Six months on from London 2012, has the Olympics really changed anything? Fabulous investigates
They were dubbed “the women’s Games”; when every nation sent at least one female competitor, and women weren’t barred from any sport. So it’s a fitting tribute that the achievements at London 2012 have resulted in a huge number of us girls following in the trainer-clad footsteps of Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott and Nicola Adams.
In the six months since the Games, sports from boxing to football have been inundated with new female members.
Women like Camuran Kavaz, 28. A Thursday night for her used to involve vegging out in front of EastEnders. But these days, she’s more likely to be found pounding a fist into her opponent’s chest at Peacock’s, a spit-and-sawdust gym in the heart of London’s East End.
It’s a stone’s throw from the Olympic Park in Stratford, where Camuran first set eyes on British gold-medal-winning boxer Nicola Adams, 30.
“Nicola’s incredible journey inspired me to take up boxing,” says Camuran, who lives in north London. “Nothing beats the adrenalin rush of throwing a punch or the euphoria of winning. My new hobby has helped me get fit, lose weight, and fight depression and stress.”
According to figures released by Sport England, 15.5 million people aged over 16 are playing sport each week – a rise of 750,000 in the last year, and an increase of 1.57 million from 2005, when London originally won the bid to host the Games.
The largest increase has been among women, with 500,000 taking up new activities. Sport England has pledged over £10million of National Lottery funding over the next five years to continue this growth.
Sue Tibbals, chief executive of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation, believes one of the biggest legacies of London 2012 is the new role models it has given women.
“People used to be ambivalent about female sports figures but, thanks to Team GB’s success, we now have an array of women to look up to,” she says. “We are hopeful that the Olympic legacy will change the prevalent attitude among girls that they just want to be thin, rather than aspiring to be active and healthy.”
A total high
Camuran, a receptionist, is passionate about her newfound sport. “I lived and breathed the Olympics last summer. I was glued to my TV and found the women’s boxing particularly compelling,” she says.
“I’d grown up thinking it was a man’s sport, but watching Nicola Adams being interviewed, I was struck by how humble and feminine she is – with a lithe body and big smile. I realised she’s a normal person and if she could box, so could I.”
Camuran is no stranger to the benefits of exercise after working as a professional dancer for eight years. “I got to the top of my game, choreographing dance videos for urban artists like Dizzee Rascal. But I retired at 24. I’d grown disillusioned with the music industry and the constant pressure to look good,” she says.
“Cutting out exercise was a real shock to the system. I’m naturally curvy, but dancing on a daily basis had kept me trim. Within three months of quitting my job, I’d jumped from a size 8 to a size 12. At 5ft 5in, I tipped the scales at 10st and my once-toned body turned to jelly.
“I felt frustrated. I couldn’t find another job and hit such a low. Most mornings, it was all I could do to get out of bed, never mind exercise. I felt so insecure about my body, I stopped going out with friends and started rowing with my boyfriend of three years, Daniel, 35.”
Despite securing a job working as a gym receptionist in March 2010, Camuran continued to feel unmotivated.
“It’s ironic that I had a free gym pass, but still couldn’t motivate myself. It would have been easy to hop on the treadmill, but it just seemed so boring.”
In the aftermath of the Olympics, Camuran did some research on women’s boxing and discovered she could train at nearby Peacock Gym, signing up to private lessons for £40 an hour.
“I was really nervous before my first lesson, worried I’d get hurt or struggle to pick up the moves. But my instructor patiently taught me how to spar and jab,” she says. “In the first weeks, I was drenched in sweat after 10 minutes, and so out of breath I could hardly talk. But I’d always leave the gym on a total high.”
It wasn’t long before Camuran noticed the physical benefits, too.
“The weight started to drop off and muscle tone appeared in its place. Six months on, I’m down to 9st and a size 10 – my body confidence is soaring.
“More importantly, boxing’s a fantastic outlet to vent my frustrations. I feel more alive than I have in years and that’s spilled into other areas of my life. I find it easier to concentrate at work and deal with stress.”
Since the Olympics, Peacock Gym has seen a 50 per cent increase in women joining boxing classes, while Camuran now trains four times a week and took part in her first competition this month.
“Sportswomen such as Nicola Adams are far more inspiring than reality TV celebs,” she adds. “The Olympics helped put women’s boxing on the map in the UK. I’d love to see its popularity continue to increase with more access to boxing and competitions for women.”
Paving the way
One person taking a proactive approach to improving women’s sport is Lois Mallett-Walker, 22, who set up an all-female football team after the London Games.
“I managed to get tickets to a few different sporting events for the Olympics, and loved the women’s football,” says Lois, who works as an ambassador for the Football Association.
She knows everything about football, from the offside rule to corner kicks, thanks to her dad, Cliff, 47, who took her to Arsenal matches in her teens.
“I was desperate to play myself, but it’s such a male-dominated sport that you have to play to a very high standard to join the few female teams around.”
Watching female footballers at the Olympics finally inspired Lois to set up her own team.
“I researched teams in my area, but was amazed to find none of them catered for women who hadn’t played before. So I took matters into my own hands.”
Lois, who lives in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, with her husband Tom, 22, a design coordinator, set up a group on Facebook and managed to rally together enough girls to hire an outside pitch at Haileybury Sports Complex for two hours on a Monday night at a cost of £31.90 per hour.
“By October, the evenings were drawing in, so I had to ring the girls every week to spur them on. But once they were on the pitch, they loved it.
“After years of watching men play, it feels liberating to kick a ball around. It can get fiery, but I like a bit of spirit – it’s a laugh and a good start to the week. We’ve had a few male onlookers during training and it’s a mixed reaction – a few wolf whistles but mostly just admiration.
“Through word of mouth, the group has thrived and, six months on, between 12 and 20 players turn up each week. I’ve named the team Sisters FC, as we’re so close-knit. We hang out with each other off the pitch, as well.
“At 5ft 8in and 8st, I don’t need to exercise to lose weight, but there are so many other benefits – improved energy levels, increased focus and a sense of camaraderie.”
Lois is proud to be paving the way for women’s football. “I’m going to take part in trials for the competitive team Enfield Town FC Ladies this summer,” she says. “But I’ll never stop managing Sisters FC. We’re proof that any woman can motivate herself to take up a sport. Dragging myself off the sofa for just two hours a week makes such a difference. I feel I could achieve anything now.”
‘Playing hockey revived my social life’
Rebecca Kwan, 22, a marketing executive who lives in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, says: “I was really sporty back in school, taking part in everything from netball to hockey. But I let it slide when I started a psychology degree at Birmingham University in 2008. I was far too busy socialising to even think about playing sport.
In September 2011, I took a job in marketing, and moved from my home town of Bristol to High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. Without friends or family around me, it was really hard, and I threw myself into work to distract myself.
It paid off. Last year, I was promoted from an assistant to an executive but working hard and being based in a new town meant I didn’t have much of a social life.
Then, one Sunday last July, I went to the women’s hockey at the Olympic Park. Watching the Netherlands compete against Belgium, it took me back to those carefree days at school when I’d loved the competitive nature and team spirit of the sport.
I asked myself what was stopping me from experiencing that now? I searched online for hockey clubs in Buckinghamshire and came across the nationwide Back To Hockey programme to get women back on the pitch.
When I first showed up at my local club, I was nervous, but the programme catered for all ages and there were women there who hadn’t played for 30-odd years or more.
After a six-week refresher course, I graduated to playing for a local hockey team called Marlow Hockey Club Gophers, at a cost of £100 per season (September to April). We train two nights a week and compete every Saturday morning.
The frosty, dark 6am starts are always worth it. I’ve met so many new friends and we regularly meet up for drinks in town or go to the cinema. It’s a relief to finally have an interest outside work, and I feel much more settled here now.
Six months on, I no longer get puffed out climbing a flight of stairs at work and I eat a healthier diet now packed with fruit and veg.
I couldn’t be more grateful to the Olympics for leading me back to hockey. It’s transformed my life.”
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