With Olympic Memories Lingering, More Brits Are Diving Into Sports

As the euphoria over the Olympics slowly fades, reports from sporting clubs and fitness centers across the country show that Brits' enthusiasm for sport has continued.

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TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP / Getty Images

An image of the Olympic rings is displayed on the wall of the Houses of Parliament as part of the festivities for the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games in London on August 12, 2012.

As Olympic champions like Mo Farrah, Jessica Ennis and Chris Hoy raced, jumped and pumped their way to victory at London 2012, millions of Britons cheered them on. And as hearts across the country swelled with pride at their country’s medal count – which topped out at 65 by the time the Games had finished – Brits also clearly felt a twinge of something else: motivation.

As the euphoria over the Olympics slowly fades, reports from sporting clubs and fitness centers across the country show that enthusiasm for sports has continued. London’s streets seem to be brimming with more joggers than usual – and many decked out in Team GB merchandise. Even a cursory survey of this reporter’s gym revealed more people huffing on treadmills or pumping iron than in pre-Games days. But it’s more than just casual observations; people across the country really are upping the ante when it comes to sports and fitness. According to David Cooper, the operations director for London’s Gymbox, the trainers at his gyms five locations have “definitely seen a change in the way people are exercising.”

(PHOTOS: Olympic Highlights)

Cooper points to Gymbox’s classes for women’s boxing, which have seen a 25% increase in attendance in the past month alone. But he also adds that it’s not just an increase in workouts he’s seeing, it’s also a change in the types of workouts. Pre-Olympics, he says, a lot of people were seeking out workouts that weren’t particularly demanding like, say, yoga, but now he’s noticing that “people are actually training really hard.” He’s particularly noticed that change among women, a shift he attributes to Olympians’ exposure and the fact that “so many people are being affected by the way athletes look.”

And then there are those who aren’t only motivated to get in shape, but seem to be setting their sights on Rio 2016. According to Richard Stock of British Rowing, clubs all around the country have “been inundated with interest” from people looking to take up the sport. He adds that his organization was even able to gauge a jump in interest in the sport from their own website metrics. While visits to the British Rowing site, which features information on rowing clubs around the country, were around 160 on June 1, the site had more than 5000 hits on August 1 – the day that Team GB’s Helen Glover and Heather Stanning won gold in rowing.

Frazer Snowdon of British Handball confirms a similar phenomenon. He noted in an email to TIME that while the organization’s website would typically receive anywhere from one to two thousand hits a week pre-Olympics, the second week of the Games saw the site struggling to handle nearly 38,000 hits. The boom in traffic crashed the site three times. Snowdon added that British Handball has been fielding a significant increase of inquiries from people who have a new found interest in the sport – which they’re actively working on passing on to Britain’s local handball clubs.

(PHOTOS: Olympic Winners Savor the Moment)

While sports advocates and government officials are understandably thrilled at Britain’s reinvigorated interest in sports, many are already working on ways to ensure the enthusiasm doesn’t wane. “The UK based the Olympic bid on legacy,” says Dave Stalker, CEO of Britain’s Fitness Industry Association, which represents more than 3000 private and public facilities across the UK. Stalker maintains it’s important for the country to focus on ensuring that young people, the next generation of Team GB athletes, are fostered and the UK is currently in a prime position to do so. He said the FIA has registered a sharp uptick in sports and fitness interest over the past few weeks, particularly in areas where Team GB did exceptionally well in, such as tennis and cycling.

Even better, according to Stalker, is politicians’ new-found enthusiasm for sport, which is the country’s best bet on establishing a set curriculum of sports and fitness in youth programs and schools. He says it’s encouraging to hear “talk from both David Cameron and Boris Johnson on the need for sport.”

Cameron, who has been criticized in the past for cutting funding for sports programs in schools, recently announced that he intends to make team sports mandatory in schools.  “I want to use the example of competitive sport at the Olympics to lead a revival of competitive sport in primary schools,” he said. “We need to end the ‘all must have prizes’ culture and get children playing and enjoying competitive sports from a young age, linking them up with sports clubs so they can pursue their dreams.”

Though he gladly welcomes the prime minister getting behind sports in Britain, Stalker says that competition shouldn’t be the end goal for everyone. “Obviously, everyone’s not going to be an Olympian,” he says. “For me, the best part of the legacy would be that we see more children doing more activity.”

MORE: 20 Paralympic Athletes to Watch at London 2012


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