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Aviva GB & NI Stars Checkout Stadium

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Alexander Stadium stand

 

08 July 2011

Olympic medallist and local hero Kelly Sotherton today gave members of the media an exclusive tour of the newly-renovated Birmingham Alexander Stadium ahead of its grand opening at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix on Sunday.

Sotherton was joined by Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland teammates and fellow Birmingham locals Louise Hazel and Tom Parsons as members of the press had the chance to see first-hand the view that over 5,000 spectators seated in the new back straight stand will get this Sunday afternoon, as some of the world’s finest athletes come to town for leg nine of the Samsung Diamond League.

Hepathlete Hazel, who won gold at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi last October, will compete at the event on Sunday in the 100m hurdles, while Sotherton and high jumper Parsons will have to wait until the Aviva UK Trials and Championships on 29-31 July for their first experience of an event-day crowd at the new-look venue.

And 400m runner Sotherton, who trains at the stadium with her Birchfield Harrier teammates, admits she can’t wait to get out there in front of a West Midlands crowd, tipping the region will give rise to the next generation of British Olympians.

She said: “I’ve been here since 1996 so this really is home for me and I've seen it develop so much. Having that huge stand there now makes you feel like you’re training in a big international stadium. I've run on the track a few times since it’s been built and it makes the wind flow straight and constant and it feels like you’re in a championship stadium. So when you go away to these major championships in huge venues it doesn’t faze you.

“It’s nice to be part of the athletics scene in Birmingham, as this is really the home of athletics. The talent pool’s amazing and a lot of people do actually make the move to the city because of the great coaches here.

“I'm hoping for one more race before the Trials and I'm just aiming to get to next winter healthy after hopefully being part of a successful 4x400m team in Daegu at the World Championships. This is a stepping stone as I look to be in the 4x400m team for London 2012 and maybe even the individual event.”

Meanwhile Hazel will line up in an extremely tough 100m hurdles clash against the top three in the world including current world’s fastest Kellie Wells, Commonwealth champion Sally Pearson and Britain’s own Tiffany Ofili-Porter.

And the 25-year-old is hoping to get a head-start on her multi-event rivals by preparing for her first event in Germany next week by lining up in what is essentially an Olympic final field.

She said: “It’s an honour as a heptahtlete to get into this great Grand Prix meeting. I know other heptathetes from other countries wouldn’t get the same opportunity and hopefully that can push me on to a new personal best ahead of my first heptathlon of the season next week.

“Being out there and being able to train in the stadium actually lifts you and makes you feel like you’re on the world stage. Yesterday I had a javelin session and things got a little heated and I let out a great roar that echoed around the stadium and showed what the atmosphere is going to be like on Sunday.”

Aside from the new stand, which takes the stadium capacity up to 12,700, athletes competing at the sold-out event this weekend will experience a new track, two new triple jump pits and two new pole vault areas, designed to reconfigure the stadium to imitate major championship venues.

And Parsons, who has competed in the previous three World, Olympic and Commonwealth finals, admits he cannot wait to compete at the stadium as he looks to retain the national title he won in the city last year.

“I've had a bit of a stop-start season so far, but my last two competitions have been really good. I'm really excited about the way I'm jumping. I want to hit the A standard before the Trials and then jump higher than it at the Trials and consolidate my position at the top of the standings in the UK and push for medals .”

UKA Head of Endurance and Meet Director Ian Stewart, who joined the mayor in digging some of the stadium’s original foundations in 1975, tipped that in light of the new stand, Birmingham would soon host a championship meet.

He said: “Now we’ve got this stand it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to get some championships here. Obviously we’ve captured the Samsung Diamond League with the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix and along with having the Aviva UK Trials and Championships, Birmingham really is track-town UK.

“The legacy of this stadium will go on and on for years and I think what you’ll find is that there are a lot of training roots as lots of European athletes on the Grand Prix circuit want to make this their home.

“Look at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix this weekend, it’s world class athletics from start to finish. Aside from the odd illness, the quality is very strong across the board. If you look at the women’s hurdles, there’s hardly anybody missing there and it’s arguably tougher than the Olympic final. The meet is pretty much as good as it can get and it’s fantastic for the city.”

Birmingham City Council Assistant Director for Sports and Events Steve Hollingworth said: “We’re absolutely delighted about working with our partners UKA. It will inspire generations in the city for years to come and it’ll also up the profile of the city and particularly create a great place to work, live and of course, invest.”

The Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix will be at the Birmingham Alexander Stadium on 10 July and will be shown live on BBC2 17.30-20.00. The Aviva UK Trials and Championships will be at Birmingham Alexander Stadium 29-31 July.  For tickets or more information go to uka.org.uk/aviva-series or phone 08000 556 056