New generation of Welsh athletes are breathing fire

Expressively airborne, the emblematic Red Dragon of Wales is once again breathing an illuminating flame that encapsulates the growth of its sporting natives.

By Dan Black
Tuesday, 7th May 2013, 1:57 pm
Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta (right) and Manchester United's Ryan Giggs battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.
Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta (right) and Manchester United's Ryan Giggs battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Dwarfed by its neighbour in both population and proportion, the accomplishments of Great Britain’s smaller compartment can often fade inconspicuously.

But that individuality has been restored, an identity has been re-established while the heart and soul of Welsh sport has been reinstated with an agglomeration of success on a variety of fronts.

Wales is fostering a new generation of athletes to enhance the reputation set by the likes of Gareth Edwards, John Charles, Jimmy Wilde, Ian Rush, Jonathan Davies, Mark Hughes, Colin Jackson and Joe Calzaghe in decades gone by.

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Emanating from the resplendence of London’s momentous Olympic Games, Wales had a representation of 30 competitors – their most ever – and accrued seven medals. Geraint Thomas and Tom James took Gold in cycling and rowing respectively while Jade Jones added another in Taekwondo. Chris Bartley, Freddie Evans and Hannah Mills added Silver to the haul and Sarah Thomas scooped Bronze.

Another cyclist, Mark Colbourne, was also a multi-medal winner as he landed gold and two silvers in the Paralympics; Josie Pearson broke world records when gaining gold in the F51 discus and Aled Sion Davies grabbed gold in the F42 discus and bronze in the F42/44 shot put.

In football, Ryan Giggs’ strike for Manchester United in a 2-0 win over Everton at Old Trafford ensured the Welshman maintained his phenomenal feat of scoring in every Premier League season. The 39-year-old also won his 13th title with United this term, his 34th trophy during his tenure in all competitions.

Another Goliath of English football, Gareth Bale, swept the board with regards to end-of-season accolades as he received the PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards alongside being voted Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association. Bale’s 25-goal tally helped take Andre Villas-Boas’s side to the quarter-final stages of the Europa League and kept Spurs in contention for a top four finish in the Premier League.

Meanwhile, despite the national outfit’s short comings, the club sides have enjoyed unprecedented triumph. Swansea City’s victory over Bradford City in the Capital One Cup final was the first time a Welsh club had won a major domestic trophy since 1927. And after their rivals, Cardiff City, won the Championship title there’ll now be two Welsh clubs competing in the top tier of the English football pyramid for the first time since the league’s inauguration.

In the Conference National, Wrexham lifted the FA Trophy though missed out on a return to the Football League as late goals from Christian Jolley and Aaron O’Connor saw Newport promoted via the play-offs in an all Welsh final.

But from the pits of the famed Welsh mining system, the hidden depths of the valleys to the summit of Snowden, it’s rugby that courses through the veins of the population.

After Wales thumped a Grand Slam seeking England to retain their Six Nations crown, 15 Welsh players consequently and rightfully provided the bulk of Warren Gatland’s 2013 British and Irish Lions squad - captained by Cardiff Blues’ flanker Sam Warburton.

The 24-year-old will lead the side for the tour of Australia in June which will culminate in a three-Test series against the Wallabies.

Add to that list boxer Nathan Cleverly’s domination of the light-heavyweight division – defending his WBO title for the fourth time against Robin Krasniqi last month – and there’s a substantial argument for the Welsh resurgence. For Wales it’s all about quality, not quantity