Games super-track runs into trouble with the athletes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 July, 2009, 12:00am

The state-of-the-art Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground has already drawn flak, with athletes complaining about training rules, media restrictions and staff struggling to come to grips with race equipment.

Distance runners are up in arms about lane-closure rules during training at the HK$400 million venue, built especially for December's East Asian Games.

Criticism on the forum of a runners' website focuses on the closure of the two inside lanes of the 400-metre running track when competitions are not taking place.

Leading distance runner Philippe Cosentino voiced his concerns on the website after having to switch to the venue because his regular training tracks were closed for maintenance.

The speedy Frenchman and his training partners were surprised to find the two inside lanes cordoned off and then heard a warning saying those lanes were reserved for jogging.

'They were deserted, and everybody else, mothers, children and nannies, were walking or jogging in the other lanes,' he said. 'We decided to use the inside lane to avoid collisions and serious accidents. After the first two laps a small army of uniformed staff told us to get out.'

Cosentino was directed to the office to meet the duty manager, who told him he had received instructions and could not change them. 'But what would have happened if I had collided with a five-year-old kid at 20km/h? There's an accident waiting to happen,' Cosentino said.

A Tseung Kwan O-based runner was also annoyed at not being able to use the track effectively. 'I have waited for a long time for the opening of the sports ground so that I could do my weekly practice there,' he said. 'However, the venue management does not perform its job well and so I still have to do the interval pacing at Kowloon Bay Sports Ground.'

Many runners have asked why walkers and mothers with prams cannot use the 300-metre warm-up track behind the grandstand.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said the inside lanes were closed 'in order to avoid overuse of these two lanes' and said it was 'common practice'.

LCSD information officer Chris Choy said that since June 1 the warm-up track had been reserved by the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association from 4pm to 10pm on weekdays. This was likely to continue until the East Asian Games. He also said it would be difficult to avoid accidents with runners if walkers were directed to the warm-up track.

Problems at the new ground have not been confined to training.

When the Hong Kong leg of the Asian Grand Prix was staged in May, the print media was denied access to the infield and herded into a narrow pen outside the media centre and well away from the track. Two other areas, at either end of the track, were also made available. Meanwhile, non-competing officials roamed the infield at will, as did TV crews.

The men's 110-metre hurdles was held up as the barriers were placed incorrectly on the track by venue staff. Last weekend a similar problem occurred in the men's 3,000-metre steeplechase when the water-jump barrier was set at an incorrect height.

The problem was spotted by eventual winner Gi Ka-man, but only once the race had already started.

The final of the men's 100m was delayed half an hour due to a malfunction with the timing system, a problem that occurred during other track events during the second day.