C.K Wu went to Westminster this week for a reception on the House of Commons terrace.
As the Thames rolled imperturbably by, the President of AIBA, the International Boxing Association, betrayed impressive sang-froid in describing his reaction to death threats received since taking the helm three years ago.
"I said, 'I'm over 60; it's not too bad'," he told an audience including Frank Bruno, Barry McGuigan and current British boxers of both sexes.
The occasion afforded an opportunity to catch up on progress of the nascent World Series of Boxing (WSB), which knowledgeable observers expect to change the face of amateur boxing for good.
The idea is to create a competition that will drive enough money into the so-called "Amateur" sport to prevent top-drawer Olympic boxers joining the "Professional" ranks the minute they step off the medal podium.
What AIBA and IMG have come up with is primarily a team competition that will straddle three continents and could enable top boxers – who, crucially, will retain their Olympic eligibility - to generate earnings running comfortably into six figures of US dollars.
At least 12 cities around the world will host teams consisting of both local and international boxers.
After a three-month season – with the inaugural competition scheduled currently to start in November 2010 – a champion team would emerge, following a series of city versus city matches featuring bouts in five weight categories fought over five three-minute rounds.
The best boxers at each weight would subsequently face off for individual WSB titles.
The hope, obviously, is that this format will attract substantial sponsorship and broadcast income, as well as sizeable live audiences.
After making inquiries, I think I can reveal where the first dozen or so franchises are likely to be, with teams grouped into three continent-wide Conferences.
In Asia, the line-up is likely to pit a Chinese team (Beijing) against South Korea (probably Busan), India (New Delhi) and Kazakhstan.
In the Americas, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are all in the picture, with the fourth franchise possibly based across the Canadian border in Montreal.
In Europe, Milan, London and Moscow may be joined by a franchise from Turkey, although I understand that Germany (with its potentially lucrative television market) and even France may still be in the picture, with a possibility that the European Conference might end up including more than four teams.
As for venues, Ivan Khodabakhsh, WSB's Chief Operating Officer, steered me towards the O2 Arena as a possible setting for the London team’s home matches.
When I asked whether the New York team might fight at Madison Square Garden, he replied that they had had a "presentation" and talked to different people there.
Commercial interest in the venture plainly exists: a top Ladbrokes executive in the Westminster audience confided that the company was "seriously interested" in the competition.
According to Khodabakhsh, the current plan is to have a single presenting title sponsor, with other sponsorship rights going to franchise-holders.
I have heard plausible suggestions that this title sponsorship might raise in the region of $3 million-$5 million (£1.8 million-£3 million).
Franchise-holders – who, in Europe, will pay an annual franchise fee of €300,000 (£271,000) - would also get a share of TV revenues pertaining to their particular territory.
With boxers from all over the world expected to take part in the competition, the value of TV rights should clearly not be restricted to those countries with franchises.
A particularly alluring prospect for boxing fans is that one or more Cuban stars might join their local franchise.
Khodabakhsh told me WSB was more than confident Cuban boxers would participate in the competition.
The way in which boxers – who will be guaranteed a base salary (excluding prize money) of $25,000 (£15,000) even if ranked in WSB's lowest category – are allocated to teams promises to be extremely interesting.
According to Khodabakhsh, a draft system will operate, but there is also set to be what sounds like an Indian Premier League-style auction for the 20 or 30 biggest names.
Transfers from one team to another will also be allowed.
With around 12 months to go before the first scheduled WSB bouts, one burning question, of course, is how the glitzy, many would say garish, world of professional boxing will react.
It is a world, after all, that has made a habit of turning Olympic medallists – from Muhammad Ali to Lennox Lewis – into global superstars over many decades.
As we filed out of the reception, I raised this matter with the globe-trotting Wu, whose next stop after London was set to be Georgia.
"We don’t want to challenge them," he told me in his clipped, economical English. "We do ours; you do yours."
Separate worlds, then - I wonder if it really will turn out to be that simple.
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.
Those who complain that retired sports heroes rarely put anything back into the game should look no further than Newham, right in London’s Olympic heartland where one of Britain’s greatest champions is doing more than her bit to ensure that 2012 has a real legacy.
Tessa Sanderson was the first British black woman ever to win Olympic gold back in 1984 and her javelin triumph in Los Angeles remains our only such success in a throwing field event. We met up again recently after more years than both of us cared to remember in Newham, where the ever-ebullient Tessa is now running an academy for potential young stars of 2012 and beyond, something she has built up over the last three years off her own bat with the enthusiastic backing of a far-sighted local council but precious little from the Government, its quangos or the Lottery.
To say she has worked wonders is something of an understatement. There are now 70 'pupils' at the Newham Academy to which Tessa has enticed a dozen coaches covering most of the Olympic and Paralympic sports, with a further 60 young athletes on the waiting list for track and field alone.
You certainly would not confuse Tessa for Simon Cowell, but her remarkable Newham project has the hallmark of a veritable sporting X-Factor. Just to give a few examples of the progress that has been made in recruiting local kids into the scheme: There's a 19-year-old 110 metres hurdler, Emmanuel Okpokiri, coached by Tony Jarrett who is on course for the Commonwealth Youth Games and, according to Tessa "has the potential that could see him there in 2012 but more likely for 2016."
Then there's a 10.8 second sprinter, Rashid Kakoza, coached by Julian Golding and a remarkable trio of fencers. All from different ethnic backgrounds, they are now known as the Newham Swords and have just deposed a rather posh rival team from Kensington and Chelsea as champions in the London Youth Games. They certainly bring a whole new connotation to the word "fencing" in the East End.
Tessa has done this by breaking down barriers and knocking on doors of organisations such as the ExCel Centre, 2012 partners CLM and the Football League to extract a few bob, even ploughing money from her own speaking and motivational engagements into the communal pot.
"There is so much talent in the East End," she tells us. "I am just pleased that we have the wherewithal to unearth some of it."
But digging up those nuggets has not been easy. "We have had to go into schools to convince head teachers, tap up the local leisure centres to get free use of their facilities and talk to hospitals into getting their medicos and physios on board. No-one else has the uniqueness we have here. I know we have the right set-up from the number of kids we have knocking on the door wanting to come in, I just need more funding. If we don't catch medals in 2012, we will in 2016. All I want is people to say, 'Listen Tess, we want to help you.'"
Now Tessa hopes to extend this sporting oasis through her own Foundation, which has just received approval for charitable status. It means she will be able to spread her work outside the capital. Yet for all her efforts on behalf of the London Games and sport generally she remains on the outside of both the 2012 organisation itself and sports administration, which she admits hurts a bit.
She was involved with the original bid team led by Barbara Cassani but was not invited to be part of the party which went to Singapore, despite her connection with both the Olympics and the black community. "There are times I felt I had been overlooked and I wonder why. I've always tried my best for sport and my community."
Perhaps she has been too outspoken. It does seem odd that Sebastian Coe, who I know is among her many admirers has not sought to give her a more substantial role. Even odder that she is currently not a member of any of the sports quangos despite her obvious talent for getting things done. A few years back she was a vice-chair of Sport England the then Sports Minister, the late Tony Banks proposed making her chairman. He was howled down. I doubt I am alone in believing Tessa would have done a a great job. Indeed, you think there would be room for someone now who has been there, done it and got the Olympic t-shirt (not to mention a gold medal) alongside the academics, business tycoons and B-list celebs who seem to proliferate on these bodies.
Tessa may not have made it in sports politics. But we can let you into a secret; she has ambitions to do so in the real thing as she is thinking of standing for Parliament in the near future.
"For which party?"
She laughs. "I am open to discussion. The Government have never approached me so if the Tories want to come and talk to me, I am happy to listen."
Actually, she says, she would love to be Sports Minister. "I am absolutely sure I could do a lot better than some of them."
At a trim 53, the eternally feisty Tessa confesses she has never been happier. She is getting married – for the first time - in May of next year to the British Judo chief, Densign White. He's 48. "My toy-boy," she giggles. They are both from Wolverhampton and have known each other for since 1984 but did not start dating until three years ago. Dame Kelly Holmes and Christine Ohuruogu (whose sister Victoria is at Tessa’s academy) will be among her bridesmaids.
Over the years Tessa has been elevated from MBE via OBE to CBE but surely the time has come to rank her alongside Kelly, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Mary Peters. As they say, there’s nothing like a Dame, and Tessa is true sporting nobility.
Alan Hubbard is a sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics, is a former Olympic Journalist of the Year and has twice been voted the Sports Journalists’ Association Diarist of the Year.
As part of my role as International Inspiration Ambassador, I was asked to travel to Jordan to see at first hand the impact that London 2012 is already having on the lives of children in that country.
Jordan remains remarkably quite a peaceful country, sandwiched as it is between its neighbouring countries of Iraq, Israel, Syria and the Lebanon.
I’ll be perfectly honest – when I went on Sunday to the 65th English Open Table Tennis Championships at the impressive English Institute of Sport (EIS) in Sheffield – I didn’t know all that much about the sport.
But before you criticise me too much, I did know some of the basics.
I knew that for each game, the first player to reach 11 points wins that particular game and that a game must be won by at least a two point margin. I also knew that a point is won every time the ball is in play and not – as many think - just by the server. I even knew that the edges of the table are part of the legal table surface, but not the sides.
But after that – my knowledge of the sport becomes rather insignificant unless you count the trivial tips I picked watching the film Forrest Gump when Tom Hank's loveable character competes at the Olympic Games in the sport. I had played the sport before at an undoubtedly "recreational level" but as a spectacle – I will admit that my preconceived idea was that table tennis would be – well - a tiny bit dull.
I had caught glimpses of the sport on television during the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games - where it appeared a very fast paced sport seemingly dominated by the Asian nations – particularly China - but I was not under the illusion that table tennis had a large fan base in England.
I was therefore slightly taken aback when I walked into a magnificent and packed arena with an atmosphere that rivalled anything I had experienced at the electric 41st Artistic Gymnastics World Championships at the O2 Arena just over two weeks ago.
The boisterous crowd were seated around a single, gleaming table tennis table that took to the spotlight effortlessly. As I took my own seat – my naivety for the sport becoming more readily apparent by the second – I almost fell straight out of it again as suddenly, deafening rock music bellowed out of the surround sound speakers.
One-by-one, the players walked out to the music that was almost drowned out by the rapturous applause of the Sheffield natives. For a moment, I was convinced that I had entered a world heavyweight boxing contest and was half expecting to see Mike Tyson emerge from the player’s tunnel so caught up was I in the moment. When the entrance music faded and I coolly re-gathered myself, I settled down in anticipation for a "run-of-the-mill" table tennis match.
It became readily apparent though that my perception of a “run-of-the-mill” table tennis match was woefully inaccurate. The first point I saw, in the women’s final, almost bought me to my feet. As the serve went over the net - with so much spin it made a Shane Warne leg-break bowl look straight as an arrow - the two players engage in what can only be described as full out warfare on either side of the rectangular surface.
As a big tennis fan, I though table tennis would prove a miniature version of my beloved hobby just with a little less skill, less speed, less emphasis on technique and less athleticism. Watching the sport in the first person proved to me almost the exact opposite. The speed in which the players were hitting the ball was frightening.
While my eyes were struggling to keep up with the pace of the ball, the player’s were anticipating the angle of their opponents next shot with lightening reflexes that would rival those of the fastest cat while the hand-eye coordination I saw from the table tennis players was superior to that I had ever seen before from any athlete in any sport. And all the spins on show in tennis were there, just more of them.
There was top-spin, back-spin, side-spin, and a spin I can only describe as defensive reverse chop spin that stops as it hit the surface then speeds up again and loops up before flattening out - though I do not believe that is the technical name of the spin for anyone wishing to quote me on it.
It was so tactical, so quick, so delicate and yet so athletic that I shall now renounce anyone that can watch the sport at this level and call it "boring". The object is to out-think and out-manoeuvre your opponent out of position, with the use of accurate spin, flat shots and blistering speed, before delivering the killer blow like a boxer delivering the knockout punch to his weaken foe. It is like a graceful game of chess played at a breakneck pace.
And for those who think it does not require and athletic ability, you are very wrong. These guys are fit, muscular specimens and if any of the guys took their tops off, I assure you that you would not want your girlfriend in close proximity.
For anyone looking to lose a little weight – and I could certainly do with shedding a few pounds right now – don't bother with running. Find a good table tennis sparring partner and an intense half-hour game a day should have you sweating more than Rafa Benitez is right now.
During the Championships, I ran into the delightful Joanna Parker, the British women’s number one player, who was kind enough to show me her specially built defensive racket - which retailed at around £120 - and explained the complexities of spin and flattening out shots in a terminology I could almost understand.
Joanna also said to me: "We just need more clubs around England as they play it everywhere in Asia. But I have never spoken to anyone in England who says they don't like playing table tennis. Anyone who has played it or has seen it live has never said it is boring."
After my experience on Sunday, I am inclined to agree with the British number one. I left the 65th English Open Table Tennis Championships feeling a huge admiration for a sport as worthy of praise as any other. I think I am now hooked on the sport and have already made room in the garage for what I hope will be a rectangular shaped Christmas present and I hope to soon play non-stop with anyone who fancies a game.
I think with a bit of practice – I could get into some decent shape (don’t laugh) and actually be quite good.
Degun for table tennis gold at London 2012? On the other hand, after seeing the superhuman Chinese Ma Long win in Sheffield, save yourself a few quid and don’t bet on it...
Tom Degun is a reporter with insidethegames.biz
With only 100 days to go until the start of the 2010 Olympic Games, we still have 100 days to make a real difference for our athletes as they prepare for Vancouver. All of them are striving to reach their best form, their coaches are pushing them all the way, and all of us at the British Olympic Association (BOA) are doing everything we can to make these Games a success for Team GB.
One of the first decisions I made when I took over as the BOA's chief executive was to increase the focus on the Winter Sports and the Vancouver Games. It would have been easy to concentrate most of our resources, and most of our attention, on the 2012 Games in London, but I felt strongly that that would be wrong.
Why? Well because we have some extraordinarily talented and dedicated winter sport athletes who deserve to get our complete backing as they chase medal positions or a personal best. The BOA is here to support all of our Olympic sports in equal measure, and that's what we're planning to do.
So, right now, we're dedicating a significant amount of time planning for Vancouver. We're investing in our winter athletes and sports, and we're working on ways that we can support them not just in Vancouver, but in the years to come. It's a huge honour for me to be Team GB’s Chef de Mission in Vancouver, and there’s no way that I want winter athletes to ever feel like second-class citizens – they are absolutely fundamental to the Olympic Movement, both in Britain and around the world.
Not that there aren't serious challenges. The amount of Exchequer and Lottery funding given to GB winter sports is roughly 1.5 per cent of that available to the summer sports, while many of our athletes clearly have to train abroad for much of the time. This challenges the sports and athletes to be ingenious, entrepreneurial and frugal to make the most of limited the resources. Most winter athletes also rely on significant support from their families and friends, without whom their journeys to achieve their ultimate goal would have ceased a long time ago.
Around the world, British athletes are now competing, many in qualification events, in earnest with an eye on next year's Games. We've already secured places for our men’s and women's curling teams, with our men led by David Murdoch (pictured) having won the World Championships earlier this year. We also have five places for athletes in figure skating – comprised of a ladies single place, a pairs place and also an ice dance qualification and we’re certain of a men’s biathlon place. But we're aiming much higher than that – our team should include more than 45 athletes by the time we arrive in Canada.
For the moment, the emphasis is on honing performances and earning those crucial places. It can be a stressful time – athletes are understandably anxious about injury, about losing form, and, most of all, about missing out on a place at the Games. But coping with stress is one of the attributes of a great sportsman or woman - a capacity to rise to the occasion.
Over the next 100 days, I will be visiting the majority of our long-list winter athletes in competition as they qualify and prepare for the Games. Next week, I'll be going to Marquette, in the United States, to watch our short track skating team attempting to earn their places on the flight to Vancouver. I've got every confidence in them to produce something special, and I want to be there to see it happen and to cheer them along.
I hope the message will be clear - the BOA is putting its athletes and their performance at the heart of everything we do, every decision we make - and every ambition we cherish.
Andy Hunt is the chief executive of the British Olympic Association.
The first I knew of the doubts over Caster Semenya’s gender was in an e-mail from Zola Budd whose South African junior 800 metres record she had just eclipsed.
That was a month before controversy erupted after Semenya won gold in the World Championships but it seems ironic now when a senior Athletics South Africa official, Dr Simon Diamini, is claiming that Semenya's problems were caused because her critics were racially motivated to jealousy after she broke Budd's record.
Jealousy was not Zola's motivation in sending me a link to a story on a South African website. Now she lives in the United States on a two-year working visa she keeps in touch with her homeland through the internet and occasionally links me to articles she thinks may be of professional interest.
We met first when the Daily Mail sent me to South Africa in 1984 to check out the phenomenon of a teenager who was breaking world records running bare-foot in a country banned from international competition because of its apartheid policies. My journey resulted in her coming to England some three weeks later and receiving a British passport to which she was entitled by her grandfather's birth there.
The rest is history, the controversy that split the British public and Parliament, caused her to be attacked on a cross country course, hated in the United States because of her accidental involvement in the fall of that nation’s darling, Mary Decker, at the Olympic Games and the eventual International Amateur Athletics Federation - as it was then called - ban on Budd’s participation in the World Cross Country Championship which drove her to return to her homeland.
All now very old history. We have stayed in touch but Zola is about as far removed from the political machinations of South African athletics as it is possible to be. For more than a year now she and her family have lived an ocean away.
The now Mrs Pieterse, 43 and a mother of three, lives in Myrtle Beach, North Carolina, where her children attend local public schools. Her husband Mike chose the location when she expressed an interest in running on the US masters circuit because it was renowned for its golf courses, his game.
She runs in low-key Masters division races throughout the Carolinas, winning many from five miles to half-marathon. She has even run cross country there, the discipline in which she was twice world champion. Few of her rivals recognise her as a former world champion or even her name. When she signed up as a volunteer coach at her local college just one student on the athletics team knew of her background. The one happened not to be American-born. The nation that in 1984 hated her has long forgotten.
She runs because she has always enjoyed running. She ran the New York Marathon last year – in just under three hours – for the fun of it and is contemplating Boston next year and applying for an extension of her two-year visa. As she says, the only person she competes against now is herself.
The future may include coaching daughter Lisa, 13, who has started running, but when a local Carolina newspaper interviewed this autumn the writer said that the only hint that a famous runner lived there was the treadmill on the stoop.
It was, he noted, on the steepest setting. Zola’s never been anything but competitive, even when it is only with herself. At her peak she would have given Semenya a run for her money, whatever her gender.
Neil Wilson is Olympic and athletics correspondent of The Daily Mail. He has covered 18 Summer and Winter Olympic Games.
Last Saturday marked be exactly 1,000 days' until London 2012 gets underway and I cannot wait for the excitement and buzz around the Olympics to really start ramping up as we get closer to the Games.
All the facilities will be in place but I really think it will be the atmosphere generated throughout the country that will make or break the Games and hopefully it will be better than anything I've ever experienced at any other Olympics.
The biggest Olympic Classes event I've ever done in this country was probably the Olympic Trials in 1995 so to compete at an actual Olympics in front of a home crowd in Britain would be very special.
To coincide with the release of my autobiography recently I did a few book signings around the country and it was great to meet so many people who just loved the Olympics and seemed genuinely excited about the Games coming to Britain.
I haven't been in a Finn since Beijing last year but I have a week's training with the rest of the British Finn squad scheduled at the start of December and in all honesty I fully expect the other guys to give me a good butt kicking!
It will probably be really windy and I'm a good six-seven kilos below my racing weight at the moment but that's fine and I'm looking forward to just getting back into the boat.
I'd like to do as much Finn sailing as I can in January and February and, although nothing's concrete yet, maybe look to do a couple of events next year too. But 2011 is the crucial year for me to really step it up while adding those extra kilos I need to sail the Finn.
It's great to be working with David 'Sid' Howlett again on my Finn campaign. Sid was my coach for Athens 2004 and he'll take a lot of the workload out of the logistics and planning meaning I know I can step back into the boat and i t will all be in great shape. His enthusiasm and knowledge are priceless, especially on the technical side, and he will be a great asset.
Last month myself, Matt Cornwell, Iain Percy and Christian Kamp enjoyed a successful week in Bermuda winning the Argo Group Gold Cup. The event is part of the World Match Racing Tour and has in the past been won by some of the biggest names in sailing so to win the coveted King Edward VII Gold Cup was a very special moment for us all.
We had some tough racing during the event being pushed hard by Australian Torvar Mirsky, reigning champion and fellow Brit Ian Williams and Kiwi Adam Miniprio in the final knockout stages but with those three guys currently sat 1-2 and 3 in the overall Tour leaderboard after eight events it was a very satisfying victory.
It's frustrating to have only done four Tour events this year meaning we're not in line to land the World title but a good performance at the final round in Malaysia in December could still see us sneak on to the podium.
Later this month Team Origin will compete in the first Louis Vuitton Trophy Regatta in Nice. With the 33rd America's Cup solely the Deed of Gift Match between Alinghi and BMW Oracle Racing next February, a series of five Louis Vuitton Trophy events, sailed in America's Cup boats, have been proposed starting now and continuing throughout 2010. I think this is a really good thing and crucial if the interest level in the America's Cup is going to be maintained.
Finally huge congratulations to Jenson Button on landing the Formula One World title. I was a guest of Brawn GP at the European Grand in Valencia in August and they made me feel so welcome, even involving me in all the post-race briefs. It's a remarkable story and I'm really delighted for Jenson.
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 Team Origin before bringing back a historic fourth gold in the London 2012 Olympics. To find out more information click here.
With this weekend's "1,000 Days To Go" milestone making the headlines, some people might feel London 2012 is a long way off but, for me, 1,000 days seems incredibly close. At the same time, it still only feels like yesterday when I was competing at Beijing 2008.
Beijing was an amazing experience for me. I was only 19 and being hyped up as a gold-medal hopeful in the BMX event, which brought a huge amount of pressure. In the end, it may not have worked out as planned but it's a massive advantage that I’ll be able to carry that experience into London 2012. I know that, being a bit older, I'll be much better equipped to handle the pressure that goes hand-in-hand with competing at that level.
The girl who won gold in the BMX at Beijing was someone who had never beaten me but she was a few years older than me, and I'm sure she used that to her benefit. I've learnt that mental strength has a huge part to play in success at the Olympics and I'm lucky enough to be working on this with GB coach Steve Peters. He works with many athletes on their mental approach to aspects of their life and sport, which will be invaluable in 2012.
It's inevitable that the pressure on GB athletes will be greater due to the fact that the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games will be on home soil. I feel like I matured more as an athlete overnight in Beijing than at any other point in my career. I'm now familiar with all aspects of the Olympics; I've had experience of the training regime, media requirements and even the athlete village. I know that I can take the pressure and expectation with a pinch of salt and that sets me up perfectly for London 2012. The incentive to make history by winning on home soil more than outweighs the extra pressure of being a GB athlete!
As well as training with the GB BMX squad almost every day, I also get to ride with the BMX team that I support, Team Reade, which includes six of the other top BMX riders from around the country (aged between 12 and 23). Both sets of riders are constantly talking about London 2012 and there's a huge amount of excitement around it.
That said, there's still plenty to achieve in the meantime. I've been out for a number of months this year with a shoulder injury. Picking up injuries is never ideal but this time it was a blessing in disguise. I realised that I hadn't had any proper time out since Beijing and it just allowed me to have some time off to do ‘normal’ things. I was able to reflect on everything that happened last year and, having been back in training for a month now, I feel really refreshed and keen to get back to BMX competition.
Due to the injury, I wasn't able to defend my BMX World Championship title this summer so I’ll be training hard in order to regain it at next year’s event (and then retain it in the following years). That would be the ideal scenario and would be a great run-in to compete for gold at the Velopark in East London in 2012.
I've been lucky enough to visit the Velopark even though it's still a construction site down there. All you want as a BMX rider is a good solid track but I'm sure the facilities at the new venue will be second-to-none. It's surreal being at the site, and it’s hard to imagine what it will be like when it's finished, but it gives me goose bumps to think about competing in front of a home crowd.
The other advantage of having the Olympics in London is everything that it brings with it. We've noticed the difference that the funding has brought, even down to smaller things like just having new equipment appearing in the gym. The Olympics helps highlight such a variety of sports and, because of the attention paid to BMX in 2008, it seems that more people are interested ahead of 2012.
It's an easy sport to get involved in, with plenty of tracks around the country, a lot of which hire bikes for only a few pounds. I really believe that participation in BMX is increasing and hopefully, in the 1,000 days between now and the Olympic Games, more and more people will be tempted to try the sport. Hopefully this means there will be plenty of people supporting the GB BMX riders in 2012 and I'll be doing all I can to make sure I'm there and giving them something to cheer about.
Shanaze Reade is a BT Ambassador. BT is the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and title sponsor of the BT Paralympic World Cup. For more information click here.
There is nothing quite like watching live world class sporting action.
This afternoon I will be lucky enough to witness British Olympic champions battle it out with other international stars, in front of a capacity audience here at the Manchester Velodrome in the first round of the UCI Track Cycling World Cup.
At the same time over in Sheffield, the world’s best table tennis stars will be battling it out in the newly resurrected English Open. Both events have been made possible through the Lottery Funded UK Sport World Class Events Programme.
Having been here almost exactly four years ago, at the 2005 UCI Track Cycling World Cup, it is clear to see that things have moved on. That event was great, but we had a number of empty seats and some of the crowd turning up weren’t even sure of the names of British riders. Fast forward four years, 14 Olympic Medals and a BBC Sports Personality of the Year and all three days this weekend are sold out, I am sure things will run like clockwork and we might even have one or two household names competing.
This event, and the way it has developed over recent years, has reminded me of the importance of bringing world class sporting events to this country. Our announcement today, of the 64 events we are hoping to support through our World Class Events Programme in the final 1,000 days before the Olympics, is an important step in helping prepare our athletes, officials, sporting bodies and volunteers before London plays host to the greatest show on earth in 2012.
Bringing these events to our shores will undoubtedly have a positive economic impact for the local host region, but whilst this is always a consideration, the interesting aspect of this particular programme is that it was devised almost entirely with the benefit to the sports, of helping in their preparation for 2012, in mind.
The 64 events that will hopefully be taking place across the UK, will give British athletes the opportunity to experience performing on a world-level in front of a home crowd and the pressures and the benefits that this can bring. It will give coaches and psychologists vital insights into how their athletes handle this pressure, in plenty of time before the Games come to town.
It will also give the myriad of officials that are needed to stage such events, vital experience and knowledge that will be invaluable in London, not to mention the thousands of opportunities that will be created for volunteers at each event, building key skills which can again be used if needed in 2012 and beyond.
But the most exciting thing about the entire programme? For me that's easy. That it is more than likely that there will be a world class event held in the next 1,000 days at a nearby town or city and that everyone across Britain will have the chance to cheer on our current and future British stars, current and future Olympic and Paralympic champions. And, as I said, there is nothing quite like watching live world class sporting action.
Liz Nicholl is the Chief Operations Officer at UK Sport. She is a former international netball player and was the Championships Director of the 1995 World Championships. As chief executive of English Netball for 16 years prior to joining UK Sport, she steered the sport through a period of successful change.
Alan Hubbard: Why he will be voting for Beth Tweddle for BBC Sports Personality of the Year rather than Jenson Button
Is there anyone out there who can undo Button? Jenson, that is, who according to the British bookies is in pole position with checkered flag already poised, odds on to become the BBC Sports Personality of the Year on December 13.
And why not, demand the petrolheads? Well I can give a fistul of good reasons. In no particular order, as they say on Strictly: Beth Tweddle, Jessica Ennis, Phillips Oduwu, Victoria Pendleton and Tom Daley, all Olympians and surely all worthier of the viewers' votes than a man who wouldn't have got anywhere but for the mechanics tinkering under his bonnet.
It’s not just that I find motor racing has become a bore but because the millions the BBC have splurged on covering this season it is grossly insulting to those sports now missing out on valuable screen space. Here is a stone-rich sport and yet only this week the boss of Silverstone was bemoaning lack of public funding. It is rather like Manchester City bleating because they can’t get Lottery money to buy Kaka. Next we'll be hearing Bernie Ecclestone has been is blowing into Jacques Rogge’s ear to try and get it into the Olympics.
Formula One is now stands totally discredited as a sport, with proven cheating, dodgy self-regulating and sleazy adminstration (one boss likes his bottom spanked and another who thinks Hitler wasn’t all bad). Button himself seems a decent enough bloke, but how can someone who hasn't even been on the podium in his last 10 races, hitherto hadn't won a race in nine years and only stayed ahead of the rest this season because the Brawn engineers had fitted a legally dubious "double diffuser" – whatever that might be – in his opening successes claim to be Britain's number one sports icon? More than ever it is the car not the man behind the wheel who wins Grand Prixs these days. So let's hope the public can keep Button off the podium.
All of the previously mentioned quintet achieved greater things in 2009 than Ross Brawn’s supercharged chauffeur. My vote would go unhesitatingly to Tweddle –the Beth of British.
She presses all the right buttons. Not only has she now won a world gymnastics title twice but this month she literally picked herself off the floor to do so in an activity which requires the ultimate in fitness, dedication and athletic flexibility. Moreover she is an absolute charmer whose annual funding wouldn't keep Button in spare tyres for a single race. She's unassuming, still relatively unsung and a perfect role model for the hundreds of thousands of kids she has inspired to join the waiting lists at gymnastics clubs throughout the land.
By comparison, Button should be at the back of the grid, or even a non-starter.
So how ironic that our bandwagoning Prime Minister should choose to dispatch his personal congratulations almost before Button had finished spraying the champers yet had to be reminded that on the same day Britain had seen another world champion crowned. Tweddle (pictured) says she still awaits Number 10's promised letter. Oh Gord! No doubt Mr Brown forgot there was a postal strike.
You can make out strong cases for heptathlete Ennis, an equally versatile and personable queen of more athletics disciplines than Button has gears. Or Idowu, who has at last delivered the goods and reminded us that there's more to hop, step and jump than Jonathan Edwards; Pendleton, delectable and again devastating in cycling's world track championships, and tiny Tom, a world diving champion and still only 15.
Also giving Button a good fight there’s Amir Khan, back from a potentially career-shattering defeat to become a world boxing champion while working assidiously to bring together those from different ethnic communities. And wouldn't David Haye throw a spanner into the gear box should he land a big right hander on the chops of Russian giant Nikolay Valuey next week.
As with Olympic bids, favourites seem to have more of the hex factor than the X factor about them. Lewis Hamilton didn't win last year – but mind you the Beeb didn't seem too bothered as it was departinjg ITV who had signed the season's cheque for the sport. Not so this time.
What we do gather from sources inside the Corporation is that they are anticipating a groundswell of support for a surprise outsider - Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs, who would be a sentimental and popular choice as the first footballer to win the award since David Beckham in 2001.
Then there's Tony McCoy, who rode his 3000th National Hunt winner this year, although many punters, given the option, surely would like to place their bet on wonder horse Sea The Stars, sport’s most popular four-legged friend since Red Rum.
What an irony if Button was to be beaten by horsepower…
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 ,several football World Cups and scores of world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire.
Cycling may be the new golf, Dave Brailsford and Sky might have set off in pursuit of the Tour de France and Cav may have recently been voted the overseas sportsman of the Year in Belgium, of all places, but somethings never changes – notably the British National Track Championships.
Understated, unheralded and proudly non-commercial the "Nationals" remain the grass roots event par excellence. A competitors event run purely for the convenience of competitors at the start of their winter season. A very in-house gathering of the faithful and none the worse for that.
Should you wish to watch entrance is free for all but a couple of the evening sessions but the crowd is virtually negligible. The focus is totally on the riders, their bikes and catching up on the gossip in the pitts.
Not surprisingly it was in this welcoming and familiar environment in which Sir Chris Hoy decided to make his first competitive appearance in Britain since the Beijing Olympics after a serious hip injury torpedoed his best efforts last season. He chose well.
Originally Hoy had set his sights on this week’s World Cup competition in Manchester but such was his form in training in September and early October that he had no qualms in starting a week early at the Nationals where any gremlins would be ironed out away from the public gaze.
Not that there appeared to be any. He looked imperious on a chilly Thursday morning when he unleashed a world class time of 9.990sec in the flying 200 metres to qualify in first position for the men’s sprint. Later in the day he marched through the knock-out stages and eventually took the title in style defeating Matt Crampton 2-0 in the final.
If anything he was even more impressive in the team sprint when he anchored a Team Sky HD squad to victory in a very swift 43.759, the sort of time that will win a big medal at the World Championships in Copenhagen in March. In qualification Jamie Staff, Jason Kenny and Ross Edgar did the needful with Hoy being drafted in for the final instead of Edgar, a taste of probably GB tactics this season.
The flying Scot concluded a highly successful week on the Saturday evening when he crushed the opposition in the keirin, leading from the front as usual. He is back and clearly with no diminution of his powers.
Elsewhere there was also a hat-trick of gold medals for Vicky Pendleton, who seems likely to be granted a shot at three gold medals at London 2012 with the UCI poised to confirm changes to the programme next month.
Pendleton finally gave herself a break in the summer after batting on after the Olympics and arrived in Manchester in stunning early season form, decimating the fields in the 500m time-trial, sprint and keirin posting times in the 500m and the flying 200m for the Sprint that were very close to lifetime bests.
Geraint Thomas meanwhile was catching the eye in the men's 4km individual pursuit. A key member of the world record breaking team pursuit squad in Beijing, Thomas posed two back to back 4min 18sec with no apparent discomfort. He can undoubtedly go quicker and would seem a very strong gold medal prospect in the World Championships in March.
But two factors could militate against that. As a core member of Team Sky he night be otherwise engaged on the road and even if Brailsford – his boss at Sky and Team GB – decided an assault on the Worlds is indicated is there much point in targeting an event that seems certain to be dropped from the Olympic programme?
The answer is an emphatic yes. The 4km is still one of the classic events and an absolute pure test of class and ability. If Thomas concentrates on it and can bring home a gold it would be a huge boost to his confidence on the track and road. It's a prize worth chasing.
The multi-talented Brendan Gallagher writes for the Daily Telegraph, covering a variety of sports, including rugby union, cycling and basketball
James Clarke, senior vice-president of the World Sport Group, was asked an interesting question at this week’s inaugural Global Sports Industry Congress in London.
Having set up the exclusive internet televising of the last Asian Youth Games, did he think that this method of publicising a sports event, a method employed more recently to show the England football team’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine, was the way of the future? Was this a watershed?
"Yes," he said, before adding rather important qualification. "I think so."
Back in the 1920s, you could imagine those behind the first football commentaries on radio being asked the same question about the eight-square grid system in which listeners were invited to imagine the ball as it moved around the pitch.
Such is the problem of new technology – in the time it takes to write a sentence it's old technology.
Clarke's fellow speaker Paul Barber, executive director at Tottenham Hotspur, offered his own version of how swiftly things are changing on the broadcasting front.
Barber, who before joining Spurs in 2005 was the Football Association’s Director of Marketing and Communications, recalled the furore that occurred in 2000 when England’s World Cup qualifier in Finland was exclusively broadcast on the pay-for-view U-channel, which had purchased screening rights for £3.25 million.
"Even though we had no control over that decision, we were lambasted because it was the first time an England World Cup qualifier had been on a paying platform," Barber recalled. "Now virtually every England game is on a paying platform."
Barber has witnessed the cutting edge of technological change in his own household – as wielded by that most fearsome of new wave figures, a youngster. "My 15-year-old thinks using e-mail and texts is prehistoric," said Barber with a fitting degree of resignation. "They use Facebook or PSP."
"Yeah," I thought. "Right. PSP. Had to be."
Then I thought: "Is that like…ESP?"
So then I asked: "What is PSP?"
PSP – short for PlayStation Portable, a generic term for hand-held game units with their own hard drive.
Barber and his colleagues are now considering using such units in the proposed new Spurs stadium, the theory being that fans can use a PSP to replay as much of the foregoing action as they please until they leave the ground, at which point the data will be blocked, or stripped.
"I'd be happy to pay an extra couple of quid for that option," Barber said brightly. He may be right. He may be wrong.
It's just a stray thought, and not a particularly positive one, but I’m just wondering what thousands of football fans might feel like doing with their PSPs if things start to go seriously awry on the pitch.
I could imagine a situation where some technology might take a swift route down from stands to grass – if they continue to play on grass, that is.
Such things have been known to happen in football grounds.
But I digress.
Before I undigress, though, I wonder whether referees and linesmen could be given their own PSPs for instant action replays of controversial incidents.
They might be less likely, too, to lob the technology into the stands if things weren't going tickety-boo…
Frankly, nothing is better calculated to make you feel out of touch with the modern world than a bright and lively youngster.
I speak as a man whose ability to record TV programmes was effectively phased out by a new DVD player several years ago.
I'm sure it's all very simple, but I just cannot be arsed to pick up the instructions, skip past the Arabic and German sections and start looking for English sentences that correspond even vaguely to something I need to know.
Barber offered another tantalising glimpse of the future when he discussed the new Sony development of "picture-stitching", which he says can recreate in a viewer the experience of being in a stadium. "It makes you feel like you are there," he said.
At this rate, they won't need to put any seats in the stadium because everybody will be able to get the same experience without leaving the pub.
If people are still drinking in pubs by then, that is.
There will also be increasing options for remote viewers of sporting action to be interactive. They will be able to track particular players throughout a match, or to view the action from particular angles.
Another general comment from Clarke on the subject of broadcast technology seems appropriate here: "The pace of change will be faster than we can imagine."
He's right, no doubt.
But the urge to imagine is strong – and I have a bold concept which, although it appears far-fetched right now, may one day be viewed as a commonplace.
It's this. How long can it be before the red button we use to choose our viewing options includes the result?
Nothing is better calculated to improve viewer approval than a successful outcome in the sporting event they are watching.
And if viewing rights can be purchased, why not outcomes?
The monetisation of this optional process is straightforward. RBR's, as they will be know – Red Button Results, stupid – will be achieved through the accretion of nominal payments from participating supporters.
Put simply, the team whose viewers contribute the most through this method win, with contributions from the other team being transferred to their next sporting fixture.
That will mean their team are effectively a goal up before they kick off – a situation which will require even larger numbers of opposing fans to enter the RBR process.
I think it's worth running up the flagpole. If we still hang flags on poles, that 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.
Sixty Charlotte Street represents the new home of British Olympic and Paralympic sport. It is significant, and a great step forward, that we are co-locating with our Paralympic colleagues. The relationship between our two organisations has always been strong.
We, of course, share similar values, not just from the wider Movements of which we proudly belong, but within the British sporting landscape where we uniquely share the honour of servicing and representing our country’s finest athletes through Team GB and Paralympics GB. We felt it was only appropriate that our two organisations found a home somewhere that symbolised excellence - and while it is incredibly modern, it imaginatively pays tribute to our Olympic and Paralympic heritage.
Given the extensive media coverage of the finances of the British Olympic Association (BOA), you may be wondering how the BOA could afford such a wonderful new office. Put simply, we benefited from the sale of our old HQ at the height of the market and then negotiated this new lease at the very bottom of the market in the spring.
For the fitting out, in true entrepreneurial spirit, we begged, borrowed and cajoled and above all received an unprecedented amount of support from our Landlords (PPG), Olympic partners (Panasonic and BT) and a whole host of suppliers (architects Gebler Tooth, design and build Modus, brand agency Antidote, Cisco, our agents CBRE and NetPractise (Audiovisual), many of whom have worked at cost to help us create something that we would otherwise not have been able to afford.
The BOA has undergone a significant restructuring and transformation process over the past year. Our chairman’s vision was to ensure that we as an organisation were fit to deliver for our athletes and fulfill our objectives as a Host Nation of the London 2012 Olympic Games. The move to Charlotte Street encompasses that fresh vision and purpose. We want to create a culture that is vibrant, a place where our staff feel motivated and inspired, and an organisation that is dynamic and forward-thinking. In the timeless words of the Olympic Movement: Faster, Higher, Stronger.
To coincide with the opening of the new offices, we have also introduced revitalised emblems for both the BOA and Team GB, emblems that reflect the values we’ll bring to every aspect of our work, both now and in the years ahead. We have also sought a fresh way of encapsulating Olympism and the values of the Olympic Movement, creating an expression that is personal to the BOA - "Better Never Stops". This expression will underpin our working practices, encouraging us to strive for excellence in everything we do.
As the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games come closer, there has never been a more important time for our organisations to be unswerving and resilient, and above all - aligned in our purpose. The British Olympic and Paralympic Movements will, I have no doubt, thrive in Charlotte Street and that can only benefit the future of sport throughout the United Kingdom.
Andy Hunt is the chief executive of the British Olympic Association