The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were due to begin this weekend. But of course the coronavirus crisis stuck a gigantic spanner in the works. Alas, we’ll have to wait another year for the opening ceremony.
Now we can travel, however, Olympians themselves are throwing their kit in their bags and preparing to jet off for warm-weather or altitude-based training camps. And the whole British sailing team is currently out on the water in Santander.
So where to go to train like a pro?
For swimmers – Mallorca, Spain
One of the most sought after facilities in the world, Best Centre in Mallorca has known the greatest swimmers of all time, from Australia’s five-time Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe to the UK’s double gold medallist Rebecca Adlington.
Every summer, national teams descend on the open-air facility for Olympic training camps. This year they’ll be more likely to attend in autumn – but that means there’s more time for amateur punters to dip a toe in the water.
Based around a 10-lane 50-metre pool with a swim/triathlon gym also on deck, the Best Centre is famed for its cutting-edge technology. There’s an underwater filming tank and the only ‘MAD’ drag measurement system outside Holland, where you can work with top coaches to hone your swim to perfection. Multisport athletes can run on Best’s private trails or its six-lane running track, rent triathlon bikes or head to the sea for open-water swimming in Mallorca’s glistening bays.
Best Centre has its own hotel, Bluewater, where you are most likely to spot the athletes you love, but for a truly indulgent stay, book Font Santa Hotel which is a seven minute drive from the pool. Recovering in its thermal waters and dining at the market-fresh restaurant will bring calm to an otherwise energetic trip.
For triathletes – Lanzarote, Spain
In the world of professional triathlon in Europe, it’s less a question of have you been to Club La Santa than how many trips are you taking this year? Thank goodness, then, that the hotel and fitness campus is reopening later this summer.
Olympian and current Ironman World Champion Anne Haug and three-time silver medallist Lucy Charles Barclay are both known to spend months at a time living and training at the property. Swimmer Laura Letrari has already booked for September 2020 to train for the postponed Olympics, alongside several national teams.
It’s a big thing to tout yourself as the best sports resort in the world, but the general consensus is that, in the case of La Santa, it’s true. The complex, located in Tinajo, offers training facilities for 80 different sports, which you can use at leisure, as part of classes or with your own coach. With 391 apartments and 96 suites, staying there feels a little like being in the Olympic Village – and, as a former triathlete myself, that’s why it constitutes some of my best memories.
Three 50-metre open-air swimming pools with a total of 24 lanes, a water sports centre next to a lagoon, and an athletics stadium make up just the start of what’s on offer. But it’s also the climate and terrain of Lanzarote that draw triathletes. Cycles in the Timanfaya (the Fire Mountains) are particularly famous, and the volcanic running trails are well trodden.
Over the past 12 years, Club La Santa has reinvented itself as a more upmarket resort – boosted by the promise of rubbing shoulders with the world’s best athletes. Book into one of the Luxury three-bed suites for a sea view, private hot tub and large balcony.
For rowers – Avis, Portugal
With Portugal likely to be added to the UK’s travel corridors list on Monday, there’s one thing on rowers’ minds: ‘can I go back to Herdade da Cortesia now?’
This campus comprises a purpose-built four-star hotel for rowers, alongside rowing waters and a performance gym. Created by former international rower Luis Ahrens, this is where the British Rowing Team usually starts out its year.
“It’s the whole package,” says Rio 2016 silver medallist Karen Bennett. “The accommodation, water and gym are all of a very high standard and the hotel facilities allow us to rest and recover as well as we can between sessions. There are also two two-kilometre stretches marked out on the water so we can do time trials as well as longer routes. I’m really looking forward to going back there to prepare for the Olympics.”
It’s a rower’s paradise, cocooned among acres of nature and farmland as far as the eye can see, with storks lining the banks. Rowing lessons are available for beginners, as well as coaching for more experienced athletes. And all this exercise is exactly why you shouldn’t scrimp on the menu of wild vegetables, meat from local farms and regional wine. Double rooms at the hotel start from 270 euros per night.
For distance runners – St Moritz, Switzerland
A great distance runner seeks altitude for training. If it’s true that gold medals are earned before the start gun pops, then Mo Farah secured his four Olympic gold medals over years of training in Flagstaff Arizona, Iten in Kenya, Sululta in Ethiopia and St Moritz in Switzerland.
Of those destinations, only St Moritz, which sits at 1,822 metres above sea level, is viable for UK citizens currently. Alongside Farah, the US and Swiss national teams train here, as well as many serious amateur athletes. Olympian and four-time Ironman World Champion Daniela Ryf lives in town, and Olympic medalists Alistair and Johnny Brownlee have been spotted drinking steins of beer on rest days.
Most of these athletes spend time from June to September in the area, which operates as one big sports village featuring track and field, a performance gym, a swimming pool and a spa. There are also great running trails around Lake St Moritz and through forests. Top coaches, physios and chiropractors, such as Erik Vliegen and Sarah Meier, are available to tend to sore legs.
For the full Olympic experience stay in the Kulm Hotel, the five-star resort where two winter games were hosted (1928, the first official Winter Games, and again in 1948). There, fitness facilities extend to a vast spa, gym and lap pool where guests can book in with coaches. The 75-minute ‘Escape to the summit’ full-body massage (380 CHF) will help alleviate any of the extra tensions that altitude bestows on the body.
The deluxe junior suites (from CHF 1,095 a night) are a dream, with views over Lake St Moritz, where you can watch the professional speed walkers waddle along.
For track and field – Tenerife, Spain
Red Bull athlete Niamh Emerson is Great Britain’s up-and-comer in heptathlon and, while Tokyo will be her first Olympics, she is on track to be a huge star, not least because she is mentored by Jessica Ennis-Hill. But with so many sports to train for, getting away to focus is essential.
“The team will be going away on training camps for four weeks in January, and another four weeks in April, just before the outdoor season and Tokyo,” she says. “Tenerife is one of my favourite destinations to train, and it’s really popular for athletic groups. There are amazing facilities, and the climate offers perfect training conditions for competition.”
While her earlier training camps in Brisbane and Florida were cancelled this year due to Covid-19, Tenerife, which is open to UK travellers, is a realistic possibility. Open from Monday-Saturday the The Olympic Stadium functions as a short term home to many star athletes over the course of the year.
The 400-metre, eight-lane track was recently resurfaced and kit including hurdles, discus and javelin are provided on booking. A high performance weight room, ice bath and a daily sports massage service is also available when pre-booked.
Stay at the Ritz-Carlton Abama – yes, it’s a 20-minute drive from this athletics hub, but it’s a top-tier oasis that feels far flung from Tenerife’s mass market image. Among the miles of volcanic rock and terraces of banana palms, it’s like a lost Moroccan citadel, with a sprawling spa, golf course and a jaw dropping Imperial Suite with its own private pool to cool off in.
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