This whole place feels futuristic and just hums with a sleek, high-tech energy, writes Caroline Delaney.
It’s a high-spec sporting paradise that appears to be criminally underused. The Gloria Sports Arena (GSA) in Antalya in southern Turkey is where athletes come to have every inch of their bodies, every ounce of effort, and every drop of sweat analysed and diagnosed to give them every possible edge.
It’s easily accessible but when a group of Irish journalists visited the ultra-modern complex, it was almost deserted. It’s clear that last year’s coup attempt and strained relations between Turkey and Russia has impacted on the sports and tourism business in Antalya.
Set over 10.5 hectares, the Gloria can cater for more than 50 disciplines. The outdoor and aquatic sports facilities are new and include an Olympic pool, water polo pool, hockey field, stadium field, and running tracks — but it’s indoors where this place is really impressive.
The BodPod is the world’s only Air Displacement Plethysmography system, using whole body densitometric principles to determine body composition. Then there’s the SpeedCourt, a multifunctional training and measurement system for speed, agility, coordination and visual and cognitive perception.
Everyone from footballers to badminton players leap between coloured squares and a host of metrics — reaction times, explosiveness, flight time and ground contact time — are logged and analysed.
There is 3D posture analysis equipment, top of the range physio equipment and a HydroWorx pool. Popular in America with NFL, NBA and NHL teams for more than 10 years, these pools feature a hydraulic lifting floor allowing the water-depth be precisely adjusted.
And there’s a treadmill built in so athletes can run with reduced gravitational effects on their leg joints. Counterflow jets allow different aqua-jogging intensity levels — and underwater cameras let the physio or coach check out biofeedback info about the athlete’s joint stress during their workout.
This whole place feels futuristic and just hums with a sleek, high-tech energy. You can’t help wonder how much further some of our top athletes could rise if they spent a bit of time here.
Some physiotherapists have questioned the benefits of ice therapy for athletes. The ad-hoc wheelie bin filled with ice popular at amateur club training sessions has come in for particular criticism.
Warnings about ice burns and bronchospasm (airway constriction) and problems for asthma sufferers are among the concerns. Lack of temperature regulation and the injury risk associated with clambering into a waist-high wheeled tub have also been cited.
Nevertheless, many athletes swear by ice baths to reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cristiano Ronaldo says he has taken them during the night at the cryotherapy chamber in his house.
The GSA boasts a whole body cryotherapy ice lab maintained at -110 degrees celsius. There is no moisture in the air and no air currents so once an athlete is gloved up and wears a protective mask, they don’t perceive the cold to be as extreme as it is.
Yuliya Britova, who showed a group of Irish journalists around the facility, said people who use (survive!) a session typically experience a surge of well-being afterwards. When our group visited, there weren’t many athletes using the facilities — though we did disturb the training session of Bohdan Bondarenko, who won bronze for Ukraine in the high jump at the Rio Olympics.
A nice guy, he was happy to take a break from some intense weightlifting for a few photos. And the sports centre staff were keen to point out that “all the athletes who trained at Gloria Sports Arena for Rio 2016 came back with medals”.
That’s 26 athletes from eight countries scooping 29 medals.
The GSA is part of a chain of resorts in the area — and athletes who’ve earned some downtime can get shuttle buses to the Gloria Golf, Verde or Serenity Resort. Or there’s the Montgomerie Maxx Royal Golf Club down the road as well.
High-level competitions such as the Beko Pro-Am, the European Tour Race to Dubai, and the Turkish Airlines Open have been hosted here. Though Rory McIlroy pulled out of the 2016 Open too late for all the billboards and banners everywhere bearing his picture — so he also missed out on playing under the back-nine floodlights.
Getting to Antalya is typically by a flight from Dublin to Istanbul and then an hour’s flight from there to Antalya airport. The sports arena is a short drive along the coast. Though Turkish Airlines’ board chairman Ilker Ayci confesses to a grá for Ireland, so maybe there will be direct flights if he sees a few green jerseys there.
Ayci noted a Turkish affinity for Ireland specifically includes Drogheda — well Drogheda United FC and their star and crest. He said many Turks are well aware of the history behind it — it is believed by many to honour the Turkish aid ships which sailed there during the Famine.
However, it's clear the strained more modern relationships — particularly with Russia — have had an impact. The area, with its super-opulent hotels, glorious marinas, top-notch golf courses and sports facilities was, until recently, a playground for Russian oligarchs. Check out the website for the nearby Kremlin Palace to get an idea of how influential Russian money was here.
So, it could be a superb time for other countries’ teams to grab great bargains.
A weather eye on current affairs might be best before travelling.
But it’s also worth noting some of the big names who have been here in recent times — Elton John played for fans at the Antalya Expo 2016 last September — he also referenced other stars who pulled out due to concerns over the coup attempt and told them they don’t know what they are missing.
And U2 visited a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey in April last while there for a concert. Other international names who performed in Antalya last summer include Jose Carreras, Sting, Deep Purple, Level 42, Scorpions, Status Quo and UB40.
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