New £5m University cycle track opens

The £5million Brownlee Centre was officially opened at Bodington Playing Fields on Friday afternoon, with Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee being joined by his world championship winning brother Jonny to cut the ribbon on the new building.

The pair, who described having the centre named after them as a ‘massive honour’, are both alumni of the University of Leeds, and trained on the fields which house the new centre. The facility, which was a joint initiative between the University and various sporting bodies, is the first purpose built triathlon base within the UK, with the grounds containing a 1.6 km cycle track which features various configurations and a transition zone purpose built for triathlons.

Events such as the Grand Depart and Tour de Yorkshire have grown the stature of cycling in Yorkshire immensely over the past four years, and British cycling’s director, Jonny Clay, is hoping that the new facility will help inspire more people to get involved in the sport. ‘It’s for the complete range. Young and old, non-gender specific, disability, people who haven’t ridden a bike for 30-40 years. They can come in here, grow their confidence and build their skills,’ said Clay, who is a former Olympic and Commonwealth medallist. ‘More and more we need more road circuits. It’s great for parents where they’re nervous about letting their kids ride a bike. A constant barrier (to participation) from our research is that people are put off by traffic’.

These sentiments were echoed by Jack Buckner, the CEO of British Triathlon, who said he was ‘delighted to see people buzzing’ about the facilities and the sport of triathlon, which was only introduced into the Olympics in Sydney. Triathlon has since become one of Britain’s most successful sports, with Alistair and Jonny winning gold and silver respectively in London. Vicky Holland also secured bronze in the woman’s event, and Buckner hopes this trend will continue. ‘We’ve got loads of hopes (for Tokyo),’ said Buckner. ‘We’ve got loads of great women, hopefully we can continue to build. If the mixed team relay is in Tokyo, we’re hoping to have Alistair and Jonny anchoring the team’.

Leeds’ status as a home for triathlon has been further secured by the World Series event which took place in the city last year, and will be returning again in June, with the brothers looking forward to swimming, cycling and running on home turf again. Alistair was delighted with his performance last year, describing it as ‘probably one of the best races I’ve done in my career’. However, he is still unsure about his participation in Tokyo, as he begins to explore the move up to half-ironman triathlons, which are more than double the distance of a standard, Olympic triathlon. ‘I’ve already done one, it went pretty well, and I’ve got a seriously though one next week, so we’ll see how it goes in the coming months’ said Alistair.

The centre is just one of the many developments being undertaken by the University, with sports teams also benefitting from the redeveloped Gryphon Sports Centre. Head of Sport at the University, Suzanne Glavin, is hoping that this investment continues, saying ‘We are the University of the Year. We’re a world class research university and our sports facilities need to be the same. We’ve got amazing levels of participation but we’re running out of space, both internally and externally. We do need more investment in artificial pitches, which is on the agenda for the next 5-10 years, and we need to continue to look to external support to help as well’.

It is hoped that the facility will become a popular destination for both students and the public, and with five local cycle clubs basing training sessions over the next few months, this could lead to more people in the local area giving up their cars and giving cycling a go.

Luke Etheridge

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