For sprinter, removing Olympic track leaves ‘empty feeling’

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For sprinter, removing Olympic track leaves ‘empty feeling’

LAUSANNE, Switzerland - Frank Fredericks recalls the “empty feeling’’ of seeing the running track in Atlanta removed after the 1996 Olympics. He doesn’t want the same to happen after the 2012 London Games.

Fredericks, a former Namibian sprinter who chairs the IOC athletes’ commission, said Wednesday that he hopes London organizers will stick to their original pledge to keep the track as a legacy for the sport.

London’s 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, which is in the final stages of construction, was initially designed to be dismantled following the games and converted into a 25,000-capacity arena serving mainly as a venue for track and field.

The future of the stadium is now in the hands of the Olympic Park Legacy Company, which is weighing bids from two Premier League football clubs seeking to move in after 2012. West Ham proposes retaining the track, while Tottenham - bidding with U.S. entertainment giant AEG - would rip it up and build a new stadium so fans could be closer to the action.

“Being an Olympian, I would like them to keep the legacy, and hopefully the track can stay,’’ said Fredericks, who also serves on the IOC executive board.

“If you take a Usain Bolt or a young Namibian coming up who wins a medal in London, it would be nice for them to go back with their friends and family to visit the stadium.’’

Fredericks won silver medals in the 100 and 200 meters at both the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. The Atlanta stadium was later converted into Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

“It’s an empty feeling,’’ Fredericks said. “You can’t take your kids back to where you competed. I haven’t been back to the Atlanta stadium. The track’s not there. I ran my fastest time there in the 200 (19.68 seconds). I would love to go back and relive those emotions.’’

Fredericks said he does frequently return to Stuttgart, Germany, to visit the stadium where he won gold in the 200 at the 1993 world championships.

Fredericks acknowledged that his hopes for the London stadium are his “selfish view’’ and that he understands financial considerations must also be taken into account.

“I don’t want to have a situation where whoever is taking over the stadium cannot maintain it,’’ he said. “Obviously we were struck by the economic crisis. I think London organizers want to make sure what is best for the Olympic stadium.’’

The Olympic legacy body is expected to announce by the end of the month whether West Ham or Tottenham is its preferred bidder, with a final deal signed by late March. London’s bid team, led by two-time Olympic 1,500-meter gold medalist Sebastian Coe, promised a long-term track and field legacy for the stadium when the city was awarded the games in Singapore in 2005.

Last month, a group of 16 British Olympic and Paralympic athletes - including former champions Kelly Holmes, Daley Thompson and Sally Gunnell - signed an open letter urging authorities to keep the track.

In London on Wednesday, Tottenham said it would tear down the Olympic stadium and build a new 60,000-capacity venue in its place without a running track. The club said it would redevelop the crumbling Crystal Palace athletics stadium in south London instead.

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