Mike Rowbottom: Aden has the task of helping Qatar's athletes match its country's big ambitions

Duncan Mackay
Soon, Jama Aden’s family, currently in Sheffield, will join him in Doha, where he is engaged in the job he took over last year of coaching Qatar’s middle distance runners.

He is looking forward to that. But before the family reunion another important event is looming for this Somali-born Olympian, who in 2008 was voted the International Association of Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) middle distance coach of the year after guiding Sudanese athletes Abubaker Kaki and Ismail Ahmed Ismail to the world indoor 800 metres title and Olympic 800m silver medal respectively.

Doha will host the IAAF’s World Indoor Championships next weekend, and Aden will have a new group of athletes to guide and prompt in the spectacularly well-appointed environ of the Aspire Dome.

I was in Doha for the week which ended with the Championship’s Test Event on February 26 and saw how the finishing touches were being made to a sporting venue that even capacious indoor arenas such as the one in Birmingham appear cramped in comparison.

The Dome forms an embodiment of Qatar’s sporting ambitions, and will surely impress those ambitions upon all who attend next weekend’s event. Beyond the athletics arena lies a swimming pool, a gym, accommodation for the venue’s many sporting students and a full-sized artificial football pitch with seating for 5,000.

It falls to Aden to match this level of aspiration with results on the track, and while some of his more experienced athletes were otherwise engaged with competition in Tehran he was trackside in at the Dome to watch more junior talents play their part in a Test Event that involved competitors from nations including Qatar, Bahrain, Syria, Iraq and Sudan.

The day before this small-scale competition got underway, Aden had addressed an audience of international journalists on the topic of how to help create a champion.

The tightening of rules around change of nationality - in the wake of the controversy stirred by the "adoption" of a number of established African runners by nations in the Arab region - has now shifted the emphasis towards recruitment of young talent for countries such as Qatar. And Aden, whose own life was changed through athletics when he left his native Somalia to take up a sporting scholarship at a Canadian college when he was 17, is a widely admired judge of promising new runners.

Aden, whose ability to communicate with a wide range of athletes is complemented by his command of three languages, believes it is possible to spot a potential athlete just by watching the way the walk down the street. There is something about the fluidity and balance of movement in such individuals that announces itself in even the most mundane of circumstances - if you have the eye to see it.

One of Aden’s other convictions is that coaches should not impose themselves too heavily upon their athlete’s ambitions.

He recalled a conversation he had with Kaki (pictured), who became the youngest World Indoor 800m champion when he won gold in Valencia in 2008 at the age of 18.

"I asked him, 'What is your goal?'," Aden said. "He just said: ‘You are the coach. You tell me.’ But I said, ‘No, you tell me, what is your goal?’

"It is no good starting to run and then saying you want to win the Olympic title - the goal has to be realistic. But you have to decide it yourself. It is no good the coach telling you, because if he tells you, it can freeze you up. And you fail to reach the goal, it is a problem between you."

Taking the subject of his talk very literally, one of the assembled scribes asked Aden why he thought Ismail Ahmed Ismail had failed to win gold in Beijing, where he was beaten to the line by Kenya’s Wilfred Bungei.

Aden responded by pointing out that when athletes get to an Olympic Games or a World Championship, even very small variations in their normal routine can make the difference between them running at their best or just shy of their best.

"Maybe it can be such a small thing as discovering that there is a great place available to eat burgers and fries," he said with a smile. "Even a little detail like that can alter how an athlete performs."

At one point there was a possibility that Aden’s talents might be employed to benefit UK middle distance runners. That possibility was effectively superseded by the offer to coach in a country which was prepared to pay handsomely to ensure it secured its targeted talent.

For Aden, who was used to conducting training sessions in Sudan in the most basic of venues, with athletes, for instance, having to use heavy stones for weight training and in many cases relying on just one pair of shoes throughout a season, the facilities which his new employers in this oil-rich nation provide must seem the stuff of dreams.

If he can utilise his knowledge of human strengths and weaknesses within this dazzling technological environment, Qatar’s sporting ambitions on the track are likely to be realised sooner rather than later.

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.

Karim Bashir: Red mittens - that is what London 2012 needs to be successful

Duncan Mackay

I have just got back from Vancouver and the captivating 2010 Winter Olympics. Such was the affect it had on me I’ve promised myself I will do my best to attend all future Olympics - Summer and Winter. Good job I won't have to travel far to attend the next one!

If - like me before my trip to Canada - you have not experienced the Games first hand, they’re not kidding when they say, "It’s the greatest show on earth". Sure, the Canadian public were critical of hosting the event but this all changed in the few weeks building up to it. 

A gloomy start to the event with the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and some organisational and meteorological glitches could have spelled disaster. However the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and VANOC ensured that the show went on and went on in style.

It took a couple of days before the home team took their first ever Gold medal in a home Games - thanks to Alexandre Bilodeau in the men’s moguls - but the streets of Vancouver and Whistler were already bursting with excitement. The red mittens, which only a few months ago were regarded as a bit of a gimmick, were worn by seemingly everyone in British Columbia. For $10 (£6.50), half of which went to help support Canada's athletes, bought you a pair which are surely going to be cherished for years to come. 

The Olympic Superstore ran out of adult sizes weeks before the first competitors arrived. In total, an amazing more than three million were sold and even Jacques Rogge (pictured), the IOC President, wore them.

Something so simple yet so publicly engaging. They brought the whole of Canada together and lit the touch paper for tremendous sales in other Olympic merchandise with locals and visitors queuing for hours at the official store - the Hudson Bay Company - just to get some Team Canada apparel.

So there was no shortage of Olympic spirit in BC and Vancouver became an amazing party town day and night. The streets were teeming. 

The bars were full from 10am until late into the following morning. Blue coated volunteers greeted every stranger with a warm smile and able assistance. The Games would not have run so smoothly without them. 

The organisers had a stroke of genius with their "live sites" dotted all over downtown Vancouver. It was simply impossible to miss any of the coverage which was delivered brilliantly by CTV. 

The other thing that struck me was this Olympics captivated people of all ages like no other event I have attended or indeed viewed from the comfort of my living room. This alone created a special atmosphere.

What’s more every nation was represented and catered for so effectively that Vancouver became a home away from home for visitors. Koreans, Finns, Slovakians, Russians, Brits all wore their flags with pride and were welcomed with open arms by their hosts. In short, Canada impressed the world.

It’s hard to say whether the incredible atmosphere pushed the athletes of the host nation to a record gold medal haul or their success added to the daily excitement. My gut feeling is that both had an affect on each other. Nonetheless, for me, these two elements were the major ingredients in making the 2010 Winter Olympics the success that it was. And not just for Canada; for the watching and visiting world. The memories will live long.

So it’s all eyes on London now. Yes, there’s the small matter of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, which is sure to create interest as it always does but then the world’s sporting attention will truly turn to us. What a responsibility. What a challenge. What an honour!

I wouldn’t suggest that the task of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games is a simple one but we can make it a lot easier if we can create those two key elements; sporting success and captivating the imagination of the nation. Financial and practical support of our athletes and sports is critical to achieving a good medal haul and we will continue to look to the National Lottery and UK Sport and corporate sponsors to provide this. Now all we have to do is find our own version of Vancouver's "red mittens".

If we can do that, as well as the sports facilities, the legacy from London will be an emotional one.

Karim Bashir is a former British international fencer who is the founder and managing director of Catch Sport, an online sponsorship brokering service which is free to use for athletes from all sports. For more details click here.

Louisa Gummer: The Twitter Olympics has changed the Games forever

Duncan Mackay

Vancouver was touted as the "Twitter Olympics" before it had even started. 

Olympians would have almost unlimited access to the internet - compared to the Summer Olympians’ limited experiences in Beijing - and that, combined with the increasing adoption of social networking platforms in the last two years and the advancing level of sophistication of mobile phones made it look as if this could be the first Olympics to be reported on by the Olympians themselves in real time. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued guidelines for athletes to follow when using social networking to report about their experiences at the Winter Olympics, and while these caused some confusion at first, they did not seem to detrimentally affect the sheer amount of news snippets, trivia, commentary and photos that flowed out of the two Winter Olympics Villages. 

We at insidethegames had been following potential Olympians on Twitter for a number of months in the build-up to Vancouver 2010, watching them relate their experiences as they attempted to qualify for the Games, and we revised our list to cover as many competing Olympians as we could find from all over the World.  

Anyone who subscribed to our truly multi-national Twitter list could see what was being said by almost 300 Olympians as they tweeted in English, French, Italian, Dutch, German, Norwegian, Finnish and many other languages using no more than 140 characters at a time.

It wasn’t just the Olympians that were commenting on the Games of course, the whole world was watching and talking about it, and for the first time you could see what the topics of conversation were and contribute instantly. The tone was set on the eve of the Games by the tragic death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, news of which swept over Twitter before it had been confirmed by any major news channel. 

The speed of Twitter, and the ability to search what is being said, meant that links to the footage of the crash (prior to it being pulled from YouTube and other sites apparently due to IOC rights violations) were everywhere if that was what you wanted to see, although there were also many, many messages from Tweeters warning "don’t watch". 

Twitter also has a trending topics feature, where the top ten words currently being most used in messages (aka tweets) are listed, and whilst many major news broadcasters were still coming to terms with how to handle the story the words "luge", "Georgia/Georgian" and "Nodar Kumaritashvili" were trending worldwide, showing the level of public interest and sadness in the story. 

The immediate nature of the internet meant that insidethegames had real-time feedback from the readers of our website about our level of coverage of the tragedy, from plaudits congratulating us on our depth and speed of reporting, as we amended our story with breaking news as it happened, to concerns from some readers about the photographs chosen to accompany our and other reports of the incident.  This culminated in our publication of a thought provoking article by Steven Downes on the overall news coverage of the accident which again invoked some strong views (click here to read).

Of course, Twitter isn’t the only social network out there. The official Vancouver 2012 website integrated with Facebook to give people the opportunity to interact with other sports fans by commenting on events as they happened. In my personal experience this was a limited success as the conversations I watched seemed to do one of two things. 

Either they quickly descended to a slanging match between at least one American and one Canadian over whose country was better/who would win the most medals/who would win the ice hockey, or else the message stream seemed to be over-run with posters (again mainly from the US) asking where they could watch the coverage live, as NBC appeared to not be showing it. 

Indeed there were many frustrated US residents who had to curtail their social networking activity when they realised that they were in great danger of knowing the results of big races before they could watch them, and West Coast residents in the same time zone as Vancouver found it particularly difficult to understand NBC’s reluctance to show any events live, not even through streaming them on their website. 

It’s no surprise that the phrase #NBCfail was also trending on Twitter regularly during Vancouver 2010. I was just delighted that the Facebook experiment on the official website had an off button - one thing I have learned during these Games is that you can have too much social networking interaction!

For me, experiencing the Olympics through the actual thoughts of Olympians has been the most enlightening and enjoyable part of these "Twitter Olympics". 

They have allowed us to follow their Olympic experiences through their words and photographs, recording their anticipation while travelling to Vancouver, their participation in the opening ceremony (together with many, many photos), the atmosphere in the Villages and the excitement when Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived for breakfast with the US athletes (cue more photos).

We had views of their accommodation, news on how their training was going, their nerves in the build up to their events, their delight at just being involved, their sheer pleasure when a team-mate competed well, their awe at the most memorable performances from disciplines different to their own, and their own feelings after their competitions had finished: how they dealt with what they perceived as success or failure. 

Now the Games are closed we get to share in their return home, and we are seeing the photos of large crowds that have come out to greet medallists in countries as distant as the Netherlands and South Korea. We can share with the Olympians as they plan their next competition or maybe their imminent retirement, and how they deal with what one tweeting athlete referred to today as "Post Olympics Depression".

From fevered discussions about who might light the flame at the Opening Ceremony, through general amazement at snowboard cross and ski cross - both terms trended on Twitter showing just how successfully these new sports engaged the public’s interest - to terms such as "tomahawk" being used in general conversations - these Games have been the most accessible to the viewing public ever. 

The established broadcasting and news media now has two years to understand how best to compete with the real-time, first-person experience that social networks have shown they can give, and how to embrace that competition, so that London 2012 is truly the most inclusive Olympic Games yet.

Louisa Gummer is the social networking manager of insidethegames

Mike Moran: Tagliabue Commission will allow American athletes to chase their dreams again

Duncan Mackay

The release last week of the USOC‘s Independent Advisory Committee on Governance (The Tagliabue Commission), delivered a cogent moment for me and others long connected to the Olympic Movement, and a familiar refrain at the same time.

How striking it is that it would be two notable professional sports figures who would, almost two decades apart, craft a report that would alter the direction and mission of the organisation.

First, George Steinbrenner in 1989 with his Olympic Overview Commission report that propelled the USOC into a restructure of the way it would provide direct financial funding to American athletes, downsize an awkward Board of Directors, and set the stage for sustained excellence by our athletes that has led to striking Olympic success since 1996.

Now this report from former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his colleagues with a document that deals in simplicity and directness with the now seeming "lost generation" of incidents, issues and crises that was marked by incredible management and leadership turnover, lost sense of purpose and mission, and the staggering loss of international prestige and power for the USOC which led to the quick elimination of two of our greatest cities, New York and Chicago, in bids for the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.

The aggressive recommendations by the Tagliabue Commission to the USOC Board of Directors arrives at the time in history when American Olympic athletes are more triumphant than at any point in Games’ history and when the USOC has finally found both a chairman and a chief executive that like each other and who have the potential to change the face of the organisation domestically and internationally.
As I watched Larry Probst and Scott Blackmun move easily among more than 250 guests at a reception the other night hosted by the El Pomar Foundation and the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation at the Broadmoor’s Carriage Museum and heard them speak, I was moved by a feeling of optimism and positive feelings about the future of the USOC for the first time in more than a decade.

Their comments at the podium highlighted a commitment to both the international issues and the compelling problems for the organisation in its hometown of Colorado Springs, and both hit the right tone in addressing them. Their critical relationship is among the most important recommendations of the Tagliabue report, which clearly defines their respective roles and asks for accountability.
It defines Probst’s role as the central figure in the International mission as well as suggesting a term extension that would allow him to become familiar to the IOC and the resulting view of stability at the USOC in the top position. It strongly deals with Blackmun’s role as chief executive, suggesting that he have a free hand to carry out the mission without the nagging interference and politics of past Boards, and gives him as well as role in the international effort alongside Probst.

And it says that Blackmun should be the USOC’s principal spokesman and responsible for all internal and external communications. It suggests a modest expansion of the Board of four spots which would offer input and involvement of the NGBs, Paralympics and athletes and brings Blackmun fully into Board meetings as an ex-officio member and no longer kicked out of the room when the Board goes into "executive session", a scenario that had produced some of the most onerous moments in USOC history over the years, including the dysfunctional decisions to execute several chief executives and executive directors while they were in the lobby or the washroom down the hall.

It demands accountability, transparency and even a suggestion that the USOC study and perhaps amend or revise its core mission. The report notes the difficult environment that the USOC operates within domestically, facing competition for support and profile of the professional sports leagues and NCAA sport, without any federal financial help, but nonetheless with a mix of mission, stories and inspiration for millions to build on.

Another significant suggestion relates to the Board itself, challenging the men and women to become fully educated and involved in the mission of the USOC, the athletes and NGBs, and demands their unselfish commitment and the end of political and personal agendas that have dogged the organization for three decades. None of this and whatever portions of the report are adopted by the USOC will take place tomorrow.

It is a blueprint for the future, something that will offer Probst (pictured), Blackmun and the Board a chance to create a golden decade of success and triumph ahead, one marked by renewed vigor, passion, commitment and purpose. The USOC was tossed into the churning waters of amateur sport in 1978 by the Amateur Sports Act and told to lead.
A handful of executives made their way to Colorado Springs to take on the mandate and change the way our athletes prepare and how their dreams could be realised.

In the three decades since, the  USOC has enjoyed the heady rewards of staggering growth, image and power, only to almost lose it all amidst struggles internally created by egos, agendas, insensitivity to mission, and a lack of understanding of why it was created in the first place. The organisation that had the backs of athletes like Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig, Bonnie Blair, Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Mary T. Meagher, Eric Heiden, Teresa Edwards, Mary Lou Retton, Joan Benoit and scores of others lost its way. B

But now, I think, it has found itself again, and Olympic and Paralympic athletes, young kids, coaches and officials have every reason to dream big again and of the kind of commitment and support so unique in a family of men and women and organisations that represent the best of America in every way, one that inspires and challenges our nation to be better every day, and to chase a dream, no matter how improbable it might seem.

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.

Mike Moran: US success in Vancouver is down to the USOC whatever others think

Duncan Mackay
A critical column this week in one of our leading sports magazines praised American athletes for their astonishing performance in Vancouver, despite being "deserted" by the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) for the last two years.

The theory is that the turmoil at the USOC at the top, its ouster of popular Olympian Jim Scheer as CEO last year, and continued turnover in management dating back a decade could have distracted this record-setting team from their goals - but it didn’t.

As an involved witness to the ongoing past problems at the USOC, I have a fairly good vantage point on the issue. The truth is less tantalising.

The US Olympic Team in Vancouver, with 36 medals already assured, has tied Germany for the most medals won by any nation in Winter Games history - at Salt Lake City in 2002 - and could break that mark today, as well as topping the medals chart for the first time since 1932.

While the USOC was experiencing its problems, its systems for support of American athletes, and the stable, strong leadership of the National Governing Bodies (NGBs) remained aggressive, consistent, and solidly dependable. What this team is accomplishing in Vancouver is no accident, nor the result of some sort of Survivor  response by hundreds of athletes.

Many Americans don’t hear of, or know much about the NGBs or the USOC. But America’s system of identifying, nurturing and training its athletes is much different than those of the two nations right behind our athletes in the medal race, Germany and Canada.

The USOC relies on the financial support of sponsors, donors and the American public, along with its share of US television rights fees (started in 1986 to protect the USOC’s domestic fund-raising efforts) and IOC worldwide sponsors, many of them U.S. corporations. Germany’s system is funded by its national Government, and Canada has put millions of Government dollars into its Own The Podium program leading to these Games.

The USOC has historically been a magnet for criticism for over three decades related to its leaders, an easy target for some media because its management has changed at a head-spinning rate, self-inflicted controversies, and it does not enjoy the expensive Teflon coating of our professional associations with their Madison Avenue image resources.

It has evolved from an almost Mom and Pop organisation that resided at 57 Park Avenue in New York for decades, with a staff of a half dozen, raising the funds to send our athletes to the Games by selling lapel bins and belt buckles, to its enlarged presence on the American sports landscape and Colorado Springs headquarters, training centers, a staff of over 300, millions of dollars in corporate support, scrutinised and protected by Congress, and an uneasy relationship with the IOC.

The NGBs have grown from operations that, when I joined the USOC in 1978, included some run out of the garages and homes of their leaders to effective, talented and imaginative associations with strong and capable leaders and systems for developing athletes and a pipeline to sustain performance.

They each receive USOC funding and support, but they have separate business and management, find their own, non-Olympic sponsors, stage their own events, raise needed funds, send their athletes to national and international events other than the Olympic and Pan American Games, and face the same obstacles and challenges that the USOC does every day.

All you have to do is take a look at some of the chief executives of the NGBs to understand why their athletes are standing on the medal platforms in Vancouver, and why their partnership with a now revitalised, strong USOC and its new chief executive, Scott Blackmun, will keep America at the top.

USA Hockey’s Dave Ogrean is a former  ESPN executive, USOC director of broadcasting, assistant executive director for the College Football Association, and executive director of USA Football in Washington. Ogrean has skillfully managed a partnership with the NHL and a strong youth programme which is attracting girls and boys to the sport.

US Skiing’s Bill Marolt was an Olympic skier, Team USA coach at the Sarajevo Games in 1984, and the University of Colorado’s athletic director during its glory years in football and 1990 national title. He has developed an incredible fund-raising base and opened one of the world’s most amazing facilities for his skiers in Park City last year.

US Figure Skating’s David Raith comes from a background that includes a rich involvement as an executive with USA Track & Field, CNN and Turner Broadcasting, including the management of the popular Goodwill Games designed by Ted Turner.

USA Luge chief executive Ron Rossi has devoted more than three decades to his sport and its development.

What is taking place in Vancouver is a marvellous tribute to the unique American system for getting our athletes the chance to realise their dreams.

From the astonishing success of our skiers, through the compelling skating of Apolo Ohno (pictured), Steve Holcomb’s USA bobsled winning, the passion of our women’s ice hockey team and its disappointment.

The dreams realised by Billy Demong and Johnny Spillane  in a sport few Americans knew about until now.

The inspiring triumph of Evan Lysacek, and to today's titanic hockey showdown with Canada.

These athletes and the scores of others on the Olympic team have not been abandoned by the USOC or the NGBs over any period of time.

The headlines about the USOC, the lost Olympic bids by New York and Chicago, the turnover in executives, downsizing of its Board and even now another commission studying its blueprint and leadership, have not cost the most important people, our athletes, their chance to succeed.

There are too many passionate, selfless and dedicated men and women among the staffs at the USOC and the National Governing Bodies to have allowed that to happen. Now we have Scott Blackmun sitting in the big chair at the USOC, with the support and strong endorsement of the NGBs, and the USOC Board.

I avoid thinking that it’s just another start, and here we go again. What I do see now is the healthy, positive beginning of a new era in American Olympic history, one that might rival the USOC’s Golden Years of growth, prominence and effectiveness from 1984 to 1998, and a partnership of immense potential between the USOC and the NGBs, with the best yet to come.

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.

Alan Hubbard: Exclusively reveals why Amir Khan's highly-rated younger brother is set to snub Britain and fight for Pakistan at London 2012

Duncan Mackay

Following the decision by the World Boxing Association light-welterweight champion Amir Khan to decamp to the United States as  the new Golden Boy, British boxing is set to lose his younger brother, Haroon who, after being omitted from the GB squads being groomed for the London Olympics, is now in negotiations to box for Pakistan in 2012.

The 18-year-old Haroon, an outstanding amateur bantamweight who has captained Young England, was tipped by Amir to emulate him and win an Olympic medal, but if he does it seems it will be in the colours of country where their father Shah was born.

After being overlooked for both the 21-strong GB podium and 11-man development squads named recently by performance director Rob McCracken, I understand both Haroon, who like Amir was born and brought up in Bolton and dad Shah have been in Karachi this week to have discussions with the Pakistan amateur boxing authorities about the possibility of him boxing for Pakistan in 2012.It is an offer that is unlikely to be refused.

This was the route Amir himself had threatened to take when it seemed he was not going to be picked by the Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) here for the 2004 Athens Olympics because he was considered too young. The ABA policy was not to select anyone under-19 for senior bouts but this was rapidly changed when the intentions of Amir and his family became known.

The Khans are upset that Haroon, who has won the majority of his 70-odd bouts as well as several junior titles, has not been picked for either squad and it seems he believes his only path to the Olympics is to box for Pakistan. Alternatively he could turn professional and work alongside Amir in Freddie Roach's Los Angeles gymnasium, where he spent some time with his older brother last year.

However perhaps he should not be too hasty because the new British Amateur Boxing Association say Haroon and other hopefuls remain on their radar. The problem is that his current 54kg weight there is considerable strength in depth, with the talented Andrew Selby, who recently won a gold medal at the prestigious Bocskai tournament in Hungary, a something of a mini-world championships, with an emphatic 13-4 victory over Russian, Vislan Dalkhayev in the final, plus Leigh Wood and Gamal Yafai, younger brother of Olympian Khalid.

It was expected that Haron, aka Harry, whose shorts are emblazoned "Baby Khan" would move up to featherweight but there he would be in contention with others including Luke Campbell, the current European amateur bantamweight champion, who is also moving into the division.

Says McCracken: "I am very happy with the squad we have but this is not a closed shop and if someone performs well in competition and shows they have the ability and dedication to make the grade they can force their way in."

Whether Haroon (pictured) is prepared to hang around and see if a place opens up is debatable. Both he, his father, along with club trainer Mick Jelley, have expressed unhappiness at some of the decisions which went against him  as a schoolboy boxer which they alleged were influenced by animosity towards Amir over he decision to turn pro after winning the silver medal in the Athens Olympics.

My guess is that he will opt to box for Pakistan, providing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirm his eligibility, which should not be a problem as he has never fought at senior international level for Team GB.

Welshman Selby’s gold medal was the highlight of a strong showing by Great Britain with five of the six-strong team reaching the semi-finals in the  a tournament which featured 176 boxers from 17 countries. Among them was the fast improving Tom Stalker, who had a an outstanding 12-8 victory over the current European champion Lenoid Kostaliev of Russia and Beijing Olympian Bradley Saunders who, in  his first appearance since injuring a hand in the build-up to last year’s World Championships ,eventually lost 6-2 to the current world champion Roniel Iglesias.

Since his appointment as performance director, McCracken seems to have got things moving smoothly at the GB headquarters at Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport. World Boxing Council super-middleweight champion Carl Froch whom he trains professionally, has been working there with him and the squad members in preparation for his next  Super Six series fight against  Mikkel Kessler in Denmark on April 24.

Froch says: “I sense a lot of talent and enthusiasm among these kids. They seem to look up to me and I hope it helps them having a seasoned pro like me around them. As amateurs they do a lot of fast, short work and I’m chasing them round the running track. It is like chasing a pack of gazelles as they are all keen to outdo me.

"I hope me being with them is good for their game - it certainly is for mine."

Like the nation, British amateur boxing went into recession since hitting the heights in Beijing but it is good to see the sport now punching its way out of it. But how ironic if "Baby" Khan, one of our best young prospects, ends up fighting Pakistan’s corner in London. 

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.

Steve Grainger: We need to increase the number of youngsters progressing from school sport

Duncan Mackay
Anyone involved in sport knows it has the power to unite, inspire, motivate and challenge people like nothing else.

Last weekend I went to the cinema to see the new film "Invictus"– this is a great example of the power of sport as it portrays the true story of how Nelson Mandela, as President of South Africa, used the 1995 Rugby World Cup to unite the country in the wake of apartheid.

1995 was the year that also saw the Youth Sport Trust established with a mission to improve the lives of young people through PE and sport. Over the last 15 years we have made significant progress and begun a serious attempt to create a world-leading PE and sport system.

Our journey began with the creation of our TOP programmes - simple easy to use resources and equipment, backed up with training to support primary teachers in the delivery of quality PE. In 1996 we were delighted to be asked by the Government to support the first 11 specialist sports colleges. These schools, of which there are now 501, have gone on to be pioneers in how PE and sport can be used to raise achievement and aspiration across the curriculum.

Building on the early success of specialist sports colleges we went on to create, in September 2000, the first 33 School Sport Partnerships - families of schools working together to create more opportunities for young people to access sport. By September 2006, after unprecedented Government investment in PE and school sport, every maintained school in England was in one of 450 School Sport Partnerships.

This system has been responsible for a transformation in opportunities for young people to participate, perform and lead/volunteer in sport.

The national network of Partnership Development Managers, School Sport Co-ordinators and Primary Link Teachers have now been joined by a national network of Further Education Sport Co-ordinators, one in each FE college, and a team of 225 Competition Managers. Together with the Directors of Specialism in sports colleges this new infrastructure of people, which didn’t exist when Sydney staged the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics, look forward with eager anticipation to the events that await us in London 2012.

As we move closer to London 2012 there is little doubt that the profile of sport will move to an all time high. With a growing understanding of how sport can make a major contribution across all agendas – including in education, public health and community cohesion, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to seize the moment and create a lasting legacy.

We know that when PE and sport is good the gains for young people and for our society at large are significant - improved health, more confident young people, improved academic performance and better behaviour. London 2012 gives us a fantastic opportunity to turbo charge the great work that has already been initiated and through this to create irreversible change in our sporting system - the Youth Sport Trust is ready to lead this charge.

Whilst we will invest time and resource in London 2012 related activity over the next two and a half years our real focus will be levering the system change beyond 2012 – ensuring that sport is embedded in our schools for ever and that there are enough coaches, clubs and competitive opportunities to cater for the demands of the millions of young people who will be inspired to take up sport as a result of London 2012.

We remain committed to working in partnership and will seek to strengthen our relationships with local and central Government, national governing bodies of sport, corporate organisations and, of course, sustain and grow our links with sports colleges and School Sport Partnerships. 

Our vision for the future of PE and school sport is based a number of key building blocks. These include making sure there is greater investment in initial teacher training to enable primary school teachers to teach high-quality PE.

Schools also need to think creatively about how they structure, stage and present competitions, so that they do not exclusively serve the most talented young people while leaving others on the sidelines.

And there is a real need to develop junior sports clubs on school sites to increase the number of young people progressing from school to club sport.

We have come such a long way in the last 15 years and have a solid base from which to build.

As the organisation responsible for supporting the rapidly expanding school sport movement, the Youth Sport Trust’s commitment to building a brighter future for young people through sport is as strong as it was in 1995.

To borrow the words of Mr Mandela: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand."

Steve Grainger is the chief executive of the Youth Sport Trust

Kim Cheston: Vancouver has given me an appetite for London 2012

Duncan Mackay

As the official communications services partner of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, BT is dedicated to maximising its Games-time experience. To facilitate this the company has sent several representatives to Canada to learn as much as possible from the official communications services partner for the Vancouver 2010 Games - Bell Canada. I am one of the lucky people that were selected to work for Bell on secondment from BT.

During my secondment, I have been based at the Main Press Centre (MPC) working as an Assistant Venue Telecoms Manager. In this role I am responsible for managing a team of communications technicians through the deployment and management of all communications and networking services throughout the Games.  

Communication services are absolutely critical to the media and therefore the on-site Communications Team plays a critical role in the smooth operation of the Venue.

I arrived at the MPC in early January and my first impressions were of the large size of the venue. During the installation phase, the team were walking in excess of 15,000 steps per day. On my first day, whilst being shown the layout of the venue, I was walked through a completely empty room. 

Only five days later I went back into that room and was very impressed to see that they had turned that empty room into a fully kitted out McDonalds restaurant. I even went into the back of it and all the fryers, food prep, cash tills, and everything else was fully operational and ready to go.

Teams were working 24/7 and within a short time of my arrival, the venue went from being a construction site to being fully operational press centre, with the look and feel of the Vancouver Games. 

The Games are absolutely everywhere in Vancouver and the general public are really getting into the spirit of hosting this event. 

There are free shows, art installations, and entertainment all over the city and it’s all contributing to an amazing atmosphere. The Games are really changing the face of the city and I am sure Vancouver will benefit from this event for decades to come. The only surprise for me is the weather; I didn’t expect to see daffodils coming up in Vancouver city centre!

Outside of work I have been fortunate enough to attend several Olympic Games events - the dress rehearsal for the Opening Ceremony, a preliminary men’s hockey game, and the launch party for the Bell Ice Cube. The Opening Ceremony rehearsal was particularly impressive, and throughout the show I found myself thinking of London and wondering what we would be doing for Opening Ceremony when it comes to our turn.

So now the Games have begun and in return for all of the hard work, tiring days, missed meals, and time spent away from friends and family, the Bell Team at the MPC are now in the privileged position that we are well prepared. Days are spent doing site checks, talking to customers, attending venue meetings, resolving very occasional trouble tickets, and watching Olympic events on television.

Trust me: we deserve the downtime after the installation phase. Being part of the team here is a massive commitment, involving lots of hard work and sacrifice, but is extremely rewarding in lots of ways.   

Now my fellow BT secondees and I are looking forward to London 2012. I look forward to BT’s chance to part of the most famous sporting event in the world.

Bring on 2012!

Kim Cheston works for BT, a Tier One sponsor of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. To find out more click here.

Mihir Bose: The IOC could teach FIFA a lot about how to run an organisation

Duncan Mackay

The child outstripping the father in any sphere of life is always news.

Olympic Games always bring up this comparison for, after all, it was the success of the 1924 Olympic football tournament that prompted the French to organise a football World Cup for professional players.

We have come a long way from that but the Winter Olympics provide a useful point of comparison.

Ever since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) introduced a two year gap between Summer and Winter Games, the Winter Olympics have, in effect, provided a curtain raiser for the World Cup. And, as you would expect from a starter, it is nothing like the main course that follows.

If you find this hard to accept, name me a memory from Nagano 1998 that matches, let alone surpasses, the brilliance that was the World Cup in France a few months later, more so as the story had the ending everyone wanted: the creators of the World Cup finally winning their first ever trophy. Or Salt Lake 2002 being more vivid than Korea-Japan 2002, let alone an image from Turin.

This was a Winter Games that left hardly a trace and was no match for the World Cup in Germany a few months later. That tournament not only created sporting memories, even if the Zidane head butt in the final is one we could have done without, but taught the Germans how to combine a love of football with a display of nationalism - exuberant and expansive but not threatening to other nations.

How interesting that in the Vancouver Games the Canadians are trying to use sport to generate nationalism and, as of now, are struggling to do so. Perhaps, when they devised their now much lampooned "Own The Podium" campaign, they should have consulted Franz Beckenbauer and got some tips on how to combine sport and nationalism. For all the images Vancouver has provided, I am sure that, when in little over four months from now many of us hacks reassemble in South Africa for the first World Cup in that continent, the images both on and off the field will be more vivid.

Whatever happens, and regardless of the outcome on the field, there is one prediction I can make with some certainty. There will be many a day when the winter in South Africa will prove a whole lot colder than the amazingly balmy weather we have been enjoying in Vancouver these past few days.

Football can also claim that, for all the figures produced by the Olympic authorities of the millions watching the Games on television, the World Cup as a single sporting phenomenon reigns supreme. Nothing comes close to the world becoming a global village via television than on the night of a World Cup final.

However, the contrast between the Olympics and football does not always show the world’s favourite sport in the best possible light.

It is a truism to say that organising an Olympics, even a Winter one, is on a scale that no World Cup has to cope with. In that sense the Olympics are not so much about sports but about organisation: transport, hotels, movement of people from one venue to another mostly in one city or, as with these Winter Games, over a couple of locations. A football World Cup’s organisational needs are much more limited.

This need for a finely honed organisation may explain one crucial difference between the Olympics and the World Cup. Over the years, the Olympics Movement has built up a structure and leadership which is far superior to anything seen in world, let alone regional, football.

But what about the dreadful corruption crisis of a decade ago when it seemed that the Olympic Movement might not survive and led to several members being expelled?

Yes, that was a dark night for the Olympics. But the IOC worked hard to unearth unpalatable facts and, not only restore its image but in the process become a much more transparent and accessible organisation, streets ahead of FIFA in that respect.

And, what is more, the IOC worked out its leadership succession in a way that FIFA just cannot manage. A failure which has caused, and continues to cause, much division in world football.

It is interesting that for long periods both organisations were ruled by similar monarchs. Joao Havelange may have usurped the FIFA throne six years before Juan Antonio Samaranch (pictured) but in many ways they are from the same mould.

Both made identical, and game changing decisions, to hitch their organisations to Mammon.

Both were, and remain, hugely controversial figures, worshipped by their acolytes but also generating much adverse publicity.

Yet Samaranch, after surviving the corruption scare, managed to ensure that his chosen successor Jacques Rogge took over. True, immediately after the election the gifted, but mercurial, Dick Pound threw his toys out of the pram and another contestant Un Yong Kim was jailed in his native South Korea. However Rogge, after a few uncertain steps in his early days, has proved a more than worthy successor to Samaranch. Also it seems the succession to Rogge is clear.

If the way Thomas Bach won re-election as vice-president is any guide then it seems that, come 2013 and Rogge's departure, Bach will have a much better right to own the IOC podium than the Canadians will have after these Games.

Like Samaranch, Havelange also anointed a successor in Sepp Blatter but, while Blatter remains in charge, his reign has been very different to that of Rogge. He had to fight a turbulent election in 1998 to defeat Lennart Johannson whose stated mission was to dismantle what Havelange had built.

Even after 1998 Blatter always seemed to be fighting bush fires to retain his Presidency, most notably in 2002 when the Europeans allied themselves with Africa in a vain attempt to unseat him.

He may face yet another challenge next year with former allies like Mohammed Bin Hammam, once so loyal he left a sick child to join his campaign, making hostile noises. Even former friends like Michel Platini are not as close or loyal to Blatter as they once were. What is more under Blatter there seems to be a purge of FIFA officials every few years if not months, sudden and wholesale changes with little or no explanation for such upheavals.

All this emphasises that FIFA is a more intensely political place than the IOC, something of a sporting United Nations General Assembly full of characters of varying abilities, some of whom have turned out to be very shady, with little or no policing of their activities from the centre.

True, the IOC, as befits a club, is self electing: existing members vote to accept or reject new ones. FIFA, for all its many deficiencies, has elections and what is more its regional elections are based on geographical confederations which can often be very unpredictable. Samaranch may have gone but most of the IOC members are from his era and still see him as their mentor. Some in FIFA do see Havelange as their guru but there are many who do not and the organisation is full of factions pursing their own agendas and creating a shifting mosaic of alliances.

Yet all of this still does not explain the difference in the calibre of the people running the two bodies. The people running the IOC, right from Rogge downwards, are in general men and women of merit and substance. If organisational merit were an Olympic sport then there is no question that the IOC would win and win so easily that the final score-line would be intensely embarrassing for FIFA.

But am I not ignoring the problems Vancouver has had? Yes, but those problems reflect the weaknesses of the local organising committee not so much the IOC. The football child may have out grown its parent since 1924, but this is one area where the Olympic parent still has a lot it can teach football. The problem is that the football child shows no great desire to listen.

Mihir Bose is one of the world's most astute observers on politics in sport and, particularly, football. He formerly wrote for The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph and until recently was the BBC's head sports editor.

Alan Hubbard: On why he is pleased the Panathlon is bouncing back

Duncan Mackay
Ever heard of the Panathlon? No, not the pentathlon. The Greeks had a word for it – they usually did for most things. It means a group of sporting disciplines.

The Panathlon was the brainchild of the late sports publicist Mark Barker, which featured 10 activities specially adapted for schools. These included chess and orienteering as well as more orthodox pursuits like athletics, badminton, cycling, darts and five- a-side football.

It was believed to be the first such project of its kind in the world, a sort of mini-Olympics for 250,000 kids  - both able-bodied and disabled - in inner-city areas, and highly successful it was too for a decade, from 1995-2005 until it ran out of sponsorship.

A plea for help from the Government was kicked into touch by the then Sports Minister, Richard Caborn, despite an earlier public promise to try and save it, in a game of political football which saw some £6 million prioritised for the introduction of the UK School Games.

The Government and their various sports quangos declined to fund the Panathlon, despite its obvious worthiness, perhaps because it would have distracted from the UK School Games when actually it would have complimented them at a relatively insignificant at cost. This despite a motion signed by numerous MPs of all parties, tabled by the shadow sports minister, Hugh Robertson, and supported by former Labour sports minister Kate Hoey and Lib Dem sports spokesman Don Foster.

Teachers and pupils sent a 5,000-strong petition to the PM, to no avail, no doubt because the UK School Games was perceived as his baby.

The original Panathlon Challenge had been born out of concern for the alarming decline in competitive sport in schools nationwide. The schools were picked because of their lack of sports facilities or a comprehensive sports programme. 

Ashley Iceton, a former Sports Council development officer who helped Barker devise it, believed the event added a vigorous, positive voice to the contentious debate about school sport. "We specifically targeting inner -city schools and kids from deprived areas where sport is not always high on the curriculum," he says. "The idea was to recreate what has been largely lost in school sport - competition and inter-school rivalry. We set out the fixtures, provide the equipment and the officials and all the pupils and staff had to do was turn up."

Alas, the Panathlon Challenge as such went to the wall. Then entire venture seemed a basket case. Panathlon  RIP. But the good news is that thanks to Iceton’s perseverance and hard work and the commercial endeavours of chairman John Hymers, it managed to struggle on with its disability aspect, thanks to a couple of charities, providing opportunities in sport for disabled youngsters, for which it has won a Sportsmatch Award.

The even better news was that it was eventually thrown a lifeline - by football. Funding of £240,000 from the Football Foundation meant that disabled kids in London could be given more sporting opportunities. Even playing an innovative new sport called Powerchair Football, in which the ball is pushed by a bumper fitted across the front of the wheelchair. And now there is more to cheer.

The old-style Panathlon was always backed by Kate Hoey and in her new capacity as London’s sports commissioner she has persuaded Mayor Boris Johnson (pictured) to chip in some £83,000 from his Sports Legacy Plan which will go towards helping disabled athletes, some of them severely so, aged between eight and 18 to compete in the sports of boccia, new age kurling, polybat, football, table cricket and athletics, culminating in an All London final in June.

Iceton says of the Bojo bonus: "Then aim is not to unearth future Paralympians but to get physical activity into kids who otherwise would get no competition."

I have always championed the Panathlon - falling out with Caborn, who suggested the schools should fund it themselves, in the process - because of the tremendous enthusiasm shown by those who participate in times when the grass roots are not always greener.

I thought the Government’s steamroller tactics quite disgraceful, and the one blot on Caborn’s otherwise impressive record tenure as Sports Minister.

So to see it bounce back in this way is truly heartening, and its achievements should not be overlooked in times when we are satiated by big-time sport , its big money and its scandals.

Some of the things the Panathlon has delivered since September include:

 Over 150 teachers and community coaches trained in disability sport

 35,000 worth of new disability sports equipment provided

 £25,000 worth of coaching grants

 25 new special schools involved for the first time – with around 250 new competitors

 Six multi-sports events delivered involving 20 London boroughs and over 500 competitors.

Should there a change of Government the hope is that the Panathlon, which has the endorsement of great Paralympians such as Tanni Grey-Thompson and Danny Crates, could be incorporated in the proposed Tory plans - backed by Dame Kelly Holmes for a new-look "Schools Olympics."

Meantime there should be more encouragement for the Panathlon and Iceton- to keep up the good work. He tells us: “With the mayor’s investment this year, we have doubled the amount of coaching and competitions that around 1,250 disabled young people will be getting. Outside London we are operating this year in Kent, Essex, Liverpool and Plymouth - all for a budget around £250,000.

"I've had enquiries from Yorkshire, Humberside and Cheshire in the last month but we have no charity funds to cope with this demand. However, we could do so much more if we had some more investment - I'm still hoping that a kind hearted commercial partner with an eye on getting some good publicity (like a bank?), may see the benefit in the run up to 2012."

Fingers crossed. Because the continuing survival of the Panathlon is a victory for sport’s Little People over bloody-minded bureaucracy.

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.

David Owen: IOC should do something to make Winter Olympics more accessible

Duncan Mackay

Take a quick look down this list. These are the 30 countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD, the rich nations’ club, based in a château in Paris’s swanky 16th arrondissement.

Now take a look at the medals table from Vancouver (an event under the aegis of a body based in a château in well-to-do Lausanne).

What do you notice? An awful lot of overlap, isn’t there?

If I can translate this similarity into numbers, as I write this after completion of 44 events - ie about halfway through the 2010 Games - athletes from a total of 26 countries have won medals; of these, 16 nations can boast gold medallists.

Of those 26 medalling nations, 18 – close to 70 percent – are OECD members; as are all but two of the 16 with a gold medallist in their population.

It is actually oversimplistic to typecast the OECD as a ‘rich nations’ club’.

As its website makes clear, the body “brings together the governments of countries committed to democracy and the market economy”.

This rules out China and most of the oil-rich Middle East, while the countries of the former Soviet Union have only really been able to aspire to membership in recent times.

Other than those, the vast majority of the wealthiest traditional-style industrialised economies are in there.

In fact, the OECD three years ago agreed to invite five countries, including Estonia, Russia and Slovenia, to open discussions for membership, while offering something called “enhanced engagement” to China.

Factor those into our little calculation and we account for 22 of the 26 Winter Games medal-winning nations, including all 16 of those with one or more 2010 Olympic champions.

What is my point here? To illustrate the extent to which the Winter Olympics – far more than the Summer Games - is the preserve of the privileged few.

Vast expanses of the globe – South America, Africa, India and southern Asia – are so far off the pace as to be, to all intents and purposes, excluded.

And no I don’t think you can put it down simply to a lack of snow and ice.

Last time I checked, athletes from Nepal, or for that matter Chile (the newly-minted 31st  OECD member) have yet to become regular recipients of Winter Olympic medals.

Yet shortage of snow should not be an issue for them. 

You can also argue that elite-level winter sports are the preserve of the relatively well-off even within some of the lucky few countries who can aspire realistically to Olympic silverware.

Take my own country of Great Britain.

A recent conversation with Oliver Jones, formerly chairman of Snowsport GB, the skiing and snowboarding governing body now in administration, revealed that aspiring skiing champions have historically had to pay a portion of their costs.

According to Jones, so-called ‘development squad skiers’ - those on the first rung of the ladder that can take talented youngsters to the Olympic podium - have historically been asked to pay about £10,000 a season towards their overall costs.

It is only a small part of the total - and it is a figure that generally comes down the higher up the rankings they climb - but it strikes me that it must seem an awful lot to a kid from a housing estate.

Says Jones: "Skiing is unfortunately a relatively elitist sport - it isn’t accessible to all.

"And given the pressure on corporate sponsorship and public-sector contributions, it is only going to get worse in the next few years.

"From cheap flights to construction of new winter sports facilities in the UK, huge strides have been taken to allow more and more people to get involved in recreational skiing.

"However, anyone wanting to become a ski racer needs to recognise that, on the journey to the World Cup and the Olympics, they will probably need to fund themselves more than ever before."

Does any of this matter very much, other than to budding British skiers?

Well, if it ever wants to develop the Winter Games into a truly inclusive global event on the scale of the Summer Olympics or football’s World Cup, then it ought to matter to the International Olympic Committee.

For now, what we have in Vancouver is essentially the prosperous at play.

• Would golf have got into the Olympics if Tiger Woods had pranged his car a few months earlier?

My guess is no; its passage onto the list of sports to be played at the 2016 Games was less clear-cut than rugby’s, in spite of a video message to IOC members from its then untarnished star.

If they have done nothing else, Woods’s recent travails have underlined the risks run by any enterprise whose fortunes are tied to the fate of one individual.

The received wisdom is that his sport needs Woods back on the fairway as soon as possible.

I think a better scenario for golf’s long-term health would be if he sat out the season, giving others an opportunity to clamber out of his shadow, and THEN came back to mount his assault on Nicklaus’s record.

David Owen is a specialist sports journalist who worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering last year's Beijing Olympics. An archive of Owen’s material may be found by Twitter users at www.twitter.com/dodo938

Sebastian Coe: Vancouver 2010 can teach London 2012 plenty

Duncan Mackay

We are halfway through the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games and what a fascinating few days we have had. I'm here in Vancouver with around 50 of our London 2012 team, and it's an important learning opportunity for us.

When the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games end next month, London 2012 is the next host city, and, as we say in London, the next taxi off the rank.

So, we are here to look and learn, and soak up every last piece of knowledge to help us with our planning - and the golden rule of staging an Olympic and Paralympic Games is that you can never plan too much.

I'm constantly being asked what lessons we've learned already. The simple answer is that it's too soon to take everything in and analyse it all. We'll do that in earnest when we get home and download with the team.

But my initial observations are that VANOC has done a great job in delivering a Games for the people.

Wherever you look in this beautiful city, Canadians are full of excitement and pride, and are joining in.

The venues are full to bursting with knowledgeable sports fans keen to cheer on not just the Canadians, but all the Winter Olympians.

The Live Sites around the City are fantastic - buzzing with noise and full of fun. Members of my team are talking about the success of the Live Sites are how they are engaging with the public and are natural fan zones for sports lovers.

The volunteers are brilliant. I've met tens of volunteers, from the moment of arrival at the airport, to the amazing day I ran with the torch, to the people who help us find our way to meetings and venues. They are helpful, friendly and full of good old Canadian hospitality. They are doing Vancouver and Canada proud.

So, lots for us to learn, and lots more still to see and do in this great city. Thanks for the welcome, and have a great Games.

Sebastian Coe is the chairman of London 2012

Michael Butcher: Norway's 100th gold medal leaves them laughing at Sweden

Duncan Mackay

It was not looking good for Norway after three days of competition in Vancouver. Not a single gold and their star cross country skier Petter Northug had suffered humiliation in the 15 kilometresm, crossing the line 41st, less than a minute ahead of Britain's Andrew Musgrave. The whole country was beginning to wonder whether this was going to be their worst Olympics ever and the much-vaunted 100th gold would remain a dream.

The headlines reflected the Scandinavian angst, forecasting yet more black days as the first week wore on, but along came Marit Bjørgen to lift the curse with sprint gold and the nation breathed a sigh of relief. Just one away from the 100th gold.

With two biathletes in action on Thursday there was a strong likelihood that the ton would be reached and the viewing figures from that evening back home reflected the anticipation.

When Tora Berger lifted gold in the women's 15km, 1.3 millions Norwegians were glued to their television, cracking open the brennevin. That represents about 30 per cent of the population, the equivalent in Britain of 20 million viewers.

Broadsheet daily Aftenposten cemented the euphoria by plastering a full-page splash of Berger (pictured) across the front cover, pushing the international news to an insignificant side-bar. But then, like the proverbial London bus, no sooner had the 100th gold been placed around Berger's neck than Emil Helge Svendsen claimed the 101st in the men's 20km. And that was when all hell broke loose. In an attempt to be up-to-date, news editor Ole Erik Almlid ditched the Berger pic for one of Svendsen.

Norwegian culture is proud of its sexual equality and the substitution of a woman lifting historic gold - the first Norwegian woman in history to lift a biathlon olympic title - to be replaced by a male taking an anticlimactic 101 was more than the populace could bear.   The country is famous for its storms, but the maelstrom of protest on Facebook, Twitter, abusive telephone calls and mailbox messages was unprecedented.

"The biathletes got it right, we got it wrong," sounded the apology from Almlid. "I prostrate myself," continued the breast beating that would have done Tiger Woods proud. "We simply showed poor judgment."

In the country of snow, ice, mountains and glaciers, the winter Games have a special significance. Norway often looks with envy on the rest of the world, suffering from an inferiority complex and a fear that it is not where the action is. This is why the Winter Olympics is so important, because for once every four years Norway can compete on its own terms with the rest of the world.

What was making the whole country nervous this time was that neighboring Sweden, was doing so well. Gold from Charlotte Kalla in the 10km cross country and Bjørn Ferry in 12.5km biathlon pursuit had the Norwegians looking with envy across the border at the “søta bror” or “dear brother” as the Swedes are sarcastically known. The press even suggested they should celebrate Swedish success since they had none of their own to cheer.

Over in the tabloid Verdens Gang (VG) they were busy getting their own back on the Swedes after Berger had defended the country's "honour and glory". One of the pre-race favourites, Sweden's Helene Jonsson, was "completely broken and had tears streaming down her face and was utterly inconsolable" gloated VG's man in the mixed zone. The postmortem over Northug's spectacular failure in the 15km also features a Swede, Perry Olsson, who is still eating humble pie even though he is also credited with Bjørgen's two golds.

After languishing out of sight in the lower reaches of the medals table in the early part of the week, Norway is now back in its rightful place pushing for top spot with a total of ten, five of them gold. Now they can look forward to the rest of the Games and look down their noses at Sweden in a lowly 11th. But whatever they may go on to win, there will be no feeling as sweet as that 100th gold, 86 years and 19 days after Thorleif Haug took the first.

Michael Butcher is a freelance sports journalist who has lived and worked in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Spain and Iran. He was sports correspondent for The European and has contributed to all the major British newspapers. He has attended every summer Olympics and athletics world championships since 1988

Mike Moran: Criticism of Vancouver organisation will soon be forgotten

Duncan Mackay

Here we go into the always predictable Bermuda Triangle Of Olympic media coverage.

It usually starts about this time, maybe a bit later, but here it is again. We’re about six days into Vancouver, and there’s a modest segment of the 5,500 journalists, bloggers, web pundits and TV personalities doubling as writers on the side who are carving up the Games' organisers about the glitches and moguls that they are encountering.

I’ve read the small cadre of the usual rippers, laptop narcissists and enjoyable humorists this week as they battle Olympic boredom and lack of the usual amenities with their coverage, and yet, I’ve seen this script a whole lot over 14 Games in my career in person.

It’s not necessary here to recap the problems, we have read and heard about it daily across scores of forums, but they are the same issues that plague every Olympic Games I have been part of - weather, transportation, bad ice, timing, equipment malfunctions, even an Olympic cauldron surrounded by a chain-link fence that keeps the public away, but nothing in my career could ever compare with beginning the Games with the unspeakable tragedy, the death of an athlete.

I don’t know how you recover from that if you are the organisers or the IOC, no matter the statements, the moments of tribute, nor the genuine, heartfelt display of sorrow.

British journalists, ever ready to pounce on misfortune, have suggested that these Games are "the worst ever," one moaned. “It is hard to believe that anything will surpass the organisational chaos and naked commercial greed of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta or the financial disaster of the 1976 Games, which bankrupted Montreal, yet with every passing day the sense of drift and nervousness about the Vancouver Games grows ever more noticeable," they wrote.

Organising committee spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade, who probably would like to take a mulligan on one statement made to the media, told the assembled scribes that "It’s a little bit like lost luggage, it’s not whether or not your luggage gets lost, it’s how you deal with it.."

For the sake of full disclosure, I was no stranger to making awkward statements as the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) spokesman at 13 Games, including one in Nagano following the departure of our NHL hockey players after trashing their rooms, throwing furniture over the balcony railing and burning some clothing.

Trapped in a hallway outside my office, I was asked if the incident was "embarrassing" to the UOSC. Always quick to respond by nature, I said: "Of course it’s not embarrassing to the USOC, we’re not babysitters here for American professional athletes."

Not so good as it turned into a savage sound bite and quote, and I caught hell for that for a week. After all, these athletes had not only embarrassed the USOC, but a nation.

The IOC has had its share of issues already, with its demand that our men’s ice hockey goaltender Ryan Miller remove a sticker on the back of helmet that read "Miller Time" since it could be viewed as a popular slogan for an American beer, not a reference to his own last name. Then, backup goalie Jonathan Quick was forced to remove his helmet sticker that read "Support Our Troops" which as you might imagine, was a hot button on numerous cable news shows and radio talk shows.

In Salt Lake City in 2002, we came up with an idea, along with our athletes, to honor the memory of those who died in the horrific tragedy in New York on 9/11 by having our delegation carry in the tattered World Trade Center flag during the parade of nations in the Opening Ceremony. We even flew in two of the New York Port Authority policemen and a firefighter with the revered flag and a role in the event. But, when the IOC learned of our plan, they informed us that we could not, under any circumstance, carry out the plan, because it was a "political statement" forbidden by IOC rules.

This made its way quickly into the vortex of the New York radio talk shows and tabloid world, and within hours at a midnight meeting with our leaders, the IOC reversed itself and invited us to indeed bring in the flag as part of the march of nations. The IOC had misjudged the emotions of a nation, and when that flag made its way to the base of the poles that would carry the flags of the IOC, the host United States, and one other, where President Bush, the IOC President Jacques Rogge and Games chief Mitt Romney stood and waited, it was one of the most emotional and inspiring moments in our history.

But back to my original point, there is always a point in the Games where there is a lull in the action at the venues, where some small segment of the media turns its gaze to the glitches and problems, and for awhile, it dominates the reporting and the mood of coverage on a worldwide basis, such is the case now.

This happened in my first Games in 1980 at Lake Placid early in the event, when transportation was an issue (some 5,000 fans were stranded atop Whiteface Mountain one late afternoon when buses failed to show up on time and the temperatures dropping). For almost a week, Lake Placid press chief Ed Lewi and his wife drove reporters back and forth to venues in their own cars when media transportation fizzled. And all this after a lack of snow right before the Games resulted in the first use of artificial snow in Games history.

And you know what? These issues were soon forgotten in the wake of the US ice hockey team’s improbable "Miracle On Ice" and Eric Heiden’s stunning triumphs in all five men’s speed skating events.

The truth in Vancouver is that these Games can be magnificent. The genuine warmth and generosity of the citizens of Canada and the thousands of volunteers is compelling, the city is a gorgeous marvel of seafront and mountains, the athlete performances are riveting, NBC’s ratings are superb, the athletes love the Olympic Village and there is a very comfortable security presence and a lot of just plain courtesy.

It is impossible to stage an event of the magnitude of the Olympic Games in any city on earth without glitches. There is no other event of this size and scope, and its dependence on volunteers, luck and the ability to patch and mend when it’s needed. All this over 17 long days and nights, with the scrutiny of the world on your shoulders and national pride at stake.

In the end, as it will be in Vancouver, it’s all about the athletes of the world and their triumphs and small setbacks as they chase their dreams.

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.

Neil Wilson: The Vancouver Olympics are playing second fiddle to Whistler

Duncan Mackay
Sorry, Vancouver, but you’re second best. The real Winter Olympics, the one the IOC always decree must be on snow and ice, is here in Whistler.

We have snow. We have ice. We have brilliant blue skies, crisp air and a party atmosphere of festival and fun that the big city 78 miles away cannot come close to replicating because of its size. And I have been in both places, so I speak from experience.

Yesterday's ladies downhill was just perfect. An overnight freeze, a course crisp, bumpy and fast, and slopes awash with the red of the local supporters.

But it is at night that this place comes to life, heavy rock, sound and light shows, floodlight snowboard acrobatics and, of course, al fresco eating and drinking.

It comes at a price. An Olympic price. My condo is costing $360 (£219) a night! Coffee and scrambled eggs off the Village Square for breakfast, $20 (£12) before tip. And that is the price of a taxi for no distance at all.

And if you fancy some skiing – powder snow delectable, views stunning - a ski pass for three days will set you back $292 (£178), making European Alpine resorts look like Ryanair value.

How can we complain? This is a Premier League resort, and they are taking advantage of hosting an Olympic Games that they first invited here for 1976. It’s a one-off, and, of course, the place is broke.

It owes its creditors a cool $1.4 billion (£853 million) which is why the event locals will be watching most closely tomorrow (February 19) is the auction of most everything that is saleable.

What the hell! Enjoy it why we can. They may owe money but everything works. The  buses are brilliant. The shuttle runs past my place every 10 minutes 24 hours a day, and this morning when the perfect conditions for skiing brought out crowds laden with equipment and one arrived full, two more that were empty followed in seconds.

The one big mistake here was the Whistler Sliding Center. If you design one to be that fast, you have to design it to be novice proof. Driver errors are guaranteed on every bob track but there never should be room for death by misadventure.

But that was the responsibility of the international federation, not the locals.Their passion for these Games has been awesome, a sheer determination to enjoy every minute and to participate in every one if they can.

Where else would 1,200 'weasels', as snow-packers are known, be prepared to get up at three in the morning to work the course when the snow-machine were feared to be too heavy?

Winter Olympics do not always work. The IOC’s past judgement has been questionable on their locations. And now that the size and the entourage of Winter Olympics are increased, I doubt it will ever be possible to return to the likes of Lillehammer, the best of the nine I have attended.

Newspapers in Britain may be asking whether Vancouver is the worst-ever - that scribe was obviously not in Lake Placid! - but it would be a travesty of the truth to level that accusation at Whistler (and from my short experience there Vancouver, too). Whistler is pushing to be the second best I have ever attended.

And now, excuse me. They are tuning up on the big stage in the Village Square. There is partying to be done.

Neil Wilson is Olympic and athletics correspondent of The Daily Mail. These are his 19th Summer or Winter Olympic Games.