NEWS

Olympic athletes train in Cyprus boiler room

PAPHOS – Calling Cyprus a boiler room would not be a misnomer. With humidity at times exceeding 70 percent at the height of summer and a scorching sun beating relentlessly down on the baked Paphos landscape, the climate can be even harsher than anything Olympics athletes may encounter in Athens this month. For the past year, athletes from as far afield as the Cayman Islands have been sweating it out on this east Mediterranean island, hoping the grueling weather conditions will get them in tip-top shape for the Olympics, which open on August 13. From this week, Cyprus is expecting a stampede of athletes wanting to fine-tune their skills before the final hurdle. Paphos is the destination of choice for most, a 130-kilometer (80-mile) drive westward from the Cypriot capital Nicosia and a 90-minute flight from Athens. Britain expects to have some 171 athletes passing through Cyprus for training at different intervals this month, mostly track-and-field athletes and swimmers. Dutch badminton players and fencing and archery competitors are expected, Belgian athletes and swimmers from the Cayman Islands will put in an appearance in smaller numbers, and Greek sprint champion Costas Kenteris is rumored to have escaped the media glare at home to train at Paphos on occasions. «We offer world-class sports facilities with the added boon of privacy,» says George Anastasiou of Leptos Calypso, a local hotel chain which has invested heavily in sports infrastructure. Cyprus is idyllic for Europeans seeking to improve their tans and have a leisurely dip, but sports training on the island is a completely different story. On one of Cyprus’s hotter days, temperatures reach the high 30s Celsius (around 100 Fahrenheit) and an ominous-looking veil of humidity descends over the azure waters of the Mediterranean. Humid climate But athletes generally perform better in warmer climates rather than in muscle-contracting cold ones, and in Cyprus they are guaranteed uninterrupted good weather. «It is tough and demanding and you learn to cope with that,» said Richard Simmons, performance manager for the British Olympics Team GB and manager of the training camp in Cyprus. «You have to learn first of all in a training situation, not in a competition. If you go at it fairly regularly you can get acclimatized in four or five days,» he told Reuters. «A big priority for us has been to ensure that none of these groups are coming to Cyprus for the first time now and have been here before, or somewhere equivalent anyway.» Cyprus is the European warm-weather training center for British athletes, offering comforts such as driving on the same side of the road, widely spoken English and, if the conspiracy theorists are to be believed, the protection of the British army in two sprawling bases on the southern coast. While weather has been an overriding factor in attracting athletes to Cyprus, the Olympics have left their legacy on the athletics landscape. Track-and-field facilities, already relatively well developed, have been improved and Cyprus now boasts several Olympic-sized swimming pools. Leptos Calypso, which is hosting most of the athletes and has a contract with the British Olympic Association, has invested $2.4 million in swimming pools and in modifying some 8,000 square meters of space for training areas for sports ranging from boxing to judo, fencing and weightlifting. Catering to a fickle and currently stagnant market, local authorities and tourist enterprises hope to find a niche sector to ensure a steady stream of visitors all year round. «There is a growing demand for athletics, not just high performance but leisure active holidays,» says Anastasiou. For Britons winding their way down the commercial strips of Paphos which offer everything from Premier League football and Rugby League on wide screens to culinary fare including bangers and mash, Chinese takeaways and moussaka, it is a home from home. In a family environment where many of residents are middle-aged to elderly Britons, Paphos has none of the potential distractions any other raunchy Cypriot resort could offer. «They feel very comfortable here,» said Simmons.