Amy Sandys examines just what’s on offer in Southampton during the Olympic Games, plus an exclusive interview with Beijing 2008 diving competitor and Southampton local, Blake Alridge.
With its access to the ocean and reputation for producing some of the most refined athletes seen throughout the past few Olympics, the city of Southampton has naturally been affected by the ever-closer London 2012 Games.
Gracing our streets, our capital and our TV screens for the foreseeable future, the Olympic torch relay and of course the games themselves will be providing our entertainment until the end of summer. But how exactly has Southampton affiliated itself with the biggest event to come to London since, well, the last Olympic Games, way back in 1948? And what do events such as sailing being held in Weymouth and Portland mean for the Dorset Coast?
Firstly, the Torch Relay spectacle which has been travelling the length of the United Kingdom since May 26th will be arriving in Southampton on Saturday July 14th. Thankfully there’ll be no getting up at 5am, unlike our friends in Portsmouth: we get the tail end of the torch relay that day, reaching the Old Town (near the Bargate) between approximately 17:41 and 17:49pm.
For an evening’s entertainment celebrating the arrival of the torch in Southampton, head to Mayflower Park. With performances to coincide with the torches arrival in Southampton carrying on well into the evening – culminating in the ‘lighting of the cauldron’ ceremony – the mini-concert features such delights as the chart-topping Wretch 32, as well as spectacles performed by ‘Art Asia’ Dohl Drummers, Woodlands Community School and various circus acts. There is literally something for everyone.
When the Olympics get underway on July 27th, a springboard of talent will emerge from Southampton’s sporting scene, with diving hopefuls, a 2000 Sydney gold medallist in shooting and a confirmed sailing Paralympian all in the running to compete for Team GB and continue the standard set by the 2008 Beijing squad.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to be able to chat to one of Team GB’s diving hopefuls: hailing from Southampton, 29 year old Blake Aldridge knows all too well what the Olympics can mean for athletes and spectators alike. Blake may not be competing in London 2012 – he is currently enduring the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Tour – but having participated in Beijing 2008 along with then-partner Tom Daley, I was curious to find out how he felt the Olympics might generate an interest in sports, such as diving, which might not be as popular as sports ‘traditionally’ associated with the Olympics such as athletics or gymnastics.
“This Olympics will raise awareness for every sport. In my opinion, diving will be massive with now four times Olympian Peter Waterfield and Tom Daley; both have been a part of putting diving on the map and I’m sure that will continue during the London 2012 Olympics”
I asked Blake what he felt the proximity of the Olympics to Southampton could bring to Southampton, as well as the overall affect of the Olympics on the country. With the train from the capital taking only just over an hour, the affects of this prestigious event will surely be felt by a large proportion of Southampton’s residents.
“I do believe that the Olympics being in London will inspire children and adults to really embrace sport as a whole and for that one month I’m sure the UK will produce a sporting and supporting high.”
“The Olympics is the greatest sporting event on the planet and what better way to be a part of this event in your home country. This should give the UK athletes a massive advantage as they will have the support of a nation a home crowd and on home soil.
Southampton is a fantastic city one that I have trained and lived in for many years. I think that the city can be very proud of the athletes it has produced over the years, as well as the training facilities it has built for us to all train.”
These last words are as applicable to Southampton as they are to London. With Dorset’s coastline playing host to sailing, one of the most physically challenging yet exhilarating of all Olympic sports, this is the event perhaps most closely concerned with our area; Weymouth and Portland are hosting both the Olympic and Paralympic sailing events.
Weymouth already boasted world class sailing facilities before London 2012 preparations began, as well as maritime conditions perfect for the type of events taking place upon its waters. However, minor adjustment were made to ensure the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA) will be suitable for the heavy burden the Olympics will place on it and can continue to provide the high quality training facilities for which it is so renowned.
A new marina has been constructed with an excess of 560 berths; 250 of these will be used throughout the Games. In addition to the entire WPNSA facility being put to use, post-Olympics, as an elite training centre for young athletes, the community will also benefit from London 2012, with the WPNSA offering the centre as a place for local events to be hosted as well as for public use.
The Olympics will reach every corner of the United Kingdom. Whether this be through participation, spectatorship, seeing the Olympic torch being carried through your town or purely by watching the events on television, there is no doubt that London 2012 will provide a summer of entertainment, speculation and hope. If you want to be involved, don’t forget to head down to the Bargate at 17:41 on July 14th and watch Southampton’s Olympic journey begin!
The Wessex Scene wish the best of luck to Blake Alridge during his Cliff Diving World Tour. For more information, head to www.blakealdridge.com.
Thank you to Dean Treml 2012, for picture (2).