Ipswich bids for Olympic glory

LONDON'S Olympic Games may still be just under six years away but the preparations for 2012 are well under way.

LONDON'S Olympic Games may still be just under six years away but the preparations for 2012 are well under way. Today Ipswich stepped up its campaign for a piece of the action by opening its doors to the world's elite athletes. GRANT SHERLOCK reports.

IPSWICH stands a real chance of luring an international sporting team to the town in the lead-up to the London Olympics, the group heading the town's bid for a piece of 2012 Games action said today.

Expert scouts from countries looking to set up pre-Olympics training camps in England are already believed to have inspected facilities in Ipswich.

And at least two countries have said they are interested in using Ipswich Gymnastics Centre, next to Gainsborough Sports Centre, as a training venue for their elite gymnasts as they prepare for the London Games.

But Ipswich Borough Council today revealed it wants a whole national team, covering as many as 24 sports, to base itself here during the lead-up to the Games.

It has conducted an audit of sporting facilities in the Ipswich area, which it will soon present to the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG), and now believes that it is a leading contender to secure a full national team.

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It says while bigger cities like Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham will always be in the running to host training camps, Ipswich should not count itself out.

Dave Chisholm, a consultant from Woodbridge who helped Team Great Britain set up its training camps in Australia in the run-up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, said: “Ipswich has got to consider itself to be on a par with the bigger sized towns. It's not about your population, it's about what facilities you have available.

“There are only two or three sports we can't accommodate and those specific sports will want to train on the facility where they are going to compete. Apart from sailing, white water rafting and cycling we've got just about everything else covered.

“And teams don't just look at sports facilities - Suffolk is blessed with excellent transport links to London and it has the lowest rainfall in the country and clean air. These are important factors for athletes.”

Ipswich Gymnastics Centre is one of only three gymnastics facilities in the country fully accredited by LOCOG.

Andy Wood, head coach and technical manager at the centre, said not only is Ipswich in the running to host a full national team but it could be a squad from one of the biggest sporting nations.

He said: “The gymnastics centre has a great chance of getting a good team over here but if we could get one of the bigger teams across the whole of Ipswich that could be even better.

“The Americans are quite brash and open and would like to be in the forefront media-wise so for them going to Manchester would be ideal. But the Chinese are a little more secretive and a little more shy so coming out to Ipswich might be a good situation for them. We are out of the limelight a bit.

“I think Ipswich has a huge chance.”

The borough council has not revealed which countries have expressed interest in using the gymnastics centre as a training venue but Mr Wood said: “We had the Danes over here in August for a competition. They're very keen to come back and use it as a training camp.

“I know there is a Romanian guy who was with them, he could be putting feelers back to his national association.”

Ipswich Borough Council today announced it had appointed Mr Chisholm, 39, as a special consultant to Team Ipswich, the body it has set up to maximise the benefits Ipswich gains from the 2012 Games.

Mr Chisholm is working alongside Ipswich's sports ambassador Karen Pickering, a veteran of four Olympics, and senior managers of Team Ipswich, which is sponsored by The Evening Star.

They are compiling a list of the area's best sporting venues which will be distributed by LOCOG to every country which will be competing in the London Olympics.

Among them are the gymnastics centre, Portman Road football ground, Otley College's new equine centre which could be used for equestrian training, Ipswich Hockey Club and the planned new swimming pool in Portman Road.

But the council says there are a host of other facilities, ranging from sports facilities to village halls, which could play their part.

Judy Terry, the council's spokeswoman for culture and leisure, said: “Not only do we want to attract an international team here, we also want to inspire the athletes of tomorrow and encourage the whole community to become more active.

“We also want to cheer on an Ipswich-based team at the Games along with our own British athletes.”

Mr Chisholm said: “Ipswich needs to believe that we really can do this. You may look at Ipswich and say it has a smaller population than Manchester, Glasgow and Leeds but the facilities we've got match.

“And our geographical position is very important. We've got fantastic transport links to London.”

If you have a facility like a village hall or sports centre which you think could be used as a pre-Olympic training venue Team Ipswich wants to hear from you. Contact Adam Baker on 01473 433505.

WEBLINKS: www.ipswich.gov.uk/Sport/Sports+Development/team_ipswich.htm; www.london2012.org

IPSWICH'S new Olympics insider is a Navy man who found himself at the core of Team GB almost by accident.

When Hadleigh-born Dave Chisholm left the Navy in 1999 he was offered a one-year contract with the British Olympics Association handling transport and logistics.

It was a critical time for the association as preparations for the 2000 Sydney Olympics reached their final stages.

Mr Chisholm's role was to coordinate transport for the team and the movement of equipment from England to the various training venues in Australia, where British athletes were to be stationed in the final weeks before the Games.

He travelled to Australia before the Games and worked with team officials who carefully selected training venues and “holding camps” on Queensland's Gold Coast and in Surfers' Paradise.

Mr Chisholm, of Crown Place, Woodbridge, said: “With upwards of 500 to 600 athletes, coaches, physios and everyone that need to be involved it was an enormous effort.

“At the beginning of 2000 we were finalising the arrangements for where we were going to be having the holding camps.

“They had chosen the actual towns we were going to but the specific venues and places to stay in those towns weren't finalised.”

Throughout the Games build-up Mr Chisholm worked with the team but before long he took on a new role.

He said: “When we got to making final plans it became apparent that someone needed to take over transport within the Olympic village.”

That role saw him live and work in the athletes' village at Homebush. He marched in the Opening Ceremony and ended up staying in Australia for 10 weeks.

After the Olympics his contract with Team GB ended and he now runs a business manufacturing racing car parts and composite parts in Woodbridge.

But the prospect of getting involved in Ipswich's bid to capitalise on the London Games was too good to pass up.

He said: “I was at work one day thinking I didn't want to be in a situation where I was watching the opening of the Olympic Games in London thinking I could have been involved. I needed to put my hand up and say 'I might be able to help'.”

And he believes his experiences in Sydney could make all the difference in helping Ipswich to convince a national team to set up a pre-Games training camp in the town.

He said: “Although I didn't really have an input on the training venues for Team GB I could see first hand the reasons for the training venues being chosen.

“The whole thing is about the quality of the training venue. It's got to be exclusive to the team and it's got to be nigh on perfect. If either of those two aren't there you go and look somewhere else.”