Olympic heroes Sir Steven Redgrave CBE and Victoria Pendleton CBE led the celebrations at SportsAid’s SportsBall in London last week where the charity officially launched its plans for its 40th anniversary next year.
The event, sponsored by Eversheds and Zhong An Holdings, opened with a stunning live performance by the award-winning soprano Laura Wright and went on to raise more than £120,000 to support SportsAid's work with the next generation of British athletes.
The highpoint at every SportsBall is the presentation of the charity’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award and with Steven Redgrave on stage to announce the winner alongside Victoria Pendleton, this year was no different. Accepting the award on behalf of 16-year-old windsurfer Emma Wilson, who was sadly unable to attend due to ill health, Victoria Pendleton said it was a huge honour for the young athlete, who will be flying out to Malaysia next month to represent Great Britain at the ISAF Youth World Sailing Championships.
“I know Emma will be so delighted to have her name on this trophy,” said the double Olympic champion. “It will give her a huge boost and I’m sure she will be a name that we’ll see a lot more of in future, winning medals. I think it’s great that everyone here is helping athletes like her.”
Reflecting on the impact that SportsAid’s support had on her when she was just starting to cycle competitively, Victoria added, “I was very lucky to receive SportsAid’s support myself back in the early days and for me, financially, it was a massive help. I actually didn’t believe it when the letter came through the post and someone was saying we’re going to support you to do your training, it meant so much to me and I’ll always be very grateful for what they’ve done.”
In an interview with SportsAid, Emma said it was a great feeling to be named as SportsAid’s One-to-Watch, having already benefited enormously from the vital financial and mentoring support she has received from the Jaguar Land Rover Academy of Sport this year.
“Out of all the amazing athletes put forward, I can’t believe that I’ve been chosen,” she said. “To be recognised for my achievements out of so many other great achievements, I really can’t believe it.”
Finishing a close second and third behind Emma were rower Joshua Armstrong and sprinter James Arnott. In Rio earlier this summer Joshua was a member of the British crew that won the country’s first ever junior men’s quad gold medal at the world rowing championships. He said being named as the runner-up for SportsAid’s One-to-Watch Award ranks almost as highly in his achievements.
“To make it to the top three from 1,200 athletes is a massive achievement in itself,” he said. “Everyone in the top ten was a winner in their own sport so it’s a massive boost. It makes the early mornings and hard work a bit easier and now I’ll knuckle down and get training for next year.”
In 2016 Joshua, who has received financial support from The Moffat Trust this year through SportsAid Scotland, hopes to be back at the junior world championships again for a chance to defend his title and adds that the extra funding he received at the SportsBall will help him achieve his goals.
Sprinter James Arnott, who is a beneficiary of SportsAid’s Elton John Sports Fund, said it was great to be recognised and that it made him even more determined to make it into the British team for the Paralympics in Rio next summer.
“To make the last three was beyond belief for me. Out of that very talented bunch of athletes I am so grateful to be here and meeting the people I am meeting. I can’t put it into words I am just so grateful to SportsAid and for everything that’s happened.”
Former recipients of the One-to-Watch Award include Tom Daley and IPC world champion Hollie Arnold. In 2013 Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge presented the award to shooter Amber Hill who yesterday became the first female athlete to be named in the British team for next year's Olympic Games in Rio.
Next year’s SportsBall will be one of the highpoints of SportsAid’s 40th anniversary celebrations when the gala dinner returns to the London Hilton on Park Lane on November 24. See sportsball.org.uk for more information.