Olympic Games: British find a home in Florida

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The Independent Online
THE threatening side of another American Olympics is already reality. On a street corner in Tallahassee, Florida, yesterday, heavily armed plain- clothed police mingled with guests at a ceremony to seal the British Olympic Association's choice of the city as its official training centre for Atlanta.

Still reeling from the murder of a Yorkshire tourist at a rest-stop outside the city in September, Tallahassee is taking no chances. The local police have even made contact with British forces to learn about anti-terrorist measures.

The high-security presence was largely a public relations exercise, but in a city with its own share of drug-related street crime, the highly visible British athletes, who will spend up to four months in Tallahassee before 1996, would be a soft target. 'We will be telling the athletes where and where not to go and to travel in pairs,' Sgt Phil Kiracofe, information officer with the local police, said. 'Compared to the rest of America, Tallahassee is not a bad place.'

The need for the BOA to find a dedicated training centre in the same time zone as Atlanta, and somewhere they can experience similar hot and humid conditions, became clear after many athletes outside the major sports in Barcelona complained of being unprepared for the conditions.

The BOA short-listed another 26 Southern US cities but made their final choice on the basis of climate. 'We were selling heat and humidity, which we have 40 weeks of in any year. The other cities only have 28 weeks, which makes year-round training not so easy,' Christopher Campbell, the Millfield-educated chairman of the Tallahassee Sports Authority, said.

If the climate was important in choosing the pretty university city, the standard of its sports facilities was crucial.

The British track and field teams will set up camp at Florida State University, one of the best-equipped college athletics departments in America. One of their number will be in familiar surroundings: Sally Gunnell chose to train there while preparing for her successful World Championship season last winter.

The tennis squad will have the use of courts almost identical in design to Atlanta's and the badminton players have had the university basketball courts specially marked out.

The hockey team will have their own pitch constructed, at a cost of pounds 500,000. It will be paid for by the university, whose annual sports budget of dollars 20m ( pounds 13.5m) far exceeds the funding the BOA had for the Barcelona and Albertville Olympics. In fact most of the cost of hosting up to 200 of Britain's Olympic hopefuls is being picked up by the city.

'We have commissioned a British Olympic Park in Tallahassee,' Campbell said. 'It will be made up of bricks with all the athletes' names on. The only way they can have their name appear twice is to win a medal. We have left space for 82 medal-winners.' With optimism like that, no wonder the BOA chose Tallahassee.