Raw talent and passion are essential for athletes who want to get to the top of their sport. But without access to expert training, facilities and support, even these are probably not enough to reach international level.
The Sports Institute for Northern Ireland opened in 2005 after the project received National Lottery funding to help build the high-performance sports centre at a university campus in Jordanstown, a suburb of Belfast. Further Lottery funding will covering the cost of supporting the country’s top athletes in development centres across Northern Ireland and their coaches for years to come. Currently, the Insititute supports more than 100 athletes in more than 20 sports, many at Olympic or Paralympic level. Those who are selected, after being put forward by their local sports organisation, benefit from a tailored programme of personal training, access to the centres' facilities and equipment, lifestyle management, medical care and competitions.
Success stories include double 2012 Paralympic gold medallist Jason Smyth, and Northern Ireland's first ever athlete in the Winter Paralympics, Kelly Gallagher .The facilities are also used by local sports teams, community groups and students. "Not so long ago, global success among athletes in Northern Ireland was in spite of the system, rather than because of it,” says the athlete services manager at the Institute. "We aim to get as many people as possible competing at the top level. Creating a new base for the Institute has been a catalyst for a complete culture change in the way people view high-performance sport in Northern Ireland.”