The Big Read

How weightlifting is helping North Korea break down barriers

By Brian Oliver

Brian OliverWhen the sport finished it was party time in Almaty, host city for the 2014 International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships that concluded on November 16. The grand ballroom at the Royal Tulip hotel was the venue for the end-of-event banquet, a lavish affair that featured singing, dancing, traditional music, awards presentations and a feast of Kazakh food.

The expensive wine flowed freely, nowhere more than on the Chinese delegation's tables. Athletes, coaches and officials, most of them dressed in the team's vivid western-style leisurewear, repeatedly toasted each other and were clearly there to enjoy themselves.

When the compere asked for six male volunteers from the audience to enter a dancing competition, China sent forward one of their team. He had all the moves and did himself and his country proud.

Qatar's double date with athletics destiny this week in the Principality of Monaco

By Mike Rowbottom

mike rowbottom still with the poloneck ©insidethegamesThis week in Monaco, Qatar is seeking two major coups in the world of athletics. On Tuesday, the Qatari capital of Doha will learn if it has been successful at the second time of asking for the right to host the International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF) World Championships.

And three days later, high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim will hope to become the first Qatari winner of the IAAF's Men's World Athlete of the Year award. There is the possibility of victory in both cases - but by no means the certainty.

In November 2011, the bid group which had sought the 2017 World Championships for Doha returned from the IAAF's headquarters downcast, having lost 16-10 in a vote to a London bid headed by Sebastian Coe.

From running star to champion for peace, the story of Tegla Loroupe

By Paul Osborne

Paul OsborneTegla Loroupe is a real life role model. From her exploits on the road to her incredible humanitarian work off it, the Kenyan is a true ambassador to her country, her sport and mankind as a whole.

Born in Kapsait village, the Lelan division of West Pokot District, Kenya, Loroupe grew up with 24 siblings. She spent her childhood working fields, tending cattle and looking after younger brothers and sisters.

It was at the age of seven, when Loroupe began attending school, that her running prowess became immediately apparent. Attending school meant a 10 kilometres run for the young Kenyan, both there and back - a run she would complete barefoot.

After making Glasgow smiles better, Grevemberg prepares for his new role

Paul OsborneThe Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games was, undoubtedly, the best edition in the event's history stretching back to 1930, when Hamilton, Canada, welcomed just 400 athletes to its shores for the inaugural British Empire Games.

The event has come a long way since these early days, from surviving the Second World War to eventually settling on the name "Commonwealth Games" in 1978, again in Canada, although this time Edmonton, a candidate city for the 2022 edition of the Games.

The 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, saw the sporting programme grow from 10 to 15 sports as team sports were allowed for the first time. Participation also reached new levels as over 3,500 athletes represented 70 teams at the event.

"You have to know what Sestriere is" says British director Stephen Frears on making new Lance Armstrong film

By David Owen

David Owen ©ITGThe most penetrating insights do not always come from the mouths of specialists.

It doesn't take long once Stephen Frears has settled into his seat and ordered a citron pressé before the well-known British film director says something that has me looking at the sports business in a slightly new light.

"The William Morris agency earlier this year bought IMG," he says, deploying a resonant, actorly voice to make himself heard above the hubbub of a crowded Monte Carlo café.

"So William Morris know that sportsmen are now bigger than film stars."

Azerbaijan's ambitions flying high as first European Games gain traction and direction

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike Rowbottom ©ITGThe pole bearing the Azerbaijan flag, set at the shoreline of a city known as the Pearl of the Caspian, is a testament to a young nation's high ambition. When it was constructed, this pole - at 162 metres - was the tallest in the world (a distinction now claimed by neighbouring Tajhikistan which duly installed a version that is three metres higher). Its flag is the size of a football pitch.

This expansive symbol of a country which celebrated 23 years of independence from the Soviet Union yesterday (October 18) stands just along the seafront from a huge construction site that, come June next year, will host key elements of the inaugural European Games.

Since committing Baku as host of that new venture in December 2012, President Ilham Aliyev and his wife Mehriban Aliyeva, chair of the Baku 2015 Operation Committees, have overseen a drive to do in 30 months what host cities normally require seven years to complete.

Fifty years on from the 1964 Olympics, Tokyo recalls the buzz of it all - and begins to anticipate another for the Games of 2020

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike Rowbottom ©insidethegamesThere was a palpable sense of excitement and energy within the chandeliered halls and corridors of the Palace Hotel in Tokyo on Friday (October 10). Stern, watchful men in dark suits, heeding instructions arriving via electronic earpieces, testified to the fact that some very important people had gathered for a unique moment of celebration within Japanese sport, as the nation both reflected upon the 50th anniversary of the Tokyo 1964 Games, and outlined its aspirations for the Olympics which the city will host again in 2020.

One of several exhibitions in the city of memorabilia from those first Asian Olympic Games is located just inside the entrance to the Marunouchimoru building near to the gardens of the Imperial Palace. Among items including a red Japanese team blazer, a panelled leather football, the kind of lighter one used to require to start gas cookers (just in case the torch required some persuasion on its journey, presumably) and banks of fading programmes, one of the prize exhibits is a replica of the cauldron that held the Olympic flame during that fortnight of competition in October 1964.

The death a month before these Anniversary celebrations of Yoshinori Sakai, who lit that Olympic cauldron on October 10, robbed this occasion of a guest of honour. His passing was widely mourned in Japan.

Standing the test of time - Sportel 25 editions on

By David Owen

David Owen ©insidethegames.bizIn 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa and Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The Cold War over, Germany was reunited. Mobile phones were just starting to get smaller and become more widespread, but the World Wide Web, as a paradigm-shifting, transformational force, was still a few years away. Satellite television company Sky and rival BSB agreed to merge as BSkyB; it was another two years before the breakaway English Premier League was formed and Sky signed its landmark £304 million ($485 million/€388 million) deal for live coverage.

Nineteen Ninety was also the year when 64 participants, including Juan Antonio Samaranch, the late former International Olympic Committee (IOC) President, and 82 companies from 19 countries assembled in Monaco for the very first Sportel conference.

It all seems like so long ago. That inaugural event was attended by two athletes celebrated then, but whom most of us today would struggle to place. Jean-Charles Trouabal and Bruno Marie-Rose were half of the French 4x100 metres relay squad who had recently broken the world record - a feat achieved in Split, which, in another sign of the times, was then still in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Sir Philip Craven, President of the International Paralympic Committee, sets out three key challenges for next 25 years

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike Rowbottom ©insidethegamesBefore being elected for a fourth and final term as President of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) - which celebrated its silver anniversary last Monday (September 22) - Sir Philip Craven faced an initially surprising challenge in the form of fellow Briton Alan Dickson, who was nominated by the Cerebral Palsy International Sports and Recreation Association (CPISRA).

Speaking to insidethegames shortly before the vote in Athens on November 24 last year, Sir Philip commented: "I have a rival. The surprise is no longer there. That's fine. There will be a fight, and as a fairly tough ex-wheelchair basketball player I am more than ready for that."

Sir Philip, now 64, won that particular fight hands down by 127 votes to 20.  This native of Bolton, Lancashire had demonstrated his "fairly tough" qualities very clearly at the age of 16 when he overcame the trauma of losing the use of his legs after a rock climbing accident.
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