North London's Cultural Guide

Why It Matters: Doorstep Olympic Pursuits


The Olympic Torch comes to Camden on Thursday, and Kentishtowners can finally see for ourselves what all the fuss is about, before the world’s most famous firelighter nips off East to Stratford – boo. But if the Games is inspiring you to compete in the Rio Olympics, then look no further than our own doorstep to get involved with some top-class coaching.

NW5 is blessed with world-class facilities to get us off the sofa and on the way to the podium. And so we decided to meet two local sporting experts to get some tips for the Olympics, and how to keep the spirit going – and we’re not talking about jogging to MaccyDs and back.

In a cycling world dominated by corporate brands like Halfords, Kentish Town boasts many independent bike shops that have kept NW5 on two wheels for generations. Chamberlaine Cycles – on the lower stretches of Kentish Town Road – is on to the fourth generation of the Chamberlaine family, with their shop dating back to the 1950s.


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Nick Freilich has worked at Chamberlaine’s for over twenty years, so has witnessed the explosion in popularity of two-wheeled transport. Why has it survived so long? ‘We’ve concentrated on doing what we want to do, well, which is being a quality local bike shop. And we’ve certainly seen an increase in drop-handlebar/road racing bikes in the last two years due to the Olympics and success in races like Tour de France.’

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Who are Nick’s tips for the Olympic Games? ‘In the velodrome, Australia have adopted some of the British training methods that we were pioneering at the last Olympics, so the competition’s tougher. I find team pursuit just artistry. With respect to other individual disciplines, four riders getting it together and working for each other requires an extra level of skill; it’s not just about pure speed.’

A bit hot after all that? Take a dip at the pool. Our elegant Victorian gem might have had generations of local school children ploughing up and down in the water, but the idea of achieving three lengths in under 47seconds (the world record set by Brazil’s Cesar Cielo) is something else. However if you want to try, speed is something that Kentish Town swim coach Stephen Baker knows all about. He first swam in Camden, joining Swiss Cottage in 1966 – not for competition at all. ‘Ironically, my father, an amateur boxer, got me in to swimming as we were rather a poor family and had no bath. He thought this good way not to get hurt and get a regular wash.’ Practical, eh?

But since then, Stephen has competed and won medals up to national standard, and in water polo, coached and managed in international competition, participating in World, Commonwealth and European level events as well as winning national championships around 20 times. Having been Head Coach at three clubs in London, he’s back in Camden, coaching in Kentish Town for the last two years.

What’s Stephen looking for over the next month? ‘The best events in my view are the medley swims where leads change depending on stroke and each swimmer will have a speciality. The men’s medleys with Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Cseh will be possibly the best events of the swimming games.

‘The British men are up against stiff opposition but swimmers such as Liam Tancock in the 50m Backstroke and James Goddard in the Medley are worth a watch.’

‘British women are more likely to fare well in the medal stakes. Everyone knows Rebecca Adlington of course, who is on course to become one of Britain’s all-time best swimmers. But also watch out for Jo Jackson, Gemma Spofforth, Keri Anne Payne and Fran Halsall.’

Although the ideal swimmer needs to be long, thin, and have ‘massive dedication and a degree of madness’, Stephen insists that ‘anyone can do it, irrespective of age, size. The oldest person I have taught to swim was 67. He was not a well man and wanted to learn to swim before so that he could swim over a coral reef before he died. He was successful at both these ambitions. My latest big success at Kentish Town was getting Zoe Fry through her stunt woman swimming test. Look out for her in the latest Bond film.’

So whether you want to win the Tour de France like Kilburn’s Wiggo, or y’know, just meet Daniel Craig, then the sporting mecca that is Kentish Town is a good place to start.

And for spectators, the pubs will of course have a fine choice of non-sponsored food and drink to help you with the arm-chair analysis.

Want to be an Oympian? Follow these useful sporty links
To be coached by Stephen you can book on sportscourses.org (Tuesdays 7-9.30pm) or contact him on sbaker50@btinternet.com. If you like a square ring, then the world famous St Pancras Boxing Club is based near Talacre Gardens. Want to run? Highgate Harriers are based at Parliament Hill Running Track. Jump around? Become a pushy parent by sending your kids to the nationally renowned Camden Gymnastics Club.

Words & Pics: Tim Sowula

Why It Matters is published in association with Discount Insurance, whose big boss guy is a regular down Kentish Town sports centre.

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About Kentishtowner

The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.