Eight medal-winning Olympians have agreed to give their support to the cohort of British athletes preparing to take part in next summer’s Games in Rio, and to act as their cheerleaders in a bid to drum up the levels of public support seen at London 2012.
“We’ll be working with the athletes, working with the fan club, attending roadshows, attending the kitting-out, speaking with the athletes,” explains Beth Tweddle, who won bronze on the uneven bars in London, her third and final Olympics. “Between myself and the other seven who are part of the programme, we’ve got 27 Games between us so we’ve lots of experience we can pass on.”
The other members of the Team GB Greats team, selected to represent the widest possible spread of sports and experience, “so that every athlete would be able to relate to at least one”, are Chris Hoy, Steve Redgrave, Rebecca Adlington, Ben Ainslie, Denise Lewis, Anthony Joshua and Sarah Stevenson, who won Britain’sfirst ever medal in Taekwondo, a bronze, in 2008.
“Most of the work we do will be in the lead-up to the Games,” says Tweddle. “First of all we’ll work with the athletes. I’ve done two Games that have been away from home and I know it can be a bit daunting when you’re leaving home and thinking: ‘The next time I’m here my Olympics is going to be over.’ If they’ve got any worries or questions, we’ll be there for them. But also, in London there was so much support, whereas in Rio the athletes might not feel that support so much, so Team GB have set up a new fan club and we’ll be getting behind that as well.”
Team GB hope that the fan club will enable supporters at home and athletes in Brazil to interact more than ever before. The public will be invited to submit good luck messages, some of which will be displayed in the Olympic Village, printed on to flags, and even woven into Bahia bands – described as “traditional Brazilian wishing bracelets” – that will be worn in competition.
For Tweddle and Team GB’s current gymnasts, focus will turn fully to the Olympics only after the world championships in Glasgow during October.
“I’ll be there for all of that, supporting the girls and boys trying to qualify for Rio,” she says. “For everyone who isn’t going to Rio, this will be the last time you can see the top sports girls from my sport, competing on your doorstep. They’re only a few months out from the Olympics, fighting for their spots in the Games. It’s going to be an amazing event for the city and for British gymnastics.”
Since her retirement in 2013 Tweddle has pursued a wide variety of interests, most famously competing in the ITV talent show Dancing on Ice last year, in which she came third. But she says she has “really stepped back into gymnastics” in recent months, and will take a level four (out of a possible five) coaching course this summer.
“I’ve found that I love working with children,” she says. “Before I retired, when I was in the gym my motivation shifted from me doing the work, to gravitating towards the younger gymnasts and wanting to help them. If I can put a smile on one child’s face and inspire them, so they can achieve their dreams whether they’re academic, sporting or in drama, I’ll be happy.”