New era dawns for Gloucester athletics
AFTER four years in the wilderness, Gloucester's next generation of athletes took to the track for the first training session under lights at
Athletes from across the city descended on the purpose built facility in Podsmead to test out the re-laid eight-lane track, throwing cage and long-jump pit.
Promising Gloucester City athletes have had to train in Cheltenham or Yate in previous years – on occasion some have even resorted to training at night infront of car headlights.
Run by experienced volunteers Gloucester Athletics Track Management Ltd (GATM), the long term-dream to provide a modern community facility has become reality thanks to funding from the city council and Sport England.
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Although still rough around the edges, phase one of the long-term project to improve the facility is now complete.
Further ambitions are to introduce a stand, additional equipment and official time-keeping at the venue.
It is hoped schools and the wider community can utilise Blackbridge for regular athletic meetings from next summer.
Volunteer and coach Richard Blackwell says the track will allow coaches to harness emerging talent in Gloucester and ride the Olympic legacy train.
"The big theme of the Olympics was legacy and we have been very fortunate to be able to harness that and make it a reality" he said.
"We had around 20 children aged 6-10 before July, now we have more than 50 kids that age wanting to try track and field.
"Without this facility it would be very difficult to capture that enthusiasm.
"The field where we used to train was full, but without floodlights it was difficult to make the most of that passion.
"UK Athletics funding has gone into the Olympics programme for the last seven years, and all those sports are now going to be strapped for cash.
"Funding is going to be tight going forward and if we had not put this facility in place now, it may never have happened.
"This ward is one of the most deprived wards in terms of financing and health issues in the south west.
"The track will give young people in the area a focus and an opportunity to use their time productively in sport."
Gloucester Athletics Club now boasts more than 250 members, with ages ranging from 6-65.
More coaches are being trained up to cope with demand.
Jo Willoughby represented Great Britain and Wales in the long-jump, competing against West Germany and Norway at Crystal Palace in the early 1990s.
Now after retiring from competing and raising a family, she wants to give something back to the next generation of athletes and pass on her knowledge and experience to others.
"There has been a bit of a lull in athletics when schools couldn't do the extra curricula activities but that is now changing," she said.
"I used to train on grass and cinder tracks on a Wednesday night and Sunday morning, this new track is lovely, a real luxury by comparison.
"We had to travel 10 miles but this is on the doorstep of many kids. We already have some young athletes who have competed at county and English schools level.
"In the winter there was nowhere to train in Gloucester at night and they had to go to Cheltenham where they were not always welcome.
"Athletics is a very affordable sport when compared with others like tennis. It can cost £19 for a lesson and membership fees are also very high.
"Here it costs just £1.50 to train and membership for a junior is just £15 for the year.
"It is not the same as competing, but I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing young athletes progress and achieve.
"All of the coaches speak with each other to compare techniques and it is an exciting time for athletics in Gloucester."
To enquire about booking the track for use, contact GATM director Bob Purcell on 01452 417990