A mini-Olympic Games starring the cream of the UK's young sporting talent will be staged in the North-East in 2010, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced yesterday.
Newcastle, Sunderland and Gateshead will share the fifth UK Schools Games - an event to encourage young stars ahead of the London Olympics.
More than 1,300 teenagers will compete as part of regional squads, with the event expected to bring in up to £5m.
Gateshead International Stadium will be the venue for the prestigious athletics competition and is also likely to stage the opening and closing ceremonies.
Mr Brown announced the Schools Games initiative in his Budget last year, with the first event staged in Glasgow last September.
This year's event in Coventry is expected to attract 1,300 competitors, and it is anticipated the event will grow even further by 2010.
The North-East bid was put together by Tyne and Wear councils, regional development agency One NorthEast, the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative and Newcastle and Northumbria universities.
Gateshead Council leader Mick Henry said: "To be awarded such a prestigious and important event against such strong UK competition is testament to the region and reflects the strength of the partnerships and expertise in the area to deliver such events.
"We are proud, together with our partners, to have been awarded the 2010 games, which means those participating athletes will have the opportunity to be inspired by the close connection to the London Olympics in 2012 and enjoy competing in great venues such as Gateshead International Stadium."
Swimming will be held at the new Olympic-sized pool being built next to Sunderland's Stadium of Light.
Other venues will include Gateshead Leisure Centre and the Benfield Centre for Sporting Excellence at Newcastle's Benfield School. University halls of residence will be used to house the athletes, and aim to create an Olympic village-style atmosphere.
Young disabled athletes will compete in Paralympics-style events as part of the games. The tournament will also feature a volunteering scheme giving North-East youngsters the chance to gain experience as sports officials.
The games will be funded through a combination of Government and Lottery cash, with £9.5m set aside for the annual events until 2011.
This will be supplemented in the North-East through the Culture10 initiative and commercial sponsorship.
Mr Brown said: "With the Olympic Games in 2012, and the UK School Games each year before then, I believe we are on the verge of the greatest sporting decade in Britain's history.
"I want every young person in the country to be inspired by these events to increase their own participation in sport, to challenge themselves as individuals, and to learn to play as part of a team."
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said: "The UK School Games give our most talented school-age athletes the chance to compete as if they were taking part in an international competition. The crowds and cameras will help them learn that all-important big match temperament.
"I congratulate all the winning cities, wish the athletes good luck and look forward to watching the fantastic sporting events."
Minister for sport Richard Caborn said: "There may even be a chance that some of the kids who take part in the School Games could find themselves representing their country in front of a home crowd in 2012."
Will school games throw up the next Steve Cram?
The next Steve Cram could emerge from North-East children enjoying more school sports, says Sports Minister Richard Caborn.
Figures released by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have highlighted a big increase in the percentage of youngsters enjoying at least two hours of physical education a week - and the region's participation rate is among the highest in the country.
Some 86% of youngsters in South and North Tyneside and Sunderland took part in at least two hours of school sports a week in 2005-06 - easily beating a Government-set target of 75% and a national average of 80%.
Northumberland, Stockton-on-Tees, Hartlepool, Darlington and Durham also achieved rates of 80% and above. Newcastle saw 79% of youngsters meet the goal, Gateshead made 74%, but saw a big increase on the previous 12 months.
Redcar and Cleveland hit the target and 79% of pupils in Middlesbrough took part in two hours of sport a week.
Mr Caborn said: "Government has made great strides on school sports.
"Nationally 80% of schoolchildren are doing two hours of quality sport a week, beating our target of 75% for 2006.
"The ambition is to have all schoolchildren doing four hours a week by 2010 through a combination of the curriculum and sport beyond the school gate.
"We want to build sport into the daily lives of young people. The health benefits of this are obvious, while we may also discover more potential sporting stars."
Decision finds a warm welcome
Sports bodies in the North-East last night welcomed news of the region's successful bid for the 2010 UK Schools Games.
Sport England North-East regional director Judith Rasmussen said: "We are working hard throughout the North-East to get people of all ages and backgrounds involved in sport and enjoy the benefits it can bring.
"Events like the UK School Games can help us achieve this ambition. It is also a great opportunity for people in the region to see the best the UK has to offer in terms of future sporting stars."
North-East Sport coordinator Peter Slater said: "The decision reflects the commitment and expertise available in the North-East to stage a multi-sport event for the nation's most talented school-age athletes."
Stella Hall, creative director for Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, said: "This is another major sporting boost for the region and builds on the track record of the area for hosting world class sporting and cultural events as well as its well-established sporting heritage.
"Sport is an incredibly important part of our culture in the North-East - an element which attracts visitors every year - and events of this scale certainly help to boost awareness of the region as a great destination."
Stacy Hall, director of communications at One NorthEast, said: "The UK school games is a great opportunity for North-East England to demonstrate its passion for sport, giving hundreds of local children the opportunity to compete at a major event.
"We've proved our ability to successfully host major events like the Great North Run and the Steve Trophy that have helped put North-East England on the map and we're confident the region will come together once again to make the 2010 games a huge success."
Pauline Allen, Newcastle Council's executive member for culture, heritage, libraries and sport, said: "The North-East has always been a hotbed of sport with many champion athletes coming from the region. Having these games in the area will galvanise participation in sport and everyone taking part will receive further inspiration when the London Olympics take place."
Taste of success
Laura Weightman, one of the best young athletes in the North-East, tasted gold last year in the UK School Games in Glasgow.
Representing the North-East, Laura from Hipsburn, near Alnwick, Northumberland, was victor in the 1,500 metres.
The Morpeth Harriers runner said the games was a brilliant opportunity for young athletes to experience a big event atmosphere.
In Glasgow the young athletes even stayed in their own Olympic Village at the city's university.
Laura, 15, who is studying for her GCSEs at the Duchess High School in Alnwick, is now hoping to be selected for this year's games in Coventry.
She said: "You get a good feel of a big championship and what the atmosphere would be like."