Let GB athletes train at stadium before Games
Talks to ensure track-and-field team familiar with £500m stadium which is hosting test event
Thursday 03 May 2012
The organisers of the London Olympics are holding discussions with Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics, to ensure that all Britain's track-and-field athletes have the opportunity to train at the Olympic Stadium before this summer's Games.
Tomorrow the £500m stadium will host its test event as part of a week in which the Olympic Park will undergo its biggest tryout yet, with six sports in action across five venues. But only a handful of British Olympic hopefuls will be taking part in the athletics event, the British Universities Championships.
The plan is for small groups of athletes to spend a morning training at the stadium and familiarising themselves with the layout, even though it goes into lockdown from 12 May to begin preparations for the opening ceremony and for final arrangements for the Games to be put in place.
Van Commenee has spoken of the importance of "removing unknown factors". Foreign athletes will not, as is the norm at Olympics, get to experience the stadium ahead of the Games.
All prospective British Olympians are being given advice by the British Olympic Association on how to deal with the unique pressures of a home Games. In many sports the sheer scale of support will be alien to British competitors, and even in athletics the experience of having the partisan backing of a crowd of 80,000 will be a novel one to most.
"Most athletes like the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the geography of a stadium," said Sebastian Coe, chairman of Locog, the organising committee, speaking at the stadium yesterday. "I know Charles has already had one group here."
There will be 1,500 students taking part over four days, with 150 UK Athletics selections – notably the pole- vaulter Holly Bleasdale and Perri Shakes-Drayton, the 400m hurdler – competing in stand-alone events within the Universities Championships.
Events in five venues, including water polo and hockey, are taking place over the course of this week, with 140,000 spectators providing the first broad test of the Olympic Park.
The numbers will peak on Saturday with 40,000 people in the stadium, including Coe and Lamine Diack, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body of athletics, to watch the evening athletics session and a special event called "2012 hours to go", featuring "stunts, games, challenges and prizes" hosted by celebrities. Tickets for the event sold out in 20 minutes.
With the FA Cup final being played on the other side of London at the same time, it will also provide a carefully watched test of the capital's transport system. The first proper race, a women's 400m hurdles, will be run in the stadium at 5pm tomorrow and will represent a special moment for Coe. The double Olympic gold medallist has been a long-time champion of his sport's cause, as well as being instrumental in the Olympic bid from its beginning.
"This one is personal," Coe said. "It's barely thinkable that eight years ago I was standing in this park pointing out to the IOC [International Olympic Committee] that where they saw that 50ft pile of rotting fridges was where the Olympic Stadium would be. 'See that polluted river? Next to that will be the Aquatics Centre.' I felt like a timeshare salesman on the Costa Brava."
This weekend's competition will also give an indication as to whether the stadium and the track are conducive to fast times. Sprint legends Michael Johnson and Frankie Fredericks, recent visitors, believe it will be. The centre of the stadium is dug into the ground and the bowl shape stops head or side winds. Both features should aid quick times.
Olympic news you may have missed...
A Portuguese distance runner has become the first track-and-field athlete suspended for doping based on the "biological passport" programme.
Helder Ornelas has been banned for four years by the Portuguese federation after being found guilty of doping. The 38-year-old was punished based on the results of blood tests collected between 2008 and 2010.
The IAAF's passport programme monitors an athlete's blood profile over time to check for evidence of performance-enhancing drugs.
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