Games gold rush for Loughborough's athletic elite

Loughborough University is celebrating the triumphs of its students in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Collectively, its athletes won more medals than the teams of many participating countries.

With a medal tally of 30, including eight golds, Loughborough students did better at the 2006 Games than 32 countries - including Malaysia, Singapore and Kenya - and almost equalled New Zealand's performance.

Chris Earle, Loughborough's sports director, said the students had reaped the benefits of an investment of about £40 million in new facilities and equipment over the past 15 years.

These included a "super-gym" strength and conditioning centre, high-performance indoor and outdoor athletics centres and an Olympic-size swimming pool.

But their biggest edge in the Games was perhaps down to the efforts of the team of academics and researchers supporting them.

These advisers provided vital up-to-the-minute information and recommendations on selecting an appropriate diet, striking a balance between physical and mental training and coping with the effects of climate and altitude on performance.

Mr Earle said: "We have people who are at the cutting edge of research in sports and exercise science. They have direct contact with athletes and coaches to help them see what areas they should be concentrating on."

Loughborough's roll of honour in the Games included seven gold medals in swimming and one in the women's 1,500 metres. Three students set British and Commonwealth records and one set a British record.

Mr Earle said the results had brought a "real buzz" to the campus, but they did not come as a surprise.

"It is the kind of result we were looking for and that we are hoping to repeat at the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012," he said.

Mr Earle said the chances of Olympic success, particularly in London in 2012, had been significantly enhanced by the £34 million package to support training announced by the Chancellor in last week's budget.

"With that kind of money committed to developing our athletes, there is little question they will be able to put in the kind of performances needed to win more medals in the Olympics," he said.

British Universities Sports Association, the body that runs inter-university sports programmes and coordinates teams entered for the World University Games, said that 18 UK institutions sent students to the Commonwealth Games. The medal tally was about 50 - almost half of which were won by the British team.

A Busa spokeswoman said: "It is such great news for student athletes. It is really helping to raise the profile of top athletes in universities and dispel any perceptions that they do not work as hard as other students."

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