DOUBLE Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes has been putting future sports stars through their paces - as new figures show increased particpation in sport in the region.
Dame Kelly was at Gateshead International Stadium yesterday to catch up with talented athletes from Gateshead College.
In September, the college launched a collaboration with Kelly Holmes Education, a programme designed to train aspiring athletes in a range of disciplines to help them achieve their goals.
As well as practical exercise sessions, the students also benefit from classes on nutrition and physiotherapy. Yesterday, the students were focussing on media training.
Dame Kelly said: “It’s great to be back in the region to see how the students are getting on. It’s important for the programme to include media training because the students need to know how to properly represent themselves, their sport and their college.
“Establishing a public image plays a big part in establishing a career as a professional athlete.”
Dame Kelly’s visit came on the same day Sport England released new figures which show more men and women in the North East are participating in sport.
More than 760,000 are now taking part in sport every week, an increase of 60,00 from last year and the strongest growth has been among women.
Dame Kelly, who won her two gold medals at the 2004 Games, said: “This is really fantastic news, especially when we are always being told about other figures, like the growing levels of obesity, but it’s important we keep the momentum of the Games going so these figures get even higher.
“Not everyone can aspire to be an Olympian and not everyone wants to be an Olympian, but everyone can improve their lives through sport.”
One of the students on the programme is keen footballer Lauren Biggs, 16, from High Spen, Gateshead.
She said: “I’ve been playing football since I was nine and I used to do horse-riding too.
“It’s great to be a female football player, as I hope I can be a role model to younger girls. You do sometimes get negative comments from people, but women have just as much ability as men.”
Olly Ure, 16, from Gosforth, Newcastle, added: “The Kelly Holmes Education programme has been great and we’re all learning a lot.
“This is a two-year course and afterwards I’d like to study in America for a couple of years. There are opportunities here in Britain, but I’d like to go somewhere different and, in America, people are encouraged to follow their dreams.”