Triple jump world record holder Jonathan Edwards was in Greenwich today to meet pupils at John Roan School. Edwards, who is a member of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), was accompanied by Tim Hadaway, who is is responsible for the 2012 equestrian events.
Jonathan met with pupils including the school's sports ambassadors to talk about 2012 and his own athletics career. Answering questions from the students, he explained how he became an athlete, and urged them not to sell themselves short and not to be afraid to fail.
Asked by one student about his nerves for big events, he mentioned how he had used his former Christian faith to take the pressure off himself, but suggested this could also be achieved through other support networks. Such was his success that at one point his own son told him he wanted to be Jonathan Edwards when he grew up.
Before meeting the pupils, I sat down with Jonathan Edwards and Tim Hadaway to discuss the London 2012 Olympics. I started by asking what the purpose of the visit was today.
Jonathan: It's just to raise the profile of the consultation that's going on for the equestrian events in Greenwich Park, and to come and speak to young people about my career as an athlete, so it has a bit of a double focus. There's lot of excitement, but also concern about what's going to happen in Greenwich Park for 2012.
Greenwich.co.uk: What would you say to people who are concerned about the closure of Greenwich Park for a month in 2012?
Jonathan: The first thing to say is that there's been a lot of consultation already and a number of changes have been made to the plans so initially we were looking at six to eight weeks closure and now it's down to a four weeks. The route of the Cross Country has been changed and some road closures are not happening, so there's been changes made to make it better for local residents. We wouldn't want to host the games there if we thought there would be any long term damage to Greenwich Park - it's one of the iconic features of London.
A lot of the people I've spoken to are very excited about the fact you've got biggest sporting event in the world coming to Greenwich and I think Greenwich Park will provide an incredible backdrop. The equestrian events are every dramatic and for the first time you've got those events right on the doorstep of the Olympics village.
Greenwich.co.uk: Would you encourage people in Greenwich to get tickets because I don't know that there's any kind of priority ticketing for local people?
We're looking at our ticketing policy. Clearly we will take into consideration local residents being able to see events on their doorstep, I don't think there's any question about that - balancing that with it being games for the whole of the UK. But looking at Cross Country for example, there's 75,000 [tickets] across the whole course so there's a massive opportunity, and in the arena where there will be dressage and show jumping there's 23,000 so there's a lot of tickets and a lot of availability.
Greenwich.co.uk: What about a physical legacy for Greenwich?
Jonathan: The first thing is that Greenwich Council is being given £17.5million as part of its legacy fund which if Greenwich wasn't a host borough, wouldn't be there.
Tim Hadaway: Greenwich Council are looking at a site down at Shooters Hill next to a farm you can visit, and they are looking at building a permanent equestrian centre there which would give children of the borough, and adults, the chance to get involved in the sport. There's also a plan which is quite a fun idea, that incorporates the cross country course into a new children's play area and an element of it will be designed so that the horses can actually jump over it and it will stay there, so you can imagine the kids climbing through or sliding off what has actually been one of the jumps.
Greenwich.co.uk: Would you consider equestrianism to be a world sport in the same way that athletics is?
Tim: We'll have about around the 45 mark in terms of countries that will eventually qualify, but they would have come from qualifying groups around the world. Just like the World Cup there is qualifying but the qualifying works on a world zone basis so there's a lot of countries that do compete.
Greenwich.co.uk: Do you think equestrianism has a long term future as an Olympic sport?
Tim: Yeah, absolutely, very much so. Unlike all the other Olympic sports which are about two-legged athletes, in this sport you have a four legged athlete as well and it's all about how the two work in partnership with each other. A lot of the people competing will have developed the horse they are sitting on over a number of years.
Greenwich.co.uk: What about the barrier to entry - who actually owns the horses?
Tim: That's a good question. It's gone down the route of being owned by either private individuals or often consortiums of people, a bit like racing, where you have groups of people who come together and enjoy the sport. Most of the horses that top riders ride are actually owned by other people. Sometimes riding has this perception of being expensive and inaccessible, but actually a lot of the top riders have come from a background where they haven't got a lot of private support or a lot of money themselves. Just like any other sport, they've grafted away and taken advantage of little opportunities that come their way and they've got to the level where they've been spotted perhaps and someone's given them one of their top horses (to ride).
Greenwich.co.uk: Turning to Athletics, Jonathan - we got 4 athletics medals at Beijing. Are we expecting more for 2012?
Jonathan: We did amazingly well in Berlin [World Championships in Athletics]. Beijing was slightly disappointing. We've got a new head coach, Charles van Commenee, who took Denise Lewis to gold in Sydney and also worked with me towards the latter end of my career, and I think he's made a big difference. Berlin was highly encouraging and our best performance in a World Championship since 1993. I think it's given everyone a lot of optimism for 2012 and host nations always do well. At Beijing we came 4th in the medals table, but can we match up to that? All the indications are that we will, and we'll do better.