By Michael Pavitt at Alban City School in St Albans

Jodie Williams and British Athletes Commission chief executive Ian Braid pose with students ©BACThe British Athletes Commission today launched "Athletes Direct", an online service designed to bring elite competitors together with schools, colleges and business.

It is part of a two-fold approach of equipping athletes with life skills that could be put to use when they retire and getting young children inspired to participate in sport.

As part of the launch British sprinter, Jodie Williams, a Commonwealth Games silver and bronze medallist Glasgow 2014 and a member of Britain's gold-medal winning 4x100 metres relay at the European Championships in Zurich last year, delivered two masterclass sessions in sprinting with primary school pupils.

The 21-year-old from Welwyn Garden City then took part in a question and answer session and gave pupils the opportunity to hold her Commonwealth and European medals, highlighting the way that the Athletes Direct service would seek to inspire young people by giving them the unique opportunity to meet world-class athletes.

She was joined at the launch by Ian Braid, chief executive of the British Athletes Commission, an association for elite Olympic, Paralympic and world-class athletes in more than 40 sports. 

He explained the service would provide athletes with the opportunity to build networks with local communities and develop skills like public speaking, which could prove vital in easing the transition from being an athlete when their careers come to a close.

"At the BAC the mantra is, 'It's all about the athletes' and we recognise that a big concern for British athletes is how do they transition when the don't have a career in sport, because they don't get to choose when that transition starts as they could get injured or deselected," Braid said.

"The reason these athletes are brilliant at what they do is that they are very focused and sometimes it is hard for them to see beyond Rio 2016.

"We are working very hard with the performance lifestyle team at the English Institute of Sport to very specifically prepare the athletes, we want them to start early and there are transferable skills inherent in this and the life skills are really important."

Jodie Williams held a masterclass session with primary school children at the launch of Athletes Direct ©BACJodie Williams held a masterclass session with primary school children at the launch of Athletes Direct ©BAC

Williams echoed Braid's sentiments, stating that she had been very fortunate to benefit from opportunities to take part in public speaking, whether to businesses or inspiring the next generation in schools.

"I don't think that athletes think a lot about retirement but it does come around very quickly, so it is great to have this kind of experience, so athletes don't panic when they hit 30," Williams, who once won 151 consecutive races over five years, said. 

"I do kind of want to go into public speaking.

"I am very passionate about women in sport, so I would love to go into campaigning.

"I was on the campaign for 2017 [World Athletics Championships in London] and absolutely loved it, it was amazing, so I think since then I've wanted to go into that kind of thing."

Williams was supportive of the concept of Athletes Direct enabling athletes to supplement their UK Sport funding by attending events arranged through the service, suggesting it could help athletes on the cusp of making elite level step up to that standard.

Jodie Williams allowed primary school students to pass round her medals ©BACJodie Williams allowed primary school students to pass round her medals ©BAC

Braid warned the additional funds would not prove to be a lifestyle-changer for athletes, as they will often appear for nominal fees or receive expenses, but he underlined his hope athletes will play a key role to "influence, motivate and inspire" young people, to make participation in sport part of their lives.

"The vast majority of BAC members already are Olympians or Paralympians, with the vast majority aspiring to get to Rio in 2016 or Pyeongchang in 2018, and it's great for them to work in their local communities to hopefully inspire generations of young kids to think 'maybe I could be Jodie Williams', this is about getting sport into people's lives," Braid said.

Williams added: "I don't remember anyone coming into my school but I wish that I had.

"I think that it is great when kids get to see people they've watched on television."

A link to the Athletes Direct service can be found here

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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