The 2016 School Games kicked off in style on Thursday with Olympic gold medallists Max Whitlock and Alex Danson on hand to welcome the next generation at a spectacular opening ceremony in Loughborough University.
Whitlock – who became Team GB’s first-ever gymnastics Olympic gold medallist by winning on both the floor and pommel horse at Rio 2016 – and women’s hockey champion Danson provided the star power as the 11th edition of the School Games was officially launched.
Around 1,600 of the nation’s finest young sports stars will compete over the next three days across 12 current and future Olympic and Paralympic sports, seven of which include disability competition.
The opening ceremony in Shirley Pearce Square at Loughborough University was a fitting beginning as a variety of incredible dance routines from the likes of Windsor High School and Sixth Form, as well as rousing renditions of Take That, Katy Perry and One Direction by talented youngsters, entertained the crowd of athletes, coaches and volunteers.
With 15 of Team GB’s Rio 2016 medal haul coming from School Games alumni, the event has proven to be a great introduction to a multi-sport environment for the stars of the future.
And Whitlock – a School Games reserve back in 2006 – claims his experience of the event helped him on his way to making history in Rio last month.
“I was a reserve for the School Games but I try to turn everything into a positive,” explained Whitlock.
I learned a lot from the experience and the competition even though I wasn’t competing. As a reserve you’re training up until the day of competition and competing was the only thing I didn’t do.
“I watched the other boys and they did brilliantly so that spurred me on to go further. The people competing here are already ahead of me, so they too can achieve their dreams.
Hours before the opening ceremony, the first athletes had already got the 2016 School Games underway with some high-intensity hockey action.
The first game of the day featured England Red against England White in the boys’ competition and a dramatic contest eventually saw England Red prevail 4-3.
England White overturned a two-goal deficit with just three minutes remaining thanks to strikes from Jack Valentine and Harry Baugniet but there was one final twist as Ronan Harvey-Kelly fired home the winner in the dying seconds.
After that breathless opener, Scotland girls held on for a 2-1 victory over Ulster while England Blue’s boys and girls both recorded victories over Wales.
The only other venue to see action on Thursday was the Sir David Wallace Sports Centre, where volleyball made its bow.
In the boys’ competition, there were wins for England Junior and Scotland West while in the girls’ competition England Cadet’s victory against Wales was followed by Scotland East versus England Junior, which needed a decider to settle it as the latter came out on top 18-25, 25-18, 15-4 in front of a passionate crowd.
England Junior’s Nicole Short said: “I thought it was an amazing performance. In the first set we panicked a bit but we brought it back in the second and third sets.
“It’s great to be competing at the School Games. I was here last year but this year has been even better.”
Hockey and volleyball both continue on Friday with eight further sports – including athletics, road cycling, judo and wheelchair basketball – also on the schedule. Click here to watch the action live.