Beaming smiles all round as Winchester Sport and Leisure Park welcomes Olympic heroes including Rebecca Adlington to anniversary event

WINCHESTER Sport and Leisure Park was filled with beaming smiles on its first anniversary as scores of children queued up to meet their Olympic heroes.

Managed by Everyone Active in partnership with Winchester City Council, the Bar End based facility welcomed former Olympic athlete, Rebecca Adlington OBE, Commonwealth medallist and synchronised swimmer, Adele Carlsen, London 2012 Olympian and synchronised swimmer, Kate Skelton, British water polo goalkeeper Matt Holland, and British record holder and former Olympian in freestyle swimming, Grant Turner on Saturday (May 21) to mark the occasion.

The special guests presided over a host of activities as part of an open weekend aimed at ecouraging engagement with the facility.

A ‘Big Splash’ event, which was attended by more than 100 children from local schools, also took place from midday–2pm. Participants made waves with several aquatic-based activities such as synchronised swimming, a rookie lifeguard course and ‘dive and glide’ sessions.

Once they had dried off, the the star-studded panel of athletes met and signed autographs for swarms of excited children – who were then offered the chance to take pictures with their Olympic medals.

Speaking on the day, Rebecca Adlington said: “I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life. When I drove in, I was like, ‘oh, where’s the pool?’. The place is just so modern and spacious – it’s really well equipped and miles away from what I was used to growing up as a kid. If there is any child in a 10-mile radius that can’t swim I’m going to personally knock on their door and get them down here because this place is incredible.

“It’s been great to get the children in the water because it’s all about them at the end of the day. Just seeing their little faces as they enjoyed being back in the pool was incredible. For a lot of these kids, they’ve had so long out of the water because of Covid so not all of them will have felt comfortable to just jump in – but they all loved it.

“Swimming isn’t just to keep fit, it’s such an important life skill for these kids. Hopefully if they do it when they’re younger it will give them a lifestyle. Great if one goes onto the Olympics, but not everyone is going to do that – so instead it’s about giving them a lifestyle and enjoyment they’ll take on for the rest of their lives. When I think back on my career I don’t always think back to the medals or the really tough training sessions, I think back to when I was five playing mermaids and getting a black brick of the bottom of the pool. That’s what sparked my love and hopefully today it’ll have done the same for someone else.”

New leader of Winchester City Council, Councillor Martin Todd, said: “Obviously we put a lot of attention onto the building but what really matters is how it is used, and it has been great to see so many children and young people enjoying the facility and getting inspired by the Olympians. It hasn’t just been a chance to celebrate the centre’s anniversary, but also all the hard work that people from Everyone Active, Winchester City Council and so many other partners have put into this first year to make the building a place that is used and really successful.

“One of the things I find amazing is that over the past 12 months we’ve had 650,000 people visit the centre. That first year includes a period where there were lockdowns and indoor restrictions. So, to have achieved that many holds out real hope for the future – it’s really quite exciting.”

Winchester Sport and Leisure Park’s open weekend is set to continue throughout the day tomorrow. Those who want to join in with the celebrations are encouraged to attend the facility between 10am-4pm.