The Big Read

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.

England Netball targets Glasgow 2014 - and the girly market

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckAs the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow loom on the horizon, England's netball team appear better placed than ever before to challenge the traditional dominance of the perennial - all right, quadrennial - world champions. Namely New Zealand or Australia, who have passed the trophy above England's straining grasp since the World Championships began in 1963.

Since that first event, in Eastbourne, only one other nation has featured on the winning step of the podium - although when Trinidad and Tobago earned that honour in 1979 they had to share that top step with - yes, New Zealand and Australia.

The sister acts keeping Britain's athletics and rowing teams at the top

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckBritain's athletics and rowing teams, two of the highest profile achievers at the London 2012 Games, will feature sister acts next weekend which promise further Olympic glories.

UK Athletics has selected 20-year-old Victoria Ohuruogu for the European Team Championships at Gateshead in the 400 metres relay squad, where she will join her big sister Christine, who at 29 has a medal collection which includes Olympic gold and silver, world gold and Commonwealth gold.

And in the Rowing World Cup at Eton Dorney – the first international action on the Olympic course since the Games – 25-year-old Monica Relph and her younger sister Pam, who won Paralympic gold last summer, are named together in an international team for the first time.

How pneumonia gave former rower Giles a new sense of ambition

mikepoloneckKate Giles' dad owns a bakery. This may explain certain things, as the founder of the award-winning British sports brand Crewroom acknowledged while assessing her company's involvement in the fabric of some of this country's top sporting events.

"I have always understood about getting ingredients right," she told insidethegames. "And never throwing anything away." It's a working definition of sustainability, which is central to the success of her burgeoning business.

Why sparks could fly as fencing plots an evolutionary path to renewal in federation's centenary year

By David Owen

David Owen ITGFew sports are as deeply rooted in Olympic history as fencing.

Not only is it one of only a handful to have featured at every Summer Games of the modern era. It provided Greece, home of the Ancient Olympics, with its very first modern-era gold medal. The fencing programme at the inaugural modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 - staged in the marble rotunda of the Zappeion - even included the first Olympic event to be contested by professional athletes.

Boston Marathon bombings prove some events cannot ever be 100 per cent secure

By David Owen

David Owen ITGThe Boston bombings, which killed three people and injured over 260 near the finish-line of the world's oldest annual marathon on April 15, provided a sobering reminder of the vulnerability of big sports events to terror attacks.

One of the most unsettling aspects as details of the atrocity emerged was its apparent lack of sophistication, with the carnage understood to have been caused by two improvised explosive devices or pressure-cooker bombs.

A month on from the attack, what can be said about the likely repercussions for organisers of similar mass participation and sporting events? And, with sluggish economic growth putting public finances under severe strain in many countries, can anything be done to mitigate the cost and uncertainties associated with trying to maintain security at high-profile sporting occasions?

Tale of two continents as Poul-Erik Høyer unveils his vision for badminton

By James Crook

James Crook head and shouldersBadminton is a sport which uniquely has its roots in two continents. Its beginnings can be traced to mid-18th century in India, where it was created by British military officers stationed there.

The sport owes its name to Badminton House in Gloucestershire, owned by the Duke of Beaufort - although it is unclear why - and for most of its early existence it was a sport with its centre firmly in Europe.

When the International Badminton Federation - the forerunner to the current World Badminton Federation (BWF) - was formed in 1934 seven of the founding nations were from Europe. But the introduction of the sport onto the Olympic programme at Barcelona in 1992 has seen the sport's popularity in Asia explode.

Obstacle racing is all about doing things no sane person would want to do

mikepoloneckAmong the stalls in the booming main hall of the ExCeL Centre during Virgin London Marathon week was one espousing a rapidly growing variant of the increasingly popular sport of Making Life Brutally Difficult For Yourself – that is, obstacle racing.

You could imagine the banner over the Reebok Spartan Race stall reading: "Introduce yourself to a world of pain." Or perhaps: "Be bad to yourself. It will be worth it."

Obstacle racing is all about doing things no sane person would want to do – it is effectively a commando assault course, with all the accompanying mud, sweat and tears, with sadistic add-ons.
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