Palma.—This week, co-founder and former British Olympic and Commonwealth swimmer, Matthew O'Conner was presented with Balearic Association of Professional Sports Management award for the best privately managed sports centre.

Two years and four months ago Matthew, a former Bulletin sports editor and columnist, and his business partner, James Parrack. a former Olympic and Commonwealth swimmer as well, built the BEST elite aquatic sports training centre in Colonia Sant Jordi.

Apart from the British Olympic and Paralimpic teams regularly using the centre, BEST has hosted camps for the national teams from Spain, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Luxembourg, as well as club teams from across the UK, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, France, China and Canada.

And, with the London Olympics less than a year away, a number of teams from as far afield as Australia are wanting to use the centre for some ‘pre-pre training'. “The swimming in London will be indoor, so all the teams will carry out their final training inside but all swimmers like to be outside, feel some air and being near the salt flats down here, the iodine in the air is good for asthmatics, so a number of teams are looking to begin their final Olympic training phase with us,” Matthew explained.

Since they opened, BEST has in fact catered for a total of 280 amateur and professional teams. Between 6'000 and 7'000 swimmers take the plunge at the centre every year and Matthew was very pleased that the centre and the hard work of his dedicated and highly professional team has been finally recognised locally. “It was a surprise, but it is good to be locally recognised. It's been hard work and we only close for three months of the year. “Most of the professional teams bring their own coaches etc. so we merely provide the fully equipped facilities but we are all qualified coaches and run swimming camps for groups from across Europe as well. “So, we're bringing a lot of people to the island and the local hoteliers love it. Although, now they've had two years of enjoying the benefits of the centre, they now want more,” Matthew says. “On average, each team or group spends between seven and ten nights on the island but some stay for as long as three weeks and that is good business for the local tourist industry. “We only close for three months and are open from February to October which were our busiest months this year. “We are thinking about installing a retractable roof so we could stay open all year, but we'll see, like I said, most swimmers like to be outside, they like to feel the air and sun on their backs,” he added.

In the mean time Matthew is talking to various Olympic teams and a number of coaches have been down to inspect the facilities. “Now we've been locally recognised, it would nice to have some help. “It would be great to be part of the government's sports tourism drive and be promoted at the various fairs they go to. “We're in talks with the authorities and the Director General for Sports, Javier Morente seems very interested.”


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