Jon Mulkeen: Race-based accolades undermine potential of "great white hope"

Duncan Mackay

I was as pleased as the next person to see that young Frenchan Christophe Lemaître became the first white man to legally run under 10 seconds for the 100 metres. I find it interesting when there are cultural outliers in sport, but I try not to give too much credence to such things.

Hopefully this distinction can finally be laid to bed and Lemaître can get on with the rest of his career without having to carry a burden on his shoulders that has seemingly got in the way of previous talented white sprinters progressing.

Before his performance, there had been 446 legal sub-10-second performances in the men’s 100m; all of them achieved by 69 different sprinters of African-Caribbean descent and one of Aborigine descent.

Lemaître has become the 62nd fastest athlete of all time with his performance of 9.98 at the French Championships.

It’s not racist to acknowledge the difference between the number of African-Caribbean sprinters and white sprinters to run sub-10 seconds for 100m. Racism is discriminatory or abusive behaviour towards members of a particular race. Realising that athletes of African-Caribbean descent have historically been more successful in the 100m is simply being observant, and we shouldn’t be afraid of noticing that.

People took note when Tiger Woods broke out onto the international golfing scene because very few black golf players had reached such a high level in that sport before. The Williams sisters also garnered a lot of attention when they first made an impact in the tennis world as it had mainly been a sport in which many white people had previously succeeded.

What we should be afraid of, however, is getting carried away with such accolades and recognising them as an athlete’s greatest achievement. Winning a medal at a global championships or setting a world record should far outweigh any arbitrary achievement. I’m sure Dieter Bauman values his 1992 Olympic gold medal more than his achievement of being one of the fastest white men over 5,000m.

It begs the question - does Lemaître have the potential to become an Olympic champion? While it’s impossible to predict who will win gold at future championships (especially while Usain Bolt is still around!), we can compare Lemaître’s times to what other sprinters ran at the same age, in their first year of being a senior.

Jamaica’s Yohan Blake, who is one year older than Lemaître, last year clocked 9.93 for 100m to set a world age-19 best. Before that Nigeria’s Seun Ogunkoya possessed the fastest time by a 19-year-old with 9.97. After that, Lemaître is the next fastest with his 9.98, closely followed by Samuel Francis (9.99) and Carl Lewis (10.00).

Put simply, Lemaître is the third fastest sprinter ever at age 19/20. Faster than Carl Lewis, faster than Dwain Chambers, and significantly faster than what former world record-holder Asafa Powell and former double world champion Tyson Gay achieved at that age. In case you’re wondering, Usain Bolt didn’t attempt the 100m until he was 21 years old; it was a 10.03 clocking.

On pure potential alone, Lemaître could become one of the greatest sprinters ever. Of course he could fade away and never again improve on his personal best, but all the signs are pointing towards him having a pretty successful career. What I like about Lemaître is that he is looking beyond being the first white guy under 10 seconds and wants to achieve tangible success - namely championship medals.

Lemaître is still some way from being the next Usain Bolt, but he is already well on his way to being an accomplished elite sprinter. Similarly, we should also have just as much anticipation for the future achievements of the likes of Yohan Blake, Ryan Bailey, D’Angelo Cherry, Ramil Guliyev and all the other talented young sprinters emerging right now, regardless of their skin colour.

Tiger Woods went beyond simply being "the best black golfer" and became arguably the greatest ever in his sport. The Williams sisters didn’t stop at being the best ever black tennis players; they transformed the game and have now secured their place in the tennis hall of fame. Now that Lemaître has this sub-10 clocking to his name, he (and we) can move on from him being "the fastest ever white man" and look forward to him potentially becoming one of the greatest sprinters, period.

In a couple of decades’ time, we could be looking back on what Lemaître has accomplished during his career; recalling a handful of championship medals (some gold maybe), a European record, and then somewhere towards the end there will be a recollection of: "Oh, and remember that time when he first broke 10 seconds?"

If that were to become the defining moment of his career, it would quite simply be a travesty.

Jon Mulkeen is the former news editor of Athletics Weekly and now writes regularly for the International Association of Athletics Federations at major events, including last year's World Championships in Berlin. To read more of his work click here

Sir Chris Hoy: International Inspiration is having impact at every level

Duncan Mackay

Since becoming an International Inspiration Ambassador in July 2009, I have been looking forward to the opportunity to see for myself the difference that this innovative programme is making to the lives of children and young people.

Sport is an amazing tool for reaching out and engaging people, and the Olympics takes the power of sport to another level.

It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of something that is using sport and play in such a positive way, both in the UK and in developing countries.

I was excited about visiting Hartford High School in Cheshire as I’d heard that the students had been working really hard to put together an interesting and informative visit for me.

International Inspiration is quite a complex initiative as it’s having an impact at so many levels - from children all the way up to governments - but the young people and teachers at Hartford High School were able to convey to me the way that it is making a real difference to their school.

School partnerships are a really important part of International Inspiration, as they provide an opportunity for teachers, children and young people to learn about and understand each other’s cultures, experiences and international development issues.

Hartford High School is one of 164 schools in the UK currently linked to a school overseas through International Inspiration, and is coupled with SMK Raja Permaisuri Bainun school in Malaysia.

A group of teachers from the school recently travelled to Malaysia to meet their counterparts and share innovative approaches to PE, sport and play in the classroom and their local community. In addition to hosting a return visit from the Malaysian teachers next week, I gather that over 100 students have received training to become Young Leaders and they frequently speak with their peers from Malaysia via Skype and email.

During my visit it was brilliant to be able to speak directly with a few of the students in Malaysia via Skype - they were interested to hear about how I first got involved in cycling as well as my competitive rivalry with Malaysian cyclist Azizulhasni Awang.

The most fascinating part of the morning was seeing the Year 9 Young Leaders organising a session for their younger peers in the Malaysian sport Sepak Takraw, which is a bit like volleyball but the players use a rattan ball and are only allowed to use their feet, knees, chest and head to touch the ball. It certainly looked like it involved a lot of skill and the students seemed to be getting the hang of it pretty quickly - I was really impressed! Next week the students from Hartford High School are planning on sharing the British game of Rounders with the Malaysian teachers.

My visit finished with an interview by two of the school’s BBC Young Reporters. They were keen to find out why I chose to support International Inspiration. Sport is such a brilliant way of teaching and developing all kinds of skills - confidence, teamwork, leadership and discipline; its benefits pay such dividends in everyday life. I’m supporting International Inspiration because being able to get involved in sport and play is every child’s right. I really enjoyed visiting Hartford High School and I’m looking forward to the next International Inspiration visit already.

Cyclist Sir Chris Hoy has won four Olympic gold medals, including three at Beijing in 2008

Alan Hubbard: Richard Caborn is not the right man to be FA chairman

Duncan Mackay

Kite flying is not listed among the recreational interests of the former marathon running Sports Minister Richard Caborn. But this is precisely what dear old Dick appears to be doing in touting for the job of FA chairman.

"If people are up for change then I’m up for it and yes, I would stand," says 66-year-old Caborn, who was among those deposed in the reshuffle of England's World Cup 2018 bidding team.

Now I like Caborn, despite some of the differences we had over one or two of his policies during his record tenure as Sports Minister.

He did a decent job and became one of the most effective networkers in the business during the run up to 2012. He has a gruff Yorkshire charm and made friends with quite a few sports folk - even if they were largely in football. As a former director of Sheffield United, he certainly knows the game from the perspective of the VIP box. But chairman of the FA? I think not. 

For one thing, it would alienate the new Government and aggravate the present disaffection between them and the football authorities. The last thing the FA want is another ex-politician, especially a Labour one. The former incumbent, Lord Triesman was an ex-Labour minister and peer and there are certainly suspicions in Westminster circles that the government of sport has become rather uncomfortably left-leaning in recent years. 

Dame Sue Campbell, chair of UK Sport, was well known as a Labour sympathiser and although she chose to sit as a cross-bencher in the House of Lords, she has been seen edging closer to the Labour benches.

I do not think that Caborn, who is also president of the ABA of England which got itself into a fine old mess during and immediately following the Beijing Olympics, has quite the necessary clout to sort out the FA or, as he puts it "Bang heads together to put England back on track." 

He is a great pal of Sir Dave Richards, another man of Sheffield who chairs the Premier League. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  It could be argued that their relationship would bring the FA and Premier League closer together. On the other hand it might appear to create  be something of an comfortably cosy cartel.

The FA does not need to be playing political football as it picks up the pieces of a shattered World Cup. What is wanted is someone who is strong-willed, apolitical, and knows the game from the grass-roots upwards. I have already suggested that the ideal candidate would be Sir Trevor Brooking, a man steeped in football lore and respected throughout the game by players and officials alike. Moreover he also knows more about the inner workings of the FA than any other candidate possibly could. But I doubt the FA board have the balls to appoint him.

No doubt Caborn (pictured) is keeping a watchful eye on how the new Sports Minister Hugh Robertson is doing. They frequently crossed swords in the House when Robertson was a very effective Opposition spokesman. Caborn's own successor, Gerry Sutcliffe, must be wondering if he will stay on as Labour's sports spokesman in the reshuffle that will follow the election of a new leader.

It has been two months since Robertson took over as Sports and Olympics Minister and so far he hasn't put a foot wrong - unlike his immediate boss Jeremy Hunt, who juggles his hats as Secretary of State for Culture, Media Sport and the Olympics.

All he has succeeded in doing is putting his foot in his mouth. His appalling gaffe when comparing Hillsborough with the good behaviour of English fans at the World Cup caused severe embarrassment. The lambada-dancing Hunt, a pleasant enough bloke, knows so little about sport that I fear there will be more faux pas to come.

Why David Cameron stuck with the tired old  gameplan of lumping sport in with media and culture baffles me.

He has missed a golden opportunity to give sport - and the Olympics - its own separate ministry, with a seat in the Cabinet which one would have thought vital as 2012 approaches. In Robertson they have someone capable of occupying that Cabinet seat. He seems to have a better grasp of sport, especially at grass roots level than most previous Sports Ministers with the notable exception of Denis Howell, Kate Hoey and possibly Colin Moynihan.

So far there has been little Opposition reaction to the new Con-Lib sports agenda, including the scrapping of Caborn's baby, the UK School Games in favour of a "Schools Olympics" (though they must find a new title for them to avoid upsetting the IOC).  So it is with the slashing of the sports budget.

Recently I took my two young grandchildren swimming, expecting the customary free admission for under-16s and "senior citizens" at the local pool in Surrey. "Sorry," I was told. "You'll have to pay up like everyone else."

It transpired they were making early implementation of the new Government’s decision to scrap the scheme launched with such a fanfare by former Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell exactly two years ago. Now it has been ditched as part of the £73million worth of cuts, and I suspect it is one which has given Robertson sleepless nights. He admits the decision "gives me no pleasure" but agrees it is a necessary contribution to the overall economies - though the actual saving, some £5 million, seems a drop in an Olympic-sized pool.

The initiative, which the Government claims has not delivered value for money, was one of Labour's key Olympic legacies yet curiously there has not been a peep of protest from Ms Jowell. Is this because she has growing hopes of a role with 2012 – which Robertson and Seb Coe are currently discussing- and doesn’t wish to rock the boat politically? Funny old game, sports politics.

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.

Hugh Robertson: The new school sports competition is a revolution that will deliver a legacy from London 2012

Duncan Mackay

When we won the right to host the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Singapore five years ago, we promised to use them to inspire a new generation of young people to take up sport. I am determined to deliver on this commitment.

Last Monday, at the City of London Academy in Bermondsey, we announced our plans for a nationwide Olympic and Paralympic-style competition.

The announcement was widely welcomed across sport but Jim Cowan argued, on these pages, that this has not been thought through and was an example of the "initiativitis" I had rejected only a few weeks before. This is unfair and shows a lack of understanding of the detail behind these proposals.

They are about creating a revolution in school sport and reviving competitive sport for young people. It provides for the first time an Olympic-style competitive pinnacle for all young athletes to aim for.

It is not an initiative; it is a fundamental repositioning of school sport placing competition at its heart. It is the final nail in the coffin for the "taking part is what counts" culture that has bedevilled school sport for too long.

It is also something that we promised to do in Opposition and have now delivered in Government.  It is based on the hugely successful, and widely promised, Kent School Games promoted by Dame Kelly Holmes and Kent County Council.

The announcement last week set out our plan for the competition so that schools and the wider public are aware of our thinking. We want as many schools as possible to embrace the new competition and we will be talking to the School Sports Partnerships and school sport coordinators, as we develop the detailed plans in the coming months.

This competition, that I, LOCOG, the BOA, UK Sport and Sport England are working on, will not stand in isolation and is a key plank of a comprehensive plan to deliver a sports legacy from hosting the 2012 Games.

This for me means extending the opportunities in sport to the maximum number of people.

As I said within days of getting this job, this is one of my top priorities.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

So, Cowan is completely wrong that we are lacking in a sport strategy and that we are "crossing our fingers" and hoping for the best with our Olympic and Paralympic-style competition for young people. He is in the minority that questions it.

This is a strategy that has the backing of LOCOG, the BOA, Sport England, the Youth Sport Trust, sports governing bodies and many prominent Olympians who supported the launch.

This is a strategy with clear direction. But I know we cannot be complacent. Achieving a lasting sports legacy will not be easy. 

However, I am determined to succeed.

Hugh Robertson is the Sports and Olympics Minister

Mike Moran: The day New York City's Olympic dream died

Duncan Mackay
It was five years ago today, July 6, 2005, but it seems like 20. More than 4,000 people had jammed into a mini-stadium at Rockefeller Center in New York City early on a muggy morning before 7am to watch on a pair of giant screens as the International Olympic Committee selected the city that would host the 2012 Olympic Games.

Othe night before, our small stadium setting was electric, with thousands of spectators, music, Olympic athletes, food, and the NBC-televised presentations from Singapore by the finalist cities - London, Paris, Moscow, Madrid and New York.

It ended after midnight, and as the seats emptied and Rockefeller Center quieted, I sat on the lip of the stage, drinking in the sights and sounds of the majestic city.

It was clear that it was never going to be any bigger or better, and if New York was eliminated the next morning, life commonplace to me and a long career in the Olympic Movement would hit a wall, but, if the city won, it would be the start of a seven-year magic carpet ride.

Aretirement from the USOC at the end of 2002, my next opportunity came when NYC2012, the group leading the city's bid, selected me as its Senior Communications Counselor, one of five senior advisors to the leadership of the bid, headed by Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff and Executive Director Jay Kriegel, along with my former USOC boss, Harvey Schiller.

Over the next 30 months, it was inspiring to be part of a tremendous endeavor that involved thousands of passionate New Yorkers bent on bringing the Games to the greatest city in the world.

we knew from the start that it was going to be a battle for the Big Apple because of factors that were inescapable.

Salt Lake City had just hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 2002, a jolting Olympic bid scandal in 1998 centered around the leadership of the Games in Utah, there was anti-American bias to deal with in the world, and most of all, a contentious issue centering around the proposed $2.2 billion tab for a new West Side stadium, expansion of the Javits Convention center, and the overall development of that part of the city, a hot-button for the citizens and politicians for years.

The majority, 79 percent of New Yorkers, supported the bid, but not the new stadium. The owners of Madison Square Garden not only opposed the new stadium and development around it, but spent thousands of dollars in advertising to try to kill it. And the powerful New York Times opposed it editorially.

Yet, there were so many marvelous people involved, including 1,700 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from the USA and 45 nations around the world in the NYC2012 Circle of Olympians and Paralympians. Muhammad Ali, Bob Beamon, Mary Lou Retton, Nadia Comaneci, Michael Phelps, Jeff Blatnick, Mia Hamm, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Bruce Jenner, Magic Johnson and hundreds of others.

The inspiring "Nations of New York," thousands of men and women from 400 organisations representing the city's rich, diverse international population and neighborhoods, and a superb venue plan that embraced the city's historic sports landmarks as proposed Olympic sites - Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, National Tennis Center, Giants Stadium, the historic 369th Regiment Arena in Harlem, Central Park, along with many new or refurbished sites in what was called the "Olympic X" configuration, plus a gorgeous, proposed Olympic Village for the athletes on the East River in Queens West.

But there were challenges besides the West Side Stadium issue, including a period of turmoil and dysfunction within the USOC that led to the departure of chief executive Lloyd Ward in 2003 and the naming of interim President Bill Martin as the organisation steered its way out of the mess.

New York had been selected by the USOC on November 2, 2002, defeating San Francisco by a vote of 132-91 among its Board of Directors at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

The search for a candidate city began in 1999 under the leadership of USOC President Bill Hybl, and the original roster of cities competing for the nod included New York, Houston, Washington, Dallas, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Tampa.

Doctoroff (pictured), a charismatic leader who first conceived the idea of a New York Olympic Games while watching a FIFA World Cup match in 1994 at Giants Stadium, blew away the field with his dogged pursuit of USOC officials, along with sidekick Kriegel, and once they had secured the right to become America's candidate city, there was no looking back or hesitation.

It was a costly bid, some $3.1 billion for the Games' budget, a guarantee to the IOC of some $250 million, and $924 million alone in capital costs for improvements.

In fact, the five finalist cities spent a reported $150 million on their bids, $35 million alone by NYC2012. On May 18, 2004, at Bryant Park in Manhattan, the announcement was made that New York would be a finalist in the chase for the Games, and all of us who were part of the effort were thrilled.

The event included Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Olympian Donna De Varona to my left, along with Olympic and Paralympic athletes and more than 4,000 cheering New Yorkers. 

The next 14 months became a whirlwind of effort and energy on the part of the bid leadership, Mayor Bloomberg and the scores of young, talented men and women on the NYC2012 staff. There was no time for sleep, deadlines were everywhere, visitors to welcome every week.

My favorite junket was to take journalists and broadcasters from international outlets on a carefully-crafted ferry tour on the water that wound around Manhattan, showing them the spectacular views and venues of the city, passing Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, with a presentation now ingrained and the confidence of a tour guide. So, too for treks to the top of an office building that looked down on the rail yards on the West Side adjacent to what would be the site of the new Olympic Stadium and the future home of the Jets.

In 2004, a series of conversations with new USOC President Peter Ueberroth, the genius who made the 1984 Games in Los Angeles a smash success, convinced him to come to New York and tell the city's tough media why he thought New York could win. He spoke at a lunch at the posh '21' Club and he was compelling. The next morning, the New York Times carried a column by the estimable George Vecsey, who was not in favour of the bid, that was extremely fair and positive, and the piece was accompanied by a picture of Doctoroff watching Ueberroth speak, next to a big NYC2012 sign on an easel that had been strategically placed for optimum photo benefit.

The next day, at an NYC2012 Board meeting, Doctoroff held up a copy of the Times' piece and he was glowing, and surprised. Later, invitations were accepted by some 35 Olympic beat journalists and broadcasters from across the country who came to New York and our offices, where they got the full presentation from Doctoroff and the staff, with positive followup and exposure for the bid.. a dinner that evening at The Palm for the writers was a big success, and my memory reminds me that the lobsters were very special that night..

Everything seemed to be rocking. The IOC Evaluation Commission made its visit to New York in February, 2005, and the city responded as only New York could. A full-scale advertising blitz met the IOC commission, Olympic signs were posted on 13,000 taxis, 7,000 busses and 4,000 subway cars. Storefronts at Times Square and Grand Central Terminal had 2012 Olympic window displays. So did windows at Saks, Bloomingdale's and Macy's, and as the IOC leaders toured the 27 venue sites by bus, thousands of New Yorkers greeted them along the routes.

On board with a busload of media tagging along, it was awesome to witness this response, even with some if it staged. But, on June 6, just a month before the IOC's decision in Singapore, two powerful politicians on the state's Public Authorities Control Board, Joseph L. Bruno and Sheldon Silver, jettisoned their support of the West Side Stadium project, driving a dagger into the heart of the bid.

NYC2012 quickly trotted out a backup plan that included a new stadium for the baseball Mets in Queens that would be the Olympic Stadium, but the message made its way to the IOC Members who would vote, and it was not a good one. So on that humid July 6 morning in Rockefeller Center, we watched as Moscow was eliminated in the first round of voting. Moments later, IOC President Jacques Rogge appeared after the second vote on the big screen to announce that "New York will not move forward". 

The seats and stands at our venue emptied in seconds, and a car with the Governor of New York parked nearby sped away in traffic. I remained to face the scores of cameras, television lights and journalists with their notebooks and recorders in an attempt to explain what happened, the only senior bid executive not in Singapore that morning.

For next the next 12 hours, telling the story and the disappointment of those who had worked so hard for this day, I went by car to radio shows, TV shows and to the offices of newspapers, ending at midnight in Times Square with a live piece on ESPN from its signature "ESPN Zone." 

London had upset favoured Paris, 54-50, to win the Games, and the next morning, 52 people died in the horrendous London train bombings. Returning to my bedroom that night, there was a message from Singapore that Doctoroff would host a party for the staff at his home on Monday after the leaders returned from Singapore. But, on Sunday, after packing up my clothing and personal things, and making one last visit to our offices at One Liberty Plaza, just above the site of Ground Zero of September 11, 2001, to grab my nameplate and some stationery, I took a taxi to LaGuardia Airport and left.

Returning to Colorado Springs and a depressing, empty home, waking the next morning without a job for the first time in my life and without a plan for what would come next.

Postscript - A few weeks ago, in New York with my friend Ford McClave, walking in Times Square before heading to see the hit new musical, "American Idiot" at the St. James Theatre on 44th Street, we decided to stop at the Swatch store and see some of its displays.

I heard somebody say, "Hi, Mike," and turned around to see Nadia Comaneci and husband and Olympic gold medalist Bart Conner They too were going to see a show on Broadway, and we stood for a few moments and made small talk about their son, Dylan, how much time had passed since they were on the podium at the Games, and the events staged at Times Square for NYC2012 and the dream shared of a New York Olympic Games.

When we parted and walked outside to the familiar din and crowds, I think we shared a common thought. "What if?"

None of us will ever know.

Mike Moran was the chief communications officer of the USOC for nearly 25 years before retiring in 2003. In 2002 he was awarded with the USOC's highest award, the General Douglas MacArthur Award. He worked on New York's unsuccessful bid to host the 2012 Olympics and is now director of communications for the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation.

Shauna Mullin: My relationship with Zara Dampney is like a marriage

Duncan Mackay
Zara Dampney and I were rivals once. She played for England and I played for Scotland on the national indoor teams, but now we play together as a team representing Great Britain in beach volleyball.

We’ve been together for three years now, although did have a short break when we played with different partners for half a season.  It did not take us long to realise we wanted to be teammates. That was the way we were going to most successful. 

Zara and I are very similar. We formed this bond with a shared objective of being the number one British pair and qualifying for the London 2012 Olympics in our own right. 

We are based in Bath, where we share a flat and, when we are on tour, we share a room. That means we are together 24/7 for 10 months of the year. It makes our partnership very much like a marriage. Over the past three years our friendship has strengthened, although we do recognise that this needs constant work, due to the strains of competition. 

Over the last couple of seasons we are learning a lot more about each other, and one of the main objectives this year is to use the things we are learning to make our team stronger. As in any relationship there are arguments, but our arguments mainly occur on court when we see different things from our different positions: mine at the net blocking and Zara’s at the backcourt defending. 

Normally we only travel away from home when we are on the World Tour playing competitions. However, this year our indoor training facility in Bristol was removed, which left us with nowhere to train in the UK. That meant we had to travel to other indoor training facilities around Europe. We were on the move constantly with all the inherent strains of travelling, not being able to cook for ourselves, and living out of a suitcase. 

We started our pre-season training in Hamburg, where the sand is notoriously deep, and spent the subsequent weeks in Tenerife, Prague, Berlin, Toulouse and Athens.  It sounds exciting to visit all these wonderful cities, but we were not there to sight-see, and often we arrived back in Bath on the Friday night, to wash our clothes on Saturday and be back to the airport on Sunday. 

Each time we arrived back in the UK, we thought our promised indoor beach facility in the vicinity around Bath would have become a reality.  But no. We still have no idea if or when one will be built. The additional travel and temporary living conditions of the pre-season has not laid the best foundations for this year’s Tour. Our season started out in Brasilia in Brazil, where due to our results at the end of the 2009 season we were already in the main draw, although it would have been very useful to had to have played the games in the qualification. 

The second stop on our tour was Shanghai, where we put together two good performances back-to-back against Austria and Russia to qualify for the main draw. We drew double Olympic gold medallist, Misty May Trainor, with her new partner, Nicole Branagh, in the first round and were with them until the third end change, where Misty’s experience finished off both sets in favour of the USA. 

We have since then been to Rome, Korea and Moscow where we were very disappointed with our performances, but these events highlighted things that needed to be taken back to Bath for further tinkering.  As a team we have always had the ambition to finish on the podium in Horse Guards Parade at the Olympics in London.  In the past two seasons we have shown we can compete with some of the top teams in the world.  These are the teams that we will have to beat to get onto the podium. We can do it. 

Last year at the FIVB World Tour Event in Kristiansand in Norway, Zara and I finished 9th in the tournament after beating a Norwegian team on centre court and then taking down the 8th seeded Brazilians in two sets. Just a taster of what we could do when we performed on the day.  Many people envy the job we do, travelling around to different cities and playing beach volleyball, but those same people sometimes are not aware of all the hard work we put in to be able to perform when we go to those tournaments. 

Every season there is on average 14 women’s events on the FIVB World Tour Calendar, and they take us to cities all over the world.  We train for four months, January to April; before the season starts, and spend from May through to September travelling do a different country every week competing on the World Tour. We will then usually have a month off before we get back into the hard grind in the gym, and on the sand preparing for the season ahead.  It’s an amazing experience. We know that.

Obviously, there are some disadvantages. We have had to become one with sand, as it is in our suitcases, clothes, beds and bags.  We can never escape it. Before I played beach volleyball nothing annoyed me more than get sandy while I was sunbathing on the beach. It is a privilege to do what we do, but travelling full-time can be tiresome. 

You know when you are travelling too much when you arrive back in the UK and the passport officer ask you where you have just come from, and your mind goes blank. Sometimes I need  to ask one of the other players where we have just come from. We have also had our fair share of missed flights, flight delays, lost baggage and forgetting to get off a ferry!! 

One of the major disadvantages of this job is not being able to see friends and family as much as we would like, thank goodness for Facebook and Skype as without them we would definitely struggle to keep in contact. 

The one thing that keeps us going is that Olympic goal. What makes it even sweeter is that the Olympic Games are at home in London. Not many athletes have the honour of competing in their home games. It is an opportunity to treasure and that is why no sacrifice is too great.

Shauna Mullin was born in South Africa and moved to Edinburgh, playing indoor volleyball for Team Edinburgh and Scotland. She took up beach volleyball three years ago and now trains with the GB squad in Bath. She got her first GB Beach cap in Korea in 2006.

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Mike Rowbottom: I have a special gift - for losing money

Duncan Mackay

Ten pounds of my money, at 6-4, said that Andy Murray would beat Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon semi-final.

You see, when you’ve got a gift, as I believe I have, you just know things. There’s no point in trying to analyse it.

So sure was I that this would not be money wasted that I also asked my not particularly friendly high street bookie if I could also put a tenner on Tomas Berdych to beat Murray in the final - but was told, with just a hint of pity, that such a bet was not possible as Berdych was still involved in his match with Djokovic.

I knew that. Did he think I didn’t know that? Surely that should have made the bet more audacious, less certain, and a bookie such as his good self should have been even more eager to take my money in the circumstances? Well…no.

As I write, a broadcast sigh from the other room, mingled with some real, first-hand sounds of human pain and frustration, tell me that our British winner has been revealed once again as a Scottish loser. And that the crumpled ten pound note I handed over earlier today will not be coming back to me with reinforcements. Bye bye Murray, try try again…

But the way I look at it is this. At least I didn’t put a tenner on Berdych beating Murray. So in a way, it’s honours even. I’ve lost nothing.

Apart from ten pounds, that is.

It’s gone the way of the fiver I had on England to beat Germany 1-0 and the fiver I had on the two sides being level after 90 minutes.

Although the way I look at it is that if the referee and his benighted linesman hadn’t found themselves calamitously unable to make the screamingly obvious judgement that Frank Lampard’s shot had bounced a yard over the line after hitting the crossbar, I may well have had my money.  2-2 at full-time. Then England going on to win 1-0. OK. Half my money.

It’s gone the way of the tenner I had on England to beat Slovenia 2-0. I was absolutely sure England would beat Slovenia 2-0. I could picture the scoreline: England 2, Slovenia 0. And England did indeed win. But they neglected to score the required second goal, even though they went close about four or five or six times…

Still. The way I look at it is this. It was a good bet. It had legs. It walked the walk, and it talked the talk, and respect was due to me for knowing the game, and reading it right.

But not right enough to save my money.

They say that money is the root of all evil. I don’t know about that. But I do believe that, when it comes to betting, success is the root of all failure.

My first ever proper bet, on a whim, formulated as I crossed the threshold of the bookies, was for Wimbledon (upwardly mobile Crazy Gang) to beat Liverpool (serial European champions) 1-0 in the 1988 FA Cup final, with Lawrie Sanchez (typically unlikely scoring hero in the manner of Sunderland’s Ian Porterfield, Ipswich’s fainting Roger Osbourne or Southampton’s Bobby Stokes) to score the only goal.

In the end, I had to settle for Wimbledon 1, Liverpool 0 with Sanchez scoring the first goal. Which was what happened. So - a lucrative punt.

And therein lay the stingalingaling. When I next had The Vibe, the unbeateable, unerring Vibe, it was for West Ham to beat Norwich in the League Cup semi-final. All the runes pointed towards another coup. West Ham lost by three goals, and it was not just their League Cup aspirations that were destroyed.

Fast forward to 2010. Oh my God, the years, the years. Anyway. 2010. England’s first World Cup group game. Only the United States. But group game, so historical precedent. England 0, Uruguay 0, 1966. Early joy unlikely.

Ten pounds on a 1-1 draw at 6-1. A sweetener to counterbalance poor Robert Green’s sickener.

Success. And the promise of more to come.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a betting man. In betting terms, I smoke Freeman’s. So I won’t be putting my house on anything or anybody.

But ten pounds might, just might, sneak themselves onto Berdych, just in case he turns into the new Federer.

And the Vibe is telling me something else. It’s telling me to put ten pounds on a Scotsman to win the 2012 Olympic tennis title.

As John Lydon once sang: "I could be wrong. I could be right…"

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

Kate Walsh: Our aim is a gold medal at London 2012

Duncan Mackay

Hi, my name’s Kate Walsh, and I'm the current England and Great Britain women’s hockey captain. I've been playing in the senior international team since 1999 and have more than 230 international caps. Here's a brief insight into our preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games and an introduction to the GB women’s hockey squad.

Although only two players remain from the squad that represented Great Britain in Sydney 2000, there are few differences between the present team and the team playing back then in terms of characters.

That's one of the things I love so much about playing hockey - the different personalities coming together and everyone pushing towards a common goal. For this team that common goal is a gold medal at the London Olympic Games. We know that winning any international tournament is no mean feat, and we're pushing ourselves harder and harder.

The squad members have all recently moved to live closer to our base at Bisham Abbey in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, so we can train full-time together. That's around 20 hours a week, covering hockey sessions, weights sessions, speed and conditioning. But it’s not all hard work and no play.
We socialise together far more now than ever before, mainly because we live so close by. Tuesday night is pub quiz night at our local in Marlow, and there are plenty of DVD nights and meals out to celebrate team birthdays. I've really enjoyed getting to know some of the girls away from the stresses and strains of the hockey pitch, and in the long run I reckon it'll make us a stronger unit.

Our pub quiz geniuses are Emily Maguire, our Scottish defender, and Becky Herbert, who is currently out with an injury. Their general knowledge is amazing. I know for a fact that they are entirely happy on websites questioning them on the capital cities of Europe. We encourage them. Being competitive we love winning at anything and everything, including pub quizzes.

Full-time training is extremely hard work but we love playing hockey so much. For us, it isn’t a sacrifice but a choice. A number of players in the squad still juggle work and hockey training. We currently have a few teachers, a doctor, a sports scientist, a recruiter and quite a number of students. Although it's really difficult for them to manage, they feel they need this balance in their lives. Can you imagine completing 20 hours of training on top of your job?

For sheer exertion, one of the most ferocious exercises I’ve ever experienced was definitely training with the Royal Marines at their  base in Lympstone, Devon. That, without doubt, was one of the hardest things I have ever done of my life. Perhaps one of the most valuable too, but I wasn’t thinking that at the time as we ran across a gorse moor holding a stretcher piled high with heavy logs and ammunition boxes, knowing we couldn’t put them down for even a moment if we didn’t want to fail the test. I think most of us just fell down  when it was over.

So, we're extremely busy women, and it’s about to get a whole lot busier. This year is an important year with the Champion’s Trophy on home soil in Nottingham; the World Cup in Rosario, Argentina, and the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. The Champion’s Trophy will see the best six nations in the world compete for that top spot.

England take on Argentina, Netherlands, Germany, China and New Zealand.

It’s going to be fantastic to be playing at home with a noisy, supportive crowd behind us; hopefully, it’ll give us that added edge.

From Nottingham we’ll have three weeks of final preparations before heading out to Rosario for the World Cup. If selected, this will be my third World Cup. It'll definitely be one to remember, as the huge fanatical crowds in Argentina will provide an inspirational backdrop for some excellent hockey. England will be looking to improve on our last two finishes of fifth and seventh.

Finally in October, England, Scotland and Wales will head out to Delhi to take part in the Commonwealth Games. The British players will have a rare opportunity to face each other on opposing teams.

We're all looking forward to some big challenges ahead of us this summer and have just sharpened our teeth with a four-match series against the Aussies. We drew three of the games 1-1 and lost one 4-0. Not bad against a team ranked two places above us in the world rankings. As you'd expect, the games were all hard fought and provided an excellent tester for the squad before going into the exciting summer ahead.

So, now we’re into the final week of training. That ends in selection, and then we’re ready for the challenges that await us in Nottingham at the Champion’s Trophy. Wish us luck!

Kate Walsh, the current of England and Britain, played in the 2000 and 2008 Olympics and won a silver medal in the 2002 Commonwealth Games

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Jim Cowan: Can we have a strategy please Minister, rather than just cross our fingers?

Duncan Mackay

It could only happen in the "say one thing, do another" world of politics. A politician announces a sound, new policy which will overturn a decade or more of poor policy and then, barely a month later does exactly what he said he was going to eradicate.  

In the Daily Telegraph last month, the new Sports and Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson announced an end to what he termed "initiative-itis" and this author applauded him for hit.   

And yet yesterday, only five weeks and three days later, Mr Robertson proudly announced the launch of a new, nationwide initiative which, the Minister tells us, "will provide a tangible sporting legacy from the London 2012 Games."  

As insidethegames reported:  "The new Olympic and Paralympic-style schools sports competition will create a new sports league structure for primary and secondary schools culminating in an inaugural national final to be held in the run up to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012.   

"The scheme will see schools compete against each other in leagues at a local level from 2011 with winning athletes and teams qualifying for up to 60 county finals.  

"The most talented young athletes will then be selected for the national finals while schools will also be encouraged to host in-house Olympic-style sports days so that children of all abilities have the opportunity to compete.   

"There will be a Paralympic element at every level of the competition for young people with disabilities while the ambition is for the competition to continue after 2012.  

"Robertson claimed that the competition is a key part of the Government’s plans to create a lasting sporting legacy from hosting the London 2012 Games and to maximise the sporting opportunities available to all. "

Robertson told insidethegames: "I think this is an incredibly exciting opportunity and I think it partly answers the question of, ‘What is the sporting legacy from London 2012?

"The legacy from 2012 is coming out of this because every single child going through the school system in England today has the opportunity to play competitive sport and they are inspired to do that by 2012.   

"That is the best possible use of the London Olympics."

The new initiative sounds great, it should excite, inspire and motivate generations to come and should place competitive sport back at the heart of school Games and PE.   

So why am I criticising it?   

I’m criticising it because it has the same flaws a decade of other well meaning initiatives have had. It stands in splendid isolation; it is not a part of any vertically integrated sports development planning. It is a standalone initiative, all be it a vast, ambitious one, which assumes that all of the many structures and systems needed to create the proper developmental pathway are in place.   

I’d like to ask Mr Robertson (pictured third right); Where is your strategy, the properly thought out, integrated strategy which fully services the sports development continuum of Foundation, Participation, Performance and Excellence?   

It isn’t in place. Mr Robertson, having criticised "initiative-itis", has now launched a huge initiative and crossed his fingers instead of planning.   

He has crossed his fingers that clubs covering every sport on the new events’ programme exist close enough to every participating school (that’s all of them) to service the demand created.   

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that where those clubs do exist, the coaching and non-school competition structure is in place to support the hoped for influx of eager young people.   

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that teachers are sufficiently well trained and versed in such a range of sports that the programme can be properly introduced to beginners in an appropriate way.

Or has he crossed his fingers and hoped that an imaginary army of coaches are standing by to support these teachers? Remember that primary school teachers receive very little formal PE training in any sport as part of their training, typically less than a month of their degree courses.   

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that at a time when budgets are being slashed in local authorities, the nation’s biggest sports facility providers, that there will be adequate facilities for this boom in new interest in sport remembering also that as a non-statutory requirement sport and leisure are likely to face significant local authority cuts. Perhaps making provision of and support for sports facilities and sports development gaining statutory status would be a sensible 2012 Legacy Minister?   

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that after cutting £7 million from County Sports Partnerships there will be sufficient local sports development expertise to support the growth in interest.   

He has crossed his fingers and hoped that the funding, the tutors, the courses will be in place for the training of the new coaches the new young sports men and women will require. That is assuming the local clubs have found the volunteers to train as coaches in the first place.   

Should I go on?   

Mr Robertson quite rightly told us that "initiative-itis" was a flawed way to develop sport. Initiatives can only work properly as planned, targeted elements of a properly devised, greater strategy for the development of sport. Initiative-itis is not the way forward.   

This new initiative will undoubtedly enthuse new generations to a lifetime of sporting participation and, where talent permits, the pursuit of sporting excellence. It may not sound like it, but I applaud it. 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. Do not offer all these young people a taste of the Promised Land only for them to discover the infrastructure to pursue it is not in place.   

Please Mr Robertson, can we see a genuine sports development strategy in place of this cross your fingers planning?   

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: Britain may be missing World Series of Boxing but plenty to look forward too

Duncan Mackay

Despite the decision by Britain’s amateur boxing authorities not to participate in the upcoming World Series of Boxing it is interesting that AIBA, the sport’s international governing body, has chosen London to announce the draft of boxers for their revolutionary tournament on Monday.

This least shows there is no ill feeling that London has elected not to have one of the European city franchises and that consequently no British boxers are involved.

As things have turned out - the downtown in the economy, the closer scrutiny of funding in the light of budget cuts and the need to concentrate on the build-up towards the Commonwealth Games, the new British Championships and the London Olympics in 2012 - Derek Mapp and the British Amateur Boxing Association are right to have exercised prudence.

While any selected boxers might have earned a good few bob for their appearance, the priority has to be focussing on these events, especially as the new head coach Rob McCracken is now getting results from his squad that hold out some hope of England equalling the eight-medal (five gold) haul from the last Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and the three medals (one gold, two bronze) from Beijing.

The decision to hold the event in London is odd, as it is unlikely to attract media attention in the middle if Wimbledon and with England deep in the grip of World Cup-itis. What can IMG, World Series’ high-profile PR backers, be thinking of?

Another interesting aspect of the launch is that one of the World Series stars to be paraded by AIBA is the Italian world amateur lightweight champion Dominica Valentino, who was beaten  by Liverpool’s Tommy Stalker in the recent European Championships in Moscow. This is a measure of the progress under McCracken.

GB’s European performance was the best for 53 years, landing three silver and two bronze. McCracken, who since his appointment earlier this year has turned things around at Britain’s elite boxing HQ at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, reckons: "With a bit more luck we’d have come out with more medals - perhaps with a gold. These boys are fantastic, they are showing real potential.

"We have a nice atmosphere in Sheffield, they work hard and they know what I ask them to do is for their own benefit. We have a good team in place although we need to build some more strength in the higher weights, but we are working on that. The boxers and the coaches all deserve a pat on the back."

McCracken singles out Stalker for beating the Valentino. "And Iain Weaver (pictured) was outstanding at featherweight. He is proving himself a top international boxer and will go from strength to strength. There is going to be real competition for places because the way we are strengthening up we will have two really good boxers in most weight divisions. Look at the example of Weaver and the former European champion Luke Campbell at featherweight, two solid international boxers."

The boxers themselves are also full of praise for McCracken: "Since he took over things have changed for the better," says flyweight silver medallist Khalid Yafai. "He’s so professional, so calm and experienced. He’s also turned us into real athletes."

Brummie McCracken, a former world pro middleweight title contender, says it has taken him some time to get used to the judging system in amateur boxing. "It’s all about scoring a single point and you get a lot of boxers simply keeping their gloves up and making to difficult for their opponents to score. And they don’t seem to recognise body punching. That’s very disappointing - especially in Khalid bout because I felt he won comfortably in all three rounds. But you have to work within the system, with what they are looking for and you hope things will change a bit before the Games.

"I think we learned from these Championships that we have strength in depth and real potential with the youngsters. Khalid’s younger brother Gamal was terrific. He’s just turned 18, had four bouts out there and was unlucky against the Russians in the semis. He really stepped up for one so young."

McCracken was brought in after a turbulent, non-productive spell following the departure of long-serving Olympic coach Terry Edwards. The team had failed to win a medal at last year’s World Championships but this year they have fistfuls from a number of high profile tournaments.

McCracken will be taking a full squad of 14 English boxers to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi and says it will be interesting to see how his men shape up against the Asians and Africans, particularly in the lighter weight divisions. "But the good news for us is that in many weight divisions, the European Championships are as tough as it gets. It was good to see how many of our boys were comfortable against the Russians and Germans."

GB will also be testing themselves against a Chinese team here in August and will be boxing against a Rest of the World team in the World Championship of Boxing Festival in Cardiff at the end of next month.  

"We are finalising the team at the moment and this may be a chance for some of the other boxers to show that they can do it as well," says McCracken, who also trains Britain’s former world super-middleweight champion, Carl Froch. They are waiting on a date and venue for his next bout, against Germany’s Arthur Abraham, in the Super Six series and hoping it will not clash with the Commonwealth Games in October.

Other boost for British amateur boxing came last week with the announcement that Lucozade are to become the sport’s official nutrion partners through to 2013 and and that the inaugural British Championships, in which the winners of the home ABA’s will participate, is to be televised by the BBC from the Liverpool Echo Arena on November 12 and 13.

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

Tom Clift: Being Olympic Host City is icing on the cake for Coventry

Duncan Mackay
Coventry and Warwickshire began our journey to London 2012 on the July 6, 2005 - a momentous day in the history of British Sport, as the eyes of the world watched and waited for Jacques Rogge to finally open that envelope in Singapore and say…London! Thankfully.

At the time, Coventry was the first UK City to be hosting the International Children’s Games (ICG), an International Olympic Committee (IOC) sanctioned event where children from around the world, aged 12-15 come together to promote peace and friendship through sport.

As a result of London’s success, in Coventry, key, like minded individuals from major local organisations recognised the potential inspiration of an Olympic and Paralympic Games on home soil, only 95 miles away and had the vision to embrace and engage in this once in a life time opportunity by creating the Coventry and Warwickshire 2012 Partnership, (CW2012) a unique combination of public, private and voluntary organisations, working together to maximise the opportunities from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Tasked with securing tangible benefits across the sporting, cultural, business, educational and pre-Games training camp opportunities created by London 2012, CW2012 brings together key organisations from across the city and county, including local authorities, our two universities, chamber of commerce, tourism destination agencies and Coventry Primary Care Trust, amongst a number of other key local sporting, educational and cultural partners.

The focus and engagement of CW 2012 activity has been widely praised. None more so with the recent announcement that Coventry, through the Ricoh Arena - or City of Coventry Stadium as it will be known in 2012 -  is now an Olympic Host City after being named as the new Midlands venue to host Olympic football matches in 2012. This huge honour for our City is an unbelievable achievement and encapsulates the past five years of the Partnerships tireless effort and engagement in London 2012, whilst also providing a massive opportunity for the surrounding West Midlands region and economy.

It also is a prime example of organisations working together to achieve a common goal, through a sense of shard purpose, vision and ambition. Many people will not realise that the Olympic football competition is the second largest football event outside of the World Cup. More than 500 athletes from 28 nations will compete in 58 games over 18 days across six UK venues - and we cannot wait!

For us, this is not a football tournament being staged in Coventry, this is Coventry playing its part in a UK wide festival of sport and culture and the biggest sporting event in the world! Not bad for the ninth largest City in England.

We understand the privilege and responsibility that goes with being a part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012 and through our CW 2012 Partnership, we will embrace the Olympic values and seize the opportunity to do everything we can to contribute to a making 2012 the best games ever.

From the 2005 ICG, the hosting of major sporting events is an area where Coventry has excelled due to the high quality of facilities, expertise in planning and deliverability of a wide range of sports. A legacy of the ICG, provided the skills, expertise and knowledge which led to Coventry being the first English city to host the UK School Games in 2007.

Since then other major sporting events such as the British Transplant Games in 2009, England under-21 Internationals, EDF Energy / Heineken Cup rugby, international netball and National League ice hockey and speedway all take place in the city and if being a 2012 Host City wasn’t enough, Coventry’s Ricoh Arena is also a venue for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, meaning that Coventry will host two out of the three largest sporting events in the world.

Our vision to inspire young people in Coventry and Warwickshire and to maximise the opportunities presented by London 2012 has delivered notable successes. Coventry and Warwickshire has 10 venues in the official London 2012 Training Camp Guide. We have been awarded a London 2012 Live Site, one of only 20 screens across the UK that will help make the Games come alive and bring together local communities across a wide and varied programme of sporting, artistic, educational and historical events to celebrate London 2012.

However, we feel our real distinguishing feature is the development of local projects which have been specifically tailored to reflect the Olympic and Paralympic values. These build upon Coventry and Warwickshire’s own heritage and innovation to provide everyone with their own London 2012 moment.

We have developed our own Festival of Sport: a London 2012 Inspire Mark project which reaches out to school children and gives them a taste of the Olympic and Paralympic experience. We have identified and celebrated the achievement of over 100 local Olympians and Paralympians, and we have used their experiences to inspire the next generation of young elite sportspeople who we support through a Team Coventry and Warwickshire programme.

We have sought to engage other independent organisations across Coventry in the Cultural Olympiad. The pinnacle of this engagement is Godiva Awakes

which is the West Midlands representative project for the national Artists Taking the Lead programme.

This emphasises the passion of many organisations within the city who wish to use London 2012 as a catalyst for activity and innovation.

We are fully engaged in supporting both regional and national 2012 initiatives, such as Get Set, Compete For and Open Weekend and the West Midlands Cultural programme through the projects of People Dancing and Community Games.

The year of 2012 is also of high importance to Coventry in relation to the 50th anniversary of the consecration of Coventry Cathedral after being severely bombed during World War Two. In support of the IOC's mission of promoting peace and reconciliation, the consecration is to be the focal point of activity to service this value and is to be honoured by a confirmed visit from Her Majesty the Queen in the summer of 2012.

The next two years will be challenging times, but through our Partnership and by remaining focused and true to our vision and objectives that we initially set out to achieve, we are committed to maximising the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games for the benefit of our local communities, leaving a memorable legacy that we can be proud of.

Tom Clift is the Coventry & Warwickshire Partnership Manager, 2012 Games at CSWP Ltd

Cathy Wood: Olympic recognition already benefitting women's boxing

Duncan Mackay
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from my first amateur boxing tournament at Alexandra Palace, Wood Green, North London on a late June weekend. 

Blood on the canvas absolutely; a bit of gore, possibly; knock outs, certainly.

As for the women participants I expected lots, mainly because interest in the sport has rocketed since the IOC's decision, last August, to make women's boxing a full medal sport in 2012.

Previously a demonstration event - at St Louis in 1904 - women's boxing was then removed from the Olympic agenda and hasn't been seen since.

Until now.

In the months that followed the IOC announcement the number of female boxers registered to fight in England rose 26 per cent to more than 850.

I can't say hundreds were on show at Ally Pally, for the last day of the 2010 Haringey PC Amateur Box Cup, but there were a fair number.

In fact of the 57 bouts making up the final day of the event, eight bouts were all women affairs.

Launched in 2008 the Box Cup is a festival of boxing, open to men and women of all standards, from novice to open class, from the UK and Europe. 

In 2008, 168 boxers took part making it the biggest open boxing tournament in the UK. This year numbers topped 400.

The event is the work, in no small part, of Gerry Willmott, a serving Met officer who founded Haringey Police Community Amateur Boxing Club a decade ago.

"It started as a diversion project to get kids off the street," he says. 

Now it's one of the most successful of all Police Community Boxing Clubs of Great Britain (PCCGB) with 30 boxers registered to fight and another 30 or 40 using the gym in Tottenham High Road to train.

Meanwhile Willmott and treasurer Ken Marsh (pictured), also a Met Officer, both received MBEs earlier this year in recognition of their work.

One of those to benefit from Willmott and Marsh's tireless efforts, is 23-year-old Hannah Beharry, who took to ring B - one of four rings set up in the Palace's Great Hall - for Bout 8 against Michelle Grizzie of Moss Side Fire Station.

Born in Acton, Beharry, a London 2012 hopeful, fights at flyweight (48-51kg), the lightest of the three Olympic weights.

The other two are lightweight (56- 60kg) and middleweight (69- 75kg).

Over four rounds of two minutes each, with one minute to recover, Beharry went toe to toe with Grizzie and, in some cases, punch to punch, before being announced, unanimously, the winner.

Across in the opposite ring - C - all eyes were on Ireland's Katie Taylor, also 23, a double world and triple European champion in the 60kg category, and already a serious gold medal contender for 2012, as she took on the impressive Ingrid Egner from Oslo, Norway.

Here the punches seemed harder, and more audible, as Taylor's right hand thudded into Egner's protective head gear and the Norwegian fought back.

It's a bit like watching a game of chess played out by two agile masters gliding with skill and speed as they dance around the central part of the ring.

Four rounds later the highly regarded Taylor gets the decision but it's closer than expected with a majority, rather than unanimous, verdict.

Taylor, who's father Peter, a former Ireland senior light heavyweight champion, coaches her  is a formidable athlete. Not only does she box, she's also played football for Ireland more than 40 times.

It'll be athletes like Taylor, and Beharry,  who help portray women's boxing in a new, more accessible light in the months, and years, to come. And for those wondering whether to take up the sport women, apparently, make great students.

"Girls are willing to learn a lot better than men," says Gerry Willmott.  "Most men think they are Sugar Ray Leonard when they start.  Women are much easier to teach."

With the closing bouts of this year's Box Cup still underway, I leave North London more enlightened about women's boxing as a sport, not a spectacle, than when I arrived.

There are, without doubt, those who are against it.  But seen first-hand, it's fast, athletic, entertaining and skilful.

And not a drop of blood anywhere in sight.

Cathy Wood was editor of the Daily Mail Ski Magazine before moving to become ski correspondent on the Daily Mail. She later became travel editor before going freelance. She represented Great Britain at elite level triathlon and writes on travel, skiing and sport.

Lucy Wickes: Funding cut is devastating but we will not give up

Duncan Mackay

It was devastating. I couldn’t have written this a few days ago. We, the Great Britain Women’s Volleyball Team, received the news that there isn’t enough money for us to stay together as a squad over winter, nor to compete in a full schedule of matches next summer. is week.

At 28 I felt like the whole meaning of my life had just been pulled out from under my feet and all the sacrifices made, career and personal life too - that I’ve made to follow my Olympic Volleyball dream all seemed to have been for nothing.

The bad news was delivered on Tuesday night. Despite our team ticking all the boxes to move to Slovenia and compete in the MEVZA (Middle European Volleyball Zonal Association) Inter-country league for the upcoming Winter season, we were told it is no longer an option because of a lack of money. And that wasn’t all.

There was even more bad news to come. The full time programme currently based in Sheffield is also over as of August 2010 and there isn’t enough money for a full competition schedule next summer, the  last summer before the Olympics.  This leaves are our planned preparations, put in place in order for usso we could to achieve our performance targets in 2012, in shatterstatters.

So, what now? We aren’t going to give up.

We are going to take control of our destiny and try to raise the funds we need ourselves. Our Olympic Dream will not end here. To keep our dream alive we will need to raise £500,000 through donations and sponsorship and we will need to do it quickly.

To sustain a high performing program, enable a summer of quality International volleyball, and the chance to compete as a team for the winter leading up to the Olympics, myself, my team mates and all our coaches are embarking on a 300 mile bike ride from Sheffield, the current home of British Volleyball, to Earls Court Arena, the Olympic Volleyball Venue. Cycle 250 has been born!!! I don’t think I have gone on a bike ride since I was 12, and due to a rather bony behind I am currently on the hunt for a comfy, heavily padded bike seat!!!

I am thankful I sat on the bad news for a few days allowing it to sink in and to get some perspective. Reviewing our summer so far I am feeling much more upbeat. We have consistently shown that we can compete with some of the best teams in the world.  The progress we have made in the last year is huge and the belief we have in each other and the team to overcome this challenge is immense.

Our team isn’t gifted with great height, I don’t think I have ever seen a 6fin 5in British girl. However,, the Eastern European teams seem to be able to find at least six of them! What we do have over these teams though is the ability to utsmart them and use our speed and variation to fox them. We are starting to show how this works - but to develop this style is complex and takes time. Playing together year round is the way forward to embed this.

This summer we have come across some of the best volleyball players in the world, as well as some of the tallest, and time after time we have shown that we can mix it with them. The results may not be there just yet but we have never been closer. Going 30-32 against Japan, ranked fifth in the world is no accident and it is the style of play the Japanese utilise that we are aspiring towards. Results are important, we know that and we desperately want them, it just takes time and I am confident the results will come.

We have now made a name for ourselves in the world of volleyball but we are still relatively unknown in our own country. We are consistently being praised by our opponents and we have already being been given a place in 2012 by the FIVB who because they believe us to be of awe are good enough to compete. It’s competitive standard, it is just a shame that our own Country country can’t see the benefits of financially supporting a team sport who which would go a long way to creating the legacy UK Sport and the Government keep going on about.

We are exactly where we want to be in performance terms with two years to go to the Olympics and we are on track to achieve our goal of finishing in the top eight in the Olympics. Once you get to the quarter finals anything can happen with the support of a home crowd. All we want is to be the best we can be.

I now find myself in the middle of a busy summer of International Volleyball making frantic calls to my agent to see if he can find me a decent contract abroad for the upcoming season. In an ideal world I would like to go away with some of my team mates so I can continue working on the style of offence we want to run. Being the setter for our team, and therefore the “playmaker”, means that this is important for me and the team.

Not all is lost. If most of us can get get placed in decent clubs in Europe we will all have the opportunity to play matches throughout the winter and we will come back better and more experienced as individuals. It will then be a case of pulling it all together as a team. I just hope we have found the finances by that point to ensure we have something to come back to.

If all goes well I will be packing my life into a bag come August, moving out of my flat in Sheffield and trying to make a home for myself somewhere for the next 8 months. Hopefully a base will be found for next summer as the prospect of coming home to nothing is a bit daunting as well as trying to find somewhere to live for the remaining 4 months of the year. It may be a case of “Mum and Dad I’m moving back home!!!!” which for me, at 28, is a step backwards.

Lucy Wicks is the captain of Britain's volleyball team

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David Owen: I have seen South Africa's Olympic city

Duncan Mackay

I think I have just visited Africa's first Olympic city.

No, not Johannesburg, South Africa's economic hub.

Or Cape Town, perhaps the only big city in the world that could claim to be as scenic as Rio de Janeiro, the 2016 Olympic Games host.

The place I am thinking of is Durban, another South African coastal city, on the Indian Ocean on the country's east coast.

Yes, this piece is partly triggered by a visit to the city's jaw-dropping new Moses Mabhida Stadium, where I watched the much-vaunted Spanish football team succumb to Switzerland in a recent World Cup tie.

It must be one of the most beautiful sports venues in the world, with its 105-metre high Wembley-esque arch, along which a funicular can carry customers to a viewing platform at the top of the arch.

But it wasn't the aesthetic splendour itself that got me thinking, "This city wants the Olympics".

It was more that a signature feature of that extravagance seems a little over the top for the sake of a few football games - even if one of them is a World Cup semi-final.

Then you start to notice other little details: such as that there is room in the arena for an athletics track around where the football pitch is now.

At 60-some thousand, it is true that the stadium as currently configured is not big enough to serve as the main stadium of a summer Olympics.

But when I looked it up, I read that its design "allows the stadium seating to be reduced to 54,000 for local matches or upscaled to 80,000 for events such as the Olympic Games".

The location seems perfect for an Olympic Stadium too.

I say this for two reasons:

It has been sited in what has become a veritable sports hub near the centre of Durban, incorporating another large football/rugby-type stadium and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

According to Robbie Naidoo, a local businessman I consulted, there is also a cycling track, though it would need upgrading for an Olympics, and - who knows? - maybe other facilities too.

The stadium is also located adjacent to a pedestrianised zone that allows you to walk along the ocean front, past a humming casino/restaurant development, from numerous hotels to your seat in the stand.

"You have hit the nail on the head," Naidoo said when I started to expound my Olympic thesis to him.

Durban has been "like an international secret," he added.

There is more: I arrived in the city at a brand new airport. This too should prove a big asset: according to Naidoo, who is General Manager - South Africa for Jet Airways and hence in a good position to know, the old airport had runways too short to accommodate the biggest planes when fully laden.

I suspect Durban's biggest Olympic asset may prove not to be made of concrete or bricks and mortar, but flesh and bone.

Durban-born Sam Ramsamy (pictured), an International Olympic Committee member since 1995, quite simply knows more about the Olympic Movement than any other South African.

I haven't yet had the opportunity to discuss it with him in detail, but I would think the quality of the planning behind this first-rate sports hub has quite a lot to do with him.

I would be surprised, moreover, if Ramsamy was not the guiding light behind the decision to try to bring the 2011 IOC Session to Durban.

This is quite simply a masterstroke, ensuring that all IOC members and their spouses will be exposed to the city - and hence be able to draw on personal experience should they ever be required to assess its suitability as an Olympic host.

The host of the 2020 Olympics should normally be chosen only two years after that Session in 2013.

I actually think the competition might prove too hot for an African candidate city to win on that occasion.

In any case, with all these new stadiums around the place, I imagine that Durban would face a fight even to be adopted as the South African contender.

By 2024, however, the Olympic Movement ought to be ready for an African Olympic Games. That may be Durban's big chance.

Sam Ramsamy will be 86.

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

Jonty Clarke: England hockey team making progress but no-one is complacent

Duncan Mackay

Welcome to the England Hockey men’s team blog. I’m Jonty Clarke and have been playing senior international hockey since 2003. I’m a forward and one of two accountants in the team, but don’t let that put you off!

Currently, we’re between tournaments. The World Cup was in India in March, where we finished fourth and beat Australia along the way. In good old English tradition, however, we lost our semi-final to Germany. Having started the tournament very strongly, we were extremely disappointed to come away without a medal.

We’re training hard right now, aiming to peak for the Commonwealth Games in October, but also with one eye on the Champions Trophy in July. This tournament is held for the top six teams in the world; our finish at the World Cup secured our qualification for the tournament, which will be held in Mönchengladbach, Germany.

Some of us aren’t training hard at all, actually. Key defender Richard Mantell, for example, broke his ankle during the World Cup match against Pakistan, so he’s out. His brother Simon, however, who missed the whole of the World Cup, has now recovered from a broken metatarsal and has resumed training.

Barry Middleton - the captain - and Ashley Jackson - the World Young Player of the Year for 2009 - are finishing their club season in Holland, where they play professionally. Their club HGC, from the Hague, has made it into the play-off final against last season’s European champions, Bloemendaal. Both play key roles for their team, with Ashley finishing as the top scorer, in what is widely regarded as the strongest league in the world. We certainly look forward to their return to the England squad.

Aside from that, there are a number of people nursing other injuries, largely as a result of the heavy running sessions that we’re going through right now. Some players seem to make it through all the tough times, however, like our very own "iron man" Ali Wilson and goalkeeper James Fair. It is very rare to see those guys sitting on the sidelines.

It’s a stressful time for some of the younger guys in the squad, such as Ali Brogden and Richard Smith, who have exams at university. Nick Caitlin, for example, the youngest member of the team from the World Cup, is studying history at Nottingham University. He thinks life is tough at the moment, but I remind him that he isn’t doing too badly compared to those of us who are working full time as well as fitting in all the training.

Nottingham is home to Ali Wilson, Adam Dixon and George Pinner, who all play for Beeston Hockey Club, which is playing host to the Women’s Champions Trophy and a men’s four nations invitational tournament in July. These guys hope to be fit and healthy and to be selected for that invitational tournament. Playing in front of your home crowd always adds something special to the experience of playing for your country.

Before we get to Nottingham, we’re travelling to Holland for two friendly games against the Dutch. There’ll be a number of players hoping to get a chance to prove their point in those games and to get selected for the rest of the summer. Some of those guys hoping to get a chance to impress will be Richard Springham of Reading HC and Simon Egerton of Bowden HC. Both have been around the squad for a couple for years now and have had to be very patient in waiting for their chances.

Whether or not they get that chance is down to head coach Jason Lee. Jason has been coaching both GB and England since taking over a few months before the 2004 Athens Olympics. Following those games, there were wholesale changes in the player group, and Jason has been instrumental in taking us from 11th to sixth in the world rankings and to the Eurohockey Nations Championship gold medal in 2009.

Jason has quite a unique manner with the players and has changed considerably over the years. At first he was quite the dictator -until he instilled in us the habits that he sees as essential for playing at the topmost level. Now he allows us much more freedom on and off the pitch. He trusts that the squad has been together long enough and has enough experience to know what is acceptable and what is going to work and what isn’t. Obviously, he retains control and isn’t averse to pointing out in no uncertain terms when things are going wrong. Generally, however, he’s a pretty laid-back head coach these days.

As an accountant, I work for BDO, who have supported me through the last five years of my hockey career. Many in the squad have understanding employers, without whom committing to training would be a real problem.

Iain Mackay is a trainee accountant; Glenn Kirkham, Dan Fox, James Fair and Matt Daly are teachers; Nick Brother works in the city; Ben Hawes manages a Dutch clothing label in the UK; George Pinner works for a well-known chocolate brand based in Birmingham; and James Tindall is an electrician. Rob Moore has been known to do a bit of modelling in his time but generally is part of a group - including Ali Wilson, Adam Dixon and Simon Mantell - who seem to get by doing not a lot aside from the odd bit of coaching here and there.

Clearly, there is a broad mix of backgrounds and interests within the squad, but we have a fantastic team spirit. There’s a shared dry sense of humour among the group, and you won’t have to wait too long to hear a healthy dose of sarcasm and probably a few quotes from The Office. It’s either that, or everyone laughing at the latest antics of Richard "Ratman" Alexander, who always seems to relish in being the centre of attention when it comes to mucking around.

Forward Jonty Clarke represented Britain at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and has been capped 28 times by GB

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