On Julius Caesar Boulevard, this time next year, Team GB’s army of athletes will begin their mission to conquer the world.
On this aptly named street in Reims you’ll find the state-of-the-art UCPA sports station, which will serve as a base for British swimmers before they attempt to conquer it all in Paris. And Team GB believe they have given their Olympic rivals a head start by securing it as their pre-games stronghold.
“As soon as we saw this place we were like, ‘Wow,’ says Chris Spice, Performance Director of British Swimming. “We needed our friends at the British Olympic Association to secure it quickly.” It’s the newest 50m facility in France and so close to Paris. It’s spectacular. “We’re very glad we grabbed it.”
Located 80 miles northeast of Paris, Reims is better known for its champagne than its sport. But some of the Team GB athletes staying in town next summer could be responsible for champagne moments at next summer’s Olympics as their world-class boxers and gymnasts also train here.
Team GB’s other pre-games pre-games camp is taking place in the equally sane town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 12 miles west of the capital. The UK’s athletics, football, rugby sevens and ice hockey teams will be based here before moving to the Olympic Village, as well as archery, fencing, golf, modern pentathlon, tennis and weightlifting individuals.
One of Team GB’s pre-game pre-game camps is being held in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 12 miles west of the capital
British swimmers will use the state-of-the-art UCPA sports station in their quest for glory
Two-time gold medalist Tom Dean is put through his paces in training
The Mail on Sunday was recently granted an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of both Team GB bases, which they hope will become medal factories for the 300 athletes expected to pass through them.
“These are world-leading facilities,” says Mark England, longtime Chef de Mission at Team GB. “We spend a lot of time figuring out what’s best for each sport.” “The one area where we don’t compromise is the training opportunities for the athletes.”
England looked at the facilities in France for the first time in 2019. A year later, the British team secured its first bases, at a time when most other nations were still working out their plans for the postponed Tokyo Games. In the run-up to Los Angeles 2028, Team GB have already completed two full tours and have shortlisted venues that they hope to be able to book soon.
“We know the games are going to be in Brisbane afterwards so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t look at that too,” England said. “We’re one of the few National Olympic Committees that actually want a multi-sport camp.” I can’t think of any other nation that brings together so many athletes and builds this Team GB army.
“Other nations are trying to build a team culture in the Village. But when we go to the games, we already have a strong sense of belonging and a strong team culture, and we believe that’s a performance advantage.”
The One Team GB ethos and pre-camp policy proved a performance advantage at both Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, where they won 67 and 64 medals respectively. As for the Paris 2024 predictions? “I never put a target on it,” said England. “But I’m pretty confident that we’re going to have very special games.” “We’re in great shape.”
In Tokyo, Team GB won eight medals in swimming, followed by the twelve medals in cycling. “Our goal is to improve that,” said swimming boss Spice — and work begins at the UCPA athletic station, which has two 50m pools, one indoors and one outdoors.
At the time of our tour, the British team are training here for their World Cup in Japan which starts on Sunday.
Dean, who won gold in the 200m freestyle in Tokyo, is impressed with the facilities at Reims
Duncan Scott – one of Team GB’s greatest successes in Tokyo – was full of praise for the facilities
Duncan Scott, who won four medals at Tokyo 2020, a record for a British athlete in a single game, says: “The line-up here is amazing.” Many thanks to the staff. At all the Olympics I’ve attended, Rio 2016 and Tokyo, they’ve done their homework thoroughly. “The facilities we visit beforehand are world class.”
Tom Dean, who beat Scott to gold in the 200m freestyle in Tokyo, also likes what he sees. His victory three years ago sparked a 3am garden party at his mum’s in Maidenhead – but the mood here in Reims is much more relaxed.
“I went out for lunch yesterday,” he says, grinning. “I had french onion soup, steak fries, and then a crepe and an espresso.” I know we’re not here on holiday, but when the atmosphere is so nice, it helps to relax. It’s the calm before the storm.’
Dean speaks to children from two local elementary schools who have been invited to watch the Olympic stars train after an autograph session. As part of its contract with its host city, Team GB is committed to holding community engagement events – a way of giving back while attracting a new legion of fans.
“The kids were curious to see how they train and asked them questions,” says teacher Estelle Roy. “It’s really great for her to be able to talk to the team and be able to speak in English.”
Emeline Seurat, another teacher, says: “Maybe it can inspire her to look at the Olympics next year and say, ‘Yes, I saw him in the swimming pool last year.’ “Reims is very proud that the British swimmers are here.”
Anne Illiceto, the city’s press officer, believes children in Reims will now support Britain as a second team at the Olympics.
For the next stop on our tour, she drives us 15 minutes to Complexe Sportif Rene Tys, home of the 3,000 seat Reims Champagne basketball team and adjacent to the Stade de Reims football club.
Mark England first looked around the training complex in 2019 before securing the first bases a year later
One of the halls here will be converted into a boxing hall for Team GB and another will be taken over by their table tennis players. A third will be used by British gymnasts and a new Olympic standard floor will be installed. Team GB will deliver Gymnova gear – to match the Paris 2024 gear – and leave it for locals to use after the games.
From Reims we take a 45 minute train back to Paris and then a 30 minute metro ride to Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Here, Team GB have booked the impressive Stade Municipal Georges Lefevre, next to the old Paris Saint-Germain training ground, which has just handed over its base to the Stade Francais rugby club.
Locals have already marked British territory by decorating the outside of the sports complex with a giant banner that reads ‘Saint-Germain-en-Laye is proud to welcome Team GB’.
Paul Bouteiller, the city’s Olympic Projects Manager, says: “We know that Great Britain are among the best teams in the world and we have the facilities in place to give them the best opportunity to perform in Paris.” The Olympics are held in Paris but having Team GB here allows us to be a part of it. We have 125 volunteers working with Team GB at the camp. More than 250 applied. it was crazy They can’t wait to see her coming.’
In any case, Saint-Germain-en-Laye is doing its utmost for its guests to relocate the athletics track so that it corresponds to the facility that will be used at the Stade de France next summer. “We worked with Team GB on the specifications needed,” said Bouteiller. “It’s one of the best circuits in Paris.”
Two-time Paralympic champion Jonnie Peacock agrees, having just tried it out with the British team ahead of the World Para Athletics Championships in Paris. “It’s probably one of my favorite tracks that I’ve run in a while,” he said.
The Saint Germain hockey team practices while we are shown around. They will hand over their spots to Team GB next summer. Elsewhere, the indoor tennis center here is being converted into a gym, with Britain bringing top-notch equipment which it then donates to its hosts.
One of the halls is to be converted into a boxing hall for Team GB and another will be taken over by their table tennis players
Team GB is looking to improve on the eight swimming medals it won at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
They also take over the Lycee Rene Auffray high school in Clichy, near the Olympic Village. This will become their performance hut where athletes can complete their technical training in a more relaxed atmosphere and meet friends and family.
Over at the Village, which is still under construction, Team GB has already booked their block, choosing it based on factors like noise and exposure to the sun. To make it easier for the athletes to settle in, they bring home amenities such as 40,000 tea bags and 35 boxes of jelly babies.
Pillows and mattress pads are also provided by sponsor Dreams.
“Making athletes’ dreams come true is our raison d’être,” adds England. The pun is unintentional, unlike everything else Team GB has come up with for Paris.