Hang on a Mo, who's that making a Bolt for our gym?

17th August 2012 at 01:00
A new academy has played host to the stars of the Games

When Jason Baigent was appointed as principal to a brand new academy in east London he couldn't wait to get his feet under the desk in its shiny #163;33 million buildings. But this summer, he has faced an unusual problem: his school has been overrun with international athletes.

Sports stars from muscular Russian pole-vaulters to Chinese ping-pong experts have been enjoying the facilities at Chobham Academy, which is situated within the confines of the Olympic Village. Bedecked with international flags and bunting, the school was converted into a training gym and information centre for competitors.

As the nation deals with its Olympics comedown and the focus shifts to the legacy the Games will leave behind, Mr Baigent knows that the success of the school - due to open in September next year - will take on added significance. But being situated in the Olympic Park will make the school "extremely attractive" to parents, pupils and staff, he said.

"Those who attend are creating history; they are walking in the footsteps of the greatest athletes and are using the same facilities," Mr Baigent (pictured below) said.

"It is very exciting. It's amazing to think that in our sports hall Usain Bolt may have been warming up, or Jessica Ennis may have cooled down in our dance studio. It's a very surreal experience, but one that will be part of the Chobham history and legacy for decades to come."

Although the academy has many of its own sports facilities, swimming lessons will take place in the Olympic Aquatics Centre, one of the most popular Games venues.

Mr Baigent can only reclaim his school, which will serve a development of 3,000 new homes to be converted from the current athletes' village, once the Paralympic Games are over next month. At that point, he can get on with his day job of designing the curriculum and recruiting staff.

The head is already busy holding information evenings for parents, but he says the social mix of the school is as yet "an unknown quantity" as no families have so far moved into the immediate area.

Whatever the pupil intake, the school will form the centrepiece of the new community, which is being developed as part of the much fretted-about Games legacy.

Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said that schools could be a powerful way for planners to deliver a successful legacy, but only if they performed well.

"Schools are proven to be major catalysts for successful communities, certainly for drawing aspiring populations to live there," Mr Travers said. "If the school is good it will be a huge benefit to ensuring the successful legacy of the Games in the long term."

The all-through academy, for 1,800 pupils aged 3 to 18, with distinct prep, middle and upper schools, is part of the Harris Federation and become the chain's first London school north of the Thames.

Much was made before the Games of the ban on organisations attempting to use the Olympics' branding unless they were official corporate partners. The same goes for the school: the sponsors were not allowed to use their preferred name of the Olympic Village Academy for copyright reasons. Chobham comes from the name of a road and farm that previously occupied the site.


A visitors' book was left at Chobham Academy during the Games with an invitation for athletes and coaches to leave messages for future pupils.

"Whatever your performance, you can do even better. Everything is possible when the spirit is ready," said a wrestling coach from Cote d'Ivoire.

"Never stop chasing your dreams," wrote a member of the Maltese team. "If you do, someone might catch them before you."

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