The rise of young British athletes amid increasing competition and pressure

With Anthony Joshua’s recent victory over Wladimir Klitschko, a man who has dominated the heavyweight division for a decade, Joshua is now being lauded as a role model for youth participants in boxing. The high-profile nature of his sport and the global appeal of his most recent victory have helped him to reach those who may not have been initially interested in boxing, and through this broad reach he has been able to inspire kids to follow in his footsteps. This form of role model is a vital aspect of youth development in different disciplines, and Joshua is the most recent and visible manifestation of it.

Meanwhile, British cycling has been under close scrutiny this past year, with various allegations being made about the way riders have been handled. It is undeniable that British cycling has become a competitive force in the world of cycling through the Olympic success of British athletes as well as the rise of Team Sky. This success has been carried over into the development of talented young riders who look to take up the mantle and lead the British team to further triumph.

One such rider is 21-year-old sprinter Ryan Owens.

Owens joined the British cycling system late after dropping out of Loughborough University to dedicate more time to the development of his cycling career. Since earning selection as a reserve for the Rio Olympics, Owens has gone from strength to strength, earning silver in the team sprint at the European Track Championships and narrowly missing out on the medals with a fourth place finish in the individual sprint at his first world championships appearance in Hong Kong.

Owens’ recent success has come from years of hard work, and also from having the right people guide him from race to race. When asked about the importance of having positive role models, Owens responded, “I have been lucky to work with some great people who have helped push me forward at each level, my experience has been a totally positive one,” adding, “there’s a reason our team is so competitive right now.”

While not as high profile as the pay per view heavyweight bouts, cycling appeals to a large audience, and as such, there are many people who watch these young athletes perform and compete in a high-pressure environment. Being under high scrutiny is not easy for anyone, and being 21 years old does not make it easier. “I just try to stay focused on what I’m here to do,” Owens said, which is not an easy task when under the microscope.

The role of a British ambassador is one that comes with representing Great Britain at any level, and for many, it is what drives them to continue to move forward. Young athletes look up to those who make the jump into the senior squad, dreaming about the day they too get called up. This creates its own kind of pressure, that of a role model. “I just try to be myself, work hard, and hopefully this is a good enough example for the younger guys,” Owens said when asked about his philosophy in guiding these younger athletes. “We have a great team from coaches to mechanics, there is a lot of support.”

Owens will keep competing for the British team, with his goal of being named to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic squad seemingly becoming more tangible by the day. Owens is just one of many talented young athletes looking to make an impression on a global stage and he will be looking to follow the super-heavyweight success of boxer Anthony Joshua by winning a medal for Team Great Britain in three years time.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV