WEARSIDE’S Olympic guests have received a winning welcome.
Athletes from the Caribbean island of Grenada have swapped their sunny skies for Sunderland’s clouds as they gear up to bid for medal glory.
The city will be the Grenada Olympic team’s base as it prepares for the 2012 Games.
The Grenadian National Olympics Committee opted for Wearside after a visit which took in Sunderland University, the Stadium of Light, Sunderland Aquatic Centre and other sporting venues.
Now, more than a year after announcing their decision, the wait is over and the team has arrived.
Members were up bright and early this morning to inspect the facilities at Sunderland Aquatic Centre.
Thirty-one-year-old 800metres runner Neisha Bernard Thomas is no stranger to the UK – or the North East.
“I have been here a couple of times on the European circuit and competed at Gateshead Stadium,” she said.
“I’m very proud to be representing my country.
“It is my second Olympics – the last time, I made the semi-finals and this time I am hoping to make the finals.”
The gold was up for grabs, she said.
“It is very competitive – I have got some strong rivals in the U.S. and also England has a couple. It is a very wide field.”
Sunderland University student Fayola Moore, 29, was due to fly home to Grenada after completing her modern languages degree – but has put her plans on hold to welcome the team to Wearside.
“I am here to assist the team in any way I can,” she said. “I saw it as an opportunity to serve my country.
“I know the place here and I know the Grenadian culture.”
Fayola sees parallels between her native and adopted homes.
“I have been boasting about the parks that I like and the walk along the river,” she said.
“They are both beautiful places, but there is a natural green to England. It is beautiful here.
“I won’t be here for the Olympics as I am packing up to go home, but I will be cheering the team on from my living room in Grenada.”