Leeds is hailing a major Olympics coup – after it was revealed that Chinese athletes will fine-tune their bid for glory in 2012 at a training base in the city.
Around 50 track and field athletes and officials from China – who won more golds than any other nation at the 2008 Games in Beijing – will train at Leeds Metropolitan University's Headingley campus and have access to the John Charles Sport Centre for Sport ahead of the London Games, which start in July next year.
Their number is likely to include Far East sporting superstar Liu Ziang. The gifted 100m hurdler provided one of the enduring images of the Beijing Olympics when he was left devastated after breaking down on the track and being forced to pull out of the Games due to injury.
Xiang, the first Chinese athlete to achieve the athletics "triple crown" of being world record holder, world champion and Olympic champion – having claimed gold in Athens in 2004 – is back fully fit and in express form, recording the third fastest time of the year in winning the Asia Games title in November 2010.
China's growing presence on the sporting stage yielded 51 gold medals in Beijing – 15 more than the US – with their impressive haul 19 more than they achieved in Athens.
In total, China secured medals in 21 of 28 sports at the 2008 Games, the first time the gold medal standings were topped by a country other than USA or Russia/Soviet Union for 72 years.
On the deal, the first deal to be signed by any Chinese sport with any UK city ahead of the 2012 Games, Gareth Davies, Dean of the Carnegie Faculty at Leeds Met, said: "We are delighted to be working with the Chinese athletics team and are looking forward to hosting world-class athletes on our campus.
"It will give our students a great buzz to be training alongside Olympic hopefuls.
"This is just one example of the benefits that London 2012 can bring to our region and we are keen to maximise the benefits for the city of Leeds."
Vice president and secretary-general of the Chinese Athletic Association, Mr Du added: "Leeds is a great city. I have looked at the athletics training facilities at Leeds Metropolitan University and the John Charles Centre for Sport and accommodation we plan to use. I am confident Leeds will provide an ideal training base for our athletes as
we prepare for the London 2012 Olympic Games."
The agreement builds on the strong existing links between Leeds and
China, with the city having already enjoyed a 23-year partner city agreement with Hangzhou in the Zhejiang Province that has helped develop business, educational and civic partnerships – while there is also a sizeable Chinese population living in Leeds.
Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Jim McKenna said: "This is absolutely fantastic news for the city of Leeds – a major coup to be the first UK city to say we are hosting a Chinese Olympic team.
"To be hosting athletes from such a major sporting nation is a great reflection not only on the fantastic facilities we have to offer, but everything we have to offer as a city and place to stay.
"We look forward to welcoming our very special guests."