100 Days To Go To Pyeongchang 2018


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Duncan Mackay: Here's a cunning plan for England 2018 - concentrate on winning votes

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altAs someone closely involved in Manchester's bid to host the 2000 Olympics when bidding had become a byword for excess, Graham Stringer is better qualified than most to pass judgment on when something has been polluted by greed, self-interest and chicanery.

So when the MP for Manchester Blackley claims that the current beauty parade the Football Association is forcing 16 cities and towns across England who want to be involved in the 2018 World Cup campaign take part in is a "ludicrous waste of public money" then he should be listened too closely.

Stringer's argument is that it is ridiculous that a city like Manchester, steeped in the tradition of the sport and which in Old Trafford and the City of Manchester Stadium is home to two of the finest stadiums in Europe, is being made to have to undergo the same process as Milton Keynes, where its connection with professional football stretches back barely five years, to be considered as fit and proper candidate to be involved in 2018.

The former Leader of Manchester City Council quite rightly claims that a World Cup in England would need Old Trafford, which, with a capacity of 76,212, the largest in the country outside Wembley, would stage one of the two semi-finals, far more than it needs the World Cup. The City of Manchester Stadium, with a capacity of 47,726 and which was judged good enough to have hosted the UEFA Cup final last year, would, at the very least, stage group matches, surely.

So why has Manchester City Council been forced to set-up a special bid committee at the cost of £150,000 to the local taxpayer to try to persuade a series of visiting delegations from the FA that they should be chosen as a host city? It is complete madness and no-one anywhere in football would take seriously an England bid that did not include in its plans Old Trafford, the home of three-time European champions Manchester United and who have produced players such as Bobby Charlton, George Best and David Beckham, superstars with instant name recognition around the globe.

There is, after all, a reason why the Nou Camp and the Santiago Bernabeau are already confirmed as part of the joint bid for 2018 from Spain and Portugal.

The whole idea of asking cities and towns to audition to become part of the campaign was originally devised as an X-Factor style competition to try to help build support for England's World Cup bid and make the whole country feel part of it. Instead, it seems to me, it has led to the campaign becoming distracted and focused to an unhealthy extent on local issues rather than on the bigger picture, which is persuading the 24 members of FIFA's Executive Committee to vote for England.

If you read the local newspapers up and down the country frantically lobbying for their respective cities and towns you might be under the impression that England have already been awarded the 2018 World Cup. Not that it is still very much in the balance, up against as it is against incredibly strong rivals, like the Spain and Portugal, and Australia and Russia, which offers the football world the exciting prospect of emerging markets, and the United States, with the possibility of lucrative multi-billion dollar marketing and television deals.

In the last couple of days alone the following have landed in my in-box from cities who are trying to impress the FA enough to be included in the bid:

Sunderland have launched a "high-profile poster campaign....as local businesses throw their weight behind Wearside's bid to host matches at the 2018 World Cup"

"Mersey football managers Rafa Benitez and David Moyes [have] rallied behind Liverpool’s bid to become a host city for the 2018 World Cup" [If sure he were asked in his native Madrid who would want to stage the tournament, I am sure Benitez would tell the press there he is backing the Spanish bid]

"Nothing quite marks a special occasion like a piece of fine bone china....That is why Royal Crown Derby has said it would be delighted to create a decorative piece for the 2018 football World Cup - should matches be played in Derby"

●  "Following her gold medal win in Berlin, Jessica Ennis - Britain’s newly crowned world heptathlon champion, has pledged to support her home city of Sheffield and its bid to host World Cup games in 2018"

altAnd finally, my personal favourite, "There is nothing cunning about Bristol's plan to host World Cup football in 2018; just bold ambition from a heartland of football, according to Blackadder and Time Team's Tony Robinson. Robinson said: 'Let's hope that in 100 years time, when archaeologists dig Bristol, they will find the long-discarded programmes from some of the legendary 2018 World Cup matches'." Not very environmentally friendly, I would suggest, but I get Baldrick's point.

There is nothing wrong with any of these campaigns - some of which are amusingly novel and designed to appeal to an audience not in love with the beautiful game [there are some, I am told] - and it is encouraging that there is clearly so much enthusiasm for the idea of England hosting the World Cup for the first time since 1966. Indeed, there appears to be far more appetite for a World Cup at this stage of the campaign than there was for London's 2012 Olympic bid at a similar stage six years ago.

But perhaps that was because London 2012, under the astute guidance of Sebastian Coe and Keith Mills [he was just a plain old Mr back then], were concentrating more of their efforts on the global campaign, winning the hearts and minds of the overseas voters who ultimately made the decision, rather than just making the bid look good to a local audience.

England's last bid to host the World Cup ended in acrimony and embarrassment in 2000 when they were eliminated in the second FIFA ballot with only two votes as bitter rivals Germany went on to be awarded the tournament. The banners proclaiming "Football's Coming Home" were hanging decidedly limp after that.

That slogan has mercifully been dropped and the FA have tried to do much more since then to improve relations with other foreign FA's, including investing heavily in development courses in the Third World as they have attempted to shake off their reputation for arrogance and complacency.

But, like London's 2012 Olympic bid, the FA have to create a reason for people to vote for them: Find a story, stick to it and sell it with conviction. England need to find an angle, probably focused on the excellence of the facilities and the passion of the fans. They have certainly ignited that passion but, as Stringer has quite rightly identified, let's not lose sight of what this is about, which should be bringing the World Cup back to these shores for the first time in more than half-a-century - not wasting taxpayers money on useless PR exercises.

Duncan Mackay is the publisher and editor of insidethegames.biz. 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.

David Owen: Barack Obama needs to launch a major charm offensive for Chicago to win 2016

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alt Now Barack Obama has got his work cut out.

 

That, in essence, was my reaction this week on first reading the report of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Evaluation Commission for the 2016 Summer Games (available here).
 

The IOC’s inspectors highlighted a number of issues with the bid from Obama’s home city of Chicago that together add up to a pretty substantial litany.
 

Borrowing mainly from the report’s summary, the Commission stated that: the “emphasis on major temporary or scaled down venues increases the element of risk to the OCOG [organising committee] in regard to the planning, costing and delivery of the venues”; “transport efficiency…would depend on…a significant increase in the capacity and use of public transport and the success of other plans to reduce traffic”; “a clearer delineation of roles and responsibilities between the City and the OCOG would be required to ensure that the OCOG would not be overburdened operationally and financially”; and, perhaps most importantly, “Chicago 2016 has not provided a full guarantee covering a potential economic shortfall of the OCOG, as requested by the IOC”. 
 

The Windy City’s prospects now appear to hinge more than ever on a Tony Blair-style charm offensive by the popular US President if, as expected, he travels to Copenhagen ahead of the October 2 vote by IOC members.
 

I don’t think the game is yet up for Chicago, however.
 

One shouldn’t underestimate the prospect of individual IOC members being swayed by blandishments from the most powerful human on the planet.
 

Many within the Movement, in any case, can be expected to think very carefully before burning more bridges with the world’s only superpower.
 

And, let’s not forget, the critically important US TV deal for the 2013-16 period has yet to be negotiated.
 

I think we can now discount the possibility of a Tokyo victory.
 

By my reading, the Japanese capital would have required a near-perfect report to put it up in the mix with its rivals – and it didn’t get it.
 

To highlight just two perceived shortcomings, the Commission “expressed concern about the size of the land area available for the construction of the Olympic Village”, furthermore “during the venue visits, it became apparent…that a number of venues listed as existing would in fact need to be built”.
 

I remain of the view that the city is potentially a much stronger candidate for 2020 or 2024, when the case for returning to Asia should be that much more compelling.
 

As for Madrid, I was genuinely surprised by some of the Evaluation Commission’s observations.

If there was one candidate I would have expected to organise matters in just the way the IOC wanted, it would have been Madrid.
 

And yet we read: “the Candidature File and supporting documentation, as well as the administrative structure proposed for a Madrid 2016 Games, did not demonstrate a full understanding of the need for clear delineation of roles and responsibilities, including financial, between different stakeholders to ensure an efficient and timely transition to the OCOG, or of the management of operations required to implement the Games vision, concept and plans”.
 

Still more surprisingly, “documentation and presentations provided to the Commission by the key organisations involved in the bid varied in quality”.
 

Compare this with four years ago, when presentations given by Madrid’s 2012 bid were said to have been of “high quality”.
 

The Spanish capital can be expected to mount a canny lobbying effort in the days remaining to it, but it sounds as if, this time around, it has not always put its best foot forward, after coming so close to springing a surprise last time.
 

As for Rio de Janeiro, the city which I think it is now fair to describe as the front-runner, I was left a little puzzled by the structure of the Commission’s report.
 

From the section focusing on the city, I thought it had got pretty much a clean bill of health.

The summary, though, makes plain that there are potential issues regarding transport and accommodation in the Brazilian city that are by no means negligible.
 

It is worth spelling these out in detail.
 

The report states:
 

“The topography of Rio, as well as the legacy vision, involving the development of four key zones in the city, would impact on travel distances for some athletes and other client groups.
 

“Efficient implementation of the Games-time transport operations plan, including the Olympic lane system and delivery of extensive plans for new transport infrastructure, would be critical.”
 

It also says:
 

“To meet Games requirements and given the insufficient number of hotel rooms [my italics], Rio 2016 has put forward a tailored accommodation plan incorporating hotel rooms, four villages and six cruise ships…
 

“This project, including managing the 20,000 room media village…, would require particular attention in both the planning and delivery phases.
 

“The difficulty to obtain guarantees for cruise ships seven years before the Games places extra pressure on Rio 2016 to meet Games demands.”
 

So there you have it – rounding the home turn, by my estimation, three cities are still, just about, in the race.
 

It is important too to underline that, with margins sometimes as small as a single vote differentiating success from failure, the last four weeks of the contest could yet change everything.
 

Paris received a near flawless assessment from the inspectors four years ago, but still it didn’t win.
 

● Like Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minister, and his Cabinet, I have recently been privileged to visit London 2012’s fast-materialising Olympic Park.
 

There is something awe-inspiring about it – especially when I think back to the motley assortment of industrial workshops and breakers yards that covered much of the territory on my first expedition.
 

The sheer quantity of construction equipment is impressive enough, plus the way in which scarcely a metre of earth over a very considerable area seems to have been left undisturbed. 
 

I was, though, saddened to note as we drove near the edge of the site that it has been deemed necessary to electrify a portion of the perimeter fence.
 

The Olympic Delivery Authority explained that the top 1 metre of the 4 metre high barrier had been electrified and said it would deter me but not harm me in any way.
 

altIt is already clear that the Aquatics Centre, perched at present like a Meccano armadillo, is going to be a landmark building, at least as eye-catching as Beijing’s Water Cube.
 

What I am still not convinced by is the white ring of the Olympic Stadium itself.
 

Of course London, with its matchless heritage sites, has plenty of other attractions both for Olympic TV producers and lesser life forms.
 

We have also entered a comparatively austere age in which, it could be argued, less is more and a stadium that utilises 11,000 tonnes of steel, as opposed to the more than 40,000 tonnes in the skeleton of the breathtaking Bird’s Nest, is in tune with the mood.
 

I do hope though that the perennial wrangling over costs – and legacy use - does not end up with London hosting a party with a humdrum centre-piece.
 

Having gone to great lengths to win the Olympics, it would be a big mistake to provide a theatre that was anything less than stunning.
 

David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering last year's Beijing Olympics. An archive of Owen’s material may be found by Twitter users at www.twitter.com/dodo938


Mike Moran: Lot riding on Olympic vote for Chicago and US sport

altBy Mike Moran

High anxiety is the theme for the next 30 days in Chicago and Colorado Springs as Chicago 2016 and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) count down the hours and minutes until October 2, the announcement of the 2016 Olympic Games host city from Copenhagen during the 121st Session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).


Prior to the final vote, Chicago will go first with its one-hour, formal presentation to the IOC, followed by Tokyo, Rio and Madrid. The official announcement follows a two-and-one-half hour session to vote, eliminating cities by rounds until the winner is named. This is big-time drama, trust me and there is a huge amount of critical things on the line for each city.

I sat through these white-knuckle moments that led to the selection of Atlanta and Salt Lake City as hosts for the Games, and watched the massive roar from thousands gathered in each downtown of the cities as the decision was announced on a big-screen, and the ensuing, joyous celebrations.

But the one I will remember most vividly is the July 6, 2005, announcement from Singapore that London had upset Paris to win the 2012 Olympic Games, while America’s candidate, New York City, went out in the second round. I was in my third year of employment with NYC2012, the Olympic bid group in New York as its chief communications counselor while our leadership and Mayor Mike Bloomberg were in Singapore for the vote, I had chosen to stay in Manhattan to help produce our community activity and deal with the New York media.

We had created a sort of Olympic “stadium” at Rockefeller Center above the famous  ice rink, with bleachers, a giant big screen, stage, and a artificial turf infield. We had space for maybe 7,000 people in the venue, plus standing room in the plaza for another 3,000 or so. On the evening of July 5, we trotted out celebrities, Olympians, Broadway performers and others to entertain a crowd that had gathered to watch the live TV feed of each of the candidate cities’ presentations (Moscow, Madrid, London, Paris and New York). That wrapped up about 1:30 a.m., and I headed back to the Regency Hotel to get some sleep. I recall the feeling I had as I stood in the empty plaza that early morning, with the stars out, the skyscrapers around me, and the sense of anticipation for the next morning. I think I said to myself, “This is as good as my job will ever get."

The morning of July 6 dawned with a light rain and stifling humidity and heat as the crowd gathered again at Rockefeller Center to watch the live feed of the final IOC vote around 7:00am. There were 15-20 TV crews and 60 reporters on hand in the media stand. Governor George Pataki was in his car near the venue and then it got very quiet. The first announcement was that Moscow was eliminated in the first round, which was expected. Within minutes, the image of IOC President Rogge appeared again with the terse announcement that “New York will not advance” to the third round. It was over, and the Governor’s car roared away to Albany, the crowd left quickly and without much more than an initial groan, and then came the news media.

I stood for the next hour on the turf, going from camera crew to camera crew, from scrum to scrum of reporters and photographers, all asking the obvious question. "What happened and why?” As I had done scores of times while with the USOC over 25 years, I spoke from the heart, no notes or script, and did my best to tell the story of why it was not New York, and why issues like the contentious West Side stadium fiasco, anti-American sentiment abroad, and other things had done in what was a magnificent bid in the end.

And it was a wonderful bid and plan. All of New York, its Boroughs and its ethnic communities and rich tapestry of citizens had come together for this effort. We imagined a 2012 opening ceremony in the new Olympic Stadium, with boats and ferries delivering the athletes to the pier by the venue, and fireworks across the city, and all that goes with what this amazing American city can offer. And sports at iconic venues like the Armory in Harlem, Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and others

I departed by car to spend the rest of the day going from TV studio to radio studio, to newspaper offices and live remotes, ending at midnight with a bizarre final live piece from the ESPN Zone at Times Square. I slept the sleep of the dead that evening. Bid chief Dan Doctoroff had sent a message from Singapore to us that he would host a party on Monday evening for our staff and leaders at his home for the  young men and women, fresh-faced, vibrant, ever hopeful and optimistic, now crushed and in tears, many of them having given up good jobs to come on board with us to win the Games, for the volunteers from several nations, and for others who had given so much over the time since the USOC picked New York over San Francisco in Colorado Springs in November of 2002. I was not up to that, and I had no idea then what I would do next for a living, and I slipped out of the city the next afternoon and back to Colorado Springs. It was finally over for me.

On the flight home, I thought of the incredible events we had staged in New York as part of our effort, the announcement that we  had made the IOC’s final list of five early one morning at Bryant Park with Olympians and Paralympians on stage surrounding the Mayor, the announcement of the five finalists for the Olympic athlete village design project at historic Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal, the send-off of our official Bid Book from the Brooklyn Bridge on a wintry afternoon with the structure jammed with thousands of fans and that view of the city and the view from the 36th floor of our offices at One Liberty Plaza, that looked directly down at hallowed Ground Zero of our 9/11 national tragedy where the Twin Towers had stood.

Now, on October 2, it will be time for thousands in Chicago to face that moment when the announcement comes, when dreams and commitment are rewarded or dashed, when joy reigns or sadness crushes the city’s spirit.

altWhat are Chicago’s chances? Who can say? The small band of astute American journalists who cover the Olympic movement consistently writes after the IOC Evaluation report, that Rio de Janeiro might now appear to have momentum that is gaining steam. There appears to be IOC angst over the complete financial guarantee by the city against a shortfall, though the Mayor of Chicago says he will produce that.

A sobering Chicago Tribune/WGN poll out last week says that now, only 47 per cent of Chicagoans favor the bid, down from a reported 61 per cent in February, South America has never hosted the Olympic Games. Will President Obama go to Copenhagen to stump for his hometown and work the magic that UK Prime Minister Tony Blair produced in Singapore over 48 hours in 2005 that led the London upset of favored Paris?

One prominent IOC member said that, “normally, you would hope public sentiment would be building as a candidate city approaches the final competition”. Chicago has the best of the four bids, I think it satisfies all the IOC requirements other than the financial guarantee, and that may be solved soon. It has a passionate and savvy Mayor, a dignified and eloquent bid leader in Pat Ryan, the support of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, a solid financial plan and it should be America’s turn.

But you can never guess where the IOC is concerned. I sense that the minds of its members are mostly already made up, and that Chicago must get past the first round. My gut tells me it will be Chicago and Rio in the last round.

A triumph by Chicago means countless blessings for the USOC and its programmes, and sports in our nation in general. The rewards are huge, but a loss would be a tremendous setback for the USOC and America’s impact on international sport. It all comes to us in less than a month, the perfect storm.

Mike Moran was the chief communications officer of the USOC for nearly 25 years before retiring in 2003. In 2002 he was awarded with the USOC's highest award, the General Douglas MacArthur Award. He worked on New York's unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympics and is now director of communications for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation. He writes a weekly column on sport that you can read here

Mike Rowbottom: Modern Pentathlon has shot itself in the foot with rule change


altIt’s in front of me as I write – a target printed on yellow card, signed by a range officer, evidencing the results of 20-odd shots from a Morini 162E air pistol at a range of 10 yards. I fired the shots, which are largely grouped in an archipelago to the right of the central black circle.

In places, the holes in the card are conjoined, like frog spawn. My range officer, John, was enthusiastic about this. He thought the consistency showed promise. In my eyes, the target spoke of a marksman consistently off target. But there you go – maybe it would just be a matter of adjusting the sights…

It is beyond argument, however, that the shots were grouped. And it is beyond argument that the second series of shots I fired at a different target are all over the shop.

Why the discrepancy? Easy. In the intervening time I broke away from the range where competitors at last month’s World Modern Pentathlon championships were shortly to do their own firing, and ran a lap of the surrounding Crystal Palace track as fast as I could in blazing sunshine before being steered back to my firing position and invited to do my best within a couple of minutes.

It’s a while since I’ve run on a track. Okay, it’s more than 30 years since I’ve run on a track. In that time I’ve even resisted the temptation of joining in the unofficial sprints that seem to take place after every major athletics championship has come to a close. As scaffolding clatters and clangs, and TV commentators at the back of the stand re-record their spontaneous reactions with synthetic fervour, and technicians reel in their wires, and cleaners hover over sheaves of not-quite-finished-with results sheets, and engineers hover over not-quite- finished-with television screens, two or three youngsters always appear on the track to run their own clumsy 100 metres final. Usually one of them over-rotates, as athletes like to say, and falls on their face. At which point, the others laugh.

Such jolly larks. But as I say, I have nobly resisted the impulse to join in such merriment, which meant that my pace judgement, as athletes like to say, was lacking. At 300m I actually felt my legs beginning to tremble, to the point where I momentarily considered I might not be able to complete the circuit. With John awaiting, ushering arm outstretched, that would really not have been good.

That humiliation spared, I resumed my stance with the Morini 162E, left hand hooked, as before, in my belt loop, legs firmly placed. The problem this time was that my heart appeared to be beating in my right hand. Bump. Bump. Bump. The barrel was taking my pulse.

The thought struck me: why am I trying to do something that requires a steady hand after violent exercise?

It is an athletic oxymoron. Running and shooting – they go together like opposed magnets.

And this is what modern pentathletes now have to do. What next – combining the horse riding with the swimming, perhaps?

The decision of the sport’s international authority to streamline two of their elements is a fait accompli – strictly speaking, shouldn’t their sport now be called the modern quadrathlon? – but the attitude of many competitors is far from decided.

Jan Bartu, Britain’s long-serving performance director, says he has been speaking with counterparts in the Winter Olympics event of the biathlon to gain information about the best way of balancing the contending forces of shooting and running.
 
On being asked whether there has yet been any suggestion of introducing skis to modern pentathlon, the former Olympian manages a strained smile.
 
You could say there is a sub-text of dissent among many modern pentathletes. Heather Fell has been open about her disappointment over changes that have arrived just as she has established herself as one of the event’s leading performers. The word "gutted" has indeed been used.

Why do administrators do these things? As so often, the intention has been to jazz the event up, to eliminate the early morning longeurs of the lonely morning shooting session, offering spectators the more stirring prospect of a whiz-bang finale.

It’s all wrong. It’s going too far. It’s akin to the simplistic notion floated some years ago by FIFA of creating more goals in football by – wait for it – widening the goals.

Brilliant. But even the widest goal can be missed, gentlemen. I suggest introducing five or more differently coloured footballs into each game. Then watch those scores mount.

And while we’re at it – the marathon. Terrific event. Historical. But it goes on, doesn’t it? Hours of plodding. I’d say it either comes down to 5k or we get the runners to do something a little more alluring en route. Maybe we need to think about getting some gymnastics in there.

Swimming? Again – classic Olympic event. But it’s an extended exercise in avoidance, isn’t it? If we get rid of those outmoded lanes we’ll finally see those sporting rivalries manifest themselves in direct and passionate combat. Fight for the right to medal, sort of thing. Like Gladiators.

Anyway, you see the sort of thing I’m getting at.

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

Tom Degun: My ride on the wall of death

altWhile I am certainly no Chris Hoy, I consider myself to be a reasonably good cyclist. It was for that reason that I rather courageously - or foolishly depending on your viewpoint - decided to participate in a track cycling session at the Wales National Velodrome at a press conference that preceded the UK School Games.

Jamie Staff, the Beijing Olympic gold medalist in the team sprint, was leading the track demonstration with four young cyclists due to compete in the UK School Games, which started last night, before five members of the media were allowed to join the session.

Reassuring myself that I was in the capable hands of an Olympic champion, I booked one of the five places convinced that everything would run smoothly. However, things did not go according to plan.

Having made a hasty decision to drive from my home in Essex to the Velodrome in Newport, I arrived rather late after a five-hour journey, most of which was spent admiring the tail lights of the stationary cars in front.

Eventually finding the Velodrome (map reading was never my strong point); I hurried to the track where I was immediately asked to change into my sports gear as the demonstration was ready to get underway.

Although I do not think driving a car down the M4 is how Jamie warms up for his races, I realised that the time to pull out of the session whilst saving face had long expired. As an aspiring young sports journalist, I certainly didn’t want to be labeled “that chicken from insidethegames”.

When I returned to the track, I was given a bike, which was extremely light, a helmet and some gloves. It did not take me long to discover that unlike the mountain bike in my garage, this bike had no brakes! It also had very thin tyres and handlebars that curved downwards. I was beginning to realise that I may be in some trouble.

As I looked round the Velodrome, I saw just how steep the track was. The two ends of the track were so vertical I thought they had been replaced by walls.

Feeling less confident by the second, I approached Jamie with a smile that did not conceal my nervousness.

Apart from me, there were only two other cyclists from the media taking part in the session while the rest of the assembled press watched on with obvious amusement.  “I thought there were meant to be five guys from the media?” Jamie asked. “No, two pulled out,” said a gentleman nearby. Though I laughed, I thought that they probably had the right idea.

We put our gloves and head gear on and climbed onto our bike by leaning against the metal rail on the inside of the track to put our feet in the straps attached to the pedals.

alt“Okay then” Jamie said, “Make sure that you hold the bottom of the handlebars. You will have to lean forward [in the superman position]. It might hurt your back a bit but make sure you stay in that position if you can”.

“These bikes [track racing] obviously have no brakes so you have to slow down your pedaling to go slower and pedal backwards to stop.

“Make sure you keep pedaling or you will fall off. Always look straight and a good piece of advice is to go hard into the slopes as you approach them. They are the same gradient as the ground if you cycle at a steady pace on them. Okay guys, 'Let’s go'."

Having barely understood most of the instructions, I set off on the flat part of the track hoping I would get the hang of it once I started riding. My first thought was that it wasn’t too difficult. I could feel the gears clicking but I kept a steady pace behind Jamie and the bike ran smoothly.

“Okay,” Jamie shouted, “Let’s head up the slope a bit."

Tentatively, I moved my bike onto the slope and although I felt I was at a right angle, the bike gripped the slope well.  “Just keep a steady pace,” I reassured myself, “and you will be fine."

With the wind blowing hard against my face which actually proved a pleasant sensation, I began to get more adventurous and advance further up the slope. Things were going well when, after about 10 laps of the track, I began feeling a little tired. You may call me unfit, but I was going round those slopes extremely fast to ensure I didn’t fall while trying to keep up with an Olympic champion!

Getting steadily more tired by the second, I began to fall quite a way behind Jamie when suddenly, the bottom of my tracksuit got caught in the pedal strap. Though I didn’t fall, I wobbled aggressively as I managed to pull the bike back in a straight line.

Hoping the assembled press hadn’t observed this, I quickly glanced at the inside of the track where a group of grinning faces confirmed to me that they had indeed noticed. I valiantly peddled on until Jamie finally called us in.

It took a while for me to slow down sufficiently to grab hold of the metal rail that would bring the bike to a halt but with Jamie’s assistance, I managed to do so. I climbed off the bike completely breathless and dripping with sweat but still in one piece.

altJamie rode up to me with a smile on his face. “Did you enjoy that?” he asked.

“Yes,” I admitted, “it was good fun. It’s so tiring though. How on earth do you do that for a living?”

Jamie smiled again in a gesture that said more than words ever could. The smile indicated that it is years of hard, tiring work and dedication on a track like this that makes an Olympic champion.

I think I’ll let Jamie do the hard work, endless training and tough competition, though. I’ll stick to writing about it.

Tom Degun graduated this summer from the University of Bedfordshire with  
a BA First Class honours degree in Sport, Media and Culture and joned insidethegames last week as a reporter and our Paralympics correspondent


Duncan Mackay: London victory can inspire 2016 bid cities

altThe International Olympic Committee (IOC) are always very keen to emphasise that the Evaluation Commission Report they release a month ahead of the final vote to decide a Host City does not try to rank or categorise the candidates.

And every time they publish the Report the bidding cities and the media try to work out in which order the IOC has ranked them.
 

Nothing had changed yesterday when the IOC published its Evaluation Commission Report for the 2016 Games and Olympic-watchers like me came up with our own unofficial rankings list.
 
That is why in Rio de Janeiro last night the campaign leaders, if not quite cracking open the champagne, were probably at least allowing themselves a couple of caipirinhas to celebrate an overwhelmingly positive report, while in Tokyo and Madrid they were drowning their sorrows with a glass of Saki and rioja respectively after their bids were directly criticised by the IOC.

In Chicago, meanwhile, they probably just had a swift glass of Goose Island beer before bunkering down to come up with a strategy that will allow them during the next 30 days to convince the IOC members that they are not a potential financial liability if they are awarded the 2016 Olympics.
 

The race to host an Olympics is bit like a tactically run 10,000 metres. It meanders for lap-after-lap with only the real aficionados watching it and then the bell goes and suddenly everyone gets interested.
 

But does it matter? A bit like the Evaluation Commission's visit to the four bidding cities in April and May, the Report generates plenty of headlines and column inches but it is harder to measure how much difference it makes in the final ranking. The IOC members are under no obligation to read the 98-page document before they cast their vote in Copenhagen on October 2.
 

I decided to get my scrapbook out and leaf through what I said after the IOC released its Evaluation Report in June 2005, a month before the vote for the 2012 Olympics. This is what I wrote in The Guardian about the glowing report that the Evaluation Commission had given Paris: "If it had been a school report it was the kind you would have run all the way home to show your mum and dad."
 

Overlooked were the limitations of the Stade de France, with its awful sightlines when in athletics mode and poor back-of-house facilities, and the fact that at $480 a night, a room in a five-star hotel in Paris during the Games would be $190 more expensive than in London.
 

altI remember Sebastian Coe (pictured) addressing the media a few minutes after he had seen the report and he proclaimed that it was a "springboard" for London to win. "A good evaluation on its own is not enough to get you over the line," he said. "But we have the confidence to build the momentum this bid has enjoyed over the last year. We are in good shape to take the battle even harder and further towards our goal."
 

It was stirring Churchillian stuff that largely fell on deaf ears. The media had already decided that it was a done deal and the Games were heading back to Paris for the first time since 1924. The bookies, who generally don't get much wrong, reacted to the publication of the Report by cutting Paris' odds to win to 1-5.

But London embarked upon a hectic period of shuttle diplomacy which saw them swing crucial votes behind their cause and momentum quickly built that ultimately carried them over the line in Singapore. The city that will win the race to host the 2016 Games is the one that wins the last month of campaigning. 

That momentum is currently definitely behind Rio. Steve Wilson, the hugely respected and experienced Olympic writer on Associated Press, reflected this yesterday when he wrote "the Rio bandwagon seems to be picking up speed", a story that appeared under the headline the "IOC keeps on loving city's bid".
 

But as Mike Lee, who is advising Rio on strategy, well knows from his time as the Director of Communications & Public Affairs for London 2012, this is not the time for any city to be resting on its laurels. All of the four candidates currently have teams travelling the world trying to speak to IOC members and convince them of the merits of their particular city. Nothing can be taken for granted and nor will it be.
 

I finished my article on the Commission's Report four years ago in The Guardian with the prescient comment:  "For all that the hierarchy of the International Olympic Committee want the Games to go to Paris, the members can be a volatile constituency".
 

The bubbly is already on ice in Copenhagen. It is just that no-one knows yet which city will be popping the corks.

Duncan Mackay is the publisher and editor of insidethegames.biz. 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.


John Bicourt: Britain's Berlin success should be kept in perspective

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The World Championships, which took place in Berlin last month, was certainly exciting and it was wonderful to see some great British performances from those athletes who made finals and especially, of course, our four individual medalists, including the gold medallists Phillips Idowu in the triple jump and Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon.
 
  However, overall achievements by UK athletes must be measured against the amount of financial investment handed to UK Athletics (UKA), since 1998.  UKA, a private limited company with no shareholders and wholly unelected and unaccountable to the sport has received around £150 million pounds of public money from the Government since they were originally set up and funded by UK Sport, a Government quango, over 10 years ago. 
 
UKA’s mission statement was: "To deliver the sport the likes of which has never been seen before.” Standards would rise, injuries would be reduced and more medals would be won. Of course, we all held our breath and expected wonderful things. That was the promise because the sport, or rather the sport’s administration now had plenty of public money to ensure our best development and more medals in global championships than ever before. But like Napoleon’s march on Moscow, things didn’t go quite as planned.
 
UKA’s  record on World Championships achievement so far, comparing the five from 2001 to 2009 contested during their administration, with the previous seven events where athletes and coaches had no or little National Lottery funding, shows a considerable drop in achievement with only the last two showing a reasonable improvement on their previous three but still a long way off what was achieved before they took over. 
 
Their comparative lack of achievement in the World Championships, since the Government funding took over and with the additional benefit of far more sponsorship and television money than ever before, amounting to £80 million, is in massive contrast to what has been achieved without them. 
 
Prior to UKA being put in control, British elite athletes had no Lottery funding. The previous athletics governing body, the British Athletics Federation (BAF), wasn’t awash with money, didn’t have a professional staff numbering some 120 - the largest of any national governing body for athletics in the world - nor did they have costly High Performance Centres, most now closed down because of under use and/or ineffectiveness, plus UKA’s own full time paid coaches, specialist department directors and the best possible medical and scientific support staff; all of which should have resulted in the delivery of the sport as originally promised over 10 years ago.
 
Of the points gained for top eight places at the seven World Championships, which took place under the old mainly “amateur” system, between 1983 through to 1999, British athletes - who along with their coaches all mostly had to work for a living - averaged a total of 84.2 points from each Championship. The high came in 1993 when they scored 95 points. During the same period up to 1999, they won a total of 50 medals, compromising 11 gold, 21 silver and 18 bronze.

altEven by removing the two highest medals and points championships - 1993, when the gold medallists included Linford Christie, Colin Jackson (pictured) and Sally Gunnell and 1987 - under the former non-Lottery funded national governing body - that still leaves a total of 35 medals won, which were made up of eight gold, 10 silver, 15 bronze and an average points score of 79.6. Clearly, a far better achievement than UKA’s efforts over their five World Championships.
 
Apologists for UKA’s will claim “the world has moved on" or that we have “a missing generation” and “far more countries now take part". But in actuality, world top standards have only improved in a few events, notably in the men's’ 100 and 200 metres and men’s 5,000 and 10,000m mainly through just two outstanding individuals.   
 
Between 2001 and 2009 and the five World Championships under UKA’s heavily funded responsibility for the sport, British athletes in those five events scored an average of 55.8 points and won a total of 19 medals - five gold, four silver and 10 bronze. All in all, a considerably way down on the previous [unfunded] five Championships and, more significantly in view of their remit, also way down on UKA’s predicted and agreed targets with the Government funders.
 
When the public has funded a sport like athletics - to the tune of £150million - they expect results. But from 2001 - by which time and after three years, UKA should have been fully up to speed - through to the World Championships in Berlin, the overall British team performances have been very disappointing. Berlin has shown an improvement, but, it has taken ten years and a major clear out of the previous top management at UKA at considerable cost to the sports potential development and lost opportunities for our undoubted athletics talent, due to the Government’s funding agency’s failure to officially recognise and deal with UKA’s under performing management, total lack of a comprehensive development strategy and their Coach Education Programme which was deemed “unfit for purpose.”
 
Rather than being carried away with UKA’s specialist group of hysterically hyped acclamations for mainly mediocre performances to date and  future predictions for the next three years into London 2012 - the same "false dawns" of hype and spin we’ve suffered the last 10 years - it might be noted that despite some very good British successes in Berlin, Britain gained only one medal more than in Osaka two years ago but finished one place further down  the medals and points tables.

And we are still disgracefully non- existent in most of our endurance and throwing events and depleted in others as seen by Britain's Berlin entry where no British athlete was entered in 17 of the Championships events and with only one athlete entered in 12 others. So much for developing the talent pool and raising standards.
 
The British public - and no doubt, the Government - is looking towards London 2012 as the fulfillment of 14 years of its financial investment and support for the sport at the global level. But what they will reap, if they don’t immediately take a far closer look at how tax payers and Lottery money is being spent and analyse carefully what is really happening behind the hype and spin, they will sadly fall very short of what could have been possible had they been athlete and coach centered on an open performance basis rather than administration and management centered on a non-performance salary basis.  

John Bicourt was an English record holder and represented Britain in the 3,000m steeplechase at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. He has coached, advised and managed a number of Olympic and World Championship athletes from Britain, Australia, South African, Kenya and the United States, including medallists and world record holders. He is an elected officer of the Association of British Athletics Clubs

An American perspective on Dwain Chambers

Dwain_Chambers_head_and_shouldersJIM FERSTLE, an American freelance journalist, is one of the world's foremost authorities on the history of performance-enhancing drugs in sport and in an excluisve article for insidethegames gives us the US perspective on the return of Dwain Chambers, the original face of London 2012.

A SONGWRITER from my home state in the United States, Bob Dylan,  wrote a song in the 1960s about the Civil Rights movement titled: Only a Pawn in Their Game.

That may be an apt description of Dwain Chambers' current situation.

When they write the history of drugs in sport, Chambers could take a place along with Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, or other athletes branded by the Scarlet Letter of sports.

Each has come to represent a seminal moment or stage of the battle against drug use in sports.

When Johnson was caught in Seoul in 1988, the resulting fallout and revelations of the Dubin Commission inquiry in Canada laid the groundwork for the formation of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) over a decade later.

When Jones was forced to confess to some of her sins as a performance enhancing drug abuser, the power and influence of governments and the duplicity of athletes who were confronted with doping allegations were prominently on display.

What Chambers case represents is, in contrast, simple economics.

Some would say that the "blacklisting" of Chambers by European meet promoters is merely part of a gradual push by event organisers to cleanse their events of the stain of doping.

A desperate measure or long overdue?

It is an open secret that many of the same event organizers now preaching clean athletics, however, were years ago complicit in helping athletes avoid drug tests at their events.

Back then, the meet promoters marketed their events with hype about record attempts, fast times--Citus, Altus, Fortus.

With coverage of their events increasingly drowned out by stories of doping scandals, though, the economics changed.

Thus, the "ban the cheats" movement has become the flavor of the moment.

Even Balco boss Victor Conte, who has done quite well economically in the performance enhancing business, recognised the motivation behind the ban Chambers bandwagon.

It isn't about Olympian principles, he said, it's about economics - money and greed were the words he used.

As the bank robber Willie Sutton said when he was asked why he targeted banks: "That's where the money is."

If you really want to understand the motivations behind changes in the sports business, follow the money.

The money is hemorrhaging away from sports, such as cycling and athletics.

Not solely based on the doping issue, but, rightly or wrongly, drugs get the large share of the blame.

Chambers not alone

Chambers is not the only athlete being banished.

The 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador of Spain may not be able to defend is title, not because of a failed drug test, but because of a crackdown by Tour organisers against teams and/or individual riders who they deem tainted.

Directors of the major European Athletics meetings have agreed not to invite athletes who have been convicted of serious doping offences.

The race directors of the World Marathon Majors have issued a similar decree.

These event organisers now believe that an athlete who has been caught doping is not worth the risk.

After first shunning  Jones, but finally relenting and inviting her to meets last year, the Golden League event directors seem to now believe that forgiveness or inaction in the area of doping is no longer economically prudent.

Even the sport's agents have made a pact not to represent athletes who have committed serious doping offences.

But, as with many such moves in the past, these actions are not consistent or comprehensive.

As has been noted, while Chambers was not welcomed on the British team for Valencia, convicted "drug cheat" Carl Myerscough was.

While Contador may not be able to ride the Tour de France, convicted "drug cheat" Scotland's David Millar  might.

In the free market world of sports, it's about "putting bums on seats" and/or securing sponsor revenue that rules not rules, ethics, or morality.

In baseball in the US, home run king Barry Bonds and pitching ace Roger Clemens both commanded multi-million dollar salaries last year despite strong rumors of the alleged performance enhancing drug use.

Both had poor seasons.

The pressure on Major League Baseball to clean up its "steroids problem" has increased, and neither is likely to play this year.

Both are facing perjury charges, as did Jones, and neither has the box office appeal to override their off the field woes.

Such is the case with Chambers.

Although he ran impressively to qualify for the World Indoor Championships, 60 metres, which start tomorrow in Valencia, is not the Olympic 100m.

Could things change if he wins the World Indoor crown, breaks a record, and passes all his doping tests?

The major meets say they won't invite him, but what about the smaller ones?

If Chambers continues to impress, will the promoters, as they did with Jones, change their tune?

Entertainment

Sports is marketed as entertainment, and a proven entertainment formula is good versus evil, dirty versus clean.

Or does Chambers banishment have more to do with what he said than what he did?

Chambers answered honestly when asked by the BBC about the motivations behind using drugs, and the ability of somebody not doping beating somebody who was in an Olympic final.

For many, such as Dame Kelly Holmes, that seems to be Chambers' greatest sin, not that he violated the doping rules.

Ben Johnson's coach, Charlie Francis, was banished to the athletics wilderness in part because he told what he believed to be the truth to the Dubin Inquiry.

Yes, we did it, he said, but we weren't alone.

He still chafes at the hypocrisy of retired athletes and administrators who now condemn Chambers while having talked privately about their own transgressions years ago.

What is the truth is never easy to establish in everyday life, even more so when the topic turns to doping.

It is not all that different from the shamateur days of sports where everybody knew about the under the table payments, but all the effort was in devising ways to hide it so that even if you knew it, you couldn't prove it.

Such is the problem with doping.

While money is openly exchanged these days, the anti doping movement has not moved as fast into the era of professionalism as the rest of sport in its rules and regulations.

Amateur carry-over

It may be something of a carryover from the shamateur days of the past, but the anti-doping segment of Olympic sports has seemed to be the last to shed its amateur roots.

The British Olympic Association (BOA) has steadfastly clung to its Olympian pledge not to soil the British Olympic team with drug cheats.

Nearly every other country in the world takes a more legalistic and economically motivated approach to the crime and punishment model of anti-doping, however.

Indeed the WADA rules, as former WADA president Dick Pound told the BBC recently, do not contain a legal framework for lifetime bans.

If one has done the crime, he or she must do the time, but once that time is served they are free to return to sport, Pound said.

This seems to correspond with most legal systems where the punishment is supposed to "fit the crime."

An athlete who dopes is not deemed worthy of the "death penalty."

But as more Olympic sports see their sponsors getting nervous or leaving, their fan base eroding, many have concluded that it is time for drastic action, perhaps regardless of the legal wrangles that may ensue.

While sport is portrayed as ultimately egalitarian, a level playing field, at the elite level it's always been about money.

The Olympics were the playground of the rich where the allure often was watching to see if somebody from the lower classes could rise up through the ranks and deprive a rich guy of an Olympic medal.

Underdog

Rooting for the underdog has always had great economic potential, not for those doing the rooting or striving, but for those who promoted and profited from the events.

Indeed, for the tiny nation of East Germany hauling in truckloads of Olympic medals was both great propaganda and box office story line until what everyone knew to be true was exposed.

The "underdog" had an elicit secret weapon, kryptonite for the bigger nations' super men and women, a superior system of administering performance enhancing drugs.

It could be argued that the development of much of the arsenal of doping products had its roots in the Olympic battles between the world's two political superpowers of the era.

US Dr. John Ziegler developed anabolic steroids to combat what was alleged to be the use of testosterone by the Soviet athletes.

In today's global economy, entrepreneurs like Conte do the drug development, and countries like China distribute the product worldwide over the internet.

For decades the sports superpowers pointed the finger at one another while they each did their best to see that their athletes had access to the best of everything, including performance enhancing drugs.

Our athletes are clean, was the public mantra, yours are dirty.

We'll get you what you need to succeed, was the private agreement, just don't get caught.

Into this world stepped Chambers.

He made one very big mistake.
He got caught.

Now the powers that be want to make an example of him.

But they forgot something.

The rules they have are untested in the real world, still rooted in the authoritarian code of the Olympic movement or the tortured process of trying to get the world to accept a universal anti-doping set of regulations.

The UK, for example, has it's own version of out of competition testing.

It is a system seemingly devised to make sure the testers are not inconvenienced and aimed at catching the organisationally challenged more than those who might be attempting to beat a doping test.

If the athlete gets to set the time and range of dates when they will be tested, it is not an out of competition, no notice test.

It is nothing more than a series of regular in competition tests.

This gives the advantage to the athlete using the drugs, rather than the testers, according to the lab scientists trying to find banned substances in the athletes' urine.

It qualifies as out of competition testing only by stretching the definition nearly to its limits.

Michele Verroken

Then there is the issue of independent testing.

After much urging by people, such as former head of the UK Sports anti doping unit, Michele Verroken, the UK is setting up a NADO (National Anti-Doping Organisation).

If you look at the composition of the project board charged with the development of the new organisation, however, eight of the 12 are members of the sporting establishment, not those known for independence or without potential conflicts.

Verroken is not part of the mix.

And right now all the focus is on Chambers, not those who make the rules or who enforce the rules.

Yet, as this plays out, it will be the rules that will prove decisive.

Can the BOA enforce their doping ban from the Olympics?

Can or will the meet promoters stick to their bans?

UK Athletics discovered to their dismay that their rules didn't allow them to do what they wanted to "drug cheats."

Others could discover the same thing.

In the past athletes were too poor or otherwise not able to challenge the rules or the athletics establishment.

Now, the stakes are higher.

Chambers may be willing to take up that challenge.

He may not want to be only a pawn in their game.

Either way, more attention needs to be paid to the rules and those making them than public relations moves against sanctioned athletes.

If we've learned anything in the more than 45 years of the Olympic anti-doping campaigning it's that talk is cheap, and cheap has not done much to slow down, let alone eliminate drug use in sports.

Jim Ferstle is a freelance writer and consultant based in St. Paul, Minnesota.


Duncan Mackay: insidethegames is bigger, brighter, better

altToday we unveil a brilliant new look for insidethegames that means we are bigger, brighter, better.

It now contains even more features and news to ensure that our readers continue to be given a unique, first hand look behind the scenes into the world of London 2012, the Olympic Movement, the Commonwealth Games, the FIFA World Cup and the bidding process and the multi-billion pound business that surrounds them. 

Everyone here at insidethegames is very excited about them and believe they are making a brilliant product even better.
 
When we launched insidethegames in October 2005 it was as a weekly newsletter. The first issue featured the exclusive news that David Higgins was set to be announced later that day as the chief executive of the newly-formed Olympic Delivery Authority. We have been leading the way ever since.
 
Our unique mixture of exclusive stories and in-depth features meant we soon established a loyal readership. But it quickly became apparent that so much was happening in the build-up to London 2012 that a daily service was needed. The site has now evolved into an unrivalled news portal updating all the latest stories as they happen - and we have now expanded our remit a long way beyond just London 2012.

Since launching insidethegames Glasgow has been awarded the 2014 Commonwealth Games and England has announced that it is bidding to bring football's World Cup back to this country for the first time since 1966. That is why the site includes a host of features that are a must read for anyone who has any interest not only in the Olympic Movement but also the Commonwealth Games and global industry of bidding for major events, including the increasingly tense race to host the 2016 Olympics and football’s 2018 and 2022 World Cup.

This can often mean up to 15 stories a day being placed on the site and our archive now contains more than 6,000 stories dating back nearly four years - a unique source of information. You will be glad to know that we have now upgraded our search engine so it is more efficient and faster than ever before, meaning the information that you need is only ever just a mouse-click away.

But that is not all. We have added several other exciting features. I am particularly proud of the new sports section which means that every one of the 26 sports that will make up the London Olympics now have their own page which has every bit of information you could possibly want to know in the build-up, including its history, a guide to the venue for 2012 (2016 will be added on October 3 when we know who the Host City is along with information on rugby sevens and golf if they are added) and a comprehensive diary so you can plan what to follow leading up to the big events. But best of all is that it allows us to carry even more news from around the world of sport. So if your particular passion is, say, handball or wrestling, you now know there is a website that is guaranteed to cover your sport.

Other innovations include a new expanded blogs section. We have some really top names lined up to write exclusively for us over the next few weeks, including Sir Chris Hoy and Dame Kelly Holmes. We start off today with Ade Adepitan, who feels especially close to the London Games as he is from Stratford.

It is appropriate that we should start with Britain's best-known wheelchair basketball player because the Paralympics is an area where we have big plans to increase our coverage as we feel this is an area that is currently neglected. Joining us today is Tom Degun, a talented young writer who recently graduated from the University of Bedfordshire with a BA First Class honours degree in Sport, Media and Culture.

Tom, who is keen rugby player and qualified fencing instructor, will be our new Paralympics Correspondent and will be providing unrivalled daily behind-the-scenes coverage on the issues and personalities that will shape the Games in three years time. Check out his exclusive interview with Dame Tanni Grey Thompson that is published on insidethegames today. 

Tom joins a list of world-class contributors that includes David Owen, the former sports editor of the Financial Times, and Mike Rowbottom, who covered the Olympics for The Independent for 16 years, who both help ensure that insidethegames will not be beaten for quality writing. It is no surprise therefore that insidethegames is now recognised as the authoritative independent guide to London 2012 and the Olympic Movement.

We today also launch our new regular poll that gives you the opportunity to let us know what you think. The first question we ask is “Which Candidate City should win the right to host the 2016 Olympic Summer Games?” Whoever it is, insidethegames' team of ace reporters and photographers will be in Copenhagen later this month to cover the build-up to the IOC Session before the decision is announced on October 2 to ensure you are kept fully updated on the campaign to decide whether Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo are chosen to follow London.

You can sign up for our free daily e-alerts simply by filling in a quick simple form here. Why pay for inferior information when you can read the market leaders for free? At insidethegames, we believe that quality writing and ground-breaking new stories is priceless.

We have many more exciting features lined up over the next few weeks that we believe will make insidethegames even better and consolidate our position as the number one source for Olympic news on the web. We thank all our loyal readers who have been with us since we launched. And we welcome our new readers. Together we shall share the exciting journey up to London 2012 and beyond.
 
For further information and to send any materials of interest, please email me at [email protected] 
 
Duncan Mackay is the publisher and editor of insidethegames.biz. 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.

Ade Adepitan: London 2012 is starting to feel real

altHaving experienced competing in two Paralympic Games and commentated on a third, it’s incredible to think such a magnificent event will be right here in London in just three years time.

I’m so glad it’s coming to the UK because I know the support and investment that is going in to it over the next three years will ensure the British public and the athletes taking part will not want to be anywhere but part of London 2012.
 
Hitting a milestone such as three years to go really puts it into perspective that the Paralympics is coming to London and it will be in my manor! I grew up in Stratford, and when I go home I drive past the site and can see the stadium growing all the time. You can already see the structural work coming together and the roof going on the aquatics centre - it’s starting to become very real.
 
As the infrastructure comes together so do the British teams.  They have had some amazing achievements in both Olympic and Paralympic sports. 
 
We’ve had some great athletics results recently.  I watched the World Athletics Championships as I’ve got some really good friends who were competing out there. The British team are looking stronger and stronger each year.  Bringing home six medals and a haul of top eight finishes makes them an exciting prospect for 2012, they can only build on what they’ve achieved.
 
And who can ignore the phenomenon that is Usain Bolt - not only is he an incredible athlete but the joy that he has in his sport is brilliant. He is definitely the best thing that has happened to athletics in a long time, so let’s hope he keeps it up to wow us all right here in London. 

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I also recently commentated at the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester which saw the British Paralympic team return from Beijing with a massive medal haul only to do it all again, sealing their reputation as one of the best teams in the world. 
 
The competition is probably one of the most important events that we have in the Paralympics, aside from the actual Paralympics itself. It gives British athletes the chance to test themselves against the best in the world on home soil every year - an opportunity that other countries will not have had in the lead up to the Games. It gives us a fantastic taste of what’s in store for London 2012. 
 
In the last ten months since Beijing, more and more of the public have become aware of the success British athletes across all sports can offer in 2012 - people want to know more about their local sporting heroes and have the opportunity to watch them every year, get to know them and get right behind them as London approaches. 
 
Whatever anybody says, however many Olympics or Paralympics the athletes may have been through, I don’t think anything is going compare to the reception that they are going to get in East London. 
 
Beijing was a great experience and what made it even better was the backing from the Chinese fans - they were 110 per cent behind their athletes.  I must big up my old team the wheelchair basketball boys for achieving their bronze. They now have a real chance at gold here in London and I know Britain will match that home support from last year in three years time. 
 
It would be amazing to back the whole British team from the commentary box in 2012 - this really is a once in lifetime opportunity to show the world how great London is and how passionate we are about both Paralympic and Olympic sports.
 
Ade Adepitan is a BT Ambassador.  BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup.  For more information click here.
 

Georgina Harland: Competing on home ground will spur Britain on

In a way it feels quite strange that there is a Modern Pentathlon World Championships starting on Thursday in London and I am not going to be taking part in it.

I used to thrive on competing in front of a home crowd and in fact managed to medal at pretty much every international event I took part in at home, including the last time the World Championships were held in the UK in 2001. I was delighted to come away with a bronze medal.

I cannot begin to explain the feeling of competing on home soil, with all the support from the crowd, even being surrounded by the home volunteers and officials makes a difference.

 

They say you should always treat major competitions like any training session, so as not to get overwhelmed by the experience. This is so much easier to do when you are competing in familiar surroundings – it can really work to your advantage.

Of course the pressure of a home crowd and environment can also be a contributing factor to your performance – just the slightest distraction can really throw you off - but in my experience the positives far outweigh the negatives. For British athletes, gaining experience of this unique competitive environment and how to make it work to their advantage ahead of the London Olympics in 2012 should not be undervalued.

Although I am sad not to be competing (this is the most important event in the modern pentathlon calendar to take place since my retirement), I am really looking forward to experiencing the world championships from an official’s point of view. Since my retirement last year I have taken on the role of chair of the International Federation’s (UIPM) Athlete Committee.

 

In this capacity, I will be attending various meetings throughout the Championships, as well as acting as a liaison between the athletes and the event organisers to ensure the they are well looked after, and have everything they need to put in their best possible performance.

Although this role means I have to be somewhat impartial, I will of course be hoping for success for the British team. It’s hard to predict how they’ll do as the athletes have a new format to contend with, but Beijing Olympic silver medallist Heather Fell is in great form and definitely one to watch this weekend.

 

We have great strength in depth in the women’s team; Katy Livingston was seventh in Beijing last year and won bronze at last year’s World Championships, Mhairi Spence has proven she can medal at major championships and Freyja Prentice is an up and coming athlete showing fantastic potential and could surprise everybody.

 

The men’s event will be fiercely competitive, but Sam Weale and Nick Woodbridge are both very talented athletes who have both shown they can make the podium, and with the support of the home crowd anything could happen.

There will undoubtedly be a certain nostalgia as I watch the events unfold this week but at the same time I certainly won’t envy the gruelling training regime that the athletes will have undergone to prepare for the event – amazing how quickly you forget all that!

 

For once I will be able to sit back, enjoy the competition and show my support. I’m sure the crowds at Crystal Palace this weekend will create a fantastic atmosphere for the British team, in what is sure to be a truly world class competition.

Georgina Harland won a bronze medal in the Modern Pentathlon at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens . She is now chair of the UIPM’s Athletes Committee, a member of the UIPM’s Executive Board and a participant on UK Sport’s International Leadership Programme. This blog appeared on UK Sport's website.


Tim Woodhouse: The gloves are on?

altThe Olympics certainly pack a punch when it comes to shining a light on issues within sport. The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decision regarding women’s boxing, which will be made today, is no exception.

It will probably surprise many to know that women have been boxing from as early as the 1720s. Back then, it was bouts in London, but over the years it won a place on the world stage with the women’s World Championships; so why then has it taken nearly 300 years to get women in the Olympic ring? And what does this say about gender equality in sport?
 
The fact of the matter is, men have had a huge head start and there’s still a long way to close the gap.
 
Today, women hold just one in five of the top jobs in British sport, investment in women’s sport lags far behind men’s and as little as two per cent of national sports media coverage is devoted to female competitors and teams. In Beijing last year 165 gold medals were available to men versus 127 to women.
 
So as much as the Olympic Games help shine a light on inequality, they also offer a rare opportunity to tackle the problem. Hosting the London 2012 Olympic Games provides a unique opportunity to address historical discrimination against women at the highest levels of sport. The IOC Executive Board has the opportunity to approve more gold medals for women in a range of sports including boxing, canoe/ kayak, cycling, and shooting, and I sincerely hope they do.
 
At the same time, they have a responsibility to ensure that they do not weaken the standard of competition in those sports or to devalue what it means to be “Olympic Gold Medalist”. Therefore it would be absurd to suggest that within each sport there needs to be exact parity of medal opportunities, however across the whole programme of Olympic sports, there can be no legitimate reason not to ensure gender equality of medal opportunities and athlete quotas.
 
The IOC has another responsibility which I know it takes very seriously, and that is to use the Games to inspire young people across the world to participate in sport and to become physically active. In many countries across the world, obesity levels amongst young people are a growing concern and it is very disturbing that recent figures show that in Britain girls are only half as active as boys by the time they’re 16.
 
I believe that this is partially due to the fact that girls grow up seeing only men’s sport in the press and on TV. The one time this changes is every four years at the Olympics, which makes it even more vital that the IOC do everything in their power to ensure that women’s sport is given as many opportunities at that level as the men.
 
The Olympic Movement has come along way since Baron Pierre de Coubertin stated that women’s only role in the Games should be to “crown the victorious men”. But the recent controversy over the IOC’s continued opposition to the inclusion of female ski jumping in the winter Olympics has shown that the battle to ensure that the Olympics are equally inspiring to girls, as it is to boys, is not over yet. I hope that the decision regarding women’s boxing indicates positive change.
 
The IOC President Jacques Rogge has stated that his ultimate goal is “50-50 participation”, and he has a chance to make good progress for London 2012, but it seems that whatever the Executive Board decides there is still work to be done.
 
Tim joined the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) in May 2008 to boost the organisation’s capacity in helping National Governing Bodies (NGBs) of sport to deliver their activities in ways which attract more women and girls. He has had a long career in sport including an MA in Sports Development from the University of Gloucester. Tim is a keen hockey player for the Burnt Ash 3rd XI, and hasn’t accepted that he cannot make the 2012 Olympic squad yet.

Matt Smith: Baseball's future brighter without the Olympics

altThe International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board announced last week that golf and rugby would be put forward for entry to the 2016 Olympics. The decision ended baseball and softball’s hopes for an immediate return to the Olympic fold after a previous decision in 2005 removed the sports from the 2012 London Games.

While supporters of the bid tried to remain optimistic, most baseball fans had little confidence in the IOC’s willingness to listen to the sport’s argument, despite the best efforts of the International Baseball Federation (IBAF). Last week's events lend credence to the belief that baseball never really stood a chance.

The IOC made vague statements about golf and rugby being sports that stress fair play and respect for the Olympic values, but it’s obvious that their commercial potential was what won the day. Like everything else, the Olympics is now guided by money rather than genuine sporting interests.

Rugby is a great sport and can certainly use their new-found Olympic status to expand into many new territories. The rugby sevens format gave them a clear advantage over their fellow bidders. Few will care that the Rugby Sevens World Cup is being scrapped as a consequence of its inclusion in the Olympics and they can market it as a unique event. I would strongly refute the claim that rugby currently has more global appeal than baseball though, even if that might be hard for many Brits to believe. No doubt both sides could produce statistics to back their position, so we’ll leave that as a disputed point.

As for golf, most people without a vested interest in their Olympic inclusion would agree their selection is a total joke. Just like football and tennis, it is a sport that already has a well-developed professional world circuit. There is no valid reason for them to be Olympic sports, other than the fact that their popularity will bring in the punters and make the IOC money. The Olympics should be about much more than that. Local baseball, karate, roller sports, softball and squash projects will continue to have severe difficulties in obtaining relatively meagre funding as non-Olympic sports, while golf will get the financial boost. That’s tough to take, particularly as the sport was nearly eliminated in the first round of voting.

Politics were always going to play a big part in this decision and golf’s later round renaissance looks pretty suspicious. The IBAF were gracious in defeat, congratulating the winning sports and praising the efforts of the other four bidders (karate, roller sports, softball and squash). However, their President Harvey Schiller couldn’t hold in feelings of disappointment at the process. “According to some of the voters, many were informed not to push for baseball," he said. "The programme commission supported rugby and golf to be added. We never did get all the votes we thought would come. Why? I really don’t know except for the probability that the IOC leadership wanted new sports."

altThe simple fact that baseball and softball were kicked out of the Olympics didn’t give you much confidence that the IOC would be predisposed to taking them back. That’s been proved by this selection process. The IBAF addressed many of the issues in their bid that the IOC had claimed were behind their original decision, such as the lack of involvement of Major League players and MLB’s previous lack of an effective drug-testing programme. That didn’t make a difference, supporting the view that the IOC simply used those factors as an excuse to remove the sport in the first place.

The IBAF were fighting a hopeless battle. The only criticism you could make of their bid is that it was weakened by the inclusion of women’s baseball, rather than using the previous combination of men’s baseball and women’s softball. However that wasn’t the IBAF’s fault. The International Softball Federation (ISF) decided to go it alone and refused to change their mind even when the IBAF appealed to them late in the process.

As neither sport made it, you could say that the ISF’s decision was wrong. Having said that, if golf had somehow been knocked out in that first round then softball may have been the sport to have picked up the second spot. You can certainly see the benefits to softball of being an Olympic sport completely in its own right. At the very least it would have allowed men’s fastpitch softball teams to dream of an Olympic appearance.

From a general standpoint, having one sport in and one sport out could have caused many problems. In countries where both sports are developing, working together gives them the best chance to move forward. It’s difficult to know quite how the work of a body like BaseballSoftballUK would have been affected if only one sport had made it, but it might not have been a positive development.

That’s a potential problem that we will not now face. Last week's decision now means we can all move on and plan the best way for both sports to progress outside of the Olympic framework. MLB have been quick to extol the virtues of the World Baseball Classic, claiming that they “will work hard to make it even bigger and better in 2013 and beyond”. Yet while the WBC is a great event and undoubtedly can help to promote the sport, it doesn’t carry anywhere near the prestige or level of opportunities afforded by the Olympics for developing baseball nations.

From the British Baseball Federation’s (BBF) perspective, secretary John Walmsley has lamented the decision but spoke of the work they will continue to undertake to grow the sport in the UK. “British Baseball will continue working to develop and strengthen the sport domestically, especially at youth levels in schools and in universities, as well as within existing baseball clubs," he said. "We are working with organisations such as Little League to improve access to the sport for children and we are building durable relationships with the International and European baseball federations. The future bodes well for baseball in Britain, although re-inclusion in the Olympics would have further strengthened that position”.

Walmsley’s comments are a good point on which to end. Yes, the IOC’s decision is disappointing and will have repercussions, but baseball and softball’s qualities remain undiminished. The fact that the IOC never truly appreciated them, and still doesn’t today, does make you think that maybe, just maybe, the sports’ futures could end up being brighter without half-hearted Olympic support.

Matt Smith is the editor and lead writer at BaseballGB. He has been a keen baseball fan since 1998 and started blogging about the sport in 2006.


Andy Thomas: A look behind the scenes at British Equestrian


My role within the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) is lead practitioner for human science and sports Medicine. Basically I am the Human Physio (i.e I don’t treat the horses) but co-ordinate all aspects related to rider performance.

My role has two main objectives firstly the prevention treatment and management of injuries and secondly to enhance the riders performance and technical ability on a horse by addressing specific weaknesses and imbalances that a rider might have.

 

Riders typically suffer with back pain most commonly but they also subject themselves to quite a lot of trauma either by falling off or horses kicking or standing on them!

I look after all the disciplines eventing, dressage and Para-equestrian dressage and the show jumpers. Each discipline has its specific injuries. Eventers suffer the most trauma and generally walk with a limp! Dressage riders suffer more with their backs and show jumpers with groin problems.

I work very closely with the whole team, coaches, vets, doctors, horse physios and farriers. If the rider has injuries it affects the way they ride which then can affect or influence injuries of the horse so we have regular meetings particularly in the build up to a major championship. I have been lucky enough to work in many different sports at elite level. Working with riders is so different, one of my hardest tasks has been to convince them they don’t need to live with pain. They generally don’t complain unless one limb stops working or is pointing in the wrong direction!

I was part of the team taken to Hong Kong last year for the Beijing Olympics - what an experience. I was very impressed with our team. The riders, coaches and support staff worked fantastically well together. We are lucky to have such a team and this will be one of our strongest reasons for future success. All our riders and support staff believe that Team GBR will bring home the medals in 2012 and will work very hard to make this happen.

I spend most of my life now in a lorry. A mobile physiotherapy clinic driving from one end of the country to the other occasionally stopping off to drag a rider on and sort out their problems  - mostly physical. I am very caring in my nature with an emphasis on pain relief however some of our riders who don’t do their exercises need a gentle reminder now and again and faint screams can sometimes be heard.

 

At the moment I am seeing our key riders in our dressage and show jumping teams just to make sure they haven’t got any niggles or problems fortunately they are all fit and well so providing they behave they should appear at Windsor in the European Championships looking like highly trained athletes.
 

Andy Thomas is the lead practitioner for human science and sports medicine at the British Equestrian Federation (BEF). The FEI European Jumping and Dressage Championships are held at Windsor Castle August 2009 25-30. This article first appeared on UK Sport.


Larry Eder: Semenya is victim of a witch hunt

altThe great media guru, Marshal McLuhan once said: "The medium is the message." In the Cold War, sports replaced atomic war, at times, as the way the United States and the Soviet bloc promoted the benefits of their political systems.

The ends justifies the means, a lovely rationalisation for everything from water boarding to saturation bombing, was another phrase used at the time, and for matters of this discussion, history seems to be repeating itself.
 

In this day and age, sports is a medium used by marketers, to get their messages across. In the modern world, with over 500 television stations on the average home cable television, sound bites are all that most causes, countries and events get to push in front of a public over-saturated, over-satiated and naturally cynical to the intrusiveness of various media platforms. One can not go into a restroom without finding advertising, and in some places [Las Vegas], televisions have invaded even the posh restroom.


I recently spent nine days enjoying, like the thousands of fans who entered the Berlin Olympic Stadium, the best jumpers, sprinters, throwers and distance runners that the global village of two hundred plus participating countries had to offer. From Usain Bolt to Kenenisa Bekele, to Blanka Vlasic, the World Championships celebrated what is best in our world, and what is best in our sport.


When the event, like the women's high jump, got down to the basics, one athlete jumping against the other, a universal language was created, that no Croat, Russian, Spanish, German or English speaker could misunderstand. The competition was fierce, the emotions honest and results up in the air until those last, final attempts. What more can one ask for in our sport?
 

Alas, modern sport mirrors modern life. Symbols, messages, mediums, rationalisation abound in modern life. Some good, some not so good.


Consider the curious story of Caster Semenya, the gold medalist in the women's 800 metres. While it is hard to gather all of the facts, here is what we can confirm: 13 months ago, Caster was eliminated in the early rounds of the World Junior Track & Field Championships, having run 2min 11.98sec for 800m. Three months later, Caster won the World Youth title in 2:04.3. In July 2009, Caster ran 1:56.72, decimating the world junior women's record for 800m. Last week, Caster ran 1:55.45, another world junior record, to take gold in the World Championships. This was a meteoric rise, to say the least.
 

The World Championships of track & field are the most important event, per our global federation, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), in our sport. Every two years, this nine day festival of global sports takes place, and to much acclaim. The 2009 version was one of the best I have attended [I have been accredited for nine], and the performances were...well, nothing short of amazing.


The story was leaked that Caster Semenya has a testosterone level, per testing requested by the IAAF, of three times that of a normal women. In an Associated Press story, the South African federation claims that there was never a request for gender testing. Who is fibbing here? Well, read on...


An article on this website, the prominent sports news website that follows all things Olympic, wrote about the huge crowd meeting Caster Semenya in South Africa yesterday on her return home. In the crowd, were leaders of all the political groups in South Africa, including Winnie Mandela, the former wife of Nelson Mandela. Also noted in the crowd and speaking as the Athletics South Africa leader, Leonard Chuene.


Chuene suggested that racism had a part to play in the treatment of their "little girl". Winnie Mandela went so far as to threaten South African media on how they cover the debacle. The lines in the sand were drawn. Anyone who challenges Caster being a girl is anti-ANC, the African National Congress. Nice way to shut up critics. Wasn't this the tactic used by the former South African Government who supported apartheid? Wasn't this was the same media that played such a huge part in the dismantling of apartheid? Well, memories are self serving for some, I guess.


Niccolo Machievelli, a thoughtful observer of the life politik 600 years ago, once noted that all relations have politics, and such is the curious and now, sad case of Caster Semenya. His comments are prescient still today.


It has become quite apparent that the South African federation will use any means necessary to ignore the requests of the IAAF. They want their gold medal, and the life of a teenager be damned. What has happened? Using gender testing is now being equated with racism. And there is so much that we do not know about gender and its various effects.


For the definitive piece on the Semenya affair, I ask the thoughtful reader to read today's blog by Pat Butcher. This column is, in my mind, a quite definitive piece on the whole debacle, and is a great example of Butcher's strength-writing about difficult subjects with some humour and much wit [think John Cleese at times].

 


So, here is how I see it: I see an 18-year-old kid, away from home, scared, running in front of 50,000 people, and winning a major title. The kid has been raised as a girl, per her father, and no reason to not believe him. Caster Semenya, who has, again had this meteoric rise to fame, must have been confused by the lack of warmth exhibited by the crowd during the award ceremony and the questions at the interview area - Semenya was whisked through the interviews faster than Usain Bolt ran the 100m. Her experience in Berlin is just, well, sad at best, cruel at worst.
 

 

Chuene, who has called those asking about Caster's gender "racist", should be eating some of his words. Liame Diack, a black Senegalise, and President of the IAAF, was the man asking, quite discreetly, for gender testing. Diack, it has been noted, chuckled about the racism comment, having dealt with sports politics all of his life. It now appears that Mr. Diack is now personally getting involved in this debacle, hoping to end the scrutiny and get some closure for the young athlete.


Gender issues have been part of our sport for over 70 years. Just google Stella Walsh. The 1932 winner of the 100m, was murdered in a burglary in 1980, and at the time, it was found that she was actually male, but had lived as a women all of her life.


This is becoming a witch hunt. In the middle ages, women accused of witchcraft were tied to a chair, dropped in a pond with weights. If they floated up to the top [hardly], they were declared witches, if they stayed down, and consequently drown, they were not witches. If Caster is proclaimed a women, she gets hurt, if she is proclaimed a male, she gets hurt. This has become, under the lights of the media worldwide, a witch hunt, and a young teenager's life is at stake.


Gender abnormalities are more common than most of us would have thought - Butcher's piece in globe runner covers the topic quite well. This issue has come up before, and the IAAF, the federation of the athlete and athlete in question have worked the issue outside of the eyes of the media and public. Some times, and in cases of gender abnormalities, I would suggest that discretion is the best mode of operation.


In the end, this story seems to be about a federation, bereft of medals, wanting one more medal. I sure hope that is not the case, because, no matter how this works out, a life has been horribly harmed. And that life belongs to Caster Semenya.


Consider for a moment the average American teenager. I was part of the staff of a high school dorm for five years in my college years. I remember kids being depressed over problems with acne, breakups with girls, or not making the football team. Those were painful times.
 

How does one help a kid who might not be what she or he was raised as? And worst than that, the entire world knows? At the end of the day, the curious and sad story of Caster Semenya could have been avoided, and the people who were supposed to protect her, are, in my opinion, the one's to blame. 

 

Larry Eder is the President at Running Network LLC and Group Publisher at Shooting Star Media, Inc.