Final touches for Jamaica's athletes
Poppy Brady, Gleaner Writer
A PLATE of cow's liver and onions for breakfast is not everyone's idea of a perfect start to the day, but it's among the choices for the Jamaican Olympic track and field team who will be staying in Birmingham.
The dish will form part of the meticulously planned menus organised by Jamaican chef Karl Thomas who will travel with the athletes to their Birmingham pre-Olympic training base before they move to London on July 26.
The finishing touches are being made to welcome the 50-strong team and their 25 staff to the leafy campus at the University of Birmingham where they will rest, relax and train.
And the man charged with the task of meeting their every need is Conference Park manager Tony Cullen.
"The aim is to give the team privacy and security without making them feel hemmed in. We want this to be a home from home," explains Cullen, who as a former head of catering at Birmingham's International Convention Centre is used to coping with major events such as the Eurovision Song Contest and the G8 Summit of 1998.
"After catering for more than 5,000 people at the Eurovision, I don't think 75 athletes will be a problem," he adds with a smile. "In my mind's eye, I am already seeing them relaxing on our lawns with their headphones on in a world of their own. The only thing I can't organise is the weather!"
And if it does pour with rain, the park's oak-panelled lounge area includes a games room, table tennis, plenty of computer games and dominoes.
Grace Foods is sponsoring the ingredients that will go into the athletes' specially devised 2,500-calories-a-day menus, which include carefully sourced Jamaican produce.
The chef team will be working in conjunction with the university's executive head chef Mark Haughton and much of the food will be prepared in the central kitchen area which has a sterile unit.
The university is anxious to make sure there is no repeat of the situation at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 when the Jamaican camp was unhappy with the food provided by the host nation.
"I can't imagine that happening here as we have such a wide range of Jamaican foodstuffs on our doorstep," adds Cullen.
With the food taken care of, Cullen and his team are focusing on the athletes' bedrooms and have ordered seven seven-feet long beds since Usain Bolt is one of several athletes well over 6ft 5in.
"Until the trials on July 3 we're not exactly sure of who is coming, but once we know we'll obviously be sorting the rooms out to accommodate everyone," adds Cullen.
"The last thing we want is Usain complaining that he didn't win any medals because he couldn't get a decent night's sleep in Birmingham!"