WINNING an Olympic gold medal is the pinnacle of any athlete’s career and while Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh will never forget stepping onto the podium at Rio 2016, they know that moment would have never been possible without National Lottery funding.
Kate and Helen, who were part of the gold medal-winning women’s hockey team in Rio, joined past and present Great Britain stars at the Olympic Park in Stratford on Thursday 24 October to mark the 25-year anniversary of the National Lottery.
To date, more 5,000 elite athletes have benefited from National Lottery funding, enabling them to have access to some of the best coaching, facilities and support staff in the world.
For Kate, who was able to quit working to play hockey full-time, there is no underestimating the impact the funding had on her sporting career.
“National Lottery funding was all the difference in my hockey career,” said Kate.
“For the first time, we were able to train as a full-time programme in the lead-up to London 2012 and that really accelerated us to being eighth in the world to moving up to second, third and eventually winning that gold medal in Rio.
“As an athlete, time is so precious and so vital. It’s that time spent on culture, rest and recovery and nutrition that really helps you from being nowhere to making you an Olympic gold medallist.”
Before funding began for elite sport, Great Britain ranked 36th in the medal table at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, but at Rio 2016, after almost two decades of funding, Team GB finished second.
Since grants were first awarded to elite athletes in 1997, 864 medals have been won by Britons at Olympic and Paralympic Games, and Great Britain became the first country to improve on their medal count after a home Games at Rio 2016.
And Rio 2016 was a historic moment for hockey too, with Great Britain’s women winning the first Olympic gold medal by beating defending champions the Netherlands on penalties – a moment Kate and Helen do not believe they would have got anywhere near to if it were not for National Lottery’s support.
“Quite honestly, without it, I’m not sure I would be standing here as an Olympic gold medallist,” said Helen.
“It’s been that fundamental. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come.
“To break the record of being the only country to better their medal haul after hosting an Olympics is amazing, and it was so special to have been a part of that.
“You can see the difference it has made and as Olympic and Paralympic athletes we are so grateful for that funding. We are so grateful for everyone who contributes to the National Lottery.
Kate added: “Thinking back to where we were as a hockey team in Sydney 2000, and where we were as a country, it’s been fantastic to see us grow every year since. 2012 was amazing and a real turning point for sport in this country.
“As an athlete, you’re desperate to be part of it. You want to be one of those medallists on the podium helping GB go up the medal table.”
Since the National Lottery’s first draw took place on 19 November 1994, more than £40 billion has been raised for good causes in the areas of arts, sport, heritage, culture, film, charity and community.
Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has had on your community over the past 25 years by visiting www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the 25th hashtag: #NationalLottery25