athletes to watch out for including Northern Irishman, Patrick Huston, in the men’s archery competition and Scottish shooter Seonaid McIntosh who is reigning world champion in the 50m prone event. Boxer Pat McCormack is favourite in the men’s welterweight category and along with his brother, Luke, is one of eight sets of siblings who will compete for Team GB.

While it may be hard for Team GB to better their medal haul of 67 medals, including 27 golds, from the 2016 Olympics there is excitement that the Games actually going ahead after the barren summer of 2020.

This article was originally published on OpenLearn.

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are coming!

The delayed Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be starting soon. Look out for lots of related content from #TeamOUsport here on our blog, on Twitter and on our OpenLearn platform.

The Olympics start on 23rd July 2021:

The Paralympics start on 24th August 2021:

A mile a day – Inspired by Ron

by Ben Langdown

As I returned home from my run last night, I was saddened to receive the news that Dr Ron Hill MBE had passed away at the age of 82. For those of you who may not be familiar with his name, Ron was a British athlete who, in 1970 at the age of 31, won the Boston Marathon in a, then, record time of 2:10:30 hours, breaking the previous time by 3 minutes. Later that year he went on to win Commonwealth gold in the marathon in 2:09:28 hours. This was not the first time Ron had recorded a sub 2 hour 10 minute marathon – in 1969 he was the second man ever to break that time barrier. Furthermore, Ron broke four world records in various events and ran in 115 marathons in 100 different countries. These were, and still are, impressive achievements, with Ron’s Commonwealth finishing time currently ranked as the 12th fastest time by any Briton.

However, for me, what is even more inspirational is the fact that, from 20 December 1964 to 30 January 2017, Ron Hill ran a minimum of a mile (averaging 7 miles) every single day for 19,032 consecutive days – that’s a streak of 52 years and 39 days! He did this whatever the weather, and despite suffering with illness and injury – such as flu, and even cancer surgery. A head on car crash in 1993 saw Ron being diagnosed with a broken sternum and lucky to be alive. Fortunately for his streak, he had already run that day, but the next day had to sneak out for a slow, flat mile when his wife popped out to do the weekly shopping! He only dared tell her a week later! In the same year, he had to adapt one of his trainers in order to accommodate a plaster cast on his foot following a bunion operation – this allowed his streak to continue as he managed a mile every day for the six weeks, post-op.

Why is this so inspirational to me? Because, I found out about Ron Hill during my attempt at a new year’s resolution in 2017. A friend had completed a year of running a minimum of a mile every day and I had decided to give it a go. They’d said the first 100 days were the hardest, and they weren’t wrong. Starting a challenge like this in the miserable, damp, cold, dark days of January and into February was not conducive to completing the challenge. However, I ran on through those and completed the year, and now 4 years later I am on day 1606 of my own running streak.

An image taken in the dark with a headtorch of a snow covered path with snow trails blowing across the picture.

Day 1500: A 7km headtorch run in the snow – Not how I imagined celebrating that milestone!

Like Ron, I have had my own challenges in completing a minimum of a mile on some days. Yes, the occasional illness has made it hard, sneaking out when my wife has popped out leaving me with strict orders to rest. Realising, on another occasion at 11pm while lying in bed, that I hadn’t run that day and going downstairs to complete hundreds of shuttle runs back and forth through the open kitchen and living room doors – just to clock up a mile on my watch!  And running at 10.30pm on a full belly of curry, naan bread and a couple of pints after forgetting to run before a meal out with colleagues…needless to say, there have been some slower miles mixed in along the way.

Day 1000: A celebratory 17km trail run in the Peak District

There have also been many highlights and benefits of committing to running every day. My fitness has improved, I’ve explored so much more countryside (including in Italy, Canada, USA and across the UK), seen stunning sunsets…

    

Sunsets on day 1408 and 1542

…desk breaks now have a renewed purpose, I’ve run new road routes, trail routes, up and down beaches, enjoyed being with friends, travelled to the Peak District to run up Mam Tor (title image) and along the Great Ridge on day 1000, drawn fancy GPS maps (e.g. shooting star!), clocked up personal bests and set new challenges along the way. This year I am attempting a minimum of 5km a day, spurred on by all the geeky data a new GPS watch has brought to me and the monthly competition with friends on total distance achieved! 566 miles (906 km) so far this year and I’m yet to get out and run today…

   

Day 958: Shooting Star: A 14km run with Dr Nathan Smith in the Leicestershire countryside

I’m still way off Ron Hill’s >52 year streak, and having started mine at the age of 37 I was 11 years older than he was on his first day. I know this means I may never get close to his streak and indeed I am not sure where or when mine may end, but despite all this, I am enjoying the challenge and am still greatly inspired by the British running legend, Dr Ron Hill MBE.

Run 1606 – for Ron

#runeveryday

Meet another of our Student Voice Champions

As our last article explained Student Voice Champions have been recruited to represent Sport and Fitness. You previously met Chris and Yasmin and this article introduces our third champion, Will.

My name is Will, I am a Level 2 Sport and Fitness student and I will be starting my final year this coming October. When I’m not studying, I currently work as a garden landscaper        and I am a coach at my local running club taking different ability groups. Another one of my passions is Triathlon, after starting a few years ago it has become a big part of my life, it helps me keep fit and I enjoy completing new challenges. My biggest achievement to date was completing a half-ironman in 5 hours 10 minutes. I am also a keen golfer and recently I achieved my first hole in one.

I decided that I wanted to be a student voice rep to promote mental health. Due to the current situation we find ourselves in, I think many OU students could benefit from more support whether this is just someone to talk to or more support from OU staff. I will do my very best to ensure that this support is in place for you. Please feel free to get in contact with me if there is anything you need.

Twitter: @GoreWill

Email: zx674027@ou.ac.uk

Meet two of our Student Voice Champions

Student Voice Champions have been recruited to represent Sport and Fitness. These new and exciting roles are designed for students to have a voice and share opinions and ideas  that represent those on the qualification which have the potential to inform the student experience. Your Student Voice Champions have been selected as they are passionate about having a voice as students and wellbeing as well as wider influences such as curriculum design and content, equality and diversity, promoting good mental health and other topics which are important for student success.

Meet two of your Student Voice Reps below:

My name is Chris Nash and I am a Level 1 student. Outside of my OU study I work as a data manager looking after timetabling, academic data and exam results analysis for a secondary school and sixth form in Dorset. I’m also a permanent wheelchair user and profoundly deaf, and until recently was a wheelchair racer participating in elite road races up to marathon distance (and had fun doing so!).

My experiences with my disabilities have also contributed to mental health struggles and alongside tirelessly fighting for a level playing field for those with disabilities I am also a passionate advocate for providing support for those struggling with their mental health. I love interacting with others both face to face and online and hope you will find me very approachable. I’m always ready to listen if there is something you would like to share, or indeed if you just need someone to talk to – and I love hearing and sharing success stories too!

Feel free to get in touch via Twitter @blackberrychris

My name is Yasmin, I’m one of the very lucky students who is a part of the Student voice team. Some facts about me are that I’m 25, mad about disability sport and love learning new things, when we aren’t in lockdown I’m often found hiding at the gym. I am very keen to represent students and make sure our voices are heard, if we all work together then big changes can happen. I’m coming back to studying after finishing my GCSE’s I went straight into working in design. My life got flipped over and I now live life with multiple disabilities and as much as I love design, I love sport and fitness more. I have my qualification in coaching wheelchair basketball and have been involved in wheelchair sport for the past 7 years. I like to think I’m approachable and anyone is welcome to reach out about absolutely anything using my email Yr474@ou.ac.uk.

For more information on Student Voice please visit the Student Voice page of the Sport and Fitness Website.

Taking the knee: Emancipation or defiance?

Authored by the team ‘Sapphire Sophomores’: Allen Hall, Skye Holdway and Alexander Grint [E119 20J students].


This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


During the American national anthem of a 2016 pre-season NFL game, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to remain seated as a way of protest against police brutality, racial injustice and social inequality hoping to draw attention to the issue.

Kaepernick said at the time: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” going on to say “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” (BBC, 2020)

Four days later Nate Boyer, a former US Army Green Beret turned NFL player penned an open letter to Colin Kaepernick which was published in the Army Times, expressing his thoughts on Kaepernick’s stance, ending the letter saying he was listening with an open mind. Kaepernick saw the letter and reached out to Nate Boyer. They met three days later to discuss Kaepernick’s motivations behind his protest, his thoughts on social justice and police brutality. Boyer would talk about his time in the military and why Kaepernick remaining seated during national anthem away from his teammates could be seen as divisive and hurtful. Both men agreed to a compromise. That Kaepernick would take a knee. This would allow him to still protest, but by taking a knee, it would be a more respectful way of doing so. Boyer later said in an interview “We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his team-mates. Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect” (Snopes, 2017). From September 1st 2016 Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem. This would prove to be far more iconic. The move soon gained support from fellow players, which solidified the stances significance as a peaceful objection to oppression.

His actions however, brought widespread reaction from fans and the media, polarising opinions, and triggering furious national debate. With many voicing their discontent, decrying his actions as disrespect for the American flag or for being unpatriotic (BBC, 2020) while others were quick to offer praise and support for Kaepernick for taking such a brave and principled stance.

Amongst those to condemn taking a knee as unpatriotic and disrespectful was President Trump, who, in 2017 nearly a year after Kaepernick first knelt, levelled criticism at players who joined the movement, suggesting players should be sacked (Time, 2017). Curiously though, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested that taking the knee originated in the TV series Game of Thrones, stating he would refuse to take a knee if requested, and went on to say that he viewed the action as “subjugation and subordination rather than liberation or emancipation” (TR, 2020). President Obama’s reaction at the time was to focus on the First Amendment right of free speech, choosing his words carefully he would say “I want Mr Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot” (Time, 2017)

Taking a knee has since become a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns for freedom, for liberation, and justice (Black Lives Matter, 2020). The movement gained impetus and prominence following the horrific killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police on 25th May 2020 leading to more and more people using the peaceful action to protest throughout many countries across the world.

Amongst the black community, taking a knee has a long history that can be traced back as early as 1780, where the image of a black man kneeling became the emblem of the British abolitionist movement during the 18th and 19th centuries, a movement to ban slavery in England, the Empire and around the world (Global News, 2017). The image symbolised freedom and liberation from slavery. Taking a knee was later adopted by Martin Luther King Jr, who in 1965 led a group of civil rights protestors to take the knee during a prayer outside Dallas County Alabama Courthouse. The prayer, following a march for the right to vote, was held after the group of around 250 were arrested for marching without a permit (Global News, 2017).

It is evident that taking a knee has nothing to do with disrespect or being unpatriotic, but the evidence seems to suggest that this is the message being dictated by those in power and by those that are ignorant to its meaning. There are undoubtedly two sides to taking the knee. On one hand, it could be a seen as a sign of emancipation as its very original form back in the 1700s was a symbol of freedom and liberation from slavery, but in more modern times it could be looked upon as a sign of defiance and insubordination as a protest against the racial injustice and police brutality.

 

References

BBC (2020) Black Lives Matter: Where does ‘taking a knee’ come from? [Online]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-53098516 [Accessed 26 January 2021].

Black Lives Matter (2020) About [Online]. Available at https://blacklivesmatter.com/global-actions/ [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Global News (2017) Martin Luther King Jr. took a knee in 1965. Here’s a history of the powerful pose. [Online]. Available at http://globalnews.ca/news/3769534/martin-luther-king-jr-take-a-knee-history/ [Accessed 26 January 2021].

RT Question More (2020) ‘Take the knee’ in support of BLM? Only for Queen & wife, says UK Foreign Sec, who thinks gesture comes from Game of Thrones [Online]. Available at https://www.rt.com/uk/492208-take-knee-raab-queen-wife/  [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Snopes (2017) Did a U.S. Veteran Influence Kaepernick’s ‘Take a Knee’ Protest of Police Brutality? [Online]. Available at FACT CHECK: Did A U.S. Veteran Influence Kaepernick’s ‘Take a Knee’ Protest of Police Brutality? (snopes.com)  [Accessed 26 January 2021].

Time (2017) The Difference Between President Trump and President Obama’s Reactions to the NFL Kneeling Movement [Online]. Available at https://time.com/4955050/trump-obama-nfl-kaepernick-kneeling/ [Accessed 27 January 2021].