Virgin gives athletes a flying start

Virgin Atlantic Airways and UK Sport have joined forces to launch a unique scheme that will help Britain’s top medal hopefuls train and compete on the world stage in the coming years. Virgin Atlantic’s ‘Flying Start’ initiative will offer 450 of Britain’s elite athletes a range of ‘added value’ travel benefits, including flight discounts, a dedicated booking line, excess baggage waivers, lounge access and upgrades. Athletes often spend long periods of time overseas preparing for key events, so travel support is essential. The Virgin Atlantic package is worth up to £1million over the next year in a deal intended to be extended for future years.

All 450 athletes are part of UK Sport’s World Class Podium Programme, which supports athletes with realistic European, World, and Olympic and Paralympic medal capabilities. Flying Start is in addition to the performance funding already provided by UK Sport and will help to ensure the athletes - already identified as the best in the country in their chosen sports - can train and compete to the best of their ability, with the ultimate goal of bringing home more gold medals.

In tandem with the UK Sport partnership, Virgin Atlantic has separately selected 12 young rising stars across a range of sports who have been identified as future gold medal prospects.  These athletes will receive an enhanced package of benefits and will also help launch an onboard fitness programme for Virgin Atlantic travellers to experience after 2008. 

Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Group, commented:

“World-class athletes need world-class travel support, so Virgin Atlantic is a natural partner for the medal winners of the future.  We will help the UK’s finest athletes to prepare globally for the ultimate sporting competitions over the next few years.”


Dame Kelly Holmes, double Olympic gold medallist, said:

“Our future gold medal winners need support like this to help them reach peak condition ahead of major championships. Virgin Atlantic’s benefits package will mean our top athletes can get the training they need overseas to help them prepare for their top flight events.”

John Steele, Chief Executive of UK Sport, commented:

“The partnership with Virgin Atlantic is an ideal way for UK Sport to bring real added benefit to our sports and athletes.  The scheme has the potential to make a real difference to many sports who realise that, over the next few years, they are going to have to compete against the best in the world if they want to measure up to that standard.  Alongside our core-funding role, we are doing everything we can to make the lives of athletes better and easier.  The “in-kind” benefits that this partnership will provide are a welcome step in that direction.”

Speaking in support of the partnership, Tessa Jowell MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, added:

“This is exactly the kind of partnership we are encouraging between business and sport in this country.  We all have a role to play in supporting our present and future elite athletes, and by offering these travel benefits, Virgin Atlantic is helping to give our current and future stars an edge.  I am confident this will be a very successful programme.”


The 12 athletes selected by Virgin Atlantic are:

? Caitlin McClatchey - Swimmer - Born in Portsmouth and lives in Loughborough
? David Carry - Swimmer - Born in Aberdeen and lives in Loughborough
? Mark Cavendish - Cyclist - Born in Isle of Man and lives in Manchester
? Oliver Freeman - Triathlon - Born in London and lives in Eastbourne
? Emily Pidgeon - Distance runner - Born and lives in Cheltenham
? Rachael Gatford - Swimmer - Born in Farnborough and lives in Hull
? Nathan Stephens - Disability athletics - Born in Bridgend and lives in Swansea
? Shelly Woods - Wheelchair racing - Born and lives in Blackpool
? Giles Scott - Sailing - Born and lives in Huntingdon
? Martyn Rooney - 400m runner - Born in Croydon and lives in Loughborough
? Jane Campbell - Table tennis - Born in Barnsley and lives in London
? Wade Bennett-Jackson - 100m runner - Born and lives in London

Oliver Freeman commented:

“As a young triathlete competing on the world circuit the importance of arriving in perfect shape to compete is vitally important.  The support Virgin Atlantic are giving me will allow me to train and compete around the world and help me to reach my ultimate goals of winning gold medals.”

Emily Pidgeon added:

“I’m delighted with the support that Virgin Atlantic are giving me. It will really help me break through into the senior ranks and ensure that I’ll be able to do all the warm weather and altitude training that I need. This in turn will help me perform to my full potential.”

Nathan Stephens said:

“As an athlete training for both the winter and summer Paralympics a lot of my time will be spent travelling to train and compete. Knowing that Virgin Atlantic are taking care of my travel needs will allow me to focus on my sport 100% in the coming years.”