London 2012: Olympic legends talk of ‘historic moment for capital’

The star-studded Laureus World Sports Awards is paying its first visit to London in the same year as the Olympic Games

lord seb coe
Locog chairman Lord Coe (right) is also a Laureus Academy Member Photo: Getty Images for Laureus

lord seb coe

When five Olympic champions with a tally of 19 gold medals decide to share their thoughts about great sporting achievements—and the Olympics in particular—it is probably a conversation worth hearing.

On a snow-bound Sunday morning in the heart of London, five such individuals—all of them founding members of the Laureus Academy—gathered ahead of one of the most prestigious sporting events of the year.

What makes the occasion unique, however, it that the star-studded Laureus World Sports Awards is paying its first visit to London in the same year as the Olympics.

Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games but also a Laureus Academy Member, explained the happy alignment of these two sporting movements.

“Courage, respect, determination, inspiration, excellence—you clearly have not only values that are a metaphor for life but the values that were the driving force for a small group of us over 10 years ago, the first members of the Laureus World Sports Academy, who were determined to take sport into all sorts of areas where we know from experience it can resolve an awful lot of issues.

“When you see Boris Becker and Michael Johnson and Martina Navratilova giving up their time, going into really challenged communities, using sport as a bridgehead, you can see that the Olympic values are absolutely at the centre of what Laureus is about.”

These are perhaps not wholly unexpected words from the man behind London 2012. But what of those five other Olympic champions?

Edwin Moses, one of the most dominant athletes of his generation, said of this year’s Games: “The atmosphere will be unique. I have seen London’s Olympic venues and they are fantastic.”

Sergey Bubka, the greatest pole-vaulter in history, added: “It will be a unique Olympiad, the first time one city has hosted three Olympic Games – a great and historic moment for London, and there will be an unbelievable legacy afterwards.”

Swimming legend Mark Spitz, who in 1972 became the first athlete to win seven gold medals at one Olympiad, said: “The Olympic Games is a coming together of the world to compete in friendly competition. I’m just jealous I never had the chance to compete in an Olympic Games in London.”

Nadia Comaneci, one of the most celebrated of Olympic gymnasts, joined in: “I’m very happy that we can stage the Laureus World Sports Awards in London because it is a great pre-Olympic start for what is going to happen in the summer.”

And one of the home nation’s most popular Olympic champions, two-time winner of the decathlon gold medal Daley Thompson, revealed he cannot wait for the world to come to Great Britain. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to show people how well we can do things, it will be a fantastic Games.

“I’m just glad that we have the chance to show our country off. We put on big events really well, and no event is bigger than the Olympic Games.”

Lord Coe was keen to return to the legacy of the Games for young people around the world.

“Of course we wanted more kids in this country to be involved in sport, and actually Laureus has schemes in this country that helps us with that in some really challenged neighbourhoods.

“But we felt it was important to present an international legacy and we set a very simple target. We wanted 12 million more young people involved in sport in 20 countries by 2012. You can’t do that alone…you also need that impetus from people in sport, and so a perfect partnership for us has been with Laureus.

“The guys on the team have helped take their own personal messages of success and focus into those communities and Laureus has in large part been responsible for us getting to that target a year before the Olympic Games.”

All of these Olympians, and the rest of the 47-strong Academy, will tomorrow night acknowledge the achievements of the current generation of sporting superstars, the likes of Novak Djokovic, Usain Bolt, Rory McIlroy and Esther Vergeer.

Some of the nominees may themselves go on to win Olympic gold, perhaps even in London this summer. And a few of them might also follow the lead of their illustrious predecessors and take the Olympic—and Laureus—message one step further.

Find out who else will be walking the red carpet at the Laureus World Sports Awards on Monday night.

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