OLYMPIC fever is gripping the nation with just a week to go before the start of the London Games and Wakefield is playing a key role in one nation’s preparations.
China have picked the city’s College Grove sports complex as the training base for their women’s Olympic hockey squad and they arrived on Wednesday in bright sunshine for their first two sessions.
The team, ranked fifth in the world, are staying in Leeds with other Chinese Olympic teams and individuals and will train at the home of Wakefield Hockey Club until Tuesday when they travel to the Olympic Village.
They’ll also play two matches against Scotland, one a full international, for the Wakefield public to watch.
And former Great Britain hockey captain and Olympic bronze medallist Norman Hughes, now a coach at College Grove, says it’s superb to see top-class hockey players training in the city.
“It’s a great honour to have them here,” he said.
“We’re thrilled to have any Olympic squad basing themselves here and it’s great that the Chinese girls nominated us, we’re really pleased.
“It gives our juniors a chance to come and watch them in certain sessions and the two international matches that they’ll be playing here are a real bonus.”
China will take on Scotland tonight, Friday, push-back at 7.30pm, and Sunday, a full international, push-back at 2pm.
The stay was made possible thanks to the construction of a top-of-the-range water-based pitch that meets international and Olympic standards.
It’s the only one in Yorkshire and helped Wakefield Hockey Club win the bid to host the Chinese.
“We’re lucky in that respect,” said Hughes.
“They [the Chinese team] have to be happy with the actual surface and this is the only water-based surface in Yorkshire.
“There are some sand-based pitches but no water-based ones, so the Chinese had to make a decision as to whether their hockey team came to Leeds and trained in Wakefield or base themselves elsewhere such as in France, London or the Midlands for example.
“So their stay was in doubt until we installed the new pitch and they saw the quality of the facility.
“Had the pitch not been blue and had it not been the quality that it is then they wouldn’t have come here. The colour of the surface is vital because it allows the players to visually get ready for the Olympic arena.”
Chinese officials visited College Grove when they came over to England for the Olympic test event earlier this year and gave their women’s hockey team the green light to train at the venue.
Tonight’s game between China and Scotland starts at 7.30pm, with Sunday’s game starting at 2pm. Tickets are priced at £5 for adults and £2 for children.
To buy tickets e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and leave your name, number of tickets required, and what matches you wish to attend.
Tickets are limited to four per order and must be purchased in advance and collected from the ticket office 30 minutes before the start of games on the day.
See this week’s Wakefield Express for all the latest sports news from around the district.