Medals on Friday

Last Friday began for me dodging fierce showers to get to Wigan Youth Zone for seven thirty and another of their excellent Business Breakfasts. The headline speaker was Olympian Darren Campbell and above is his gold medal for winning the four by one hundred relay at Athens, which he was good enough to pass around along with his two hundred metre silver from Sydney.

I’ve sat through my fair share of talks from sportsmen of most ilks – footballers, rugby league and union players, cricketers, golfers and the rest – but I can’t recall one as inspirational as Darren’s. Admittedly my experiences are usually gained at Sportsman’s Dinners so they may be coloured by a few beers, but the general rule of thumb seems to be the better the sportsman the worse the speaker. Or perhaps the inverse would be a truer description – the less well known the sportsman the better the speaker? Perhaps it’s because they’re not household names they have to try harder, but the funniest speeches I’ve witnessed have generally been from sportsmen I’d never heard of. With the notable exception of Jan Molby, the big Dane who developed a Scouse accent and a sense of humour to match.

Others were mildly amusing, some a bit depressing (Dean Windass), some a bit gross (Dean Windass again), some quite bitter (Paddy Crerand) but most a fairly dull ramble through their achievements. To be fair, it must be hard keeping enthused retelling the story you’ve told a thousand times before, although I feel always there should at least be some effort to justify the fee. However Darren, who appeared for no fee, provided an engaging and truly inspirational talk explaining that he’d been exactly the type of youth, from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’, that WYZ aims to help.

He talked about a difficult upbringing in a single parent family from a bleak sounding Manchester Council Estate where crime and gangs were rife. After seeing his best friend shot dead, he found a direction and discipline in athletics only to see that ambition destroyed by a car accident and a serious back injury in just his early twenties. He eventually recovered and found a way back into sport initially through amateur football before his natural speed led him back to athletics.

Darren made the British team for the Atlanta Olympic games but admitted not taking it seriously, wasting the opportunity and dropping the baton in the relay. He refocused taking silver as an outsider in the two hundred metres at Sydney but lusted after gold, which he duly won in Athens. The dedication and drive needed to be a Olympic medalist can only be imagined, but the difficult circumstances and personal demons Darren battled to get there make him a true winner.

My Friday evening began at seven thirty PM, still dodging the terrible weather, to get to the DW Stadium for The Wigan Business Awards. Attendance for the evening itself was higher than last year, leading to a great atmosphere and a really good night all round. I was delighted to be asked to be a judge again as I found the experience last year enlightening. Judging featured two days of interviewing the shortlisted businesses across nine categories and we met many fascinating and very successful businesses. The decision to award the winner’s title was very difficult in several categories, leading to some heated debates among the judges. Ultimately I believe we reached the right decisions, but all those shortlisted should be proud of their achievements, as should the ‘gold medal’ winners which included some truly excellent entries.

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