Mike Rowbottom: Meets the world's most popular politician

Mike Rowbottom

  altBy Mike Rowbottom - 16 April 2009

It’s not every day you get to sit face-to-face with the most popular politician on earth.


Although I suppose Bo, the new canine arrival at the White House, might dispute that.


What am I thinking? Of course he wouldn’t. He’s just a dog.



That said, a dog with a blog. And a forthcoming book release…



But no. Bo couldn’t make that claim, because the statesman with whom he regularly communes, despite his soaring appeal with the American people, doesn’t believe he is the most popular politician on earth.


That distinction, Barack Obama maintained at the recent G20 summit, belongs to another president - Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva of Brazil. In front of whom I had the distinction of sitting the other week in a penthouse flat overlooking the anthill activity of London 2012’s emerging Olympic Park.


As President Lula prepared to address the gathering of Olympic scribes who had assembled to hear his views on London’s progress, and the prospects of Rio de Janeiro becoming hosts of the next summer Games hosts in 2016, there was a feeling of suspense that could not be entirely explained by the hour’s delay in the press conference beginning.


The President was flanked with top class Olympic team-mates - Eduardo Paes, mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Sergio Cabral, governor of the state of Rio, Sports Minister Orlando Silva and Carlos Arthur Nuzman, president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee.


It appeared to be a classic five-man Brazilian forward line. And there was no doubt about who was Pele.


Cabral, at inside left, picked the ball up from the kick off and produced some effective work in midfield with telling references to Brazil’s history of hosting major events – such as the World Cup finals of 1950 and, a little more recently, the Rolling Stones concert at Copacabana – before floating over a perfect pass in the form of a reference to Obama’s estimation of the man sitting on his right.


President Lula smiled bashfully down into his hands. He seemed about to speak.


But this was a Brazilian move, in which the ball had to switch fluently about the field before arriving at the feet of the main man. Rio’s Mayor took up the play from the inside right position, reminding those present that Brazil would be hosting the 2014 World Cup finals and that their economy, unlike some others he could mention, was growing…


Now, finally, it was time for the maestro to put his mark on the occasion.


altAs one of his fellow forwards had reminded us, President Lula was at the end of an exhausting tour of duty, having prefaced his attendance at London’s G20 leaders’ summit meeting with trips to Chile, Doha and Paris.


But the President still looked full of running, and after putting Brazil’s case for hosting the 2016 Games in terms geographical, historical, technological, developmental and economical he used question time to entertain the crowd with the juggling for which he has become beloved. Only very occasionally did the ball appear to run out of his control…


In reference to President Lula’s insistence the previous month that the current world economic crisis had been triggered by those who were "white and blue-eyed", a female questioner – who happened to be, as she freely owned, white and blue-eyed – asked him if he felt the International Olympic Committee was ready to recognise the shift in world economic power in their future choices of venue.


Gallantly, the President responded to his cue – "when you were asking your question I was looking at your blue eyes" –before developing the image: "Although you have blue eyes, you do not have the look of a banker. You don’t look like someone that has any responsibility for the financial crisis." Good so far, Mr President. "You look like someone who is a victim of the crisis."


Sensing by the disconcerted look of his questioner that the tone was in danger of failing at this point, the Brazilian leader switched adeptly to steadier ground as he maintained: "I question that there is any other country that has presented a better proposal than Brazil."


The game was back under firm control. But this centre forward could not resist displaying a little more extravagance as he defended Rio’s bid strategy.


"We are not going to present lies here," he said. "We are not going to use a magical wand, no tricks, no white elephants. We don’t need to provide any cosmetics for Brazil, because it is already too beautiful."


At which point, those present may have glanced down at the front cover of their Rio 2016 booklets, with its message – Live your Passion – set above a panoramic view of gently lapping sea, a long, sandy beach and the dense, blunt headland of Sugarloaf Mountain.


As an argument, it transcends words. The Brazilian ball may be heading for the net under its own power.


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 freelancing and will be writing regularly for insidethegames  


You've got to love the old Rowbo - he's as splendid as a cuddly
By Dave Toadstool

22 April 2009 at 19:55pm

Martin Gillingham: On his favourite sporting memories

altBy Martin Gillingham - 15 April 2009

My grandfather’s been dead for more than 25 years but one of my abiding memories of the old boy is sitting in front of a crackling fire on a midwinter’s afternoon and being told how he, as a 19-year-old lad, had been at the 1923 FA Cup Final between Bolton and West Ham.


It was the infamous “White Horse Cup Final”; an occasion saved from postponement by the actions of a mounted policeman, PC George Scorey, and his mount Billy. Together, horse and rider shepherded hundreds of ticketless fans off the Wembley pitch just minutes after they’d spilled through the turnstiles and down the terracing. There were apparently 250,000 in the ground.


Now, after 40-odd years of my own, I’ve spent a morning cobbling together five of my own great sporting memories; recollections of events that I too am proud to have witnessed.

1) I was only 12 when I went to the fifth Test at the Oval between England and the West Indies. It was the summer of ’76 when hardly a drop of rain fell and the wide expanse of the Oval outfield was parched. The tourists were in their pomp; Fredericks, Greenidge, Rowe, Lloyd, King, Murray, Holder, Roberts, Daniel and the two men whose performances over the five days would be remembered as the greatest of their careers – Viv Richards and Michael Holding. Back in those days most of my days were spent running up ‘n down the pavilion stairs with an autograph book in-hand but at this Test match I spent rather more time looking on in awe as Richards batted for almost eight hours accumulating 291 runs in a first innings West Indies total of 687 for eight declared. Dennis Amiss made a double hundred for England over the third and fourth days but, even then, it was Holding who took the honours with eight wickets for 92. The West Indies then made 182 without loss in their second innings at a run a ball to set England an unlikely victory target of 435. But it appeared equally onerous for the tourists who went into the final day needing all 10 England wickets for victory. It was a lifeless pitch yet Holding (six for 57) helped skittle them out for 203, bowling with pace, accuracy and venom. The late Chris Balderstone lost his middle stump with his bat yet to complete the backlift. Awesome.

2) In July 1979, I begged my father to take me to The Open at Royal Lytham. We stayed in Preston and ate each night out of newspaper from the same fish ‘n chip. By day I witnessed the arrival of one of the game’s greatest champions. There has never been a more natural or flamboyant talent to grace the fairways than Seve Ballesteros. At Lytham he hit just a dozen fairways over four bitterly cold and blustery days. Yet it was enough to overpower the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson to win the first of his three titles. His closest pursuer on the final day was the former US Open champion Hales Irwin who dubbed Ballesteros the “car park champion” for his miraculous, if slightly lucky, escape at the short par four 16th. The Spaniard carved his drive away to the right of the fairway, over the thick rough, and into the sanctuary of the temporary car park where he was granted a free drop. He duly recovered to hit his wedge to the green and then rolled in the putt from 30 feet to effectively seal victory.

3) “Villa … and still Ricky Villa … what a fantastic run … he’s scored …amazing goal”. The words are Motty’s and, like the BBC’s voice of football, I too was at Wembley that Thursday night to witness one of the greatest goals ever scored in a cup final. It was May 1981 and the Falklands War was still 11 months away when the Argentine Ricky Villa danced and skipped his way around and through the Manchester City defence before slipping the ball beneath keeper Joe Corrigan to give Spurs victory in the cup final replay 3-2. The previous Saturday Villa had been in tears after being substituted in the 100th FA Cup final. But his manager Keith Burkinshaw had reinstated him for the replay.

alt4) Sebastian Coe’s victory in the 1500m final at the 1984 Olympic Games was truly memorable. As a team mate of Coe’s, albeit a fairly ordinary one, I had the luxury of a front row seat just behind the finish line. Throughout the week I had the privilege of trying out the track and atmosphere myself in a heat of the 400m hurdles before settling down to watch Carl Lewis win four gold medals; Daley Thompson take the decathlon title; and Mary Decker fall over Zola Budd’s feet.

5) One team, one nation, one drop goal. It was the story of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final when Madiba wore the No.6 jersey, Joel Stransky kicked the winner, and Francois Pienaar lifted the trophy. If ever a game has transcended sport this was the occasion. Sixteen months earlier South Africa had been teetering on the brink of civil war, now black and white were linking arms in the streets of Johannesburg and celebrating a national triumph. In my experience, no sporting victory has ever been so raw with emotion.


The last memory is just about my favourite. Perhaps you’d like to share one or two of yours?

Martin Gillingham represented Great Britain in the 1984 Olympic Games and 1987 World Championships at the 400 metres hurdles. Since retiring from the track he spent 12 years in South Africa where he was a radio talk show presenter and writer for a Sunday newspaper. He returned to the UK in 2003 and can now be heard commentating on athletics for Eurosport as well as rugby for Sky Sports, ITV and Setanta.



Mine has to be Cathy Freeman winning the Olympic 400m in Sydney
in 2000 before a crowd of 110,000. Geez, I felt proud to be an
Aussie that night.
By Rick, Melbourne

15 April 2009 at 07:14am

I am amazed, Martin. I was there at The Oval for all five days 33
years ago, and I well remember Balderstone trudging back, having
got a pair, a grown man in tears. I swear to this day he never
saw the ball that dismissed him.

Holding was majestic athleticism - "whispering death" indeed. As
a former 400m runner turned into the most graceful pace bowler
ever, makes you wonder what sort of speed another Jamaican, Usain
Bolt might bowl at.

That Test match was also notable for an athletic diving catch by
the present chairman of selectors - you'd be hard-pressed to
imagine Geoff Miller capable of such today.

Think you've got the wrong dropped goal, and the wrong rugby
World Cup final, by the way.

And as far as great middle distance races go, Ovett v Rono over 2
miles at Crystal Palace was awesome and Steve Cram's Dream Mile
in Oslo in 1985, when he beat Coe, Steve Scott, Abascal and
Maree, took the breath away. And yes, I was at both.

But the 1923 Cup Final was not "infamous". It is very famous.
Infamous means something else altogether - where did you do your
journalistic training???
By StevenD

21 April 2009 at 10:21am

Duncan Mackay: The Bulls British connection is turning sour

  altBy Duncan Mackay - 11 April 2009

Luol Deng may be the current pin-up boy of British basketball but that status is not exactly thrilling everyone. Last week, while covering the International Olympic Committee's Evaluation Commission visit to Chicago, I took the opportunity to watch the Bulls take on the New Jersey Nets at the United Center.


As the home team continued their surge towards the NBA Play-offs with a thrilling 103-94 victory, the only sighting of Deng was on the giant video screen taking part in a light-hearted karaoke contest.


The forward has been missing from action since February 28 with a stress fracture to his right tibia that looks likely to mean he will also miss the Play-offs, something which most fans who were among the crowd of 21,424 last week consider to be a poor return for the $71 million (£48 million) that the Bulls forked out last year to ensure that the stayed at the club on a six-year contract.

Compounding the situation is that many fans are increasingly beginning to believe that Deng, a Sudanese refugee raised in London, where he learnt to play basketball, is more committed to helping Britain make an impact at the 2012 Olympics in London than justifying his huge salary which would make even David Beckham look twice. The Bulls have made it clear that they want Deng to rest at the end of this campaign but he has made it even clearer than he intends to captain Britain's team at the European Championships, due to be held in Poland in September.


John Paxson, the Bulls' general manager, issued a terse "no comment" when asked recently what he thought about Deng being so keen to do his national service for Britain this summer.

altAt the heart of the issue is the NBA's desire to break into new markets, particularly Britain, using Deng as a bridge-head. It is a topic that Sam Smith, the doyen of Chicago Bulls writers, covered in a recent blog that appeared on the club's official website.

He wrote: "It’s one of the most troublesome and confusing issues that is quietly befuddling many NBA teams, and now the Bulls.

"How can you not let your players compete for their countries in international competitions? A major injury to a key player of your team - and generally only the best players compete for their countries - could cripple a team’s chances at a time when the player is being paid by his NBA team yet risking injury playing for some Government federation.

"Yet, so called 'globalization' in the NBA has become a priority and NBA Commissioner David Stern has urged all teams to allow their players to compete.

"Yet, what of a player like Deng, who might sit out for the rest of this season with a potential stress fracture, then recover and before joining the team again play for his adopted country, Great Britain, and perhaps again risk injury."

The situation has parallels with what is happening in English football where top managers, like Sir Alex Ferguson, are generally reluctant to let the players they are paying multi-million pound salaries to disappear to represent their countries. The form of Beckham and Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford almost certainly badly affected the next season by their rush to recover from injuries in time to play for England in the 2002 and 2006 World Cup tournaments respectively.


Beckham's relatively poor form in 2002-2003 arguably led to Sir Alex deciding to transfer him to Real Madrid against his will. There have been loud whispers that Deng could be traded to another NBA team next season, something that looks unlikely in the current economic climate as whoever took him on would have to pick up the remainder of his mega-contract. Anyway, the majority of Bulls fans wish him to stay.

Smith writes: "I'd like to see Deng rest and be ready for next season with the hope the team can make a major step forward."


With the Bulls against Deng playing for Britain this summer and Deng equally determined that he will, it appears that in this tug-of-war that there must be a loser. But surely both the Bulls and Britain will be praying that Deng does not end up aggravating the injury so badly that he suffers long-term problems. That would benefit neither party.


Duncan Mackay is the publisher and editor of insidethegames.com. He was the 2004 British Sports Journalist of the Year and was the athletics correspondent of The Guardian for 11 years.


Why should the Bulls pay Deng $71m so he can play for Britain?
It's not fair.
By Bulls fan

13 April 2009 at 15:28pm

I have been a Bulls fan since the days of his Royal Airness
Michael Jordan but I cannot agree with this comment. Luol has
done more to promote the sport in Britain than anyone else since
Saint Michael - the difference is that he was brought up in
london and the black kids can identify with him in the way they
never could RAMJ. The guy is an icon and you simply can't put a
price on that.
By Bulls fan UK

13 April 2009 at 20:38pm

Roald Bradstock: Art and the Olympics

altBy Roald Bradstock - 10 April 2009

As an artist and an athlete I find the recent discussion about the "The Cultural Olympiad" and its role in the Olympics very interesting. A journalist wrote in an article recently that "it" would "be a tiny side show" to the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012.



Unfortunately this is a point of view that many people may have, but what amuses me is that art and the arts is so intertwined with the Olympics that people cannot see it.


They are one and the same. Art and artistic ideas and concepts are all over the Olympics. Art has effected sports and the Olympics and vice versa. Art is the Olympics and the Olympics is ART!

When you look closely and think about it the connection between sport and the arts it becomes clearer. In fact, I would argue that one of the reasons the Olympics is so big is exactly because of the artistic and cultural aspect.

The most obvious connection is the opening and closing ceremonies: the dancing, the music, and the fireworks - it is a show, a carefully choreographed show – it is theatre.

Look at sports like synchronised swimming, rhythmic gymnastics and figure skating. Moving to music - isn't that dancing?

When you start looking behind the scenes and see how athletes train, perform and reach peak fitness to get to the Olympic and Paralympic stage you see the synergy between sport and the arts.

Have you ever seen the training programme of a world class athlete: the structure, the detail that goes into it and the planning - is it that different from a carefully written manuscript or musical score? They both follow rules and have structure from beginning to end. They both have balance, rhythm and flow.


Almost every elite athlete uses visual aids like video to get valuable feedback to learn and improve. They are filmed and then they look, observe, study the angles, the positions of the body and look at the overall form of the body in motion and the sequencing and timing of body parts as they move through space. It is interesting to note that it was an artist, a British photographer called Edwuard Muybridge, who revolutionised how we "see" a figure in motion back in the 19th century.


His photographic sequences of people and animals running, jumping and throwing changed the art world forever and also the sporting world. Modern day video software technology such as Dartfish is the modern day hi-tech version which is now used by 90 per cent of the Olympic sporting organisations in the United States alone.


Repetition is another strong link between the art world and the sporting world. The only way to improve is to practice, to repeat a movement, an exercise, a skill, over and over and over again. When you see an athlete crossing a finish line winning Olympic gold you see the end result just as when you look at a great masterpiece by Rembrandt. You just see the end result - perfection or almost perfection. But it took practice and repetition to get there - years and years of practice, repeating movements to improve skills.


Failure is yet another binding component of both the art world and the sporting world. To succeed you must fail and you must fail repeatedly. In my personal experience as an athlete and an artist I have learned to embrace failure. It seems to be a paradox, but it’s true. Think about it: to build strength you do more reps and lift heavier weight to the point of failure so you tear muscle down so it rebuilds stronger. In competition everyone has to lose, to fail sometime whether it’s just from having a bad day or getting injured.


In the art world mistakes used to be considered failure but in the last century mistakes and even accidents have become celebrated and even revered. Mistakes and errors are part of the process in both art and sport. It is human to be imperfect although Olympians and Paralympians are constantly trying to overcome and trying to reach - Perfection - the perfect "10" - something that has only been touched by a few.


You may think creativity plays little or no role in sports but just look at gymnastics and diving. Each Olympics the athletes are getting stronger, more athletic and more creative with their movements and their artistry.

altThe envelope is always being pushed; the bar is always being raised. One more great and "creative" and historic athlete of note is 1968 Olympic high jump champion Dick Fosbury who created a new style of jumping called, appropriately, "The Fosbury Flop". My definition of a great artist is someone who can make you think, challenges the norm and can influence those that follow. He, in my view, is also one of the great artists of the 20th century. He changed his event and affected all that followed through his athletic creativity.

Artists are known for being creative and having great imaginations. What about top athletes? Don't they visualise? Isn't that using their imagination?

Are you starting to get the "picture”?

And let’s not forget the role photography plays in capturing great Olympic and Paralympics moments in time. Catching key moments in time like the photo of Bob Beamon in mid flight when he smashed the world long jump record and won Olympic gold. Look at his face, his expression, the height, the surroundings - I think this photograph is an artistic masterpiece capturing an athletic masterpiece. No wonder it launched a young British photographer Tony Duffy’s career.

So if you can't make it to one of the official Cultural Olympiad events in or around 2012 don't worry it will come to you in some form. The stage may be a swimming pool or a running track and the actors may look like athletes but don't be fooled art and the influence of art will be all around what you are seeing.


Roald Bradstock, who was born in Hertfordshire, represented Britain in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics in the javelin. He now lives in the United States and has increasingly concentrated on his art. In 2000 he won the United States Olympic Committee Sport Art Competition and then exhibited at the International Olympic Museum in Lausanne.  In 2003 he won the prestigious "International Sports Artist of the Year Award".  He is a founding member of the Olympic revival movement called "Art of the Olympians".  His artwork had been seen on ABC, NBC, CBS and been exhibited form the United Nations to Times Square.  In the last few years he has been dubbed the "Olympic Picasso" for his visionary ideas on how to combine sport and art with the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012. To view his work visit www.roaldbradstock.com.



The challenges given to the Architect should not be 4gotten. The
venue must be both functional and memorable...and there is no
time 4 a practise sesh
By Bez

10 April 2009 at 16:53pm

Good piece. Nice to see you acknowledging that culture plays an
important part in the Olympics. Well done.
By Patricia, Southend

11 April 2009 at 12:02pm

Clutching at straws mate,
I could use exactly the same rationale to align or justify train
spotting as an art form or a sport for that matter
By Paulmatosic

18 May 2009 at 08:21am

Michele Verroken: Does football have a point in its stance on whereabouts?

 altBy Michele Verroken - 9 April 2009

FIFA and UEFA’s stand against the new World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) whereabouts policy is providing the sporting world with a new spectator sport. Not quite a match between David and Goliath but an interesting contest of dogma and reality. The sporting world is watching this power struggle with genuine interest, it goes to the core of anti-doping efforts.



FIFA have been consistent in their reservations about the WADA Code, since the first conference in 2003. Participants accepted the Code by acclamation, perhaps the applause drowned out FIFA’s intervention explaining their reservations.



A Memorandum of Understanding signed between FIFA and WADA tried to work through differing opinions about how anti-doping should operate. Expensive legal opinion, including the Court of Arbitration for Sport confirmed that “neither the International Olympic Committee nor WADA has the right to dictate to FIFA as regards their disciplinary regulations for the fight against doping”. Subsequent debate about individual case management and principles of fault shaped the second World Anti-Doping Code which came into effect in January 2009.


The 2009 Code introduced whereabouts requirements on all sports, regardless of the way a sport or its athletes operate. Commentators are divided; some suggest football is trying to hide a doping problem; others outline minimal disruption arguments, “only one hour per day”, “only 30 players in the England squad”.


Claims that ability to test an athlete without advance notice on a 365 day basis is ‘one of the key principles of efficient doping control’ sounds like a new development. Not so, some sports have been testing at any time since the mid 1980’s. Back then, if the athlete was not where they said they would be, testers kept looking. The difference now is about the enforcement of a ‘convenient’ one hour testing slot. It’s not clear who it is convenient to.


Teams train together regularly, FIFA ask why this is not good enough? Answer, if a player misses training, he might avoid being tested. Clubs might become complicit in hiding players with drug problems. WADA therefore insist on individual whereabouts. Clearly access to players is based upon a lack of trust across sport. Yet players are expected to trust anti-doping authorities. Data on players’ whereabouts is collated by the testing authorities; how long this data retained, who accesses it, is not clear. What privacy protection is there for players or right to family life?


Why does WADA want daily whereabouts information on players? This requirement is based on fear. Fear of being tested is a deterrent for players; and WADA’s fear of micro-dosing with performance enhancing drugs like testosterone and EPO. But if whereabouts have to be provided from 6am to 11pm, what could a determined player do between 11pm and 6am?


Whereabouts rules do not apply equally across football; they apply to a limited number of elite players. The average Premier League football club could have various anti-doping requirements among its players. Not all players are in the registered testing pool of their respective countries or bound by the same whereabouts obligations. What happens when selection changes the national squad or a player is dropped through injury? Is whereabouts an eligibility requirement to play at national level? Who prefers not to play for their country rather than meet the bureaucratic demands of testing agencies? OK it may not be practical to apply whereabouts across all levels of football, but you get my drift, whereabouts has the potential to divide teams.


At least FIFA can blame WADA for these requirements, which raises an important question about who is running sport. Should anti-doping authorities require team sports to apply team principles? Share responsibility for cheating and for being drug-free; in the same way as you share the glory of winning.


Player associations voice concerns about the impact and consequent damage to careers and reputations, simply for living their lives and getting the bureaucracy wrong. For professional sports with financial investments to consider, whereabouts will impact upon players and clubs. Perhaps some believe this a good thing, over paid players being more accountable.


altWhereabouts raises questions about who owns players, who controls their ability to ply their trade and what hours they really work for their sport. Employment rights are a legal entitlement. Duty of care of an employer for a drug abusing employee takes on a different meaning under WADA.


WADA has recently developed a new section to their website, to locate information on whereabouts in one area. Strangely, WADA has included statements from UK Sport and the IAAF supporting whereabouts, and testimonies and quotes of athletes expressing agreement with the current whereabouts system. No comments are posted from those expressing concern. You know an issue is in trouble when PR takes over and real questions remain unanswered. In the interests of fairness and transparency, what is needed is a web page that allows the concerns of athletes to be recorded; perhaps some of them might be addressed. But it’s difficult to raise concerns about anti-doping, without sounding as if you support drug use.


This is a point of principle, as I have said before; this is an issue about winning the hearts and minds of our athletes to support of drug-free sport. I doubt if it is really having that kind of impact. Whereabouts could be the nemesis that turns the ‘drug-free’ willing into the ‘whatever’ generation. Athletes are the target of anti-doping programmes in the same way they are the target of those who would seek ways around doping rules and supply performance enhancing drugs. The system relies upon athletes being on side.


Scoff at the stance football is taking if you will, but understand also the limitations of this policy. Recognise that certain individual sports have been the major problem in doping and one size does not fit all. Apply seemingly irrelevant punitive policies and credibility flies out the window. Now FIFA are standing firm and are joined publicly by UEFA, how many other sports (and let’s examine whether it is players or their federations expressing a view) are willing to put their heads above the crossbar?


I support zero tolerance on cheating in sport, but I am also committed to credible and effective anti-doping policies and processes. That is how you win those hearts and minds, because it makes sense to do so.


Michele Verroken is an international expert on anti-doping and integrity matters in sport. She has over 20 years experience of developing anti-doping policies and procedures for professional, Olympic and Paralympic sports. She developed the UK's national anti-doping policy, designed the Drug Information Database and now advises (among others) professional golf on its anti-doping policy. She is the founder of Sporting Integrity. More details on www.sportingintegrity.com


I repeat my comments from an earlier blog.

1.All must be subject to whereabouts to be possibly compliant
with EHRA and not just elite.
2.the one hour rule for 365 days is in breach of the working time
directive.As this is Health and Safety and breaches of such are
criminal offences whereabouts requirements are criminal.
By barry williams

9 April 2009 at 22:48pm

Intrusive Whereabouts testing...Data collection and usage without
proper explanation, rules, or legal jurisdiction having been
established...athlete contracts which are restrictive and don't
allow athletes to say no without being punished....and propagnade
filled web sites and newsletters that only allow one view to be
presented.  Happy days...Happy days.  The real cheats and
hypocrites in sport still sit in offices behind their nice desks
with titles like Chairman, President, Chief Executive and
Performance Director.  It was ever thus.
By Geoff Parsons

10 April 2009 at 20:33pm

Dame Kelly Holmes: I cannot believe I sat next to Michelle Obama at dinner

altBy Dame Kelly Holmes - 8 April 2009

When Leona Lewis sang at the closing ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, I found myself wondering why she did not sing 'A moment like this'. It seemed such a fitting song given the momentous occasion of the handover to 2012. If I had been a world class singer and not a double Olympic Champion, that's what I would have burst into song with when I had the opportunity to attend the dinner hosted by the Prime Minister's wife, Sarah Brown for the wives of the G20 World Leaders last week.


So, when Sarah asked me if I would like to attend a dinner on the night of April 1 had she been able to tell me exactly what the night had in store, I would have thought it was an April fool’s joke.



But due to strict protocol she couldn't reveal the details. I have been to many charity functions and on judging panels including the Children's Champion Awards with Sarah, which is how I know her. She is a lovely lady with a beautiful smile who is genuinely interested in people.

So flying off to South Africa where some of the girls on my ‘On Camp with Kelly’ mentoring initiative that Aviva support were training, I had no idea what I was returning to.


When I returned and found out who I was going to be sitting next too I thought I would hyperventilate with excitement. I am fortunate enough to have been to Number 10 a few times, for some of the charity functions and during my time as the National School Sports Champion, but receiving a personal invite from Gordon Brown and Sarah to attend such a high-profile event was truly special.


Last Wednesday when I arrived at Downing Street there was more security and police than usual because of the predicted riots. The world's media were also stationed outside that famous big black door. I felt it a great honour to be invited, along to such a significant event. To have the opportunity to represent the best of British from the world of sport, along with Dame Tanni- Grey Thompson, was brilliant and made me proud of my achievements.


Given the historic nature of this first visit by the new President of America to Great Britain, it was a really unique experience that I was not going to miss. But as has been reported in the press, I also was fortunate enough to be seated next to Michelle Obama with JK Rowling sitting to her other side. How lucky was I?


Michelle was very engaging, down to earth and so easy to talk to. You just warm to her caring nature - her face is a constant source of smiles and expression. Amazingly I found we had lots in common. We spoke about the importance of mentoring young people, to give them direction in life, something close to my heart as I explained my 'On camp with Kelly'. She said she would love to bring together people who do great work with young people over in the States.


altShe asked what else I did these days, and I spoke of my charity the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust and how it was trying to help elite performers transition into new careers and a programme I had been running in East London with BT helping communities.


She said she loved visiting communities and schools and was really looking forward to the travelling that she and Barack would undertake. She underlined the fact, however, that the United States is a massive place, so they are looking to meet as many people domestically as they can.


Given that her hometown Chicago were bidding for the 2016 games, I asked her if she was looking forward to coming over to the 2012 Olympics and she was very excited. I think she will know the excitement that we are starting to feel here in the UK and I am sure deep down both Michelle and her husband would love the next games after London to be in the US.


Talking to Michelle I started to think where my life has been going. I mean how many times in life have you felt that you've stepped into the most unexpected and surreal dream, heart racing with excitement, not wanting the moment to end. I have felt that, especially after winning my second Gold medal at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 and this night was another one of those; it had the wow factor as well of course, but in a completely different way.


Words cannot express what I felt when I saw Barack Obama himself. At the end of the dinner we went over to Number 10 and in came all of the Heads of States led by the Prime Minister, fresh from their own dinner meeting. It seemed Gordon Brown was pleased with the dinner, given the big smile on his face.


When I saw the President I smoothly edged my way over to shake his hand. I believe you should never live with regrets and this one opportunity I was not going to miss. A brief conversation with Mr Obama about sitting next to his lovely wife over dinner, finished off a great night.


I thought to myself last month I wrote about sports people not knowing what to do next. I may to some people be just an ex-athlete but we are also people who have worked extremely hard to try and be successful representing our country. I am proud of my careers so far both in the Army and in sport and I hope that I can continue to show people that if you are willing to work hard and never give up trying to be the best you can be sometimes people really do take an interest in who you are!


I don’t really know where my life is going at the moment but I am enjoying the journey.


Dame Kelly has her own website that has links to her charity Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust and ‘On Camp with Kelly’. It can be visited at www.doublegold.co.uk



Dear Insde the Games,

The blog by Dame Kelly Holmes on her dinner next to Michelle
Obama was excellent. It also gives your readers in US an
appreciation of the excitement that many have about our President
and his wife!
Larry Eder
American Track & Field
By Larry Eder

8 April 2009 at 00:58am

Wow! What a great piece. It is always interesting to hear what
foreigners think of our President and his wife. It is nice to
know that even people like Kelly are impressed.
By Keith Hopkins, Greenville, TX

9 April 2009 at 09:50am

This is a brilliant piece, a unique insight into what it must be
like to be Kelly Holmes. If it were anyone else I think I might
be incredibly jealous but knowing how hard she has worked and
what she want through to get that, I'm just really chuffed for
Kelly. I hope she will be doing more stuff like this on
insidethegames because it's brilliant.
By Paul, Stockport

11 April 2009 at 11:21am

It must have been thrilling for Kelly to sit next to Michelle
Obama, but I am sure when the First Lady heard about Kelly's
achievements she was just as awe-struck. But it's nice to know
that even people like Kelly can still get child-like pleasure of
meeting people like Michelle Obama.
By Sarah Toploksi, Lausanne

13 April 2009 at 15:33pm

Martin Gillingham: The organiser of the Atlanta Olympics must modernise Augusta

Duncan Mackay

Martin 2520Gillingham1_13Few with a golfing bent will disagree that this weekend is one of the three most significant of the year – it’s the Masters at Augusta.

A stunning location, challenging course, and the world’s best golfers playing for perhaps the globe’s only prestigious and fashionable green jacket.

It is an event that has produced countless wonderful stories, none of which is better than that of Ben Crenshaw’s second Masters victory in 1995.

Anyone who has read the “Little Red Book” will know of Harvey Penick’s contribution to golf teaching and how he has a genuine claim to be regarded as the greatest coach any sport has ever produced.

Penick had first placed a golf club in the hand of Crenshaw when he was just six. He was the only coach Crenshaw ever had and died in the week before the ’95 Masters.

Crenshaw was in the Augusta field that year but was in the midst of the worst slump of his career. He’d missed the cut in three of his previous four tournaments and not broken 70 for two months.

At 7.30 on the day before the Masters started, Crenshaw left Augusta and flew 950 miles to carry his coach’s coffin to his grave. Four days later, with tears welling in his eyes, Crenshaw holed out on the 18th green at Augusta to win by one shot.

“I believe in fate,” Crenshaw said. "I don’t know how it happened. I don’t.”

It is a touching tale with few, if any, peers.

Despite all of the above, the Masters is an event which infuriates me as much as it inspires. There is the harmless stuff like the blue dye in the water and obsession with trivial tradition like the Augusta committee’s insistence on referring to “patrons” rather than fans or spectators.

More sinister is Augusta’s autocratic rule over its “guests”; a junta-like policing of the media which once saw a television commentator permanently excluded for referring to the patrons as “a mob” and another for having described the course’s notoriously fast greens as looking as if they’d been “bikini-waxed”.

Though things are a bit more relaxed now than they once were, words critical of Augusta will be hard to find this weekend.


altThe tone for what the Masters has become was set by a fellow called Clifford Roberts, Augusta National’s first chairman, whose own demons moved him in later life to take a moonlit walk on the vaunted course before putting a gun to his head, pulling the trigger, and falling dead into one of its famous water features.

To add to the authoritarianism and mystery that Roberts’ legacy brings, there is also an uncomfortable history that, until relatively recently, saw the club embrace the notion of racial segregation with something bordering on enthusiasm.

It is an enduring hypocrisy that at the same time as South Africa was excluded from international sport because of its apartheid policy, so the sporting world would focus its attention for one week every year on a golf club in America’s south where for the first 40 years of the tournament’s history the only black faces to be seen inside the ropes were caddies and outside them were litter-pickers and waiters.

The Augusta club had no black members and the tournament no black players. That, in spite of the fact, that at least two qualified by winning events on the PGA tour. It was only when Lee Elder teed up in 1975 that the Masters’ unofficial whites-only policy was ended. Until then, the committee had used the Masters’ status as an invitation-only event to exclude them.

Thankfully, Tiger Woods, who was born in the same year as Elder’s ground-breaking appearance, has done much to advance the cause of non-white golfers. He goes for a fifth Masters title this week when he will no doubt be watched from the old white clubhouse by one of the club’s handful of black members. They are a token minority but, bear in mind, 20 years ago there weren’t any at all.

The current club chairman is Billy Payne - he of Atlanta Olympics fame - and now, more than ever, pressure is on him to drag Augusta out of its parallel universe and into the one the rest of us occupy.

Some might say there’s more chance of that happening than a woman winning the Masters.

Pragmatists would no doubt settle for Payne inviting a female to take up membership at his club.

Augusta took more than half-a-century to allow its first Afro-Caribbean to cross the threshold. I wonder how much longer it will be before a lady is invited to take the same step?

Martin Gillingham represented Great Britain in the 1984 Olympic Games and 1987 World Championships at the 400 metres hurdles. Since retiring from the track he spent 12 years in South Africa where he was a radio talk show presenter and writer for a Sunday newspaper. He returned to the UK in 2003 and can now be heard commentating on athletics for Eurosport as well as rugby for Sky Sports, ITV and Setanta.

Martin Gillingham represented Great Britain in the 1984 Olympic Games and 1987 World Championships at the 400 metres hurdles. Since retiring from the track he spent 12 years in South Africa where he was a radio talk show presenter and writer for a Sunday newspaper. He returned to the UK in 2003 and can now be heard commentating on athletics for Eurosport as well as rugby for Sky Sports, ITV and Setanta. 




Duncan Mackay: Why Chicago has history on its side

  altBy Duncan Mackay - 6 April 2009

Chicago has been putting on quite a show here the past couple of days. Videos featuring Barack Obama and basketball legend Michael Jordan, dancers, high school bands, cute young children waving placards claiming “We back the bid”, even a giant rabbit...anything, in fact, that they hope might give them an edge in the race to follow London and host the 2016 Olympics.


Tonight, they are wheeling out the closest thing the United States has to royalty when Oprah Winfrey will attend a private dinner for the members of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Evaluation Commission. Mike Roberts, the vice-chairman of Chicago’s bid, has called the television talk show host the “most influential person in the world.”


Coming from the former chairman and chief executive of McDonald’s that kind of hype should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt. Chicago may still have some way to go before they match what London did four years ago when they were bidding for the 2012 Olympics and the Evaluation Commission visited the capital and officials arranged for them to have a private dinner with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. But, nevertheless, an Obama-Winfrey double act is not a bad one if you are trying to impress the IOC.

Curiously, the one card that Chicago appears reluctant to play is how more than a century ago they were cheated out of hosting the Olympics. In 1901 they were originally awarded the 1904 Olympics, which were the first time the then fledging event had been due to be staged outside Europe, and began planning to welcome the world.

But it clashed with the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis and the organisers there would not accept another international event being held in the same time frame. The exposition organisation began to plan for its own sports activities, informing the Chicago officials that its own international sports events intended to eclipse the Olympic Games unless they were moved to St. Louis. The IOC finally decided to let President Theodore Roosevelt arbitrate the question, and he chose St. Louis. It was a decision that Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Movement, went along with.

altSt. Louis organisers repeated the mistakes made at the 1900 Olympics in Paris. Competitions were reduced to a side-show of the World's Fair and were lost in the chaos of other, more popular cultural exhibits. David Francis, the president of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, declined to invite anybody else to open the Games and, on July 1, 1904, did so himself in a scaled-down short and humdrum "ceremony".


Chicago's proposals for the Games were revolutionary at the time. They included one of the first proposals for a domed stadium and the organising committee recruited prominent local citizens, including civic leaders and diplomats, to help them put them on.


John MacAloon, a professor at the University of Chicago, believes that the course of Olympic history was changed dramatically by that decision to move the Games to St. Louis. "Had Chicago not given up its hard-won rights to the 1904 Olympic Games the history of the modern Olympic Movement would surely have been different," he said. "As it was, the Greek authorities had to step in with the 'interim Olympics of 1906' in order to save the nascent Olympic Movement from the disaster of St. Louis, caused by Chicago's decision to forsake the 1904 Games."

European tension caused by the Russo-Japanese War and the difficulty of getting to St. Louis kept many of the world's top athletes away. There were only 687 competitors, most of them from the United States, though Canada sent a good-sized contingent. Only 12 countries were represented.


Things will undoubtedly be very different if Chicago beats Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo to the right to host the 2016 Games. This is Chicago's third bid to host the Olympics since those ill-fated events of 1901. But previous attempts to host the 1952 and 1956 Olympics both failed.


There is an discernable feeling in the air here this time, though, that Chicago's time has come. The election of Obama has helped lift the city's self-esteem and it is demonstrating a new-found confidence as the world's attention focuses on it. If someone from Chicago can become the first black leader of the planet's most powerful country then surely anything is possible, seems to be the mood among people here. And Chicagoans would probably feel a sense of poetic justice if it is the US President that swings it their way more than a century after one of his predecessors had helped take it away from them.


Duncan Mackay is the publisher and editor of insidethegames.com. He was the 2004 British Sports Journalist of the Year and was the athletics correspondent of The Guardian for 11 years. He has correctly forecast the winner of the last four Olympic Games.


This city would really embrace this event. I hope we get it.
By Helen Stevenson, Chicago

6 April 2009 at 16:37pm

I want to be on the IOC committee...wined and dined - fly around
the world to be fawned and treated like royalty.
City leaders will rape and pillage their own citizens to impress
you...they spend lots of money (in Daley's case millions) by
taxing their citizens to impress you - for a couple days.
Lack of protesters? The IOC had been warned and then said (on the
news last week) they were used to protesters and basically ignore
There has to be a better way to have the Olympics than this
unfair debacle to innocent citizens...maybe a plan and then a
By Who are the IOC?

6 April 2009 at 16:42pm

Is this for the Winter Olympics? It's freezing here.
By David G, Chicago

6 April 2009 at 16:45pm

Even the gods don't want the Olympics here - glad we had lousy
weather for their trip - Daley is paying no attention to the
citizens of this city, he's just doing whatever he feels like and
the taxpayers will bear the burden 
Chicago, IL
By Lady Chicago

6 April 2009 at 16:53pm

The Olympics will provide thousands of jobs immediately upon
award. 20% of all construction workers are unemployed. Once the
current crop of bildings under construction finish this number
will skyrocket. Also affected are all material suppliers,
transporters and on and on. If we are concerned about money,
let's put people back to work and not on unemployment.

So far, it has all been financed by private donations- not tax
By 2016 supporter, Chicago

6 April 2009 at 16:57pm

The Olympics is one of the biggest marketing venues in the world.
The Games attract people around the world and among them are
potential residents, future students, business dealmakers, etc.
The Barcelona Games is a great model for Chicago. After 1992, the
city still enjoys the benefits from the games, especially tourist
money and population growth.
By Olympic fan, Chicago

6 April 2009 at 21:57pm

Why do people keep referring to Chicago being in the Mid-West
when it is clearly not.
By Confused Brit

9 April 2009 at 22:51pm

Ever wonder about why we call things what we do? For example, we
all know the Far East, but why is there no Far West? Seems like
Hawaii would be in the Far West.

And why is Chicago in the Mid-West? Mid-West should be CO, WY,
MT, maybe even AZ. Illinois should be Mid-East at the most, but
certainly not Mid-West. And for that matter, how come there ain't
no such thing as Mid-East?

These are things inquiring minds wonder about.
By Collier, CA

10 April 2009 at 09:32am

That whole mid-west thing has me puzzled as well.

C'mon. It's either mid, or west. Get over it.

I'm with you, Collier. Chicago? North, if anything.
By Steve Bricks, South Los Angeles

10 April 2009 at 09:34am

I think it's one of those things that just goes back so far it
doesn't make sense any more. In the early days of our nation,
Illinois probably seemed like "the west".

Reminds me of the old story about the founding of Chicago. Some
northern Atlantic guys got together and said, "you know, I just
love the sub-freezing temperatures and floundering snow drifts
here, but it just isn't windy enough for me" and so they headed
for Chicago.
By Nigel, Toronto

10 April 2009 at 09:52am

It's probably about as logical as why your little island in the
middle of nowhere insists on calling itself "Great" when it
clearly isnt.
By Proud American

10 April 2009 at 10:10am

Scene: a bus, San Diego

Local lady: So where did you grow up?
My (Hong Kong-born) friend: The Far East.
Local lady (to another local lady): Hey Dawn, he's from New

It all depends on your perspective
By true story

10 April 2009 at 20:14pm

The term West was applied to the region in the early years of the
country. In 1789, the Northwest Ordinance was enacted, creating
the Northwest Territory, which was bounded by the Great Lakes and
the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Because the Northwest Territory
lay between the East Coast and the then-far-West, the states
carved out of it were called the "Northwest". In the early 19th
century, anything west of the Mississippi River was considered
the West, and the Midwest was the region east of the Mississippi
and west of the Appalachians. In time, some users began to
include Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri in the Midwest. With the
settlement of the western prairie, the new term Great Plains
States was used for the row of states from North Dakota to
Kansas. Later, these states also came to be considered Midwest by
The states of the "old Northwest" are now called the "East North
Central States" by the United States Census Bureau and the "Great
Lakes" region by some of its inhabitants, whereas the states just
west of the Mississippi and the Great Plains states are called
the "West North Central States" by the Census Bureau. Today
people as far west as the prairie sections of Colorado, Wyoming,
and Montana sometimes identify themselves with the term
Midwest.[7] Some parts of the Midwest are still referred to as
"Northwest" for historical reasons – for example, Minnesota-based
Northwest Airlines and Northwestern University in Illinois – so
the Northwest region of the country is called the "Pacific
Northwest" to make a clear distinction.
By Let me google that for you

11 April 2009 at 01:02am

Mike Rowbottom: On his fond memories of Alain Baxter

  altBy Mike Rowbottom - 5 April 2009

As British skiing comes to terms with this week’s retirement through injury of its most successful competitor, Alain Baxter, many tributes have been paid to the 35-year-old Scot who is popularly known as ‘The Highlander.’



According to Britain’s head coach, Mark Tilston, Baxter "has shown that skiers from these shores can compete and beat traditional alpine nations."



Mark Simmers, chief executive of Snowsport GB, commented: "His fourth place in a World Cup in Sweden, an overall world ranking of 11th and claiming Britain’s first Olympic alpine ski medal, speak volumes of Alain’s mercurial skiing talent."


But for an imprudent and unwitting snort on an American version of a Vicks inhaler, which turned out to contain the drug metamphetamine, Baxter would have kept the bronze medal he won with such astonishing dash at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games.


As it is, his career will always have a wistful feel to it. If only he’d packed a British version of Vicks he would have been OK. He’d skied the best he’d ever skied – he should have used Odorono…


It’s a pity you don’t get Olympic medals for being a great bloke, because if you did, Baxter would have been nailed-on for gold. And as he now reaches the end of the slippery slope I would like to advance some reasons why he remains one of my favourite sportsmen.


Reason No.1. Not every athlete, when faced with a lack of cash, would decide to raise funds by producing a nude calendar of themselves, as Baxter did last November to assist a winter Olympic campaign at the 2010 Vancouver Games that he will not now embark upon.


No matter. He showed initiative, daring even; and he didn’t – quite – show what all Highlanders have up their kilts.


altReason No.2. His decision to dye his hair in the form of a white and blue Scottish saltire before the Salt Lake Games – done, in his own words, ‘for the craic’ rather than to make any political statement about his country of birth as he represented Great Britain. His method of rectifying the matter when the autorities cut up rough – rather than dyeing his hair back to a normal colour, he simply coloured in the white cross blue, but so badly that you could still see it. That was endearing, even if it gave him the look of a woad-daubed ancient Briton as he took to the slopes above the jewel in the Mormon’s crown.


Reason No.3. He plays shinty, regularly, for his local club Kincraig.


Reason No.4. In 2005 he won the British TV Superstars event, beating, among others, John Regis and Du’Aine Ladejo. "It was good to kick the arse of some of the summer boys." he said. Top marks there.


Reason No.5. The cars. Skiers, well British skiers, don’t ever get to be part of the Baby Bentley brigade. But they have their own automotive fun. Listen up, Rio Ferdinand. When Baxter began competing in Europe aged 18 his ride of choice – well, of necessity – was a beat-up VW Passat with a hole in the back. He and his mates, travelling in dilapidated convoy, would sleep in their cars and get changed for competition in the car park as the other teams were strolling out of their hotel after breakfast. "It was not professional,’ Baxter recalled, "but it was fun." Words that deserve to live long and loudly.


Reason No. 6. On the morning after Baxter had won the first Olympic skiing medal for Britain, a TV crew came to his room to interview him. After what he described as a ‘massive night’, Baxter had had only an hour’s sleep and found himself inconveniently without any clothes on when the crew arrived. There was further inconvenience when – in what now seems like an unpleasant premonitory experience – his medal could not be found. Baxter did the logical thing, checking to see if it was around the neck of his brother, Noel, who had crashed out on the sofa. It wasn’t. But it was in Noel’s jacket pocket, soaked in beer.


altReason No.7. I confess I had had a small part to play in Baxter’s massive night. I didn’t careen down the slopes with him, but I might have given him a little push near the top. Salt Lake City not being replete with drinking holes, visiting members of the press who did not follow the Mormon code of teetotalism made it one of their top priorities to find a venue that fitted their bill. The Dead Goat Saloon, full of dark beer and blues music, was like a piece of New Orleans that had been wrenched up in a twister and deposited on the arid plain of Utah.


And it was to this dingy haven of delight – there were even pool tables upstairs with hardly anyone on them, I ask you - that the British team’s press officer led Baxter three hours after his startling performance on the ice-hard switchback of a slalom course at Deer Valley. There was an element of tension about this supposedly informal appearance, however. The press officer was dedicating himself with Olympic fervour to the task of preventing his new medallist being hassled, pressured,questioned or even approached


Our unastounding decision to buy the bronze medallist a drink was cautiously allowed by the officer, although he was beginning to take on a set expression, reminding me of a teacher in charge of a school outing that was about to spiral out of control.


People kept coming up to Baxter, bothering him, wanting to say hello and have his autograph. Could you believe the nerve of these people? That needed careful monitoring. Then came the TV crew, bearing down upon the glorious Scotsman at the bar. Our officer stepped up to the mark like an Englishman. "No! Leave him alone! He’s just trying to have a quiet drink! Just leave him! Go on!"


The Reuters cameraman faltered, before being ushered forwards by none other than Baxter himself. "No it’s fine," commanded the Highlander with a wave of his mighty arm. Come on." As our officer busied himself with some suddenly urgent paperwork the cameraman began to rove around the medallist, the light above his lens illuminating the first of what would be many beers held in his beefy hand.


A young lady celebrating her 21st birthday requested an autograph on a certain part of her body, but Baxter sensibly elected to write his name on a beer mat. Amiably, and just a tad awkwardly, he accepted a succession of congratulations before settling down to watch a replay of his performance on the TV in the corner of the bar.


It might have been his finest hour. Bloody Vicks.


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 freelancing and will be writing regularly for insidethegames 



It is nice that Alain is receiving the credit he deserved but
never received during his career. It is only now that he is not
there that people will begin to realise how good he was. Good
luck Alain.
By John Renwick, Inverness

6 April 2009 at 16:37pm

Does somebody there have a thing about Alain Baxter? You seem to
take every opportunity to use a nude picture of him.
By Curious, Edinburgh

6 April 2009 at 20:05pm

James Hoad: From pitch to aspiring podium via the wall of death

  altBy James Hoad - 4 April 2009


I spent 10 years in Watford FC’s academy as a goalkeeper, before I was released in 2007. I was determined that I was going to be a professional football player – it was all I’d ever wanted to be.



That all changed the day when the manager turned around to me and told me that my future wasn’t at that club any more and I wasn’t going to be offered a contract. Of course the reality is, more lads are going to be released every year than are going to go pro. At that time, the thought of taking up another sport never crossed my mind.



Less than a year later, I was working on a building site, doing a job that I didn’t really feel I had a future in, when I got the letter through the door about Pitch2Podium. I didn’t think much of it at first, but it was my mum that actually put it under my nose and said: “Look at this James, you should do this.” You get so many letters through the door these days, but when I actually read the letter from UK Sport and the EIS, it really appealed to me.


I decided to go along to the talent assessment day in London last July. I didn’t really know what to expect or what might come of it, but went along with the attitude that I had nothing to lose and should give it a go. When I got there I soon noticed that some of the people testing us were actually coaches and sport scientists from Great Britain teams, which made me realise that this could be a serious opportunity. I missed being involved in a full time training environment and this seemed like a realistic route back into high performance sport.


So I did the tests and gave it my best shot. They really put me and the other 15 or so lads through our paces - sprints, cycling tests, strength tests, and a bleep test - some of these tests we were familiar with from football, but some were completely new. We were told we would be contacted for trials with specific sports if we had done well in the tests on that day. I wasn’t training at the time or even playing any sport, just working, so I wasn’t sure how well I had done or whether I would hear any more from them.


A few weeks later, I got a letter from the Pitch2Podium team saying that I had been selected for further assessments in three Olympic sports – bob skeleton, hockey and cycling. I had a bit of a giggle when they said bob skeleton - I’d never even heard of it! But they must have known what they were talking about, because I went to the University of Bath , where they have a dry-land push track and I found I was pretty good at it. I loved skeleton from the first time I tried it. I could feel my push technique improving with practice and my times were getting faster too.


altIn November, a few of us were taken to Italy to try the sport out for real on the ice. It’s one thing being able to push off down a short dry-land track, but doing it on ice is completely different. They needed to know whether we could connect with the ice. We spent a week at the Olympic track in Cesana, It was scary the first time, so fast, and another lad went first and he looked horrified. Afterwards he said he couldn’t handle it and sat out for the rest of the week, but I just couldn’t wait to do it again. It was like a fish to water for me and I’ve been hooked ever since!


After Italy we had a couple more training camps in Bath, practicing the starts and then I got the news that I had been selected to go to a three week training camp in Norway. I was the only athlete there from the Pitch2Podium scheme, so I’m really proud to have made it this far. It was great to get more sliding time on the ice and meant that I could do more work on steering and controlling the sled at high speed. I’ve also been learning how to prepare the sled, which helps you understand the equipment you are using and how it affects the time you are getting on the track, which can only make you a better all-round slider.


The coaches and senior athletes I have worked with from British Skeleton have been fantastic - the advice and feedback they have given me has been second to none. They know where the sport is going, how the equipment is changing, how the tracks are changing, how you can adapt to this - so it’s great for me as a novice to have access to these experts at this stage in my development in the sport in order to get the best out of myself.


altSkeleton and football are certainly very different sports; football is a team sport, and skeleton, although you’re part of a team, is very much an individual sport. Only you on the track and only you that will stand on the podium with the gold medal around your neck - that really appeals to me.


I know if I do well it’s my achievement. Equally, if I don’t do so well, I’ve only got myself to blame. I know that if I put the work in, I will see the benefits.


Despite the differences between the sports, I’ve been in full time training before with football, so I think this has really helped me adapt to this new sporting environment and that’s why I’m picking it up so quickly. If I get selected to go full-time with skeleton, I know what to expect because I‘ve been there before – it won’t be a shock.


Having been released from football and missed my opportunity there, I think I appreciate more what a great chance I’ve got here. I’m going to make the most of it and do everything I can to stay involved with the sport and become a full time athlete.


I can’t wait to see if I’ve got onto the programme – if I have it will make my year, my life even! I’ll find out any day now. I’m so grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to make something of myself and not waste all those years of training in football. Pitch2Podium is a fantastic scheme, not just for ex-players like me, I think Great Britain will really benefit from it in future Olympic Games.


Pitch2Podium is a talent transfer programme run by UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport, in partnership with the major football and rugby authorities. Pitch2Podium has just begun its second search for talented players who may have what it takes to be an Olympic champion. For more information please visit www.uksport.gov.uk/pitch2podium.


Good to see young James has not allowed the setback of being
released by Watford to stifle his ambitions. I wish him all the
success and I'll be looking out for him in Vancouver.
By Hornets fan

6 April 2009 at 16:35pm

Martin Gillingham: Why athletics needs to change

altBy Martin Gillingham - 2 April 2009

Two days, above all others, have convinced me that athletics has to change. The first was the second evening session at the Olympic Games in Beijing.



The night of the men’s 100 metres final. Seminal moment in the sport ‘n all that. But as great as the race was, it was the only track final of the night and was scheduled three-and-a-half hours into the programme. Usain Bolt was worth the wait, but …


The second was at the climax of last month’s European Indoor Championships in Turin. Now, if there’s one form of track and field that I would use to sell our sport to kids it is the vibrant, all-action, environment of a two-hour indoor meeting where world-class athletes, almost close enough to touch, dash round a banked track at dizzy speeds.

To sprinters it may seem like the sporting equivalent of the fairground centrifuge but to newcomersw to the sport it’s the nearest they’ll get to having world-class athletes chasing round their living room.

Turin wasn’t quite that exciting but what it did throw up was one of the most stunning single athletics performances of recent years. A previously undistinguished fellow called Sebastian Bayer of Germany had already won the long jump when he prepared for his final leap. Yet he reached out to 8 metres 71 centimetres to improve the European indoor record by 15 centimetres and came to within eight centimetres of Carl Lewis’s 25-year-old world mark.

It was the longest ever sea-level jump by a European (indoors or out) and 15 centimetres farther than the 29-year-old German outdoor record which had been set by an East German in winning the Olympic title in Moscow. It was truly Beamonesque.

Problem is, Bayer’s jump came, to use movie parlance, after the credits had already begun to roll. The track programme had finished and the only reason the majority of the crowd had stayed was because they were celebrating a medal ceremony featuring two Italians. Even if you hadn’t already left it’s possible you’d have walked out unaware of Bayer’s achievement.

Athletics has to address the way it presents itself. Four-hour night sessions featuring one track final have to be consigned to the dustbin and jumps like Bayer’s have, wherever possible, to be showcased.

And to be fair, the powers that be have already started addressing the problem.

Last month, the world governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), announced that from 2010 it will package its evening sessions into more compact three-hour bundles and ensure that the content is more attractive. Lamine Diack’s people did, however, reject a proposal that the outdoor World Championships be cut from nine days to six. The IAAF want their showpiece to extend over two full weekends.

Now that may bed good news for those of use who get hired on a day rate but for the paying punter who expects to see half-a-dozen track finals in each of Mr Diack’s more keenly packaged evening sessions, forget it. You, I suspect, shall continue to be short-changed.

And it’s not only the IAAF who have been making changes. This summer’s re-branded European Cup, now the European Team Championships, will see some altogether more groundbreaking innovations.

Twenty-two years ago at Crystal Palace I recall an innovative David Bedford adopting a devil take the hindmost event at his IAC Grand Prix meeting. Bedford’s feature was a cycle race and an intentional diversion from the regular running fodder.

In June at Leiria, though, it will be adopted as part of the mainstream programme; the last-placed runners in distance races with five, four and three laps remaining being told to step off the track. It’s a ruse to rumble the sort of slow, tactical affairs that have turned some European Cup races into borefests.

The most significant amendment in the field in Leiria involves the long and triple jumps. There, competitors will get a maximum of four jumps each. The first two rounds will be qualifying rounds to eliminate half of the 12-athlete field. The third round will see another two competitors drop out leaving four to go into the final round. Now here comes the controversial bit – because once the final quartet are established the slate is wiped clean, previous marks erased, and the final round used to determine positions one to four.

Purists and critics will no doubt tell us how terribly unfair this is because, almost inevitably, the longest jump in one or perhaps all four of the horizontal jump events in Leiria, won’t win. In fact, it’s highly likely that the best jumper on the day won’t win either.

But then, as we are frequently reminded, life isn’t fair. So why expect athletics to be any different?

What we can be certain of, though, is that a format that ensures the last four attempts of a 34-jump competition will determine the top four placings, and command our attention even if it is a slightly contrived climax.


Martin Gillingham represented Great Britain in the 1984 Olympic Games and 1987 World Championships at the 400 metres hurdles. Since retiring from the track he spent 12 years in South Africa where he was a radio talk show presenter and writer for a Sunday newspaper. He returned to the UK in 2003 and can now be heard commentating on athletics for Eurosport as well as rugby for Sky Sports, ITV and Setanta.


Martin, as ever, makes some interesting points. I think there is
no doubt that the sport has to modernise if it is to have a
future in the 21st century, however much that saddens me.
By Track Fan, Oregon USA

3 April 2009 at 10:29am

Athletics has prospered for more than a century, it is still the
top sport at the Olympics, the world champs will be the most
important event of the summer. Usain Bolt proved that at its
highest level it can still be compelling. We need for the sport
to have more people like Usain rather than just messing around
with the sport at the margins.
By Ronald Mayer, Switzerland

6 April 2009 at 16:47pm

Don Porter: The Olympics is the pinnacle for softball

altBy Don Porter - 1 April 2009

Everyone on the International Softball Federation team was truly delighted by the interest shown by convention delegates and the international media covering an event that helps shape the agenda for world sport.



You know, one of the great things about SportAccord is the number of Olympic legends you see walking the floor and shooting the breeze. This time around they included Sebastian Coe, the UK middle distance gold medalist who now runs the London 2012 organising committee and Frankie Fredericks, the great Namibian sprinter. These are busy guys with important jobs but at SportAccord they can relax because they are among friends – they’re part of the family.



I know that’s how Jessica Mendoza and Michele Smith, two-time Olympic softball medalists felt when they spent time at our booth. As softball Olympians they were certainly at home, among people they share so much with.


That’s down to the fact that the Olympic Games remain the pinnacle of any softball player’s career. They may plan their lives from game to game but appearing at an Olympic Games remains their overriding ambition, winning Gold their enduring dream.


That was true not just of Sebastian Coe and Frankie Fredericks and the vast majority of Olympians but it’s certainly true of every aspiring softball player. For them, the Olympic Games remain the greatest stage of all.


From Denver the focus of the BackSoftball team’s attention shifted many thousands of miles to the west and the Oceania National Olympic Committees’ General Assembly in New Zealand. This time out I was back at our world headquarters while our sport was ably represented by Ms. Low Beng Choo, our Deputy Secretary General (Malaysia) and Danielle Stewart (Australia), who was a bronze medal winner at the Beijing Games.


The fact that BackSoftball’s team in New Zealand was an all-female affair reflects our structure and commitment to inclusion at every level. In fact, most of our team in Denver were also women. We have always stressed that softball is among the most inclusive of games, open to both genders and people of all ages and ability levels. But that commitment goes way beyond simply playing the sport. The fact that 33 per cent - and soon to be more - of our Executive Council is female shows that this is a truly open sport that welcomes the contributions of every members of its community, irrespective of gender.


The presence of Danielle Stewart in New Zealand also underscored the global nature of softball. You know that the ISF now has 127 members - and that doesn’t just mean nations where softball is played from time to time but here there are established and recognised competitions and development structures.


And 2009 is a big international year for our sport with our players taking part in events all around the world. The ISF XII Men’s World Championship will be contested by 16 nations in Canada from July 17-26 while the Youth Softball World Cup for girls ages 16-and-under will be hosted by the Czech Republic from August 9-16.


In addition, softball is an important part of numerous major multi-sport events, including the World Games and World Masters Games among others which also take place this year.


So with SportAccord behind us and a busy schedule ahead, the BackSoftball campaign will be stepping up the pace as we work to persuade the International Olympic Committee to include our most Olympian of sports in the Games programme for 2016.


Even in such a busy year we never lose sight of what makes softball so special and it seems to me that every one of the reasons I am so committed to the sport is a strong reason for its inclusion in the Olympic Games. Ours is a truly global, inclusive, and drug free sport that champions participation and supports its athletes, coaches, and administrators throughout the world.


I keep looking for more boxes to tick and while we’ll never stop working, I think we pretty much have the full set. But you know what? What really matters is the softball athletes, and anyone who had been around those who visited at us during SportAccord will have seen their excitement at being part of an event which unites the Olympic Movement and the world of sport. This is their world and where they belong, alongside all the great Olympians down the years. When it comes down to it, We Are Family!


Don Porter is the president of the International Softball Federation


It was disgraceful that the Olympics voted softball out in the
first place. It would be an even bigger scandal if they now
ignored the claims of reintroducing it after Don has worked hard.
I hope that if they do vote it back into the programme that they
have the good sense to tell London to include it in the 2012
By Softball fan, Tuscon, AZ

6 April 2009 at 16:34pm

Martin Gillingham: The Englishman causing a backlash against South Africa in London

altBy Martin Gillingham - 25 March 2009 

 In 2004, a bunch of South Africans waving wads of cash and fronted by the jaunty former Springbok captain Bobby Skinstad arrived on our shores telling all ‘n sundry they were preparing to take English rugby by storm and set up a team under the working title London Tribe. 
The new club was to be based at the home of Queen’s Park Rangers and the target was to tap into the ready-made fan base within the capital’s fast-growing saffa community. The Tribe was to be a fully professional outfit funded by one of the world’s richest men (another South African) and to accelerate the new club’s rise up “the pyramid” the idea was to buy out a struggling second division side and then rename and relocate it.
But within weeks of willing sellers having been found the bid was blocked by Twickers.
Totsiens Mr Skinstad.
Five years on, those with memories of Skinstad’s conquest will have you believe a similar mission has been embarked on. The business plan is much the same – buy control of a club, stock it with a handful of top-flight South Africans and tap into the corner of Wimbledon that is forever Vereeniging.
This time, though, the club is already in the top flight. Saracens are 50 per cent owned by a Johannesburg investment firm with similar interests in two of South Africa’s leading sides, the Bulls and Western Province.
In the last three months, Saracens have put their own men in charge - both on and off the field - and told at least 15 of the current squad they won’t be required next season.
Cue a backlash.
The current coach, former Wallabies boss Eddie Jones, has left while the newspapers have had a field day with tales of jumbo-loads of Springboks being parachuted in and plans to relocate one of England’s oldest clubs to south-west London. As for the new coach – well, it would be safe to say he is not the most loved.
The new director of rugby is Brendan Venter who was once described by World Cup-winning scrum-half Matt Dawson as “one of the most hypocritical, cynical, dirty and underhand players I have ever played against. I can't stand anything about him. He is a bad loser and a bad winner, an all-round horrible person.”
The new chief executive is Edward Griffiths who, I can assure Matt, is a rather more virtuous and decent fellow. For starters, despite being referred to as a “South African” by normally authoritative media sources in this country, he is, in fact, English. And that’s not a bad start where this tale is concerned.
altGriffiths does, though, boast a stunning cv from his time spent in South Africa during the Eighties and Nineties. He’s been the sports editor of the country’s leading newspaper; chief executive of South African rugby; head of sport at the national broadcaster; biographer of some of the country’s most famous rugby legends; and even a key player in South Africa’s bid to host the 2010 football World Cup. He’s Barwick, Baron, Coe, Lee and Slater all rolled into one.
Griffiths was the spinmeister behind the Springboks’ successful 1995 Rugby World Cup campaign. Joel Stransky’s drop goal may have been the stroke of genius that won the cup on the pitch but Griffiths’ slogan “One Team, One Country” scored a fair few points off it. If ever a game of footie has transcended sport, the Ellis Park final was it.
Over the past few weeks Griffiths has been channeling his PR skills at turning round the headlines sparked by the upheaval at Vicarage Road. And in time he will be judged by his claims that Saracens is not in the midst of the sort of South African takeover that will see Afrikaans become the most prevalent mother tongue in the dressing room.
At the root of the backlash and sensational headlines lies an ugly English parochialism. The message is clear: we don’t care much for South Africans and certainly don’t want you meddling around with our Premiership.
To their detractors, Saracens is mutating into the London Tribe. The truth is that they are not. More than any other team in England over the past decade Sarries have demonstrated that foreign talent alone doesn’t guarantee success.
Yet Saracens need to change. They are currently mid-table mediocrity, haven’t won anything for years, and stand to lose £3 million this season.
So what if Sarries’ Springbok contingent may move into double figures? They are, after all, the world champions and gave England a mighty hump as recently as the Autumn. And what with current England Test players like James Haskell, Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer fleeing for France ahead of the new season, perhaps we need a bit of extra class in the Premiership.
Martin Gillingham represented Great Britain in the 1984 Olympic Games and 1987 World Championships at the 400 metres hurdles. Since retiring from the track he spent 12 years in South Africa where he was a radio talk show presenter and writer for a Sunday newspaper. He returned to the UK in 2003 and can now be heard commentating on athletics for Eurosport as well as rugby for Sky Sports, ITV and Setanta.



The English are probably fed up keep beating by the Boks without
the same thing happening to them in the Premiership!
By keyna rivera rodriguez, Durban
25 March 2009 at 13:44pm

Hi Martin,

I enjoy your blogs - always very informative.

I just wondered what you thought about rugby sevens being in the

Tom Price
By Tom Price, Auckland
25 March 2009 at 16:25pm

Oh what fun it is to see the English sweating...They deserve
everything they get.
By Cape Town rugby fan
26 March 2009 at 03:27am


Dame Kelly Holmes: Crossing the void

altBy Dame Kelly Holmes - 24 March 2009

Nothing, but nothing, will ever compare with the nerves and excitement I felt when I stood on the start line of my Olympic finals. But today, as I host the first of my new Trust's events for retiring athletes I do feel a certain sense of anticipation.


Goodness knows what would have happened if I had not won those two gold medals. With other successes in Athens in cycling and rowing, anything less than then a gold would have relegated me to a few lines in the sports pages, with athletics writers lamenting the loss of track and field's golden age.



But fortunately for me, my fate was different and I overcame all the "nearly" moments of an injury dogged career to stand on the rostrum as a champion and instead of "if only", I achieved what I had been hoping to do all my life: become Olympic champion. Actually more than even I could have dreamt of. I became a double Olympic champion.


As I stood on the podium, it really was the culmination of everything, the highest point in a journey that took years to reach, through which I gained many different skills, experiences and insights into what it takes to be your best, and learned finally how to triumph in the face of adversity.


Since that day I have continued to use these skills and begin to forge a new career. I have been lucky. Opportunities have come my way and I have been able to begin that transition through the twilight world of not being an elite athlete anymore, but not quite knowing what you are either is pretty tough.


It's a hard process because you lose your identity and as an elite performer like I was, there are literally hundreds of others who worked just as hard as me but whom don't always get the opportunities you do if you are in the limelight. Many get used, (and a few get abused!) In little deals or bits of work here and there, but all share the same struggle of post career blues.


altThese sports people know so much, have huge amounts of different experiences, strong characteristics and skills that can be of hugh benefit to others and yet when they finish competing many have an enormous void to fill in their lives. I have talked to a lots in many different sports about this, learning from their own stories. And for every person I have spoken to, the journey from elite performer to a new life is a tough one: emotionally, physically, psychologically and financially.


To me it is a travesty that we have not made the most of these people's skills in a systematic and developmental way and that is why I have set up the Dame Kelly Holmes (DKH Legacy Trust). It's core purpose is to harness expertise and talents of retired and retiring sports performers to realise the talents in others; in sport, in education and for some, in business.


We are providing general support, professional career development and mentoring opportunities for these ex-sports performers as they grapple with finding a new pathway and future, a new life, a new sense of identity, that builds on who they are and does not leave their ambitions gathering dust in the trophy cabinet.


We have got off to a good start, bringing on the support of BT who as 2012 Olympic sponsor have decided to invest in my Trust and support the Backing Talent programme we have been running already, a project which has already enabled some retired performers to work with up and coming talent in East of London.


But today is a first, where we are bringing together over 50 ex-performers for a two day conference focused on helping them find and harness their own talents. We are working with many National Governing Bodies of Sport, various business to develop ways that will enable more retiring sports stars to play a role in a range of ways, and I am delighted that Jennie Price from Sport England is supporting us.


So, we are on the start line. Has it been easy getting here? No way! Are we ready? Oh yes! Will we last the race? I don't give up that easily remember!


I believe our retiring sports people can play a big role in sport and in inspiring young people and that is my part in giving back to my peers and also to the world of sport which, because of my own journey helped me become who I am today.


Dame Kelly Holmes won the 800 and 1500 metres gold medals at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. She also won the bronze medal in the 800m at the Sydney Games in 2000. She is now the chair of the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust. More details can be found at www.dkhlegacytrust.org.


A fascinating insight into what happens the cheering stops and
athletes have to return to the real world. Kelly is to be
commended for trying to help those who have never scaled the
heights that she did. Good luck Kelly!By Bridgett Bradley, USA

25 March 2009 at 10:51am

I think everything that helps harness the lessons learnt by
people like Kelly can only be good. I have seen her at a couple
of functions since Athens and she is an inspiration.By Yvonne Lowry, Darlington

25 March 2009 at 12:04pm

Kelly certainly seems to be a lovely person, doing this when it
would have surely been easier for her to just settle back and
think that financially she would be okay for the rest of her
life. I think it sums her up as the lovely, wonderful person she
is.By Marian Lodge, New York

25 March 2009 at 13:37pm

Certainly alot of parallels to former rock/pop stars......"when
the lights go down". The difference is what can be learned from
the commitment an athlete makes. Quite the dichotemy if they knew
what they were facing. I wish her the best of luck.By Jeff Dockeray

26 March 2009 at 15:26pm

I am a current athlete who attended the dkh Legacy conference
this week, it was a great event and has given me some ideas and
inspiration for what to do with the experiences I have had as a
sports performer when I retire from my sport.
Thanks Kelly !By Helen Clitheroe

27 March 2009 at 10:46am

Paul Gains: Canada aims to top the medals table in Vancouver

altBy Paul Gains - 22 March 2009

With less than a year until the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver-Whistler the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is sticking by its ambitious goal of topping the medal table.


Chris Rudge, the COC’s Coventry-born, chief executive officer, says the country’s athletes are well on track to achieve this goal.
“We set a goal of being number one at our home games,” he declares, “And that wasn't a goal set by merely saying ‘wouldn’t that be nice.’
"[Five years ago] we did a thorough analysis at our recent Games Salt Lake City which included significant in-depth discussion with all our winter sports federations, a look at the depth our our teams and then having them tell us where they could drive their program in 2010 if we got them the resources they need.
“There was a belief that if we got them everything they needed there was a chance we could be number one in the world. We have monitored it regularly. The first litmus test was Torino where we moved from 17 medals to 24 medals and moved up to third place, one medal behind the Americans.”
Canada has the dubious distinction of hosting two Olympic Games, the 1976 Summer Games and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary and coming away without a single gold medal in either, the only host nation to endure such failure. It’s a shameful label of which Rudge is well aware.
“I wouldn’t say it hangs over our head,” he says, “It’s certainly not something anyone in this country is proud of. We have talked about it. The whole country is aware of it. We have put it out in front of the market and we have used it as a catalyst to get more support for the team.”
“We have any number of speed skaters, who will be touted as potential gold medal winners, as we do in sliding sports, skeleton and bobsled. Our freestyle skiers are at the top of the world. Certainly our curlers and hockey players will be looked upon as being capable of delivering gold medals. Certainly, within those you are going to see gold medal potential. And, our figure skaters have come on very strong. We are pretty strong across the board.”
altCanadians are nothing if not passionate about their hockey. When the national men’s team failed to medal at the 2006 Games in Turin and were humiliated by nations such as Switzerland in the opening round, it raised controversy. It was terribly humbling, particularly to those Canadians who feel Canada could enter two teams and win two medals.
“There’s a large percentage of Canadians, if not the majority, who would be happy if we won the two gold medals in [men’s and women’s] hockey and two in curling and nothing else rather than obtain our objective of being number one,” Rudge concedes with a laugh.
Through the Federal Government initiatives such as Own the Podium the sports have received unprecedented funding to help them toward their individual team goals. It was this programme that allowed Luge Canada, for instance, to hire German coach Wolfgang Staudinger two years ago. He has introduced new optimism into the national team.
“Things have changed in every aspect of program,” says Tim Farstad, chief executive of Luge Canada. “Physical training, different off-season methods, different methods to set up sleds to make them fast, and different training methods, he gets the athlete to train a lot more runs than they would normally do on a daily basis. He’s taken some of the methods that the very dominant Germans are using and put it into our group.”
Farstad is eagerly awaiting another key development in the push towards Vancouver 2010. The entry ramp at Canada’s Olympic Park’s Ice House in Calgary, needs to be extended in order to replicate the run athletes will use in Vancouver. At present it is long enough for only one or two paddles whereas five or six is required during a race. Thanks to a variety of partners they are now looking over engineering drawings and work is to be done in May.
With pressure on the COC to deliver upon its promises one wonders if the individual sports, given all the components on their wish list, also feels pressure. Luge Canada athletes have never won either a World Championship or Olympic medal.
“No, we don't feel pressure we are just trying to do exactly what we have always try to do and that is try to win medals,” Farstad claims. “We haven't done that before. We think we are on the path to have our best chance to do that. But we would love to pitch in but we don't feel pressure to make them win in 2010.
“Our job is to put our athletes in the best position we can with the help of OTP by bringing in coaches like Stauding and, with the home track advantage, and all these things lining up we are putting our athletes in the position to challenge for the podium. If we put it together on the race day I think we have a chance. That’s something we have never been able to say before. It’s pretty exciting.”
This new attitude, Canadians hope will be consistent across all sports and take the nation to the top of the medal podium.
Paul Gains is a Canadian-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Time, the New York Times, Toronto Star, GQ and  many other publications around the world. He covered the recent Beijing Olympics for CBC Television and was the athletics news editor for the 2004 Athens Olympic News Service.



Go Canada!By Karen Schutlz, Toronto

25 March 2009 at 10:52am

I enjoyed this piece. It is nice to read on an international
website about our team's chances in Vancouver. I remember
Montreal and the 1976 Olympics. They were a bit of a disaster all
round really. I hope we avoid that fate this time.By Marian Carrillo, London, Canada

25 March 2009 at 10:53am