SportsAid, the first official charity of the London Marathon, is celebrating its 40th birthday today. The charity provides financial support and recognition to the next generation of British Olympians and Paralympians.

Back in 1984, SportsAid, known then as the Sports Aid Foundation (SAF), was selected as the first official charity of the London Marathon and granted entry places to help with fundraising. 

London Marathon co-founders Chris Brasher and John Disley made the arrangements and SportsAid had 355 runners who managed to raise £43,000 (the equivalent of £216,395 today).

Fittingly, Charlie Spedding, who was supported by SportsAid, won the men’s elite race that year and went on to win bronze in the marathon at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.

“The London Marathon of 1984 proved to be a most heartwarming event for SAF,” wrote then SportsAid chairman Sir Leslie Porter in the charity’s 1985 annual report. “We benefited by over £43,000 and I am full of gratitude and admiration not only for the size of this sum, but for the dedicated effort and commitment shown by all those hundreds of runners.” 

SportsAid was also selected as one of the official charities in 1988 with £23,826 raised (around £120,000 today). Chris and John became individual statutory members of SportsAid the same year.

SportsAid was the major source of funding for most of the country's top athletes at that time and the money raised from the London Marathon helped to cover training and competition costs. 

When National Lottery funding arrived in 1997, the charity began to focus on helping Britain's young talented sports stars and this remains the case today with 1,200 athletes supported each year. 

Over the years, several winners of the London Marathon have been beneficiaries of SportsAid support including Paula Radcliffe, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, David Weir and Eamonn Martin.

“The support from SportsAid really does make a big difference," said three-time London Marathon winner Paula. "I was helped by SportsAid when I was starting out in my career. It makes you feel valued and that you can keep going forward and do better in your sport. I’ve never forgotten that.

“The help from SportsAid takes off a little bit of the pressure off when it comes to making ends meet and being able to fit in the training, the travel and the preparation that you need to do. 

"It also gives young athletes recognition as they start to think ‘I’m good at this, I’m getting recognised for it’ and it can give them more motivation and more determination to go on. It’s important when parents are taking the brunt of supporting their children as they’re coming through and go further in sport, that they get that extra support and SportsAid is able to do that.”

More recently, many winners of the Mini London Marathon have been supported by SportsAid including wheelchair racer Sheikh Sheikh and middle-distance runner Sabrina Sinha.

Sheikh, 20, holds the Mini London Marathon course record for the under-17 men’s wheelchair race and won in both 2011 and 2012.

This year, SportsAid has 47 fundraisers running the Virgin Money London Marathon. The SportsAid runners are led by team captain Zac Purchase, the Olympic gold medallist rower, who is taking on the London Marathon for the second consecutive year.

"It’s such an awesome atmosphere," said Zac at a recent meet with the SportsAid runners. “There is nothing you can compare it to unless you go to the Olympic Games. So if you fancy an Olympic experience from the athlete point of view, you’re about to get it! Every single penny you raise will go towards supporting the next generation of athletes.”

SportsAid’s 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon team has raised over £30,000 towards its target of £100,000. The athletes supported by SportsAid are typically aged 12 to 18 and among the country’s brightest sporting prospects. They are nominated to SportsAid by the national governing bodies of more than 60 sports. You can find out more by visiting SportsAid’s Virgin Money giving page