BIRMINGHAM. UK - Crowded London will be even more crowded during the Olympics. More than 200 Olympic teams will descend on London this summer to compete for medals in dozens of sporting events. The city will be crowded with athletes, fans, officials and dignitaries. But the USA Track & Field team will escape the crowds and the pressure of the host city, basing itself 200 kilometers to the north.
Birmingham’s local council leader Mike Whitby put the deal together to bring the U.S. and Jamaican teams to his city, and also, he says, to bring more than $30 million worth of business.
“We are now where [the] American track and field [team] will train. This is the Alexander Stadium. I committed many, many millions of pounds to upgrading the stadium. We’ve resurfaced the track. We have actually realigned and reconfigured the track here so that it mirror-images what they will run on in London,” said Whitby.
U.S. athletes who came to Birmingham for an indoor meet in February were happy with the plan.
“I think it’s great for middle distance runners especially, a lot of canals to run on. People speak English," said Morgan Uceny. "The weather is decent.”
“I was here when they first came here to assess the place. For us, the distance runners, we need the dirt, we need somewhere where you can, you know, do long runs," said Bernard Lagat. "Birmingham provides that.”
Birmingham has a strong sports history, with a variety of facilities for the visiting Olympic teams to use.
The President of USA Track & Field, former athlete Stephanie Hightower, says Birmingham also offers an atmosphere that will help her team relax and get ready to compete.
“Whenever we go to another country, we want to be able to create a ‘home away from home.’ So, a lot of times when we go to whatever the host country is, you don’t have that sort of authentic opportunity to do that," she stated. "And with the city of Birmingham, and the multi-culturalism of this city, it pretty much represents what our team looks like, what it feels like.”
But there is one potential drawback to putting the team in Birmingham. It’s an hour-and-a-half trip to London, even on the fastest trains.
The athletes will make the trip to the Olympic Village several days before they have to compete, but team officials won’t want them to spend too much time in transit, or worrying about timetables.
“Clearly, they looked at that and they didn’t see that as a problem. On the contrary, clearly they were away from the hubbub of the capital, and they can concentrate on the number of Golds that they want to win,” Whitby said.
The Olympic athletes will be watched by millions of people all around the world. But the American track team will make its final preparations well outside the spotlight, in relatively relaxed surroundings 200 kilometers away.