A CAMPAIGN to bring a new sports centre to Winchester has been boosted by a unique relay.

A team of runners from Winchester and District Athletic Club carried a baton from London’s Olympic Park to Winchester, starting at 1am Sunday and finishing the 100 miles at about 5.30pm some 16 hours later.

The route from east London to the Bar End stadium was 100 miles, so an early start was essential. More than 40 runners took turns to carry a baton containing a scroll summarising the public petition for a new community sports and leisure centre in Winchester, to replace the ageing River Park.

On arrival in Winchester, the baton was carried four lengths of St Swithun’s School pool by swimmers from Winchester City Penguins Swimming Club, before being run through the city by junior athletes, led by Olympic torchbearers Neil Barker and Sandra Bowers.

At Bar End, the baton completed two laps of the track, carried in turn by runners – including top local athlete Louise Damen – swimmers, gymnasts, netball and basketballers and wheelchair athletes.

The baton was handed to Steve Brine MP as it crossed the finish line by WADAC’s youngest member, six-year-old Sam Mballa.

WADAC’s Michaela McCallum conceived the idea of a Track2Track relay several years ago. “It was a wonderful celebration, not only of London 2012 but of our local sports clubs. Their energy and enthusiasm clearly demonstrated how we are all working together to build the Olympic legacy.”

Relay organiser Ian J Berry said: “I'm so proud of all the runners. They showed what can be achieved with a bright idea and hard work – the embodiment of the spirit that will deliver a sporting future for Winchester.”
Winchester Fit for the Future is running the campaign for a new community sports and leisure centre.

Emma Back, co-ordinating the community effort, said: “We had a whopping 3,128 signatures on the petition when the scroll was handed to Steve Brine.”

Meanwhile, the relay baton and scroll are on display at Mr Brine’s office on Stockbridge Road.

He said: “Top marks go to all those who ran through the night to bring the baton safely to Winchester. It was an honour to receive it.

“London 2012 has been brilliant and I know it has captivated my constituents, as it has me. Bringing its energy to Winchester as part of the Fit for the Future campaign is a brilliant idea. I fully back the ambition for Winchester to have a world-class sporting facility that may be on the current River Park site or somewhere new.”

Mr Brine added: “What we need now is a sound evidence-based lead from the city council and I know the administration is developing that. Any new facility must be affordable, accessible to my constituents in the city of Winchester as much as to those travelling into Winchester and it must be financially sustainable on its own two feet so local rate-payers are not constantly being asked for more money going forward.”

Carrying the baton were: Richard Nichols, Ian J Berry, Karen Hazlitt, Michaela McCallum, Mike Davies, Jackie Ducker, Adrian Field, Susan Bryan, Andy Parkinson, Steve Oliver, Carrie Oliver, Sarah Aldridge, Steve Goodwin, Emma Patel, Stephen Lowy, Joy Radford, Rachel Byers, Nathan Risbey, Emma Patel, Paul Brittenden, Kath Bailey, Sue True, Andy Robinson, Paul Roberts, Neil Barker, Lou Walker, Mark Lyman, Louise Damen and numerous junior members of WADAC.

The online petition remains open and can still be signed via website www.fit4thefuture.org .

For more photos see this week's Hampshire Chronicle, out today.