Byline: MATTHEW BEARD Sports News Correspondent
HUNDREDS of young athletes have been awarded [pounds sterling]1,000 grants to help realise their dream of competing in the London Olympics.
The "Local Heroes" bursary scheme has been hailed by Olympics chief Sebastian Coe as a model for others to follow.
On its first anniversary today, cheques were written out to 270 teenage athletes.
The cash can be used for anything from air fares to air guns.
At Roehampton University six young athletes from London and the South- East who are benefiting from the project were unveiled, meeting five-time Olympic swimmer Mark Foster.
The scheme is being run by Lloyds TSB, the official bank of the 2012 Games. All the athletes chosen are rated in the top 10 nationally and vetted for the bank by charity Sportaid. In his first year of the bursary, Peter Bakare, 19, from Canning Town, was chosen for the Great Britain volleyball squad and now receives Lottery funding to train fulltime in Sheffield.
Mr Bakare said: "It was a massive boost when I got the letter and the funding was confirmed.
"Apart from giving me belief it's paid for my travel and equipment and enabled me to concentrate on sport.
"I've also had advice [from Olympic triple-jump champion Jonathan Edwards], who has prepared me for the highs and lows." Athletes are obliged to attend local
Lloyds branch openings and away days as the bank seeks to use its Olympic status to boost morale among its 60,000 staff during the recession.
Wheelchair racer Jonathan Smith, 16, from Kingston, also a "Local Hero" said: "We do quite a lot of work at the Kingston branch in Eden Street. Lloyds could spend their money on top athletes but we may be pushing them out in three to four years time." Jonathan spent much of last year's bursary on physiotherapy and will return soon to training with Velocity Racing in Kingston after a three-month layoff.
Similar schemes to "Heroes" are taking shape with other 2012 sponsors.
Among them, Dame Kelly Holmes fronts a BT project, while British Airways is offering youngsters free flights to international competitions.
Lloyds spent [pounds sterling]80 million to become an Olympics sponsor and expects to spend double that exploiting the rights. It has set its sights on enhancing funding at feeder clubs so success will last beyond the Games.
Meanwhile, adidas says it aims to boost sports participation by launching outdoor gyms, or "Adizones", in five east London boroughs. …