Dame Mary Peters believes the announcement of Lisburn as the 2013 European City of Sport can be a further catalyst for the growth of sport in Northern Ireland.
The 'Golden Girl' pentathlete of the 1972 Munich Olympics was among a host list of dignitaries from sport and politics to help launch the prestigious accolade at Lisburn Leisureplex yesterday.
Speaking as the city officially took over the baton from Brussels, she said the news will help build on the inspiration brought by last summer's London Olympics.
She said: “This is amazing, it is wonderful. We have heard so much about the UK City of Culture in Londonderry and the Police, Fire and Rescue Games, but this is ours — this is our local Olympic year, really.
“I hope, as a result of having this, we will be able to prepare a lot more coaches in the city that will help the next generation develop skills in sport, and that we celebrate with everybody when they have their success.”
Lisburn is currently home to 126 registered sports clubs, across a wide spectrum, and all will hope to see the knock-on benefits of such a high-profile honour, earned through the collaboration of Sport NI, Sport Lisburn, the Department of Culture and Leisure, the Public Health Agency and Lisburn City Council.
Although any direct financial uplift will be much more clear by the end of the year than now, Lisburn has already been able to attract several major sporting events as European City of Sport.
Last year, the city was home to the Chinese gymnastics team who used the facilities at Salto National Gymnastics Centre to train ahead of their Gold rush in London... this October, Lisburn will host the Northern European Gymnastic Championships.
It will also stage the Irish Schools Judo Championships and the European Masters Hockey Championships later this year.
Dame Peters was joined at the launch by world champion water skier Dr Janet Gray, Bronze world youth boxing champion, and middle distance runner Michael McKillop, who found out yesterday that he would be following up his two Golds at the London Paralympic Games with a an honorary degree from Queen's University this summer.
A delighted McKillop smiled: “It's actually quite nice... to be honest, I didn't expect it. Being alongside David Attenborough in this year's honorary degrees just shows the quality and prestige for them to honour me and my life so far in this way. When you have a big opportunity like this, you want to grab it with both hands.
“It's the same with Lisburn being named the European City of Sport.”