Jason Gardener is best known as a British sprinter who enjoyed success at 60m, 100m, and the relay during his career.

Jason Gardener

Jason Gardener

Now retired, Gardener is encouraging kids to get into sport and is currently back the new Great Outdoors Summer of Stars campaign.

We caught up with him to chat about the campaign, his career, and looking ahead to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, which are now less than a month away.

- You are backing the new Great Outdoors Summer of Stars campaign, so can you tell me a bit about it?

The Great Outdoors Summer of Stars campaign has been launched to encourage youngsters to get into sport. Through our open trials, we identified ten kids of varying levels of experience and ability, who we are rewarding with a year-long sports scholarship.

The idea is to nurture them and provide them with confidence and self-belief to realise their dreams of becoming the next British sporting talent.

- How and why did you get involved with this campaign? And what do you hope the kids involved will get out of this new initiative?

I'm currently President of UK Athletics and am passionate about the future of sport, both for the country and for the well-being of future generations so I think I am a good fit for the campaign.

I hope the kids involved will have taken the opportunity to try out more than one of the sports on offer: tennis, football, rugby, athletics and swimming and that they continue to enjoy sport, long after the events are over.

- Getting people - especially children - into sport was one of the key aims when we landed the London 2012 Olympic Games. Sadly, that legacy is something that seems to have faltered. What more do you think needs to be done to get more kids taking up sport and sticking with it as they get into their teens?

Offering kids new, affordable, exciting and different opportunities to take part and have fun with sport is key. Sport should be enjoyed and you never know you might just find out that you love it, whatever standard you achieve.

That's why an initiative like this, that's free to take part in and makes the most of all the facilities on offer at great sites like New River Sport & Fitness, is ideal and I'd love to see more of this kind of thing taking place across the UK.

- You enjoyed huge success in athletics as a sprinter, so how did you get involved in sport and what drew you to athletics?

School sports day, and great teachers that gave me an opportunity to try new sports and new experiences, helped me discover I was good at running fast at a young age. This is my earliest recollection of being successful at something in school and this talent was encouraged by my teachers. From the age of ten I wanted to be an Olympic champion (and a professional footballer!)

- Away from the campaign, we are now just a few weeks away from the start of the Olympic Games in Rio, so who are you particularly excited to see on the track?

Being a fan of athletics I'm interested to see how Usain Bolt gets on and see if he can make his hat trick and make history again, however, he was recently injured at the Jamaican trials so a lot will depend on the outcome of that.

I'll also be watching Jess Ennis-Hill, Mo Farrah, and Greg Rutherford - it will be good to see how our London medal winners get on. All three won at the World Championships last year so they're in good form.

- In the last few years, we have seen GB sprinting really develop some exciting strength and depth for both the men and the women. What do you make of some of the new talent that has come through?

I think it's really exciting. They are constantly competing against each other and raising standards and their performance levels. Key names to look out for include Dina Asher-Smith, Adam Gemili who lit up the stadium in London with his lovely smile having made the move to athletics from playing football. He was injured last year - but is the first British athlete to have run under 10 seconds at 100m and under 20 seconds at 200m.

The top end of world sprinters are some steps ahead of our new talent but hopefully, they could be looking to get on the rostrum. The relays will be great to see as well - the girls have been massively improving with team skills over past years, and the guys have the potential to put pressure on. Also, from a British perspective, we're starting to get world class throwers, like Sophie Hitchon in the hammer and some of our men could be ones to watch.

- There is a lot of focus and expectation of Dina Asher-Smith, so what do you think she can realistically achieve in Rio?

She's a phenomenal talent evident from her breakthrough last year. The spotlight is on her this year and she is still competing well, but I wouldn't be surprised if the pressure on her means we haven't seen quite the best of her at this moment in time.

However, going into the Olympics it's about peaking there that matters, so I hope she is saving her very best for the right time. She's a lovely person both on and off the track.

- London 2012 was fantastic for athletics - we won't ever forget Super Saturday. How strong do you think the team is set to be this time around?

I'm very optimistic. I think we can win more medals at these games than in London. Not necessarily more golds, but more medals in total.

- What do you think the state of British athletics is in general? We do seem to have brought through a lot of exciting new talent in the last couple of years.

That's what's exciting - the old guard are still performing well at an elite level but this can't go on forever. It's really good that we have the likes of Dina and Robbie Grabarz in high jump ensuring the pipeline is strong. Chijindu Ujah is an exciting young talent too.

Sometimes you have to downplay expectations from the public as this Games might be a touch too soon for some of the talent just developing - some of the guys who, at their best, are going under 10 seconds when you compare them to someone like Usain who regularly runs at these speeds. The pressure can be immense and it can take a bit more time to develop fully. Nonetheless, it's exciting to have such strong talent coming through.

- Away from the British team, who do you think are going to be the big winners in Rio? Can Usain Bolt do the double again? Who will be his main rivals?

I wrote Usain off for London 2012 and he proved me wrong. Justin Gatlin is still performing to a very high standard and will be the closest person to threaten Usain - it all depends on how bad his recent injury sustained at the Jamaican Olympic Trials is, a hamstring tear. A fit Usain Bolt is a very difficult person to beat, especially over 200m.

- Of course, athletics has had its problems. Russia has been banned from competing at the Games, do you agree with the decision that was made?

Absolutely, 100%.

- As a former athlete, what do you think of the strides that have been made to ban cheating in the sport? What more do you think needs to be done?

A lot more needs to be done. I'd prefer lifetime bans, but I know we live in a tolerant society. For serious doping offenders, bans of at least 8-year should be brought in.

- You retired from the sport back in 2007, so how much do you still miss competing?

Not at all actually - I had an amazing career with some wonderful highs and quite a lot of lows. I'm very satisfied with my achievements and it doesn't get much better than standing on the Olympic podium with a gold medal. I think this allows me to move gracefully into retirement!

- You enjoyed success over 60m, 100m & 200m both indoor and outdoor, but what was your most memorable experience when you look back on your career?

The Olympic gold was the defining moment of my career and to have enjoyed it with the teammates I had competed against throughout my career was incredible. Breaking the 10-second barrier in the 100m was also a really special achievement - it earns you a real mark of respect amongst peers.

- Finally, what's next for you going through the rest of 2016?

I'm at the airport just setting off to support the British team at the European Championships in Amsterdam as part of the road to Rio. I'm also doing lots of work to try and inspire kids in sport, both through the Great Outdoors Summer of Stars campaign with Fusion Lifestyle (www.newriversport.com/news/summer-of-stars) and through my school sport business that I run with former team-mate Darren Campbell (www.teamsuperschools.co.uk)

by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
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