The Jamaican sprint team have universally praised the facilities at the University of Birmingham as they prepare to move on to London for the start of the Olympic Games.
Speaking at an international media day at the university, where many school children and competition winners were allowed to watch them train in the sun, every athlete and coach questioned had nothing but strong words of support for their stay on campus.
4x400m relay runner Errol Nolan commented that it was one ‘of the best facilities I’ve ever seen,’ while team manager Ludlow Watts said that they ‘couldn’t have wanted any better.’ Men’s team captain Michael Frater even went as far to say that the standards of Olympic training camps had been raised for the future.
This will be a massive boost for University of Birmingham Sport who re-laid their running track in preparation for the Jamaican’s visit and are hoping to have a new £55 million sports facility in place for 2015.
The camaraderie between the two groups has been strong with a dinner the previous evening going down well, and the presence of student volunteers has also been well received.
Frater was particularly fulsome in his praise, stating: ‘We knew that London was going to be a special Olympics for us but we had to make a decision on a place which would be suitable, capable of housing our athletes in a nice relaxed manner. We chose Birmingham and we are not in any way disappointed. Everywhere you go, the volunteers want to make sure you’re ok.
‘Now we go to London and it’s like “oh no” we won’t get any of this special treatment any more. But it’s going to be something that we are going to look into as far as the future of training camps. The standard has been raised. This one has been so special.’
Women’s team captain Novlene Williams-Mills added that ‘I just want to say thanks to everyone for being so gracious, for being there for us. The volunteers I want to say thank you very much. We really appreciate it. You guys have done a really outstanding job. The training facilities have been really great.’
The biggest discussion point of the day though was the absence of sprint trio Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell, with concerns that reigning Olympic champion Bolt might be carrying an injury which forced him to pull out of a Diamond League meeting at Monaco last Friday.
Understandably, there was some reluctance from his countrymen to discuss Bolt’s progress in front of the media but the suggestions were that he will be fit and ready to go with the 100m final a week on Sunday.
Jamaican track and field team technical manager Don Quarrie said of the world record holder, ‘I can’t really give you any details regarding his present form. I’m quite sure Usain is ready to roll. He has been working out on the track here and his performances, his times, have been close to what he was doing in 2008 before the Olympics, so what it tells me is he will be ready to run in London.’
Watts also confirmed that Bolt will be in good shape for London, adding that 'by the time he gets to the Olympics he will be competition fit.
'Some times in your preparations there may be certain disruptions, but I believe that he's adequately prepared. He's training very well and by August 3 we will see the real Usain Bolt. I am not aware of any niggles at the moment. I believe he's ok.'
100m team mate Nesta Carter refused to be drawn on Bolt’s fitness or form but after admitting that the relay team needed some practice he did state ‘everyone’s going to be fit and ready.’
Despite neither being present the attention was focussed firmly on Bolt and compatriot Blake with their strong friendship set to be tested by their rivalry on the track after the latter won at the Jamaican trials recently.
Long Jumper Damar Forbes was quick to play down any suggestion of any tension between the two, but it is clear that both men will be the main targets for the Americans who are also in Birmingham, with their training camp at the Alexandra Stadium.
The dominance of the Jamaicans at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 means that they will be favourites to clean up in the sprinting categories. However, their position at the top of the standings makes them a strong target for the opposition to chase down, a fact that Frater acknowledged, although he was quick to point out that they were prepared for a backlash from their rivals.
‘Right now it’s us against the world. We’re the target on everyone’s back right now, everyone is trying to chase us down. The atmosphere has been good and we’re ready to take on the world,’ he said.
‘In previous Olympics the United States were the so called sprint country. They had a target on their back but we took them down. We know that everyone out there is going for us now and I think we’re very prepared and will be able to handle anything thrown at us.’