Happy Olympic Day!


John Steele: What happens next for Team 2012

Duncan Mackay

John SteeleOn Tuesday last week, I joined 47 athletes from 47 different Olympic and Paralympic sports and disciplines, at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, to celebrate the announcement of Visa as the presenting partner of Team 2012.

To say that I was excited to be there would be an understatement. The creation of Team 2012 as an effective way of raising much needed private funds for Olympic and Paralympic sport, to complement the record public investment that has been made, has not been easy.

The hard work and team ethic shown by the four partners that run Team 2012 - the British Olympic Association (BOA), the Paralympic Associations (BPA), London 2012 and UK Sport - was unparalleled and I am confident that the scheme will work, establishing a vital third stream of income for elite sport here in the UK.

Thanks should go to the Presenting Partner Visa, whose support and commitment to the concept will make a real difference to elite sport in this country.  Of course the biggest thank you should go to the athletes, whose support for the scheme and unrivalled passion for their sports has made this possible. The contribution they are making by supporting the concept, giving something back to sport in this country, should not go unrecognised.

Meeting the athletes at the Stadium really brought home to me just how incredible the next three years will be. It was the first visit for many of them and the excitement and determination etched on each face reminded me that the work behind Team 2012 had actually only just begun.

So where will the money raised by Team 2012 go? A small amount will go towards the running of Team 2012, whilst a minimal percentage will go to the BOA and BPA and will be invested in performance services run by them for the sports. The majority of the money however will be granted to UK Sport, which we will invest in our World Class Performance Programme (WCCP). We currently fund 47 different Olympic and Paralympic sports and disciplines through the WCCP and the money we receive will go directly to helping make sure that alongside the substantial and vital support of the National Lottery and Government, the athletes have the best possible support leading up to the London 2012 Games and beyond. 

Team 2012 Visa
Deciding where we will spend the money is a thorough process – undertaken through an annual review this year and "mid-cycle" review in 2010. So the first decisions based on Team 2012 income will take place after this year's annual review of performance of each sport and won’t be finalised until after our board meeting at the end of the year.

All funding decisions will be made on merit and will be taken in line with our no compromise strategy. We look at a lot of factors based around an assessment of each sports current performance and future potential relative to each other. The Mission 2012 reporting that is now in place helps greatly to give us a more rounded picture. And we will leave no stone unturned in making sure the money is spent wisely and where it can have most impact. There has been much talk of the 12 Olympic and Paralympic sports which were only awarded basic levels of funding last year and these, like every other sport, will be discussed in detail before any decision is made.

Tuesday was the start of an important process. We should have no doubt that the money raised by Team 2012 will have a direct impact on the preparation of British athletes who will be representing us at London 2012 and future Olympic Games. We will make sure that money is spent in the right areas, where it is most needed and can have the most impact and in doing that, we will give Team GB and ParalympicsGB the best possible chance of achieving our aim of a top four finish in the Olympics and second in the Paralympics in London in just under three years time.

John Steele is the chief executive of UK Sport


Alan Hubbard: Different paths for the Saunders boys

Duncan Mackay

Fourteen months ago they were pals on the GB Olympic boxing squad battling for medals in  Beijing, sharing the same surname and subsequently the ignominy of returning home early, their exits clouded by controversy.

Since then the careers of the unrelated Saunders boys – light-welter  Bradley and welter Billy Joe – have taken sharply different turns.

Billy Joe, the "Caravan Kid" from Hertfordshire, signed a big money deal with promoter Frank Warren after being given a slap on the wrist from the Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE) for allegedly "lewd behaviour" in a pre-Games incident, and makes his fourth paid appearance at London’s York Hall on Friday.

Durham’s Bradley was castigated in the media after (like Billy Joe), losing a second round contest and then suggesting he was relieved to be leaving  the Games because he was homesick. So stinging was some of the criticism of remarks he insists were misinterpreted that he might have been excused for tossing headguard and vest into the spit bucket and following Billy Joe, James DeGale, Tony Jeffries, Joe Murray, David Price and Frankie Gavin into the prize ring.

Instead he pledged loyalty to GB, one of only two of the original eight Olympians to stay amateur, alongside flyweight Khalid Yafai, after the farcical sacking of coach Terry Edwards.

What followed, he says has been a year from hell. His home was burgled, and then as result of an anonymous call he spent four months on police bail after a jar of white powder was found in his back yard. "Olympic boxer in drugs bust" screamed the headlines.

Saunders, who always claimed he had been set up, though he had no idea by whom or why, eventually had his name cleared when the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case.

He thought his nightmares were over, and back in the ring he proved he was no loser, winning 14 bouts in succession, including a defeat of the Russian double Olympic champion Alexei Tischchenko. Saunders was strongly fancied to follow Gavin as a world champion in Milan in August but broke a thumb in an exhibition bout, missing the Championships from which GB returned empty-handed.

Just when he was getting over that he slipped and fell last week, again breaking a hand that two years ago had threatened his  Olympic berth when it needed two metal plates and four pins inserted after a training fracture.

Saunders (pictured) is now determined to get fit for the upcoming international against the United States, and his recovery is vital as he is pivotal in Britain’s quest for medals in 2012.

By then the other Saunders may have become a professional world champion and stashed a million or two in  the bank, a thought that must have crossed Bradley’s mind as he wrestles with the vagaries of fortune.

Of course he may have the opportunity to earn a bob two himself now that the game is becoming pro-am with the introduction of the revolutionary World Series of Boxing which enables boxers to to take part in a global team tournament, offering three year contracts and substantial prize money without the loss of Olympic eligibility.

So keen are the newly-constituted British Amateur Boxing Association (BABA) to get a lucrative slice of this action that the Olympic super-heavyweight bronze medalist David Price was even offered the chance to return to the amateur ranks and become part of the GB team again even though he had fought professionally since Beijing. However he has preferred to sign a new deal with promoter Frank Maloney, who is reviving the pro game in the North-East.

Saunders, 23, would be a considerable draw in his native region and he continues to attract pro offers. The BABA must hope he can resist them because Britain can ill afford to lose a competitor of his calibre before 2012.

Indeed, these are vexing times for British amateur boxing. We hear of some unrest among the elite squad following the departure of performance director Kevin Hickey only eight months after being brought back to the sharp end after 20 years out of the game. He admitted the job, with responsibilities which now include the supervision and development of women’s boxing, was too much for him at 67.

UK Sport, the cash dispensers for Olympic preparation, have distributed a confidential questionnaire among top competitors all sports seeking views on the progress towards 2012. Those of some of of the Sheffield-based boxing squad may be interesting. Facilities and funding have never been better, and there is certainly exciting talent to be nurtured, but there are said to be concerns that the revamped coaching set-up is not as progressive or productive as it was under the popular if autocratic Edwards. There are murmurings that some in the sport want him re-instated, either as national coach until 2012 or in a mentoring role. Alas, such a move seems highly unlikely in the current turbulence.

Last week insidethegames reported exclusively that the Edwards, who also doubled as performance director, reached an out-of-court settlement with his then employers, the ABAE, over an allegation that that knew bonuses promised to the Olympic medalists would not be paid. No figure was revealed but according to an ABA source they case has cost around £80,000, and the financially-stricken ABA have yet to settle formally with the boxers, who are suing for their missing readies.

Apparently there were angry exchanges at the recent ABA annual meeting, at which some members were prevented asking questions, and approaches have been made to the sports minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, to look into the running of body, which could be politically embarrassing as it is presided over by his predecessor, Richard Caborn.

All of which is an unhealthy distraction to the likes of Brad Saunders and the boxers focusing on the fight to get Olympic medals in the ring. They do not deserve to be counter-punched by the in-fighting out of it.
 

Alan Hubbard is a sports columnist and boxing correspondent of The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics


Sebastian Coe: Olympism and Youth – Towards a more active society

Duncan Mackay

Throughout history great political, technological or artistic movement has come out of periods of great adversity. The United Nations from World War Two, satellite technology from the Cold War, great jazz from the Great Depression.
 

But in that adversity lies opportunity. The Olympic Movement has a once in a generation opportunity, I would say a responsibility, to better define and imbed its timeless values.
 

Last year we all witnessed a financial collapse that rocked the world’s economies – hitting communities hard. There were many reasons for that collapse but we need to be honest about one.
 

Short term, aggressive, narrow, individualistic behaviour played a central, exacerbating role in that crisis.


Behaviour that was the very antithesis of the Olympic spirit and its values. 


That impact has gone well beyond bank rescue plans and bankruptcies. It also precipitated a collective loss of confidence in many of our trusted institutions. 


If this creates a daunting world for leaders and adults then consider what it means for young people. They see even greater uncertainty in a world struggling to tackle other great issues of their future like climate change.


Is it really any wonder that so many young people are nervously surveying this landscape of disillusionment and challenging our values, beliefs and priorities.

Never let a good crisis go to waste. 

If the 20th Century was about bringing sport to the world then the 21st must be about reconnecting young people of the world to sport.


So how can we do that? First we must develop programmes that link Games together not programmes that start and finish in the course of an Olympiad. Often those programmes that do exist in that cycle are a duplication of both effort and resource. We need to think differently. So too do our sponsors who need to look beyond the two year churn of Winter and Summer Games.  


We launched International Inspiration two years ago with an ambition to connect 12 million young people to sport in 20 developing cities and countries by 2012. Brazil is one of the countries we have a programme running in and we hope the Rio 2016 team and future host cities and sponsors will be able to continue the work of International Inspiration after 2012. 


A few nights ago the hundreds of thousands of people on Copacabana beach celebrating the decision that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made to choose Rio de Janeiro as the city to host the 2016 Games. Most of them were young people. Their celebration didn’t just capture the moment it was a celebration of intent. They want to be involved. Our challenge is to engage them and make this movement relevant to their lives. 


Of course this engagement can be promoted through schools. But that is not enough. Millions of young people do not go to school – either by choice or circumstance.


New media and social networking goes a long way – a huge amount of our communications in London are through these platforms. But still that is not enough. 


At the IOC Congress in 1981 the Athletes Commission was born. Now, 28 years later in a more complicated, cluttered and conflicted landscape it is time to form a Youth Commission that can tackle and properly enshrine the challenges that young people face in our movement.


A Commission that really understands the world of young people, the language they speak, the technology that is familiar to them, their hopes and their ambitions, their daily challenges, wherever they live and whatever they believe. 


A Youth Commission that has the authority and the resources to engage the disengaged and reconnect them to the power of sport.


A Youth Commission who can make the Olympic and Paralympic values stand tall in the lives of young people.  Values of friendship, excellence, respect, courage and determination. What do these really mean to young people. 


Far too often we leave these values in their synthetic form in the laboratory – almost too precious to touch.  


The role of the Commission would be to make them live and breathe and this is probably not a job left to you or I. My children, your children define these value very differently from us. 


We must never forget we have a head start. Many young people see the Olympic Games as a metaphor for life. A devotion to a unique cause, not just the reward. Where that reward does exist it is rooted in effort, ability and performance not circumstance, inequality or patronage. We have to be seen to stand for things that matter to young people. 


For example, competitors who respect each other do not take performance enhancing drugs because they respect the effort – maybe value the friendship - of the person in the next lane.


When I asked a young boy last week what courage meant to him he told me it was standing up against others who were bullying someone he didn’t even know. That was his definition of courage.


All Olympic committees need committees need to ensure young people are involved in decisions about cornerstone programmes of an Olympic Games, especially sport, culture, education and legacy programmes to ensure they reflect the issues that are relevant to young people.


And in our challenge we do, of course, have a sign post to the ultimate legacy The founding father of the Olympic Movement Baron Pierre De Coubertin was clear.  He said: "My unshakable faith in youth and the future has been, and remains, the principle that gives life to my work."


It can – and should – give life to all our work, too.


Sebastian Coe is the chairman of London 2012 and a two-time Olympic champion in the 1500 metres.


David Owen: Madrid snub signals ends of the Samaranch era

Duncan Mackay

Friday’s vote to select Rio de Janeiro as the first South American Olympic host city opened a new chapter for the Movement.
 

But it also marked the end of an era.
 

Ever since Madrid 2016’s candidacy was officially announced a number of us Olympic anoraks had been carrying around an image in our mind’s eye.
 

This was of an old man coming to the podium to address the 121st International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session and begging IOC members assembled there to grant him his dying wish.
 

At around 3.30pm on October 2 in the pleasant Danish capital of Copenhagen, that vision became reality.
 

"I know that I am very near the end of my time," said Juan Antonio Samaranch Torelló, Marqués de Samaranch and the man who, for nearly a generation, was master of all he surveyed in the Olympic Movement. "I am, as you know, 89 years old. May I ask you to consider granting my country the honour, and also the duty, to organise the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2016?"
 

Some three hours later, he got his answer.
 

And while the veneration in which he is still held by many members who know that the Movement would probably not have survived without him, propelled the Spanish capital into the final run-off, it was nowhere near enough.
 

The Samaranch period, which started in 1980 in Moscow with his election as 7th IOC President, was well and truly over.
 

Some will argue that his demise should be dated from 2005, when Madrid lost out to London in its bid to win the 2012 Games, or 2001, when his Presidency ended.
 

But the abiding impression from Singapore, where the vote on 2012 was conducted, was that little Madrid had come astonishingly close to upsetting its four ultra-heavyweight rivals (London, Paris, New York and Moscow).
 

The octogenarian could still manifestly exert a heavy influence on the decisions that mattered.
 

His enduring clout was underlined two years later, when Sochi won the right to stage the 2014 Winter Games in a race in which I am told his influence, though exercised very late in the day, was once again in evidence.
 

Others may say that the family still has its stamp on the Movement in the shape of Samaranch Snr’s son, Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr, an IOC member since 2001.
 

I like Samaranch the younger.
 

An impromptu monologue he delivered in a hotel bar for the benefit of the IOC’s Dick Pound and myself in the final days before the vote, on the process of campaigning, was a truly virtuoso performance.
 

But I cannot, at this point, see him pulling off the trick that, coincidentally, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has managed: that of following a father with the same name into the same high office.
 

No, the era is over and for that reason I think October 2 - as opposed to October 9, when IOC members are expected to vote on giving him a second term - may also go down as the moment that Jacques Rogge stepped unambiguously out of the shadow and took a firmer grip on this incorrigibly quirky organisation.
 

I am far from sure that the straight-laced Belgian surgeon, and former yachtsman, is capable of experiencing schadenfreude.  
 

But, if he is, he must surely have felt it when his predecessor paid public tribute, during that last appeal for votes, to his "masterly leadership".
 

October 2 was the most significant day for the Olympic Movement for a long, long time – it may also now face a tough battle to maintain US commercial support at anything like current levels, but that’s another story.
 

And it was not all down to Rio.
 

● The received wisdom on Friday’s vote is likely to be that the Brazilians bossed it.
 

And Rio’s 66-32 victory margin in the final run-off with Madrid was nothing if not emphatic.
 

The detailed figures, though, tell a different story.
 

Faced with a first-round choice between four bids, all impressive but none perfect, the opinion of IOC members was so divided that almost anything could have happened.
 

Madrid actually "won" that first round with 28 votes, followed by Rio (26), Tokyo (22) and Chicago (18).

Quite a number of IOC members, I suspect, would have been torn in particular between voting for Chicago and Rio. (The Americas were, after all, the only geographic zone with more than one candidate.)
 

That’s why I wrote in January that it wouldn't surprise me if one or other of them turned out to be the first city eliminated.
 

So, looked at another way, those first-round figures show that had Chicago's last-ditch change of tack in the final month of the campaign wooed another five members away from the South American bid, Rio would have replaced them as first city eliminated.
 

Had they wooed just four members away, we'd have had a three-way tie for last place.
 

Rio ultimately won this contest so comfortably for one simple reason: away from their core supporters, they were everybody’s second choice.
 

That’s a lesson worth absorbing for candidates assembling at the start-line for the 2018 Winter Olympics race.

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


Tom Degun: Down the bob skeleton track

Duncan Mackay

Whilst my far more esteemed insidethegames colleagues Duncan Mackay, Mike Rowbottom and David Owen were rubbing shoulders with Presidents, Kings and a vast array of star-studded names at the 121st International Olympic Committee Session in Copenhagen, I was unceremoniously sent to the city of Bath last week`and informed that I would be heading down the practice bob skeleton track used by no less than the Great Britain skeleton team in their preparations for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

So vague was the message I was given about my rather bizarre assignment that I barely gave it much thought on the train over to the charming city. Once I arrived at the University of Bath where the track is located I began to realise in earnest what I had let myself in for.
 

Since I had only taken the suit I was wearing and as I was attending a rather high profile function at London’s Oxo Tower during the evening, I was hoping to retain a relatively presentable condition.
 

When I asked the skeleton instructor Danny if I would be okay to wear my suit down the track, he offered an ominous wry smile and words I had half hoped not to hear: "Yeah, you’ll be fine. Just tuck you trousers into you socks and take your tie off so it doesn't get caught in the sledge and smash your face into the track." Problem apparently solved then!
 
As I approached the tarmac track from the bottom and gazed upwards towards the start line, I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't at first look all that steep.


However as we have all experienced when travelling down hill at a pace, the vista appears much worse peering down at your nemesis from the peak rather than making uncalculated assessments from the bottom. I realised once I had reached the top of the track, it was far steeper than my previous ground level assessment.


We – the media – were first treated to a demonstration of elite members of the British skeleton team going down the track at a startling pace. It became apparent very quickly - with an immediate sense of alarm - of how close to the ground the athletes lay and of how exceptionally muscular the athletes looked in their skin-tight Lycra clothing.


As I have not been a regular to my gym in recent months, I was rather glad I did not possess the appropriate clothing to head down the track as the material would have not been tremendously flattering.


Once I was ready to go - and I use the term “ready” rather loosely - I was asked to sign a form regarding insurance were I to be severely injured while heading down the track – never a form which instills one with confidence.
 



I was then given the overwhelming honour of being the first journalist to have a go on the track following the completion of Team GB’s runs.
 

I took my tie off, tucked my trousers into my socks and ensured that I had nothing of any value on me - which I was able to remove!


Danny passed me my helmet and the vital safety instructions which I listened to with rapt attention.


"Keep your head looking up at all times. Always look forward and tense your body at all times or your face will smash into the track.


"Also keep your feet up in the air. If you put them down, the track will snap your ankles off. Believe me; I’ve seen it happen before." Reassurance indeed!


It was at this point that I began to wonder why Danny had gone into bob skeleton instructing rather than motivational speaking...


He continued: "I’m only going to give you a gentle push start [as opposed to the running start of the elite athletes] but when you reach this point in the track [he pointed to the halfway stage] that’s when it’s going to start feeling really fast. Make sure you hold on really tight there”. No problem Danny, I intend to.


"When you reach the bottom, you’re going to think that you’ll fly off the end but the bungee will stop you immediately and snap you back up the track. Hold on really tight there too. When you eventually come to a stop, I’ll come over and get you."


With a vomit bag I hoped?


I lay flat on the sledge and got in position as Danny began to slowly push me off the start line down the slope which seemed to get steeper by the second.


"Wait a second" I shouted and Danny drew the sledge to the halt. "Am I in the right position?"


It was a stupid and nervous question to which I already knew the answer and of course the subliminal motive was to delay the inevitable.


Danny smiled, nodded and continued to push the sledge towards the point of no return.


The only way I can describe the sensation is by saying that it is very similar to the beginning of a terrifying roller-coaster. You start by heading at an agonizingly slow and tension raising pace up a very steep slope armed with the knowledge that you’re about to plummet back down a fair bit faster. A colossal adrenalin rush for sure!


I felt Danny withdraw his hold of the sledge and my slim vehicle began to accelerate at a phenomenal rate.


I was informed that my top speed would be about 30 kilometres per hour and although that doesn’t sound so dramatic in theory, experiencing this whilst  laying flat with your head an inch above a downhill tarmac track knowing that only your tight grip are preventing a prolonged stay at the hospital, is rather unnerving.


With the speed increasing, my fear became displaced by invigoration. I was actually rather enjoying myself.


The final stages of the run were the fastest and short of me bellowing out a drawn out expletive I shall not repeat here, they passed by in a flash.


I hit the bungee - which stopped me as violently as Danny had said it would – and shot back up the track.


I had the urge to put my feet down before I remembered Danny’s joyful anecdote of the last poor soul who had done so and immediately recoiled.


As I slowed down to an eventual stand-still, Danny came and grabbed the sledge from underneath me.


"How did you find it?" he asked.


"It was actually really fun," I replied. "Thanks for everything."


On the return journey to London, I reflected upon my experiences of the day. Heading down a track at 30kph with a push start is one thing, though still rather frightening, but the British skeleton team, including Olympic silver medallist Shelley Rudman, will soon be taking on the appropriately named Whistler Track at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics at speeds approaching 150kph.This is the fastest track ever built.


Certainly not for me but if you happen to be an "adrenalin junkie" with suicidal tendencies, I urge you to give it try. You might turn out to be quite good at it.
 

Tom Degun is the Paralympic correspondent and reporter for insidethegames 


Mike Rowbottom: A slap in the face for Barack Obama

Duncan Mackay

Defeat and Barack Obama. Barack Obama and defeat.
 

The two just don’t go together.
 

But they were forced together here by the judgement of the International Olympic Committee, whose 98 voting members not only awarded the 2016 Games to the irresistible rising force of Rio, but eliminated the Chicago bid - endorsed here by the presence of not just the President but also his wife – at the first round stage. The First Lady sings the blues...Chicago sings the blues...
 

The news reached the First Family as they were in mid-air en route back to Washington, and the President’s reaction was characteristically noble: "I don’t regret anything. I'm glad we came." 
 

As the President of the United States and his wife had been ushered into their dense, black bulletproof limousine and driven away from the Bella Centre, venue for voting process, the collective nose of the world's press was pressed against the window.
 

Half an hour earlier, the President had unwittingly infringed IOC etiquette by shaking hands with the members he had just addressed in the presentation room. But those members had seemed more than happy to be complicit in this small transgression.


Even on his way out, America’s first President of African origin had proved unerring in his feel for events, breaking off a conversation upon spotting the great Kenyan runner Kip Keino, who is an IOC member. “Sorry, I’ve got to speak to this man,” he announced before greeting the double Olympic champion and speaking to him in Swahili.


As the motorcade made its way to Copenhagen airport, the First Lady would have been able to reflect upon the fact that her emotional contribution to Chicago’s presentation had upstaged even her husband’s masterful oratory.


Chicago’s top cards had been played at the end of the hand, energising a presentation that, for all its painful sincerity, was lacking in ease, cohesion and animation.


The First Family had done all that was asked of them – and no one could now say they hadn’t.  And it still wasn’t enough to stem the irresistible force that was Rio 2016. Wasn’t even enough to prevent the Chicago bid team, many people’s favourites, being left in a state of shock at the complete rejection of everything it had striven for.


Alistair Campbell, who for so long steered Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair through the media minefield, observed this week on the subject of Obama’s commitment to visiting Copenhagen: "Leadership is sometimes about risking your capital to make something happen that might not happen without you using your capital."


But that's the thing about risks. They’re risky.

 
Bob Ctvrtlik, vice-chairman of the bid and three-times Olympian, his face drawn with disappointment, rejected the suggestion that the IOC members had passed a judgement upon the United States through the medium of the secret ballot.


After a very long, thoughtful pause.


And he accepted that the United States sometimes fractious relationship within the big brotherhood of sport may have played a part in the events of the day.


"The US hasn’t engaged as well as it could with the Olympic Movement. This result was not just on the merits. There's a lot of politicking going on...but I don’t think it’s anti-American," he told a heaving, straining mass of reporters and TV camera crews who had rolled forwards and backwards on the threshold of the laughably named Mixed Zone like waves on the Copacabana.


The question of whether Chicago would bid again was firmly sidestepped. "We haven’t had the discussion," Ctvrtlik concluded.


Pat Ryan, the chief executive and chairman of Chicago's bid, his face set beneath that shock of white hair – even his hair looked shocked in the aftermath of the vote – was as gracious as a man could be in the circumstances as he echoed the line taken by his President.


"It has absolutely been worth ...I don’t want to call it trouble...we have introduced Chicago to the world," he said. "It is so much better known and appreciated all round the world. Chicagoans can hold their heads up. I'm sorry we couldn't bring home the victory, but there is only one gold medal winner here and it just wasn't our day."


The question of whether his team had lost by a few votes, or many, was immaterial to him.


"We always knew the first round was going to be the most dangerous," he said. "That’s how this process works. There are people who vote a certain way in the first round and then change. We didn't have any large regional support. We had two from Canada, two from Mexico. But I believe the city is much better off for having had this attention."


In  contrast to Chicago, the presentation made by Rio de Janeiro was a model of faith, hope and clarity – and the greatest of these was clarity. Well might Carlos Roberto Osorio, the secretary general of the Rio 2016 Bid Committee, observe that the Rio team had left the presentation room feeling "very proud", convinced that they had succeeded in making the IOC members aware of the "historic opportunity" they had to award South America its first Games, and comfortable enough to do so. "We felt the warmth," Osorio added.


In footballing terms, the United States had turned up with two star strikers; but Brazil had played the beautiful game.


It was hardly a surprise, in the moments after IOC president Jacques Rogge had decisively flicked open the Envelope of Decision – no 16-second fumblings this time around, thanks to the timely intervention of a Sheffield steel letter opener donated by that city’s famous son S Coe – and announced Rio de Janeiro as the winners, that arguably the finest exponent of that beautiful game, Pele, had tears streaming down his face amid the bedlam of hugs and whoops.


He had admitted a couple of hours earlier that he was "a big cry baby", something confirmed in the Rio presentation itself as it featured a slide of his emotional greeting of the Olympic flame as it passed through his home country en route for Athens in 2004.


Seb Coe reflected this week on his own feelings as bid leader for London 2012 in the moments before and after their victory was announced, eventually, by Rogge.
 

"I was thinking ‘I just hope we come out the right side of this'," he said.  "I just didn’t want to have let down, and our team didn’t want to have let down, the thousands of people the length and breadth of the country who had helped the bid at every level.
 

"When the decision was announced, I suppose the feeling was actually quite reminiscent of coming out the right side of the Olympic Games, and being relieved it was all over."
 

But relief did not appear to be the prime emotion of the cavorting celebrants in the presentation room. Joy. That was more the mood.

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 and will be reporting regularly from the IOC Session in Copenhagen this week


David Owen: Sets the scene for the IOC vote on which city will host the 2016 Olympics

Duncan Mackay

This is one of the things the Olympic Movement does best.
 

In Copenhagen’s stunning new waterfront opera house, Irena Szewinska, multi-Olympic medal-winning Polish sprinter of the 1960s and 70s poses for a photograph with Edison Arantes do Nascimento, aka Pelé, the great Brazilian footballer.


A few yards away, across tables of canapés and petits fours a high-powered Spanish delegation, including the grey-bearded King Juan Carlos, José Luís Rodriguez Zapatero, the irrepressibly bright-eyed prime minister, Florentino Pérez, president of Real Madrid, and his star striker Raúl home in on International Olympic Committee (IOC) members such as Sergey Bubka, the former pole-vault champion, Vitaly Smirnov of Russia and Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, who is hot off the plane from a FIFA function in Brazil.
 

Somehow I don’t think they are discussing the finer points of the Danish musical evening we have just witnessed.


And of course somewhere over on the far side of what is an exceptionally spacious glassed-in foyer, Queen of Television Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama – who seems to have learnt a thing or two from Tony Blair about the fine art of fraternising with the Olympic top brass - sprinkle stardust on behalf of the Chicago bid.


Elsewhere, other IOC members, such as Princess Anne, resplendent in green, and Jacques Rogge, the IOC president himself, mill around making small talk and renewing old acquaintances with colleagues from around the world.


Be it in sport, or any other field, there is nothing quite like the post-opening ceremony party of an IOC session.


Princess Anne had good reason to feel at home: we reckoned their must have been representatives of just about every royal family in Europe in the stalls at the musical evening.


For bidding cities and their increasingly single-mnded armies of helpers and advisers, this is their last big chance to sway the electorate, to tilt those vital last couple of votes their city’s way.


But at the same time, a strict code of protocol prevails; appear too persistent or desperate and their efforts may be counter-productive.


This, though, is just the appetiser.


In a few minutes’ time, as I write this in Copenhagen’s cavernous Bella Centre, the first of the candidate city presentations – featuring Barack Obama, leader of the world’s only superpower and the ultimate political rock star – is due to start.


In ten and a half hours’ time we will know which city is to follow London as the next host of the world’s greatest sporting pageant – the Summer Olympic Games.
 

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


Brendan Gallagher: The Daily Telegraph writer says Wiggins signing would complete the jigsaw for Team Sky

Duncan Mackay
These are exciting but slightly fraught weeks for all concerned with Team Sky as the clock ticks down to their Pro-Tour debut in January when the “Tour Down Under” will see them race for the first time.

Forming a Pro-Tour from scratch is a strenuous and hideously expensive business - estimates vary from between £20-40 million and if you include the one-off start up costs I would vere towwards the latter - and the toughest thing of all is pulling everything together within a given timeframe.  You are hitting deadlines every day, hour by our hour, and the pressure begins to grow inexorably.

“Even NASA had its teething problems,” concedes Team Principal Dave Brailsford with a nice sense of irony as his team aim for the stars

They have for example, at the time of writing, got no identifiable GC (General Classifaction) rider which would seem quite an omission for a team whose mission statement is to win the Tour de France within five years. Australia's highly talented Simon Gerrans might develop into just such an athlete but there is no guarantee - at present he is the sort of rider who will win his share of mountain stages on the Grand Tours without quite challenging for GC.

As most of the cycling world knows Team Sky covet Bradley Wiggins (pictured) - both as their GC rider and a charismatic 'British' team leader to help gel everything together which is another thing they lack at present. Wiggins, all things considered, would not be at all averse to joining them. 

Wiggins is contracted to Garmin for one more year however and that’s a strong hand Garmin hold when the two parties stop dancing around each other and acting all coy and negotiations start in earnest, which they will because money always talks. Reports earlier this month that Wiggins had already signed were a long way short of the mark but the 'end game' is about to be played out one way or another.  Brailsford and Garmin boss John Vauhgters are both guests at Dave Millar's wedding in Oxfordshire on Saturday, I wonder if a bucketload of champagne might lubricate the process a little?

Garmin are a popular free-booting bunch who can race serious one day and kick back the next but they are not the wealthiest team on the block so that is something to bear in mind over the coming weeks.

The joker in the pack, however, could be if Astana fail to receive their Pro-Tour license from the UCI - its not looking promising at present - which would leave Tour de France winner Alberto Contador free to join them. This year’s Tour de France winner spent much of the downtime in the peloton nattering to Garmin – well the craic wasn’t exactly great with his Astana ‘mates’ - and made it quite clear that Garmin were his sort of team.

If Contador did head for Garmin everything would fall quickly into place for Team Sky with Wiggins quickly reduced to second billing and therefore expendable, at a cost of course because Garmin would need much of that money to help sign contador's, the sport's biggest star.

If that scenario did not pan out, however, Sky would either have to break the bank or accept a very rare defeat in matters financial and hold off for another year until Wiggins goes out of contract. We will know soon enough.
 
Sky meanwhile are set to announce another tranche of eight new riders this week - they are now just two short of their full 26 strong sqaud with presumably one of those places left vacant for Wiggins.
 
It's a more than useful squad with Brailsford and his backroom team, always aware that their perfect GC rider might not emerge straight waway, taking the view that you must be able to walk before you go full tilt at the Tour de France itself. Team Sky need to be a full operating Pro-Tour team competing nine months of the year and winning races across the board and around the world before they aim for the ultimate goal. They need to establish a rock solid base camp before aiming for their sporting Everest.
 
Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen, rated number three on the UCI world ranking and proven winner of one day stage races and One day Classics, will be their star man initially along with Gerrans. Columbia owner Bob Stapleton admitted at the World Championships on Sunday that it was a real “Balls-breaker” losing Boasson Hagen to Sky.
 
Boasson Hagen is the racer most likely to kick it all off for Sky with a stage win at the Tour Down Under - he helped himself to four at the Tour of Britain recently,having won three the year before. Look out for Peter Kennaugh as well in the coming months - the 20-year-old Brit is fearless and could make a big impact on his debut at senior level while Geraint Thomas is a quite exceptional athlete who hasnt even begun to fulfil his talent on the road. Expect big things from him as well.

Brendan Gallagher covers rugby and cycling for The Daily Telegraph and also worked with Bradley Wiggins' criticially acclaimed book, In Pursuit of Glory: The Autobiography, which was released last year and is now out in paperbook. You can order it here

 


Mike Rowbottom: The Obama effect already proving influential

Duncan Mackay

"Watching a woman walk through a doorway and into a hotel lobby. What difference does it make to an Olympic Games?"

The question, put with some scorn by a seasoned observer of all matters Olympic, was rhetorical. But it has real relevance when that woman is Michelle Obama. And the answer will be supplied before the week is up.

The stir created by the First Lady’s arrival here in support of Chicago’s 2016 bid was huge, albeit that it is now in the vanguard of her husband’s planned visit on the day of decision itself.

Well before her elegantly-shod feet trod the plush floral carpet of the Marriott, venue for the 121st International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session – entrance via the back door having rendered the red carpet redundant – the President’s wife was already configuring the media.

Attempting to enter hotel’s main revolving door I was hindered by a charming fellow in shades. "Hi," he said. "How are you?" At this point I could have told him about my flight into Copenhagen, which had been pleasantly  uneventful, and about the charming volunteer who had helped me find a shuttle bus to my hotel.

"Could I ask you to stand over there please?" Oh, OK, it seemed that conversation was not about to happen...

The media cluster "over there" consisted of several reporters and a couple of camera crews, whose operators were busy focusing their lenses through the glass doors in front of them and onto the second group of more privileged – or perhaps simply more punctual – media representatives who were artfully arranged all over a broad staircase as if someone were about to take a giant school photo.

All in all it was a sensational bit of publicity for the hotel’s Hans Christian Andersen gift shop which lay between the two straining banks of observers. Who says fairy tales don't come true?

A little way down the street a Paramedic Ambulance had parked up – presumably in case anyone succumbed to over-excitement – and a group of 11 police motorcyclists had gathered in a car park underneath the giant banner advertising the 121st IOC Session and the XIII Olympic Congress.

Suddenly the media crowd had changed shape, and at their epicentre was a woman in a smart-but-sensible black-and-white outfit, first speaking, and then being – suggested is probably the most accurate word – towards an exit.

I can report the following words from the First Lady.   

"Chicago is a wonderful host city with great people, wonderful facilities. The hospitality is like on other.
 
"I'm so happy to be here, just so excited. We've got a lot of work to do and we are not taking anything for granted so I’m going to talk to some voters."


 

Sequestered and securitised somewhere  beyond the bar – which by the way offered club sandwiches at just a shade under £18 and coffee for a knockdown £6.50 – the First Lady proved as good as her word.

Pretty soon British IOC member Craig Reedie, not known to be wholeheartedly in the Chicago camp at this point in the proceedings, was being invited down the corridor for an Audience with Michelle. "Can I go to get my wife?" he asked.

Who is to say what the Obama effect might be upon the sensibilities of the IOC members upon whose votes the delivery of the 2016 Games depend?

Well, maybe an IOC member is best placed to address that.

Having witnessed Michelle’s media melee, the IOC member for the Caribbean island of Aruba, Nicole Hoevertz, denied that IOC members would now effectively mark down bidding cities if heads of state were not produced on cue. "I don’t think that is the case. For instance, if President Obama couldn’t be here because of the health debate back home we would understand.

"But it does add to the effect, and I believe it's very important for the Olympic Movement because it expresses the importance of the Games in the world. The Obamas being here is huge, because they are both real Chicagoans and they are two people making a real difference to the whole world."

Meanwhile the police motorcyclists arrived singly and at speed, sirens blaring, blue lights flashing, looking as if they had had a right good tear-up around the block, presumably on the basis of "If you’ve got the hardware, why not use it?"

A question, perhaps, that the Barack Obama will have to address during the nuclear discussion involving the Iranians which he will undertake along with others in Geneva before he arrives in the Danish capital.
 
Judging by the effect his wife has already created here, that arrival looks as if it will be mightily influential.

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 and will be reporting regularly from the IOC Session in Copenhagen this week
  


Alan Hubbard: Why I'm a convert to women's boxing

Duncan Mackay

Those of us now showing our age doubtless will recall the ditty trilled by Noel Coward around half a century ago in which he urged a certain Mrs Worthington not to put her daughter on the stage. An updated lyric might be: "Don’t put your daughter in the ring, Mr Warren."

Frank Warren, Britain’s leading fight promoter, insists he wouldn’t anyway. He’s dead set against women’s boxing, amateur or pro. So is my good friend Colin Hart, The Sun’s doyen of fistic scribes who says he wouldn’t touch the new latest sport to get Olympic recognition with the proverbial barge pole.

And world champion Amir Khan, who I saw bury his head in the programme at ringside rather than watch an inaugural women’s bout during the ABA championships last year, reckons girls should stick to swapping forehands on the tennis court.

They are probably in the majority in the ultra-chauvinistic fight game, but, like it or not, not women boxers will be doing their best to belt bits off each other when the bell rings for the London Olympics in 2012.

As someone who has also covered boxing for many years – starting with amateurs shows as a cub reporter in south London and incorporating epics such as the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila -  I suppose I should be in the anti-camp but actually I am pleased it has got on to the Olympic agenda, not least because sportswomen these days surely are as much entitled as men to utilise their strength, skill and, yes, aggression, in an activity that demands the ultimate in fitness and dexterity.

So, would I want my own daughter to box? Well, we’re at the granddaughter stage now – my daughter Clare, who is actually a judo coach, has an 11-year-old so I asked her the question. Her answer: “Why not, if she wants to. Had boxing been more available to women when I was a judo player (she was a first dan black belt) I might have tried it myself. I don’t think at amateur level it is any more dangerous than other martial arts, or even horse riding and diving. You have protective headgear (which you don’t have in judo or karate or kick boxing), it seems well controlled and teaches self-discipline, confidence, and self-respect."

I became converted to women’s boxing some five years ago when I interviewed Amanda Coulson, then rated Britain's best female amateur boxer, having first got the gumshield between her teeth as a 13-year-old. Apologies for sounding sexist but she was a real head-turner, and like Laila Ali, who inherited her old man Muhammad 's looks and a semblance of his skill but, seemingly more suited to the catwalk than the canvas. But watching her sparring prowess convinced me – and also Britain’s then national coach Terry Edwards – that there was more to it than just handbags at ten paces, though you soon  realise that women's boxing is as different to men's as women's tennis is different to men's tennis. It's fencing with gloves on.

And those who say they are shocked by then sight of women biffing each other obviously haven’t been out and about in Newcastle or Cardiff on a Saturday night.

So do they get hurt? Well I suspect not as much as they do in judo or taekwondo, both perfectly acceptable as Olympic pursuits for both sexes. My daughter ended up in hospital after being thrown and concussed in judo, a sport which even permits a little bit of strangling. And you can get your teeth kicked in at taekwondo, where you can use both fists and feet - ask Britain’s Beijing bronze medallist, Sarah Stevenson.

There is also a misconception that women boxers are all butch and biceps, or as intimidating out of the ring as ex-professional Jane Couch, aka the Fleetwood Assassin, who once flattened a bloke in a Blackpool bar when he patted her bum 

Back in the early nineties, when women first pulled on the gloves in Britain, one of the organisers of the inaugural female national championships, Sue Atkins, declared: "People have this image of two dykes with shaved heads slugging it out. This is not what it is about." Indeed not.

Mick Gannon, the ex-Amy PTI who coaches the GB women’s squad, says: "These girls are boxers but they are also ladies – a little bit girlie in some ways. They don’t have the animal aggression or explosive power of men. I look upon women’s boxing as a form of dance routine with skill and my job is to put a bit of snap into it."

I agree with Lucy O’Connor, Britain’s 29-year-old Euro bronze medallist, a Royal Navy lieutenant is married to a Services boxing coach, who says the traditional stigma that has been attached to women’s boxing has now gone. "People are starting to appreciate it’s a technical sport, a thinking woman’s sport. It’s not a barbaric duel, more like chess in the ring."

Of course the British Medical Association will have apoplexy, as they still do over men’s boxing, but remember this is amateur boxing complete with headguards, breast protectors and a limit of four two minute rounds. There has has not been a serious injury at amateur level in the men’s game for years and none that I can recall in the Olympics. Bouts are usually halted before any damage is done, even for a nosebleed, and you can be sure the girls will be even better protected by the medicos.

The traditionalists and chauvinists may not like it, but it is right that fisticuffs and the fair sex can now go hand in boxing glove in the Games, where the boxing belle of 2012 is likely to be Katie Taylor, the delightful, Irish girl who is current 60 kg world and European champion and also plays football for her country. Ringside aficionados at London’s ExCel, where the Olympic boxers seem to have won their scrap to fight in 2012, will see she is something special. 

Yet it wasn't so long ago that a woman's place in the boxing ring was pouting, not clouting, parading with the round cards. You've come a long way, Million Dollar Babies...


Alan Hubbard is a sports columnist and boxing correspondent of The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics

 


Suzi Williams: BT will make London 2012 the best connected Games ever

Duncan Mackay

This Friday the world finds out the host city for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games - and I'll be waiting in anticipation along with everyone else.
 

I'll never forget the surprise and celebration in Trafalgar Square on that July day in 2005 when we heard London had won. Dame Kelly Holmes and the Red Arrows were the stars of the occasion and the tickertape continued long in to the evening. It was a fantastic day for the UK, and the start of something really exciting. I joined BT shortly after and quickly found myself at the heart of BT's own London 2012 adventure.
 

BT backed the bid for London to host the Games in 2012, and is now the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. 

The decision to move from supporter of the bid to fully-fledged Games sponsor was a significant one and by no means a foregone conclusion in those early days. But like any other commercial decision, it was based on doing the right thing for customers, shareholders and employees. In the end, the business case turned out to be a strong one, and we are proud to be playing such a huge role in the greatest show on earth.
 

In our role as official communications services partner, BT is delivering the most connected Games ever. In 2012, every image, every sports report, every visit to the London 2012 website and millions of calls, e-mails and texts will be delivered over BT networks. Already BT people are working to deliver 80,000 connections across 94 locations, installing 4,500km of internal cabling and 1000 wireless access points, and our networks will be carrying 6GB of information - the equivalent of 6000 novels every second. It's an enormous project and one that BT is uniquely qualified to deliver.

Of course we're also using the Games to engage and inspire our people and our customers, for example through our successful athlete Ambassador programme. These athletes are a vital part of our 2012 programme and they're doing a fantastic job for us - whether speaking at internal or customer events, or supporting our wider PR and marketing programmes.
 

Earlier this year we added Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorius to the BT Ambassador team and he helped launch our title sponsorship of the BT Paralympic World Cup. This is the largest international multi-sport competition in elite disability sport - and it's a fantastic opportunity for the world's best Paralympic athletes to take part in elite competition as they look towards the Paralympic Games in 2012. BT will support this event every year through to 2012.
 

We're also sponsoring the BT Visit London Awards, which celebrate the people, places and things that make London such an amazing city. Why? Well it's because we understand the importance of tourism to the economy in London, and this will only grow in the build-up to the Games in 2012. But it's not just about London - BT is committed to engaging people across the UK in this once in a lifetime event. It's BT's aim to make these the first truly connected Games, with BT connecting the nation - and indeed the world - to the action. To support our ambition, as part of our London 2012 programme we're a partner of the Live Sites - a network of giant screens in towns and cities up and down the country, connecting communities with London 2012 without leaving their home town.
 

Being involved in BT's London 2012 partnership still feels like the start of an adventure - with just under three years still to go to the London 2012 Games - and so much still to do. Yet such is the Olympic cycle that in just four days time another country will be celebrating success at becoming the host of the Games in 2016. It's an exciting time as we all await the outcome. And I wish the winning city and nation every success as they start their Olympic and Paralympic adventure.

Suzi Williams is BT Group marketing and brand director. BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup. For more information click here 


 


Mike Rowbottom: With Madrid bidding for 2016, our chief feature writer recalls a memorable night in the Spanish capital

Duncan Mackay

Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo - the four latest contenders to host an Olympic Games are preparing for the final, awful, joyful reckoning in Copenhagen next week. And when the members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) come to weigh up their respective strengths, personal impressions will inevitably play a part.

Try as they might, the 106 men and women at the heart of the world’s greatest sporting event will be unable to expunge any memories they may have of the prospective venues as they struggle to come to the Right Decision.

Were I an IOC member – a prospect as likely as a talking cat – I would struggle to subdue the recollection of something awkward which happened to me in one of those four fine cities. I would strive not to let it be a factor in my choice, either one way or the other. I would endeavour to put it so far to the back of my mind that it had a fair chance of becoming part of the memory lode of anyone standing immediately behind me.

But memory – it has its own will, doesn’t it? I try to resist. And memory persists…

I woke up and my trousers were around my ankles. Whatever it was, it wasn't good. I was in a place that was brightly lit and dimly familiar. My hotel room? Did I get a taxi, then?

No, not my hotel room. A toilet. A toilet in a restaurant. A toilet in a Basque restaurant. In...Madrid.

I looked at my watch - how could it be 10 to 5? Because that would mean... that surely would mean I had... where were the others?

Hitching up my crumpled trousers, I unlocked the door - good sign that, must have locked the door, you should lock the door - and stepped out. Unlike the restaurant I had visited the previous evening, this was a very quiet, dark place, not at all popular. So unpopular, indeed, that I was the only one in it, although I was not entirely alone.

All around the bar, lit only by the eerie green glow of drinks cabinets, hung huge hams. These Basques, I thought, they do love their meat.

I hadn't noticed the hams on my way in. Then again, I hadn't noticed anything for five hours.

Drink, I reflected, might have played its part in my situation. Some drink had undoubtedly been taken - a couple of beers, no more. Big ones, though. And just that one glass of red wine. Or so. But, in the evidence for the defence, the prime exhibit was surely Long Day in Hot Sun.

Madrid's Estadio de la Comunidad had turned out to be entirely open to the elements - the relevant one being fire. An hour into our early start to the day's European Cup athletics, the sun had heated us to about gas mark 6. The guys from L'Equipe had stripped down to the waist, but by noon the shirts were back on with the collars up.

Something was nagging at me... the French, always so stylish, you didn't catch them wearing ankle socks with their shorts... nagging... sports socks, maybe, but they looked OK somehow, meant, not like the typical Englishman-abroad sock, brown with a silly pattern, worn half-way up a weedy white calf... at me.

The bill?

There was no way I could have paid it. I couldn't even remember what I'd eaten. Oh yes I could.

By now I was standing at the restaurant door. On the other side was the courtyard where I had sat with a large tableful of my fellow toilers before that rising feeling - unmistakeable as grief - had drawn me discreetly and swiftly away from the jocund throng.

I wanted nothing more now than to slide between the cool sheets of my hotel bed. My hand was on the door handle. Maybe it was a door which simply locked itself as it was swung shut. Or something like that.

Cool sheets, fizzy mineral water. I turned the handle.

To no effect, as far as getting out was concerned. But to considerable effect as far as filling the restaurant with a noise that resembled an LA cop car at the scene of crime was concerned. After about five minutes, the noise was replaced by a deafening silence. Then the phone behind the bar rang. And as I had no other pressing business, I answered it.

I couldn't understand what the man was saying - and he couldn't understand what I was saying. The Spanish phrase for: "I'm sorry, I'm an English journalist and I have fallen asleep in your toilet" eluded me.

It was as I put the phone down that the nagging feeling suddenly turned itself into something more tangible.
 
It wasn't nagging any more, it was shouting in my face. Policemen in Spain carry guns! Guns!

I thought: How can I make it very clear - crystal clear, as my old headmaster would have said - that I am not a burglar?

Sit by the bar, casually, as if you have fallen asleep there. But they won't be able to see your hands. How will they know you don't have a gun or a knife? No. Simply stand in the middle of the room with your arms in the air.

I tried this. It was just too absurd.

And of course, I thought, it might make them think you've done something criminal and were owning up, whereas the image you need to foster at this point in your life is "poor, sleepy-headed Englishman."

Torch beams swung across the windows. I heard the sound of voices. Now the doors were opening, and two very large, uniformed policemen were moving towards me with guns.

My plans were as nothing. Instinctively, I embraced the international language of helplessness - palms together as if in prayer at the side of my tilted face. Then palms outstretched beseechingly.

By now, a rumpled man I took to be the restaurant owner - and perhaps also the owner of the voice on the phone - had joined the party, a jacket over his pyjama top. As they spoke to him, he stared at me with an expression I find hard to describe. But incomprehension was a part of it. And hatred.

So what was it to be? The policemen were taking me outside now. Oh, cool sheets and mineral water...

Assume the best, I thought. "Hotel Cuzco?" I asked.

For a moment the two big men looked at me with incomprehension. Then one glanced at the other and grinned before pointing his finger in a helpful direction. At which point the sleepy-headed Englishman took his leave…

As I say, I would strive to minimise the memory were I sitting in judgement in Copenhagen this week. But as I’m not – well, there it is.

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 and will be reporting from the IOC Session in Copenhagen next week

 


Holly Lam-Moores: British Handball is on the verge of its greatest moment

Duncan Mackay

I had been looking forward to last night's game against Finland in the European Championships pre-qualifying for three months, playing it over and over in my head.
 

This was a team who 18 months ago we had suffered a 13-goal defeat to in the European Challenge Trophy in Cyprus, but lot has happened to us since then and we have developed into a much stronger force.
 

The first leg was the away leg in Helsinki. We had three training sessions prior to the game where we went through our defence and set plays over and over again. We also watched Finland play on video and reminded ourselves of what they were like.
 

We knew their favourite shots, feints, set plays and weaknesses. We’d set our statistic goals, process goals and outcome goals. I don’t think we could have been more prepared. The nerves struck me the morning of the match, I felt sick to my stomach. There was one more training session to execute and I tried to let some of those butterflies loose.
 

Everyone took a few hours to get their heads down during the afternoon and think about those strengths we hold as individuals like our coach Jesper Holmris had told us. The spirits rose as we turned on our favourite songs out on the corridor and got into our match kit.
 

GB piled on to the bus with Finland and we continued to sing and play those songs although this didn’t seem to be enough practise for the national anthem. We could have easily qualified as the worst Great Britain team to ever sing "God Save The Queen", but never the less it didn’t seem to affect our performance!
 

A crowd of 400 came to see the game, eight of those were supporting us but they made themselves heard. Our team captain Lynn McCafferty yelled out "TEAM" and we replied "GB!’" and were ready to go. I was ready to go. Eight of us knew what it was like to lose against Finland, and we were not going to let it happen again.
 

The whistle went and we threw ourselves straight into the game, keeping Finland at bay and only letting them score four after the first twenty minutes. However we had missed three penalties already, something we had to put right.
 

Half-time approached us we were leading 9-7, a lead that our goalkeeper Sarah Hargreaves (pictured) played a huge part in with a 60 per cent save rate. We had also missed six or seven 100 per cent chances which we should have put away. The Finns came out of their changing room all guns blazing, spurred on by their partisan crowd.
 

They scored two almost instantly without reply from us, but it wasn’t enough. We took the lead once again and that was the closest the Finnish girls got to us the rest of the game.
 

Hargreaves continued to stop the big shooters from putting the ball in the back of the goal. Nina Heglund came on in the last stages of the game and put away three, making sure that the win was ours.


One down, one to go. A huge sense of relief came over me, we had played our hearts out and although we didn’t play as well as we could have the win is still ours to bring back to Liverpool. The nerves turned to joy and all the hard work that we had done over the last 18 months had paid off.
 

But it’s not over yet. We have done half the job, which we hope to finish off on Saturday.
 

I am aware that it’s not going to easy as the Finns are not best pleased about being beaten on home soil against a team they easily overcame a year and a half ago. But it’s still ours for the taking.


Winning the second leg will be the greatest victory a British handball team has ever had and will bring us straight to a clash against a strong France side who were world champions in 2003, as well as matches against Austria and Iceland.
 

If we get the opportunity to play these nations it will be our first taster of the competition we will face in 2012 and it will be a huge learning curve for us and will also put Great Britain on the international scene.


I know it’s a lot to ask to win these games but we will be playing against some of the best players in the world who we can learn a great deal from. These are the moments we train every single day for, the moments we dream of.

Teenager Holly Lam-Moores from Burnley has been playing handball since 2004 and at London 2012 hopes to be a member of the first British team to play in the Olympics. Tickets are still available for Saturday's match against Finland at the Echo Arena in Liverpool by clicking here.


David Cotton: A mutually beneficial path to London 2012

Duncan Mackay

Locked in a room in the bowels of the cavernous Birmingham NEC, Olympic rower Zac Purchase and Paralympian judo player, Ian Rose take a break from meeting exhibitors and delegates at Leisure Industry Week, to answer questions from regional radio stations across the UK.
 

Zac and Ian, both part of a nationwide launch of a new athlete led initiative to generate funds for their fellow sportsmen and women, sit around a blue table rehearsing the key messages on how the initiative brings benefits to all business, individuals and regional economies. Oh, and don’t forget to plug www.britishathletes.org was the plaintiff plea from their minder for the day

The phone rings...and the interviews begin.
 

But why launch now?
 

Christmas is the answer to that one. It is the primary market for staff rewards and bonuses, also the gift market. We need time to get this established in the minds of all key decision makers. There were of course other reasons.
 

Seeking independent funding and to help the overall cause the British Athlete Commission (BAC) started to investigate alternative solutions. It has taken four months to develop, and from the outset was always envisaged to help achieve these objectives.
 

The athletes message is clear, we are not seeking sponsorship. Instead, the BAC mindful of the recessionary times affecting us all, are providing opportunities for business and individuals to support the athletes at no extra cost.


The launch letter signed by 40 Olympians and Paralympians and sent to 240 business leaders, is seeking consideration of diverting just £25 per employee from existing bonuses, rewards, benefits and perks budgets into a specially commissioned edition of a discount directory.
 

It will mean that every employee in an organisation receives a reward package of a minimum £10,000 worth of offers from restaurants, leisure facilities, tourism attractions and retailers. These discount directories already sell over 100,000 copies a year, and after extensive trials in corporates around the UK undertaken by our partners at Invitation Media, we know it will be popular with employees across the country.
 

The same principle applies to individuals; this initiative is for those sports lovers that already contribute to the £3.2 billion on gift vouchers and cards. Membership packages come complete with an array of discounts, to give people the opportunity to save money whilst supporting the athletes. This is where we can help stimulate economic activity, we are providing distinct free of charge marketing platforms to help


By way of a heartfelt thank you, over 300 elite athletes are on hand to update their supporters with regular features, articles, blogs and the like. It enables athletes to support everyone, but also enable them to focus on achieving their (and our) sporting goals.


So for business and individuals a visit to www.britishathletes.org on the Pledge Your Support page, there are five ways to support the athletes, hey I have just realised that’s one for every ring!


David Cotton: Is not an elite athlete and is unlikely ever to be one, though his golf game is getting slightly better. He is the creator of this concept.


Brendan Gallagher: The Daily Telegraph writer defends the money spent on British basketball

Duncan Mackay


Just about the only downside of staging the Olympics is the number-crunchers and sporting know-nothings - particularly the former - who start butting in where they are neither wanted or needed. And my very particular gripe this week is their notion that there simply has to be a return – ie medals –  for any monies spent by UK Sport and other agencies.
 
Anything less than a podium is to be deemed a failure and a “debit” in the ledger. Money "wasted" and the subject of an investigation by highly paid officials, it should be added, who get well compensated for such for their labours. 
 
Give me strength. What complete and utter twaddle. Any sportsman, at whatever level, will confirm that money can never guarantee success. It can ease the way a little but no more.
 
It was in this frame of mind that I read a few carping comments recently about Great Britain’s embryo basketball  team being eliminated at the pool stage of the European Championships in Poland earlier this month. Were they worth their £8.5 million grant? Is it worth supporting them through to 2012? Shouldn't other sports be getting more?

A couple of things first. As one of the few journos who got off his backside and trekked to Poland let me tell you that Great Britain’s narrow defeat against world champions Spain was one of the most electrifying and brave sporting performances I have seen anywhere on the planet this year.The crowd loved it and you would have been very proud.
 
Britain found themselves in a group consisting of the eventual winners Spain – runners up Serbia and the fourth placed team Slovenia. That’s the group of death by any criteria and bear in mind the European Championships is much stronger than the Olympics or World Championships because there are no wild-cards and token "area representatives. Britain were further handicapped by the unavailability of Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, illness and injury and their third NB player Pops Mensah Bonsu missed all the warm-up games to boot.

Now let me tell you something else. You could spend £85 million on Great Britain Basketball - in fact £850 million - in the next  three years and still not be able to "guarantee" an Olympic medal such is the strength worldwide of the second  most popular team game behind football. In fact Britain is the only sporting superpower never to really “get” basketball and you could argue that the money should have been invested long ago.
 
Sporting success, and especially success in skilled team games involving more than just pure tests of strength and speed, can never be simply bought. How many hundreds of millions have gone into England and English football since 1966 to no avail?

Is there any guarantee that Team Sky can conjure up a Tour de France winner? We wish Team Origin well but is there any certainty they will ever bring the America’s Cup back home? 

The money men at Adidas have poured scores of millions of pounds into the All Blacks over the last decade but they haven't yet got their hands on the Webb Ellis trophy.
 
Sometimes you just attempt things for the adventure, fun and simply the desire to progress a sport and Great Britain has a proud tradition second to none in the sporting world. Put away the bloody calculators and just enjoy the ride. Supporting projects such as the British basketball team is absolutely the reason I spend a fiver every Saturday on lottery tickets. This is the sporting odyssey I want to buy into and I offer a Churchillian salute the sporting politicians, free-loaders and armchair critics who strangely were not to be seen in Warsaw and then moan about wasted money. Excuse me! Those of us who donate our hard earned in the first place will be the judge of than thank you very much
 
Starting from scratch three years ago British basketball have already fought their way through Divisions B and A of the European Nations competition and taken their place at top table two years ahead of expectation.  An invitation to next year's World Championships is on the cards and momentum is building nicely. If they can continue to progress we will have a team to roar on at the O2 against the Dream Team in 2012 and suddenly it will all make sense. We won't win but you won't have a better night out or in front of the box in the entire Games.
 

Furthermore there is just a chance that basketball will retain its place in our sporting culture and they will go onto even bigger and better things in 2016. Nothing guaranteed of course - there are no guarantees in sport - but there is just a chance and I am more than happy to take a punt on that.

The multi-talented Brendan Gallagher writes for the Daily Telegraph, covering a variety of sports, including rugby union, cycling and basketball