Leeds wins race to host China's Olympic stars
Tuesday 15 February 2011
It is the other Olympic gold rush – the battle between British towns to persuade the world's elite athletes to set up training camps at local leisure centres in the month before the 2012 London Olympic games.
The pre-Games camps will, it is hoped, bring millions of pounds in revenue to towns and cities outside London, as well as some of the biggest sporting stars to a swimming pool or school running track near you.
Yesterday it was the turn of Leeds, who have landed one of the biggest coups of the Olympic build-up by signing the Chinese track and field team to train at the city's facilities. As a result, the world's most popular athlete will come to the City in just over a year – the Chinese sprint hurdler Liu Xiang.
His last-minute withdrawal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics because of injury shattered the hopes of 1.3 billion of his fellow Chinese, but he has since bounced back and in London 2012 will once again be the focus of attention for the world's emerging sporting super power's vaunting Olympic ambition.
The Chinese Athletic Association confirmed that the 27-year-old and the 50-strong Chinese track and field team will base themselves at a university and sports centre in the city as they prepare for glory in the Olympic stadium.
The Leeds deal is the 66th signed so far. People in Birmingham have been looking forward to the chance to see the fastest man on earth, Usain Bolt, and the rest of the Jamaican team get ready for their events. US track and field teams will also train in the city.
The arrival of stars to train in local pools and tracks is being hailed as one of the key benefits for areas outside the capital which critics claim are in danger of missing out while the world's eyes are fixed on events in London.
It is not just confined to big name athletes. From the Kenyans in Bristol to the Namibian national team in Glasgow, London 2012 organisers believe the camps will provide the opportunity for ordinary sports fans to come face to face with the Olympic and Paralympic heroes as they prepare for their big day – inspiring a new generation of home-grown winners.
In Beijing, China topped the medal table for the first time winning 50 golds from a total medal haul of 100 – eclipsing second-place United States, which won 26 golds. Next summer Chinese athletes will use facilities at Leeds Metropolitan University's state-of-the-art Headingley Carnegie campus and the John Charles Centre for Sport as they acclimatise to conditions in the UK ahead of the event in July.
Leeds will be paid by the Chinese to host its athletes while the London Organising Committee has offered incentives of £25,000 to Olympic and Paralympic associations to come to the UK to prepare.
Leeds has already signed up Dutch and Serbian teams, while the US diving team will train close by in Sheffield. Both cities are hopeful of attracting more sports stars, including the Chinese swimming team, which includes one of the brightest hopes for the Games, 14-year-old Ye Shiwen.
In an awesome sign of its 2012 intent, China dominated the Asian Games in November winning a record 199 golds. Liu Xiang signaled his return by recording the third fastest time that year.
Lord Coe, chair of the London 2012 Organising Committee said: "Having grown up in the county, I'm delighted that Yorkshire people, and especially the Chinese community, will be sharing in the excitement of the Games in their own back yard."
Today the schedule of Olympic events is being published to mark 500 days until the opening, while tickets for the Games go on sale next month.
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