World stars warm up in British provinces


In Britain’s provincial gyms, pools, schools and leisure centres, global superstars like Usain Bolt are fine-tuning their preparations for the London 2012 Games in some unlikely venues. Locals at the Cheltenham lido have got used to paddling around alongside Malawi’s two Olympic swimmers, while China’s gymnasts are training outside Belfast and Afghanistan’s lone female athlete is on the track in Welwyn Garden City.
More than 200 delegations from more than 90 countries have set up training camps across the country, far from the hubbub of the Olympic Park in Stratford.
The camps are a bid to make the rest of the UK feel part of the London Olympics, while providing an economic boost to the regions in recession-hit Britain. Bolt and the rest of the Jamaican athletics team are based at the University of Birmingham in Britain’s second city, while their US rivals are training across town at the Alexander Stadium. Sports fans have been able to watch the Americans in action on the track, while competitors have been out in the city speaking to local schoolchildren. Meanwhile 100 and 200 metres world record holder Bolt and the rest of the Jamaican athletics team have been kept away from the fans.
Bolt has had his mattress replaced by a custom-made, seven-foot (2.13-metre) orthopaedic one, in order to help his chronic back problem. “There was a fear Usain would be uncomfortable with his bed so in the last few days we’ve had a special orthopedic mattress made for him,” the university’s sports director told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
The university has even given the Jamaicans food to make them feel at home — but chefs were unable to source a goat’s head. Russia’s swimmers are at a boarding school in the Somerset countryside; the Namibian and Zambian delegations are at a leisure centre in Glasgow; Kenya’s highly-regarded athletes are training around the city of Bristol, while squads from Trinidad and Tobago, Botswana and New Zealand are in Cardiff. Northern Ireland is hosting the Australian and Cuban boxers at Queen’s University Belfast, while the Sudanese, Kuwaiti, Egyptian and Qatari athletics squads are at the Antrim Forum. The Chinese artistic gymnasts are at the Salto centre in Lisburn and have been given a warm welcome, and have even met local golf hero Rory McIlroy. “It was a lovely surprise to be greeted at the airport by so many people,” said head coach Huang Yubin. “It made us feel very welcome straight away and helps build our excitement for the Games.” China’s gymnastics squad won 11 golds at the 2008 Beijing Games and it is hoped that the presence of such a highly-regarded team will put Northern Ireland on the map for Chinese tourists and inspire local athletes. The London Games organisers offered £25,000 ($40,000, 32,000 euros) to every national Olympic committee sending a team to one of the pre-approved camps, but it is hoped that the economic reward will more than outweigh the investment. “The fact that there are training camps all round Britain was a very deliberate part of a strategy of making sure that the whole country benefited from the Olympic Games in London,” said Tessa Jowell, Britain’s Olympics minister from 2005 to 2010. “In many cases, the facilities have been improved and upgraded,” she told AFP. “Something like the US track and field team training in Birmingham is probably worth millions of pounds in terms of inward investment. “It helps the rest of the country feel part of it and it makes sure the benefits, as far as is humanly possible, are spread to the rest of the country.”
With an eye on improving their Olympic performance ahead of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Games, Brazil has most of its sports teams in one place, taking over the ageing Crystal Palace complex in south London.
They have even brought top Brazilian chef Roberta Sudbrack to turn the nutritionists’ demands into a menu that will provide a taste of home. Despite the facilities, organisers can do nothing about the weather. China’s Liu Xiang, who won the 110 metres hurdles gold in Athens 2004, was training at a university college in Twickenham, west London. However, he has had enough of training in the miserable British summer weather and has decamped to Germany to complete his preparations.