Top sports names and officials are gathering at the Houses of Parliament today to celebrate the 10th birthday this autumn of TASS, the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme, which SportsAid has helped to manage since it was established in 2003.
World champion Non Stanford from triathlon and double London 2012 gold medal winner Natasha Baker from para equestrian will join the event this afternoon which will be supported by Baroness Grey-Thompson and led by TASS Chairman, Alison Odell CBE.
Athletes from several sports – representing winter and summer Olympic and Paralympic disciplines – will gather on the day with leading representatives from organisations like UK Sport, the British Olympic Association and Sport England.
Since its inauguration in 2003 TASS-supported alumni or current athletes have won or gone on to win 78 Olympic and Paralympic medals: 28 gold, 18 silver and 32 bronze.
TASS made early funding available to these athletes – who are or were studying in further or higher education – for vital core support such as physiotherapy, strength and conditioning, coaching and other elements.
The athletes who have benefitted include names like swimmer Rebecca Adlington, boxers James Degale and Anthony Ogogo, track and field’s Greg Rutherford, rowers Anna Watkins, Zac Purchase and Helen Glover, judo’s Gemma Gibbons and Louis Smith of gymnastics.
Paralympic medallists like equestrian’s Natasha Baker and Sophie Wells, Andrew Lapthorne of wheelchair tennis, Will Bayley of table tennis and Danielle Browne of archery have also received support from TASS.
Skeleton slider Shelley Rudman was the first TASS-funded athlete to win an Olympic medal when she took silver in Turin in 2006 at the Olympic Winter Games, later saying:
“Winning silver is a dream that TASS funding for my programme helped make reality. I hope that many more athletes will benefit from TASS like I have.”
Amy Williams, winner of an Olympic gold medal in the same sport at Vancouver 2010 is also a TASS alumna.
Guy Taylor, National Director of TASS said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to celebrate our 10th birthday at such a splendid location with our host Baroness Grey-Thompson. TASS began in the autumn of 2003 when names like Liam Heath and Jon Schofield, canoeists who both won medals at London 2012, were in the first batch of award recipients. Since then TASS has given over £30 million in support to over 6,000 athletes across 50 sports – contributing to 78 Olympic and Paralympic medals while also helping all of these athletes to remain in higher or further education.”
The most recent TASS-supported athletes include emerging talents like Alex Tofalides of fencing and skeleton’s Lizzie Yarnold who looks set to be a strong challenger for medals at Sochi 2014.
He said: “My SportsAid grant was much appreciated. As I had started doing more international tournaments the additional funding came at just the right time. The money allowed me to train more, buy additional kit and it has definitely contributed to where I am now – on British Fencing’s World Class Programme. Thank you very much TASS.”
The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games will follow five months later and TASS-funded athletes who look likely to be selected for England at those Games include netballers Stacey Francis, Jo Harten, Sara Bayman and Eboni Beckford Chambers.
Rower Glover who won Team GB’s first medal of London 2012 explained the impact that TASS made for her at a vital tipping point in her career when she said: “It was the extra things I never would have considered before, like having physio, looking after myself and having the right kit…Those things made a huge difference and tipped the balance. Having that support there means you’ve got a lot more in your favour and it massively brings those odds to the advantage of the athlete. It was the feeling there was a support system there, for me, specifically in my situation, that was really important.”
Non Stanford added: “TASS supported me as a triathlete long before I’d had any major results. In fact, it was right at the start of my career when I’d joined the Birmingham University Triathlon team and just started to compete at lower-level international events.
“To have TASS invest time, resources and money into me was a huge bonus and showed that people had confidence in me to progress in the sport even though I was so new to it at the time. That was a massive boost. It’s hard to believe that six years later I’m world champion. The support from TASS definitely helped me along the way.”
Each year TASS supports around 600 young athletes and is also renowned for its support of programmes to develop young sport-support service practitioners. Its recently announced agreement with the British Psychological Society is the latest in a series of significant partnerships for the organisation which provides experience along the practitioner pathway with later benefits for top-level sport.
TASS is also seen as a global expert in the support needed for dual career athletes – those who are training and competing at an elite level whilst studying.
Recently, TASS has attracted two significant European Union grants for projects related to this kind of support. Japan and Brazil have both created links with TASS to learn from the experience its key personnel have gained.
“We are a well-established scheme with a great track record. This is not about talent identification, this is about nurturing athletes who are already known to be talented and are wisely pursuing their education at the same time as a demanding sports career.
These are the kind of athletes that survive on minimal funding, can spend weeks out of training because they cannot afford a physio appointment and need all the help that they can get to stay in the pipeline for Rio 2016, Korea 2018 and beyond.” added Guy Taylor.
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