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LEWIS-FRANCIS AND IDOWU BRACED FOR BIRMINGHAM ATHLETICS BOOM

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Birmingham-born Mark Lewis-Francis and Birmingham based Phillips Idowu believe that 2011 is the year of athletics in the West Midlands following the decision to stage an unprecedented three major athletics event in the city next year as part of the Aviva Series.

In addition to the Aviva Grand Prix at the NIA on 19 February and the Aviva UK Trials and Championships, 29-31 July, the city will, for the first time, hold the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix – part of the Samsung Diamond League - in the newly refurbished Alexander Stadium on 10 July.

Athletics fans in the area will be able to see some of the most exciting athletes on the planet, with the addition of the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix to the usual event line-up, giving the chance to get to know faces from the Jamaican and US track and field teams who will use the city as a training base in 2012.

World and European triple jump champion Phillips Idowu is relishing the prospect of Birmingham becoming yet another British athletics stronghold ahead of London 2012.

Despite being born in the capital, Idowu opted to move from the London-based Lee Valley training centre to Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium in order to achieve his ultimate goal of Olympic gold.

And while the 31-year-old has his sights set on defending title at the World Championships in Daegu, he is not getting carried away just yet.

He said: “I love competing in Birmingham, it’s my adopted hometown. The Aviva Grand Prix always attracts the best athletes which makes it a world-class event to be part of and a good test following winter training.

“Moving to Birmingham has worked well for me and for the city to have the Diamond League coming in July is an added bonus. I competed in both of the UK’s Diamond League events last season and now what added kudos they can bring to a city. For Birmingham to now have three of the six events in the Aviva Series shows where their thirst for athletics is.

“I’m looking forward to 2011 and the World track and field Championships in Daegu, competing at the NIA in February will be the first part of those preparations.”

Fellow Aviva GB&NI star Lewis Francis, 2011 represents an opportunity to build on a dream year which saw him take European and Commonwealth silver and the 28-year-old is determined not to rest on his laurels with his sights set on showing the British public what he can do, first at the Aviva International Match in Glasgow on 29 January and then in his hometown race the following month.

He said: “I’m so pleased with how this year has gone, to have come back from injury and won two major medals is something I want to take into next season and build on.

“If you would’ve told me last year, when I lined up at the NIA, that I would’ve won a silver medal at the Europeans and the Commonwealths I’m not sure what I would’ve said. Now I’ll go there again for the Aviva Grand Prix and have that read out when I’m announced, I can’t wait.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing, as it’s obviously working for me, keep my head down and focus on each step I have to take. Running in the GB vest at the Aviva International Match will be a great honour and I hope I can keep up the tradition of maximum points for the team.

“As for the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham, it’s going to be a blast. Running in my home town is always special, but now I’m going there with individual honours to my name and I can’t wait to step out in front of my friends and family, who have all supported me. Knowing the Diamond League is coming to the city too is just the icing on the cake for Birmingham and I hope I will be part of it.”

For tickets call 08000 556 056or click here