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What will be the Olympic legacy for Hampshire's 2012 sporting heroes?
FOR the past two weeks, all eyes have been on them as they battled it out with the best in the world to show they can go higher, faster, stronger.
But now the exhilarating action of the Olympics is over for another four years, the question is whether our sporting stars’ heroics can inspire a generation.
It is hoped Team GB’s incredible medal haul will lead to a legacy of increased participation in sport, laying the foundations for more success at future Games.
And yesterday Prime Minister David Cameron pledged that funding would be made available to UK Sport until at least 2016 to harness Britain’s medal bid at the next Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
He also vowed that competitive team sports would be compulsory for all primary age children and would be written into a revised national curriculum, bringing an end to the “all must have prizes” culture – and forcing youngsters to think about beating their personal bests.
The nation has been glued to TV sets for the Olympic fortnight, as well as more than five million people heading to watch events live, with the stories behind the British competitors – those who have won medals and many more who have sacrificed just to get to the Games – providing huge inspiration to others.
Among those galvanising the public to get into sport have been a host of Hampshire athletes.
The 35-year-old, who last night carried the British flag around the Olympic Stadium at the closing ceremony, now has a total of five medals in his collection.
He told how funding had been vital in helping Britain climb the medal table since he first competed in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.
Also on the water off the Dorset coast, Southamptonborn Iain Percy suffered an agonising last-minute defeat in the Star class, when he and Andrew Simpson were pipped at the line in their bid for back-to-back golds.
As the Swedish pairing snatched victory at the last, Iain had to settle for silver to go with the golds he claimed at Sydney and Beijing.
Record-breaking Dani King took gold on Britain’s best day of the Games – the socalled Super Saturday which saw the likes of Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah add six top medals to Team GB’s burgeoning haul.
The 21-year-old former Barton Peveril College student from Hamble was part of the all-conquering women’s cycling pursuit team who swept to victory in the Velodrome, smashing the world record each time they took to the track.
Southampton hockey star Alex Danson won a bronze medal after Team GB finished third in the women’s tournament.
The 27-year-old striker, who used to play for Trojans in the city, scored the first goal in Britain’s 3-1 win over New Zealand in front of a packed crowd at the Riverbank Arena.
Meanwhile, Winchester ’s Rob Moore was part of the men’s team that heartbreakingly missed out on medals.
After a crushing 9-2 semifinal defeat at the hands of the Netherlands, Team GB couldn’t rally against Australia in Saturday’s bronze medal match, losing 3-1.
It was a similarly frustrating outcome for Southampton-born sailor Ben Rhodes, who finished fifth in the 49er class after an indifferent regatta on the Nothe course at Weymouth.
But on the water at Eton Dorney, 30,000 people cheered Britain’s men’s rowing eight – including Southampton’s James Foad – to the line for a bronze medal.
Elsewhere, Southampton diver Pete Waterfield came agonisingly close to adding to the silver medal he won at Athens in 2004 when he and Tom Daley finished fourth in the synchronised 10m platform competition. But the 31- year-old was left devastated when he crashed out of the individual 10m platformcompetition on Friday night, admitting nerves got the better of him as he put in two poor early dives.
But fellow city-based diver Chris Mears was delighted with his “amazing” experiences at the Olympics, the 19-year-old far exceededing expectations to finish ninth in the 3m springboard event, having earlier come fifth alongside Nick Robinson- Baker in the 3m synchro.
Southampton Diving Academy’s Stacie Powell, 26, was also bidding for a medal but failed to qualify in the women’s 10m platform dive.
There were medals for other H a m p s h i r e O l y m p i a n s , including two from Alton.
Peter Charles helped GB win the nation’s first showjumping gold since 1952, while rower Alex Partridge was in the same men’s eight as James Foad.
The New Forest was also represented, Dan McMillan an ever-present in the handball tournament, where GB lost all five games but the sport gained a new legion of fans.
Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Jeremy Hunt said: “The past few weeks have shown the importance of competitive sport and we want to ensure it is at the heart of the legacy left behind after the Olympics.”