The Big Read

Funding crisis may halt Vanuatu women's beach volleyball player's Rio 2016 quest

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckMiller Elwin grew up on Mota Lava Island, one of the most northerly in the archipelago which forms the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. Her island had one truck and two telephones. When she was 17, Elwin, already an accomplished beach volleyball player, left her homeland for Vanuatu's capital of Port Vila in order to further her career.

It was the first stage of a journey which Elwin dearly hopes will conclude with an appearance at the Olympic Games - a journey which she is now making in partnership with Henriette Iatika, three years her senior, with whom she recently finished ninth in the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) World Championship. That journey, however, will come to an abrupt end next year if no extra sponsorship can be found, the team's head coach, Lauren McLeod, has told insidethegames, and her concerns have been echoed by Debbie Masauvakalo, President of Vanuatu Beach Volleyball.

In 2008, a year after they had started playing together, Elwin and Iatika won a historic gold at the Oceania Championships, beating the defending champions, Tahiti, in three sets. The Oceania women's title had always been shared previously between Australia, New Zealand or Tahiti. It was also the first time that Vanuatu had won an Oceania title in any sport.

Steele tempered by experience as he combines EIS and Youth Sports Trust roles

mikepoloneckIn the summer of 2010, as John Steele - named last month as chair of the English Institute of Sport (EIS) while retaining his role as chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust - prepared to leave UK Sport to take up his exciting new role as the Rugby Football Union's (RFU) chief executive, the message board for followers of Northampton, his old club, debated the merits of his appointment.

One particularly acid response suggested that it would be only a matter of time before Steele found himself a nice, comfortable berth on the gravy train among the other "blazers", adding defiantly that, if he wished to offer a different signal he should take an immediate 30 per cent pay cut.

The rejoinder from another Northampton follower was immediate, and courteous.

The 1981 Baden-Baden Congress and how it spawned a rich Olympic leadership legacy

By David Owen

David OwenWhen Thomas Bach, the new International Olympic Committee (IOC) President, bumps into Sebastian Coe, he sometimes greets him jokingly as "Shakespeare". And when the British Olympic Association (BOA) chairman returns the greeting, he will often refer to his old friend as "the professor".

The derivation of the joke dates back more than three decades, to 1981 to be precise, when the two men were at the heart of what, in retrospect, can be described as a veritable Olympic revolution.

The unlikely setting for this event was the tranquil German town of Baden-Baden with, as one contemporary chronicler put it, "its spa waters and gentle parkland paths for the retired".

Faulkner recalls British hockey's finest hour at the 1988 Seoul Olympics

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckThis year marks the 25th anniversary of the British men's victory in the Seoul Olympic hockey tournament, and the players who achieved that historic result will gather again tonight at Midlands hotel to recall and reminisce. Among them will be David Faulkner, left back on that glorious day in Korea, now director of sport at Millfield School having stepped down from his role as performance director for hockey, a role he filled from 2005 until the end of the London 2012 Games, where Britain's men finished fourth and the women won bronze.

By the time he retired from playing, Faulkner, now 50, had won 225 caps for England and Great Britain. He is looking forward to his latest get-together with the Boys of 88.

Twenty five years on, Peter Elliott says his Seoul Olympics silver was his greatest achievement – but it took 12 years to believe it

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckIt tells you everything you need to know about Peter Elliott that the greatest disappointment of his sporting life was neither failing to earn selection for the 1984 Olympic 1500 metres despite having beaten eventual winner Seb Coe at the trials, nor missing out on gold at the Seoul Games four years later- and 25 years to the day on October 1 - behind Kenya's 21-year-old unknown Peter Rono, although that was a savage and enduring source of hurt.

No. The biggest disappointment for a man who hung up his spikes in possession of Olympic and world silver as well as Commonwealth gold and bronze came in 1990, when he was unfit to run a race on his local track in Rotherham.

A trip down memory lane with Valeriy Borzov

By David Owen

David Owen ITGThe lithe physique and matinee-idol good looks are long gone. But those bright blue eyes still hold the attention. They soften around the edges as I coax the man who was once the greatest sprinter in the world on a spellbinding and frequently startling excursion down memory lane.

Today, Valeriy Borzov is a 63-year-old, navy blue-blazered member of the most powerful club in world sport: the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and a former Minister and politician in his native Ukraine.

Four decades ago, however, he was the most potent weapon in the extensive "soft power" armoury at the disposal of the mighty Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Ben Johnson returning to Seoul with a newfound conviction: Don't dope

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike RowbottomThis week a former sprinter will step onto the track which helped propel him to the sporting height of becoming Olympic 100 metres champion - a position from which he fell, all the way down to earth, shortly afterwards. We are talking, naturally, of Ben Johnson, whose astonishing world record of 9.79sec at the 1988 Seoul Games - set in the Jamsil Olympic Stadium 25 years ago to the day on September 24 - was annulled in the wake of his positive drug test, and whose gold medal was revoked.

A quarter of a century on, an older and, it seems, wiser man will return to the scene of the electric activity which remains his ambivalent signature. For this 51-year-old product of Jamaica, and resident of Canada, the return to South Korea will mark the end of a form of pilgrimage which has already taken him to the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Japan, under the banner of a new anti-doping initiative.

Volleyball, flowers and bockwurst: 72 hours in the life of a new IOC President

By David Owen

David OwenAfter you. Oh no, after you.

It is a comedy routine as old as the hills, but it afflicts all of us every once in a while. And on Wednesday (September 11) evening, as they prepared to leave Buenos Aires, it afflicted the eighth and ninth Presidents of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"You must go first, you are the current President," said Jacques Rogge, or words to that effect.

"Ah, but you have seniority," replied Thomas Bach.

Fond farewell to the IOC President who put athletes back at the centre of the Games

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckAs Jacques Rogge steps away from the position as President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which he has held since 2001, there is a certain irony in the circumstances.

In 1894, two years before the first of the modern Olympics took place in Athens, the man credited with their instigation, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was still struggling to kindle public enthusiasm for the idea. He raised the topic once again at the Congress of the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques, at which the bulk of debate centred upon what constituted amateur sport, with one of the key topics being that of betting.

In March 2011 Rogge addressed the very same question, describing reports of illegal betting within sumo wrestling as "another frightening example", and adding: "There have been documented cases of cheating and match-fixing in sumo wrestling in Japan. There has been recently a very visible case in cricket. There is no safe haven in the world where nothing happens."
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