Britain's Olympians are happy to build medal hopes on sand

Iwan Thomas and Steve Redgrave are leading the praise for an idyllic beach training base 500 miles from Sydney. By Kathy Marks in Surfers Paradise

WITH THE Olympic Games less than 12 months away, the minds of British athletes are focused not on Sydney but on a strip of beach 500 miles to the north famous for its theme parks, glitzy nightlife and skyscraper holiday resorts.

WITH THE Olympic Games less than 12 months away, the minds of British athletes are focused not on Sydney but on a strip of beach 500 miles to the north famous for its theme parks, glitzy nightlife and skyscraper holiday resorts.

For if Britain leaves the 2000 Olympics with its head held high, it will be in no small measure due to the sweat and tears shed at a training camp recently set up on the Gold Coast in Queensland by the British Olympic Association.

This is where competitors will spend their last critical three weeks before the Games and, since they need little persuading of the virtues of rehearsal, 165 athletes from 16 sports have just come out to Australia to undertake a dry run at a similar time of year.

The camp's location is not a snub to Sydney, where the Olympic facilities are generally held to be superlative. But BOA officials have decided that the best plan is to avoid the hurly burly of the Olympic village for as long as possible, and some athletes may choose to remain on the Gold Coast until as late as two days before their event.

It is a fair bet that the village will be even more of a pressure cooker than usual, if the run-up to the Games is anything to judge by. For sports- mad Australia is captivated by every cough and spit of the preparations; even before the bulldozers moved in to Homebush Bay, the site of Olympic Park, tour buses would bring Sydneysiders to gaze at the land earmarked for such temples of sport as Stadium Australia. By next September the level of public and media interest will be phenomenal.

The current trip by British athletes gives them an opportunity to spend a month road-testing the facilities at the training camp, and to acquaint themselves with the perils of competing on the other side of the world: a 24-hour flight, fatigue and jetlag, followed by a recovery time of up to nine days, plus a nine-hour time difference with Britain and a decidedly warmer climate.

As far as the facilities are concerned, the perennial complaint that British sport is under-resourced does not, for once, apply. Three years ago the Gold Coast City Council in Surfers Paradise signed a contract with the BOA to build or upgrade its sports facilities to meet the needs of the Olympic team. The result is that British athletes have exclusive 24-hour access to, among other things, a 50m outdoor swimming pool, a spanking new eight-lane athletics track and a regatta course that is the envy of the international rowing fraternity.

So far there has been undiluted enthusiasm from visiting athletes and their coaches, both for the facilities and for the accommodation base at a local sports resort, the Radisson Palm Meadows, which will also serve as medical centre and BOA headquarters before the Games.

Max Jones, athletics performance director, who visited the Gold Coast with three athletes - the 400m runner Iwan Thomas, high jumper Dalton Grant and long jumper Ashia Hansen - says he cannot find fault with the set-up for track and field. "We're happy that this is the right place to train to produce a peak performance," Jones says.

Keeping away from Sydney will maximise Britain's medal prospects, he believes. "The athletes will have done 11 months of training by the time they get to Australia, so the priority will be to prepare themselves psychologically. The last thing you want to do is go into the Olympic village and have all the stresses and strains and hype. Ideally you go into the village a few days beforehand, when you can get a lift from it and a buzz."

One of Britain's best hopes is 25-year-old Thomas, a silver medallist at the Atlanta Games who, after the euphoria of being crowned World Cup champion in 1998, was forced to miss this season because of an ankle injury - a "devastating" turn of events, he says. But the trip to the Gold Coast has sharpened his appetite for the start of his winter training next week. "When it's cold back in Britain and the training's tough, I'll be able to remember why I'm doing all that hard work," he says.

Grant, 33, was also obliged to watch from the sidelines this season - in his case as British team captain - because of a knee injury. The Commonwealth Games and European Cup gold medallist has just resumed training. "Coming here has given me inspiration," he says. "Now I just want to get out there and compete."

The Gold Coast was chosen as a training base after rival bids from several Australian cities, including Melbourne, which tried to woo the BOA by sending a delegation to the 1996 pre-Atlanta camp at Tallahassee, Florida. Other Olympic teams have spotted the merits of the Gold Coast, too; athletes from more than a dozen countries, including Germany, Italy and Canada, plan to train there before Sydney.

The BOA camp is not a campus; the facilities are sprinkled around the area, although all are within a short radius of the Radisson. The beach volleyball centre is at Kurrawa Surf Life Saving Club, for instance, while Nerang Police Citizens Youth Club is playing host to the boxers, who include the hulking Commonwealth Games gold medallist Audley Harrison.

The highlight, without a doubt, is an artificial lake at the Hinze Dam, a 20-minute drive inland. At this tranquil beauty spot, David Tanner, rowing performance director, persuaded Gold Coast authorities to build a course that he calls "perfect". So perfect, in fact, that the Australian rowing team asked to use it, only to be told that the British had got there first.

Tanner says he has found the "can-do culture" of the Australians refreshing. The British Rowing Association has been pushing for a similar course to be built at home for the past 10 years.

Steve Redgrave, 37, aiming for his fifth Olympic gold medal in Sydney - which would be a record for any sport - went training at the Hinze Dam on Sunday, his first time back on the water since winning gold at the World Championships in Canada.

The man who swore he would never go near a boat again after Atlanta - then swiftly changed his mind - predicts that Sydney will be "the best Games ever". He agrees that he will be under a lot of pressure from British fans to win that fifth medal, "but no more than I put on myself".

Matthew Pinsent, Redgrave's long-term partner, is brimming with confidence. He rates their chances of striking gold in Sydney at "on a scale of one to 10, nine and a half".

All the athletes are enjoying the warm, balmy early spring weather on the Gold Coast. The temperature in Sydney is similar, and will be welcome after the crippling heat of Atlanta.

Swimmer James Hickman, gold medallist in the 200m butterfly at this year's World Short Course Championships, extols the "feel-good factor" of training outside. "When you're swimming in the morning and the sun's just coming up, you think, 'yes, this is what I want to do, this is cool'. At Leeds International Pool, with the fluorescent lights, it's not quite the same."

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little