7th August 2012
By Andrew Bounds, North of England correspondent, Financial Times.
Jessica Ennis, Sheffield-born, raised and trained, was cheered over the 800m finish line on Saturday night across Yorkshire, from a crowd watching the big screen at the Don Valley Stadium, where she started racing, to the TV set at the Royal Oak in Upperthong, a village in the Pennines sharing in London’s Olympic fever.
“We were packed. The atmosphere was amazing,” said Lorraine Wood, the landlady. By some measures Yorkshire lies 10th in the medals table with four golds and two silvers, and those in “God’s own county” rarely need an invitation to celebrate its achievements.
“I know we are above Japan and Australia,” said drinker Tom Truelove, 26, who was getting constant updates on Yorkshire athletes’ progress from friends by text and Facebook. “It has been massive. People are really enjoying these Olympics.”
Some regulars laid claim to Ed Clancy, the Barnsley-born cyclist, who they believe once lived in the village.
Other successes include rower Andrew Triggs Hodge, who grew up near Skipton, Lizzie Armitstead, silver medallist in the women’s road race, from Otley, and Kat Copeland, the gold-winning rower, who lives in Stokesley.
The Yorkshire flag – white rose on light blue background – was visible in the Olympic stadium during Ennis’s heptathlon win on Saturday and it will be flying again in Hyde Park on Tuesday when brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee from Leeds go for gold in the triathlon. Victory for either of them could take Yorkshire above Russia in the medals table.
The success is not just down to Yorkshire’s size – covering about 6,000 square miles it is sometimes called the Texas of England. There is a vibrant network of clubs staffed by volunteers, from the Holme Valley Wheelers, where Clancy started out, to its athletic counterpart Holmfirth Harriers, which has more than 350 junior members, seven times more than a decade ago.
Ennis has not had to leave Yorkshire to train, thanks to the facilities at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. Its indoor facilities are available to local junior athletes, allowing year-round training.
Pete Blakemore, a coach at Sheffield City Athletic Club, where Ennis is a life member, said the club has had to close the waiting list for its Wednesday evening training sessions, attended by 100 children each week. “Jess has definitely made a contribution to attracting those children. What we need are more coaches. Perhaps Toni Minichello’s achievement with Jess will inspire others to try coaching.”
He said Sheffield rejoiced when Lord Coe, also from the city, help hand over Ennis’ medal. “There was definitely a lot of Yorkshire – and Sheffield – pride.”
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