P102: SPORT THURSDAY - The Daily Telegraph Thursday 22 August 2002

two articles commenting on the future of the Crystal Palace Sports ground

PALACE REVAMP - by Tom Knight


Big money has lured the world's best for a fitting follow-up to Manchester

A SELL-OUT crowd, top sportsmen in action, and not a football in sight. Tomorrow's Crystal Palace Grand Prix promises to be one of the sporting highlights of the year. Yes, it's an athletics meet, and yes, it's going to be good.

I've competed in this meet a couple of times, indeed winning the 400 metres last year. In fact, that was my last competitive race before injuries kicked in - so for those reasons, I can remember the meet clearly. It's big.

The promoters, with their healthy budget, attract the big names. If you're running in London you know there's no easy ride and the world's elite are coming. It's the meet at which the 'stars' want to appear; the appearance and prize money is good, and though the track is old and in need of revamping, it's conducive to fast times and good performances.

Every one of the evening's 17 events is high class. I'm having trouble picking what will be the highlight. There are world, Olympic and freshly crowned Commonwealth and European champions aplenty.

The 100m sprints will be firing. At last we will see the world Nos 1 and 2 go head to head. Marion Jones and Zhanna Pintusevich have been avoiding each other like the plague, with Pintusevich, I feel, doing the dodging. Marion has shown some frustration at the lack of times they have met, but let battle commence. Jones's 10.83sec world-best this year is only a nose ahead of Pintusevich's 10.84. Watch the clock and determination, it will be great.

The men's sprint boasts the fastest five guys in the world this year, so the fireworks will keep on firing as Dwain Chambers renews his rivalry with the slightly off-form Maurice Greene. Tim Montgomery upset the last party they were all at, and will want to do the same again, as will the returning Mark Lewis-Francis. Back from a hamstring injury that ruined his Commonwealth Games, he wouldn't be here unless he was in one piece and ready to roll.

The women's 800m includes the world's top three. Jolanda Ceplak, Maria Mutola and Zulia Calatayud will run fast here. Hopefully, Kelly Holmes will run quick and move herself up the world rankings. She will want to revise the fact that she is currently not even the fastest British woman, and also push the war of words with Ceplak to the background. Apparently they are 'cool' with each other, even though Holmes never gave Ceplak the "big apology" she was after. Only Kelly knows what she really meant with her claims that "at least I'm clean" after they met at the Europeans, and the race will be so good, hopefully it will overlook all other issues.

Colin Jackson is looking for a quick time in the 110m hurdles and with world No I Anier Garcia a late withdrawal and world No 2 Allen 15 Johnson rather unpredictable this year, victory could be his.

The most impressive field assembled is in the women's pole vault. The top nine in the world this year will be vaulting. You name them, they're here.

World No 1 Hicham El Guerrouj has hinted at a world record in the Emsley Carr Mile. In this Golden Jubilee year, it's also the 50th year of this race. El Guerrouj won races 47, 48 and 49, and if the conditions are right, then he should win the 50th, especially as the world No 2 and 3, the Kenyan Chirchirs, William and Cornelius, are due to be pace-making.

In the field for the men are Steve Backley and Sergey Makarov, who have been trading wins in the javelin. Backley has thrown a world record at Crystal Palace, but the Russian seems to like the UK, too. His world best of 92.61m was set in Sheffield at the end of June. Let's hope Steve's right arm can launch a 90m throw here. He will be the only double gold medallist from Munich and Manchester here, as sadly Paula Radcliffe isn't racing, as she prepares for the Chicago Marathon, and there is no women's triple jump for Ashia Hansen.

The two longest men's triple jumps in the world this ear were set in Manchester by Jonathan Edwards and Phillips Idowu. Jonathan no doubt, plans to frustrate Phillips again.

This, hopefully, won't be the last major athletics meeting staged in this grand stadium. As arguments go on about its future, let's enjoy this Grand Prix and all the world class athletes who come. Hopefully, the 17,000 crowd and the TV viewers will witness the UK putting on another great show to follow the one in Manchester.[Ed. my bold]
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PALACE REVAMP - by Tom Knight

Manchester success offers ray of hope for London home of British athletics

THE success of tomorrow night's British Grand Prix could help rescue Crystal Palace from years of neglect and secure a golden future for the stadium considered the home of British athletics.

While Britain's predilection for messing up any plans for building new sporting venues suggests nothing should be taken for granted, it seems that after years of wrangling, everyone agrees that Crystal Palace should be revamped as a major athletics stadium.

Bromley Council, who were made the stadium leaseholders by the Government after the demise of the Greater London Council in the 1980s, want the site to be redeveloped into a modem, 25,000-seat stadium.

David Moffitt, the chief executive of Sport England, who are the tenants, is enthusiastic about the 30-year-old stadium and aware o its importance to the sport.

Speaking in Manchester during last month's Commonwealth Games, Moffitt said: "Every city the size and stature of London deserves something better than what we have at the moment."

UK Athletics want to see Crystal Palace remain as a major venue and re-established as a high performance training centre.

Alan Pascoe, the chairman of Fast Track, the promoters of tomorrow night's meeting, envisages a future which could involve a London football club, possibly Fulham.

After lurching from crisis to crisis, including a time when there were fears that the stadium could be demolished, Crystal Palace is riding on a wave of enthusiasm.

This is partly due to the Government's decision to abandon plans to host the 2005 World Championships and scrap the building of an athletics stadium at Picketts Lock. But it is also the result of the huge success of Manchester's staging of the Commonwealth Games.

Pascoe said: "Manchester showed that people have an appetite for big sporting events. Hopefully, the success of the Games will lead to the right people saying that we have to move the excitement from Manchester to London, where athletics is based.

"Athletics is only a minor player in all this though. The important thing is that the two major players, Bromley Council and Sport England, are saying they can see a way forward."

For all the enthusiasm, however, the old place is falling further into disrepair and waiting for someone to actually do something.

It has been a sad decline for a stadium with such a rich history. International athletics has been staged on the site since the early l900s, when Crystal Palace was considered to have the fastest cinder track in London.

In the 1960s the stadium replaced White City as the regular venue for the national champion ships and in 1968, Crystal Palace could boast the first all-weather track in the country.

The same season, the synthetic surface saw the first of the 21 world records that have been set at the Palace. Later that season the Australian legend, Ron Clarke established a world record for two miles. It was a mark that was subsequently improved by Brendan Foster in 1973 and Steve Ovett in 1978.

The condition of Crystal Palace was yesterday described as "dilapidated" by Robbie Stoakes, the director of leisure at Bromley Council. But he is optimistic about its future.

He said: "It's a fantastic place. Crystal Palace has been written off by many people, many times, but Bromley have always talked about it being a national asset. David Moffitt is a positive guy and the feeling here is that something should happen this time."

The problem, as ever, is money.

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