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“Having an Olympic running track is great for elite athletes, but if you’re trying to get children involved in sport, that might not be the best approach,” said Gerry McCartney, a public health expert at Scotland’s National Health Service in Glasgow. “You could have a greater number of community swimming pools for the cost of one elite pool,” he said.

“The people who get inspired to exercise by the Olympics are the ones who are already exercising,” McCartney said. “They may try new sports, but they don’t necessarily increase the total amount of sport they do.”

Experts said without big government initiatives and drastic action, it may already be too late to get enough people moving in time to reach the 2 million target by 2012.

Faced with spiraling costs and climbing out of an economic recession that mean even the British Olympic team is running out of money, the government also axed a popular free swimming program across London last year tied to the 2012 physical activity initiative.

Dan Thompson, who founded the Gold Challenge charity, says he hopes to get 100,000 people across Britain trying Olympic sports by next year. The charity is part of the government’s mass participation legacy of the 2012 Games, though only 700 people have signed up since it began in November.

At the recent boxing session organized by Gold Challenge, most of the aspiring fighters either worked for the charity or had some other connection to it.

Palmer said the Olympics was not the program’s only appeal. Since she began trying Olympic sports last April, she has lost more than 40 pounds and hopes to raise at least 5,000 pounds (US$8,066) for charity.

“It’s not like I think I could be Usain Bolt (the Olympic gold medallist sprinter), but I have found some sports I would like to continue,” she said, citing taekwondo and fencing.

But she isn’t looking forward to all of it. “I’m dreading the diving, particularly if we have to do it from 10 metres,” she said. “I’m really quite worried about hitting the water from that height.”


AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson contributed to this report.