ALTHOUGH the focus is on London for next year’s Olympic Games, the North will undoubtedly play its part - and two-time Commonwealth champion gymnast Craig Heap has ensured those involved are as prepared as possible.
Burnley-born, Heap knows firsthand the talent in the North as a coach at the City of Newcastle Gymnastics Academy, preparing the stars of tomorrow to follow in his own footsteps.
The 38-year-old twice captained England’s men’s team to gold at the 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games and was Great Britain’s only male gymnast at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Despite Heap leaving Australia with a personal best performance in the all-around final with a finish of 32nd, things were far from plain sailing in the build up after he broke his hand in two places two months previously.
However, Heap insists his close family relationships helped him pull through and he was more than happy to repay the favour as families of Northern Olympic hopefuls gathered at Newcastle’s Great North Road Holiday Inn on behalf of the P&G ‘nearest and dearest’ campaign.
Through the scheme, the dedication and sacrifices made by an athlete’s family are recognised and they receive support into their loved ones’ build up to London 2012, something Heap wishes he could have called on over a decade ago: “I think it is a cracking programme and a great idea, I just wish it was around 12 years ago when I was competing.
“It is so important that you have your family and friends around you while you are competing and they are the ones that are there through thick and thin.
“Sometimes families and loved ones can feel left out as a family member works relentlessly to reach an Olympic Games but this way they feel more involved and a part of the process.
“When things don’t quite go according to plan you need your friends and family close to put an arm around you and tell you everything will be OK.
“I found that out when seven weeks before the Sydney Olympics I broke my hand in two places but because of the support I had around me I was able to bounce back so I know how important it is and that is why I am fully behind this scheme.”
And the North’s presence will definitely be felt in the capital next year as through the British Olympic Association’s brand-new partnership with P&G; mums of the athletes will receive London 2012 tickets.
And Heap, who got an insight into how important a home crowd can be when he won gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, believes this could prove the difference between winning a medal and falling short: “It is great to know that these athletes will have their family present to watch them perform on what will undoubtedly be the pinnacle of their careers so far.
“I got a taste of competing in a major event in Manchester in 2002 and that made a massive difference to our result and helped us win the gold.
“So I honestly believe that this could make a difference and it could spur these athletes on to finish on the podium.”
Heap was speaking at the Newcastle leg of the ‘nearest & dearest’ roadshow in partnership with P&G – supporting family and friends of all Team GB and ParalympicsGB athletes in the lead up to London 2012.
Visit www.pgproudsponsorofmums.co.uk for more information.