French camps offer frogs legs, taste of British weather

Wed Aug 1, 2012 10:42am EDT
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By Vicky Buffery

SAINT-LAURENT BLANGY, France (Reuters) - With four gold medals in pocket from the 2012 Olympics, France is also reaping euros from training camps a Eurostar-ride from London that are treating world athletes to frogs' legs and gleaming new sports facilities along with British-style rain.

Hundreds of teams have piled into the humdrum port of Calais and surrounding area, a two-hour dash by train under the English Channel, to take advantage of high-tech training facilities that are available for free and away from the hustle of London.

The grey skies and summer drizzle of northern France mean athletes from as far away as Colombia and South Africa get to acclimatize to the British weather while also sampling some genuine French cuisine.

"The food is delicious. I've even tried frogs' legs, and a number of other things I can't remember the names of," Uzbek sprint canoeist Vadim Menkov told Reuters, training in the sleepy town of Saint-Laurent Blangy.

Buttery croissants were unfortunately off his training menu, he added.

In July alone, in the countdown to the Games, some fifty teams trained in the Pas-de-Calais region, including Japanese gymnasts, Colombian BMX bikers and even British gymnasts trying to escape the media eye.

While in Britain athletes have had to pay for training facilities, sometimes helped by grants from the London Olympic organizers, Pas-de-Calais has offered its camps for free, betting the region would benefit by putting up and feeding the sporting delegations.

For a region blighted by high unemployment, getting in on the Games has brought valuable publicity along with the revenue from hotel stays and restaurant bills.   Continued...