Olympic legacy turns sour for Crystal Palace athletes

Crystal PalaceBarely 18 months after the warm glow of the Olympic flame was cast across the capital, and south London’s athletes arrived at the indoor training centre at Crystal Palace sports centre to find it under two inches of water, and dangerously unusable.

“This is our ‘National Sports Centre’ at Crystal Palace this morning,” one leading coach based at Crystal Palace, John Powell, said yesterday as he forwarded to Inside Croydon the pictures shown here.

“‘National Disgrace’ is nearer the mark.”

Donovan Reid, the Croydon-based coach who in 1984 raced in the Olympic 100 metres final after a winter spent training at the Palace’s indoor area and in its gym and track, said, “It’s a shame this picture doesn’t give you the smell that came with it.”

The flooded training area, with water lapping dangerously around the arena’s electrical power supplies, saw the venue closed to athletes and coaches eager to get back into training after the Christmas break.

The indoor arena at Crystal Palace has never offered much in the way of fancy facilities – just some walls and a roof and some all-weather training surfaces. It lacked any bends to race around and had never provided even a 100-metre straight to sprint down.

But for five decades Crystal Palace has been the main winter training area for the whole of London, as well as for athletes from Surrey, Kent and Sussex. It has been used by Olympic gold medallists and world record-breakers including Daley Thompson and Sally Gunnell among thousands of others.

Its short sprint straight, plus throwing and jumps area, were for too long the only indoor athletics training arena in the south-east, even staging county and Southern Counties indoor championships.

CP 3However, since London won its Olympic bid in 2005, and following the multi-million-pound development of the Picketts Lock training centre in north London, as well as the Olympic Stadium, Crystal Palace has been sadly neglected, both in terms of cash for maintenance from funding bodies UK Athletics and Sport England, and in general upkeep from Greenwich Leisure, who run the centre on behalf of Bromley Council.

It is almost as if the local authority wants the venue to rot to such an extent that it can be bulldozed to make way for other schemes which won’t cost the council any money, time or trouble. 

Powell, a former senior police officer who received the MBE this year for his services to athletics coaching, has had a training group based at Crystal Palace for 30 years, his athletes including 2012 Olympic sprinter James Ellington.

He is part of a working group of users of the centre, “but there’s been no action at all”, he said.

“We were not asking for anything hugely ambitious, just hinges on doors, cleaning up the pigeon droppings, fixing the leaking roofs on the indoor track, and a few similar points. But there’s been nothing delivered. I’m fast coming to the conclusion that it will be a toothless exercise.

“We were lucky with blue skies,” Powell said after supervising yesterday’s training session, “but if the weather reverts over the next few days I am being asked to coach international sprinters either in the freezing cold, or wearing flippers instead of spikes.”

“I am sure Greenwich Leisure will argue lack if funds. I do sympathise, but then one has to ask questions of the politicians – Olympic legacy?  What legacy?  What country in the developed world would allow a venue like Crystal Palace deteriorate into the state it’s in now?”

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2 Responses to Olympic legacy turns sour for Crystal Palace athletes

  1. davidcallam says:

    What did you expect?

    Before the Olympics the political parties’ focus groups were telling them that we all wanted our athletes to do well in a home Games, so they were falling over each other to promise ever greater sums of money to please voters.

    And we did well on the world stage, didn’t we: unlike our also-ran footballers and the embarrassing shower we sent to play cricket in Australia.

    But now we’ve moved on, so politicians have too.

    It takes years to train and nurture international athletes. And they represent much better value for money in terms of projecting worldwide influence than buying ever more expensive weapons.

    But try telling that to some egomaniac in government.

    • For once, this is not necessarily an issue caused through central government disinvestment, more through local government disinterest.

      The facilities at what was Crystal Palace National Sports Centre have been sadly, and badly, neglected for more than 20 years, ever since the demise of the old GLC – which had a hand in managing the centre and the park – and when the then Sports Council handed the keys over to Bromley Council.

      Bromley has never been anything other than a reluctant landlord. They bellyache about having to manage the NSC, moaning that Croydon and other neighbouring boroughs – including Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham, who all have boundaries nearby – contribute little or nothing towards the upkeep.

      It is a crying shame that so little investment has been made on the facilities, except in extremis – such as when they discovered asbestos in the ceiling of the pool and sports hall area – to maintain it even as a regional centre of excellence, especially at a time when there is a ready source of funding through the National Lottery.

      Of course, if it is all allowed to rot and crumble, the bull-dozers can be sent in to make it so much easier for Chinese “investors” to build their new glass palace of indeterminate purpose.

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