Gabi Down only Olympic or Paralympic athlete to be honoured at Milton Keynes Council event

Paralympic star Gabi Down will be attending Saturday's event - but her fellow athletes can't make the council's celebrations
Paralympic star Gabi Down will be attending Saturday's event - but her fellow athletes can't make the council's celebrations

ONLY one of Milton Keynes’ eight Olympic and Paralympic atheletes will attend an event to honour them.

A press release from Milton Keynes Council issued this morning said Paralympic fencer Gabi Down will be attending the event at Milton Keynes Dons’ stadiummk at the weekend.

With none of her fellow athletes able to make it the ‘action-packed day of sport and fun’ has now been re-branded as a celebration of the hard work of residents who helped make the Games such a success.

But the new emphasis can not hide the fact that this is the latest embarrassment in a series of council failiures to properly honour long jump gold medallist Greg Rutherford and his fellow Olympic and Paralympic stars.

Two weeks ago this newspaper revealed Rutherford, who captured gold with a 8.31m leap in the Olympic Stadium on August 4, would not be honoured with a parade through the streets of Milton Keynes.

That came after the council had unveiled plans to invite all eight athletes to a lunch reception at stadiummk ahead of MK Dons’ match against Crewe Alexandra on Saturday (September 29), where they would also take part in a half-time lap of honour.

At the time the Citizen spoke to the majority of the athletes who told us they hadn’t even heard from MK Council.

A council spokesman said invitations had gone out, but the attendence of Gabi Down alone is testament to the fact that move was too little, too late.

Saturday’s event, which is being run as an add on to the Dons and Milton Keynes Citizen’s family fun day, will involve a number of sporting activities and will take place between mid-day and 3pm outside stadiummk.

Teenager Gabi Down, 14, will take part in the activities alongside members of the public.

But fellow athletes Olympic handball captain Bobby White, Paralympic fooballer Alistair Patrick-Heselton, table tennis star Andrew Baggaley, javelin thrower Mervyn Luckwell, cyclist Ian Stannard, wheelchair basketball’s Simon Munn and Rutherford will be conspicuous by their absence.

Speaking on September 12 about the lack of a city-wide event, a source close to one of the Olympians said: “What a shambles. They should have done something just for Greg – it was an incredible achievement, but they have somehow made a mess of it.”

And in a letter to this newspaper Greg Rutherford’s father, Andy, wrote: ‘I do question if the Mayor’s office and the councillors realise how difficult it is to win an Olympic medal, let alone gold...

‘Surely the most effective way to reach all these local people would have been to have a homecoming bus ride or reception where everybody could have seen Greg and the other athletes.

‘It looks from the outside that the council has managed to tack the ‘celebrations’ on to an existing day being held by the Dons’.

The Dons had originally contacted the council asking if they could play a small part in celebrating the Olympic achievements, but as time ticked by it became clear no other plans were in place.

The council had insisted the delay in organising an event to honour Rutherford was because it would be better to do something for all the city’s athletes after they had competed.

But it quickly became clear that they were having trouble pinning down a date on which Rutherford could attend, while other atheletes hadn’t even been contacted.

Milton Keynes Council last week blamed the layout of the town centre for the lack of a proper parade, claiming it ‘wouldn’t do Greg justice’.

A council spokesman said: “It was felt an open topped bus parade wasn’t really appropriate for Central Milton Keynes because of the layout of the city centre here.

“Unlike many traditional city centres we are very spread out – and as such we felt there was a risk that this type of parade wouldn’t do Greg justice.”

Visitors on Saturday who can’t make it on foot will be able to park for free at Milton Keynes College’s Woughton East Campus on Chaffron Way, and catch a free shuttle at regular intervals from the college car park to stadiummk, between 12noon and 2.30pm, with the last bus returning to the college from the stadium at 3pm.

Anyone wanting to attend the game can take advantage of special Family Day match ticket prices of £10 for adults and £1 for under 18’s.

The club’s regular match day shuttle bus service will return to the college after the game at the usual fare of £1.50.

Milton Keynes Mayor, Councillor Catriona Morris, will be joined by her counterpart from Crewe to watch the match later.

She said: “We will be honouring our games makers, torch bearers and others who played such a key role in supporting the London Games.

“Who knows, the sporting day may well help us to produce more future Olympians and Paralympians. We want to inspire a generation.”

Olympic and Paralympic guests will be greeted for a lunch reception at stadiummk and will also make a ‘guest appearance’ on the pitch at half time.

Greg Rutherford will take part in a special parade in Woburn Sands, organised by the town council, on Friday.