Okoro, Others Forced to Train Elsewhere after Stadium Closure

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Athletes are upset at being forced to find a new base after the early closure of Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

A planned reconstructionis now behind schedule due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

And Birchfield Harriers athletes, who have used the stadium since it was opened in 1976, are having to make do with limited facilities elsewhere.

“Sometimes we haven’t even had hurdles to jump over,” converted 400m hurdler Efe Okoro told BBC Radio WM.

“For the people who can drive, we’ve been having to go to places like Stafford and Redditch to run and train.

“It’s becoming a bit challenging. We’re having to think outside the box. We’re even having to imagine we have hurdles to jump over.”

Announcing the decision last week, a Birmingham City Council statement said: “We know that this will be disappointing, but the health and safety of site visitors is of paramount importance.

“Every effort is being made to work with existing users, in particular Birchfield Harriers, to identify alternative provision.”

Birchfield were advised last week that they would have no access to either the main stadium or warm-up tracks until after the Commonwealth Games, which is scheduled to run from 27 July to 7 August 2022.

However, that is contrary to what they were told when the announcement was made that the Perry Barr venue would host the Games.

Harriers, who have several medal hopefuls in their ranks, have made the decision to reduce their fees for 2020, as well as offering a year’s free membership in 2021.

At the same time they are trying to secure acceptable alternative training venues, in particular for their throwers and middle-distance runners.

Former 400m Olympic medallist Katharine Merry, who won the bronze behind Cathy Freeman at Sydney in 2000, ran for Birchfield in her heyday – and is still a big part of the club.

“It will have a devastating impact on the athletes – and financially, for the club, it is huge,” she told BBC WM.

“We know Covid has had a devastating effect but we feel a delay could have been caught up with. Now we’ve got nothing.

“What we’re saying is that, if there has to be a slight delay in the construction, why can’t that still be caught up. Where’s the discussion?

“To now be told you can have no access until after the Games are concluded means our athletes have to find new places to train, which could be places as far away as Loughborough, and Lea Valley and Brunel, both near London.”

Okoro, who hails from nearby Great Barr, has set his sights on performing on the big stage on home soil.

The 28-year-old said: “I was lucky to be selected for Team GB at the Birmingham Indoors, which is still a pretty big event.

“The energy I felt from the Brummies was insane. To have that at the place I’ve trained since I was 10 years old would be unreal.

“I would definitely be able to take my performance to the next level knowing that I had the crowd behind me.”