The coach of Olympic 2012 poster girl Jessica Ennis has launched a scathing attack on how athletics is developed in Sheffield.
Toni Minichiello has been the mastermind behind Ennis’s rise in prominence from a talented, but raw, young athlete to one of the most recognisable sports stars in the country.
He says the city has wasted an opportunity to develop a generation of athletes and cites the closure of Woodbourn Road as the end product of years of neglect in introducing young people to the sport.
The outspoken Minichiello has already hit out at the demise of Woodbourn potentially hampering Ennis’s Olympic preparations but he told The Star he’s more concerned at the overall impact on the next generation of athletes.
He said: “When you’re a world champion then doors will open. People can’t do enough for you, so Jess will be fine. What worries me is what will happen to the talented 12-year-old? Where will he or she go?
“There’s no prid pro quo (mutual exchange) with a 12-year-old.
“I don’t believe that we (the city) are any further on in terms of sports development than we were even before Woodbourn was built.
“I feel let down by Sheffield International Venues and the council.
“There’s no strategy for keeping young people in athletics beyond giving them a taster of the facilities. What disappoints me is that we’re not in a position to capitalise on the enthusiasm that will be generated by Jess and others at the Olympics in London.
“We’ll only get once chance at it because once the enthusiasm has gone from a kid then it goes forever.
“They’ll move onto something else that excites them and they get something out of.”
Minichiello has worked with Millhouses-based Ennis since the former world champion heptathlete took part in a summer camp at Don Valley Stadium when she was 11-years-old.
He said: “Jess came down to a summer programme, which is really a childcare scheme during the holidays. She was faster than the other girls so she stood out. She was encouraged to keep training every Tuesday and Thursday by Nicola (Minichiello, former international heptathlete and world bobsleigh champion) and I eventually took over from her. There wasn’t, and still isn’t, a measured way of spotting talent or a strategy of what to do when someone like her walks through the door. The loss of Woodbourn is almost an admission that there will never be another Jess Ennis unless we get lucky.”
Minichiello believes the answer lies in closer links between schools, athletics, clubs and venues. He said: “We don’t even have an athletics development officer in the city. We’re supposed to be a City of Sport. The schools and clubs need to work together and funding needs to be made available. We have to build a foundation to develop the next group of young athletes. For instance, we have no women’s team in the city of a high standard, yet we have the country’s best female athlete. That says it all.”
Sheffield Council says it will assess all offers for Woodbourn Road before a decision is made on its future. It is “committed to taking into account the social value of potential uses as well as the financial offers.”