Happy Olympic Day!


The Big Read


Lillehammer 1994 showed that size isn't everything in the Olympic world

By David Owen

david owen 2014Size isn't everything - even in the Olympic world.

Arguably the best illustration of this came 20 years ago this month, when the Olympic cauldron was lit closer to the Arctic circle than ever before in a small Norwegian town of 22,000 people.

Over the next 16 days, little Lillehammer laid on one of the most atmospheric and efficient Olympic Games - Summer or Winter - of the modern era. Sports Illustrated called them "the fairy-tale Games...They could not exist. Reality cannot be this good."

Thirty years on, Torvill and Dean are bringing Bolero back to Sarajevo

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckUnlike Jay Gatsby, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean have made a habit of successfully repeating the past, and will do so again as they mark the 30th anniversary of their ice dance gold medal performance at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics by reprising their famed "Bolero" routine in the Bosnia and Herzegovina capital.

The British pair will skate once more to the torrid, sinuous musical composition of Maurice Ravel's, to what Dean describes as "the rising beat that was taking us over", after accepting an invitation from the Mayors of Sarajevo and East Sarajevo.

They will thus return to the arena renamed as the Olympic Hall Juan Antonio Samaranch following the death of the former International Olympic Committee (IOC) President in 2010, but which was known back in 1984 as the Olympic Hall Zetra.

David Wallechinsky's books on the Summer and Winter Olympics are pure gold

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckHow might David Wallechinsky have felt upon hearing that the Sochi Winter Games would contain 12 new events?

One could imagine the man who has written those two set texts of sporting reference - The Complete Book of the Olympics and The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics - giving a sigh of resignation as he learned of the latest obligatory addition to his ongoing magnum opus.

One could imagine him cursing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for their ever-growing Topsy of a Games, with its never-ending expansions and alterations.

Kevan Gosper: A wise IOC head who would be as much at home in Davos as Lausanne

David OwenOne of the wise heads of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently moved upstairs to honorary status on attaining the age of 80.

Kevan Gosper's autobiography, published just ahead of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, was titled An Olympic Life - and that is exactly what it has been for well over half a century, right back to 1956 when, at 22, he anchored the Australian men's 4x400 metres relay team to a silver medal at his previous home Games in Melbourne.

Gosper was elected an IOC member a few months after Jimmy Carter took over as United States President in 1977, the year of the Sex Pistols and the unprecedented third Grand National victory by Red Rum. He was an IOC vice-president from 1990-1994 and again from 1999-2003. He chaired the IOC's Press Commission for 25 years.

Daryl Goodrich, the tea-drinking Olympic film-maker whose new work is captivating visitors to the renovated Olympic Museum in Lausanne

By David Owen

David OwenIt is now nearly a decade since the London 2012 campaign revolutionised the art of producing films to support the candidacy of cities and countries competing to host sporting mega-events.

Two films from the campaign are seen as classics of the genre. Since the appearance of Sport at Heart, in which David Beckham famously wrestles with a crossword and a building-site worker, hi-viz jacket and all, pole-vaults into wet cement, no bid film seemingly has been bereft of humour. Meanwhile anyone who doubts the lingering influence of Inspiration, the film actually shown to International Olympic Committee (IOC) members on the day of the 2012 host-city vote in Singapore in July 2005, need only compare it to the basketball film used successfully by Tokyo last year, at the same critical juncture of the 2020 campaign.

Not surprisingly, Daryl Goodrich, the British filmmaker who teamed up with producer Caroline Rowland on both London 2012 masterpieces, has been much in demand in the Olympic Movement since then.

For a century Asian sport has been a shining beacon for unity and progress

By Nick Butler

Nick Butler in the Olympic StadiumJust two years after the inaugural Asian multi-sports event in Manila, teams from Siam and Malaya were forced to abandon their journey to Shanghai for the 1915 Far Eastern Games such was the danger of submarine attack during the ongoing First World War.

China, Japan and the Philippines however chose to ignore this danger and compete anyway and a trend of using friendly competition to overcome adversity has defined Asian sport ever since.

Unrest, through the Second World War and trouble in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East today, has indeed choreographed an Asian century which has strived for harmony within this discord.

Getting people running: a big goal shared by world Governments, federations - and parkrun

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckGetting people running is an aspiration being pursued with increasing purpose all around the world as Governments seek to set their sometimes all-too-solid citizens on the path to fitness and health.

That aspiration is widely shared - both by the big federations and organisations which put on athletics events, and at grass roots - as we are witnessing in the growing phenomenon of ideas such as parkrun, which now has more than 760,000 registered runners across 10 countries.

When the Cardiff delegation heard the good news in Monte Carlo two months ago that their city was confirmed as host of the 2016 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Half Marathon Championships, they acknowledged that one of the key factors was their intention to build upon the idea put forward by the host of this year's event, Copenhagen.

President Ivo Ferriani taking international bobsleigh and skeleton on some new twists and turns

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike RowbottomAt the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics, Ivo Ferriani - then coach of the French bobsleigh team - made a bet with the driver of the four-man bob, Bruno Mingeon. If Mingeon managed to win a medal, he, Ferriani, would run through the snow by the course in his underwear.

Mingeon won bronze. Ferriani kept his promise.

Fourteen years later the Italian put himself on the line on another Olympic bobsleigh course - the Sanki Sliding Centre which will host the action at the imminent Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

Cooperation is key as Universiade Movement moves forward, says FISU President Gallien

By Gary Anderson

Gary AndersonIt may seem like a simple concept - the best ones usually are - but for the man at the helm of the worldwide university sports movement, the need for greater cooperation and a more synchronised approach to the staging and delivery of major international multi-sport events will be a key focus going forward as International University Sports Federation (FISU) President Claude-Louis Gallien and his extended "FISU Family" pack their bags in Trentino and look forward to Granada 2015 and beyond.

The theme of cooperation and compromise can perhaps sum up the staging of the 26th Winter Universiade here in Trentino too, as they were a Games patched up and stuck together like a last-minute Christmas present, due to the 18 months given to Trentino 2013 President Sergio Anesi and his colleagues, to ensure the winter sport extravaganza went ahead after the failings of original host Maribor.

Never mind the handicap, feel the performance - Ottobock moving on towards another Paralympic quarter-century

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike RowbottomThe next 25 years will witness all manner of change within the Paralympic Movement, but if Professor Hans Georg Näder has his way, one element at least will remain a constant - the commitment to the Movement of the company of which he is President and chief executive, Ottobock.

Formed in 1919, the company has offered a growing range of wheelchairs, prosthetics and associated products for people with limited mobility, and after a quarter of a century's association with the Paralympics, for which it was the first partner, Näder has pledged that the relationship will be maintained for the next 25 years at least.

"Since Ottobock's first involvement in the Paralympic Games in 1988, they have grown into one of the Paralympic Movement's most loyal, trusted and reliable partners. Their support has been instrumental to the growth of the Paralympic Movement," said Sir Philip Craven, the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) President.

Edinburgh next stop for Bekele as he approaches the strong, strange challenge of the marathon

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike RowbottomAs Vladimir Nabokov once wrote: "The more you love a thing, the stronger and stranger it becomes." The émigré Russian writer was very possibly not referring to marathon running when he gave voice to this perception - but it expresses the sense of complexity which this distance evokes among its serious protagonists.

Ethiopia's multiple Olympic and world champion Kenenisa Bekele is not yet among that number, although he plans to be by next Spring, when he will make his debut over 26 miles 385 yards.

Like the man who succeeded him as Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 metres champion in 2012, Britain's Mo Farah, the small but powerful Ethiopian is extending his ambition from the track to the road in a serious fashion next year, and although he is currently non-committal about where he will choose to make his first foray into the event, it is not impossible to believe that he will do so in London, where Farah - having teed himself up by running half the distance this year - will make his full marathon debut.


Glasgow World Cup 2013 is the latest reflection of gymnastics' endless flexibility

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckGymnastics is showcased once again in Glasgow this coming weekend (December 7) as World Cup competition returns to the city which is now vaulting to the top as a venue for the sport, with the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and the 2015 World Gymnastics Championships on its list of future engagements.

And there is a particular spring in the step of gymnastics internationally in the wake of this year's decision by the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Executive Board that it would move up - along with aquatics - to join athletics in the top tier of sports when it comes to receiving television revenue money from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Under the revised formula announced by the outgoing IOC President Jacques Rogge, the aquatics world governing body (FINA) and the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) joined their athletics counterpart, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), in Group A.

Rowing is in good hands as Rolland serves his apprenticeship before taking up the oars

By Nick Butler

Nick Butler Olympic Stadium 2 July 24 2013 1In recent years there has been a penchant for athlete administrators in sport, but in the case of Jean-Christophe Rolland he is merely following tradition in a rowing organisation that is oozing with ex-sportsmen.

First there was Thomas Keller, who served as President for 31 years until his death in 1989. Also an accomplished skier, Keller won a rowing bronze medal at the 1950 European Championships and only missed out on competing at the Melbourne 1956 Olympics because of the Swiss boycott protesting the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Then there was triple Olympian Denis Oswald, who won a bronze medal, also for Switzerland, at Mexico City in 1968.

It is he who Rolland has been elected to replace when Oswald steps down, after 24 years in charge, next July after an initial "transferral" period.

Funding crisis may halt Vanuatu women's beach volleyball player's Rio 2016 quest

By Mike Rowbottom

mikepoloneckMiller Elwin grew up on Mota Lava Island, one of the most northerly in the archipelago which forms the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. Her island had one truck and two telephones. When she was 17, Elwin, already an accomplished beach volleyball player, left her homeland for Vanuatu's capital of Port Vila in order to further her career.

It was the first stage of a journey which Elwin dearly hopes will conclude with an appearance at the Olympic Games - a journey which she is now making in partnership with Henriette Iatika, three years her senior, with whom she recently finished ninth in the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) World Championship. That journey, however, will come to an abrupt end next year if no extra sponsorship can be found, the team's head coach, Lauren McLeod, has told insidethegames, and her concerns have been echoed by Debbie Masauvakalo, President of Vanuatu Beach Volleyball.

In 2008, a year after they had started playing together, Elwin and Iatika won a historic gold at the Oceania Championships, beating the defending champions, Tahiti, in three sets. The Oceania women's title had always been shared previously between Australia, New Zealand or Tahiti. It was also the first time that Vanuatu had won an Oceania title in any sport.

Steele tempered by experience as he combines EIS and Youth Sports Trust roles

mikepoloneckIn the summer of 2010, as John Steele - named last month as chair of the English Institute of Sport (EIS) while retaining his role as chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust - prepared to leave UK Sport to take up his exciting new role as the Rugby Football Union's (RFU) chief executive, the message board for followers of Northampton, his old club, debated the merits of his appointment.

One particularly acid response suggested that it would be only a matter of time before Steele found himself a nice, comfortable berth on the gravy train among the other "blazers", adding defiantly that, if he wished to offer a different signal he should take an immediate 30 per cent pay cut.

The rejoinder from another Northampton follower was immediate, and courteous.