Alan Hubbard: Sebastian Coe is the People's Lord

Duncan Mackay

Ubiquitous is a word that might have been invented for Sebastian Newbold Coe, aka Baron Coe of Ranmore, Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, whom I have known since he was plain Seb, a 17-year-old fresh-faced , enormously talented young athlete and impecunious student from Sheffield. Now, as footy fans have chanted about every midfield dynamo from Alan Ball through to Joe Cole, via Charlie George and Stevie Gerrard, "he’s here, he’s there, he’s every bloody where."

These past few days it has been impossible to open a newspaper without digesting voluminous interviews with the lord of London’s Olympic rings. As the next 24 months will be among the most momentous in our sporting history it seems only right the man whose omnipresence and oratory was the decisive factor in securing the 2012 Games should have his place in the Sun, and the Mail, Guardian, Mirror, Express, Times, Independent, Telegraph etc al,. not to mention just about every TV channel and radio station. About the only breakfast-time sofa he hasn’t sat on  is Jeremy Kyle’s.

Yet the most astonishing aspect of the blanket coverage given to 2012’s two-year-countdown is that despite the hundreds of thousands of words he has spoken on the subject, he rarely repeats himself. What is remarkable is that he can give so many interviews, speaking in the same precisely measured manner in which he floated so elegantly along the track ,delivering the same upbeat message, yet saying something different virtually every time. He takes care not to repeat himself and always there is a sound-bite which will make a headline or become lodged in the consciousness. He is sport’s consummate salesman. 

I have been reflecting on the 36 years of our friendship, during which he has gone from lad to lord and now overlord, while, observing him at work in a role which seems to be the fulfilment of his destiny. It is one he continues to do brilliantly, with professionalism and panache. "We are bloody lucky to have him, aren’t we?" remarked one senior member of the sporting establishment at the rapidly blossoming  Olympic Park , where Coe wooed the British media he has termed the most forensic in the world .

Yet until some seven years ago Coe was the last person many involved in putting the bid together wanted on board.

In some circles he was perceived as too much of a smooth operator, cocksure, complacent and fired with unrequited political ambition. And a definite threat to those blazers who liked to think they were sport’s  powerbrokers.

So forgive a spot of personal indulgence here. If it were not for a couple of media colleagues and myself Coe might not be where he is today, and we probably would have been making plans to spend the summer of 2012  by the Seine. It was seven years ago, after the confirmation that London would be bidding for the Games under the chairmanship of American Barbara Cassani - a jaw-dropping left field appointment engineered by the then London Mayor, Ken Livingstone – a whole raft of appointments to the bid board were announced by the Department of Culture Media and Sport.

Among them were worthy names like Craig Reedie, Alan Pascoe and  Keith Mills  but there was one glaring omission: Sebastian Coe. 

It was believed at the time that his political affiliation (he had been a somewhat wet Tory MP for Falmouth and William Hague’s chief of staff and judo partner) was not to the liking of the Labour Government. And so strong was his personality it was felt his presence might put a number of noses out of joint.  

It was during the Grand Prix athletics meeting at Crystal Palace that Colin Hart of The Sun, the Daily Mail’s Neil Wilson and I chanced upon Tessa Jowell, the Minister of State who had just persuaded Tony Blair to back the embryo bid. We gave her quite an ear bashing about the omission of one of Britain’s greatest-ever Olympians. Why, we asked, was someone as articulate, well connected and a favourite son of the IOC, being snubbed?

Tessa was clearly taken aback by the force of our argument but to her credit, she listened, promised “I’ll look into it” and shortly afterwards Coe was recruited as a vice-chairman. A few months later Cassani - always a square peg in the Olympic rings - stepped down when it was apparent that the bid was imploding. Coe was the natural choice to take over as chairman; any political and personal prejudices were shoved aside  and, loh and behold, the rest, as they say, is history.

Another black mark against Coe had been that some years before when the British Olympic Association decided to nominate Manchester as a candidate for the 1996 Olympics, Coe had been associated with a group trying to get a rival London bid together. It was felt that this might undermine Manchester’s chances (always slim to none anyway) and the BOA president Princess Anne, in her best "naff orf" mode, peevishly labelled him a "pratley".

Unfazed, Coe said at the time that in his view the only UK city which had any chance of staging an Olympic Games was London.  He wasn’t wrong, was he ma’am?

Amid the hype and hoopla of the two years and counting celebrations another milestone in Coe’s career seems to have been overlooked. This Sunday sees the 30th anniversary of the first of his two Olympic gold medals, both perversely won over 1500 metres and not the 800m that was his signature event. The scenario was to be repeated four years later in Los Angeles but on a balmy evening in  Moscow six days before the 1500m final Coe had been beaten by Steve Ovett over two laps during an era in which their rivalry had been as fiercely and unremittingly combative as that of Ali and Frazier.

When Coe crossed the line he raised his right arm and imperiously thrust his index finger in the direction of the press box. He was to insist later that this was not the "up yours" gesture some thought but merely signified "to certain people" he was number one.   

While his current trademark is diplomacy, Coe has never shied away from controversy.

He has always been the among most media friendly of all British sporting figures and has become one of us, writing regularly for the Daily Telegraph.

I had introduced him to the public prints, getting him to write a column when I was sports editor of The Observer in the nineties and can vouch for the fact that not only did he scribble every word himself, but they were painstakingly polished and always eminently  readable. Mind you I hope he is better at meeting deadlines for the delivery of the Games than he was when submitting his copy!

Just a month short of his 54th birthday Coe seems inexhaustible, rising at dawn most days in the Surrey home he shares with the lady in his life, Carol, daughter of the former England cricket captain Mike Smith. He and ex-Badminton three day event champion Nicky McIrvine, were divorced eight years ago but Coe remains in close touch with their four children. He also insists on staying in touch with the people and happily chats to the Jubilee Line punters when travelling to LOCOG's Canary Wharf. Lord he may be, lord it he doesn’t.

I have always believed that this country would not realise what is about to hit it once the World Cup hysteria was over. Coe himself says that the enormity of the Olympic project and the effect it will have on or lives has yet to fully impact on us. There is a belief among those organising the Games that England’s ignominious exit from football’s World Cup has done 2012the Games a huge favour as the nation now needs something to look forward to that is both positive and uplifting. Knowing Seb as I do, I have no doubt he will triumphantly strike gold two years from now - just as he did 30 years ago.  

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

Tom Degun: If this was the warm-up, I can't wait for the main event

Duncan Mackay

So July 27, 2010, has come and gone in a blink of an eye and now we have just one year and 365 days left until the London 2012 Olympic Games begin for real.

The two years to go London 2012 milestone though, was a day of jubilant celebration across the capital.

Surely no-one inhabiting the city, unless they reside at the bottom of the River Thames, could have been unaware that the day marked exactly two years until the world’s greatest sporting extravaganza will grace London for the first time since 1948.

Events in the city, largely organised by the key sponsors of the Games, included: Visa providing 70 of their Team Visa 2012 athletes to join in with the celebrations at the Olympic Park, Panasonic placing a giant screen in Trafalgar Square and BT launching the next stage of the ‘Road to London 2012’ exhibition in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery.

Then there was the Royal Mint has issuing a commemorative ‘2 Years to Go’ coin and, amongst various other goings-on and UPS delivering the stock of Wenlock soft toys to the new London 2012 flagship shop.

It was in fact the new London 2012 flagship shop in St Pancras International Station - opened by no less that London 2012 Chairman Lord Seb Coe and London Mayor Boris Johnson - that was my first port of call on the momentous day.

I turned up at the station shortly ahead of the opening of the shop and was slightly taken aback to see what appeared to be half of the world’s media on the scene with around 500 camera lenses focused on the shop itself.

After recovering my bearings, I managed to secure a decent vantage point to watch proceedings unfold.

Last year's Britain’s Got Talent winners Diversity - an outrageously talented street dance group for those who aren’t familiar with them - began by performing a disappointingly short dance routine before Coe and Johnson marched out to greet the media and shock some of London’s late commuters on their way through the station.

The pair began by speaking of their excitement of reaching the two years to go milestone before launching the search to find 70,000 volunteers for the Games.

Johnson, in his usual flamboyant style, called for an "Olympic Army" of volunteers before he and Coe opened the impressive looking London 2012 shop which, after sidestepping through the crowds of people, I managed to sneak into and have a look around.

The shop featured an impressive array of high quality merchandise including London 2012 pin badges, key rings, mugs, T-shirts and caps.

However, the standout purchase had to be a 30cm soft toy of the official London 2012 mascot Wenlock.

A stuffed toy of Wenlock will set you back £25 but for admirers of the mascot like myself, it will be money well spent - and for you Mandeville fans out there, don’t panic as the official London 2012 Paralympic mascot will be coming to the store on August 29 to mark the two years to go to the Paralympic Games milestone.

While it was extremely hectic around the shop, it was perhaps understandable because of the key figures in attendance. As well as Coe and Johnson, there was Sports and Olympic Hugh Robertson, London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton, Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) chairman John Armitt, International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Sir Craig Reedie, British Olympic Association (BOA) chairman Andy Hunt and former 400 metre hurdle star and 1992 Olympic gold medallist Sally Gunnell.

Following the opening of the London 2012 shop, I joined the distinguished figures mentioned and the rest of the media onboard the Olympic Javelin Train.

The train will be a central part of plans in 2012 to provide transport services for the potential 800,000 spectators per day expected to attend the London Olympics. In 2012, a frequent Javelin train will run from King’s Cross station to the Stratford International in seven minutes, carrying up to 25,000 passengers per hour to the Olympic Park while there are plans to carry up to 1,200 passengers on each journey.

To me, the Javelin didn’t feel much different to the average Southeastern railways train but it was undeniably a pleasant and smooth seven minute ride to the Olympic Park.

Once at the site, we boarded buses for a tour of the venues and for some strange reason, I was allocated to board bus "one" where two of my travelling companions were misters Coe and Armitt.

It was rather nice having the ODA chairman on the microphone as my tour guide of the Olympic Park and after driving through the ‘cosy’ looking Athletes' Village, we pulled up at the Velodrome which to me looked well on its way to completion.

Once inside the Velodrome, four-time cycling gold medallist Sir Chris Hoy welcomed us by cycling around the track for the very first time and was greeted with cheers with the on looking workers. That noise soon reached a deafening pitch as the Mayor of London, who was clearly no longer able to resist the temptation; climbed onboard the bike for a lap of the Velodrome that was less steady than the one conducted by the Scotsman.

We then moved steadily over to a large, white, square arena on the Park which will host both basketball and handball during the Games. On hand at the arena was British former NBA star John Amaechi and popular Athens 2004 wheelchair basketball Paralympic bronze medallist Ade Adepitan who showed their skills by shooting the first hoops in the venue.

We swiftly departed the arena to visit the main spectator bridge in the Olympic Park which gave a mightily impressive view of the Park.

The bridge will be the ‘front door’ to the Olympic Park in 2012 and no doubt one of the highlights for visiting spectators. It was immensely enjoyable to walk across the bridge and although the heavens opened and the rain came crashing down just as I began my stroll (which is surely a prelude to what will happen in two years time) it did not ruin the experience in the slightest.

Then came the most exciting part of the day; walking to the end of bridge and right into the Olympic Stadium itself. As I did so, I got a spine tingling sensation of what it would be like to be one of the thousands approaching the Stadium in two years time and the closer I got, the more impressive the Stadium looked.

Walking into the Stadium for the very first time is an experience I will not soon forget. The stadium, which like the other sporting venues on the Park is due to be completed within a year, looks very much on track to hit that target and I was immediately struck by how close the seats were to the field of play. It was rather surreal to be standing in the exact spot where Usain Bolt or Jessica Ennis could well be making history in 2012 and I know that with 80,000 people packed into the compact venue, the Stadium will be a very special place to be in 2012.

Inside the stadium, we were treated to multi-Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson running with school children at a leisurely pace on a specially laid track before we were escorted out of the Olympic Park.

Following the tour, I made my way to Trafalgar Square to see the magnificent Panasonic screen in the heart of the famous landmark which displayed invigorating clips to promote the London 2012 Games. Deighton, Hunt and mascot Wenlock where just some of the figures who also arrived at Trafalgar Square and Deighton made a speech to the crowd before the momentous day drew to a close.

Overall, my reflections of the day were very positive. Everything I had seen in the Olympic Park and all the senior London 2012 figures I had spoken to had convinced me that London is well on track to host a magnificent Games in 2012.

The key venues certainly have that iconic factor required for a successful Olympics and every venue in the Olympic Park is within easy walking distance of any other which is a great feature.

Undoubtedly, problems arise regarding the London 2012 when costs are mentioned.

In a time of economic uncertainty, the £9.28 billion the Games will cost to stage will be looked at closely by the new Government and the fight is definitely on to stop the money set aside from the Games being decreased.

London 2012 organisers have done well to cut costs so far but any further cuts could be catastrophic for the Games and may actually mean that more money will have to be pumped into the project as July 27, 2012 gets closer.

There are even some out there who have no interest in the London 2012 Games and continually criticise how much money is being spent on ‘a month long party.

But I was one of the ones who cheered when London won the bid to host the Games in Singapore in 2005 and though no one could have predicted the recession that would follow; my optimism has not dwindled.

Polls reveal many Londoners are now more confident about the Games than they were when we first won the right to host them in 2005 and I am certainly one of them.

Maybe my day of VIP access around the Park was designed to make me think as much but I truly believe that London will be one of the most successful and memorable Games ever.

But I also thought that England would win the World Cup this year; so I have been wrong before. I don't expect to be this time, though.

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames

PIctures by Mike King. See more great photographs from yesterday's celebration by clicking here

John Steele: UK Sport has shown that it can and does deliver excellence

Duncan Mackay

Overseeing 27 Olympic and 18 Paralympic sports I am often asked to highlight one that I think might shine in 2012. It’s impossible to do that.

The likes of rowing, sailing and cycling are now the envy of the world. Whilst sports such as swimming, gymnastics, triathlon, canoeing and boxing are now producing world class performances on a regular basis.

Olympic and Paralympic sport in this country is in tremendous shape and that isn’t through luck or by chance.

No longer do we have one or two sports that might do well, one or two individuals that might perform on the day and win medals.

We have a system in place in this country which means a wide range of sports should put British athletes on the podium in 2012.

It hasn’t of course always been like that. When I look back to my first day in the job at UK Sport, Monday July 4, 2005, the elite sporting landscape in the UK was largely disjointed and ineffective. I have been fortunate to witness something of a transformation.

That isn’t an exaggeration or hyperbole, those who know me will know that I don’t deal in either. It’s simply an accurate description of what life was like two days before a decision in Singapore changed everything.

It is quite incredible just how far we’ve come since that day. The decision to award London the Games, didn’t of course guarantee an improvement to the high performance system in the UK. But the record investment that followed and the difficult decisions UK Sport has taken in how and where to invest that money, has meant that Olympic and Paralympic sport in this country has been given a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the face of British elite sport for the better.

When we introduced our "no compromise" philosophy, to invest money in those sports most likely to medal in 2012 and beyond, we faced a lot of opposition from people who believed it wasn’t the best way forward for British sport. At times it might have been easier to have ignored it, to have given ourselves an easier ride with the sports, public and media, but I am glad that we didn’t.

Beijing was a resounding endorsement of our philosophy. A record 47 Olympic and 102 Paralympic medals was an outstanding achievement and I am very proud of the contribution that this organisation made to that.

UK Sport has shown that it can and does deliver excellence.

We take our responsibility to distribute public funds seriously and we always look to ensure the maximum return on the investment we make.

I am confident this will continue and our Mission 2012 update showed just last week, that we are still on course to deliver a top four finish in the Olympics and second in the Paralympics. Strong signs indeed that the system is working.

In his final speech to IOC delegates in 2005, Seb Coe, said: "When I was 12 years old I was marched into a large school hall with my classmates and we watched grainy pictures from the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games. By the time I was back in my classroom, I knew what I wanted to do - and what I wanted to be."

Following 2012, as millions of British schoolchildren walk back to their classrooms deciding "what they want to do - and what they want to be", I feel proud of the fact that UK Sport has helped create a high performance system that is capable of helping talented individuals achieve their dreams. The system here in the UK is unrecognisable compared to its predecessor from that Monday in July five years ago, and we should not underestimate its value to the nation. 

We have the attention of the rest of the sporting world. This must give us the impetus to keep up the momentum that has been gathered, to innovate, to evolve, to push the boundaries of high performance sport.

The two-year run in to London 2012 will throw up many challenges which l am sure athletes, coaches and sports will rise to admirably. But the one challenge that all in Olympic and Paralympic sport must consider is to acknowledge, protect and build on the high performance system which has the potential to deliver the elusive sustainable success the nation has craved for so long.

John Steele leaves his role as chief executive of UK Sport this week to become chief executive of the Rugby Football Union. UK Sport is the UK’s high performance sports agency and is responsible for managing and distributing public investment. It is a statutory distributor of funds raised by the National Lottery.

Suzi Williams: Telling the stories of the people and places behind London 2012

Duncan Mackay

It’s now just two years until the start of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and BT has been involved since 2004 when we backed the bid for London to host the Games.  It seems like only yesterday that we saw the jubilant scenes in Trafalgar Square when the bid was successful, but that was five years ago now - it just shows how quickly the next two years will pass.

As the official communications services partner for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, BT is at the heart of the preparations. As well as providing the critical communications services for the Games, we want to tell the stories of the people and places behind the Games.

Last week saw the opening of our ‘Road to 2012: Setting Out’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  This first instalment includes stunning portraits from two world-class photographers - Brian Griffin and Bettina van Zwehl. The portraits show key figures who helped London win the bid to host the Games, and those involved in the development of the Olympic Park, as well as young athletes who are striving for success at the Games.

‘Road to 2012: Setting Out’ also includes  a portrait of Ray Haggan, an inspirational 70-year-old swimming coach from North London who won BT’s Road to 2012 competition. We asked members of the public to nominate everyday people making a difference to, or inspired by, the Games. Ray is the perfect example of the story we want to tell over the next two years - he’s a real unsung hero, who selflessly gives his time to support grass-roots swimming.

This morning, London’s favourite breakfast show, Magic FM, broadcast live from the top of the BT Tower.  BT Ambassadors Jonathan and Alistair Brownlee, fresh from the ITU World Championship in Hyde Park, were on the show along with Paralympian Ade Adepitan. We also heard from Sebastian Coe, who spoke live from the Olympic Park.

We will continue to work with our team of sporting Ambassadors over the next two years to create a buzz around London 2012. We are very proud of our Ambassadors and the contribution they make to BT, to their sports and to the country. 

We’re also encouraging our 100,000 employees to get involved by becoming volunteers.  We already have a strong culture of volunteering at BT, and we want everyone within the business to have the chance to put their skills to good use in the build up to the Games.

And to take the Games outside of London we’re putting Olympic and Paralympic athletes and essential London 2012 information into every new BT Phone Book that’s distributed across the UK. Last week saw the start of the roll out, featuring Ade Adepitan on the front cover, and soon all 44 million BT Phone Books will feature local athletes.  We’re hopeful that this will inspire people across the UK to support their local athletes and get behind London 2012. 

We also wish BT Ambassador Oscar Pistorius the best of luck this August when he competes in the able-bodied 400 metres at Crystal Palace. He’s getting closer to achieving his dream of competing at both the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which would be a fantastic achievement for one of the most inspiring athletes on the world stage.

Behind the scenes, BT has been working to ensure the delivery of the communications services infrastructure that will bring the Games to a worldwide audience of billions.  We recently signed a deal with Olympic Broadcasting Services London Ltd (OBSL), to deliver the broadcast and media network for the London 2012 Games. 

This new partnership further enhances BT’s role in providing the vital communications services and expertise that will underpin the greatest sporting event in the world. BT’s fibre based network will carry broadcast signals from and between the majority of venues to OBSL’s broadcast centre, for onward transmission to broadcasters across the world. This will enable billions of people across the globe to watch the Games in High Definition (HD).

We’re very excited about our journey over the next two years, and hope to share that excitement with the wider public through our activity. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games present a unique opportunity to host a truly global event that will reap benefits long after the closing ceremony, and BT is delighted to be at the heart of the action.

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

James Carr: Triathletes are truly geat all-rounders

Duncan Mackay

I got hooked on triathlon in a bird’s nest. Two summers ago, on a blustery evening in Beijing’s Olympic stadium I found myself sitting next to a lean German athlete. 

Noticing his tanned and highly taut shaven legs, I asked whether he was a cyclist. "No, I’m a triathlete," he replied in inevitably flawless English.

After sneaking a quick look at the accreditation dangling from his neck I thought I recognised his name. "Didn’t you win gold on Tuesday?" I asked.

Very modestly, and with a wry smile he replied, "Yeah, I did actually. It was pretty close though!"

Jan Frodeno. Olympic triathlon champion 2008 and a good bloke too.

After years of preparation he had managed to produce a performance when it mattered most, outpacing Canada’s Simon Whitfield and New Zealand’s Bevan Doherty in a thrilling sprint finish.

Although his Olympic experience had finished, Frodeno had come to the Bird’s Nest that night for the privilege of witnessing the world’s greatest athletes do what they do best. Perform at the highest level. 

That’s why I love about watching all forms of elite sport. It doesn’t matter whether it’s athletics, fencing, gymnastics or handball.

To watch the speed, power, endurance and grace that the world’s best are capable of never ceases to astonish me.

So with the fifth round of Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series coming to Hyde Park I jumped at the chance of seeing the best triathletes compete at the venue that will to be used in the 2012 Games.

Over the course of the weekend, 3,000 age groupers had the experience of competing on the flat, fast course but the gulf separating them from the elite soon became very clear. 

Faultless swimming technique in the Serpentine was followed by quick and efficient transitions onto the bike.

After eight rapid loops of the Park, the triathletes somehow manage to overcome their ‘jelly legs’ and run the final 10km at speeds that would not be out of place on the track.

The racing certainly entertained the large crowds around the Park. In the men’s race Spain’s Javier Gomez took victory ahead of 20-year-old Jonathan Brownlee from Britain.

Frodeno took third after the elder Brownlee, Alistair faded in the final 500 metres and required medal assistance when crossing the line.

Yesterday, 21-year-old Paula Findlay (pictured) from Canada snatched victory in the elite women’s race with a decisive burst of pace in the final mile denying Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig and Britain’s former world champion Helen Jenkins.

That's another thing about triathlon. It only became an Olympic event in 2000 so it’s a youthful sport and the boundaries are constantly being rolled back. And I don’t just mean the aerodynamic wheels, compression socks and go faster wetsuits displayed on the stalls around the banks of the Serpentine.

Triathletes competing at all distances are learning, adapting and improving themselves too. 

Britain’s triple world champion Chrissie Wellington seems to break boundaries every time she competes. She broke the ironman distance world record again in the Challenge Roth event last week.

A decade ago most triathletes came from the ranks of very good, but not quite top class single discipline athletes who thought they’d diversify and give multisport a try.

Triathlon feels dynamic because the new generation like Gomez, the Brownlees, Paula Findlay and Australian Emma Moffatt have grown up as genuinely superb all rounders.

Each of them face plenty of hard training over the next two years and this successful weekend has made me eager to return to Hyde Park in 2012 to watch them when the stakes are just that little bit higher.

James Carr is a former Press Association journalist. He is an amateur triathlete and is in training for an Ironman distance event in 2011

Parker Morse: What Jodie WIlliams does next will define her career

Duncan Mackay

The women's 200 metres final at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Junior Championships in Moncton ended one of the most talked-about streaks in current athletics.

Jodie Williams of Great Britain had won somewhere on the order of 150 races without a loss over the course of some six  years.

The numbers are a little vague, of course, because for Williams  six years of competition takes us back into the years of age-group
meets and nine-and-ten-year-olds where accurate record-keeping of the  kind expected by international statisticians is hard to come by.

Williams, who admitted after winning the 100m final that she was exhausted, avoided the fate of Jamaica's Dexter Lee, whose 100m fatigue led to him jumping the gun in the 200m qualifying heats and being disqualified. Instead, Williams got through the the final and found herself on a 200m homestretch in the utterly new situation of having someone in front of her.

There was no mistaking the anguish on Williams' face as she crossed the line second, nor her obvious disappointment at receiving a silver medal and standing to hear someone else's anthem. But Williams' real misfortune was not that she lost, but that she was forced to meet that first loss on the world stage, albeit a junior one.

There's a story about a time when Harvard considered eliminating  intercollegiate athletics, and a house resident, known as no friend to  athletics, approached an administrator in great distress about this issue.

"The athletes bring so much to the house," he said. "They're the only ones who know how to lose."

So Jodie Williams arrived in Moncton as a conquering heroine of  British track, under the eye of some of the most aggressive and opinionated journalists in the sport, and only then met one of the  fundamental lessons that sports teach us.

Had Williams been in Des Moines at the United States Track & Fields Nationals, she might have repeatedly seen on the big screen the Nike commercial which uses The Hours' 2006 song "Ali in the Jungle".

"Everybody gets knocked down," the chorus used in the ad goes. "How quick are you going to get up?"

Parker Morse is a regular columnist on athletics, including for the International Association of Athletics Federations. This article first appeared at

Mike Rowbottom: Dancing the night away with Prince Albert

Duncan Mackay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames

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

Duncan Mackay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Degun is a reporter for insidethegames

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

Duncan Mackay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duncan Mackay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duncan Mackay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only four men have managed that so far.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, has covered the last five Summer and four Winter Olympics for The Independent. Previously he has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, the Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. He is now chief feature writer for insidethegames

Steve Grainger: Summer of sport inspires tomorrow’s stars

Duncan Mackay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Grainger is the chief executive of the Youth Sports Trust

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

Duncan Mackay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duncan Mackay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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