Alan Hubbard: British boxing is finally looking to the future with optimism again

Duncan Mackay

Buried beneath the hyperbolic avalanche of sporting  reportage from Chelsea to Cheltenham in the popular prints last week was the good news that British amateur boxing is back on the front foot after the seismic fall-out which followed Beijing. 

A Great Britain team returned from the Commonwealth Federation Championships in New Delhi with ten medals - four gold, one silver and five bronze - and this without several of their top men including Olympians Bradley Saunders and Khalid Yafai and European champion Luke Campbell.

Names like England’s Iain Waver, Scott Cardle, Simon Vallily, and Welshman Fred Evans, may be unfamiliar to all but the amateur game’s cognoscenti but they won gold in a highly- ompetitive tournament which looks promising  not only for the Commonwealth Games, also in New Delhi later this year, but the 2012 Olympics.

For the record the other medallists were England’s Frank Buglioni (silver) with bronze from Andrew Selby (Wales), Daniel Phillips (England), Callum Smith (England), Stephen Simmons (Scotland) and Frazer Clarke (England).

All are members of the elite squad assembled at the British Amateur Boxing Association’s state-of-the-art HQ at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield under the aegis of new performance director Rob McCracken.

The successes demonstrate the professional influence of McCracken, who says: "To deliver ten medals is a superb performance from a squad that was relatively inexperienced in terms of international competition. Both the results and the performances were excellent and showed the breadth and depth of talent we have throughout the GB squad. It is a very positive result for British amateur boxing."
 
Indeed, and it also shows there is new life in the ring after that Olympic exodus.

McCracken has not taken long to whip British amateur boxing into better shape. As I said at the time, he is an excellent appointment, having carved out a decent career himself as a former British and Com monwealth middleweight champion and world title contender who lost only the last two of his 35 fights. He is also coach to Britain’s most authentic world champion, Carl Froch, who holds the WBC super-middleweight title.

Like the popular Terry Edwards before him the 49-year-old Brummie is no mere bucket-and-sponge conditioner but a cerebral tactician who knows how to bring out the best in boxers even of limited ability. He has certainly lifted the spirit of his Sheffield squaddies after a relatively disappointing World Championships. Following the results in New Delhi  it seems there will be healthy competition for places in England’s Commonwealth Games team, the event from which they returned from Melbourne with five gold medals under Edwards four years ago.

McCracken will shortly be taking leave of absence to work with Froch as his puts the finishing touches to his preparations for his world title defence against Mikkel Kessler in Henning, Denmark, on 24 April, which is part of boxing’s Super Six Series.

McCracken’s association with Nottingham’s unbeaten Froch (aka "The Cobra") has been an added bonus for the boys in Sheffield, as Froch has been working out there with them, which has allowed McCracken to oversee both his responsibilities.



Meantime what of those Olympians who got away? All six who turned pro after Beijing remain undefeated and gold medallist James DeGale (pictured) has progressed swiftly to title-challenging status.

He will fight for the vacant WBA International super-middleweight title in his first 12-round bout at Upton Park on May 15 on the undercard of the Kevin Mitchell-Michael Katsidis WBO interim world lightweight title fight. It will be only the seventh pro fight for the charismatic Londoner (who has yet to proceed beyond four rounds) in what is regarded as a sort of ‘junior’ world title bout.

Stablemate Frankie Gavin, now boxing at welterweight after infamously failing to make the lightweight limit pre-Beijing, is equally ambitious, and so far has been the most impressive of Frank Warren’s Olympic trio. Also unbeaten in six fights he’ll have his first eight-rounder on the West Ham bill and wants a title fight this year. His ultimate aim to meet erstwhile amateur room-mate and spar-mate Amir Khan, now a world champion and chasing his American dream with Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy outfit.  Light-middleweight Billy Joe Saunders (unbeaten in five) also appears at Upton Park after recovering from a hand injury.

Their  Beijing bronze medal buddies Tony Jeffries (light-heavyweight) and beanpole big-hitting heavyweight David Price are both making good progress under the promotional banner of Frank Maloney while featherweight Joe Murray steps up for his first eight-rounder after five unbeaten contests on Ricky Hatton’s promotion at  Dagenham, Essex this Friday (March 26).

And what of Edwards, the man who masterminded Britain’s best-ever Olympics before his shock dismissal? Well, he’s doing very nicely thank you, having collected a tidy bundle in damages from the Amateur Boxing Association and is now coaching pros and amateurs in an East London gym. He is also a consultant to Ghana may well be in their team’s corner in London.

So now the dust has settled after amateur boxing’s maelstroms it seems everyone is happy - or at least a little happier. Allied to those heartening results from India it gives British boxing a ring of confidence for 2012.

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.


Karim Bashir: It's time we began to take interest in the British Athletes Commission

Duncan Mackay

Most people involved or interested in sport in the UK know that UK Sport is the organisation responsible for the distribution of National Lottery and Exchequer funding and ultimately are responsible for elite level performance in partnership with the National Governing Bodies (NBG) for each sport. 

These people also understand that the British Olympic Association (BOA) and British Paralympic Association (BPA) look after TeamGB athletes at Olympic/Paralympic Games time.  There is no doubt that all of these organisations have done a fantastic job in recent times and a great deal of this is down to their desire to become more professional in their operation.  However, quite rightly, their job is to focus on the "group" as apposed to the "individual".

So who looks after the swimmer, the fencer, the wheelchair basketball player when things aren’t quite right? In the first instance those athletes can turn to their NGB who will undoubtedly do their utmost to help. But what if the dispute is between the athlete and their NGB?

In 2003 a group of athletes recognised that there was a requirement for an independent organisation to represent the views of all elite athletes in the UK and set up the British Athletes Commission (BAC). The original remit of the BAC was to facilitate athlete representation and communication pathways within sports and to ensure that the views of elite athletes were communicated coherently to the key decision makers in British sport.

Initially, the BAC worked very much under the radar while it developed relationships with NGBs and National Sporting Organisations, building trust in the way it operates and represents athlete’s views.

Now, however, the BAC is becoming a much more visible organisation in the UK elite sport landscape. This has occurred through the need to represent the athlete’s views publicly and to raise awareness of the BAC as a commercial organisation.

To ensure that the BAC can guarantee its long term independence it now generates its own income alongside the grant funding it receives from UK Sport. This is achieved through athletes paying a membership fee of £60 per annum, through partners who work with the BAC and through sponsorship.

Since the middle of last year, the BAC has undergone a strategic review of all its operations and has split its operations into two areas:

• Core operations - which revolve around its free services of advice and representation to the athletes

• Elite Athletes Club - which is a membership organisation designed to provide fantastic benefits and services to athletes, retired athletes, and the support service staff around those athletes. The club will operate as a separate trading company of the BAC, with the sole aim of generating income to support the BAC’s core services.

So why should anyone be interested in what is effectively a trade union? To answer this question we have to look at the three stakeholder groups who are linked to the BAC.

Until now the majority of Lottery funded athletes have only ever had to engage with the BAC when things go wrong. Put simply, if everything was going to plan there was no motivation for an athlete to have any involvement with the BAC. 

This has changed. There are now over 15 benefits providers associated to the Elite Athletes Club and the discounts available make the £60 annual subscription a steal. 

I have been a member since its inception and my subscription payment was covered in the savings I made in just three nights hotel bookings.  If your mobile phone contract is up for renewal you’d be crazy not to look at their offerings. On top of his the BAC now deliver access to a schools speaking programme - AthletesDirect - and a sponsorship and appearance service at no cost to the athletes.

The second group that we have to consider are UK Sport, the BOA/BPA, NGBs and the four National Institutes of Sport. Engagement with these organisations has been a priority for the BAC and there has certainly been great development in these relationships. 



Team2012 may never have got off the ground without intervention from the BAC and that has resulted in a £10 million investment from Visa which has meant increased funding to some of the sports that received cuts last year.  If that alone doesn’t persuade these bodies to develop stronger ties with the BAC then they also need to consider the savings that they will make by ensuring that their performance staff sign up to the Elite Athletes Club. If every NGB performance team benefited from the savings available here the amount of money saved would be phenomenal. And which NGB isn’t asking for more money?

Finally, there’s the corporate sector. This is an easy one for me. Delivering a benefit through the Elite Athlete’s Club gives an organisation access to over 2,000 potentially new customers for very little work. Not only that but those partner organisations can tell the world that they are supporting every elite athlete in the UK.  Furthermore the opportunity to become the title sponsor of the BAC is still available, amazingly. Whoever snaps this up will steal a march on their competitors and will have a great story to tell.

Ignoring the British Athletes Commission is a mistake all of us could and should avoid making. 

For more details on the BAC click here.

Karim Bashir is a former British international fencer who won a silver medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. He is the founder and managing director of Catch Sport, an online sponsorship brokering service which is free to use for athletes from all sports.


Mike Rowbottom: Our Sporting Life – courtesy of Wilkinson and Edmunds

Duncan Mackay

It’s  just a rugby ball. Manufactured by Gilbert, with standard blue and green markings. But on November 22, 2003, the inert object now on display at the Henley River & Rowing Museum carried the charge of a nation’s yearning as it described a trajectory between two rugby posts - despatched through the Sydney night air by the right boot of the man whose signature it now bears: Jonny Wilkinson.

Albeit that the signature looks curiously like "Andy Watson",  the ball which Jonny drop-kicked to give England’s rugby union team its last-gasp World Cup final victory over Australia is, and will forever be, a potent sporting icon.

As it stands behind toughened glass in the Museum’s foyer, though, with children passing it en route to the Wind in the Willows exhibition, it looks, frankly, a bit scruffy and deflated. Very much down the social scale in comparison to its neighbour, the magnificent silver wedding cake that is Henley Royal Regatta’s Grand Challenge Cup.

Could this scrap of leather really have been at the centrepiece of one of the great sporting occasions of recent years? Could it really have been this scuffed object which Matt Dawson shepherded with such nerveless brinkmanship before releasing it for his outside half to turn himself into sporting legend?

Above the autograph, written in what one can only presume is the same hand, there is a schoolboyish inscription in dark blue ink: "Eng v Aus." As if anyone was likely to forget.

But if the history of this particular sporting artefact is widely known and celebrated, other items on display in the first of a series of 100 planned exhibitions entitled Our Sporting Life prompt memories of a less exalted, but no less worthy nature.

The idea of the scheme is to create what will effectively be a sporting road-show that will tour the museums of the country, supplementing a central core of national and international exhibits with local memorabilia, all the way through to 2012, when the best of the displays will form part of what will be the largest ever exhibition of Britain’s sporting heritage in the capital.

And one of the main aims of the whole initiative is not just to present local communities with their history, but to stimulate their own recollection and celebration of it.

Thus the inaugural exhibition includes a venerable number.10 shirt donated by Henley Rugby Club, whose history is documented, programmes and photographs detailing past triumphs of Henley Town FC and, as you would expect, a wealth of rowing memorabilia from Leander and other local clubs.

Ben Hunt-Davis, a local member of the British eight that took gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, has lent his medal to the exhibition.

The achievements of another local, double Paralympics swimming gold medallist Graham Edmunds (pictured), are also detailed.

Edmunds is one of around 15 local sporting figures whose recollections can be heard at the press of a button. He makes fairly brief mention of the motorbike accident he suffered in 2000 which turned him from a talented swimmer, who spent his spare time coaching disabled swimmers, into someone so badly injured that he was advised he might never walk again.

Elsewhere in the exhibition one can read that two teams of surgeons worked for five hours trying to save and reconstruct his shattered legs.

"I spent 10 years working with guys who were very, very badly physically and mentally disabled. So unlike most disabled athletes, I knew all about disabled sport before I became disabled myself," he says, before going on to describe how it was only at the insistence of one of the disabled swimmers he had coached, a young man with Down’s Syndrome, that he started trying to walk again.

"He said to me: ‘No pain, no gain. No pain, no gain. Come on! Walk to me...’," Edmunds recalls, adding that he rejoined some of his former charges in the local pool and started to progress from wading to swimming.

After receiving a disabled classification of S10, the category for the least disabled group, Edmunds won gold in the Athens 2004 Paralympics 4x100m relay in a time that lowered the world record by seven seconds.

Four years later the same quartet took another seven seconds off the record in defending their title at the Beijing Paralympics.

Here is a story which stands at the heart of the exhibition, linking local and international achievement.

While the rugby ball in the foyer is emblematic of a huge and passionate sporting contest, the words of Graham Edmunds speak more clearly about the nature of courage and sporting endeavour.

But, hey, you don’t have to choose. Just embrace the whole package if and when it comes your way...

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


Niels de Vos: UK Athletics offers better value for money than any sport in Britain

Duncan Mackay
John Bicourt questions the return on investment into UK Athletics but sadly his article is characterised by poor research, incorrect facts and simply ill founded assertations.

Mr Bicourt begins by asserting that other sports such as football do not receive public monies. 

In fact, for the promotion of participation and grassroots competition, football (in common with other professional sports such as rugby union, rugby league and tennis) enjoys substantial public sector investment from Sport England, in excess of that received by athletics which does not enjoy the riches of these sports.

Mr Bicourt also misunderstands the roles and responsibilities of UK Athletics. Contrary to his view, we are not funded from the public purse to develop grassroots athletics and participation levels. This responsibility lies with the Home Country Athletics Federations and they are funded directly via their respective Sports Councils in pursuit of these objectives. 

UK Athletics’ role in this is to provide a strategic oversight and direction informed by the elected UK Members Council who represent not only the Home Countries but representatives from clubs, coaching and officials. Currently Sport England are investing (through England Athletics) over £2 million a year directly into club athletics via club coaching programmes and Athletics networks (including some clubs who are part of Mr Bicourt’s own self-appointed and unrepresentative body, the Association of British Athletics Clubs), which is then enhanced thanks to the support of UK Athletics sponsors McCain with a further investment of £1 million.

Where UK Athletics do contribute massively to grassroots athletics is through our primary sponsors Aviva. Over a period of 10 years Aviva have invested £18 milion into the promotion of athletics within British Schools through Star track, Sportshall, Elevating Athletics and more recently the sponsorship of all Home Country Schools Championships (track and field and cross-country).

UK Atheltics' only public money is provided by UK Sport and is correctly focussed on the elite end of our sport - to provide the best training facilities, the best coaching and the best support staff possible.

Again however, the numbers quoted by Mr Bicourt do not tally with reality. UK Athletics' current four year funding agreement with UK Sport see the sport awarded a total of £6 million per annum to fund our Olympic programme. Looked at another way this equates to just £375,000 per year per discipline, making athletics, by disciplines amongst the lowest funded of Olympic sports, and the sport offering perhaps the best value for money of all.

Bear in mind too, that the award is not, as Mr Bicourt asserts, restricted to a "tiny elite level".  Of that £6 million, 25 per cent of the sum every year is invested in ensuring we are able to take full British teams to all major track and fieldchampionships - not just senior teams but junior teams too.



Along with the track and field teams, others, such as the cross-country teams (junior, intermediate and senior men’s and women’s, all of whom returned with team medals from the European Championships in both 2008 and 2009, including Hayley Yelling (pictured) winning the women's race in Dublin last December), our British mountain running, fell running and ultra running teams are again funded from our commercial income and enjoy no public purse support at all.

Mr Bicourt makes a further comment regards public monies in administration - again the facts do not support his claim. All UK Athletics overheads are in fact paid for by our own commercially generated funds. Every penny of UK Sport investment goes directly to our World Class programme to which we ourselves contribute some 15 per cent through commercial funding.

So UK Athletics clearly demonstrates excellent value for money and is one of only a few sports from the Olympic family which raised its own commercial revenue to further invest in the sport which it is internationally recognised and charge to governing.

Finally Mr Bicourt asserts that at elite level the sport is not showing signs of progression. Once again, the facts do not support him. Consider the following statistics looking back at the number of UK medallists over the past three Olympic/World Championship cycles.
 
·         Sydney 2000/Edmonton 2001 – 6
·         Athens 2004/Helsinki 2005 – 12
·         Beijing 2008/Berlin 2009 – 16
 
And for evidence the positive trend is not just at the very top, let us consider top eight placings.
 
·         Sydney/Edmonton – 33
·         Athens/Helsinki – 27
·         Beijing/Berlin – 40
 
As recently as last week’s World Indoors, UK finished fourth in the medals table and fifth in the points table, ranking as the top European nation - a status the majority of British sports would give their right arm or leg for!
 
Last week also saw the publication of the results of the independent Active People survey (IPSOS Mori) which showed that participation in athletics has risen for the fourth consecutive six-month period - demonstrating clearly that our colleagues in England Athletics are also delivery against their remit.
 
So I am sorry Mr Bicourt, but I am afraid the facts do not support your position – I suggest the sport does not either.

Niels de Vos is the chief executive of UK Athletics

Alan Hubbard: World Championship bid should not be allowed to scupper West Ham move into Olympic Stadium

Duncan Mackay

So London is to bid for the 2015 World Athletics Championships. That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that this has "ramifications" for the future of the Olympic Stadium, which would be used to host the Championships.

Presumably this means that West Ham’s chances of moving into the stadium are out of the window. If so, that’s not only a shame, but a huge mistake.

For the Olympic Stadium is a natural home for then East London football club, and I believe their occupancy is the only way it could become economically viable and not the whitest of elephants.

When Seb Coe made his pledge to the IOC back in 2005 that a London Olympics bid would leave an athletics legacy I nodded in agreement. But I have changed my mind. I no longer believe that track and field should be a priority - and this is not because I am a West Ham fan who has been forever blowing bubbles since the heady days of Moore, Hurst and Peters and the aesthetic generalship of Ron Greenwood.

It is simply that since that promise was made the economic climate has changed dramatically, something even the IOC have recognised, and it is imperative that projects such as the Olympic Stadium pay their way. I no longer believe this could happen by reducing it to a capacity of 25,000 that would be used at the most two or three times a year for athletic events.

There has to be a compromise that would allow the Hammers to be the principal tenant of a stadium that could be used as and when needed for athletic events (including the World Championships should the bid be successful) with retractable seating a la Stade de France. Of course any such conversion would be costly, but a worthwhile investment nonetheless.

It would mean the stadium has regular rather than spasmodic use and could be a showpiece arena, a ready-made venue for World Cup matches should England win the bid for the 2018 event and one that would attract boxing promotions like the world lightweight title fight being staged at Upton Park in May between East Londoner Kevin Mitchell and Australian Michael Katsidis.

The promoter Frank Warren would certainly welcome the Olympic Stadium as a perfect venue for major events which could draw similar open air crowds to the 50,000 which saw Manny Pacquiao defend his world welterweight title against Joshua Clottey at the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington, Texas, last weekend.

As for the athletics legacy, well, it would still be there and I feel sure both the IOC and IAAF would be realistic enough to recognise that the new economic circumstances any small dilution of the original pledge is both necessary and unavoidable.   

Manchester has shown how a stadium designed for the Commonwealth Games can be transformed into one of the most attractive football venues in the country (admittedly they permanently ditched the athletics track). Something similar must happen in east London, and surely it is not beyond the wit of those involved, from the 2012 board and West Ham, to the Mayor and the Government, to ensure it does. 

Without a football club I doubt the stadium will be financially viable  and 2012 will be left with the sort of legacy it did not want. A bursting bubble.

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


John Bicourt: Do the public get value for money from UK Athletics?

Duncan Mackay

For those trying to justify the £150 million public monies invested in athletics as insignificant by comparing it with the health costs associated with level of obesity in the nation, the private investment in health clubs and with what happens in the United StatesCollege system is entirely spurious and irrelevant.

Football, for example, has massively more money but it's not tax payers’ money and they're not accountable to the wider public. Neither is motor sport or many other sport and leisure related activities.

The MP’s expenses row involved the "trifling" sum of "only" £1.2 million and the Government spent more than that to investigate it and bring those responsible to account. Why? Because it was public money being improperly used and the public expected it to be challenged.

The only proper way to assess value for 12 years of public money being spent by this unelected and unaccountable national governing body is to look at the state of our own sport in this country and what development was promised and expected to be achieved, not JUST at a tiny  elite level but also through the critical and essential development of the grass-roots and the sustainable pool of  talent at every level where clear evidence  from recorded results shows dramatic decline both in standards in depth and participation  particularly after the age of 16.

UK Athletics' original remit was to develop the sport from grass roots-right through to elite but they have instead concentrated purely only on the elite once they have risen, unaided by them, up through the grass roots and in that cause have employed 150 staff, including part time, at a salary cost of over £5 million per year whilst the grass roots [the clubs] that actually produce the sport and its athletes relies on volunteers only and no public funding.

UK Athletics continues to be funded on the success and presumed success of a very small elite group - some of whom have won medals without UK Athletics and lottery support - to give the impression that the whole of the sport from the rest of the elite down is thriving and vibrant, when it fact it isn’t. And the long term prognosis is not good. So something is not right.

At the Beijing Olympics and the Berlin World Championships, look at the number of events with no British representative and further, the number of events with only one out of as possible three? So why does UK Athletics continue to employ those directors of events and event coaches responsible who cannot deliver?

Look at the number of GB athletes who seem to produce season’s best and some personal bests in the qualifying of global championships but then fail to reproduce it when in matters in the semi-final or in a final for the few who make it?

The spending [and largely wasting] of public money on a costly and ineffective administration for an elite few may not matter to the likes of those on the BBC athletics forum who have their own agenda to support UK Athletics but it does to others and the issues - continually advised to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport - won’t go away, much as they would like them to.

John Bicourt was an English record holder and represented Britain in the 3,000m steeplechase at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics. He has coached, advised and managed a number of Olympic and World Championship athletes from Britain, Australia, South African, Kenya and the United States, including medallists and world record holders. He is an elected officer of the Association of British Athletics Clubs


David Owen: Notes from a changing country

Duncan Mackay

Some notes from Doha:

1. A Qatar-based expatriate told me the country has adopted a Friday/Saturday weekend - halfway between the Middle Eastern and western variants.

The move is indicative of how Doha, a fast-changing city if ever there was one, has started embracing alien ideas, creating a cultural flavour that is distinctively its own.

The route between my hotel and Aspire, the host venue of the World Indoor Championships, took me past not just a Carrefour hypermarket and a Marks & Spencer, but also the Qatar Paintballing Center.

A nearby car-park was a popular site for impromptu morning cricket matches.

But traditional Arab culture is very much in evidence too.

A headscarved female guide who showed me around part of the remarkable Shafallah Center for children and young people with special needs, declined with utmost politeness to shake my hand.

I also couldn’t help but notice that all the flag-bearers in the World Indoor Championships’ opening ceremony appeared to be male.

2. My first exposure to a big indoor athletics meeting left me with mixed feelings.

On the positive side, the juxtapositions thrown together by the condensed format were often fascinating.

At one point Steve Hooker (pictured) and Blanka Vlašic were no more than a metre apart at the start of their respective run-ups for their next pole vault/high jump. 

The Croatian high jumper also went and stood right by the finish-line as the men’s 60 metres final was about to start and may have had the best view in the house of Britain’s Dwain Chambers thundering through for gold.

Jenny Meadows, meanwhile, was at the starting blocks for her 800m final while the National Anthem was playing during Chambers’s medals ceremony.

Spectators are also, of course, close to the action, making for a fine spectacle and a great atmosphere.

What I was less keen on was the way in which blocks of dead time were interspersed with bursts of everything happening at once.

The action on Sunday didn’t start until 4pm, whereupon a dizzying succession of events got under way at a rhythm that made it next to impossible to keep tabs on everything that was going on.

Saturday afternoon was just as manic, yet Friday did not bring a single final.

No doubt this choppy schedule has been carefully thought through.

But really, wouldn’t it be better to have fewer athletes and therefore fewer heats to plough through on the opening day, creating the space to enable perhaps two, rather than four, events to be going on at once?    

As it was, elite sport showed once again its stubborn refusal to be choreographed, with the event’s marquee moment - Teddy Tamgho’s indoor world record triple jump of 17.90 metres - delayed until the penultimate act of the very last event, when things were very much winding down.

3. Usain Bolt did not take part in the World Indoor Championships.

Yet the Jamaican sprinter was granted a few sentences in the official programme, across the page from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) top brass Lamine Diack, Sergey Bubka and Sebastian Coe.

This fixed a thought in my mind: much as the IAAF, I’m sure, is grateful to have him, it needs Bolt at the moment more than he needs them.

You only have to look at the impact the man from Trelawny had on viewing figures for last year’s World Championships in Berlin.

A survey of the most-watched TV sporting events of 2009 suggested that not far off 100 million people saw the men’s 100m final in which he lowered the world record to an other-worldly 9.58sec.

This was far above the 70 million total audience that watched the equivalent event in 2007 in Osaka and took the event to within striking distance of the top three sporting spectacles of the year.

I don’t know what sort of global viewing numbers Doha’s Bolt-less World Indoor Championships attracted at the weekend.

But I’d be very interested to compare them with the audience for Sunday’s Formula One grand prix in nearby Bahrain.

4. Just inside the Aspire complex, where the World Indoor Championships was taking place, is a wall-mounted feature incorporating many famous signatures.

Alex Ferguson, Clarence Seedorf, Ronaldinho…You get the idea.

In only two cases, so far as I could see, had it been felt necessary to add an explanation of who the signatory was.

One of these, I think, was the head of some Zimbabwean sports federation; the other was Frederick, Crown Prince of Denmark.

Easy to see who today’s true rulers are.

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


Mike Rowbottom: Brabants, Searle and Queally proving John Lennon wrong

Duncan Mackay

You’ve probably seen it many times already - and like me you’ve probably been annoyed at how it has been run deliberately out-of-sync. So trendy it hurts. I’m talking about the TV car advert which, with Yoko Ono’s blessing, features her late husband on the subject of revisiting the past.

Putting aside the morality - or venality - of John Lennon being put to work for the motor industry, what he has to say is delivered with characteristic liveliness and panache. "Looking backwards for inspiration, copying the past," says the poignantly youthful ex-Beatle. "How’s that rock’n’roll? Do something of your own. Start something new, you know? Live your lives now. Know what I mean?"

For Lennon that meant, for a while, staying home in his New York apartment and making bread. Royalties are a beautiful thing, to be sure. But Lennon couldn’t settle for that. He returned to what defined him, music, before his awful rendezvous in that same apartment lobby with a deranged man and a gun.

It would be interesting to know what Tim Brabants, Greg Searle and Jason Queally make of that advert, assuming they have seen it. (And you’d have to be pretty firmly out of circulation not to have done so).

All three Britons reached the pinnacle of their sporting endeavours by winning Olympic gold medals. All three retired with grace. And in the space of the last few months, all three have unretired, eager to put their minds and bodies to the ultimate test once again.

"Start something new, you know? Live your lives now. Know what I mean?"

But the thing is, for Brabants, now 33, Searle, 39 this month, and Queally, 39 already, starting again is starting something new.

For the last decade Brabants, who returned to his medical career for the third and, as far as he was concerned, final time after winning kayaking gold and silver at the Beijing Games, has lived what he terms "a kind of double life."

He is rueful about the progress made by his medical school peers, who are approaching consultant status while he remains as a registrar in an A&E ward. And yet his own upward progress has been interrupted once again as he has returned to full-time training on the Thames.

Searle, who took gold with his brother Jonny and cox Garry Herbert in the coxed pairs rowing at the 1992 Barcelona Games, retired after the 2000 Olympics, by which time he had added a bronze to his gold. But after returning to full-time training in January he has reached the semi-finals of official trials, and has been invited to join the British team training camp in Portugal.

"I’m winning races against the high-profile athletes, which is where I am at the moment," he said. "It’s not going to happen overnight; it’s going to take months of hard work because the standard is high and these guys are good."

So the months of hard work are now ensuing…

Meanwhile that other nearly-40-something, the man whose unexpected victory in the 1km time trial at the Dunc Gray Velodrome started the British gold rush at the 2000 Sydney Games, has been included in Britain’s team for this month’s cycling World Championships in Copenhagen.

Since retiring in 2008 after failing to make the Beijing Olympic team, Queally has been competing with the Paralympic team as a tandem pilot. But now he is riding solo again in order to affirm one of the abiding aspirations within sport: I can still do it.

It’s an aspiration that has stirred great competitors throughout the years. Think of Muhummad Ali. Think of Lance Armstrong. Think of Torvill and Dean. Think of Jennifer Capriati. Think, now, of Michael Schumacher.

Once you’ve been up there, it must be impossible not to dream about returning.

How could Brabants not want to be back in a K1 1000 metres race after his experience in Beijing, where he said he knew he was going to win after his first two strokes?

How could Searle not want to reproduce some of the emotional overflow of the Barcelona victory, which engendered those famous tears of Herbert’s on the victory rostrum?

How could Queally, in his own words, "a nine-to-five guy who has found something he is good at",  not want to recapture the rising excitement of that September evening? When he rose in the saddle after crossing the line his face registered disbelief as the display flashed up an Olympic record time. As the three top-seeded riders attempted to better it, Queally performed slow motion cycling around the infield, glancing up occasionally at the scoreboard.

And after the first two had fallen short, he watched his silver turn to gold as the French world record holder, Arnaud Tournant, managed no better than fifth place in the final ride. Cue mobbing, and a run of further cycling medals that energised the whole British team…

There is no secret about what is energising these three Olympians into their risky returns. It’s the fact that the Olympics are only two years’ away. And on home soil.

For British sportsmen and women, London 2012 is irresistible. Is rock’n’roll…

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


David Owen: Let’s not exaggerate what sport is capable of.

By David Owen

Few things in sport make me queasier than when administrators start to bang on about how sport can change the world.

A television programme I happened to watch this week encapsulates why.

BBC Panorama’s More Than Just a Game turned its spotlight on South Africa’s daunting drugs and crime problem by focusing on members of a football team backed by the MyLife Foundation, a Cape Town-based charity.

Among the harrowing life-stories unearthed by reporter Dan McDougall, the one that affected me the most was that of Martin Afrika, a heavily-tattooed striker with doleful brown eyes.

Afrika (pictured), the programme reported, had been “initiated into gangsterism at just 10 years old”, and yet, when he took up football, had turned out to be so good that he played for his country at the 2009 Homeless World Cup.

A heartening tale of redemption through football, or so it appeared.

“They were the best drugs I ever made in my whole entire life,” Afrika said of the goals he had been scoring.

“It changed my life.”

Only it didn’t. Not really. Not yet.

As the programme went on, we met Afrika’s four-year-old son, who was living in what appeared to be dreadful conditions with his mother, a ‘tik’, or crystal meth, addict.

We then learnt that Afrika had been arrested and ordered into rehab after selling a camera he had been given to fund a “drugs binge”.

“Martin Afrika, it seems, will always be a prisoner of his past,” McDougall concludes.

In our final view of the striker, he has become a vision of despair: “You don’t leave the gang,” he says bleakly. “This mark is here forever. If you want this mark out, you have to burn it out. Or you have to cut it out…

“You can’t escape.”

We are informed at the end that he did eventually make it to rehab “after absconding and going on the run for three months”.

Sobering stuff – and a story reinforcing my view that, though sport plainly can make a difference, it is usually in modest ways and over short periods, the way that sometimes even the mere sight of a ball can transport a child for a time from the grimness of her immediate surroundings.

For all the grandiose claims made on sport’s behalf, I think we can rely on it to fulfil only two broader functions.

It acts as a powerful stimulus to the emotions. This can be either good or bad.

It also provides common ground on which people from the most diverse of backgrounds can begin to construct a relationship.

As a global idiom, indeed, only rock music comes remotely close.

‘Ce n’est déjà pas mal’, as the French would say.

But let’s not exaggerate what sport is capable of.

I was also reminded this week of what a tall order South Africa will face to fill its magnificent quiver of new stadia – including Johannesburg’s 94,700-capacity Soccer City, the 11th-largest stadium in the world – once the World Cup is over.

Construction of these fields of dreams makes it all but inevitable, in my view, that South Africa will be a serial bidder for the right to stage international sports events of all kinds in the next decade.

The 2023 Rugby World Cup is one obvious target.

But I can also foresee what might turn out to be a three-sided tussle involving Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town for the honour of being the first African city to host the Olympic Games.

2020 is probably too early – although I would not be in the least surprised to see a South African bid.

But a South African city could be a real contender for the Games of 2024 or 2028.

Let’s just hope that by then the country has made headway towards alleviating its most pressing social problems.

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

Alan Hubbard: Dame Tanni and Curly-Wurly putting women at the forefront of sporting achievement

Duncan Mackay

It has been a pleasure to be in the recent company of two of sport’s most formidable females, especially at a time when the Women’s Movement is celebrating 100 years of fighting for equality.

Both have done their bit to put women to the forefront of British sport, one as the most successful Paralympian of all time and the other by winning a Winter Olympics gold medal in one of the most dangerous pursuits on Earth - or rather, ice.

First, it was a fascinating tete-a-tete, with Dame (soon to be Baroness) Tanni Grey-Thompson in London, where she is to become even more of a regular visitor following her elevation to the House of Lords as a ‘People’s Peer’. Then, it was down to Bath for a chat with Britain’s latest sporting sweetheart, Amy Williams.

Have wheelchair will travel has always been the delightful Tanni’s maxim, and we spoke after she had spent part of her day chairing a commission on the future of women’s sport, one of the many commitments that keeps her frantically busy since her retirement from the track three years ago.

But it was her future role as a Peer which intrigued me. She should be wrapping the ermine cloak around her at the end of this month, surprisingly having elected to sit as a cross-bencher, despite being an ardent Labour supporter all her life. She explained that this wasn’t an easy decision.

"My political views are left of centre but I think there are a lot of advantages of being a cross-bencher because you can vote with your heart, and in any case, I believe sport should be non-political. My passions are sport, women in sport and disabled people, and they kind of end up not being political, so I can put a bit of a different spin on it. I am not going to go in there and start speaking on things that I have no previous experience of but I am an ex-athlete, I am a mum and I have a disability so all that combines to give a different perspective.

"Health is one debate that immediately jumps out. And not just regarding the many problems regarding disability [she has been in a wheelchair since she was seven having been born with spina bifida]. Change also needs to be instigated in issues ranging from assisted suicide to care n the home and the legacy of London 2012.

"It was a deep desire to help make positive changes that first drove me into politics as a student [she has a degree in political sciences from Loughborough University] and this still burns as bright as ever. I’ve had many challenges in life and sport but going into the House of Lords is probably the greatest ever.

"It was one of those things that I’d always hoped I would have the opportunity to do but I never thought it would happen. When you are offered the chance, you can’t say, ‘Oh, that’s nice but can I do it five years please?’ I am very excited about it and slightly nervous."

Born 40 years ago in Cardiff, Dame Tanni (pictured), collected an unparalleled 11 Paralympic golds, set 30 world records and won six London Marathons. The First Lady of Paralympic sport is now the second lady of sport to sit in the house Lords, following UK Sport chair Sue (now Baroness) Campbell. who like her is known to have Labour leanings, as a cross-bencher. 

"I know Sue quite well and I am hoping I can learn a lot from her. I am still on a learning curve. I start to giggle when I hear someone call me Baroness Grey-Thompson."

She adds: "There are lots of exciting things happening with the sporting issues I am involved in at the moment, especially the women’s commission. Obviously there’s a long way to go before there is total equality in sport, but I think it is a fight we are winning, absolutely. There is some great stuff going on. 

"Amy Williams has struck a great blow for women’s sport, hasn’t she? I watched her compete and saw her interview afterwards. 

"She was so lovely, so refreshing.  It was amazing to see the excitement on her face.  She is a ready-made role model. She is so courageous in what seems a slightly bonkers event - and I mean that in a nice way. It’s so dangerous, I can’t even imagine what it must be like going down at that speed.  I cried a bit I have to say, when she was presented with the medal. I always get really emotional at these times."

The people of Bath were getting pretty emotional too as they gave a hero’s welcome to the 27-year-old Queen of Speed and the skeleton in her cupboard named Arthur last week. Riding in triumph through her home city in an open top bus with thousands cheering all the way may not be quite as hazardous as hurtling headlong down a deadly refrigerated ice tube high in the Rockies at 90mph but Amy reckoned it was even more exhilarating. This unspoiled, unpretentious daredevil is the very  essence of what Britain wants an Olympic champion go be. Let’s hope she stays as sweet as she is.  

"Being on the bus was just a fantastic day for me," she told me. "I  was  amazed just how many people turned up, it seemed the whole city came together and lined the streets. It was crazy, I never thought it would be like this. I am not used to all this fuss."

But she knows she will have to get used to it. She’ll be on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross this week and there have been invitations from Blue Peter and A Question of Sport. "It’s all a bit out of my comfort zone really but I know I have to do it. I’m taking it all with a pinch of salt."

There is no side to this slider. What you see is very much what you get. When we last met in Bath a year ago, she said she had no boyfriend and was looking for a "rich Argentine polo player"  Well, she has settled for a not-so-rich Czech bob-sledder, 32-year-old  Petr Narovec, now unemployed  after finishing his Olympic  contract.



She may have found fame but she knows it is unlikely she will ever find fortune. "I’ve read through all my cuttings and some of the papers are saying how much money I’m going to make. But honestly, I don’t think I will. This is not a sport where you make piles of money. No-one gets rich. You do it because you love it. I certainly haven’t got any money in my pocket yet and we’ll have to wait and see if any sponsorship deals come though. I’d love a car and I’d be more than happy to splash sponsorship over the side."

But for Amy and Arthur, what a bleak mid-winter games it would have been for Team GB. The curlers couldn’t do it (no doubt there’ll be some sweeping changes there), neither could the Kerrs. But Curly-Wurly came up with the goods and the gold and now her life, like her sport, really is in the fast lane.

She and Tanni should get together to compare notes. One of Tanni’s other involvements is as a member of the Sports Honours Committee, which ensures gongs go to those who deserve them. You can be sure the name of Amy Williams will be high on that list when they next meet.

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


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.