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Facilities: Elite Athlete Centre and Hotel planned for Loughborough Uni

Former CEO of UK Sport John Steele became director of sport at Loughborough University in 2014 to lead an ambitious development programme. He tells Tom Walker how the new Elite Athlete Centre and Hotel is the last piece of the university’s ‘facility jigsaw’

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 2018 issue 2
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John Steele
John Steele

Loughborough University has revealed plans to open an innovative new hotel, targeting elite athletes who visit and train at the university. Designed by David Morley Architects, the Elite Athlete Centre and Hotel (EAC) will feature 44 bedrooms and be located at the heart of the university’s extensive sports facilities, adjacent to the Paula Radcliffe Athletics Stadium.

Described as the first of its kind in Europe, the hotel will house 20 specially-designed altitude rooms, allowing athletes to “live high while training low”. The rooms will prepare visitors’ bodies for competition by improving their oxygen carrying ability as well as their maximum oxygen take-up.

Other athlete-centric facilities at the hotel include fully-accessible bedrooms – capable of accommodating para-athletes – a nutrition lounge, an athletes’ relaxation area and a seminar space for 30 people.

Where did the idea come from to set up a hotel for athletes?
Loughborough University is part of the national landscape for elite sport and one of six elite performance centres in the UK Sport network. The purpose of the centres is to have all the necessary support for athletes in one place.

At Loughborough, we have been building an ecosystem for elite sport for a while. We felt that an important part of the set up would be to offer bespoke, specialist accommodation to elite athletes – providing the correct nutrition and everything else they need. So the EAC is really the last piece of the jigsaw for us and we are very excited about it.

Tell us about the altitude rooms at the hotel
Many sports will take their athletes on altitude training camps, which usually means travelling abroad. We wanted to take the travel out of the equation and offer athletes the advantage of high altitude here.

There are only a handful of facilities in the world that can provide the kind of altitude rooms we will have. We’ll be able to simulate climatic altitude conditions up to 5,000m.

How it works is that we will be able to reduce the amount of oxygen molecules and increase nitrogen molecules in the rooms. The technology, provided by a company called Sporting Edge, allows us to inject an airstream of oxygen content into the rooms, which is either at 10 per cent or 7 per cent – depending on what level the athletes want to achieve.

The aim is to increase the blood’s red cell count – as red blood cells are the ones carrying oxygen to the muscles. Depending on the level of exposure, research tells us you can expect around a 3 to 5 per cent gain in performance. And as we know, sometimes a 1 per cent advantage can be the difference between finishing on the podium and not – so the gains can be considerable over a period of time.

Who will use the EAC?
The hotel will be used by a wide range of athletes. The UK’s national governing bodies can now use our facility, rather than being forced to set up camps abroad, and we will also look to attract professional sports teams in the non-Olympic and Paralympic sports. We also expect it to be of interest to individuals – serious athletes who are training for triathlons, endurance events or Iron Man competitions.

Are foreign athletes welcome?
Absolutely. While we work closely with UK Sport, Loughborough is a global sporting brand and we already have several nations utilising our research and our facilities.

We’re hoping to see athletes and teams from other countries use the EAC before competing in the UK and Europe – as well as organising their training camps here.

How will the EAC improve the UK’s elite sporting offer?
The UK has been developing its infrastructure of sporting facilities for decades now and the 2012 London Games were a great catalyst for taking that to another level. At Loughborough, we’re proud that we’re now recognised globally as having one of the most advanced ecosystems for elite sport.

For us, it’s not just about having cutting edge facilities – but also how they interact. We have students setting out on their journey in elite sport and we also have people like Adam Peaty, a multiple gold medallist who is at the height of his sport.

We also have an incredible diversity of excellence in all areas of elite sport – from nutritionists and conditioning coaches to physiotherapy, research and education – so you can see we have something that’s very difficult to find anywhere in the world.

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