It's 200 miles north of Stratford but Bradford is getting into the Olympic spirit anyway


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The Independent Online

It may be 200 miles north of the real Olympic village but Bradford has in recent days been enjoying its own mini-version of Pierre de Coubertin's idealistic vision of international sporting community.

In the refectory of the new college building, blue-tracksuited Tanzanian long distance runners Samson Ramadhan and Zakia Mrisho were piling their plates a little warily with fish, chips, rice and mushy peas after a morning spent grinding out miles along the Aire Valley in the inevitable Yorkshire rain.

In the gymnasium, petite gymnasts from Vietnam were going through their routines in preparation for competition.

Meanwhile, in the ring of the Bradford Police and College Boxing Academy, Nigeria's Edith Oqoke was showing off her considerable pugilistic skills in front of children from local schools and the Lord Mayors of Bradford and Keighley.

Female boxing is making its Olympic debut at London 2012 and there are high hopes that fight fans will be converted by the discipline's unique blend of athleticism, skill and power.

The 21-year-old from Imo State is hopeful of a medal after putting in a strong performance at the world championships in China earlier this year.

And in an unexpected turn of events the Nigerian sporting authorities have been so impressed with the level of support they have received for their top star from Bradford head coach Kevin Smith, whose day job is teaching students sports NVQs, that he is to accompany the team down to Stratford next week to get them ready for the games.

"We get on great," said Ms Oqoke. "Kevin is good to go. He is a great coach, very persistent and above all very calm. Calculated and focused," she added.

"I had heard that English people were not very friendly but I was shocked. They were very very friendly to me," she added.

Mr Smith has prepared many young boxers including Team GB fighters Tom Stalker and Josh Taylor but this is the first time he has got to work directly with Olympic contenders - overseeing the gruelling training schedule in the lead up to the opening bout.

"If you haven't seen female boxing before you will be astounded. They are more skilful than a lot of men - less powerful - but some of them are technically perfect," he said. Win or lose Mr Smith now hopes to travel to Nigeria after the closing ceremony to continue Bradford's association with the team and the African sporting authorities.

The city has been enjoying its share of the Olympic spoils. The athletes were cheered by crowds when they turned out to watch the arrival of the Olympic Torch earlier this month.

They have been honoured with a civic reception and dinner at the university and made a lot of friends - even if they have struggled with the food and weather at times.

For the city itself there are economic benefits from hosting the pre games training camp. It has brought £200,000 into the economy and training camp status helped secure a further £300,000 of investment for the new boxing centre which will also be used by Indian and Chinese athletes in the run up to the games.

Bradford College's Ronnie Todd helped negotiate the training camp contracts and is delighted with how things have worked out.

"We have wanted to make them part of our community here and they have wanted to be part of the city. That is the proper Olympic spirit. We all want the Nigerians and the others here to win gold medals but at the same time we embrace the Olympic spirit which is all about sisterhood and brotherhood," he said.