Five-time Olympic medallist Dame Katherine Grainger believes she has been given a glimpse into the future of British sporting success after presenting SportsAid’s annual One-to-Watch Award. The 44-year-old former rower, who is now the Chair of UK Sport, attended the charity’s Celebrate the Next event, sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada, last week (19 November) as she met the top 10 shortlisted athletes at Sea Containers House in London.
This year’s main prize belonged to para swimming sensation Ellie Challis, after the 15-year-old won bronze in the women’s S3 50m backstroke at the IPC World Para Swimming Championships and set one world and two European records at the British Para Swimming International, while canoeist Daniel Atkins and sprinter Amy Hunt were second and third respectively. The shortlisted athletes were selected from around 1,000 rising British stars across more than 60 different sports.
Each year, athletes are nominated by their sport’s governing body on the strength of their talent and potential, as well as their recent achievements, before a judging panel, including Sarah Winckless MBE, Natasha Baker MBE and Katherine, identifies the winner, second and third place. Katherine, who was joined by fellow SportsAid alumni Christine Ohuruogu, Leon Taylor and Lutalo Muhammad at the event, believes such recognition will act as a significant boost to the athletes’ careers.
“These awards are fabulous because we get to have a look at what the future might hold,” said Katherine. “We had 10 shortlisted athletes and all of them have had incredible success already. One of the biggest changes we’ve seen – and this has been going on a long time – is that it does feel that the standard goes up every year and you always think it can’t keep going, but it does. I’ve been on the judging panel a few times now and every year it’s so hard. We really struggle to make the decision.
“They are outstanding athletes who are as young as 13 and already have had international success. You also get to meet the athletes which then makes the decision even harder because they’re fabulous people as well, which is inspiring in its own right. The lovely thing about being here tonight was that there was so many current, reigning and past Olympic, Paralympic and world champions from different sports, and most of these people received SportsAid support in the past.
“I think there’s a part when you become ambitious and want to achieve, but it’s before that potential is perhaps recognised by your own sport, from outside your friends and family. SportsAid is often the first hand to reach across that gap to say they believe in you. That confidence that SportsAid gives in people's futures, and extra support and recognition, makes a huge difference to young people's lives at that point in their career. It is quite game-changing for those who have made the top 10.”
Tom Daley was the inaugural winner of the One-to-Watch Award in 2006, while the likes of Courtney Tulloch, Amber Hill, Morgan Lake and now Ellie have followed in his path. Previous winners have amassed 43 senior medals from Olympic and Paralympic Games, World and European Championships, as well as Commonwealth Games, to establish themselves as household names. London 2012 gold medallist Katherine is confident SportsAid will help continued British success.
“I think this country has got better and better – and is recognised globally for not just performing in a narrow bunch of sports. We have more champions, more records broken in more sports,” said Katherine. “It’s incredibly inspiring for everyone – if you were a young athlete growing up now then it’d make you think there’s a sport for you. Every Olympics, Paralympics, Commonwealth Games, we see SportsAid recipients coming out and winning medals, and being success stories.
“It shows, first-of-all, that SportsAid works and the potential it recognises early on comes good. What’s wonderful is that every year you can think about the class of 2019 or 2020 and then you feel that pathway continues straight through to the very senior level. That pathway is very strong. While SportsAid continues to feed the journey to the Olympics and Paralympic Games, we’ll hopefully continue to produce more and more champions to talk about and celebrate.”
SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award was presented at the charity’s Celebrate the Next event, sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada, in London. Please visit www.sportsaid.org.uk for further information.