It’s now almost seven years since the Borders Athlete Support Programme was set up by Scottish Borders Council.
The scheme’s stated aim was to assist talented athletes to reach their potential with a view to their participation at London 2012 and the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Time was against the programme making any real impact on Borders’ athletes gaining selection for London 2012, and Glasgow 2014 is the first real indicator of whether the programme can make a difference at that level.
And for ASP athletes Guy Learmonth (Athletics 800m and 4x400m relay), Jo Pettitt (Netball), Lucy Hope (Swimming 4x200m relay) and Sarah Robertson (Hockey), make a difference it certainly has with all four being confirmed selections for Team Scotland.
Each benefited from the ASP’s support services before being selected for their own sport’s training squad for Glasgow and “graduating” from the ASP to receive support from the sportScotland Institute of Sport. With the ASP continuing to provide some additional “graduate support”, the fab four have been justly rewarded with their team selections after years of hard work and dedication, chasing standards and competing in trials.
Learmonth (22) was the first athlete to secure his place in the first wave of athletics selections announced back in September last year. Guy’s home is a few minutes over the border in Berwick but as a Scot coached by Eyemouth-based Henry Gray and training at the time almost exclusively in the Borders, the ASP didn’t hold that against him! Now mixing it with some of the World’s top athletes at Diamond League level Guy said: “I can’t express how delighted I am to be going to my first major championship.
“Representing Scotland in Glasgow is going to be something that I’ll cherish forever.
“The support of the ASP from the early stages of my career including medicals, consultations with their nutritionist and sports psychologist, are what kick started all this and I can’t thank them enough for playing a big part in my development.”
In April, swimmer Lucy Hope (17) from Crailing was the next to gain selection when she was confirmed as part of the 4x200m freestyle relay team and she is one of the youngest athletes in Team Scotland. A product of the acclaimed Borders Elite Swimming Team (BEST), Lucy said: “It’s an honour and I am delighted to have been selected. As an athlete living rurally in the Borders, the ASP has been an essential part of my development along with my coach Alex Jordan.”
Netballer Jo Pettitt (19) from West Linton and hockey player Sarah Robertson (20) from Selkirk both had a nervous wait until the final round of selections was confirmed last month.
Both have gone from strength to strength and less than seven years from joining the ASP, and only one year out of school, Jo is now preparing to shoot for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games. She said, “This will probably one of the greatest honours I’ll ever have. Cheesy as it might sound, I wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for the ASP supporting me.”
Sarah, who actually started on the ASP six years ago as an Under 15 Scotland footballer, said: “Glasgow 2014 has been my ultimate goal since making the decision to focus on hockey five years ago, so to achieve selection is something I am very proud of.”
Rick Kenney, in his then role as SBC Sport and Recreation Manager, was instrumental in getting the ASP off the ground and has continued in his role as Chairman since retiring three years ago.
He said: “I am proud of what we have achieved so far and am delighted for the four athletes who have been rewarded for all their hard work and ambition with a place in the team for Glasgow.
“They are an inspiration for all the other athletes on the programme and for aspiring athletes across the Borders. With the continued support of all of our partners, BSLT, sportScotland and SBC, I hope we can continue to build upon this success.”
ASP Manager Gregor Nicholson added: “ASP support is by no means a pre-requisite to success for Borders athletes at elite level.
“And for those who are supported, it provides just a few pieces of the jigsaw, albeit important pieces without which the jigsaw might not be completed.”
Indeed, of the excellent total of 11 Borders athletes in the team for Glasgow, seven have not received ASP support. One of them, Stuart Hogg (Rugby 7s) was actually on the ASP at the outset but moved on to Institute support before receiving any help from the ASP. Others such as para-athletes Libby Clegg and Sammy Kinghorn, mountain-biker Grant Ferguson and 1500m runner Chris O’Hare, also jumped straight to Institute level. Sevens players Lee Jones and Scott Wight were established pros before the current ASP entry level for rugby was implemented.
Nicholson believes that the age profile of the four selected ASP athletes, 17 to 22, indicates the potential for more selection success in the future.
“We had several other athletes come close for Glasgow and have even more who have their sights firmly fixed on the Gold Coast 2018,” he added.
“In that time, one of our challenges is making sure, in conjunction with the sports’ governing bodies, that we don’t miss any potential athletes who could benefit from our support and also that our investment is focussed on those who have got realistic potential and the mindset to progress to elite level.
“Through the ASP’s support and continued funding through our BSLT grant we want to give Borders athletes the best possible opportunity to graduate to Institute level and then go on from there to contend for selection for major Games or senior International representation.
“Our current graduation rate stands at 23%, a rate which I believe will stand comparison with any other such regional performance sport programme.
“It augurs well for further selection successes for the Scottish Borders.”
The ASP is grant-funded through Borders Sport and Leisure Trust. More information at www.bslt.org.uk/sport/athlete_support_programmew