One Year To Go To Tokyo 2020

Mike Rowbottom: Dancing the night away with Prince Albert

Duncan Mackay

It was inevitable that the gaudily attired dancing girl appearing at the banquet following last night’s Samsung Diamond League meeting in Monte Carlo should eventually corral the guest of honour for a spin around the floor.

And Prince Albert - for of course it was he - showed no reluctance in strutting his stuff for a minute or so as his cohort of big-suited security men had collective apoplexy.

The Prince, who will shortly marry South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Whittock, was not lacking charming female company on the evening, seated as he was next to the scenic beauty of Brazilian pole vaulter Fabiana Murer.

But their conversation appeared a little stilted - a byproduct no doubt of the hyper-hovering suits, who gathered around every stopper at the Prince’s table like Hitchcock’s birds, speaking into their cuffs with increasing violence.

Of course, this phenomenon would help explain why the Prince never reached the podium heights during his time as an Olympic bobsleigh driver. There would have had to have been a security man aboard, and no matter how skilful the royal navigation that has to be seen as a significant handicap.

The Prince, however, showed himself to be rather adept at the spinny, showy dance he was required to perform - far more convincing than any of the athletes who had previously been hauled up to do the same thing, to the raucous amusement of all on their tables.

This definitely qualified as entertainment for the attending competitors, many of whom, particularly those from the United States, like to stress the importance of "having fun".

Presumably that means enjoying their performances on the track or in the field. But those engaged in the Asian-American-European merry-go-round that is the Diamond League have been finding their fun in far smaller things as they make their way from one four-star hotel to another.

On a day-to-day basis, that fun can be had from something as timelessly amusing as an athlete dropping a fork in the restaurant, or trying to pull a hotel door which is clearly marked "Push".

But what I have noticed particularly as I have accompanied the runners, throwers and jumpers on several of their trips is the good humour involved in their press conference.

They say that laughter is often the best cure for depression. It seemed to do the trick for Ryan Brathwaite in Shanghai.

Speaking at a press conference the day before the Diamond League meeting in May, the world 110 metres hurdles champion from Barbados explained that he was trying to recover from cutting his knee in a recent fall, adding: "I’m just going through a little depression."

His glum demeanour prompted a little ripple of amusement among the other athletes on the stand - David Oliver, Steven Hooker, Andreas Thorkildsen, Shelly-Ann Fraser and Carmelita Jeter.

Asked to say a little more about his little depression, Brathwaite looked just a little uncomfortable.

"Obviously it’s just because I had a bad fall," he said, as Hooker and Thorkildsen tried quite hard to suppress laughter. "And it just takes my mind off running faster, but now I’m back to how I was last year, so there’s going to be some good showdowns this weekend."

So there he was, already on the mend. And by the time he had been asked a question about the forthcoming competition by Shanghai TV he was back on top of the world.

"I’m not depressed any more, I’m ready to go" he insisted.

But his plight had obviously registered with his fellow athletes. Talking about their forthcoming race, Brathwaite’s high hurdles rival Oliver mused: "You’ve got ten barriers you’ve got to get over, and you could fall or something, and, you know, fall like, into a depression. But if you don’t get it done this time you’ve got plenty of other races to get it done, so it’s all right."

Thorkildsen too seemed to be mindful of Brathwaite’s situation when he discussed how travelling to Diamond League meetings outside Europe presented a lot of different challenges: "Travel and jet lag. Um, depression and all that stuff."

By now, Brathwaite was laughing along with his fellow athletes. But you had to wonder if all the hilarity at his expense had affected him when he failed to finish his race the next day...

Usain Bolt’s post-event press conference in Shanghai, which went on late into the night as he was asked an apparently endless sequence of random questions, including "When will you visiting the Expo?", was illuminated late on by a burst of crowd-pleasing charm from the world and Olympic champion.

Following the presentation of awards to Bolt and his companion in front of the microphones, Liu Xiang, there was a big kerfuffle as a group picture was organised. In the process, unnoticed by the preoccupied organisers but in plain sight of all who sat and watched, Bolt dropped his framed gift onto the floor.

Mugging to the crowd with the aplomb of Will Smith, he stooped and scooped the award back up with exaggerated speed. The comic turn passed the officials by, but was richly appreciated by everyone else.

David Oliver, a leading player in the Great Shanghai Depression, was also at the centre of things in Monte Carlo this week as he responded to a simple but somewhat mysterious question: "What is crunk?"

A simple enough sentence, but it had the effect of swift-acting laughing gas upon the high hurdler and his fellow athletes, including 400m hurdler Bershawn Jackson and 100m hurdler LoLo Jones.

Once his large body has stopped rocking around in mirth, Oliver, who uses the word on his personal website, responded: "It’s like,  super-excited."

 At his side, Jackson adds a little background. Apparently the phrase comes from the US rapper Lil’ Jon.

"He’s known for being hyped all the time," Jackson said. "So they named it crunk. When we race it helps our adrenaline go, and the more hyper you are the faster you are going to run. You’re not going to think about the lactic acid, you’re not going to think about being tired, all you can think about is running fast."

Jones had a more down-to-earth definition of crunk – "being ready". It was a more sensible form of words. But it was less fun.

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 chief feature writer for insidethegames

Tom Degun: I wondered if we crashed whether they would name something after me in the Olympic Park

Duncan Mackay

I must confess; I’m not all that fond of heights.

I’m not quite out of the mould of the former Arsenal and Netherlands striker Denis Bergkamp where I refuse to travel by plane but I do so with great reluctance because I believe that if God had wanted us to fly, he would have armed us with wings.

With that in mind, I set off to the Olympic Park building site in Stratford on Thursday morning to attend the launch of the National Lottery London 2012 Games hot air balloon which I was set to ride in.

The balloon, I was reliably informed, was set to be tethered to the ground via a rope and I was therefore not as apprehensive on my entry into the Olympic Park as I might have been had I been set to head some 2,000 feet into the sky in a vessel that does not appear to me to be all that safe.

After all, a hot air balloon as no seat belts, no obvious mechanism to head steadily in a particular direction and its powered by "hot air" for goodness sake.

The hot air balloon, which is going on tour across the UK, was devised by some creative individual to "thank Lottery players across Britain for their contribution to London 2012 and to highlight the role that people from across the UK will play in helping to host the world’s greatest sporting event."

While I cannot be described as a hardcore gambler, I admit I have dabbled in the Lottery on more than one occasion in search of vast sums of money and I am delighted that the money I have spent (or lost) on my Lottery tickets is contributing to London 2012.

But to thank me for my contribution by sending me up in a balloon? I’d probably just prefer a pat on the back and six-pack of beers to be honest!

But anyway, it was a pleasant morning, the Olympic Park construction site was looking phenomenal and I reminded myself that the balloon was indeed "tethered" to the ground. In addition, Olympic canoeing gold medallist Tim Brabants, gymnastics bronze medallist Louis Smith and 400 metres hurdles bronze medallist Tasha Danvers, were all in attendance for the launch so at the very least, I though it would be great to chat to them.

However, as I approached, I noticed a few things that made me feel uneasy. The balloon was actually tethered to three 4x4 vehicles and one of the men in the cars was driving forwards and backwards which made the balloon go up and down. I don’t know a whole lot about the mechanics of hot air balloons but that didn’t seem overly safe to me.

The second thing was that when the wind picked up, the balloon began to shake violently and lose control. Before it was my turn to go in the balloon, I saw a few heart-stopping moments including one perilous flight where my esteemed insidethegames colleague Alan Hubbard and his crew made an aggressive crash landing after the wind picked up. They must have hit the ground at around 30 miles per hour and for a few seconds a feared for the safety of Alan and his fellow passengers.

Thirdly, and perhaps most worryingly of all, I spoke to a rather dizzy looking Louis Smith straight after he had flown in the balloon. It was obviously not speaking to Louis that worried me but that fact that one of the world’s top gymnasts, a man who flies off asymmetric bars, rings and pommel horses on a daily basis, looked nauseous after his flight could not be good news.

"I’m okay with flying in stable vehicles like planes," Louis told me. "But it is very unstable in there and it moves all over the place."

"Thanks for the advice, Louis," I replied in my least sincere of expressions.

It had just gone past 9.00am and it was finally my turn to go in.

I approached the huge balloon rather nervously where I was accompanied by Louis who was having about his fifth flight of the day. There was an Olympic medallist onboard every balloon flight with Tim, Tasha and Louis rotating flights and I admit that I did feel sorry for Louis when I saw him reluctantly climb aboard looking increasingly uncomfortable.

"Hold on," said the man ‘steering’ our hot air balloon ride and suddenly, a deafening blast sounded inches above my head as a flame shot out into the balloon lifting it off the ground.

One thing I had not anticipated was the noise and the heat that the flame would produce and it made me jump to such an extent that I clung to a rope inside the edge of the basket for support.

As the balloon lifted off the ground and reached full height, some of my anxiety left me. The wind had dropped and I had a great view of the Park.

The Olympic Stadium was glistening in the sunlight and the world suddenly seemed very calm. I even had time to take a few pictures and as long as I didn’t move around too much or look up (which for some reason made me feel unstable) I felt okay.

However, as we began to climb higher, the balloon began to shake as it became more exposed to the wind.

We started to move around gently at first but it was getting progressively more vigorous.

I glanced over at Louis who looked about as secure as I felt. But instead of betraying my fear, I smiled as if I were enjoying the turbulence.

As the balloon turned, I had the feeling that I might fall out and I began to wonder if a 25 metre fall would actually kill me. Bizarrely, a thought came to me that plunging to your death in the Olympic Park would perhaps not be the worst thing in the world as I might get something in the magnificent Park named after me. However, I realised that such a monument would be very little consolation to me and my family and I clung on to the rope even more tightly.

We quickly started to descend as I heard the shout "Bend your knees". I did so in the knick of time as the thud to the ground sent shockwaves through my body.

I climbed out of the balloon rather happy to be back on the ground but pleased that I had been ‘man enough’ to go up in it.

The balloon will now visit some of the major cities in the UK giving members of the public the chance to fly in the balloon while being accompanied by elite athletes. The balloon will visit Birmingham on July 27, Manchester on August 16, Cardiff on September 14 and Sheffield on September 28 while it is scheduled to visit further cities in 2011 and 2012.

If you are planning to go up in the balloon, I’m sure you will enjoy it but if you like heights about as much as me, my advice is to check the weather forecast well before your flight and ensure that there is not a breath of wind. And if you’re an adrenaline junkie, go up in the balloon in gale force winds and I hope that works out okay for you!

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames

Suresh Kalmadi: Usain Bolt will be the loser if he misses the Commonwealth Games

Duncan Mackay

There are 72 days to go for the start of the Commonwealth Games and the excitement is building up to a crescendo. The headquarters of the Organising Committee, with a staff of close to 2000, is buzzing round the clock as we strive to achieve our collective vision of producing the best Games ever.

I can see that our work is already bearing fruit. Thanks to the splendid work by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Delhi's Lieutenant Governor, security concerns appear to be a thing of the past.

Delhi 2010 will be the biggest ever Commonwealth Games, what with Australia, England and Canada - and many other nations - telling us that they will field their biggest contingents ever.

After all, we have built the Commonwealth Games around the athletes. Be it the competition venues or training venues or the Games Village, catering or transport, we have kept the athlete in focus when designing the facilities and making decisions.

If any athlete chooses to skip the Games, for whatever reason, he or she will be the one missing out on a wonderful Games. There have been reports quoting champion sprinter Usain Bolt's manager that he may not come to Delhi. All I will say is that at the moment, the Organising Committee only knows the number of athletes from each of the 71 members of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Since the last date for entries by name is September 3, we will know for sure which athletes are coming.

I will also point out that Bolt's fellow Jamaicans Asafa Powell and Yohan Blake (pictured) are in the same league as him as was seen in the Paris Diamond League event when very little separated them.

Yet, the websites of these Commonwealth Games Associations tell us that some fabulous athletes have been named in their sides. Australian swimming medley queen Stephanie Rice won three gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and is a world record holder. England's Rebecca Adlington won two swimming gold medals in Beijing. Australian pole-vaulter Steve Hooker is a world champion.

That is not all. English road cyclist Bradley Wiggins has three Olympic gold medals and five world championship titles.

Suresh Kalmadi is the President of the Indian Olympic Association and chairman of the Organising Committee for New Delhi 2010. This article was first published in the Hindustan Times

Alan Hubbard: Commonwealth Games needs a radical makeover to survive and prosper

Duncan Mackay

Have the Commonwealth Games passed their sell-by date? The Indian Government are deeply unhappy at the latest withdrawals from this year’s event in New Delhi, and understandably so.

The cast of star competitors is beginning to look like a litany of absentees, with England’s track queen Victoria Pendleton the latest among the escalating array of deserters.

She joins Scottish pedalling pal Sir Chris Hoy and assorted members of sports glitterati including athltetics’ principal boy Usain Bolt, England’s leading lady Jessica Ennis and Jamaicans Shelly-Ann Fraser (announced before her positive drugs test) and Veronica Campbell-Brown, plus Beth Tweddle, Daniel Keating and Louis Smith among England’s leading gymnasts  in declaring that the Commonwealth Games are not in their 2010 diary. As insidethegames reported earlier this week, India’s Sports Minister is angry at the raft of personalities whose names look like making Delhi a star-free zone.

"This is not good at all," says M S Gill. "Star athletes have drifted away from the Games….they do not seem to think they are important any more."

Sadly, his words have the ring of truth. As the years pass, these Games cease to have sufficient status to remain a major attraction for sport’s A-listers.

It used to the fear of Delhi belly that caused many sports folk to shudder at the prospect of a visit to the sub-Continent. Now it is overcrowded schedules, nail-nibbling concerns over security and the lack of relevance of the India’s Games to the commercial market that causes such a reluctance to travel there. 

The Commonwealth Games have become devalued, just as the Commonwealth title has in boxing and a number of other sports. I do not say this lightly, having attended every Games since 1966 and enjoyed all of them. They are not labelled the Friendly Games for nothing. By and large they have been a joy to witness and report.

They may not have the cachet of the Olympics, nor would you expect them to have as by comparison they are a village fete. This is not to disparage them but to appreciate them for what they are - or rather, were.

The ‘Friendly Games’ now exist uneasily in a target-obsessed era when friendlies in sport have become meaningless. There is now serious rivalry from the African Games, Asian Games, the Mediterranean Games, the Youth Olympics and an increasing number of individual sport world and European Championships which seem to coincide and brings fixture congestion in the same year, and take priority as far as competitors are concerned.

A Commonwealth Games medal is a decent little trinket to hang around the neck but it does not possess the market value of an Olympic or World Championships one. That seems a prime reason why so many of sport’s superstars can’t be bothered to turn up.

The problem with the Commonwealth Games is that, rather like the Commonwealth itself, they have become something of an anachronism. Hard as they have tried, that still cannot shake off the remaining vestiges of colonialism lingering from the days from inception in 1930 they first were the British Empire Games,  then the British Empire and Commonwealth Games (1954), the British Commonwealth Games (1970) and finally the Commonwealth Games in 1978.

Subsequently there have been some strong arguments as to whether or not we actually need a Commonwealth any more, and  if this should be was to be the case why need a Commonwealth Games?

Personally I hope they continue for some years to come. I would be sad to see them redundant but I fear they are becoming so in terms of all co-existing with the escalating major porting competitions now going on around the world.

Sport’s international calendar is incredibly congested. One can  appreciate why Scotland’s Chris Hoy (pictured), for instance, has rejected Delhi in favour of preparing to his own satisfaction for both the upcoming European Championships and the Olympics (though whether he would have risked getting seriously clubbed about the head by a million claymores had this October’s ComGames been in Glasgow instead of Delhi is open to conjecture).

"The Olympics has to take precedence over everything," says Hoy, a double Commonwealth Games gold medalist. "I could turn up at the Commonwealth Games but it would hamper my preparation for the European Championships, a qualifying event for 2012. And I wouldn't be at a hundred per cent fitness-wise."

Pendleton says the same and you can bet there will be numerous more drop outs within the nest couple of months to cause Mr Gill more angst.

Fair enough I suppose. But with Delhi’s Games fast becoming the great Indian take-away inn terms of talent, you wonder how many Asian nations may take reprisals at Glasgow in 2014.

I suspect that, in any case, the way international sport will burgeon over the next four years the dear old Commonwealth Games will become even less magnet for the superstars. Perhaps it is time to start revamping with a new format, perhaps even a new title for the quadrennial sportsfest. Time, perhaps scale them down in these harsh dark economic times and give the shop window to some of those disciplines which never get a look-in at the Olympics: Things like water skii-ing, darts, snooker and acrobatic gymnastics (all of which would bring even more glory to our Home Nations).

They also have  which have a greater televisual appeal than some already in the traditional Games schedule. Time, perhaps, to celebrate a common wealth of games rather than a Commonwealth Games.  

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered a total of 16 Summer and Winter Olympics and 10 Commonealth Games.

Ben Ainslie: Return to Finn will tell me how I am going for London 2012

Duncan Mackay

Last week I spent some time sailing the Finn in Lymington, it was hard work and the body suffered a bit, however it has enabled me to get enough training in to be able to confirm I'll be competing at the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy on August 9-14.

I've not raced a Finn since Beijing 2008 so it's will be almost two years to the day, but doing this year's Sail for Gold was on the cards as long as it fitted in with the rest of our TEAMORIGIN schedule. 

I think Sail for Gold is a really important regatta for me to attend to not only check in with where the rest of the Finn fleet are, and what developments have taken place since I've been away, but also to familiarise myself with the venue and conditions as I've actually not raced an Olympic class boat at Weymouth and Portland for about five or six years.

I have to accept I'm not going to be 100 per cent race ready, 100 per cent Finn fit and at my ideal racing weight, and I'm sure it will be frustrating for me at times not being able to do things I'd normally take for granted, but the benefits of competing far outweigh any frustrations I may experience as long as I'm realistic, and possibly more importantly, other people are realistic about what I can achieve on such limited preparation.

The prospect of racing the Finn again is really exciting to me and that counts for a lot. An Olympic cycle is a long, long road, which can get quite tedious, and many of the Finn guys will also have one eye on the Worlds, which take place in San Francisco just after Sail for Gold. I'll enjoy getting to grips with the boat in racing conditions again and the lack of preparation time means I'll have to concentrate on getting the basics, like starts and tactics, right as I'll be lacking boat speed in other areas and probably won't take as many chances as I would if I had the speed elsewhere.

My experience is going to be really important and I know I'm going to find it difficult at times but as you get older you generally get a bit more philosophical about things; I don't have to prove myself in the Finn class and there are too many positives to doing the event to worry about "What if I don't win?" Any result inside the top 10 would be a good result.

Racing any Olympic class boat is a unique physical challenge, you use muscles which are so hard to replicate in a gym. You have to get your body used to racing again and all the aches and pains that go with it. Apart from the Lymington training days, I had a week with the Skandia Team GBR Finn squad this winter, did a few days training in Valencia during the spring and I've got three days with the British Finn guys at WPNSA the week before Sail for Gold.

All Finn sailing I do between now and the regatta will be about re-familiarising my body with that feeling and boat handling. I've left all the boat development work to my coach David 'Sid' Howlett and that's been going well although I haven't had the chance to use the boat in anger yet. We'll make the decision on whether we use the new boat at Sail for Gold in the next couple of weeks as there may be some things we want to keep under wraps.

TEAMORIGIN has kept me very busy over the past three months and we've had a mix of results in our TP52 Audi Med Cup events in Cascais and Marseilles and the latest Louis Vuitton Trophy Regatta in Sardinia.

However I took a day out from the Marseilles event to compete in this year's J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race, where I raced on the Ker 46 Fair Dos II, renamed J.P. Morgan Asset Management Prince's Trust  for the race, the crew was made up of young people from the Prince's Trust charity for which I'm an ambassador.

There wasn't much sleep had over those 24 hours as I had to get the last flight out of Marseille at 10.30pm on Friday, which was delayed, and then my taxi didn't arrive t o pick me up from the airport. Fortunately the sailing journalist James Boyd had an old Triumph sports car in the long stay car park and after a pitch black RIB ride we eventually made it to Cowes at about 3.30am for the 4.50am warning signal! It was certainly an interesting day but very worth it as seeing the young people enjoy themselves on the boat, and get a chance to do some of the sailing themselves, was just brilliant.

I don't get a chance to do too much for the charity so it was great to be able to do this while also saying thank you to J.P Morgan Asset Management for all the support they continue to give me in my Olympic campaign.

There have been a few changes in the TEAMORIGIN camp over the past couple of months with Grant Simmer coming in as our new CEO while we've also received the proposed protocol document for the next America's Cup. Grant has so much America's Cup experience, this will be his eighth, and he held the roles of Design Co-ordinator, and later MD, of Alinghi winners of the Cup in 2003 and 2007. Team meetings with Grant feel a bit like you're at the University of the America's Cup! 

He's had an immediate impact in terms of our decision making processes and he makes sure as many people as possible are involved in decision making so that even if you don't agree with a decision you've had an input and can understand better why a decision has been made.

Grant's experience comes into its own when deciding on our responses to the AC34 Proposed Protocol Document. I'm pleased the process is moving along but after three years of investing so much time, effort, energy and finance into TEAMORIGIN we have to make sure we'll get a fair crack at the Cup. There would be no point doing the event if it was unwinnable and there are a few clauses in the document, which at the moment, need some further clarification to make sure we're all competing on a level playing field.

So far the lines of communication between the defenders, BMW Oracle, and the rest of the teams have been good and hopefully these will stay open so we can all have an input into the final format. The document also proposes some wide-ranging changes about how future events are run, the boats, race management etc , which is positive, but we have make sure it remains about the sailing and doesn't become  unbalanced and end up only about the media, commercial opportunities and sponsorship.

We had more positive news a couple of weeks ago when Myself, Iain Percy, Christian Kamp, Magnus Augustson and Matt Cornwell had a great result for the team by winning the Stena Match Cup in Sweden which is part of the World Match Racing Tour. This was really positive progress as it was highly competitive, hopefully we can compete in at least two more WMRT events this year.

Finally, TEAMORIGIN will be going head-to-head with BMW Oracle in the new 1851 Cup at Cowes Week, a really exciting one-off regatta which is a great opportunity for our team to take on one of, if not the, top team in the World, on home waters but also raise the profile of the TEAMORIGIN brand on the Cowes Week stage.

Ben Ainslie is Britain's most successful Olympic sailor of all time, in total he has won three gold medals and one silver. He is also a nine times World champion, eight times European Champion and three times ISAF world sailor of the year. Ainslie's next aspiration is to win the Americas Cup with TEAMORIGIN before bringing back a historic fourth gold in the London 2012 Olympics

Mike Rowbottom: Forget Bolt, the 800m is what really captures the imagination

Duncan Mackay
Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay may have commanded the bulk of media attention so far this season - such is the lure of the 100 metres, and its possibility of ascribing those magic words World’s Fastest Man to whoever happens to be in possession of the world record. But the short sprint is not the most compelling athletic discipline this year. That distinction belongs to the 800m.

Abubaker Kaki’s victory in Friday’s Samsung Diamond League meeting in Paris was expected, but his time - 1min 43.50sec - was not.  It’s a great time. But he was supposed to be running even faster.

Such is the measure of expectation of an athlete who has demonstrated outstanding, if not unparalleled, levels of performance in the last couple of years, picking up two world indoor titles in the process.

In fairness, the level of expectation had been established by Kaki himself. The man from Sudan’s comments before his latest race were all pointing towards a target of bettering his personal best and breaking into sub-1:42 territory.

Only four men have managed that so far.

Wilson Kipketer, the Kenyan-born, naturalised Dane has the fastest two times ever recorded to his credit, and his world record of 1 41.11 has stood since 1997.

Then there was Seb Coe - remember him? - whose stupendous 1981 performance of 1:41.73 in Florence stood as world record for  16 years before Kipketer emerged.

That said, Joachim Cruz had very nearly eclipsed it in 1984 a few days after beating Coe to the Olympic title he coveted at the Los Angeles Games. The Brazilian recorded  1:41.77 in Cologne.

This trio stood alone until last Saturday week, when Kenya’s David Rudisha (poictured) won the event at Heusden-Zolder in a startling 1:41.51, making him the second fastest man of all time.

So here is the reason Kaki is putting pressure on himself.  It’s a classic case of two exceptional talents using each other to move onwards and upwards.

"Rudisha’s run has given me fire in my belly," he said. "However I feel I can do the same as him."

Middle distance events have jumped forward over the years under this creative pressure. During the Second World War, two Swedes - Gunder Haag and Arne Andersson - brought the 1500m world record down between them from 3:47.8 to 3.43.00. Coe and Steve Ovett swapped mile and 1500m records during the early Eighties before becoming part of the mix which saw Steve Cram emerge to prominence - and contention with the man who was left straining at his shoulder when the Briton became the first man to better 3min 30sec for the 1500 in Nice in 1985 - Said Aouita of Morocco. And so it goes on...

Such rivalry is not the only trigger for progression - Kipketer had no effective peer during his record-breaking year - but when it does occur, the benefits for the event, and for athletics as a whole, grow exponentially.

Rudisha, a gazelle of an athlete in the mode of Kipketer, or his original athletic hero Billy Konchellah, who took the world title in 1987 and 1991, established a significant marker at the end of last season when he broke the African record in Rieti, running 1:42.01.

"I don’t want to talk about the world record because it has stayed there for the last 12 years and to break it isn’t something easy," Rudisha told me earlier this year before his run in the initial Samsung Diamond League meeting in Doha. "Even to break the African record was not that easy. On the day I did it I didn’t expect it. I thought I would be running something like 1.44.

"So this year I just want to see if a can break my personal best. I don’t want to talk about the world record, but if it is coming, on the way, then no problem - it is OK."

For a few moments, it very much looked as if that record was about to arrive last month, at the Oslo Diamond League meeting, as Rudisha, having led the field, bar pacemakers, from the gun, came under severe pressure at the start of the Bislett Stadium’s final straight from the small, straining figure at his right - Kaki.

Over the same stretch of ground on which so many superlative athletics performances have taken place over the years - Coe’s  1979 world 800m record of 1.42.33, Ovett and Cram’s Dream Mile world records of 1980 and 1985 respectively - Rudisha and Kaki, gazelle and lion, went full out. No reservations.  It was the essence of athletics, a reminder to all who witnessed it of the sport’s instinctive, timeless appeal.

Teeth bared with effort, Kaki - who is still coached by Jama Aden even thought the latter is now in charge of Qatar’s athletes - came almost level, then dropped slightly back over the final 20 metres as Rudisha seemed to stretch his legs even more.

The Kenyan won in 1:42.04, with the Sudanese athlete just  0.19 adrift in what was a personal best by four tenths of a second. It also established Kaki as the fifth fastest 800m runner of all time.

The International Association of Athletics Federation’s new format for grand prix competition has the laudable aim of getting top athletes to face each other in events taking place outside championships.

Although Kaki has been quite open about the fact that the sport could not expect himself and Rudisha to face each other on a constant basis the two men are nevertheless committed racing again at least once more this season, in the Brussels Diamond League meeting on August 27 .

"Next time we meet, I think the world record could even go," Kaki added.

If it does, great. But it doesn’t really matter. What really matters is that two top performers face each other and try unreservedly to beat each other. That is enough - and I can’t wait to see it.

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 chief feature writer for insidethegames

Steve Grainger: Summer of sport inspires tomorrow’s stars

Duncan Mackay

Fans of British sport have certainly been blessed in recent weeks with some fantastic events taking place on home soil, as well as the nation’s best competing overseas.

Tennis at Wimbledon, the football World Cup, international cricket and golf’s British Open - just some of the sporting spectacles that have kept us glued to our screens or the radio since early summer.

No doubt many of those watching, and particularly the younger generation, will have been inspired to pick up a tennis racquet or a golf club in an attempt to emulate their heroes.

I’m sure we can all think back to our childhood when we watched on television, heard on the radio or, for those lucky few, experienced first-hand an historic moment in sport which left us truly inspired. One that sticks in my mind is the 1976 Montreal Olympics. I was watching it on a very dodgy TV set whilst on holiday in a caravan in the Lake District but can still vividly remember Brendan Foster winning the bronze medal in the 10,000m having set a new Olympic record in the heats.

After all, when asked what drove them to take up their particular sport, today’s sports stars often reveal it was because of a magical moment or incredible performance they saw from an elite athlete.

The opportunity for a wannabe Wayne Rooney or aspiring Andy Murray to play sport at school are about to be put on hold for a few weeks, with most schools breaking up for holidays soon. The positive news is that a large number of schools don’t relinquish their influence just because term-time is over and for our most talented school-age athletes and those looking to further develop their skills, this July and August will be a time for intensive training.

For example, the Crown Hills School Sport Partnership and Lancaster School Sport Partnership, both in Leicester, have an inclusive Gifted and Talented Academy for ten and 11-year-olds, whilst a series of multi-sport and multi-skill camps will be held for youngsters aged seven-to-15 years.

Paignton Community Sports College, covering South Devon, have football, cricket and rugby academies, sailing and kayaking courses and squash and horse riding clubs, amongst many other things, going on this summer.

And the South West Lincolnshire School Sport Partnership are not only working with their district council to support a summer programme of health and sport, but also their sports coaches are running camps in table tennis and badminton.

School sport partnerships, of which there are 450 across the country, include every primary, secondary and special school, and - just as importantly - the community providers, such as clubs, community coaches and volunteers.

Through this powerful network the Youth Sport Trust has been able to drive opportunities for young people to participate, perform and lead in sport. All of that has been possible because of the investment in an infrastructure of people that stands ready to deliver the most exceptional legacy programme of all time – that of the Olympic and Paralympic Games following its staging in 2012.

This army of people is capable not only of creating new opportunities for young people, but also of sustaining their commitment to sport. The work that we do in the next two years could make a transformational difference to the lives of millions of young people.

Anyone wanting to see how we are supporting the best young talent in the UK and creating an opportunity for them to go head-to-head in ten Olympic and Paralympic sports should travel to the North East of England for the 2010 Sainsbury’s UK School Games, which take place in Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland from September 2 to 5.

The sports programme in 2010 will include road cycling, combined with the existing programme of athletics, badminton, fencing, gymnastics, hockey, judo, swimming, table tennis and volleyball. There is an integrated programme of disability events, physical and learning disabilities, in athletics, swimming and table tennis, which will increase the number of athletes competing in 2010 to around 1,600.

It really is an inspirational sporting event that not only demonstrates the drive and determination of the amazing young people themselves, but also showcases the culmination of the huge efforts of their back up team: their parents or guardians, National Governing Bodies of Sport, coaches, teachers and of course School Sport Partnerships.

For more information on the Sainsbury’s UK School Games, click here

Steve Grainger is the chief executive of the Youth Sports Trust

Jim Cowan: Yes Minister, but can we see the strategy?

Duncan Mackay

Hugh Robertson, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics has gone on record on these pages lambasting my blog on the return of "Initiative-itis" only five weeks after he had promised its end.

I am grateful he took the time and exceptionally pleased that, after a decade of Ministers using sport as a tool for social engineering and little else, we now have a Minister prepared to enter into debate and who clearly wants to develop sport and the many benefits it brings to the larger community. That can only be a good thing.

Mr Robertson seems under the impression that I am being critical of the new Olympic and Paralympic style competition for schools. I am not, it is better to have it than not have it but to maximise its effect, to fully exploit its benefit to the nation, please Mr Robertson sort out the wider, urgently required strategy.

Mr Robertson is on record as agreeing with my in a national newspaper, that after a decade of initiative led delivery we needed to get back to a better planned approach. In fact it was Mr Robertson in that same article who coined the term "initiative-itis".

We need a strategy which offers fully, vertically integrated planning along the entire sports development continuum. This would mean planning the impact and consequence of one action on the next and linking them properly together. We have not seen any understanding of this principle from UK Sport, Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust under the previous Government.

Mr Robertson claims the strategy is in place, he offers no evidence of its existence.

Mr Robertson states: "Only last month, I explained the principles underpinning the Government’s sports legacy strategy. There are five key areas- all of which are essential if we are to create a cultural shift towards greater participation in sport. These are: lottery reform, structural reform, elite sport, school sport and mass participation."

Mr Robertson continues; "The lottery reforms will return sport to its original place - as one of the main beneficiary sectors of the National Lottery. By 2012 the reforms will secure a further £50 million for sport each year. This funding will hugely benefit sports clubs and help refurbish sports facilities, so that they are ready for the influx of young people turned on to sport by our Olympic-style competition."

Mr Robertson has identified an increase in lottery funding for sport, a positive start. Of course, strategy is about how you are going to do things not what you would like to do, so Mr Robertson’s strategy will need to answer "how" it will benefit sports clubs and help refurbish sports facilities.

The Minister then states: "Structural reform is about ensuring that we have the best sports system possible at every level - school, community and elite. We have to be confident that every pound of funding being spent on sport is used as effectively as possible and that there is a seamless pathway between schools, sports clubs and the elite level so that no talent slips through the net."

However. planning structure before knowing what the strategy is can be a risky business. Structure should be the servant of strategy, ensuring effective and efficient delivery.

Mr Robertson adds: "There are already strong links between schools and sports clubs. On average, schools have links with seven local sports clubs with over 1.5 million young people involved through this route. This new competition will build on this further, and should have its most marked impact at the lowest level - if the Kent School Games experience is typical."

Mr Robertson will be aware that many in sport question such statistics and point out that they have never been independently audited. On the few occasions independent experts have analysed the data supplied by UK Sport, Sport England, the Youth Sport Trust and/or the National Governing Bodies, the figures have been found to be exaggerated.

One of the world’s most highly regarded athletics statisticians, Rob Whittingham, is among those few independent experts who have highlighted such discrepancies to both previous and current Governments, so far to avail.

It is inevitable that if you fund organisations to achieve targets and then ask them alone to measure and report on their success in achieving those targets, such inflated reporting will happen. Those same organisations know there will be no independent checks on the data they report and that if they hit (often self determined) targets there will be more lottery money to come. Hence, performance against any measures will inevitably be "good".

The Minister’s next point is: "Galvanising mass adult participation in sport is arguably the hardest part of the legacy to achieve. Indeed no other host country has succeeded on this front. But a strong school sport system encouraging young people to play sport for life will only help this ambition."

Strategy is about "how", not some vague hope that doing one thing will help some other ambition. However, when Mr Robertson unveils this strategy we will undoubtedly see the "how" he has omitted to mention here?

Of course, from the Government’s perspective much of that "how" will be funding others to achieve their targets and Mr Robertson tells us; "Through Sport England hundreds of millions of pounds of public money are going direct to national governing bodies to help drive sports participation up. The governing bodies are the experts and know where to target the funding but we will be holding them to account so that the investment gets the desired results."

Mr Robertson will have noted while he was in opposition that the previous Government also spent hundreds of millions of public money funding national governing bodies to drive up participation, invariably via the ‘initiative-itis’ he so accurately named.

"Holding to account" should mean independent auditing of data and transparency in reporting.

As for the National Governing Bodies being the experts? Some are, some aren’t. Mr Robertson agreed with correspondence about this when in opposition. I can find no evidence of any DCMS Select Committees seeking alternate independent expert views. Seemingly relying on NGBs often run by people with little or no background in the sports they now head and who are suddenly cast in the role of "expert’" by Whitehall.

Good strategy ensures expertise is in place, it does not assume it and Mr Robertson may well wish to revisit his comment in the near future, that, "the governing bodies are the experts and know where to target the funding".

He tells us the strategy, which we have yet to see, has the backing of LOCOG, the BOA, Sport England, the Youth Sport Trust, sports governing bodies and many prominent Olympians who supported the launch. But all of these bodies have a vested financial interest in any new funded initiative. The Prime Minister promised wider public and expert views would be taken into account.

My original question was: "Can we have a strategy please Minister?” Having now been assured us of its existence, the question is now; 'Can we see the strategy, please Minister?'"

If the strategy was open to public scrutiny Mr Robertson would find people like myself are keen to support a lasting legacy for sport in this country providing it is built on sound sports development and vertically integrated strategic principles.

Jim Cowan is a former athlete, coach, event organiser and sports development specialist who is the founder of Cowan Global, a company specialising in consultancy, events and education and training. For more details click here

Alan Hubbard: Night of Champions shows how boxing barriers have come down

Duncan Mackay

The strict distinction between amateur and professional boxing was for many years one of the last remaining bastions in British sport.

Long after separate entrances for Gentlemen and Players had been removed from Lord’s, and the barriers between Union and League in rugby had been dismantled, pro boxers were barred from being in the same room at functions, let alone the same gymnasion or, heaven forfend, the same ring as sparring partners.

No less a personage than Lord Colin Moynihan, Olympic silver medallist rowing cox who was to become Thatcher’s disobedient Sports Minister and then head the British Olympic Association, was actually disciplined by the bigoted blazers of the Amateur Boxing Association for sparring with pros in London’s famed pugilistic academy, the Thomas A’Becket, while holding an Oxford blue for boxing. Ironically, he was later to serve as a steward of the professional British Boxing Board of Control.

Fortunately the lights have been punched out of such prejudice and nowadays pro-am is more or less the name of the fight game, with several of Britain’s elite 2012 podium squad earning more as amateurs than they might as fledgling pros. And the newly-constructed World Series tournament offers prize money which can amount to six figures without Olympic status being threatened.

The ultimate recognition that peace has broken out between the once-warring factions comes when the cognoscenti of clout gather in Cardiff at the end of the month to celebrate the fight game’s biggest global festival.

A highlight of the World Boxing Council’s ‘Night of Champions’ will not be a pro world title fight, as you might expect, but an amateur international between Great Britain and the Rest of the World. It also features the first-ever appearance in Britain of members of the  Chinese national boxing team who are testing Cardiff as a potential 2012 Olympic training base.

At the same time this historic fistic jamboree will laud one of the great Welsh icons of the ring, the late world featherweight champion Howard Winstone, who was also an outstanding amateur, with the premiere of a compelling film which depicts his bitter-sweet life story.

Directed by the award-winning Merthyr-based Neil Jones, "Risen" tells of the boyo with the dazzling fists and footwork who, despite losing three fingertips of his right hand in an industrial accident, rose during the sixties to become the pugilistic Prince of Wales. Nine former champions play the parts of some of boxing’s best-known figures in the first bio-pic about a British fighter ever made.

The premiere is on the opening night of the big bash taking place over three days, from July 29-31 and assembled with the assistance of another of Britain’s outstanding ex-world champions and ABA champions, the welterweight  king John H Stracey. The £300,000 cavalcade of fistiana is backed by the Cardiff City Council and the Welsh Assembly. A parade of 100 past and present world champions are scheduled to attend what is claimed will be biggest collection of champions in history, headed by heavyweight sibling tsars Vitaliy and Wladimir Klitschko.

London-born Stracey, 59, who climbed off the canvas to record one of British boxing’s most epic overseas victories, a fifth round ko of the legendary Jose Napoles in the Mexican’s own bullring backyard in 1975, says: "The WBC President, Jose Sulaiman, thought Cardiff would be an ideal location because per capita Wales has had more world champions than any other country. From Jimmy Wilde and Jim Driscoll to Joe Calzaghe, boxing has always been a very vibrant part of the Welsh culture."

According to the organisers 85 champions are already confirmed with up to a further 40 anticipated. In the great tradition of the thick-ear trade there will be wet eyes rather than black eyes when old foes who belted bits off each other years ago lock themselves in long-held embraces. None more so than the reunion of Britain’s 58-year-old Alan Minter and the Italian Vito Antuofermo against whom he won and successfully defended the world middleweight title 30 years ago.

Regrettably, some big-wheel champions have demanded exorbitant appearance money and expenses for entourages (one wanted to bring over 30 ‘friends and family’) and won’t be there. Muhammad Ali, naturally, was among the first to be asked but is too ill to travel though two of his toughest opponents, George Chuvalo and Earnie Shavers, who both took him the fierce-hitting battles, have accepted..

Based at Cardiff International Arena there is also a gala dinner with Oscar-style awards for services to boxing and the unsung heroes of the sport. Fans will be able to mingle with the famous at shopping arcades, tourist spots and community centres.

Those of us who recall the silky, scintillating skills of the soft-spoken father-of-five Winstone, the little Welshman who brought such grace and guile to the ring, look forward to the film with relish.

Winstone (pictured) was born and raised in Merthyr Tydfil and it was in the town's Prince Charles Hospital that he ended his days 61 years later, virtually penniless, pained by a broken marriage and a body wracked with illness largely brought on by excessive drinking, an all-too familiar tale once the hand bandages have been unwrapped for the last time.

His trainer Eddie Thomas, himself a notable champion,  claimed that children born in the valleys were so angry that they came out with their fists clenched.

As a youngster Winstone had been something of a fiery brawler in the amateur ring, where he won 83 of 86 bouts and gained an Empire Games gold medal in 1958. But in his teens he sustained the near-ruinous right hand injury in an accident while working in a toy factory. He continued to box but lost much of his power and was forced to drastically change his technique, Thomas re-moulding the young Winstone in his Penydarren gym, teaching him the fast left jab that would become his trademark. 

The highlight of his nuine-year, 67-bout career was the acquistion of the world title against Japan’s Mitsunori Seki in January 1986 - his fourth attempt. Stewart Brennan, the actor who plays Winstone (Shane Ritchie also stars as one of his promoters, Mike Barrett and multi-weight world champion Erik Morales portrays the late Mexican great Vicente Saldivar, a fearsome foe who later became Howard’s friend) trained for five years for a role which brings realism to movie scenes unlike anything from ‘Rocky’.

With Winstone’s almost total reliance on his left jab, the film is a fitting tribute to Welsh boxing’s leading man on an occasion that demonstrates why the camaraderie of the ring no longer has artificial boundaries.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics and scores of world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire, and is a former chairman of the Boxing Writers’ Club.

Jon Mulkeen: Race-based accolades undermine potential of "great white hope"

Duncan Mackay

I was as pleased as the next person to see that young Frenchan Christophe Lemaître became the first white man to legally run under 10 seconds for the 100 metres. I find it interesting when there are cultural outliers in sport, but I try not to give too much credence to such things.

Hopefully this distinction can finally be laid to bed and Lemaître can get on with the rest of his career without having to carry a burden on his shoulders that has seemingly got in the way of previous talented white sprinters progressing.

Before his performance, there had been 446 legal sub-10-second performances in the men’s 100m; all of them achieved by 69 different sprinters of African-Caribbean descent and one of Aborigine descent.

Lemaître has become the 62nd fastest athlete of all time with his performance of 9.98 at the French Championships.

It’s not racist to acknowledge the difference between the number of African-Caribbean sprinters and white sprinters to run sub-10 seconds for 100m. Racism is discriminatory or abusive behaviour towards members of a particular race. Realising that athletes of African-Caribbean descent have historically been more successful in the 100m is simply being observant, and we shouldn’t be afraid of noticing that.

People took note when Tiger Woods broke out onto the international golfing scene because very few black golf players had reached such a high level in that sport before. The Williams sisters also garnered a lot of attention when they first made an impact in the tennis world as it had mainly been a sport in which many white people had previously succeeded.

What we should be afraid of, however, is getting carried away with such accolades and recognising them as an athlete’s greatest achievement. Winning a medal at a global championships or setting a world record should far outweigh any arbitrary achievement. I’m sure Dieter Bauman values his 1992 Olympic gold medal more than his achievement of being one of the fastest white men over 5,000m.

It begs the question - does Lemaître have the potential to become an Olympic champion? While it’s impossible to predict who will win gold at future championships (especially while Usain Bolt is still around!), we can compare Lemaître’s times to what other sprinters ran at the same age, in their first year of being a senior.

Jamaica’s Yohan Blake, who is one year older than Lemaître, last year clocked 9.93 for 100m to set a world age-19 best. Before that Nigeria’s Seun Ogunkoya possessed the fastest time by a 19-year-old with 9.97. After that, Lemaître is the next fastest with his 9.98, closely followed by Samuel Francis (9.99) and Carl Lewis (10.00).

Put simply, Lemaître is the third fastest sprinter ever at age 19/20. Faster than Carl Lewis, faster than Dwain Chambers, and significantly faster than what former world record-holder Asafa Powell and former double world champion Tyson Gay achieved at that age. In case you’re wondering, Usain Bolt didn’t attempt the 100m until he was 21 years old; it was a 10.03 clocking.

On pure potential alone, Lemaître could become one of the greatest sprinters ever. Of course he could fade away and never again improve on his personal best, but all the signs are pointing towards him having a pretty successful career. What I like about Lemaître is that he is looking beyond being the first white guy under 10 seconds and wants to achieve tangible success - namely championship medals.

Lemaître is still some way from being the next Usain Bolt, but he is already well on his way to being an accomplished elite sprinter. Similarly, we should also have just as much anticipation for the future achievements of the likes of Yohan Blake, Ryan Bailey, D’Angelo Cherry, Ramil Guliyev and all the other talented young sprinters emerging right now, regardless of their skin colour.

Tiger Woods went beyond simply being "the best black golfer" and became arguably the greatest ever in his sport. The Williams sisters didn’t stop at being the best ever black tennis players; they transformed the game and have now secured their place in the tennis hall of fame. Now that Lemaître has this sub-10 clocking to his name, he (and we) can move on from him being "the fastest ever white man" and look forward to him potentially becoming one of the greatest sprinters, period.

In a couple of decades’ time, we could be looking back on what Lemaître has accomplished during his career; recalling a handful of championship medals (some gold maybe), a European record, and then somewhere towards the end there will be a recollection of: "Oh, and remember that time when he first broke 10 seconds?"

If that were to become the defining moment of his career, it would quite simply be a travesty.

Jon Mulkeen is the former news editor of Athletics Weekly and now writes regularly for the International Association of Athletics Federations at major events, including last year's World Championships in Berlin. To read more of his work click here

Sir Chris Hoy: International Inspiration is having impact at every level

Duncan Mackay

Since becoming an International Inspiration Ambassador in July 2009, I have been looking forward to the opportunity to see for myself the difference that this innovative programme is making to the lives of children and young people.

Sport is an amazing tool for reaching out and engaging people, and the Olympics takes the power of sport to another level.

It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of something that is using sport and play in such a positive way, both in the UK and in developing countries.

I was excited about visiting Hartford High School in Cheshire as I’d heard that the students had been working really hard to put together an interesting and informative visit for me.

International Inspiration is quite a complex initiative as it’s having an impact at so many levels - from children all the way up to governments - but the young people and teachers at Hartford High School were able to convey to me the way that it is making a real difference to their school.

School partnerships are a really important part of International Inspiration, as they provide an opportunity for teachers, children and young people to learn about and understand each other’s cultures, experiences and international development issues.

Hartford High School is one of 164 schools in the UK currently linked to a school overseas through International Inspiration, and is coupled with SMK Raja Permaisuri Bainun school in Malaysia.

A group of teachers from the school recently travelled to Malaysia to meet their counterparts and share innovative approaches to PE, sport and play in the classroom and their local community. In addition to hosting a return visit from the Malaysian teachers next week, I gather that over 100 students have received training to become Young Leaders and they frequently speak with their peers from Malaysia via Skype and email.

During my visit it was brilliant to be able to speak directly with a few of the students in Malaysia via Skype - they were interested to hear about how I first got involved in cycling as well as my competitive rivalry with Malaysian cyclist Azizulhasni Awang.

The most fascinating part of the morning was seeing the Year 9 Young Leaders organising a session for their younger peers in the Malaysian sport Sepak Takraw, which is a bit like volleyball but the players use a rattan ball and are only allowed to use their feet, knees, chest and head to touch the ball. It certainly looked like it involved a lot of skill and the students seemed to be getting the hang of it pretty quickly - I was really impressed! Next week the students from Hartford High School are planning on sharing the British game of Rounders with the Malaysian teachers.

My visit finished with an interview by two of the school’s BBC Young Reporters. They were keen to find out why I chose to support International Inspiration. Sport is such a brilliant way of teaching and developing all kinds of skills - confidence, teamwork, leadership and discipline; its benefits pay such dividends in everyday life. I’m supporting International Inspiration because being able to get involved in sport and play is every child’s right. I really enjoyed visiting Hartford High School and I’m looking forward to the next International Inspiration visit already.

Cyclist Sir Chris Hoy has won four Olympic gold medals, including three at Beijing in 2008

Alan Hubbard: Richard Caborn is not the right man to be FA chairman

Duncan Mackay

Kite flying is not listed among the recreational interests of the former marathon running Sports Minister Richard Caborn. But this is precisely what dear old Dick appears to be doing in touting for the job of FA chairman.

"If people are up for change then I’m up for it and yes, I would stand," says 66-year-old Caborn, who was among those deposed in the reshuffle of England's World Cup 2018 bidding team.

Now I like Caborn, despite some of the differences we had over one or two of his policies during his record tenure as Sports Minister.

He did a decent job and became one of the most effective networkers in the business during the run up to 2012. He has a gruff Yorkshire charm and made friends with quite a few sports folk - even if they were largely in football. As a former director of Sheffield United, he certainly knows the game from the perspective of the VIP box. But chairman of the FA? I think not. 

For one thing, it would alienate the new Government and aggravate the present disaffection between them and the football authorities. The last thing the FA want is another ex-politician, especially a Labour one. The former incumbent, Lord Triesman was an ex-Labour minister and peer and there are certainly suspicions in Westminster circles that the government of sport has become rather uncomfortably left-leaning in recent years. 

Dame Sue Campbell, chair of UK Sport, was well known as a Labour sympathiser and although she chose to sit as a cross-bencher in the House of Lords, she has been seen edging closer to the Labour benches.

I do not think that Caborn, who is also president of the ABA of England which got itself into a fine old mess during and immediately following the Beijing Olympics, has quite the necessary clout to sort out the FA or, as he puts it "Bang heads together to put England back on track." 

He is a great pal of Sir Dave Richards, another man of Sheffield who chairs the Premier League. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  It could be argued that their relationship would bring the FA and Premier League closer together. On the other hand it might appear to create  be something of an comfortably cosy cartel.

The FA does not need to be playing political football as it picks up the pieces of a shattered World Cup. What is wanted is someone who is strong-willed, apolitical, and knows the game from the grass-roots upwards. I have already suggested that the ideal candidate would be Sir Trevor Brooking, a man steeped in football lore and respected throughout the game by players and officials alike. Moreover he also knows more about the inner workings of the FA than any other candidate possibly could. But I doubt the FA board have the balls to appoint him.

No doubt Caborn (pictured) is keeping a watchful eye on how the new Sports Minister Hugh Robertson is doing. They frequently crossed swords in the House when Robertson was a very effective Opposition spokesman. Caborn's own successor, Gerry Sutcliffe, must be wondering if he will stay on as Labour's sports spokesman in the reshuffle that will follow the election of a new leader.

It has been two months since Robertson took over as Sports and Olympics Minister and so far he hasn't put a foot wrong - unlike his immediate boss Jeremy Hunt, who juggles his hats as Secretary of State for Culture, Media Sport and the Olympics.

All he has succeeded in doing is putting his foot in his mouth. His appalling gaffe when comparing Hillsborough with the good behaviour of English fans at the World Cup caused severe embarrassment. The lambada-dancing Hunt, a pleasant enough bloke, knows so little about sport that I fear there will be more faux pas to come.

Why David Cameron stuck with the tired old  gameplan of lumping sport in with media and culture baffles me.

He has missed a golden opportunity to give sport - and the Olympics - its own separate ministry, with a seat in the Cabinet which one would have thought vital as 2012 approaches. In Robertson they have someone capable of occupying that Cabinet seat. He seems to have a better grasp of sport, especially at grass roots level than most previous Sports Ministers with the notable exception of Denis Howell, Kate Hoey and possibly Colin Moynihan.

So far there has been little Opposition reaction to the new Con-Lib sports agenda, including the scrapping of Caborn's baby, the UK School Games in favour of a "Schools Olympics" (though they must find a new title for them to avoid upsetting the IOC).  So it is with the slashing of the sports budget.

Recently I took my two young grandchildren swimming, expecting the customary free admission for under-16s and "senior citizens" at the local pool in Surrey. "Sorry," I was told. "You'll have to pay up like everyone else."

It transpired they were making early implementation of the new Government’s decision to scrap the scheme launched with such a fanfare by former Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell exactly two years ago. Now it has been ditched as part of the £73million worth of cuts, and I suspect it is one which has given Robertson sleepless nights. He admits the decision "gives me no pleasure" but agrees it is a necessary contribution to the overall economies - though the actual saving, some £5 million, seems a drop in an Olympic-sized pool.

The initiative, which the Government claims has not delivered value for money, was one of Labour's key Olympic legacies yet curiously there has not been a peep of protest from Ms Jowell. Is this because she has growing hopes of a role with 2012 – which Robertson and Seb Coe are currently discussing- and doesn’t wish to rock the boat politically? Funny old game, sports politics.

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics.

Hugh Robertson: The new school sports competition is a revolution that will deliver a legacy from London 2012

Duncan Mackay

When we won the right to host the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Singapore five years ago, we promised to use them to inspire a new generation of young people to take up sport. I am determined to deliver on this commitment.

Last Monday, at the City of London Academy in Bermondsey, we announced our plans for a nationwide Olympic and Paralympic-style competition.

The announcement was widely welcomed across sport but Jim Cowan argued, on these pages, that this has not been thought through and was an example of the "initiativitis" I had rejected only a few weeks before. This is unfair and shows a lack of understanding of the detail behind these proposals.

They are about creating a revolution in school sport and reviving competitive sport for young people. It provides for the first time an Olympic-style competitive pinnacle for all young athletes to aim for.

It is not an initiative; it is a fundamental repositioning of school sport placing competition at its heart. It is the final nail in the coffin for the "taking part is what counts" culture that has bedevilled school sport for too long.

It is also something that we promised to do in Opposition and have now delivered in Government.  It is based on the hugely successful, and widely promised, Kent School Games promoted by Dame Kelly Holmes and Kent County Council.

The announcement last week set out our plan for the competition so that schools and the wider public are aware of our thinking. We want as many schools as possible to embrace the new competition and we will be talking to the School Sports Partnerships and school sport coordinators, as we develop the detailed plans in the coming months.

This competition, that I, LOCOG, the BOA, UK Sport and Sport England are working on, will not stand in isolation and is a key plank of a comprehensive plan to deliver a sports legacy from hosting the 2012 Games.

This for me means extending the opportunities in sport to the maximum number of people.

As I said within days of getting this job, this is one of my top priorities.

Only last month, I explained the principles underpinning the Government’s sports legacy strategy. There are five key areas- all of which are essential if we are to create a cultural shift towards greater participation in sport.

These are: lottery reform, structural reform, elite sport, school sport and mass participation.

The lottery reforms will return sport to its original place – as one of the main beneficiary sectors of the National Lottery. By 2012 the reforms will secure a further £50 million for sport each year. This funding will hugely benefit sports clubs and help refurbish sports facilities, so that they are ready for the influx of young people turned on to sport by our Olympic-style competition.

Structural reform is about ensuring that we have the best sports system possible at every level - school, community and elite. We have to be confident that every pound of funding being spent on sport is used as effectively as possible and that there is a seamless pathway between schools, sports clubs and the elite level so that no talent slips through the net.

There are already strong links between schools and sports clubs. On average, schools have links with seven local sports clubs with over 1.5 million young people involved through this route. This new competition will build on this further, and should have its most marked impact at the lowest level - if the Kent School Games experience is typical.

Galvanising mass adult participation in sport is arguably the hardest part of the legacy to achieve.

Indeed no other host country has succeeded on this front. But a strong school sport system encouraging young people to play sport for life will only help this ambition.

Through Sport England hundreds of millions of pounds of public money are going direct to national governing bodies to help drive sports participation up. The governing bodies are the experts and know where to target the funding but we will be holding them to account so that the investment gets the desired results.

So, Cowan is completely wrong that we are lacking in a sport strategy and that we are "crossing our fingers" and hoping for the best with our Olympic and Paralympic-style competition for young people. He is in the minority that questions it.

This is a strategy that has the backing of LOCOG, the BOA, Sport England, the Youth Sport Trust, sports governing bodies and many prominent Olympians who supported the launch.

This is a strategy with clear direction. But I know we cannot be complacent. Achieving a lasting sports legacy will not be easy. 

However, I am determined to succeed.

Hugh Robertson is the Sports and Olympics Minister

Mike Moran: The day New York City's Olympic dream died

Duncan Mackay
It was five years ago today, July 6, 2005, but it seems like 20. More than 4,000 people had jammed into a mini-stadium at Rockefeller Center in New York City early on a muggy morning before 7am to watch on a pair of giant screens as the International Olympic Committee selected the city that would host the 2012 Olympic Games.

Othe night before, our small stadium setting was electric, with thousands of spectators, music, Olympic athletes, food, and the NBC-televised presentations from Singapore by the finalist cities - London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid and New York.

It ended after midnight, and as the seats emptied and Rockefeller Center quieted, I sat on the lip of the stage, drinking in the sights and sounds of the majestic city.

It was clear that it was never going to be any bigger or better, and if New York was eliminated the next morning, life commonplace to me and a long career in the Olympic Movement would hit a wall, but, if the city won, it would be the start of a seven-year magic carpet ride.

Aretirement from the USOC at the end of 2002, my next opportunity came when NYC2012, the group leading the city's bid, selected me as its Senior Communications Counselor, one of five senior advisors to the leadership of the bid, headed by Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and Executive Director Jay Kriegel, along with my former USOC boss, Harvey Schiller.

Over the next 30 months, it was inspiring to be part of a tremendous endeavor that involved thousands of passionate New Yorkers bent on bringing the Games to the greatest city in the world.

we knew from the start that it was going to be a battle for the Big Apple because of factors that were inescapable.

Salt Lake City had just hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 2002, a jolting Olympic bid scandal in 1998 centered around the leadership of the Games in Utah, there was anti-American bias to deal with in the world, and most of all, a contentious issue centering around the proposed $2.2 billion tab for a new West Side stadium, expansion of the Javits Convention center, and the overall development of that part of the city, a hot-button for the citizens and politicians for years.

The majority, 79 percent of New Yorkers, supported the bid, but not the new stadium. The owners of Madison Square Garden not only opposed the new stadium and development around it, but spent thousands of dollars in advertising to try to kill it. And the powerful New York Times opposed it editorially.

Yet, there were so many marvelous people involved, including 1,700 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from the USA and 45 nations around the world in the NYC2012 Circle of Olympians and Paralympians. Muhammad Ali, Bob Beamon, Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci, Michael Phelps, Jeff Blatnick, Mia Hamm, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Bruce Jenner, Magic Johnson and hundreds of others.

The inspiring "Nations of New York," thousands of men and women from 400 organisations representing the city's rich, diverse international population and neighborhoods, and a superb venue plan that embraced the city's historic sports landmarks as proposed Olympic sites - Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, National Tennis Center, Giants Stadium, the historic 369th Regiment Arena in Harlem, Central Park, along with many new or refurbished sites in what was called the "Olympic X" configuration, plus a gorgeous, proposed Olympic Village for the athletes on the East River in Queens West.

But there were challenges besides the West Side Stadium issue, including a period of turmoil and dysfunction within the USOC that led to the departure of chief executive Lloyd Ward in 2003 and the naming of interim President Bill Martin as the organisation steered its way out of the mess.

New York had been selected by the USOC on November 2, 2002, defeating San Francisco by a vote of 132-91 among its Board of Directors at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

The search for a candidate city began in 1999 under the leadership of USOC President Bill Hybl, and the original roster of cities competing for the nod included New York, Houston, Washington, Dallas, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Tampa.

Doctoroff (pictured), a charismatic leader who first conceived the idea of a New York Olympic Games while watching a FIFA World Cup match in 1994 at Giants Stadium, blew away the field with his dogged pursuit of USOC officials, along with sidekick Kriegel, and once they had secured the right to become America's candidate city, there was no looking back or hesitation.

It was a costly bid, some $3.1 billion for the Games' budget, a guarantee to the IOC of some $250 million, and $924 million alone in capital costs for improvements.

In fact, the five finalist cities spent a reported $150 million on their bids, $35 million alone by NYC2012. On May 18, 2004, at Bryant Park in Manhattan, the announcement was made that New York would be a finalist in the chase for the Games, and all of us who were part of the effort were thrilled.

The event included Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Olympian Donna De Varona to my left, along with Olympic and Paralympic athletes and more than 4,000 cheering New Yorkers. 

The next 14 months became a whirlwind of effort and energy on the part of the bid leadership, Mayor Bloomberg and the scores of young, talented men and women on the NYC2012 staff. There was no time for sleep, deadlines were everywhere, visitors to welcome every week.

My favorite junket was to take journalists and broadcasters from international outlets on a carefully-crafted ferry tour on the water that wound around Manhattan, showing them the spectacular views and venues of the city, passing Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, with a presentation now ingrained and the confidence of a tour guide. So, too for treks to the top of an office building that looked down on the rail yards on the West Side adjacent to what would be the site of the new Olympic Stadium and the future home of the Jets.

In 2004, a series of conversations with new USOC President Peter Ueberroth, the genius who made the 1984 Games in Los Angeles a smash success, convinced him to come to New York and tell the city's tough media why he thought New York could win. He spoke at a lunch at the posh '21' Club and he was compelling. The next morning, the New York Times carried a column by the estimable George Vecsey, who was not in favour of the bid, that was extremely fair and positive, and the piece was accompanied by a picture of Doctoroff watching Ueberroth speak, next to a big NYC2012 sign on an easel that had been strategically placed for optimum photo benefit.

The next day, at an NYC2012 Board meeting, Doctoroff held up a copy of the Times' piece and he was glowing, and surprised. Later, invitations were accepted by some 35 Olympic beat journalists and broadcasters from across the country who came to New York and our offices, where they got the full presentation from Doctoroff and the staff, with positive followup and exposure for the bid.. a dinner that evening at The Palm for the writers was a big success, and my memory reminds me that the lobsters were very special that night..

Everything seemed to be rocking. The IOC Evaluation Commission made its visit to New York in February, 2005, and the city responded as only New York could. A full-scale advertising blitz met the IOC commission, Olympic signs were posted on 13,000 taxis, 7,000 busses and 4,000 subway cars. Storefronts at Times Square and Grand Central Terminal had 2012 Olympic window displays. So did windows at Saks, Bloomingdale's and Macy's, and as the IOC leaders toured the 27 venue sites by bus, thousands of New Yorkers greeted them along the routes.

On board with a busload of media tagging along, it was awesome to witness this response, even with some if it staged. But, on June 6, just a month before the IOC's decision in Singapore, two powerful politicians on the state's Public Authorities Control Board, Joseph L. Bruno and Sheldon Silver, jettisoned their support of the West Side Stadium project, driving a dagger into the heart of the bid.

NYC2012 quickly trotted out a backup plan that included a new stadium for the baseball Mets in Queens that would be the Olympic Stadium, but the message made its way to the IOC Members who would vote, and it was not a good one. So on that humid July 6 morning in Rockefeller Center, we watched as Moscow was eliminated in the first round of voting. Moments later, IOC President Jacques Rogge appeared after the second vote on the big screen to announce that "New York will not move forward". 

The seats and stands at our venue emptied in seconds, and a car with the Governor of New York parked nearby sped away in traffic. I remained to face the scores of cameras, television lights and journalists with their notebooks and recorders in an attempt to explain what happened, the only senior bid executive not in Singapore that morning.

For next the next 12 hours, telling the story and the disappointment of those who had worked so hard for this day, I went by car to radio shows, TV shows and to the offices of newspapers, ending at midnight in Times Square with a live piece on ESPN from its signature "ESPN Zone." 

London had upset favoured Paris, 54-50, to win the Games, and the next morning, 52 people died in the horrendous London train bombings. Returning to my bedroom that night, there was a message from Singapore that Doctoroff would host a party for the staff at his home on Monday after the leaders returned from Singapore. But, on Sunday, after packing up my clothing and personal things, and making one last visit to our offices at One Liberty Plaza, just above the site of Ground Zero of September 11, 2001, to grab my nameplate and some stationery, I took a taxi to LaGuardia Airport and left.

Returning to Colorado Springs and a depressing, empty home, waking the next morning without a job for the first time in my life and without a plan for what would come next.

Postscript - A few weeks ago, in New York with my friend Ford McClave, walking in Times Square before heading to see the hit new musical, "American Idiot" at the St. James Theatre on 44th Street, we decided to stop at the Swatch store and see some of its displays.

I heard somebody say, "Hi, Mike," and turned around to see Nadia Comaneci and husband and Olympic gold medalist Bart Conner They too were going to see a show on Broadway, and we stood for a few moments and made small talk about their son, Dylan, how much time had passed since they were on the podium at the Games, and the events staged at Times Square for NYC2012 and the dream shared of a New York Olympic Games.

When we parted and walked outside to the familiar din and crowds, I think we shared a common thought. "What if?"

None of us will ever know.

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.

Shauna Mullin: My relationship with Zara Dampney is like a marriage

Duncan Mackay
Zara Dampney and I were rivals once. She played for England and I played for Scotland on the national indoor teams, but now we play together as a team representing Great Britain in beach volleyball.

We’ve been together for three years now, although did have a short break when we played with different partners for half a season.  It did not take us long to realise we wanted to be teammates. That was the way we were going to most successful. 

Zara and I are very similar. We formed this bond with a shared objective of being the number one British pair and qualifying for the London 2012 Olympics in our own right. 

We are based in Bath, where we share a flat and, when we are on tour, we share a room. That means we are together 24/7 for 10 months of the year. It makes our partnership very much like a marriage. Over the past three years our friendship has strengthened, although we do recognise that this needs constant work, due to the strains of competition. 

Over the last couple of seasons we are learning a lot more about each other, and one of the main objectives this year is to use the things we are learning to make our team stronger. As in any relationship there are arguments, but our arguments mainly occur on court when we see different things from our different positions: mine at the net blocking and Zara’s at the backcourt defending. 

Normally we only travel away from home when we are on the World Tour playing competitions. However, this year our indoor training facility in Bristol was removed, which left us with nowhere to train in the UK. That meant we had to travel to other indoor training facilities around Europe. We were on the move constantly with all the inherent strains of travelling, not being able to cook for ourselves, and living out of a suitcase. 

We started our pre-season training in Hamburg, where the sand is notoriously deep, and spent the subsequent weeks in Tenerife, Prague, Berlin, Toulouse and Athens.  It sounds exciting to visit all these wonderful cities, but we were not there to sight-see, and often we arrived back in Bath on the Friday night, to wash our clothes on Saturday and be back to the airport on Sunday. 

Each time we arrived back in the UK, we thought our promised indoor beach facility in the vicinity around Bath would have become a reality.  But no. We still have no idea if or when one will be built. The additional travel and temporary living conditions of the pre-season has not laid the best foundations for this year’s Tour. Our season started out in Brasilia in Brazil, where due to our results at the end of the 2009 season we were already in the main draw, although it would have been very useful to had to have played the games in the qualification. 

The second stop on our tour was Shanghai, where we put together two good performances back-to-back against Austria and Russia to qualify for the main draw. We drew double Olympic gold medallist, Misty May Trainor, with her new partner, Nicole Branagh, in the first round and were with them until the third end change, where Misty’s experience finished off both sets in favour of the USA. 

We have since then been to Rome, Korea and Moscow where we were very disappointed with our performances, but these events highlighted things that needed to be taken back to Bath for further tinkering.  As a team we have always had the ambition to finish on the podium in Horse Guards Parade at the Olympics in London.  In the past two seasons we have shown we can compete with some of the top teams in the world.  These are the teams that we will have to beat to get onto the podium. We can do it. 

Last year at the FIVB World Tour Event in Kristiansand in Norway, Zara and I finished 9th in the tournament after beating a Norwegian team on centre court and then taking down the 8th seeded Brazilians in two sets. Just a taster of what we could do when we performed on the day.  Many people envy the job we do, travelling around to different cities and playing beach volleyball, but those same people sometimes are not aware of all the hard work we put in to be able to perform when we go to those tournaments. 

Every season there is on average 14 women’s events on the FIVB World Tour Calendar, and they take us to cities all over the world.  We train for four months, January to April; before the season starts, and spend from May through to September travelling do a different country every week competing on the World Tour. We will then usually have a month off before we get back into the hard grind in the gym, and on the sand preparing for the season ahead.  It’s an amazing experience. We know that.

Obviously, there are some disadvantages. We have had to become one with sand, as it is in our suitcases, clothes, beds and bags.  We can never escape it. Before I played beach volleyball nothing annoyed me more than get sandy while I was sunbathing on the beach. It is a privilege to do what we do, but travelling full-time can be tiresome. 

You know when you are travelling too much when you arrive back in the UK and the passport officer ask you where you have just come from, and your mind goes blank. Sometimes I need  to ask one of the other players where we have just come from. We have also had our fair share of missed flights, flight delays, lost baggage and forgetting to get off a ferry!! 

One of the major disadvantages of this job is not being able to see friends and family as much as we would like, thank goodness for Facebook and Skype as without them we would definitely struggle to keep in contact. 

The one thing that keeps us going is that Olympic goal. What makes it even sweeter is that the Olympic Games are at home in London. Not many athletes have the honour of competing in their home games. It is an opportunity to treasure and that is why no sacrifice is too great.

Shauna Mullin was born in South Africa and moved to Edinburgh, playing indoor volleyball for Team Edinburgh and Scotland. She took up beach volleyball three years ago and now trains with the GB squad in Bath. She got her first GB Beach cap in Korea in 2006.

British Volleyball is represented by