‘Olympics can show the way forward’

We asked Olympic, Paralympic and sporting heroes about the future they would most like to see, shaped by the London 2012 Games

Ellen MacArthur, round-the-world sailor

In 2005, the sailor Ellen MacArthur broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe. In 2010, she announced the launch of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity to inspire people to re-think, re-design and build a sustainable future.

“We live in daunting times and there is a transition to be made towards a system that can work long term. Now is the right moment to be bold. Assume nothing, question everything. Aim high, be true to yourself, and don’t be put off by the importance of the challenge.”

Ade Adepitan, Paralympic basketball player

Ade Adepitan was born in Maryland, Nigeria, in 1973. He contracted polio in his first year, losing the use of his left leg. When he was three, his family moved to Newham, London – now a host borough for the 2012 Games. In 2004, Ade won a bronze medal for basketball at the Paralympics in Athens, and then gold at the 2005 Paralympic World Cup in Manchester. He was an integral part of the delegation that went to Singapore to win the 2012 bid for London, and is a BT ambassador for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“I remember watching the Games on TV at an early age, and from that moment on thinking all I wanted to do was win a medal in the Paralympics for Britain. I’d love to think that the Paralympics in London can inspire another generation of young children to take up sport. So many opportunities have come my way through my sporting career. The message that you can do something you love, and be the best at it – whether you are disabled or not – is something that is very close to my heart.

London 2012 is the best thing to happen in the capital for a long time. I grew up in Plaistow, not far from where the Olympic Park is now. That part of London had been neglected for a long time, and I think the regeneration of the local area will benefit East London enormously. Now, everyone living there can benefit from the investment that has taken place.”

Jill Savery, Olympic swimmer

Jill Savery won an Olympic gold medal in synchronised swimming at the Atlanta Games in 1996. She has a master’s degree in environmental management from Yale, and is currently head of sustainability for the America’s Cup Event Authority. Jill also worked for the London-based sustainability charity BioRegional, where she helped to shape the plans for London 2012. She is co-author of the book Sustainability and Sport, published in 2011.

“Events like the Olympics are special in people’s lives – a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience to be shared for years to come. They are also a great platform to demonstrate the way forward. As I see it, respect for the environment is a core pillar of Olympism. Athletes depend on healthy natural resources: fresh air to breathe, and clean water to swim in.”

Aaron Peirsol, Olympic swimmer

Aaron Peirsol is a three-time Olympian and seven-time Olympic medalist. He has held several world records, as an individual backstroke swimmer and as part of the US relay team. In February 2011, Peirsol announced his retirement, saying, “I ended up doing everything I set out to do.”

“A swimming pool is like a golf course: it’s a sport that uses a lot of water. I’d like people to begin to take responsibility for this. We had one of the worst droughts in Texas last year. We had rain this spring, but we’re still in a drought. I look at that and it’s hard.

But Olympic pools are always statements. They’re unique and, in a way, works of art. The biggest trick is to make sure you keep using an Olympic pool after the Games. Hopefully the London Aquatics Centre will become a staple of the swimming community.

One thing that is great about every single Olympics is that it bridges cultures. During those few weeks, for the most part, politics is put aside between countries and athletes that might be competing against each other. There’s something very visceral and innocent about the Games itself: it transcends a lot of what may be going on outside.

The biggest thing for people to get out of the Games is to listen to the stories, and understand the adversity that some of the athletes had to go through. For athletes, it’s not necessarily about any gold medal: it’s about doing something they love, and choosing a lifestyle.

When you look back on your career, the Olympics is a very small thing, it’s important to understand it as a process. Being there is the culmination of decades or more of work. And that’s the magic of it.”

Richard Whitehead, double-amputee runner

“The power of sport is a massive tool. It can have a positive impact on your whole life, no matter what your background is, or your age. I think, in respect of that, we need to change how we look at each other. We should support each other to provide a greener and healthier place to live.”

Lizzie Armitstead, track and road cyclist

“The change I’d most like to inspire is definitely safer cycling on the roads for all cyclists. Hopefully the increase in popularity of cycling will make the general public more aware and have more respect for cyclists on the road after London 2012.”

Stefanie Reid, track and field paralympian

“Something that I struggle with and have to constantly work on is uncompromising belief in myself and my athletic abilities. I don’t go to races to fill lanes. I want to make an impact and be remembered. The one thing I hope my journey in sport inspires is this uncompromising belief in others and their inherent ability to impact their communities for good.

The London 2012 Paralympics is going to change the way the British public view people with disabilities. They are going to realise that physical disabilities are not synonymous with labels such as weak, sad or misfortunate. The public will be exposed to Paralympians who are eloquent, aggressive, attractive, determined and gifted. I think the nation as a whole will be inspired and forced to rethink old attitudes about human potential.”

This article first appeared in the Green Futures Special Edition ‘Beyond the Finish