London 2012: Olympians sing praises of 2012 village

Marianne Bevis spoke to Dawn Fraser and other Olympians after their visit to the London 2012 village

Dawn Fraser
Dawn Fraser is a four-time Olympic champion Photo: Getty Images for Laureus

Dawn Fraser

“I’m sure we’re going to see a lot of broken records.” Coming from Dawn Fraser, one of Australia’s greatest Olympic swimmers, that is an opinion worth noting.

Fraser, winner of four gold medals in three successive Olympic Games, came to her conclusion after she and fellow Olympians visited London 2012’s stunning aquatic centre this week. She had only to put a hand into the pool to know that the swimmers could produce some special performances:

“I think the pool in London is going to be very fast because the water in London is very soft. When I put my hand in the water, I couldn’t believe how soft it was.”

Soft water is, it transpires, good news for swimmers.

So, in the week that five-time Olympic champion Ian Thorpe returned to competition, how does Fraser think the famously-successful Australian swimmers will perform in 2012?

“I think it’s going to be tough. We’re going to have a lot of competition from local swimmers. They are on home soil and that’s an advantage. They will also have the chance to get into the pool and use it””just like we had home advantage in Sydney and in Melbourne.”

Even in a country renowned for outstanding swimmers, Fraser stands out. As well as three straight 100 metres freestyle titles in consecutive Games, she has won more Olympic swimming medals than any other woman and set 28 world records. And her view of the London pool was clear: “It’s a 1000 per cent better than when I was performing!”

Fraser was in town with the likes of Michael Johnson, Boris Becker, Franz Klammer, Kapil Dev, Steve Redgrave and Marvin Hagler to take part in the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation’s first ever summit. The prestigious Laureus organisation, which has raised over €40m for projects involving more than 1.5 million young people around the world, was gathered to address How to Stop Juvenile Crime and Violence by the Use of Sport.

Fraser was talking at a converted school that is fast becoming one of the most renowned hubs of community-based sports in London, the Lilian Baylis Centre in Lambeth.

She and her many famous colleagues were there to take part in practical workshops and team-building exercises that underpin many of the Laureus projects such as of the Midnight Basketball League and the Fight for Peace boxing club.

Fraser was particularly thrilled that the summit was giving project leaders from around the world a chance to see the 2012 facilities. With Lord Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, as a fellow “Laureate”, it represented a timely coming-together of two great sporting missions.

The first gymnast ever to score a perfect 10, Nadia Comaneci, was just as enthusiastic about the forthcoming Olympics. With nine medals to her name, five of them gold, she knows a successful venue when she sees one””and the 2012 gymnastics will be held at the O2.

“I got to see it last year, at the world championships. Very nice arena. And gymnastics is one of the most watched sport in the Olympics”¦”

Along with tennis, cycling and athletics, gymnastics was indeed amongst the first sports to be sold out.

Comaneci was an energetic and articulate presence in the activities in Lambeth, and she also uses those qualities to further other causes close to her heart. “I have two charities of my own. One is the muscular dystrophy association, there’s the Special Olympics, and I also do work with kids in Romania.”

She went on to explain how she became a founder member of the Laureus World Sports Academy.

“Daley Thomson called me with an idea about a wonderful thing, getting together a couple of legendary athletes to do projects with kids using sport as the tool. So I said, let’s do it.

“Usually when people have good ideas, it starts but then there is not too much follow-up””but look at what came out of this 10 or 11 years later?”

Look indeed. Laureus boasts as its patron one of the most universally-admired individuals in the world, Nelson Mandela.

It was Mandela’s words at the inaugural Laureus Sports Awards in 2000 that became the organisation’s philosophy: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.”

From London’s spectacular 2012 village on one side of the capital to a small gym in a run-down former school on the other side, those inspiring words certainly found expression this week in the shape of Fraser, Comaneci, Johnson, Ilie Nastase, Mark Spitz and many more champions who are determined to pass on sport’s torch to the next generation.

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