The Big Read

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25 years ago to the day on September 24 - was annulled in the wake of his positive drug test, and whose gold medal was revoked.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."

Why it could ultimately be more than one sport that makes it onto 2020 Olympic sports programme

By David Owen

David OwenThe three-cornered contest to get onto the sports programme for the 2020 Summer Games could be seen as both the most, and the least, predictable of next month's three big Olympic races.

Like me, few people I have discussed the September 8 vote with, and who have no links to any of the candidates, can quite bring themselves to believe that the Movement truly would jettison the historical Olympic sport of wrestling and consign it to possible oblivion, at least as a globalised activity outside the realm of showbiz.

To that extent, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board's surprise decision in February to drop wrestling from the list of core sports might be interpreted as hard cheese on its remaining rivals, baseball-softball and squash.

The week in which Nanjing showed it is perfectly poised for 2014

By Nick Butler in Nanjing

Nick Butler"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."
Confucius (551-479 BC)

Such is the significance here of this ancient philosopher whose teachings have reverberated through the ages, it seems somewhat appropriate to start some reflections on Nanjing with a Confucian proverb.

His message about physical experience being the best form of learning is indeed as relevant today as ever before and bears dual relevance on this year's Asian Youth Games. This is due both to its purpose as a test event to "do" and "understand" ahead of next summer's Youth Olympic Games and through its role to provide "understanding" for a budding athlete in an ongoing journey of learning.

President Putin's sporting project is resting ultimately on athletes shining brightly

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckIt seemed odd to be holding an opening ceremony at the end of the first day of competition here at the 2013 World Championships – but perhaps President Vladimir Putin was busy earlier.

He certainly appeared to have things on his mind as he stood listening, with increasingly barely concealed impatience, to the very long speeches of the sporting dignitaries around him before the celebrations concluded with fireworks which burst and flared over the already sumptuously lit centre of Moscow.

For Russia, and Putin, these World Athletics Championships are one in a sequence of similarly annexed sporting gatherings including the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and Formula One racing.

The making of the first million-pound cross-country course

By David Owen

David Owen head and shouldersI am sitting in an Oxford hotel with Sue Benson, designer of the spectacular London 2012 equestrian cross-country course in historic Greenwich Park.

It is 51 weeks to the minute since Zara Phillips charged around the daunting 5,728-metre circuit on High Kingdom, en route to the clear round that thrilled more than 50,000 spectators and inspired the home team, who went on to take the silver medals in the three-day eventing competition, behind Germany.

Yet the emotion in Benson's voice as she discusses the day to which she devoted six years of her life is still raw; it was May 2013 before she felt able to consign the newspaper cuttings and other items that make up her personal record of the experience to a series of scrapbooks.

Wrestling seeks Olympic salvation with pilgrimage to place it all started – in 708BC

By David Owen in Olympia

David Owen head and shouldersIt is a fantasy moment for true believers in Olympic legacy.

Amid ancient columns, as the call of a million cicadas fills the air, young wrestlers go through their moves in red and blue one-piece outfits.

The venue – the palaistra at Olympia in Greece – is perhaps 2,300 years old.
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