Athletics: McConnell and Edwards guide future stars

OLYMPIANS Lee McConnell and Jonathan Edwards were on hand at Scotstoun yesterday to help launch the 2012 Bank of Scotland Local Heroes programme – an initiative which has already helped Craig Benson, the schoolboy swimmer who this week qualified for the London Games.

The Local Heroes project is designed to support some of Scotland’s most talented athletes and their families for the Olympic Games and beyond.

There are 82 athletes being assisted with awards of £1,000 as well as practical advice and guidance on how to prepare for life as an elite athlete, with 51 welcomed into the pool yesterday.

At the event in Glasgow, McConnell and Edwards joined some of the competitors, their parents and coaches to take part in a day-long workshop. BBC sports broadcaster Alison Walker led a session on how to effectively deal with media attention, while athletes were instructed on how to use social media to keep fans updated with their progress and took part in motivational sessions with sports psychology experts.

“The funding and athlete support network provided by the Bank of Scotland Local Heroes programme gives a massive boost to these young athletes,” said McConnell, a Commonwealth Games 400m silver medallist.

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“It will have a positive effect at a crucial stage in their development and will undoubtedly contribute to the stream of talented Scottish athletes going on to wear the colours of Team GB or ParalympicsGB.

“Financial support is crucial at any level of sport but it’s also encouraging to see young athletes being educated about the sacrifices that go hand in hand with pursuing a career at the very top level, which cannot be underestimated.”

On Sunday night Benson, a sixth-year pupil at James Young High School, qualified for the Olympics with a Scottish record-breaking performance in the 100 metres breaststroke at the London Aquatics Centre.

The 17-year-old Warrender swimmer is one of the 82 athletes in the 2012 Local Heroes project – and the first to qualify for the Games – and yesterday he paid tribute to a scheme which goes a long way to helping with the cost of training and competing at national and international level.

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“Without the support of the Bank of Scotland Local Heroes programme I would probably miss several international trips a year, which can be the difference between eventually winning medals and not,” explained Benson. “This kind of recognition is massive and it means so much that a prestigious organisation like Bank of Scotland wants to support me and the other athletes.”

There were success stories back in 2010, when shooter Jen McIntosh and fencer Lisa McKenzie were on the Local Heroes programme. McIntosh won two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, while McKenzie returned home from India with a silver medal.

Mike Kerr, from Glasgow, is the only Scottish member of the current GB wheelchair rugby squad. The 29-year-old is in year three of the 2012 project and said: “Being part of the programme has proved a massive help in covering my training costs. As a chunk of my training is based in England there’s a lot of travelling involved so the financial support makes a real difference. Recognition from Bank of Scotland has also helped to raise not only my profile, but that of the sport of wheelchair rugby too, so that can only be a good thing going into London 2012.”

• Bank of Scotland Local Heroes, in partnership with SportsAid, provides support and funding to 82 emerging Scottish athletes all the way to London 2012 and beyond. Follow Scotland’s future stars of TeamGB and ParalympicsGB at: www.bankofscotland.co.uk/localheroes