In 2000 Sydney hosted, what was widely acknowledged at the time, the greatest summer Olympics of modern times. Athletes praised the arenas, living quarters, transport networks and general organization of the event, but it could all have been so different.
One of Sydney’s rival bids for the 2000 Olympics came from Manchester.
As a requirement of the bidding process, Manchester had to show that it had plans in place to develop world class venues for swimming, cycling and athletics. As history shows, the bid was unsuccessful, but the plans that were developed during the process didn’t go to waste as Manchester was selected to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Construction of the City of Manchester Stadium and Manchester Aquatics center began in earnest to complement the existing National Cycling velodrome which was home to British Cycling. By the opening ceremony of the Games in July 2002 Manchester had 3 world class sporting venues. This week, the ribbon will be cut to announce the official opening of the newest addition to the National Cycling Centre: the £24million BMX arena.
It’s a fairly innocuous building from the outside, connected to the velodrome by a shared reception area, but inside, the brightly lit interior and vast open space generates an aura of excitement. Ramps, hills and bumps towering up to 8 meters into the air stir the imagination of the speed and exhilarating racing to come. The appetite was whet with a demonstration from a number of British riders, including Olympic medal hopeful Shanaze Reade.
Yet the venue will not play host to Olympic competition. A period of construction is also taking place in London to ensure the city is able to cater for all the Olympic events. During the month of July in 2012, the Manchester Aquatics center will echo the sounds of children splashing, the renamed City of Manchester stadium will host a friendly match involving its new hosts – Manchester City, the velodrome will creak as amateurs roll around the boards and the BMX arena will sit empty.
It’s a shame that these world class venues aren’t being used to their full potential, but on the plus side the Manchester public are granted use of wonderful facilities. Swimming, cycling and running in the wake, slipstream and footsteps of Olympic gold medal winners is an inspiring thing, and hopefully the investment in these venues will not only benefit the communities around them, but will also produce our next generation of Olympic champions.