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Martin Gillingham: On the remarkable progress that South African sport has made in recent years

altBy Martin Gillingham - 20 May 2009


Just half of the Lions squad have played a Test match in South Africa while only two of them know what it feels like to have won one. Of Ian McGeechan’s original 34-man selection, three have already fallen by the wayside – two to injury and the other suspended. And there’s still another weekend of domestic stuff with the finals of the Heineken and Challenge Cups coming up when a couple more key figures could be lost.


All in all, the omens are not good for those rooting for a repeat of the 1997 triumph.

Back then, an inspired selection also avoided the tricky mission of having to go to altitude to win the series. The first two Tests were at the coast – in Cape Town and then Durban – and the Lions won both of them.

This time around, the hosts have got wise and ensured that the only venue likely to replicate typical European conditions has been removed from the schedule, meaning two of the three Tests are on the Highveld.

There’s no Newlands Test in 2009 – admittedly, there is a financial angle to that decision as much as a playing one – to be replaced by Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria which is an archetypal South African venue: hard pitch, hostile Afrikaans-dominated crowd, and at almost 6,000-foot altitude.

In short, the 2009 Lions know they’ll have to win the first Test in the heat and humidity of Durban to stand any chance of claiming the series. Even the fiercest Lions optimist would rule out the prospect of winning back-to-back in Pretoria and Johannesburg .

The success of South African sport is something of a minor miracle. With the exception of the national football team, the feckless Bafana Bafana, sport in the republic continues to thrive despite all the challenges that face a country in transition.

Less than two decades ago, South Africa was on the verge of civil war while, even now 15 years after the country’s first democratic election, the government faces the overwhelming challenges of mass unemployment, a largely uneducated population, rampant crime and AIDS. Up to 20 per cent of South Africans are HIV positive.

When you’re supping a glass of sauvignon blanc in the Constantia valley you may be forgiven for thinking that such problems are a million miles away. But, believe me, South African rugby doesn’t go unaffected.

The Rand ’s weakness as well as ongoing uncertainty about the country’s future play a huge role in the fact that 228 South African professionals are currently contracted to clubs outside the country. Back here, Martin Johnson moans about losing half-a-dozen Englishmen to the French league.

In the 24 hours since I first started penning this blog, English clubs have announced the signing of two recent Springboks - Schalk Brits to Saracens and Brian Mujati who will be playing next season for Northampton . And Heyneke Meyer, the former Leicester coach who returned to South Africa before Christmas, told me before he left that many more will follow.

Yet South Africa, the country that appears to be haemorrhaging talent, is still capable of producing a national rugby team good enough to be world champions and put more than 40 points past England at Twickenham.

The Springboks battered Martin Johnson’s men in November. And they did so against the background of typical disquiet and uncertainty at home. The Springbok emblem is perpetually under threat with the country’s politicians forever taking swipes at the white minority’s once national game with undertones of racism barely beneath the surface. All this in spite of the fact South Africa ’s rugby team is at last genuinely racially representative of the country it represents.

References to ethnicity may make some of you uncomfortable. Yet in the South African context they are relevant and important. They serve to illustrate just how significant the country’s rugby and social achievements have been.

In 1992, South Africa ’s rugby players returned to the international stage with a Test match against the old enemy New Zealand in Johannesburg . There was not a single black man in the Springbok team and few in the public enclosures other than those selling cool drinks and boerewors rolls.

Just 17 years later, black South Africans are fully represented on and off the field and, though some ANC politicians may differ, the once symbol of white sporting supremacy, the Springbok, is now worn with pride by black players.

altI recently bought a book called Playing the Enemy which was on the shortlist for the 2008 Sports Book of the year award. It is written by John Carlin and tells the tale of how South Africa ’s journey to their 1995 Rugby World Cup triumph had been a central tool in Nelson Mandela’s vision of building the Rainbow Nation.

Back then, the Springboks had just one black representative – Chester Williams. At one point in the 42-6 defeat of England in November there were more black players on the field in green ‘n gold jereys than white ones.

That is a remark able achievement; comparable with any in modern day sport.


Martin Gillingham represented Great Britain in the 1984 Olympic Games and 1987 World Championships at the 400 metres hurdles. Since retiring from the track he spent 12 years in South Africa where he was a radio talk show presenter and writer for a Sunday newspaper. He returned to the UK in 2003 and can now be heard commentating on athletics for Eurosport as well as rugby for Sky Sports, ITV and Setanta.

Adrian Hill: Kiwis keep black on the sporting map


By Adrian Hill - 14 May 2009

As I travelled around the beautiful country of New Zealand recently, I was struck by how sport unites its cosmopolitan society. The nation’s remoteness, in a way, is its strength – a “them against us” syndrome combined with the innate warrior instinct derived from the large Maori and Polynesian population.



Across the spectrum Kiwis punch above their weight...Three Olympic gold  medals came their way in Beijing via the traditional strengths in rowing and sailing, and the shot putter with Anglo-Tongan heritage - Valerie Vili. New Zealand teams are Rugby League world champions, Commonwealth gold and world silver medallists in netball and regular cricket World Cup semi-finalists.



One sport, though, above all captivates the Kiwis – Rugby Union – and the consistent failure to win the Webb Ellis Trophy is a source of national angst that everyone is desperate for the All Blacks to put right on home soil in 2011. Images of the team are everywhere, they are Gods in the eyes of most of their compatriots, but the sporting psyche that exists in the “Shaky Isles” permeates through to success in any field.


Vili says: “New Zealand sport is dominated by rugby and rugby players, but when I won the Commonwealth Games in 2006 I noticed that I suddenly had a national profile, and that just got bigger when I won Gold at the 2007 Worlds and 2008 Olympic Games. You’re public property, but that’s ok – you have to get on with it. I’m aware of it, but I don’t have a choice. People like to talk to me and I’m fine with that.


“I have no choice but to be a role model for youngsters from a similar background to myself. I feel honoured to be considered as an achiever and hope others can follow me.”

Vili, although not enamoured with the financial support she receives and, as reported on this website, refusing to rule out switching horses to Team GB, plans to defend her title in 2012. New Zealand Olympic team manager Dave Currie believes his charges (with Vili or not) could achieve great things: “We look at 2012 as being a `Home Games` for us. There are so many New Zealanders based in London, so we will get great support, there are no extreme weather concerns, and we know the environment and the culture there.


“We are strong in rowing, triathlon and sailing, we have excellent programmes in both swimming and hockey, and track and field is on the up. It’s the heart and soul of the Games, so it was nice to see black vests doing well in Beijing, recalling the feats of Murray Halberg, Peter Snell and John Walker.


“We have no targets, our only concern is to make sure the New Zealand Olympic team is competitive.”


Currie, who now also carries out a similar role for New Zealand Cricket, was Chef de Mission in Beijing, a spectacle he calls a `moment in time` Games. “The grandeur and scale will never be seen again. The venues blew your mind. We won three gold medals from a population of just four million people and sent 283 athletes – the 16th or 17th largest team. We can continue to excel.”


Before 2012, New Zealand is gearing up to host its own “Olympics” – the 2011 Rugby World Cup. It’s the largest event the country has ever hosted and tournament organiser Martin Snedden says the national mood is one of excitement, not fear.


“I guess it’s the sense of a national occasion and our historical interest in rugby. It’s the biggest thing on the horizon, has been given the highest priority by the Government and, in my experience, it just has such a `cut through` with our people.


“They are all interested, with the cricket (World Cup) some would be interested but probably more wouldn’t. It’s gone another step - rugby plus an `event`.”


The passion is undoubted, but many observers believe New Zealand were fortunate to be awarded the tournament. There are major logistical challenges and there’s a feeling that it lacks the commercial drive and intuition of larger economies. The Kiwis missed out on hosting part of the 2003 RWC when the failure of local sponsors to agree to “stand aside” for tournament backers at the venues forced the International Rugby Board to strip the country of co-host status alongside Australia. The Aussies made a huge success of the tournament and the tourism dollars flooded in... watched enviously from across the Tasman.


“What happened then has made our job a bit easier this time,” claims Snedden. “Our people knew the IRB (International Rugby Board) were serious on this issue, while in 2002 they thought it was 'optional' and that we could call their bluff – well, we called their bluff and lost.”


There is evidence of infrastructure being built in readiness for 2011, and hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on stadia renovation projects in Auckland and Christchurch. While cruise ships will be used to house some of the 70,000 expected visitors. It’s a big deal for a small country.


But can the All Blacks win the prize craved by their nation above all others? It’s staggering that a team which has largely dominated international rugby for the last 20 years has not claimed the World Cup since the inaugural event in 1987.

Rugby Sevens is one of the sports bidding to be accepted into the Olympics in 2016 and, should it be successful, it would surely provide a boost for the Kiwi medal count. Steve Tew, chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Union, is an enthusiastic supporter of the concept, enhanced by the recent staging in the Gulf of the Rugby World Cup Sevens, at which key members of the International Olympic Committee were present.


Tew says: “I think the presentation of both the men’s and women’s competitions in Dubai was fantastic. To see Kenyans, Zambians, Ugandans and Brazilians competing was very encouraging. Undoubtedly, being an Olympic sport would be enormously important for rugby, but it’s a two-way relationship.


“We would fill the stadium in the first week for a few days when it would be normally empty and generate considerable revenue. The Commonwealth Games in Melbourne was a very good example - it would be a win-win situation. We have something to offer - the time is right.”


Yes, the time may be right for rugby at the Olympics, and how the Kiwis would love that...

Adrian Hill has recently gone freelance, having covered sport for both the BBC and Sky Sports for almost 20 years. He also contributes to various newspapers and magazines, and is currently writing a book on rugby union history – Rugby On This Day.


We could without Britain trying to steal our Olympic gold
medallists. Hands off!
By Angry NZ Olympic fan

25 May 2009 at 12:43pm

Duncan Mackay: Great times but does it matter?


By Duncan Mackay - 9 May 2009

I have just landed back at Heathrow Airport after six weeks of travelling during which I have flown approximately 32,932 miles, visited four of the world's greatest cities, interviewed Presidents and Prime Ministers, met the greatest sportsman in the world and been told by British Airways that I was about to crash into the sea.



Yes, following the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Evaluation Commission as they visited the four cities that are bidding to follow London and host the 2016 Games has certainly been an adventure that I will never forget.



For the Evaluation Commission their work is far from finished. They still have to travel to the Olympic headquarters in Lausanne in the next two week to complete their work in which they will analyse the technical aspects of each of the four bids from Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid to be published on September 2, a month before the IOC Session will gather in Copenhagen to pick the winning city.


Nawal El Moutawakel, the impressive chair of the Evaluation Commission, claimed in Madrid on Friday that they were the "eyes and ears" of the IOC.


The Moroccan, the 1984 Olympic 400 metres hurdles champion and now her country's Sports Minister, said: "Our report is very important.


"The IOC members will rely on....our report."




I'm not so sure.


First, a quick bit of history. The Evaluation Commission assumed great importance after the IOC members were banned from visiting the host cities following the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics bribery scandal that blew up in 1998 when it was proved that some members had accepted kick-backs in the form of business contracts, medical treatments and special privileges for members of their families.


The idea was that if the members could not visit the cities bidding for the Games then they could not be bribed and bring the Olympic Movement into disrepute. The theory was that they would sit down and study the Evaluation Commission's report before casting their vote, which would be for the city that offered the best technical bid.


altSounds logical, doesn't it?


Except that history has proven that the Evaluation Commission's hard work [and they do work hard, believe me, despite what you might read on other blogs about them travelling business class and staying in the best hotels] is usually wasted. You only have to look at the last two cities chosen to host the Games to realise that. London was certainly not the best technical bid to host the 2012 Olympics but still won. That Evaluation Commission was also, interestingly, led by El Moutawakel (pictured). Sochi scored ever poorer in the Evaluation Commission's report for the 2014 Winter Olympics but swept to victory on the back of Vladimir Putin's high-profile support.


I do not think I have ever spoken to an IOC member yet who has studied the report of the Evaluation Commission fully. Most continue to make their decisions on the "what is in it for me" theory. I'm not for a moment suggesting that bribery and corruption still goes on. But each IOC member has their own individual interests and will vote accordingly.


An example. Lamine Diack, the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), is a man whose character is beyond reproach. But he is on the IOC to basically serve the interests of his sport. So, faced with the choice four years ago of who to vote for to host the 2012 Olympics, he pushed his button for London. His rationale was simple: Paris already has a state-of-an-art athletics stadium in the shape of the Stade de France and by voting for London he hoped he would see another new venue built in one of the world's great capitals capable of staging his sport's major flagship events. There is nothing wrong with that - he was basically looking after his constituents.


Or sometimes members vote on a purely selfish nationlist basis. Take the race to host 2016. Tokyo, most people would agree, offers a superb technical bid that combines vision with the promise of cutting-edge technology. But it is going to be difficult for them to get support in Copenhagen from the four members from China and South Korea. The reason is that both countries hope to launch bids to host the 2018 Winter Olympics and having the Games in Japan in 2016 will pretty much scupper that. Again, there is nothing really wrong with that, as a Winter Games in China or South Korea will potentially be worth billions of dollars to them if they are chosen.


My colleague Alan Abrahamson at Universal Sports has kindly suggested in a blog he wrote earlier this week that I and Ed Hula, from aroundtherings, should be given a vote as, along with the Evaluation Commission, we were among the few people in the world to have travelled to all four cities and seen what they each have to offer.


I'm not sure about that but the process does need to be revamped in time for 2011 when another IOC Evaluation Commission begins travelling the world at huge expense to analyse the bids for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Each 2016 city visited by the Evaluation Commission tried to outdo the other - Chicago had Oprah Winfrey, Tokyo staged a brilliant light show each night, Rio wheeled out Pele and Madrid had the King and Queen hosting a lunch.


But, as El Moutawakel tried to keep emphasising [without much success, admittedly], this was a "technical report" and that emotion would play no part in it. That is all very noble but, as anyone who lives in the real world knows, detaching emotion from such an important decision as to who will host the next Olympic Games is impossible. Perhaps the IOC shouldn't even try.


Duncan Mackay is the publisher and editor of insidethegames.com. He was the 2004 British Sports Journalist of the Year and was the athletics correspondent of The Guardian for 11 years, being the only British daily newspaper writer to correctly predict in 2005 that London's Olympic bid would be successful.


Duncan, great article. I am wondering how many people in decision
making positions would read it and take lessons from it. I agree
fully with your comments about the need to revamp the voting
system and the reasoning behind it. No need to repeat any of your
arguments or to support them, the spirit is there for whoever
would like to read and understand. I am wondering if the IOC
Members will hate me for suggesting that the National Olympic
Committees should have a large role in voting a city in to host
the Games. After all aren't these NOCs the biggest stakefholder
in any Games? they bring the athletes, don't they? I wonder what
everyone thinks? Wouldn't such a topic deserve to be discussed at
Copenhagen? I also wonder...

10 May 2009 at 05:27am

The whole evaluation thing has got totally out of control,
millions is being spent on seven members who produce a report
that their colleagues do not read. Geo-politics and what suits
each individual member is still what drives the Olympic voting
process. It is time to come up with a better system - why doesn't
the IOC follow the FIFA model and let its Executive Board vote?
By Olympic cynic

21 May 2009 at 17:47pm

Martin Gillingham: Sports greatest chokers


By Martin Gillingham - 8 May 2009

Rugby hadn’t seen anything like it for 25 years since its last football-style, penalty shoot-out. The prize? A place in the final of the Heineken Cup – the Champions League of rugby.


I’m talking about Sunday’s semi-final between Cardiff and Leicester at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff. The tie finished 26-all after 80 minutes with an additional 20 minutes failing to break the deadlock.


So it went to penalty kicks where, as in football, the headline grabber was the man who missed.

Martyn Williams was the villain, the man whose nerve gave way, the man who ultimately cost Cardiff a place in the May 23 final. Yet Williams, a British Lion and one of the world’s greatest players, is someone known for delivering when it matters most. It was evidence, if it were required, that greatness is no guarantee of immunity when the pressure gauge is going off the dial.

So which others have been guilty of sport’s greatest chokes? Here, in no particular order, are six to mull over. Please feel free to pass comment or offer a few of your own below.

After months of hype ‘n hysteria, the phoney war was over and an England cricketer finally had the chance to show that our Ashes triumph of 2005 hadn’t been a fluke. Ahead of the 2006/7 series in Australia there had been doubts about our team. Key players were struggling for form, the inspirational captain was missing, and the main strike bowler was known to be of vulnerable temperament.


Desperate to counter claims in a parochial press that this was the worst England team to have ever toured Australia, Steve Harmison was tossed the ball by his new captain Andrew Flintoff and told to get the first Test underway at the Gabba with a high-speed, whistler around Justin Langer’s left lughole. Harmison wound up, steamed in, and duly sent it innocuously wide of Langer’s off stump and straight into Flintoff’s hands at second slip.

In the same way the par three competition and champion’s dinner have become part of the traditional pre-amble to the Masters at Augusta, so the opening of a letter bearing a Florida postmark and signed by Scott Hoch informing the Royal and Ancient committee that he wouldn’t be flying over to play in the Open Championship the following week, became a perennial ritual throughout the 1980s and 90s.


altHoch (pictured), every inch an American, hates links golf and once described the Old Course as “the worst piece of mess I’ve ever played”. Hoch, to be fair, is a very fine golfer and in 1989 was involved in a sudden death play-off for the Masters title with Nick Faldo. At the first extra hole, the 10th, Hoch had a two-foot putt to win. And missed. Half-an-hour later Faldo was slipping into his first Green Jacket and the sobriquet “Hoch the choke” was coined.

The grainy black ‘n white TV pictures, a big heavy leather ball, and those clogs they used to wear, offer a comical angle to memories of the climax of the 1968 Challenge Cup final at Wembley. But they were no laughing matter for Don Fox. Leeds were leading 11-10 but Fox, with the last kick of the game, had a conversion from right in front of the posts to win it for Wakefield Trinity.


Instead of going through what should have been the formality of bisecting the posts, the ball sliced off the side of Fox’s right toecap and wide. Fox sunk to his knees while the not-so-mellifluous tones of Eddie Waring comforted him and us with the words, “He’s a poor lad”. A further attempt to console Fox came in the form of the Lance Todd Trophy for the man-of-the-match, but friends say it is an experience from which Fox, who died last year, never fully recovered.

Gordon Smith’s miss at the end of the 1983 FA Cup final when Brighton were drawing 2-2 with Manchester United is so celebrated that it gave a Brighton fanzine the title “And Smith Must Score”. But, let’s be honest, football’s biggest chokes involve the penalty spot. And where those are concerned look no further than any number of candidates over the past couple of decades who were wearing the three Lions at the time.


In fact, try googling “England lose on penalties” and if you do I bet you’ll come up with a search that runs in excess of 500. And one name will feature more prominently on that search than any other – Stuart Pearce. In Turin in 1990, it was the Nottingham Forest defender’s miss from 12 yards that cost England a place in the World Cup final after it had finished England 1 West Germany 1 after extra-time in the semi-final.

Jana Novotna choked twice in the space of a few minutes on Wimbledon’s Centre Court during the 1993 women’s singles final. Firstly, when leading Steffi Graf 4-1 and 40-30 up she served a double fault and duly imploded, losing the match in less than 10 minutes. Then at the prize-giving, a hapless Duchess of Kent tried to console her with a few words, “Don't worry, Jana, you'll be back next year” which left the young Czech blubbing for the rest of the night.

Sebastian Coe might seem an odd choice. After all, his position in the pantheon of Olympic greats is assured by his back-to-back Olympic 1500 metres triumphs. Fiercely competitive and deeply cerebral, he was in many respects the perfect athlete. Yet even he experienced failure, a mental lapse that could have come to define the career of a lesser man.


Victory in the 1980 Olympic 800 metres final in Moscow had seemed to be Coe’s destiny. He was the best half-miler the world had ever seen and was in the shape of his life. But he lost; not so much because of the brilliance of his great rival, Steve Ovett, but rather because of his own tactical ineptitude. “If you ever wanted to show somebody how to make every mistake in an 800 metres, just tell them to watch this,” he once said.

Martin Gillingham represented Great Britain in the 1984 Olympic Games and 1987 World Championships at the 400 metres hurdles. Since retiring from the track he spent 12 years in South Africa where he was a radio talk show presenter and writer for a Sunday newspaper. He returned to the UK in 2003 and can now be heard commentating on athletics for Eurosport as well as rugby for Sky Sports, ITV and Setanta.


How about David Bedford at the 1972 Olympics in Munich when he
advised Britain "to get in the beers, put your feet up and watch
me win the gold medal"? In the end he was blown away by Lasse
Viren and was nowhere to be seen.
By Olympic fan

21 May 2009 at 16:09pm

Roald Bradstock: Al Oerter - My inspiration, his legacy


By Roald Bradstock - 7 May 2009

Al Oerter winning 4 consecutive gold medals in the discus is a legendary accomplishment. Each time he competed he was never favourite to win and yet he rose up, overcoming adversity, to win again and again.  He was a true competitor - the modern day discobolus - a modern day legend whose name and achievements have become synonymous with the modern Olympics



Oerter's last Olympic competition was in Mexico City in 1968 - over 40 years ago - but his Olympic journey did not end there. It continued off the field until the day he died on October 1, 2007.
It was a privilege to know Al and become part of his last Olympic journey. His vision, passion, drive and legacy lives on today - continued now by his family, his friends and neighbours and a small handful of Olympians artists.
Al Oerter, the gentle giant, the Olympic icon, the legend was also an abstract painter - he was an artist!  His last Olympic journey was the formation of a Olympic organisation called "Art of the Olympians" (AOTO).
Al saw the strong link between sport, art and the Olympics. His vision was to bring together Olympian artists from around the world, from different sports and from different generations to exhibit their artwork and spread the Olympic ideas and values through accompanying educational programmes.
Al's vision embraced Barron Pierre De Coubertin's original idea and vision for the modern day Olympics - combining sport, culture and education to carry the Olympic message around the globe.  Interestingly, Baron De Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics was also a athlete and a artist.
I became involved with AOTO in the autumn of 2005 after I met Al Oerter for the first time at the USA Track and Field Coaches convention. I was sitting in the hotel lobby with several hundred other coaches and athletes when suddenly there was a collective gasp followed by a subdued excited buzz.
Al Oerter and his wife Cathy had arrived.
To my astonishment they walked up to me.  I was stunned.  I had never met Al before. Cathy and Al introduced themselves and asked if I would join his newly formed organization. I did not hesitate -and so I became one of the founding members of the "Art of the Olympians" (AOTO).
altSix months later we had our very first exhibition in Fort Myers, Florida with 14 Olympian artists represented.  It was a wonderful but very surreal experience. My artwork was in a exhibition hanging on the wall between Al Oerter's large abstract acyclic paintings and Bob Beamon's graphic drawings. And on the opposite wall there were two large oil paintings by Florence Griffith-Joyner.  I couldn't help but be in awe and be humbled in the presence of such Olympic superstars and their artwork.
I remember looking around the gallery and thinking surely there has to be a connection here between the artistic pursuits and the athletic accomplishments of these 14 Olympians?  Or was it a coincidence - a simple statical probability that there will be some artists amongst all the Olympic athletes in the world or was there something more to it. I also calculated that the 14 Olympians artists represented in this exhibition had an impressive collective haul of 24 Olympic medals and 28 World records between them. Could artistic talent and artistic ideas be the secret ingredient in these athletes Olympic careers?
I was so excited and inspired being in this first AOTO exhibition. Despite all the members of the Art of the Olympians being from different generations, competing in different sports and creating different artwork from a variety of mediums their was an incredible synergy and energy within the group. Most of us had never met before but we all felt connected through our Olympic experience and our through our art - we were family - an Olympic artistic family.
We all took lots of photographs and videos from the opening reception in the gallery to the student workshops in the classrooms over three days. But I wanted to do something more to capture the feeling and excitement I had, something different.  And being an artist that meant creating a piece of art.  But what could I create?  What could I do that would be different and capture the feeling I had - the inspiration I felt.  Then it came to me - it needed to be a collaborative piece with a fellow Olympian artist and who better than my long time inspiration and fellow Olympian artist then Al Oerter himself.
altSo I nervously asked Al to pose for me, to be my model for my next work: a piece called "Discobolus 2006". He very graciously let me take photos of him standing in the famous Discobolus of Myron pose. As he stood in his foyer I moved around him - paying homage - and took dozens of photographs from every angle. 
One of these photographs I then used as a base to create a unique paper collage of Al Oerter which also included his signature which he was kind enough to give me. I would have to say this is without doubt my most valuable possession - a collaboration of two fellow Olympian artists working together and the fact that he was my childhood idol and became a good friend, well lets just say it doesn't get any better then that.
Since the first exhibition three years ago we have had shows at the National Arts Club, the New York Athletic Club, the United Nations and most recently in Beijing last year. The AOTO was even featured on the American national CBS morning show with Mike Smith.  
There are more exhibitions in the planning stages and more Olympian Artists are joining the group.  But the priority right now is on having a permanent home for the AOTO. 
Al Oerter's daughter, Gabrilee Oerter, has moved to Fort Myers and is now working full time along with Al's widow and many others from his home town to see that  Al's dream becomes a permanent long term legacy. He was an inspiration as an athlete and as a artist for me and many others. His friends and family and his community are working together to see that his vision and his dream  become a permanent reality and fixture in Fort Myers and also a integral part of the cultural Olympiad in the future.
Within the next year the official Art of the Olympians World headquarters and International museum will open its doors. It will be a bitter sweet day with Al not being there in person but it will be a joyous one:  The realizations of a lifes dream - his dream - and creating a legacy - his legacy: The "Art of the Olympians".                     
Roald Bradstock, who was born in Hertfordshire, represented Britain in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics in the javelin. He now lives in the United States and has increasingly concentrated on his art. In 2000 he won the United States Olympic Committee Sport Art Competition and then exhibited at the International Olympic Museum in Lausanne.  In 2003 he won the prestigious "International Sports Artist of the Year Award".  He is a founding member of the Olympic revival movement called "Art of the Olympians".  His artwork had been seen on ABC, NBC, CBS and been exhibited form the United Nations to Times Square.  In the last few years he has been dubbed the "Olympic Picasso" for his visionary ideas on how to combine sport and art with the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012. To view his work visit www.roaldbradstock.com.



If you are interested in listening to an audio interview with Al
where he discusses his career and his art passion (as well as
AOTO), go to http://athleticscoaching.ca/?pid=1&spid=81&sspid=115
and scroll down. I did the interview with Al a few months before
his passing and it is hands down my favorite we have done on the
site. I was quite nervous for it I must admit. He was the reason
I first became involved in the sport.
By D. Evely

19 May 2009 at 02:44am

Martin Gillingham: On Britain's East German doping link

  altBy Martin Gillingham - 29 April 2009

A prominent International Olympic Committee official claimed last week that former East German coaches deserve a second chance.


It is now two decades since the Berlin Wall was dismantled and the truth about the East Germans’ sporting regime was exposed. At the heart of the DDR’s Olympic success was a regime of performance-enhancing drugs with almost 10,000 athletes being subjected to a doping programme that ran throughout the 1970s and ‘80s.


According to Thomas Bach, vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, the time has now come to extend the hand of reconciliation to coaches from the old East Germany. But it’s an offer that comes with conditions - an admission of involvement, an apology, and evidence of a clean doping past since German reunification.

It’s an offer that seems entirely reasonable. Yet, not surprisingly, it splits opinion in the once divided nation. Earlier this month, five leading East German coaches apologised for their past though the gesture was dismissed as “superficial” by Klaus Zoellig who heads up the Doping Victims Aid group.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that the side-effects of those drugs have caused illness, disability and even death. Understandably, some are not yet ready to forgive.

One organisation you shouldn’t expect to pass judgment on the morality of forgiving former East German coaches and welcoming them back into the fold is the British Olympic Association (BOA).

That’s because the BOA did it 18 years ago when, without any apparent concern for the ethical question, they rolled out the red carpet to Jurgen Grobler.

With Grobler a key figure in East German rowing, the now defunct communist state won 45 Olympic medals, 31 of them gold. A former colleague once described Grobler as having been within the “inner circle” of the East German sporting programme.

Yet no sooner had the Wall been ripped down than Grobler was scuttling across the North Sea and into a privileged new life in the UK where he got straight to work with the Amateur Rowing Association in Henley. No debates there about whether it was right and proper that an East German coach should be so swiftly forgiven for the sins of his very recent past.

altAccording to an interview broadcast on the BBC’s Newsnight programme 11 years ago, Grobler said he did not want to talk about his past. “I have to live with what went on in East Germany,” he claimed. “I was born in the wrong place. It was not possible to walk away.”

Grobler admitted during the interview that he had “difficulties” with the thought of the former rowers who had health problems but added: “No one was pushed. They always had the choice to walk away.”

He denied being a Stasi member but admitted giving them occasional snippets of information.

Were we to adopt Mr Bach’s criteria for candidacy for forgiveness, Grobler ticks no more than one of three boxes. As yet there has been neither a confession nor apology.

Since Grobler’s arrival in the Home Counties he has coached the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent to a hatful of Olympic golds. And though there is, of course, no suggestion that drugs formed any part of their regime that is hardly the point. What is, though, is the speed with which not only British rowing but also two of our greatest Olympians embraced him.


According to the BBC’s 1998 investigation, the Amateur Rowing Association’s then president Martin Brandon Bravo admitted that the issue of drugs and the former East Germany was never raised in their discussions with Grobler prior to him being offered a job. Sir Steve has even boasted that he was part of the panel that appointed him. So trusted is Grobler by Pinsent that he’s godfather to one of his kids.

The only conclusion is that along with our posturing and pomposity where fair play is concerned, we are so abundant in forgiveness that we’d make St Francis of Assisi look like a scallywag.

In 2004, the BOA gave Grobler a lifetime achievement award (note the ‘lifetime’ bit – no effort there to differentiate between his work in the GDR and here in the UK) while the Olympics minister Tessa Jowell has even bestowed upon him an honorary OBE.

Meanwhile back in 1998, Sir Steve said this of his former mentor: “I’ve known Jurgen for the seven years he’s coached me and if there was any involvement (in drugs) it would be the system and not the man himself to blame.”

You could hardly make it up could you?


Martin Gillingham represented Great Britain in the 1984 Olympic Games and 1987 World Championships at the 400 metres hurdles. Since retiring from the track he spent 12 years in South Africa where he was a radio talk show presenter and writer for a Sunday newspaper. He returned to the UK in 2003 and can now be heard commentating on athletics for Eurosport as well as rugby for Sky Sports, ITV and Setanta.



Well done Martin for pointing out that the British were prepared
to give a home to Herr Grobler, a man as involved as any other
East German coach in what want on. Sometimes I am staggered by
the hyprocisy of the British over drugs.
By Abused German

21 May 2009 at 02:10am

John Bicourt: Do Kenyan and Ethiopian runners have a genetic advantage?

John BicourtClearly, Ethiopians, Kenyans (and perhaps Kalenjin tribe in particular because they predominate) have a natural propensity towards running. But whether this can be attributed solely to a specific genetic advantage, is questionable.

What seems to often be implied is that non Africans can train as hard as they possible can (assuming that it is also the most effective training) but they can never achieve the same level as an athlete from the Kenya or Ethiopia, who currently hold all the distance records (except the 1500 metres) from 800m to the marathon, because they do not have the same genetic make-up!

Rather than a suggested specific genetic advantage it is more likely a combination of ideal running environment, socio-economic background, diet and economic motivation. No Kenyan or Ethiopian world-class athlete to my knowledge has come from a middle-class, born and raised city background where life opportunities are considerably different.

Ethiopian and Kenyan runners grow up in poor agricultural communities. They live at altitude. They walk and run almost everywhere they need to go. As children they invariably have to walk or run to and from school sometimes as much as 10 kilometres away.

Sport in school is limited to basic ball games, basic gymnastics and running due to the lack of facilities and equipment. Their diet is mainly home grown, basic and natural. Those that show high enough athletic ability in their last school years are offered the opportunity to join and train with the athletics teams of Government bodies such as the Post Office, the Armed Forces, Railways or Prison Services and provided with keep and a salary.

Today with the success and substantial financial rewards seen of so many of their compatriots others are motivated and inspired to try and follow suit.

Training camps have been set up and financed by top athletes and their agents with support from running shoe companies  to attract new talent of which there is a large pool where only those with the ability and the talent to train to the limit of human potential will survive and succeed, which is simply why they are so good.

For talented non Africans to succeed at the same level it takes a committed mind set, the right environment and the same level of training rather than some specific African gene. Paula Radcliffe and a few others non-Africans prove the case.

John Bicourt represented Britain at the 3,000 metres steeplechase in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics before becoming a successful coach and agent


I agree.  There's no magic gene.  It's environmental.
By Mark Boen

29 April 2009 at 16:58pm
Meseret Defar grew up in Addis Ababa; she never lived in the
By Geoff Smith

29 April 2009 at 17:06pm
 John Bicourt, and many so-called experts don't touch one major
factor in track and field: speed!  If coaches could actually make
the athletes faster their times would reflect that.
Ralph Mann, the Las Vegas bimechanics guru, lectured in a recent
clinic that if a 10-flat sprinter could improve each step in the
100m by .01 of a second (45 steps) that sprinter would break
Usain Bolt's world record.
But, how would coaches improve speed?  Coaches design workouts to
improve endurance but not speed.  They mainly attempt to make the
athlete slow down less in the critical zone which is the last
quarter of a race - whatever distance.
Alberto Salazar has the backing of mighty Nike and its
innovations, and he still has made only modest gains.
Everybody talks about the Kenyans and Ethiopians growing up
walking and running everywhere; well, walking and running long
and slow gets athletes nowhere.  If the rest of the world really
wants to beat the East Africans the key has to be speed
Not high altitude training, not computerized anything, not PEDs,
not running 200 miles per week, not two-a-day workouts, not
eating chicken nuggets, etc.  To imrove speed athletes have to
start with figuring out how to run faster each step starting with
the first one.
And, just maybe, before we start with talking about making an
athlete run faster we need to figure out how to measure an
athlete's speed on a regular workout as opposed to time.  A stop
watch can not measure speed!
And, maybe, some obscure inventor already has all that figured
By Sol Wroclawsky

29 April 2009 at 18:19pm
Up until 1967, the superior runners, especially down under in New
Zealand and wherever the quality of coaching was excellent, the
African running community was virtually non-existent. When Arthur
Lydiard brought his marathon training methods to East Africa from
New Zealand, all of that changed. The Mexico Olympic games
brought the first wave and at every subsequent Summer games until
Beijing their excellence in training, diet, and environment have
helped them stay that way. Watch things shift now as Western
runners return to their 1960's and 1950's dominance due to
environmental and coaching enhancements.
By name

29 April 2009 at 19:30pm
Sol is wrong. It isn't speed per se in the distance events, as in
point of fact, many if not most European athletes generally have
faster PR's over 400 meters (and shorter) than E. Africans. This
has been noted countless times in studies. What you have are
populations in E. Africa that have a fairly high percentage (in
comparison with other groups) of people with the genetic make-up
to excel in middle and long distance running. And a high number
of these people give this sport their full attention as a way to
make some money. In the West, in fact in most areas of the world,
very small groups of people from other populations give these
events this kind of attention and focus. There are simply too
many other sports and activities. So, yes there are Europeans or
Americans or others who probably have as much potential to run at
the very top of the world level, but they either aren't involved
in the sport at all (most likely) or don't have the necessary
desire to put in the type of training top level success requires
because it just "isn't worth it" to them. Of course, the effect
of the press which seems to take some glee in running down
certain people and over-blowing the talents and the
accomplishments of others can't be ignored.
By Jimbo

29 April 2009 at 19:44pm
 This is an old debate; is it nature (genes) or is it nurture
(environment).  The answer is its both and we should be
interested in finding out about the right mix.
No one argues that the ability to read and write are the result
of genetic factors or environental factors alone.  Almost all
humans have the capacity to do both (that's genetic) yet in some
parts of the world only half of all adults can do both (that's
environment).  So to read and write you need both.  When it comes
to being a 1 in 10,000,000 phenom in running is it so
unreasonable to think that both very special genes and a very
special environment are critical?  Is it unreasonable to think
that small groups of people who's ancesstors have lived in
relative isolation for many generations are more likely to have
the right genes to have a unique set of genes to make them fast
distance runners? I think the answer to both of these questions
is no.  Although it makes the world a more complicated place, we
are not all created equal in every way.
By oldcolonial

29 April 2009 at 20:53pm
Since humans originated in the Ethiopia and Kenya area the people
there are probably closer to a founder population. Founder
populations have more genetic variability.  Statistically
speaking this would mean that Kenyans and Ethiopians would have
more people at both ends of the normal curve.  So instead of a
"genetic advantage" they would have a higher number of great
runners and a higher number of poor runners.  We never see the
poor runners, but the great ones are very evident. Obviously the
other environmental conditions help.  This also explains why
non-Kenyans and Ethiopians can perform at those levels, but the
number of people with those talents is few and far between.  The
real superiority of the Kenyans and Ethiopinas isn't that one or
two are faster, but that they have hundreds as good as a handful
of Europeans.
By davidr

30 April 2009 at 00:19am
 This is a very well behaved website, isn't it. All these messages
and not one has accused John Bicourt of being a racist. Miracles
do happen.
By Astonished

30 April 2009 at 00:52am
 Strange, after reading the above article, I didn't notice any
racial undertones.  Are you fishing for something?
By Mark Boen

30 April 2009 at 02:23am
 To Mark - no, exactly the opposite. I'm saying that it is good to
be able to have this kind of debate without it descending into
accusations of racial sterotyping. I am impressed. Sorry if you
were offended.
By Astonished

30 April 2009 at 13:28pm
I tend to agree with Davidr, and his comments about genetic
variability. Of course environment is also important; in fact, it
folds into one's physiology and genetics at some point. This
Bicourt argument is balderdash as a distance-running success
explanation: "Ethiopian and Kenyan runners grow up in poor
agricultural communities. They live at altitude. They walk and
run almost everywhere they need to go." What about Peruvians and
the rest of the world's people who grow up at 7000 feet, don't
own cars, and must walk-run everywhere? Why aren't they also
winning gold medals in the Olympic distance events?
By Peru

3 May 2009 at 20:50pm
There is one more observation that I believe also argues in favor
of nurture.  If the genetics were the sole factor, presumably
countries all along the Rift Valley would be equally represented.
 But in fact, they are not.  Aside from Tadese (Eritrea) and
Ramaala (South Africa), you don't see nearly the representation
from countries like Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  In
fact, it seems like the countries have to be poor, but not too
poor, and also have somewhat stable governments.

Also, anyone have any ideas as to what happened to Mexican distance prowess?  In the mid-90s, there was Silva, Vera, Espinosa, and even Barrios, but since the new millenium, I haven't heard of a world class Mexican marathoner. I would be interested if anyone had any theories about this.
By Serendipitous

4 May 2009 at 17:31pm
Mr. Bicourt raises a very interesting point that I have
personally been struggling with for a while.

I am a Kenyan and was born close to the very area where a lot of world class distance runners come from. We moved to the city (Nairobi) when I was 2 yrs old,  I am an ‘average runner’ and despite all my efforts in high school and college, I was never able to ascend to levels of running performance of some of my relatives. 
By Kenyan

4 May 2009 at 21:24pm
The mexican community no longer is prominent in distance running
because the boarder patrol has increased their efforts. The
mexicans are now better swimmers than runners and look to field a
pretty dominant team in the next summer olympics. ;)
By Funny

Mara Yamauchi: If I keep improving I can win a medal at London 2012

After running through the streets of London today in the Flora London Marathon with a million spectators I now know how fantastic it will be when it stages the Olympics in 2012.

It's still three years away so still a bit of time away but running It will be absolutely amazing. Today I heard people calling out, "She's one of us!" and some of the pubs along the route were calling out, "She's British - give her a cheer!" That was great. Just to be here running here in 2012 would be brilliant.

Their support today was fantastic. There were people all round the course shouting, "Go Mara". There were a few "Marias", "Marys" and "Morias" as well. I hope a few more recognise me now.

I felt really good in the first half today. The last four or five miles were quite tough but I felt pretty good up to that point.

I felt here I am leading the race with the defending champion but I don't care, I'm not scared of doing that kind of thing, which I would have been two years ago. I think the knowledge that I have improved over the last year or so and the experience of knowing that the more you race the more you realise that these people up on a pedestal aren't unbeatable. I beat all the Olympic medallists from Beijing today so that will give me confidence for the next time out.

I haven't thought as far ahead as the World Championships in Berlin yet. I think the race there will be a very fast. If people are running 2 hours 20min or 2hours 21min then 2:23 isn't fast enough. I'm nearly there and I think I can challenge for a medal.

Championship races are very different. They can produce very unexpected results. They are usually so open and it is not normally the fastest person on paper who wins.

I was ninth in the World Championships in Osaka in 2007 and sixth in the Olympics in Beijing last year. If I jump up in threes again then I will get a medal in Berlin!

But I think I disappointed a lot of people in Beijing because I was so close to the medals but didn't get one. This time I was so close to winning but didn't. I think I still have a long to improve in race tactics.

I only really took up serious marathon running when I was 30 so I still have room for improvement. I don't think my training has been that ideal for the marathon so I definitely have the scope to get better. I have just taken two minutes off my best. If I can keep that going for another few years it would be great.

I have definitely benefitted from being raised in Kenya and now living in Japan. I was born in Oxford but brought up until the age of eight in Kenya at altitude. Then I lived in the UK before I moved to Japan, where I'm in a Japanese team and live in Tokyo.

Japan is where I can make a living as a marathon runner. It has a great marathon scene and lots of really good races. At the moment we are going to stay there, although I will keep coming back. I was quite anonymous but am beginning to get recognised more since Beijing.

Mara Yamauchi finished second in the Flora London Marathon today in a personal best of 2 hours 23min 12sec, 61 seconds behind the winner, Irina Mikitenko, of Germany. Yamauchi, 35, was born in Oxford, raised in Kenya and now lives in Tokyo.  

Duncan Mackay: Are Clegg and Keane the perfect combination?

  altOn the face of it, the new marriage between Simon Clegg, the former chief executive of the British Olympic Association who has this week taken on the same role at Championship football club Ipswich Town, and Roy Keane, the notoriously volcanic former Manchester United and Ireland player who has been hired as the Suffolk club's new manager, appears an extremely odd one.

But, as I have been arguing to my colleagues, over the past couple of days, it could actually be a match made in heaven.

The most notorious incident in Keane's career that was littered with wonderful moments - remember how he single-handily inspired Manchester United from two-down at Juventus in 1999 to carry the Premiership club into the final of the Champions League when he knew he would already miss the match because of suspension? - as well as plenty of red cards occurred at the World Cup in Japan in 2002.

Keane was sent home by Ireland's manager Mick McCarthy, who as a player he had already publicly ridiculed, after a dispute involving how well prepared the team were for the biggest tournament in the world.

In Ireland, the "Saipan Incident" (as it came to be known) split the public right down the middle, with one half of the nation standing by Keane and the other half supporting McCarthy. It was even claimed by some to be the most dramatic ideological split the country had seen since the Irish Civil War.

It is an incident brilliantly retold in the book Laptop Dancing and the Nanny Goat Mambo: A Sports Writer's Year by Tom Humphries, the Irish Times journalist that Keane regularly confides in.

Simon 2520Clegg 1 2Now, you can accuse Clegg (pictured) of many things - indeed senior figures within the BOA have been only too happy to tell me of his short-comings, which is the reason that the chairman Colin Moynihan first demoted him last year and was then not too upset when he left in December - but the one thing that you could never accuse him of is being disorganised.

As befits a man who was once the youngest officer in the British Army, Clegg is meticulous when it comes to preparation.

Indeed, he always considered it a personal challenge at an Olympic Games to make sure that the British team had the best position in the Athletes' Village and were the best looked after.

Clegg also normally achieved his own personal gold medal by making sure the British team declaration was the first of the 205 to be delivered to the International Olympic Committee.

In short, Clegg is a brilliant organiser, certainly the best I have ever come across. I wish he was in charge of my life.

My only surprise about his appointment is that in the 20 years I have known him, Clegg has never once expressed an interest in football so Keane (pictured) is unlikely to respond well to him if he starts questioning him on the sport.

That, of course, is without the unique dynamic of Clegg having been formerly a member of the 7th Parachute Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery, which served in Northern Ireland during the troubles, while Keane is from Cork, a city nicknamed "The Rebel County" because of a reputation for rebelliousness stretching back to the 15th century when it was ruled by Britain.

Roy 2520KeaneOne football insider just told me that he would give the relationship between Clegg and Keane two months, especially as Keane is not known as a people person. "The thing about management is that it requires connection with fellow members of the human race, something in which Keane has never shown much interest," wrote Jim White in the Daily Telegraph today.

"It won't last long," White predicted of Keane's spell at Ipswich.

Now, I am clearly out-of-step here with everyone else. I think Clegg's achievements at the BOA have been vastly under-rated. He took over there as chief executive in 1997 a year after the team's embarrassing failure at the Atlanta Olympics when the only gold medal won was by rowers Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent. He left having overseen the most successful British team to leave these shores ever when they finished fourth overall in the medals table in Beijing last year, winning 47 medals, including 19 gold.

That would not have been achieved without the huge financial muscle of UK Sport, who have pumped hundreds of millions into sport, of that there is no doubt, but there is no question that Clegg played a large role in helping turn all those pounds into medals.

He is motivated by being so unceremoniously dumped by the BOA having played such a vital role in London being awarded the 2012 Olympics and leading Britain to those most successful Games for a century. Keane is determined to prove himself after his spell as manager at Sunderland ended with them nose-diving towards relegation from the Premiership. Two men desperate to prove themselves.

They may be the odd couple but, as I said earlier, they are a match made in heaven....

Duncan Mackay is the publisher and editor of insidethegames.com. He was the 2004 British Sports Journalist of the Year and was the athletics correspondent of The Guardian for 11 years.

Mike Rowbottom: How sport and education can complement each other

  altBy Mike Rowbottom - 23 April 2009

If you wanted a graphic example of how sport and education can complement each other, the pupils of Morpeth School in Bethnal Green offered one this week.



Set in motion by the "Ready-set-go!" of Olympic marathoner Liz Yelling – a former PE teacher entirely in her element – the group of 10-14 year-olds charged off in a sequence of short relays which saw them transfer cards bearing the details of a mathematical challenge into a central pile behind the start line.



Yelling, guest of honour at what was the official launch of the London Marathon’s Playing for Success (PfS) centre, needed no convincing about the effectiveness of the format on show, even if the fact that she was seven months’ pregnant militated against her natural inclination to join in.


Nor was it lost on her husband and fellow athlete Martin that the exercise was artfully arranged by centre manager Hugh Flannery to engage children in activity almost as a byproduct of what they were doing. "They’re all getting a natural recovery period," he said to his wife. "They probably don’t realise how hard they’re working."


Last year I saw children similarly engaged with sport in the PfS centre at West Ham United. Luis Boa Morte may not have been flavour of the month with the Upton Park faithful after two glaring misses in his most recent match, but his effect upon the 20 or so eager pupils of West Ham Church School was mesmeric as he arrived in their computer suite for a session of what was termed "mentoring".


While Boa Morte remains a spikey, even spiteful figure on the pitch, his persona away from the field is quiet and reflective to the point of shyness. And as he sat with his back to a slide screen while the children attempted to tell him what image it was showing without using the word itself, his face took on the look of a puzzled child.


The first clue – "It’s quite big" – hardly narrowed things down. "You use it to do things," offered another pupil. Still not crystal clear. But the third clue – "it helps you think" – proved sufficient for Boa Morte to twig that he had a big picture of a brain behind him.


While the Portuguese star spent perhaps an hour with the pupils, you could see that his visit would live for a far longer time in their memories.


This week Yelling was having a similar effect upon the children from Morpeth and Manorfield schools. As 10-year-old Billy Lee-Ives searched the web in the newly built computer suite to complete a questionnaire on the woman who finished 26th in last year’s Beijing marathon despite cracking a rib in an early fall, the question of who was his favourite runner prompted a careful response.


"She is," he said, pointing above his head to the signed poster of Kelly Holmes. "And Liz Yelling," he added loyally.


There are 162 PfS centres in the UK, all aiming to stimulate literacy, numeracy and IT skills through sports from football to rugby to ballet to crown bowls.


The problem for the children of Tower Hamlets, however, was the fact that there was no obvious club or stadium with which to attach such a centre. At which point the lateral thinking of Clair Hawkins, Joint Head of Children’s Services at Tower Hamlets, came up with an elegant solution: as a good proportion of the London Marathon is run through the Borough, why not attach it to a world renowned event?


While the initial application caused the Marathon’s chief executive Nick Bitel a moment or two of puzzlement, he soon saw its inspired logic. There followed an offer to sponsor the centre for £26,000 a year over the next three years – a grand for every mile of the marathon.


And as he watched Yelling and the Tower Hamlets mayor Muhammed Abdullah Salique cut the ribbon stretched across the computer suite’s entrance, Bitel reflected upon the circumstance which enhanced his personal satisfaction at being able to help support the scheme.


"My father, Max, was born 200 yards away in that direction," Bitel said with a grin. "Bancroft Road."


Having seen Tower Hamlets succeed in wrapping a PfS centre around an event rather than a physical entity, Bitel is now anticipating other some of the other five Boroughs through which the Marathon runs to try their luck.


They will have to be patient, however. The next centre to be opened – on May 25, 150 yards away from the 2012 Olympic stadium – is the last of the current batch being proposed by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. For Cllr Hawkins it has been a marathon not a sprint – but reaching the finish has proved glorious indeed.


Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now freelancing and wrties regularly for insidethegames  

How nice to read something positive about Tower Hamlets for a
change. Well done Mike.
By Tower Hamlets resident

24 April 2009 at 17:18pm

Martin Gillingham: Does golf deserve a place in the Olympics when it discriminates against women?

altA group of would-be Olympian women ski jumpers are suing organisers of the Vancouver Winter Olympics because they believe they’re being discriminated against. Meanwhile, the debate rages on over why riders like Victoria Pendleton are unfairly treated because the women’s track cycling programme at the summer games doesn’t mirror quite so purely the men’s in the way it does at the sport’s World Championships.

Against this background no one can pretend that the issue of gender discrimination isn’t at the forefront of the minds of our Lords of the Rings.

Which brings me on to golf.
Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie and Tiger Woods are among 18 players to have sent letters supporting golf’s bid for inclusion in the 2016 Olympic programme.
The campaign is being organised by the International Golf Federation whose joint secretary, Peter Dawson, has described it as “imperative that the best players support our effort.”
As well as their letters, the players have also included a so-called dossier which boasts information on such things as the global popularity of the game – we are informed that 60 million people play golf in almost 120 countries.
Dawson’s dossier informing us why golf should be granted Olympic status runs to 32 pages. Now, in not many more than 320 words, I’ll tell you why unless the game addresses a fundamental iniquity it shouldn’t be.
Allow me first to lay bare my love of golf. I’ve played it for more than 30 years and, if pushed, will admit to enjoying it more than my other sporting passions, rugby and athletics.
I would also be something less than honest if I claimed I hadn’t before mumbled the odd profanity when stuck on the outward nine behind a women’s fourball which has no apparent inclination to speed up or wave me through. Those slow and ludicrously exaggerated practice swings. And not just one of them, but often two, before she eventually shuffles herself towards the ball, addresses it, pauses, pauses again, and then hits … not very far.
Getting stuck behind the ladies can be a painful experience. But no reasonable person would question their right to be there.
Unless, that is, you are a member of a men-only club. Places like the most prestigious club in my part of the world, the Notts Golf Club, which doesn’t admit women. If you’re female and you want to play at Hollinwell you have to join the Notts Ladies club which shares the links.
Further afield, what about Royal St George’s in Kent? It is one of the most famous of Open Championship venues yet is men-only and only allows women on the course as visitors and only then if they are accompanied by a club member (who is inevitably male). The course doesn’t even have ladies’ tee markers.
And then there’s the Augusta National with its apartheid history which fought tooth and nail for half-a-century to retain a whites-only membership. The club that runs the tournament that is regarded by many aficionados as the most prestigious of the four Majors eventually caved in 20 years ago and allowed its first black member to cross the threshold. In 2009, there are now a handful of black members at the home of the Masters.
But how many women are members at Augusta? The answer is none.
And what of the Royal & Ancient, the golf club of golf clubs, the governing body that sets all the rules, and which overlooks the Old Course at St Andrews? The home of golf is where Mary Queen of Scots once teed off. More than 500 years later, the R&A has yet to greet its first lady member.
If that’s an anomaly that irks the International Olympic Committee then all they have to do is contact Mr Dawson directly. His day job is running the R&A where he’s the chief executive.
Later this year, golf will learn if it has won its campaign to be introduced to the 2016 Olympic Games. 
Unless the game initiates fundamental change in the meantime, I can’t think of anything less appropriate.  
Martin Gillingham represented Great Britain in the 1984 Olympic Games and 1987 World Championships at the 400 metres hurdles. Since retiring from the track he spent 12 years in South Africa where he was a radio talk show presenter and writer for a Sunday newspaper. He returned to the UK in 2003 and can now be heard commentating on athletics for Eurosport as well as rugby for Sky Sports, ITV and Setanta.




Mike Rowbottom: Meets the world's most popular politician

  altBy Mike Rowbottom - 16 April 2009

It’s not every day you get to sit face-to-face with the most popular politician on earth.


Although I suppose Bo, the new canine arrival at the White House, might dispute that.


What am I thinking? Of course he wouldn’t. He’s just a dog.



That said, a dog with a blog. And a forthcoming book release…



But no. Bo couldn’t make that claim, because the statesman with whom he regularly communes, despite his soaring appeal with the American people, doesn’t believe he is the most popular politician on earth.


That distinction, Barack Obama maintained at the recent G20 summit, belongs to another president - Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva of Brazil. In front of whom I had the distinction of sitting the other week in a penthouse flat overlooking the anthill activity of London 2012’s emerging Olympic Park.


As President Lula prepared to address the gathering of Olympic scribes who had assembled to hear his views on London’s progress, and the prospects of Rio de Janeiro becoming hosts of the next summer Games hosts in 2016, there was a feeling of suspense that could not be entirely explained by the hour’s delay in the press conference beginning.


The President was flanked with top class Olympic team-mates - Eduardo Paes, mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Sergio Cabral, governor of the state of Rio, Sports Minister Orlando Silva and Carlos Arthur Nuzman, president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee.


It appeared to be a classic five-man Brazilian forward line. And there was no doubt about who was Pele.


Cabral, at inside left, picked the ball up from the kick off and produced some effective work in midfield with telling references to Brazil’s history of hosting major events – such as the World Cup finals of 1950 and, a little more recently, the Rolling Stones concert at Copacabana – before floating over a perfect pass in the form of a reference to Obama’s estimation of the man sitting on his right.


President Lula smiled bashfully down into his hands. He seemed about to speak.


But this was a Brazilian move, in which the ball had to switch fluently about the field before arriving at the feet of the main man. Rio’s Mayor took up the play from the inside right position, reminding those present that Brazil would be hosting the 2014 World Cup finals and that their economy, unlike some others he could mention, was growing…


Now, finally, it was time for the maestro to put his mark on the occasion.


altAs one of his fellow forwards had reminded us, President Lula was at the end of an exhausting tour of duty, having prefaced his attendance at London’s G20 leaders’ summit meeting with trips to Chile, Doha and Paris.


But the President still looked full of running, and after putting Brazil’s case for hosting the 2016 Games in terms geographical, historical, technological, developmental and economical he used question time to entertain the crowd with the juggling for which he has become beloved. Only very occasionally did the ball appear to run out of his control…


In reference to President Lula’s insistence the previous month that the current world economic crisis had been triggered by those who were "white and blue-eyed", a female questioner – who happened to be, as she freely owned, white and blue-eyed – asked him if he felt the International Olympic Committee was ready to recognise the shift in world economic power in their future choices of venue.


Gallantly, the President responded to his cue – "when you were asking your question I was looking at your blue eyes" –before developing the image: "Although you have blue eyes, you do not have the look of a banker. You don’t look like someone that has any responsibility for the financial crisis." Good so far, Mr President. "You look like someone who is a victim of the crisis."


Sensing by the disconcerted look of his questioner that the tone was in danger of failing at this point, the Brazilian leader switched adeptly to steadier ground as he maintained: "I question that there is any other country that has presented a better proposal than Brazil."


The game was back under firm control. But this centre forward could not resist displaying a little more extravagance as he defended Rio’s bid strategy.


"We are not going to present lies here," he said. "We are not going to use a magical wand, no tricks, no white elephants. We don’t need to provide any cosmetics for Brazil, because it is already too beautiful."


At which point, those present may have glanced down at the front cover of their Rio 2016 booklets, with its message – Live your Passion – set above a panoramic view of gently lapping sea, a long, sandy beach and the dense, blunt headland of Sugarloaf Mountain.


As an argument, it transcends words. The Brazilian ball may be heading for the net under its own power.


Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now freelancing and will be writing regularly for insidethegames  


You've got to love the old Rowbo - he's as splendid as a cuddly
By Dave Toadstool

22 April 2009 at 19:55pm

Martin Gillingham: On his favourite sporting memories

altBy Martin Gillingham - 15 April 2009

My grandfather’s been dead for more than 25 years but one of my abiding memories of the old boy is sitting in front of a crackling fire on a midwinter’s afternoon and being told how he, as a 19-year-old lad, had been at the 1923 FA Cup Final between Bolton and West Ham.


It was the infamous “White Horse Cup Final”; an occasion saved from postponement by the actions of a mounted policeman, PC George Scorey, and his mount Billy. Together, horse and rider shepherded hundreds of ticketless fans off the Wembley pitch just minutes after they’d spilled through the turnstiles and down the terracing. There were apparently 250,000 in the ground.


Now, after 40-odd years of my own, I’ve spent a morning cobbling together five of my own great sporting memories; recollections of events that I too am proud to have witnessed.

1) I was only 12 when I went to the fifth Test at the Oval between England and the West Indies. It was the summer of ’76 when hardly a drop of rain fell and the wide expanse of the Oval outfield was parched. The tourists were in their pomp; Fredericks, Greenidge, Rowe, Lloyd, King, Murray, Holder, Roberts, Daniel and the two men whose performances over the five days would be remembered as the greatest of their careers – Viv Richards and Michael Holding. Back in those days most of my days were spent running up ‘n down the pavilion stairs with an autograph book in-hand but at this Test match I spent rather more time looking on in awe as Richards batted for almost eight hours accumulating 291 runs in a first innings West Indies total of 687 for eight declared. Dennis Amiss made a double hundred for England over the third and fourth days but, even then, it was Holding who took the honours with eight wickets for 92. The West Indies then made 182 without loss in their second innings at a run a ball to set England an unlikely victory target of 435. But it appeared equally onerous for the tourists who went into the final day needing all 10 England wickets for victory. It was a lifeless pitch yet Holding (six for 57) helped skittle them out for 203, bowling with pace, accuracy and venom. The late Chris Balderstone lost his middle stump with his bat yet to complete the backlift. Awesome.

2) In July 1979, I begged my father to take me to The Open at Royal Lytham. We stayed in Preston and ate each night out of newspaper from the same fish ‘n chip. By day I witnessed the arrival of one of the game’s greatest champions. There has never been a more natural or flamboyant talent to grace the fairways than Seve Ballesteros. At Lytham he hit just a dozen fairways over four bitterly cold and blustery days. Yet it was enough to overpower the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson to win the first of his three titles. His closest pursuer on the final day was the former US Open champion Hales Irwin who dubbed Ballesteros the “car park champion” for his miraculous, if slightly lucky, escape at the short par four 16th. The Spaniard carved his drive away to the right of the fairway, over the thick rough, and into the sanctuary of the temporary car park where he was granted a free drop. He duly recovered to hit his wedge to the green and then rolled in the putt from 30 feet to effectively seal victory.

3) “Villa … and still Ricky Villa … what a fantastic run … he’s scored …amazing goal”. The words are Motty’s and, like the BBC’s voice of football, I too was at Wembley that Thursday night to witness one of the greatest goals ever scored in a cup final. It was May 1981 and the Falklands War was still 11 months away when the Argentine Ricky Villa danced and skipped his way around and through the Manchester City defence before slipping the ball beneath keeper Joe Corrigan to give Spurs victory in the cup final replay 3-2. The previous Saturday Villa had been in tears after being substituted in the 100th FA Cup final. But his manager Keith Burkinshaw had reinstated him for the replay.

alt4) Sebastian Coe’s victory in the 1500m final at the 1984 Olympic Games was truly memorable. As a team mate of Coe’s, albeit a fairly ordinary one, I had the luxury of a front row seat just behind the finish line. Throughout the week I had the privilege of trying out the track and atmosphere myself in a heat of the 400m hurdles before settling down to watch Carl Lewis win four gold medals; Daley Thompson take the decathlon title; and Mary Decker fall over Zola Budd’s feet.

5) One team, one nation, one drop goal. It was the story of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final when Madiba wore the No.6 jersey, Joel Stransky kicked the winner, and Francois Pienaar lifted the trophy. If ever a game has transcended sport this was the occasion. Sixteen months earlier South Africa had been teetering on the brink of civil war, now black and white were linking arms in the streets of Johannesburg and celebrating a national triumph. In my experience, no sporting victory has ever been so raw with emotion.


The last memory is just about my favourite. Perhaps you’d like to share one or two of yours?

Martin Gillingham represented Great Britain in the 1984 Olympic Games and 1987 World Championships at the 400 metres hurdles. Since retiring from the track he spent 12 years in South Africa where he was a radio talk show presenter and writer for a Sunday newspaper. He returned to the UK in 2003 and can now be heard commentating on athletics for Eurosport as well as rugby for Sky Sports, ITV and Setanta.



Mine has to be Cathy Freeman winning the Olympic 400m in Sydney
in 2000 before a crowd of 110,000. Geez, I felt proud to be an
Aussie that night.
By Rick, Melbourne

15 April 2009 at 07:14am

I am amazed, Martin. I was there at The Oval for all five days 33
years ago, and I well remember Balderstone trudging back, having
got a pair, a grown man in tears. I swear to this day he never
saw the ball that dismissed him.

Holding was majestic athleticism - "whispering death" indeed. As
a former 400m runner turned into the most graceful pace bowler
ever, makes you wonder what sort of speed another Jamaican, Usain
Bolt might bowl at.

That Test match was also notable for an athletic diving catch by
the present chairman of selectors - you'd be hard-pressed to
imagine Geoff Miller capable of such today.

Think you've got the wrong dropped goal, and the wrong rugby
World Cup final, by the way.

And as far as great middle distance races go, Ovett v Rono over 2
miles at Crystal Palace was awesome and Steve Cram's Dream Mile
in Oslo in 1985, when he beat Coe, Steve Scott, Abascal and
Maree, took the breath away. And yes, I was at both.

But the 1923 Cup Final was not "infamous". It is very famous.
Infamous means something else altogether - where did you do your
journalistic training???
By StevenD

21 April 2009 at 10:21am

Duncan Mackay: The Bulls British connection is turning sour

  altBy Duncan Mackay - 11 April 2009

Luol Deng may be the current pin-up boy of British basketball but that status is not exactly thrilling everyone. Last week, while covering the International Olympic Committee's Evaluation Commission visit to Chicago, I took the opportunity to watch the Bulls take on the New Jersey Nets at the United Center.


As the home team continued their surge towards the NBA Play-offs with a thrilling 103-94 victory, the only sighting of Deng was on the giant video screen taking part in a light-hearted karaoke contest.


The forward has been missing from action since February 28 with a stress fracture to his right tibia that looks likely to mean he will also miss the Play-offs, something which most fans who were among the crowd of 21,424 last week consider to be a poor return for the $71 million (£48 million) that the Bulls forked out last year to ensure that the stayed at the club on a six-year contract.

Compounding the situation is that many fans are increasingly beginning to believe that Deng, a Sudanese refugee raised in London, where he learnt to play basketball, is more committed to helping Britain make an impact at the 2012 Olympics in London than justifying his huge salary which would make even David Beckham look twice. The Bulls have made it clear that they want Deng to rest at the end of this campaign but he has made it even clearer than he intends to captain Britain's team at the European Championships, due to be held in Poland in September.


John Paxson, the Bulls' general manager, issued a terse "no comment" when asked recently what he thought about Deng being so keen to do his national service for Britain this summer.

altAt the heart of the issue is the NBA's desire to break into new markets, particularly Britain, using Deng as a bridge-head. It is a topic that Sam Smith, the doyen of Chicago Bulls writers, covered in a recent blog that appeared on the club's official website.

He wrote: "It’s one of the most troublesome and confusing issues that is quietly befuddling many NBA teams, and now the Bulls.

"How can you not let your players compete for their countries in international competitions? A major injury to a key player of your team - and generally only the best players compete for their countries - could cripple a team’s chances at a time when the player is being paid by his NBA team yet risking injury playing for some Government federation.

"Yet, so called 'globalization' in the NBA has become a priority and NBA Commissioner David Stern has urged all teams to allow their players to compete.

"Yet, what of a player like Deng, who might sit out for the rest of this season with a potential stress fracture, then recover and before joining the team again play for his adopted country, Great Britain, and perhaps again risk injury."

The situation has parallels with what is happening in English football where top managers, like Sir Alex Ferguson, are generally reluctant to let the players they are paying multi-million pound salaries to disappear to represent their countries. The form of Beckham and Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford almost certainly badly affected the next season by their rush to recover from injuries in time to play for England in the 2002 and 2006 World Cup tournaments respectively.


Beckham's relatively poor form in 2002-2003 arguably led to Sir Alex deciding to transfer him to Real Madrid against his will. There have been loud whispers that Deng could be traded to another NBA team next season, something that looks unlikely in the current economic climate as whoever took him on would have to pick up the remainder of his mega-contract. Anyway, the majority of Bulls fans wish him to stay.

Smith writes: "I'd like to see Deng rest and be ready for next season with the hope the team can make a major step forward."


With the Bulls against Deng playing for Britain this summer and Deng equally determined that he will, it appears that in this tug-of-war that there must be a loser. But surely both the Bulls and Britain will be praying that Deng does not end up aggravating the injury so badly that he suffers long-term problems. That would benefit neither party.


Duncan Mackay is the publisher and editor of insidethegames.com. He was the 2004 British Sports Journalist of the Year and was the athletics correspondent of The Guardian for 11 years.


Why should the Bulls pay Deng $71m so he can play for Britain?
It's not fair.
By Bulls fan

13 April 2009 at 15:28pm

I have been a Bulls fan since the days of his Royal Airness
Michael Jordan but I cannot agree with this comment. Luol has
done more to promote the sport in Britain than anyone else since
Saint Michael - the difference is that he was brought up in
london and the black kids can identify with him in the way they
never could RAMJ. The guy is an icon and you simply can't put a
price on that.
By Bulls fan UK

13 April 2009 at 20:38pm

Roald Bradstock: Art and the Olympics

altBy Roald Bradstock - 10 April 2009

As an artist and an athlete I find the recent discussion about the "The Cultural Olympiad" and its role in the Olympics very interesting. A journalist wrote in an article recently that "it" would "be a tiny side show" to the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012.



Unfortunately this is a point of view that many people may have, but what amuses me is that art and the arts is so intertwined with the Olympics that people cannot see it.


They are one and the same. Art and artistic ideas and concepts are all over the Olympics. Art has effected sports and the Olympics and vice versa. Art is the Olympics and the Olympics is ART!

When you look closely and think about it the connection between sport and the arts it becomes clearer. In fact, I would argue that one of the reasons the Olympics is so big is exactly because of the artistic and cultural aspect.

The most obvious connection is the opening and closing ceremonies: the dancing, the music, and the fireworks - it is a show, a carefully choreographed show – it is theatre.

Look at sports like synchronised swimming, rhythmic gymnastics and figure skating. Moving to music - isn't that dancing?

When you start looking behind the scenes and see how athletes train, perform and reach peak fitness to get to the Olympic and Paralympic stage you see the synergy between sport and the arts.

Have you ever seen the training programme of a world class athlete: the structure, the detail that goes into it and the planning - is it that different from a carefully written manuscript or musical score? They both follow rules and have structure from beginning to end. They both have balance, rhythm and flow.


Almost every elite athlete uses visual aids like video to get valuable feedback to learn and improve. They are filmed and then they look, observe, study the angles, the positions of the body and look at the overall form of the body in motion and the sequencing and timing of body parts as they move through space. It is interesting to note that it was an artist, a British photographer called Edwuard Muybridge, who revolutionised how we "see" a figure in motion back in the 19th century.


His photographic sequences of people and animals running, jumping and throwing changed the art world forever and also the sporting world. Modern day video software technology such as Dartfish is the modern day hi-tech version which is now used by 90 per cent of the Olympic sporting organisations in the United States alone.


Repetition is another strong link between the art world and the sporting world. The only way to improve is to practice, to repeat a movement, an exercise, a skill, over and over and over again. When you see an athlete crossing a finish line winning Olympic gold you see the end result just as when you look at a great masterpiece by Rembrandt. You just see the end result - perfection or almost perfection. But it took practice and repetition to get there - years and years of practice, repeating movements to improve skills.


Failure is yet another binding component of both the art world and the sporting world. To succeed you must fail and you must fail repeatedly. In my personal experience as an athlete and an artist I have learned to embrace failure. It seems to be a paradox, but it’s true. Think about it: to build strength you do more reps and lift heavier weight to the point of failure so you tear muscle down so it rebuilds stronger. In competition everyone has to lose, to fail sometime whether it’s just from having a bad day or getting injured.


In the art world mistakes used to be considered failure but in the last century mistakes and even accidents have become celebrated and even revered. Mistakes and errors are part of the process in both art and sport. It is human to be imperfect although Olympians and Paralympians are constantly trying to overcome and trying to reach - Perfection - the perfect "10" - something that has only been touched by a few.


You may think creativity plays little or no role in sports but just look at gymnastics and diving. Each Olympics the athletes are getting stronger, more athletic and more creative with their movements and their artistry.

altThe envelope is always being pushed; the bar is always being raised. One more great and "creative" and historic athlete of note is 1968 Olympic high jump champion Dick Fosbury who created a new style of jumping called, appropriately, "The Fosbury Flop". My definition of a great artist is someone who can make you think, challenges the norm and can influence those that follow. He, in my view, is also one of the great artists of the 20th century. He changed his event and affected all that followed through his athletic creativity.

Artists are known for being creative and having great imaginations. What about top athletes? Don't they visualise? Isn't that using their imagination?

Are you starting to get the "picture”?

And let’s not forget the role photography plays in capturing great Olympic and Paralympics moments in time. Catching key moments in time like the photo of Bob Beamon in mid flight when he smashed the world long jump record and won Olympic gold. Look at his face, his expression, the height, the surroundings - I think this photograph is an artistic masterpiece capturing an athletic masterpiece. No wonder it launched a young British photographer Tony Duffy’s career.

So if you can't make it to one of the official Cultural Olympiad events in or around 2012 don't worry it will come to you in some form. The stage may be a swimming pool or a running track and the actors may look like athletes but don't be fooled art and the influence of art will be all around what you are seeing.


Roald Bradstock, who was born in Hertfordshire, represented Britain in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics in the javelin. He now lives in the United States and has increasingly concentrated on his art. In 2000 he won the United States Olympic Committee Sport Art Competition and then exhibited at the International Olympic Museum in Lausanne.  In 2003 he won the prestigious "International Sports Artist of the Year Award".  He is a founding member of the Olympic revival movement called "Art of the Olympians".  His artwork had been seen on ABC, NBC, CBS and been exhibited form the United Nations to Times Square.  In the last few years he has been dubbed the "Olympic Picasso" for his visionary ideas on how to combine sport and art with the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012. To view his work visit www.roaldbradstock.com.



The challenges given to the Architect should not be 4gotten. The
venue must be both functional and memorable...and there is no
time 4 a practise sesh
By Bez

10 April 2009 at 16:53pm

Good piece. Nice to see you acknowledging that culture plays an
important part in the Olympics. Well done.
By Patricia, Southend

11 April 2009 at 12:02pm

Clutching at straws mate,
I could use exactly the same rationale to align or justify train
spotting as an art form or a sport for that matter
By Paulmatosic

18 May 2009 at 08:21am