On the 10-year anniversary of the 2012 London Olympics, Sky Sports News investigates the legacy of the home Games
Organisers and some of Great Britain’s top athletes have spoken to Sky Sports News about the sporting legacy of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics on the 10th anniversary.
Lord Coe and Sir Keith Mills who led the successful bid spoke about their regrets over school sport and levels of grassroots participation. But multiple Olympic champions praised the impact of the facilities in London, with two volunteers saying the home Games inspired them to become elite medal-winning athletes.
Mills was CEO of the London 2012 bid as they successfully beat Paris to secure the games. He was also deputy chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Sky Sports News asked Mills about his view of the legacy 10 years on. The 72-year-old said: “We promised to regenerate east London, the area of east London that really hadn’t been touched since the Second World War.”
He adds: “We promised to use the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games to have a significant social impact. And in terms of the Paralympics, I think we really changed the perception of disability sport in this country.”
Mills also says he’s disappointed about overall sport participation in the UK.
Usain Bolt celebrates winning gold in the men’s 100m final during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium
He says: “I really do think there was a missed opportunity there. I think there was a lot of focus on delivering a great Olympic Games and not enough focus on what we were going to do in terms of turning that into a sporting legacy.”
“We hoped that would be raised as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It hasn’t. There have been successes in among them, but overall sport participation has been flat or slightly declining.”
To continue the promises made about participation, Mills founded his own organisation called Sported.
“There are some exceptions. Sported helps community sports clubs grow. And we now have 2,600 community sports clubs across the UK helping 500,000 disadvantaged youngsters every week. So that is a great success. But generally, sport participation is flat or declining, and that’s been a disappointment.”
However, Mills did praise the regeneration of east London and the delivery of the Games, saying: “I think we all felt this, an extraordinary moment in time when the whole country came together, whether it be spectators or volunteers or politicians or businesses. And that’s quite unique in the world these days, that a whole country comes together. And that’s why it was such a success.”
“I’m sorry that school sport became a political football”
The leader of London’s bid to stage the Olympic Games in 2012, Lord Coe (left), with chief executive Keith Mills
Seb Coe headed the successful London 2012 Olympic bid and became chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games.
For many watching around the world, it was the image of the Queen “jumping” out of a plane that stole the show at the opening ceremony directed by Danny Boyle.
When talking about how this scene came about, Coe said: “It’s a globe wobbling moment when your Oscar-winning director comes in and says, look, I’ve done a bit of research. And it’s pretty clear to me that the two iconic figures in Britain are the Queen and James Bond in that order.
“And I was buying right up to that moment that seemed perfectly credible to me. And he said, wouldn’t it be great to get them to jump out of the helicopter in the opening ceremony? And that’s when I sense that I possibly wasn’t quite on the same page as Danny.”
But Coe, like Mills, also said there was an element of disappointment around the Olympics.
“You know, having said, we’d maintain such political neutrality during the games and in the lead up, I’m sorry that school sport became a political football. We should have done a great deal more with school sport.”
He adds: “We were always very clear that what we wanted was a multi-purpose facility. And that’s what we’ve got. I know discussions are taking place, as they will inevitably about, you know, what does that look like over the next 10 years? But I think that’s made a profound contribution to sports and activity in London and more broadly sort of the UK.”
What do the Olympic champions think?
Olympic gold medallist cyclist Dame Laura Kenny also spoke to Sky Sports News. In 2012, Kenny won a medal in the team pursuit with Joanna Rowsell and Dani King, the team also set a world-record time in this event. She also won the Omnium at the Velopark.
Kenny said she didn’t have access to a velodrome in the south when growing up. She said: “We’re lucky now we’ve got velodromes all over the UK, but we always had to travel up to Manchester and you could really tell that the best British riders we had were all from the north because obviously the track was there.”
She adds: “I think from a cycling legacy point of view, this track has just opened it up to so many other people to get involved in cycling and something that we just never had growing up.”
“I still get goosebumps”
The Queen was in a video with actor Daniel Craig as James Bond during the London Olympic Games 2012 Opening Ceremony
One of Great Britain’s most decorated athletes Sir Chris Hoy is an 11-time world champion and a six-time Olympic champion, with a total of seven Olympic medals.
What does Hoy remember of the opening ceremony?
“I still get goosebumps when I remember that night and the opening ceremony, walking into the main stadium as the flag bearer for Team GB.”
Talking about the velodrome, he said: “The memories from that night or from that week are unforgettable. So, we’re very lucky to have this amazing park, this whole place, it’s not just for elite sport it’s for everybody and that is part of the legacy to have these wonderful facilities.”
Former Paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds OBE is well known for her winning gold streak at the games, two of her four medals were gold. What does she think of the legacy and facilities 10 years on?
“The pool was getting used all the time from all walks of life, from the likes of myself, Olympians, divers, Olympic swimmers, Paralympic swimmers, the community, the general public going up and down, school kids, children learning how to swim.”
“I think for the most part it’s been positive,” says 2008 Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu.
Great Britain’s Sophie Hosking (right) and Katherine Copeland celebrate winning gold in the final of the lightweight women’s double sculls
Known for her silver medal-winning performance at the 400m event during the 2012 games, she told Sky Sports News, “I think there are always going to be some things that still need to be improved upon. But for the most part I think we delivered a legacy, we’ve created world-class facilities for everybody to enjoy, we have a really beautiful park where everybody can enjoy.”
When talking about legacy she says it’s important we compare other Olympic facilities around the world. She said: “I think we’ve really made a huge impact in terms of the legacy and what we can produce for future generations.”
Dame Katherine Grainger is a former rower and current chair of UK Sport. Alongside her team-mate Anna Watkins, they broke the Olympic record as they qualified for the double sculls final, before winning the gold medal in 2012.
Sky Sports News asked Grainger whether she thinks there was a ‘missed opportunity’ in relation to the Olympic legacy?
“I think you have an athlete mentality. Was it enough? Did we do enough? Because it was such a such a special moment? Could we have done more? And I think one of the biggest questions will always be from the participation side, did we get enough people embracing sport in their lives?
She adds: “Now, I think we have got a lot of people doing it because of either the facilities or what they saw. But could we do more? I always want to do more.”
“I carried Jessica’s kit and went on to win world silver”
Jessica Ennis-Hill celebrates winning gold in the Women’s Heptathlon after the 800 metres
Laviai Nielsen is a world championship silver medallist sprinter who was inspired by the London 2012 Olympics. As a teen, Nielsen was a volunteer at the games and was a bag carrier for British heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill.
She says she remembers looking at Jessica and thinking, “I want to do this. I want a part of this. So that was really defining in my career.”
“After 2012, my sister and I, both of us were like, ‘we’ve got to take this seriously.’ Like, let’s give it a good go. And so, two years after 2012, I made my first international team. Three years after 2012, was on the same team as Jessica Ennis-Hill, and that’s when I told her, I carried your kit three years ago.”
She adds: “Five years after 2012, the world championships came back to the London stadium, full crowds again. I think everyone was just so excited to have another global championship back in the stadium. I remember during our victory lap of honour. And then I just remember thinking, I watched my idols do this five years ago.”
Nielsen grew up in Leytonstone in East London and witnessed the role regeneration first hand.
“I just sort of saw east London sort of placed back on the map. There were tons of income coming in. I think some of my friends, our first-ever jobs were in Westfield at the age of 16 and 17. So I think it was a great opportunity for us.”
“From torchbearer to Olympic Bronze medallist”
Desiree Henry (second right of the volunteers) was part of the group who were involved in lighting the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony with Sir Steve Redgrave
Desiree Henry is an Olympic bronze medallist sprinter. Henry was one of seven young people chosen to light the Olympic Cauldron at the opening ceremony and was nominated by decathlete Daley Thompson. Little was known about her back then but four years on from 2012, she became a bronze medallist at the Rio Olympics, saying the home games helped to realise her potential.
“Just to see that the stadium was so filled and proud and the fact that little old me was there right in the centre. I was just really trying to enjoy every single moment and just hold onto it and yeah, just have fun, Henry told Sky Sports News.
She adds: “Even as I was walking up to the stadium, I just thought wow! I was really inside there kind of making history. And even as I walked with the torch, just the fact that it’s been 10 years, I just thought so much has been accomplished in those 10 years. But most importantly it was because of a night like this that I’ve been able to have somewhat of a successful career because it really kickstarted just that belief that I can do anything. I can go to whatever championship that I want to aim for.”
With recent reports about the stadium’s future, both volunteers-turned-athletes say it would be ‘devastating’ to lose it as an athletic stadium.
The London Legacy Development Corporation has told Sky Sports News there are no immediate plans to sell the stadium.
The local view
Dame Meg Hillier is chair of the Public Accounts Committee and MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch and has the Copper Box Arena in her constituency.
She says although the venues are being reused, she thinks “there is a bigger challenge about grassroots sport and lack of government support for that long term. I think that legacy hasn’t been delivered as much as it should have been nationally.”
“The government has effectively pulled out of that promise of support for grassroots sport. It hasn’t put as much in as we all hoped.”
She adds: “What Hackney was very clear about from the beginning is that it didn’t want to have white elephants or very challenging venues to run afterwards. So having the Copper Box Arena here was part of the general regeneration plan for that area.”
Greg Rutherford won gold on the same night as Jessica Ennis-Hill and Mo Farah in London’s Olympic stadium
Despite a bill of almost £9bn to host the Olympics, Hillier told Sky Sports News holding the showpiece event 10 years ago was “worth it”.
Hillier backs a call to host another Olympics, adding: “I’d say go for it and it’s like we’ve got the Commonwealth Games coming, these are all catalysts for pride in your area, pride in your country, pride in your sport. And let’s not forget how important those things are.”
Sky Sports News approached Greenwich council, one of the six Olympic boroughs and asked if they wanted to give a message to the Commonwealth games organisers around creating a lasting sporting legacy.
They said: “The legacy of the Olympics has been very positive for sports, leisure and physical activity in Royal Greenwich. Use this as an opportunity to create relationships with local people, communities, schools and organisations who have an interest in sports. The meaningful bonds forged will be invaluable for future projects.”
The regeneration of east London
The legacy has left the Olympic Park in east London open to the public. It contains some of those world-class facilities including the velopark, aquatics centre and stadium which was used for the World Athletics Championships in 2017.
On the topic of regeneration and a lasting legacy, Coe said: “If you look at east London itself, I’m choosing my words carefully here because, east London was an area of real challenge. If you look at the Premier League of boroughs and indices of deprivation, Newham sat at the top and by some distance.
“Looking at the Olympic Park now and remembering what it was when we were bidding, looking at the affordable homes, the fact that Loughborough University and Sadler’s Wells…that there’s a commercial future, we’ve got venues that London didn’t have.
He adds: “It wasn’t that we were building a second stadium or a second swimming pool or a velodrome. To have a city of roughly nine million people with not a single 50-metre swimming pool that was up operational or a covered velodrome. So, these are all venues that are now living and breathing.”
Lyn Garner, chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation, is responsible for the physical legacy in the Olympic Park.
Great Britain’s (left to right) Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell celebrate with their gold medals after winning the Women’s Team Pursuit Final at the Velodrome
She said: “The sporting legacy when the funding fell away from Sport England although we have lots of grassroots activity, lots of kids swimming in the pool, learning to swim in the pool. So, a thousand kids a week learn to swim in the pool. A million local residents use that pool on an annual basis. That’s all good. But it’s not really been that complete sporting transformation that we were promised.”
“I often get asked about affordable housing. What the Legacy Corporation has done is it’s delivered against the mayoral policies throughout the process, and they’ve changed.”
She adds: “Look around the world and tell me where there is a better Olympic and Paralympic Games Legacy Project. I think it’s been hugely well spent. There’s a statistic actually that 75p of every one of those pounds went towards legacy because as I say, legacy was baked in from the start. And when you come here, you can see that coming to fruition.
“So, I would say, yes, it’s been well spent. It’s been a real trigger to regenerate the whole of east London, which is growing more than three times that was predicted. It’s quite a victim of its own success, actually.”
‘I feel really sad’
Penny Bernstock is co-chair of The East London Citizens’ Organisation.
Bernstock says she was “really emotional” when she found out London was hosting the games because of, “the very clear legacy promises that the regeneration would be for the entire benefit for everybody that lived here, a model of social inclusion. That for me was very compelling.”
What does it feel like walking through the park?
She said: “I feel really sad, I both enjoy it, I love walking through the park, I think it’s a fantastic area, the venues have been converted for long-term use. There’s lots of exciting things going on in the park but I think that the commitment to people in east London has not been met and I feel really disappointed.”
“If we look at the park, it’s fantastic, there’s beautiful new homes, really high architectural quality but the key thing is who’s living in them? And if we cross over the road, you’ve got people in the east London boroughs living in the worst housing need in England. So, Newham for example has 30,000 households on its waiting list.”
What does she hope will happen in 10 years?
“What I really hope is that we get back to basics and say what was that legacy? What were we promised? And how can deliver more on that? There are some really great things, this is a living wage park, everybody here has to pay the living wage. We have a good growth hub; there’s some fantastic apprenticeships and it’s about really making it work for local communities.”
Sky Sports News also spoke to three park champions on the legacy. Shirley Henry was part of the Pandemonium section at the Olympic ceremony. She says it was one of her “proudest moments.”
On legacy and participation, park volunteer Kathryn Taylor Saunders said, “We forget that there were children who, of course, weren’t born or don’t remember. So, we are able to introduce a whole new generation and show them around the park and there’s a trail they can do and see all the different things that commemorate in the records and all the different venues. So that, I think is another part of the legacy. We’re introducing it to the next generation.”
“London Olympics in 2036?”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan suggests that London’s legacy story may not be fully finished. In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports News, he revealed the possibility for another Olympics in 14 years.
He said: “We’re working on a plan to bring the Olympics back to London, and I’ll tell you why.
“We’ve seen over the last few days the consequences of climate change in relation to the heatwaves, in relation to the grass fires.
“What we need is to make sure future Games are green and what we’re doing is working on a plan to have the greenest Games ever.”