The Rio Olympics – what legacy for girls?

As I sit here pondering how to welcome a Paralympic champion back into school and how to celebrate her phenomenal achievements, I start to wonder what will be the legacy from her performances and those of all the other exceptionally talented individuals at both the Olympics and Paralympics.

There is no doubt that Ellie Robinson has surpassed all expectations – including her own – by winning a Gold and a Bronze medal in Rio in the S6 swimming classification. But what do her achievements mean to everyone else? Yes, the whole school has been behind her, yes we are exceptionally proud of her, yes we love her ‘gangster poolside entry’. But what will the legacy be?

Perhaps she will inspire others to strive to achieve their goals and feel that they can achieve against the odds. Perhaps she will encourage younger pupils to develop their swimming by swimming in the same pool that she has. Perhaps her success will remind people of avenues that sport can open up or the risks that we have to take in order to achieve at the highest level in any field.

Alongside this kind of success, we must consider how we can inspire the young women of our generation to take part in sport and exercise for the obvious health benefits. It is a worrying statistic that a third of girls aged between 8 and 16 think that vigorous exercise is socially unacceptable.

Sport has been all over social media for the summer of 2016. Can the success from Rio highlight how sport can help in all aspects of life? It was a wonderful example of how, if you work hard, develop as a team and take risks, anything is possible. In fact, the gold medal for the GB hockey team was a major Olympic highlight simply because this is one the major sport played by all girls at school.

The GB hockey team’s victory showed that self-belief goes a long way. Sam Quek is reported to have said the following before the women’s hockey final:

That gold is ours. We know we can take this all the way, if it’s between heart, skill and passion, then I don’t think we can be beaten.

“Ever since we landed in Rio, I’ve known this was going to be something special. We’ve put everything into training, we’ve left nothing to chance, we’re an incredible unit and that will be enough. We will win gold.”

The Olympics is a chance for women’s and men’s sport to be on a level playing field. However, out of the 69 medals won by team GB at the Rio Olympics, only 24 – 35% – were won by women. Why is this? Sport for a number of girls is still not ‘cool’ and, in a society where social medial is the way forward, we need to consider how to motivate young sports women of the future. Laura Trott has said that she got into cycling because her mum used to cycle to lose weight and she went with her. Is image the main driving factor for women in sport?

Jessica Ennis-Hill, Eleanor Simmonds, Laura Trott – all big names who have had a positive impact on women’s sport, demonstrating what women can achieve. They are all ordinary people who have pushed themselves and strived to achieve a goal that at times would have seemed impossible. But they didn’t give up. Is this not the biggest message for people to take from the Olympics and possibly even more from the Paralympics? Nothing comes easily and everyone, in order to achieve in any field, must be prepared to take a risk and fail. In order to win you have to be prepared to lose, and winning takes many guises.

This is the legacy from the summer of 2016. We are as proud of Ellie Robinson for her 4th place swim as we are for her gold medal swim. Maybe we should all be more like Ellie and take every opportunity that is in front of us and make the most of it irrespective of publicity, social media, peer group pressure and so on. Let’s be like Ellie, and go for it!

Jo Hackett is Director of Sport at Northampton High School GDST

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