New home for sporting elite Aiming to stop athlete exodus

Track cyclist Lauren Ellis uses the fully-equipped gym, just one of the new facilities at the Apollo Projects Centre.
Track cyclist Lauren Ellis uses the fully-equipped gym, just one of the new facilities at the Apollo Projects Centre.

It's new, it's flash and it will hopefully stop top Canterbury athletes leaving the region.

High Performance Sport New Zealand's (HPSNZ) new Christchurch base, the Apollo Projects Centre (APC), officially opens on Thursday but it's already filling a big hole for a number of athletes.

The purpose-built facility adjoins Burnside's Jellie Park swimming complex and is a one- stop shop for athletes and sports teams.

The $3.5 million project includes a fully-laden gym, netball court to international specifications, sprint track, ice bath, spa pool, meeting and seminar rooms, athletes' lounge, office space and five rooms for physio and medical staff.

It's state of the art and ensures those athletes who want to stay in Christchurch can remain.

The February 2011 earthquake meant HPSNZ's old base at QEII was no longer usable and there had been a fear, with a dearth of suitable training facilities, athletes could leave Canterbury in droves.

Just 18 months ago, HPSNZ director Iain Ansell said Canterbury risked losing an entire generation of talent if something was not done. So it was.

The facility was started in October last year and finished in March. It's already home to a number of athletes and teams including the Christchurch-based Tactix netball team.

Assistant coach and former Silver Fern Julie Seymour this week raved about the quality of their new digs.

The Tactix have been without a base since QEII was put out of action and have had to fit training around existing bookings at other facilities.

They've trained all over town the past two seasons but now call the APC home.

"We didn't know how good we had it at QEII until it was gone," Seymour said.

"[At the APC] everything's in one place; recovery facilities, the gym, the court, meeting offices and there's interaction with other athletes which is great too."

Constantly moving from one gym to another was tough enough for the Tactix but the lack of flexibility was the major issue, Seymour said.

"We'd have strict time slots and if we wanted to go longer we couldn't; all of a sudden roller bladers would be rolling in the door for their session and we'd be scurrying off the court."

On an average week the Tactix have seven active sessions a week - including gym and stretching sessions - as well as whiteboard and video sessions. All of those can be done at the APC.

The flash, new home is no silver bullet for the struggling netball side but Seymour said it gave them something less to worry about and would help them focus.

Olympic cyclist Lauren Ellis said the same.

Ellis, who is sitting three papers at Canterbury University, said the time-saving of having a one-stop training facility with staff on site made life and training far easier.

"It's also great to have other athletes, you know, people going through the same thing you're going through, here too," she said.

"It helps too; there's a wall here with the best results written on it so you can see who has the best squat or whatever. Just seeing other athletes here, all striving for the same thing, that's a huge motivator."

Ellis said leaving Canterbury was never an option for her but others did go.

HPSNZ boss Alex Baumann said it was imperative to have a top-class facility in Christchurch and he was pleased with the finished product.

"For us, it really was - essential to have a high performance precinct or a hub in Canterbury because, as we all know, a lot of great athletes have come out of the area."

Baumann said the facility was available mainly to carded athletes (athletes eligible for performance support from HPSNZ), but that could spread to involve more teams too.

"Obviously, we want a vibrant, busy facility," he said.

"We just need to be careful not to compromise our main objective, which is to give the carded athletes every chance they can to succeed."

The Press