STARS of the sporting world descended on the region’s schools yesterday to kick-start an exciting Olympic programme.
Some of the top names in British sport gathered at Benfield School in Newcastle to inspire pupils taking part in the Schools 500 Olympic Legacy programme between now and the summer.
Household names including Steve Cram and Sally Gunnell were joined by hurdler Allison Curbishley, paralympic gold medallist Stephen Miller, and commonwealth champion swimmer Chris Cook to launch the first phase of the programme, called the Gold Challenge.
But it wasn’t only track and field stars that were showing their support for the programme. Fab Flournoy, player and head coach of the Newcastle Eagles basketball team, also made a guest appearance.
A record 7,000 school children have signed up for the programme, in which teams of young people will take part in a wide variety of sports at venues across the city, raise money for charity, and compete for the right to take part in a dress rehearsal for the Games at the Olympic Stadium in London.
The challenge will culminate with a fun run in Exhibition Park on Wednesday, July 4.
This will be followed by the second annual Schools 500 Games, the UK’s biggest school sports event, from July 5 to 8.
Former Olympic champion, Sally Gunnell, said: “It’s fantastic to be launching the legacy programme in Newcastle. Anything that inspires young people to take up a sport has to be encouraged.” Children from Ravenswood Primary and Gosforth Central Middle School were invited to the launch, sponsored by Newcastle Science City, at Benfield School.
The athletes then toured around 20 schools in the city to meet pupils in special assemblies.
Ravenswood Primary School pupil James Johnston, 10, said: “We got to try lots of different activities and a sports quiz too. I like to play football and I’m looking forward to watching the Olympics in the summer.”
Classmate Ellie Clark, nine, said: “I think it’s really important that young people take part in sports because it helps to keep us healthy.”
Erin Donnelly, 12, from Gosforth Central Middle School, added: “It’s been good fun to be at the launch event and meet the athletes. I’m really glad I got the chance to be involved. Dave Johnson, assistant headteacher at Benfield School and 2012 legacy development officer, said: “As the Games draw near, the Schools 500 programme, which was designed to raise awareness of and inspire the children of Newcastle to become involved in Olympic-themed events, has reached a point in its development that will ensure it can influence the lives of every child in the city.”
The Gold Challenge will see pupils embarking on a sponsored event to cover 2012km, 201.2km or 21.12km in one or more disciplines, including running, cycling, swimming and horse-riding.
The money raised will go to the charity, COCO, founded by Steve Cram to improve the lives of children living in poverty.
He said: “Sport is so important within education and can give pupils the skills they need to take on all of life’s challenges now and in the future.”