It is being hailed as one of the most significant developments in Australian sport since the creation of the Australian Institute of Sport.
Federal Sports Minister Mark Arbib has described the brand new European Training Centre (ETC) in northern Italy as a key weapon in Australia’s battle to keep up with the bigger-spending nations in the lead-up to the London Olympics next year.
The state of the art centre, located on the shores of the picturesque Lake Varese in the town of Gavirate, was opened on Thursday morning in front of hundreds of local dignitaries and media.
“We are up against the super powers of sport, in terms of the money being spent by other countries we cannot match it, all we can do is try to be smarter and more strategic about our resources,” Arbib said.
“This sort of facility will give some of our key sports a competitive edge.”
The aim of the ETC is to replicate the AIS’s training environment and act as a “home away from home” for athletes.
Arbib said the centre solved the problems of the tyranny of distance for Australian athletes and would heavily reduce the financial, emotional and physical stress of competing in Europe.
Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said the value of the centre could aid the nation’s aim to push back inside the top five nations on the medal tally in London.
After finishing fourth in Sydney and in Athens, Australia slipped to sixth place in Beijing with the AOC predicting an eighth-placed finish based on last year’s results.
The federal government has committed $12.5 million to the operation of the ETC, with estimated annual running costs of about $2.5 million.
Coates said the centre improved Australia’s chances of matching it with the very best athletes of western Europe in London.
“This sort of assistance can make the difference,” he said.
” …. It just gets us back on a level playing field in a very professional way.”
Three-time world cycling champion Michael Rogers said it would make life so much easier for young Australian athletes on the continent.
“It is a huge asset for all Australian athletes coming to the London Olympics,” he said.
“Knowing, if you are injured, that you are only a direct flight away from sports science and recovery people that you know and trust is great.”
Australian rowers and cyclists have been coming to the province of Varese for more than a decade because of its climate, nearby facilities and close links to transport.
Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Petrucci said the Australians would still be welcome even if they snatch gold medals off Italians at the 2012 Olympics.
“Our goal is to overcome you anyway,” Petrucci said with a smile.
The centre can accommodate 50 athletes and has arrangements with local hotels when numbers exceed capacity.
The facility is owned by the province and leased out by Australia for the next 10 years followed by two lots of five-year options.
by Buford Balony