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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 January 2008, 15:28 GMT
Training in a winter wonderland
By Phil Jones
BBC Sport in Potchefstroom, South Africa

Marilyn Okoro and Mo Farah
Marilyn Okoro and Mo Farah soak up the sun during training
The attraction is obvious. Tranquil blue sky, inviting green grass and enveloping warmth. Wigan's Robin Park on a dark and rainy morning it ain't.

The welcoming sports complex at Potchefstroom, an hour and a half's drive from Johannesburg, is where a talented - and fortunate - British group of would-be Olympians and Paralympians are wintering in readiness for Beijing.

The facilities are excellent, from the pool for aqua training to the restaurant that serves the UK's finest fresh-from-the-oven bran muffins to order.

The mood is buoyant, the atmosphere reassuringly amicable. The smiles that accompany the hard work and intensely calculated training tell their own tale of contentment.

Mo Farah, European Championship silver medallist over 5,000m and sixth at last year's World Championship, has been coming here to Potch - as it's known - since 2001.

"There were only a few of us then, but the word spread about how good it was and now athletes from all over the world come and train here," he said.

There's nothing to get in the way like there is at home when you have to do the shopping, pay the bills

Sam Ellis

Mo's once-secret green oasis in this sleepy suburban desert is now heaving with athletic endeavour.

Jenny Meadows is taking in the Potch experience for the first time. In January, the 800m runner is normally trudging through training sessions at the aforementioned Robin Park, usually fighting the cold, wind and rain.

"Waking up here to the sunshine and warmth is amazing and makes you want to go out and train," she explained.

"I'm seeing athletes here that I ran against in the heats of the world championships last year.

"Rather than get to see them on TV, I'm seeing them more and more in person and rubbing shoulders with them.

Kelly Sotherton
Heptathlete Kelly Sotherton does some work in the weights room
"It makes you feel like you belong in this company."

More than 30 British athletes are here, including world 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu, world heptathlon bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton and a sprinkling of dedicated Paralympic medal hopefuls.

Paula Radcliffe was here over the New Year period.

Sam Ellis, European 800m bronze medallist in 2006, welcomes the chance to train at altitude and the opportunity to form friendships with GB-vested teammates.

Leaving the everyday drudgery behind is also part of the Potch appeal.

"You can have total focus here," said Ellis.

606: DEBATE

"There's nothing to get in the way like there is at home when you have to do the shopping, pay the bills.

"It's the little things that build up. Here you can forget all that and concentrate on the job in hand."

That job is to be as prepared as possible for the Olympic year ahead, and there is no question the mere mention of Beijing has all the athletes bristling with excitement and anticipation.



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