All was revealed at House of Sport when SportonSpec London celebrated its launch in the presence of a hat-trick of stars led by Olympian and Commonwealth Games gold medallist weightlifter Zoe Smith.
A mystery evening of sporting ‘in conversation with’ had promised to showcase three different sports – by way of a London 2012 Olympian, iconic annual event and club – and it proved a hit with the audience who were given an intriguing insight into a mixture of spectator action all with a London flavour.
Rowing – Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race
Leading the way at the event hosted on the top floor of House of Sport overlooking the Shard – the first shared office block entirely dedicated to the sector – was Simon McCarthy, Master Company of Watermen and Lightermen, who regaled the audience with his unique take on the world’s oldest continuously held sporting event, the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race that first took place on the River Thames in 1715.
A fifth-generation Watermen, McCarthy (pictured left) won the Doggett’s Race in 1984 in the second fastest time ever and appeared in his official prize winner’s uniform. As someone who competed at the World Rowing Championships before going on to coach among others Dame Katherine Grainger – Great Britain’s most decorated female Olympian – McCarthy explained the intense family pressures that come with taking part in the Doggett’s Race such that when his son Harry took part in 2014 McCarthy handed over the coaching reins to GB Rowing’s Paul Thompson and on the day itself he took himself upriver as he couldn’t bring himself to watch the start of the race. The result? Family honour was upheld as Harry became the 300th winner of the race.
The date for the 2018 race has recently been fixed for Tuesday 4 September when for the first time the event will form part of the Totally Thames Festival.
Speedway – The Lakeside Hammers
From the Doggett’s Race to Lakeside Hammers the audience were no sooner on the River Thames than transported to a shale track and the daredevil world of speedway. Mark Sexton, Community Liaison at Lakeside Hammers, joined SportonSpec founder Tim Underhill on stage to provide a background to a sport that used to be a huge draw when featured regularly on World of Sport in the 1970s with Dickie Davies at the helm, and which still has a very active British scene today if no longer a feature on the mainstream radar.
Having played a clip of Lakeside Hammers action featuring captain and star rider Ben Morley, Sexton then announced Ben himself (pictured right with mic) was in the building and the Hammers skipper duly joined the proceedings. A relaxed Morley went on to give the audience a glimpse of life ‘under the helmet’ racing bikes at speeds of up to 70mph with no brakes in one of the most visceral of spectator sports, and what it’s like to be club skipper at just 22 years of age.
With this season having just drawn to a close, Morley was in buoyant mood when discussing Lakeside Hammers’ prospects next year and Arena-Essex Raceway (venue for Hammers home fixtures) is the place to be from April 2018 for tapes-up and the start of the new British speedway season.
Olympian and weightlifter Zoe Smith completed a memorable evening as she took to the stage just a few miles from where she grew up in Abbey Wood. Smith shone a candid light on her career so far, from the highs of breaking the British clean and jerk record at London 2012 (and life in the Olympic Village) and winning a gold medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, to the lows of sustaining a serious injury in the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Describing the moment just before she made her final attempt to lift a British record of 121kg in front of 6,000 screaming fans at ExCeL London in 2012, Smith said she felt so drained she just wanted to lie down and go to sleep.
Fast forward to summer 2016 the audience winced as Smith recounted how she had two minutes to decide whether to attempt one final lift that could see her qualify for Rio, knowing deep down she had severely damaged her right shoulder moments before and hence to do so would be to risk a career-ending injury. That Smith went ahead with the abortive lift seemed to the audience testament to the incredible resolve and overriding will to win that marks out Olympians from the rest.
Now recovered and having recently obtained the qualifying standard for next year’s Commonwealth Games, Smith has her targets set on competing on the Gold Coast in 2018 (and ultimately the Tokyo Olympics in 2020) and a roomful of weightlifting converts have got their fingers crossed for confirmation of her selection in the next couple of weeks.
Tim Underhill, founder and CEO of SportonSpec, said: “I couldn’t be happier with how the evening went. The feedback from the those attending has been fantastic. We decided to feature sports that the audience would be less familiar with to demonstrate every sport played at the top level can be as engaging and entertaining as any other, it’s awareness which is key. The reaction of the crowd certainly demonstrated that and why we endeavour at SportonSpec to showcase sporting events on a level playing field.
“It was a real bonus to launch at House of Sport and I’m grateful to London Sport for the opportunity to do so. Supported by the Mayor of London and Sport England their vision to make London the most physically active city in the world is one we support as a promoter of spectator sport.
“SportonSpec London coverage of action in the capital is underway via our social media @sportonspecLDN and a live feed on the SportonSpec website will be rolling out in due course. These are exciting times to be involved in the spectator experience in the capital with clubs, promoters and governing bodies alike looking to innovate and attract new audiences to their live events, not to mention new sports breaking onto the scene.
“These new additions, coupled with an existing spectator calendar that is the envy of the world, mean there has never been more choice when it comes to enjoying a day out at the sport in London with friends or family and, who knows, being inspired to take up a new sport.
“Via the SportonSpec platform we’re looking forward to showcasing the A to Z of action in the capital so that Londoners don’t miss their favourite events, but equally discover new sports to go and watch live. After all – there’s nothing like being there!”
SportonSpec London is live via Twitter and Facebook and Instagram with a newsletter and ‘Events!’ page for the website on the horizon. Follow our social media feeds now for all the latest developments!