Comment: How not to celebrate an Olympic champion

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IT’S now well over two weeks since Greg Rutherford won Olympic gold and there is still no definitive answer as to what Milton Keynes will do to honour his success.

Bosses from Milton Keynes and Woburn Sands Town Councils met on Friday to supposedly ‘finalise’ plans of how to celebrate the 25-year-old’s fantastic long jump victory at London 2012.

Meanwhile towns and cities all over Great Britain have already finished the clean-up from their respective homecoming events for their own Olympians.

Despite promises that all would be revealed on Monday, the people of Milton Keynes are still left scratching their heads, and a statement released from Mayor, Councillor Catriona Morris, has only reinforced the promise of something ‘action packed’ about to happen.

She said: “We had always intended to hold a civic celebration after the Paralympics for all our local athletes (in Olympics and Paralympics), coaches, gamesmakers, volunteers and everyone involved in making the Olympics and Paralympics so special.

“We had a very positive discussion with Greg and his team over the weekend, and a number of very promising ideas were aired. They are still being finalised, but we can confirm that we have set aside a date in the calendar for the civic celebrations, and we will be releasing the details of these very shortly.

“We also want to create a ‘lasting legacy’ in honour of Greg’s achievement, but for now our focus is on the initial day of celebrations which, whatever the format, is sure to be action packed.”

The Citizen understands that the event in question will be held on Saturday, September 29 and will involve a ‘civic celebration’ at Milton Keynes Council’s CMK offices before Rutherford is whisked down to stadium:mk to enjoy MK Dons take on Crewe Alexandra.

That is a plan which has frustrated volunteers at Milton Keynes Athletic Club who believe the city’s celebrations should be centred around the club’s Stantonbury track where Rutherford’s athletics career began.

Stantonbury Stadium hosted a ‘Join In’ campaign event on Saturday, but with Rutherford’s appearances kept a secret by the national organisers, only a couple of hundred club members turned out – a fraction of the number which should have greeted the gold medallist on his first public outing in his home town.

Why has it taken so long to finalise plans, and why couldn’t Milton Keynes have done what every other town and city did last week? Those are questions council bosses struggle to answer.

Hemel Hempstead and Peterborough are just two nearby towns to have held public events for their respective medal-winning Olympians over the weekend. It doesn’t take much to get someone out in front of a crowd for a few waves and cheers. Sit down and discuss your long term plans afterwards.

If Milton Keynes Council had acted quicker, then tens of thousands of people would probably have turned out in CMK or wherever else to welcome Rutherford home. The moment won’t have completely gone by September 29, but with Rutherford back in competitive action before then, it won’t be what it could have been either.

And whatever the council has in store by way of a long term recognition of Rutherford’s achievement, it had better be good.