Secrets of the champions

The main visitor entrance to the Australian Institute  of Sport.

The Australian Institute of Sport, home to the country’s elite athlete training programme, but also a fascinating afternoon out.

Tucked away in one of Canberra’s northern suburbs is a university-like campus which serves as a training centre for Australia’s prospective Olympic athletes. Such a purpose suggests a secret camp with high security fencing but, in fact, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) offers daily public tours of its facilities, where you can see how Australia prepares its future champions… and you don’t even have to be an Aussie to go along.

We’ve visited the AIS a few times before – once when friends visited from Melbourne, and then because the AIS also run kids’ holiday camps and mini-CBRbound wanted to sign up for a week of soccer coaching. But with Nanny CBRbound in town, we decided a return visit was in order and we enjoyed it just as much the second time around.

One of the interactive features at AIS, the soccer penalty simulator.

The penalty shoot-out simulator, without the pressure of a cup final.

Built in response to a catastrophic performance at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the AIS plucks the best young Aussie talent from all over the country and nurtures it with the aim of delivering medals aplenty at future games. Or, as our tour guide put it: “Never being beaten by the Kiwis again.”

A collection of sports memorabilia in a glass cabinet.

The AIS has an impressive collection of sports memorabilia, not necessarily Olympics-related.

The guide is a big part of the visit as each tour is conducted by a young athlete who lives on campus. So, that knowledgeable and enthusiastic teenager telling you all about this facility, that athlete, or those Olympic triumphs, may well be on course to earn a medal of their own one day, so it’s worth remembering their name.

Both times we toured the AIS, just one other couple was in our party, so it’s likely that you’ll get plenty of first-hand information and opportunity to ask questions.

The weights and running hall at AIS.

Lots of equipment from the Sydney 2000 games, including that from the weightlifting competition, was donated to the AIS after the closing ceremony.

The tour begins with 30 minutes of access to a room that is partly a memorabilia shrine and partly a collection of sports simulator machines – want to challenge your family to a bike sprint, a rowing race, basketball throwing, or a penalty shoot-out? You can do it all here. There’s even a medal podium for you to pose on after submitting your kids to a drubbing.

The Olympic medal podium in the AIS exhibition room.

Even though it’s only make-believe, it’s still a thrill to stand on a medal podium for a few seconds.

When you finally run out of puff, the guide returns and resumes the tour of the real facilities – the indoor events arena, the basketball and volleyball courts, the weights and gymnastics rooms, and the Olympic size swimming pool. When we were there, Australia’s synchronised swimming squad was being put through its paces ahead of an international competition.

The AIS gymnastics hall.

The gymnastics hall at AIS has cameras all along the walls so gymnasts can play back their performances instantly.

Our host was knowledgeable and informative, and when maxi-CBRbound, an avid runner, found out he was a middle-distance runner, the questions tumbled out. He saved his last one for me though: “Do you think I could come here one day Dad?”

The Olympic-sized pool at AIS.

The AIS pool. A few minutes later, the Aussie synchronised swimming team were being put through their paces.

And, in part, that’s the point of the place – to inspire, to nurture and to help Australia’s young athletes to fulfil their potential. I don’t know how our host will fare as he pursues his dream of 800 metre glory, but I do know that maxi-CBRbound came away wanting to be the best he can possibly be at running his chosen distance of 3km. That made it worth the price of entry alone.

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