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The Big Read


Commonwealth Games England buoyed by London 2012 effect

Mike_Rowbottom_Big_ReadBritain has an outstanding sporting distinction looming on the horizon – that of hosting the Commonwealth Games immediately after an Olympics.

And all those involved in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow are proceeding in the expectation that it will benefit from the huge surge of energy and interest the London 2012 Games engenders.

It is not quite a unique opportunity - one other nation experienced this particular sporting double when Canada staged the 1978 Commonwealths - the first to bear the current name of "Commonwealth Games"- in Edmonton two years after the Montreal Olympics.

British gymnasts looking to learn as they gear up for London 2012

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike_RowbottomAny competitor preparing for anything at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre - home of, among others, the Grand National Archery GB and the British Gymnastics Association – is in an environment of rich sporting history.

The facility, which has been developed around the monumental 17th Century pile that once served as the Duke of Sutherland's hunting lodge, has played host to manifold sporting ambitions since being officially opened in 1951 by Princess Elizabeth.

It was on the fields of Lilleshall that Sir Alf Ramsey, assisted by Les Cocker and Harold Shepherdson, drilled his charges before their 1966 World Cup victory.

Laura's hot to Trott for a London 2012 place

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike Rowbottom(1)It was when she saw her coach, Paul Manning, was laughing, that Laura Trott realised what was about to be confirmed.

As she worked on the rollers, warming down from her training session at the Manchester velodrome which is now at the centre of her world, Manning told her the bracing news – at 18, she was going to make her World Track Championship debut in the omnium event.

The circumstances which led to the announcement, uncomfortably close to the Championships which will get under way on the track at Apeldoorn in the Netherlands on Wednesday (March 23), were unfortunate.

Concerto in tune with London 2012 party plans

By David Owen

David Owen small(13)If there is one bit of Great Britain plc that should stand to benefit when the Olympic circus pitches its tent in London in 2012 it is the events and hospitality business.

As the cream of the world's athletes strives for gold in the Olympic Park, a diverse array of  National Olympic Committees (NOCs), sports federations, corporate sponsors, their guests and customers will descend on the UK capital.

They simply would not be coming had the Games been awarded to Paris or New York - and they'll be in the mood to party.

Thorpe can win a medal at London 2012 but to beat Phelps will be hard admits Dawn Fraser

By Mike Rowbottom in Abu Dhabi

Mike Rowbottom(7)Dawn Fraser, the first swimmer to win Olympic golds at three successive Games, believes her Australian compatriot Ian Thorpe can make a big splash in his Olympic comeback at the London 2012 Games.

Fraser, whose own Olympic career was ended by a draconian ban from the Australian Swimming Union (ASU), believes the five-times Olympic champion was premature in his decision to end his career at the age of 24.

But the 73-year-old who was voted Australia's greatest female athlete in history 13 years ago is convinced Thorpe has the talent and desire to challenge Michael Phelps, who won eight golds at the Beijing Games, in the freestyle event he once made his own.

Jeanette Kwakye: World-class sprinter, world-class tweeter

By David Owen

David Owen small(1)I find myself in an unusual position as Jeanette Kwakye heads across London's Lee Valley Athletics Centre towards me.

Normally when you interview somebody, it is to get a sense of what they are like.

But I already feel pretty well acquainted with Britain's 2008 women's 100 metres Olympic finalist, though I somehow contrived to miss that race and though we have never met.

SportAccord influence belies modest size and growing all the time

By David Owen

SportAccord_logoI first encountered Hein Verbruggen in 2001 in the foyer of a top Moscow hotel.

It was at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session that brought down the curtain on Juan Antonio Samaranch's landmark Presidency and Verbruggen was talking to Britain's Princess Anne. Both occasion and interlocutor testify to the 69-year old Dutchman's standing as one of the more prominent international sports administrators of the past couple of decades.

Matthew disappointed to be denied Olympic chance but inspiration of Beckham driving him on

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike Rowbottom(58)There was no Inter-Galactic Squash championship last year. But if there had been, the chances are that Nick Matthew would have won it. After all, he won practically everything else in 2010.

When the 30-year-old from Sheffield overcame fellow Yorkshireman James Willstropin Saudi Arabia a fortnight before Christmas to become the first Englishman to winthe World Open title since the competition began in 1976, he rounded off 12 months of outstanding success, having already won two Commonwealth gold medals at the Delhi Games and seven major Tour titles.

And as 2010 has turned into 2011, Matthew is officially established as the world's number one squash player.

Britain's loss is Qatar's gain but Aden still set to help Britain find glory at London 2012

JaMike Rowbottom(1)ma Aden collected his award last week as the best coach in the Arab sporting world at a grand ceremony in Dubai. And among the great and the good in attendance was his old friend from Sheffield, Mustafa Mohammed, whose 20-year-old younger brother Mukhtar is shaping up as one of Britain's most promising 800 metres runners under his - and Aden's - direction.

Aden's selection as the most worthy of 132 candidates from 16 Arab countries who contended for the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Sports Excellence can be partially explained by sporting statistics.


Hambantota bid must be taken seriously under Sri Lanka Bank Governor

Duncan Mackay in Chicago(1)Few people in the sports world had probably heard of Hambantota until it surprisingly put itself forward at the last moment earlier this year to bid for the 2018 Commonwealth Games against the Gold Coast.

A quick entry into Google gave us the basic facts that it was on the south coast of Sri Lanka and that it had been badly damaged in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. They looked unlikely candidates for an event widely estimated cost India $10 billion (£6.5 billion) to stage earlier this year and they were quickly written off as serious candidates.

The general feeling about their bid was summed up by Ron Clarke, the former multi world-record holder is now the Mayor of the Gold Coast. "They could be tough opponents even though it must be hard to imagine they have the accommodation necessary or have the facilities," he said a few days after their bid was announced.

Performing at the highest level? It's all in the mind

By Mike Rowbottom in Canterbury

Mike Rowbottom(1)It is around ten o'clock on a Sunday morning, and the hall at University of Kent sports centre contains about 110 talented local youngsters and their parents, as well as a group of sporting performers who have already made their mark at the highest levels.

Right now, settled on squashy cushions at the front of the hall, the youngsters have their faces upturned to the woman whose level of achievement peaked at the 2004 Olympics when she won 800 and 1500 metres gold medals.

Having set up her Legacy Trust once she retired from the track in 2005, Dame Kelly Holmes - as she can now call herself - has devoted much time and energy, along with her capable and committed support team, in setting up the opportunity for learning and inspiration which these youngsters may now seize.

Putting excellence at the heart of everything

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike_Rowbottom_Big_ReadAmong Roger Jackson's many interests is music. But that doesn't mean he just likes to listen to music. He is chairman of Canada's National Music Foundation, which has recently gathered enough funding from central and local government to start establishing a $130 million (£80 million) building in Calgary that will become the first national music centre.

Jackson has a gift for making things happen - and finding the money to make things happen - as has been demonstrated triumphantly this year at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where the Own The Podium project he helped institute in 2005 to boost Canada's medal performances contributed hugely to a home total of 14 gold medals – the most ever achieved by a winter Olympics host.

Sainsbury's commitment to children's well-being "will not waver"

By David Owen

David_Owen_3Active Kids, the UK School Games and now the 2012 Paralympics - Sainsbury's has become an increasingly familiar component of the British sporting scene in recent times.

So it is disconcerting when Jat Sahota, the supermarket chain's head of sponsorship, begins an in-depth interview at the company's Holborn headquarters in central London with the remark: "We don't have what I would call a sports strategy."

The point he is making becomes clear with his next sentence, however.

"We have a healthy, active lifestyle strategy."

Keino the legend seals the Kenya-Bristol connection

By Mike Rowbottom in Bristol

Mike Rowbottom(1)There are several hundred people milling about at Filton College's newly laid running track. Teams of children from local Bristol schools chatter in their groups under floodlights, awaiting occasional calls to action. The section of enclosed seating near the finishing line is full up with spectators and VIPs, all sheltering from an evening wind that whips the banners set out along the infield into ceaseless activity.

TV camera crews from ITV and BBC are on the prowl, their lights shining into the gloom of the stands to pick out relevant visiting parties. Photographers gather the yellow, white, green and red-shirted youngsters into groups, getting them to cheer and wave the mini-flags they have been given for the occasion – Kenyan flags.