As a double Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion, Dame Kelly Holmes knows what it takes to win at a major international event.
And the President of Commonwealth Games England is in little doubt she’s seen that winning mentality among England’s successful squad of teenagers at the Commonwealth Youth Games on the Isle of Man over the last few days.
Holmes, who won 800m and 1500m golds at the Athens Olympics in 2004, has been an almost ever-present supporter at track, gym, court and ring-side as the England team have wracked up medals in all seven sports to finish top of the table for the first time.
And she had nothing but praise for the athletes in red and white.
“To see the energy that’s there with the England team was fantastic,” she said. “You can really see that winning mentality here.
“With 2012 around the corner, it’s given a new focus and emphasis on being successful in our country. For these youngsters, although they’re only 14 to 18, the target is always going to be an Olympics or Commonwealth Games, whether it’s 2012 or beyond, and this is a great stepping stone.
“The Commonwealths have always been known as the friendly Games, but it’s friendly until you get into competition.”
Holmes runs a number of mentoring programmes for young athletes and she has kept a close eye on England flag bearer and badminton bronze medal winner Rhys Walker, a sports student from Nuneaton and a member of her Jaguar Academy of Sport scheme.
She also had a special mention for two gold medallists from her ‘Future Stars with Kelly’ programme for young middle distance athletes – Londoner Katie Snowden, who followed in the Dame’s footsteps by winning the women’s 800m, and Emilia Gorecka, from Effingham, who dominated the 3000m final yesterday.
But she also had a special mention for England’s multi-medal winning boxers.
“I love to get around and see as many of the sports as possible. I think it’s really important that I do that,” she said. “The whole team have done really well and they should all feel really positive about what they’ve achieved.
“But I’ve been so impressed with the boxing. Boxing is one of those sports that gives a structure and discipline to some kids who otherwise wouldn’t really know what to do with their lives.
“I love the fact that sport grabs talent and keeps hold of it. We’ve seen the success here, and the smiles on their faces.”
For Holmes, Games such as these not only provide hugely valuable experience to young athletes but can be a crucial stage on the road to senior success. As a teenager, Holmes won a Youth Olympic track gold back in 1986 and she still sees it as an important part of her development which ultimately led to Olympic success some 18 years later.
“I remember winning the 800m, standing on the rostrum, hearing the national anthem played. I had goose bumps, saying to myself, one day I hope this is at the Olympics for real,” she said.
“That feeling stayed with me forever, and the young people here at the Commonwealth Youth Games will have had the same experience. They will experience what it’s like to mix internationally, and to get that multi-sport feel – it brings a different energy and excitement compared to a championships.
“That memory stays with you for ages; it’s not just the competition it’s the process you have to go through. It gives you a really good induction into what it can be like at a major Games.
“When I won my medals in 2004 I remember thinking back to being at the Youth Olympics in 1986 and having all those dreams.
“The Isle of Man have put on a great Games here,” she added. “I’ve seen some great competition, loads of enthusiasm. Everyone seems really happy and friendly, both competitors and volunteers.
“We have 64 of the 71 nations here and what’s great is that lots of these youngsters will now be aiming to make it to Glasgow for the Commonwealths in 2014.”