Leeds going for gold in London 2012 Olympics

PUBLISHED: 00:16 07 February 2011 | UPDATED: 20:37 20 February 2013

Leeds going for gold in London 2012 Olympics

Leeds going for gold in London 2012 Olympics

Will Leeds be a winner in the 2012 Olympics? Jo Haywood joins the race to find out

Its not the winning, its the taking part that counts especially if the taking part reaps long-term rewards. Thats the message coming out of Leeds in the run up to the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, which might be being held 200 miles away down the M1 but could have positive repercussions for West Yorkshires premier city.

Leeds has already agreed a deal to host the entire Serbian Olympic squad and the Dutch swimming team, and talks continue with other countries. All in all, the city is hoping to house at least 400 athletes in the run-up to the Games, reeling in an estimated 40,000 per day of their stay.

But, according to Leeds Olympics project manager Peter Smith, this is just one small part of what the city hopes to achieve.

We are building up a real momentum and are hopeful other teams will sign up soon, he explained. Its great that teams want to train in our city, but if that is all we achieve then well regard this as a missed opportunity.

Peter and his partners at the Leeds 2012 task group, which includes representatives from the city council, the university, businesses and the media, believe the Olympics and Paralympics offer five main strands of opportunity: sport, culture, tourism, business and community (in terms of education and health).

When the Olympics were first announced there was a certain amount of negativity, said Peter. There was a feeling that funding would be siphoned away from the north to London. But there is no point in looking at it that way. You have to find the opportunities in a situation and, luckily, there are plenty of opportunities here.

The key, it seems, is lateral thinking. No Olympic events are going to be held in Leeds and there will be no additional investment in sports facilities, so where do the opportunities lie?

We have to take on the Olympics like we took on the World Cup, said Peter. Everything had a football focus then, whether it was actually football-related or not, and, come 2012, we have to see how we can make the Games work for us in the same way.

Among the many lateral thoughts being put into practice is Leeds Canvas, an arts project granted 500,000 from the 2.4 million Yorkshire received to stage events for the Cultural Olympiad.

This creative event, which will run on a four-yearly cycle starting in 2012, invites artists to use the city itself as a blank canvas to create an image, said Peter. Its a unique, risky and exciting project.

The first canvas will be created by the Quay brothers, American identical twins famous for their stop-go animation, who will produce a piece showing the flow of the city, its people, waterways, traffic and shoppers.

High profile projects like this will raise awareness of the city and bring in even more people, which can only be good for the local economy, said Peter.

Northern Ballet Theatre, which recently moved into its new city centre home at Quarry Hill, is also working on a multi-partner project called Dont Just Sit There, using dance and physical activity to get people up and active.

Its all about linking culture and sport, said Peter. Were hoping to stimulate people particularly youngsters to be the best that they can be and to be creative in their thinking and in their lives. You dont have to be good at sport, you can still take part in the Olympics and Paralympics creatively through drawing, painting, dance or writing. The key is to take part.

And to make a bit of money. Twenty-six Leeds companies have already secured Olympic contracts and the city has expressed an interest in hosting the torch relay, which should attract yet more visitors and their wallets.

In the longer term, Leeds hopes to benefit from the connections it is making around the world and build on its burgeoning global reputation.

We are working hard to raise the citys profile around the world, said Peter. Its about saying to countries, look, here we are, ready to provide high quality facilities and visitor opportunities. This is not just about 2012. Its about all the years after that. Its about the future.

So, when the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics finally rolls around, will Peter be waving his Union Jack enthusiastically in the stadium or will he be secretly letting out a long, luxurious sigh of relief that the hoopla is finally over?

Im really looking forward to the Games, he said, sounding genuinely enthused. My focus will remain firmly on Leeds and making sure the city gets the most out of it. Obviously Id love to see some of the events, but Im not guaranteed a seat. If I want to see the Olympics Ill have to apply for a ticket like everyone else.

To find out more about Leeds Olympic projects, visit www.leedsinitiative.org

Olympic hopeful Hannah Cockroft writes for Yorkshire Life - read her blog here

Or read Olympic Champion sailor Paul Goodison's blog here

Leeds leads the way

Leeds has a strong claim on being Englands second city as it is the UKs largest centre for business, legal and financial services outside London.

It was once known as a major industrial centre for wool, engineering, iron foundries and printing, but now the service sector far exceeds traditional manufacturing. Leeds is also the UKs phone banking centre but lets not hold that against it and has a rapidly expanding retail sector, particularly in luxury goods.

Its vast pedestrianised shopping quarter and array of independent boutiques, both in the city centre and in the stylish suburbs, mean it is now reverentially referred to as the Knightsbridge of the north.

Leeds is home to around 1,000 shops offering in excess of 200,000 square metres of retail therapy. Briggate is the main pedestrianised shopping area, with most shoppers flocking to the numerous covered arcades including the not-to-be-missed glass encased Victoria Quarter.

The city has myriad architecturally interesting buildings from the iconic circular Corn Exchange and the white stone Civic Hall with its gold owls on twin spires to the new kids on the block like Bridgewater Place (known as The Dalek) with its 110m tower and the cloud-puncturing 37-storey Sky Plaza.

The city is a major centre for higher education, voted Best UK University Destination in a recent poll, and is home to Leeds University, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds Trinity University College, Leeds College of Art, Leeds College of Music and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.

It hosts the largest West Indian carnival in the country (its also the oldest in Europe), attracting upwards of 100,000 people over three days every summer, and the largest film festival outside London.

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