FOUR up-and-coming young sportspeople from Hunts have been rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in British sport. St Neots rowers Sam Howell, 15, Jo Fitzsimons, 16, and Natalie Bream, 16, joined 100 other hand-picked 14-17-year-olds from acros

Dame Kelly Holmes with St Neots rower Sam Howell

FOUR up-and-coming young sportspeople from Hunts have been rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in British sport.

St Neots rowers Sam Howell, 15, Jo Fitzsimons, 16, and Natalie Bream, 16, joined 100 other hand-picked 14-17-year-olds from across the country at a national 'talent camp' held at Loughborough University.

The likes of runner Dame Kelly Holmes and rower Guin Batten were on hand to offer advice and guidance on every aspect of performance sport.

Rowers, sailors, cyclists, canoers and triathlon athletes were all invited to the first ever National Talent Orientation Camp which ran from January 6-9.

The camp was designed to offer not only sporting advice and guidance, but academic help with higher education institutions on hand to showcase classroom opportunities to the performers.

St Neots Rowing Club head coach Martyn Rooney, who also attended the event, said: "It has been a fantastic experience for our rowers to operate in an environment with elite performers.

"Although the three of them might just be too young for the 2012 Olympics, though there is a chance of that, they are primarily looking towards 2016.

"All three of our rowers have learned a lot from the camp, not only about sport but about potential distractions and all aspects of being a top performer."

Junior sailor Evan Scott, from Tilbrook, was also invited to attend the camp. Evan, who sails at Grafham Water, hopes to follow a family tradition of sailing success, with his brothers also being successful sailors.

Dame Kelly, who claimed two Olympic middle distance gold medals for Britain at the 2004 summer Olympics, opened the weekend and said: "This camp is aimed at giving these young people the knowledge, skills, understanding and confidence to fulfil their potential, not just in their chosen sport but in life.

"They are at the age in their sporting careers where they will be making key decisions about their own performance so we will be challenging them to consider the expectations and demands that lie ahead.

"The camp was about empowering these youngsters so which ever route through life they decide to take they will be ready and prepared to achieve their best."

The camp was funded by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and is the peak of a Government 'gifted and talented' sport strategy.

Developed by the Youth Sport Trust in partnership with UK Sport, each attendee was approximately two years below the age at which elite potential is judged.

Keynote speeches, presentations and workshops focused on four themes - talent and ability, attitude and ambition, knowledge and understanding plus education and lifestyle.

The elite athletes described to the youngsters the experience of major sporting competition and answered questions about the highs and lows of eventing.

Drug awareness advice was offered to the athletes through UK Sport and the performers were encouraged to learn from each other's experiences.

Parents of younger athletes were invited to the camp to learn ways in which they can support their children's future life choices.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said: "It's not easy balancing a sports career with study for qualifications and skills.

"For the first time this camp gave potential sports champions help to make informed decisions about the path ahead.

"The performer found out what it takes to get to the top of their game from top sports performers but also the options for continuing with their education."

INFORMATION: To learn more about the event and about the Youth Sport Trust, visit www.youthsporttrust.org. For more on St Neots Rowing Club visit www.st-neots-rowing.com.