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The Big Read

The journey of a London 2012 Games Maker

By Mike Rowbottom
Mike Rowbottom
My friend Russell was one of the 70,000 whose efforts as Games Makers helped the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics run as smoothly as in a happy dream. His task was to oversee a part of the cycling course for the road racing and time trial events, which meant that, as a long-time cycling enthusiast, he had the opportunity to watch some of his heroes and heroines whizzing past while, of course, making 100 per cent sure that all was in order roadside.

Russell's Olympic journey was probably typical of that made by many of his fellow volunteers, and what follows here is a three-part log of that journey – before, during and after.

That journey began with a sense of commitment and a wish to be involved in something glimmering tantalisingly on the horizon. But in Russell's case – and no doubt in the case of many other Games Makers – there was a measure of amused scepticism at the process of "orientation".

London 2012 was "best taekwondo competition ever"

By Tom Degun

Tom Degun_-_ITGGoing into the London 2012 Olympics few people predicted that taekwondo would be one of the hits of the Games. But to anyone who witnessed the competition at ExCeL it was a stunning triumph where competitors from 21 countries shared the 32 medals on offer to finally end doubts that this was a sport whose roots had spread beyond its birthplace in Korea. 

Of course, to the partisan home fans, the best moment came when British teenager Jade Jones claimed a stunning victory in the lightweight -57kg category over China's Hou Yuzhuo, the world champion. But there were so many other memorable moments that will long live in the memory.

Perhaps my personal favourite was the bronze medal won by Afghanistan's Rohullah Nikpai in the -68kg category. It wasn't a gold medal – but somehow it felt like it. 

Karate is "ready" for inclusion on Olympic programme in 2020, claims President

By David Gold

David Gold_-_ITGWith eight sports bidding for inclusion on the Olympic programme in 2020, and just one set to be given the nod by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Antonio Espinos has his work cut out.

The Spaniard is the President of the World Karate Federation (WKF), and in between trips around London during this summer's Olympic Games, Espinos met with insidethegames at the Park Lane hotel where he has been busy working on the 2020 bid.

The IOC could not have been in any closer proximity, meaning London 2012 was particularly crucial for karate, as it was for their fiercest rivals, squash, baseball and softball. Like them, karate is hoping to make it third time lucky after bids for 2012 and 2016 failed. In the case of their bid to be a part of the Olympics which have just concluded in London, karate was especially unfortunate, having won the support of a majority within the IOC, but not quite the two thirds of the voters they needed to win that particular race. For 2020, wushu, roller sports, wakeboard and climbing are also in the running to make it onto the Olympic programme.

Six years on, the wife of Iraqi Olympic President Ahmed Al-Samarrai pleads with the IOC to help find her husband

Andrew Warshaw_ITGIt's a personal tale of heartbreak, grief, frustration and fear – and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge is being urged to try and resolve it once and for all.

Six years ago, on July 15, 2006, the National Olympic Committee of Iraq (NOCI) was holding its AGM in central Baghdad when a group of unknown gunmen, unmasked and in broad daylight, burst in and kidnapped its President Ahmed Al-Samarrai along with the majority of his colleagues.

Thirteen of them were released shortly afterwards but the rest, including Al-Samarrai, disappeared and have never been seen since.

Let's raise a glass to Jess, Mo and Greg on a truly historic night of gold for British athletics

By Mike Rowbottom at the Olympic Stadium in London

Mike RowbottomIn the space of less than an hour here the host nation won three – yes, three – of the five track and field gold medals on offer through Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon, Mo Farah in the 10,000 metres and, rather more unexpectedly, Greg Rutherford in the long jump.

The athletes thus achieved the hat-trick that had so narrowly eluded Britain's rowers earlier in the day as they had to settle for two golds and a silver.

The Secret Diary of a London 2012 Opening Ceremony volunteer

By Louisa Gummer

Louisa Gummer_1Some £27 million ($42.5 million/€34.5 million), 148 hours of rehearsals, but not one sequin.

It's been a long, long time since that first audition way back in November. I have learned many things during that period. New phrases: for example "de-bibbing" (to remove the bib you are wearing) and "pre-stacking the vom" (filling up the entrance with the people who come on after you, before you then go in too). New skills: like taking a hedge down a flight of stairs in time to an insistent rhythm without falling over. New facts: granulated tea was invented by someone who had blatantly never tasted actual tea in their lives and hot chocolate stains concrete! I have also learned a lot about myself – my boredom threshold is seemingly quite low for instance. The following notes from my rehearsal diary might give you a taste of what it was really like to be a volunteer performer at what has been described as "the biggest show on earth."

The Olympic Games Opening Ceremony: a fine and proud very British occasion

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike Rowbottom50This was a stripped down Opening Ceremony, revealing the truth of so many elements of Britain's history that we take as read in a vivid and beautifully modulated show which presaged a coup de theatre which confounded all the – heated - discussion about Who Would Light The Olympic Cauldron.

Not David Beckham. Nor Daley Thompson, nor Kelly Holmes, nor even five-times Olympic champion Sir Steve Redgrave, although all played their part in bearing the Torch on the final stages of long journey to this stadium in east London.

Finally, the ancient Flame was transferred to its temporary resting place by collective youth – seven young athletes nominated by seven of Britain's greatest Olympians and acting jointly to ignite a "Flame of Unity" composed of copper "petals" within a giant bowl in the centre of the stadium which formed itself into a group of firebrands.

Black September reminds us that the £1 billion London 2012 security budget is worthwhile

Alan HubbardLondon 2012 certainly seems to have got its Olympic Rings in a twist over the embarrassing security cock-up that has some suggesting the wheels are coming off Lord Coe's hitherto smooth-rolling bandwagon. That is clearly not the case, although they have been wobbling a bit of late.

Wherever the overall responsibility lies for the failure to hire sufficient security guards, the appointed providers G4S should have received a P45 when the deficiency was revealed.

Instead it is apparently now down to the Government's Plan B, in which war-weary troops and hastily-trained students make up the numbers to help ensure the Games protection is adequate. No gold medals there then.

There's no jury out on Natalia Sheppard's merits

By Mike Rowbottom 

Mike RowbottomAll-round talents. They're good looking. They're bright. They're usually musical. Generally speaking, they're sporty. And more often not, they're nice as well. God.

Olympic sports, in my experience, are a particularly rich habitat for the all-round talent. Rowing is one of the worst offenders – sorry, paramount examples. Bodies beautiful on the water and brains bountiful on dry land. It is a phenomenon which seems to hold good all the way through the sport.

Ben Ainslie is ready for the unpredictable

By Mike Rowbottom

Mike RowbottomBen Ainslie is very honest about it. We are sitting in a large room in the London Hilton, one wall of which displays paintings and artworks by past and present Olympic sailors, which are to be auctioned later that evening at the quadrennial Sail for Gold Olympic send-off ball, which will be held at the hotel.

Ainslie's contribution is a picture of the sea with a patch of sand in the foreground on which the shape of the Olympic rings could be made out. "Very accomplished," I venture. The triple Olympic champion grins. "I didn't actually do it," he says. "I had this vision of the tide going out on Chesil beach, which is a landmark near the Olympic course at Weymouth, leaving the Olympic rings on the sand. I'm not too good at painting, but my physio's girlfriend was staying with us for the weekend and she is a good painter. Before I went out sailing, I told her about the scene I wanted to portray and said maybe when I come back we could work on the picture together – but when I got back she'd done it."

Edwards, the novice Chef, hoping to cook up a tasty USA dish at London 2012

By Tom Degun

Tom Degun_in_shirt_and_tieVery few of the team leaders at the London 2012 Olympics will be able to rival the trophy cabinet of Teresa Edwards, the high-profile Chef de Mission of Team USA.

A graduate of the University of Georgia, the 47-year-old is a five-time Olympian and no less than the most decorated Olympic basketball player on the planet.

She has four Olympic gold medals and one bronze having tasted victory at Los Angeles in 1984, Seoul in 1988, Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000.

The story of the first Lord of the London Olympic Rings

By Philip Barker

Philip Barker_London_2012_Olympic_May_2012When London organised the Olympic Games for the first time in 1908 they had less than two years to get ready. So they needed a man of the calibre of Lord Coe to head the Organising Committee. They found one in William Henry Grenfell (pictured below), later Lord Desborough of Taplow.

He was a talented runner, not as brilliant as Coe, but certainly good enough to represent Oxford University over three miles in the 1876 match against Cambridge at Lillie Bridge in West London. He was elected President of the university's Athletics Club, but it was on the water that he shone as a sportsman and had the rare distinction of also being elected President of the Oxford University Boat Club. He rowed in the fabled 1877 boat race which finished as a dead heat and later crossed the Channel in an eight.

Pin trading: more than just a hobby – it's a proper business too

By Tom Degun

tom degun_team_usa_media_summit_15-05-12I must admit I don't overly get the whole pin-badge collecting thing.

That said, I have a few that I know are particularly special – not least a small gold International Olympic Committee (IOC) pin kindly given to me by International Boxing Association (AIBA) President C K Wu. But pin collecting is still a subject I don't know all that much about.

From my relatively small time in the Olympic world, I have encountered frenzied pin trading on just three occasions. The first was at the inaugural Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010 when I was genuinely bemused when I gave somebody the pin I had acquired in my free media bag (after they had politely asked for it) and was given three pins in exchange. It was later, when I dropped into the Athletes' Village and found a host of pin collectors frantically swapping, that I realised my earlier experience wasn't as strange as I had thought it was.