St. Mary's University College will become the pre-Olympics training base for 15 Chinese athletes, as a result of a friendship that started two years ago.
The athletes, who represent China in long-distance running and race walking, will stay at the university, in southwest London, for about a week to acclimate to British conditions before heading to the Olympic Village, which is an hour away in east London. The athletes will arrive at different times. The first will come on July 21, and the last will leave on Aug 12. They will be accompanied by 35 support staff, including coaches, officials and a cook.
"We feel confident that the Chinese team will be satisfied with our facilities, as we have hosted them twice already," said Dick Fisher, head of 2012 preparations at the university.
In 2010, a St. Mary's coach was contacted by a Chinese counterpart, who asked if his team could use St. Mary's facilities for a short period of training.
"We managed to arrange that at fairly short notice, and the group came, and we found them pleasant and dignified people to be around," Fisher recalled.
The runners enjoyed their stay, and asked if they could come again the following year.
Fisher's team was "delighted", and the friendship grew. Shortly after, the Chinese Athletics Federation made a formal approach to discuss prospects of a pre-Olympic training camp and the rest is history.
China's star hurdler, Liu Xiang, also once considered basing his pre-Olympics training at St. Mary's. He stayed for about three days to test the university's training facilities after competing at the Birmingham Grand Prix meet this February.
"Liu Xiang was impressed with the facilities. In the end he decided to go somewhere else. But that's fine. He has to be where he needs to be," said Fisher.
Liu, as the favorite to win the 110 meter hurdles of winning the title at home, shocked the world four years ago at Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium by pulling out in front of a capacity home crowd, citing an Achilles injury.
After competing in the IAAF Diamond League London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace last Friday, he headed to Dusseldorf, in Germany, where he will be training for about 20 days, before heading to the Olympic Village in early August.
St. Mary's, famous for its endurance sports facilities, spent 1.5 million pounds ($2.3million) to resurface its synthetic running track last year.
It also spent about 8.5 million pounds building a new sports center, which consists of a gym and a badminton hall. As well, it expanded its physiology lab and sports injury clinic.
To make the athletes' stay at its dormitory pleasant, the university refurbished the student rooms a few weeks ago, immediately after its students left for summer holidays.
Each athlete will have a single en suite room, and each team will share an entertainment area, with television and books provided.
Fisher said that he has been involved with the London Olympics from "the very beginning", sitting on a panel of experts from local universities who gave advice to the government on bidding for the Games.
His hard work paid off. As well as hosting Chinese athletes, St. Mary's facilities will also be used by athletes from South Africa, Ireland, Japan, Australia, the United States, Kenya and New Zealand.
The athletes will have access to the university's tracks at all times. As well, they can train in Richmond Park and Bushy Park, two nearby venues suitable for long-distance running.