Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Help our athletes

Ever since we were handed the Olympics in 2005, we’ve been sold the idea that we’re a nation of sports lovers. I won’t mention the obesity crisis. But at least Strictly Come Dancing beat X Factor in the Saturday night ratings this year. I don’t know many people who play sport once they build their careers or have children. But there are those who make it work, come rain or shine. And even when they’re juggling two jobs so they can actually compete in their sport. So it’s highly disappointing to see this weekend’s headlines that many athletes’ funding will be cut.

I don’t know who is responsible for this decision within the WCPP (World Class Performance Programme) but in this crucial year, it’s hard not to feel angered on behalf of the dedicated athletes who are losing out. I might not be able to compete in anything other than toddler wrestling, but for those who can and want to be there for their country, it’s a shame all those sports lovers in power aren’t helping them more. After all, can you imagine Beijing’s athletes having to stack shelves in the supermarket?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Sportswoman of the year

Having blogged about Mark Cavendish’s achievements back in September, I feel its only fair to big up the achievements of Taekwondo champion Sarah Stevenson. She has just been named Sportswoman of the year 2011.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’ve never seen Taekwondo either. So I’ve done a bit of digging and have found out that she won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics. She then took time out to care for her terminally ill parents. Both her mother and father were diagnosed at the beginning of this year with cancer and a brain tumour respectively. So it’s amazing that she then went on to win the World Championships in Korea in May. In addition, she beat Open Water World Champion Keri-Anne Payne, swimmer Rebecca Adlington and jockey Hayley Turner to the award. Not bad.

But what’s especially great about this is the fact that a sport that many of us don’t know has been recognised. And what’s more, we should celebrate all of the finalists’ achievements, particularly in the shocking absence of any women on this year’s BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year list. Shame on you BBC!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The competition's hotting up

News about next year’s Olympics is coming in thick and fast these days. The TV was jam packed with Olympics ads, and this has been tempered only by the arrival of Christmas. I expect January to burst off the blocks with more of these fancy ads. It seems every athlete has been signed up by big sponsors to push their brand. Is there anyone not sponsoring Jess Ennis?! I just hope the ads become a little more diverse. At the moment, they just make me feel guilty for not exercising more. I want those sculpted arms, but even more so, I want a ticket to see an actual event.

We’ve had a run on ticket competitions of late – particularly galling was the competition on The Sun’s website. You had to pay £3.50 to enter to win. I wonder if this money is going back into the Games? With News International behind them, I doubt it. But they’re not the only ones. LloydsTSB, First Direct, Visa and Proctor & Gamble (Fairy, Flash & Lenor etc) have already been giving away top tickets. This feels like short change for Londoners whose tax is subsidising the Games. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned by now, it’s that money and sport go hand in hand. And that’s probably why I don’t have tickets…

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

2017 World Athletics Championships

Well, we must be doing something right when it comes to next year’s Olympics. If you hadn’t already heard, London has just been awarded the 2017 World Athletics Championships. Which means the Olympic Stadium will be polished and shined for a few more years once the London 2012 games are over. I love the fact that David Cameron’s statement included these words: “We look forward to welcoming athletes and fans from the world over to our vibrant, multicultural, sports-mad capital."

Now these are words I’d never thought I’d hear used to describe our capital back in 2000. Sports-mad?! The only thing that ever got London’s pulse racing in terms of sport before seemed to be the crowd control at London Bridge station when Milwall and West Ham fans were passing through to go to away matches.

Are we really sports mad? For two weeks of summer, we grab our tennis racquets as the lure of Wimbledon entices us to knock a few balls around the nearest council court. And then we go back indoors to switch our TV sets on and see who is grunting the loudest. We then proceed to slag off our British hopeful as he fails to make it to another semi-final or, these days, dare I even say, final.

Cynicism aside, this is an amazing achievement. It’s also great news for the future of the stadium and all those people who’ve been involved in bringing London 2012 to fruition. And I’m kind of proud to be a part of a ‘sports-mad’ community, no matter how big or small. Right, time for a walk perhaps?

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The toughest crowd

A familiar face loomed out of the pages of yesterday’s London Evening Standard. At first, I couldn’t place her, but then I read the caption: Suzie O’Neill, hides her pain after getting silver in Sydney. Of course! Suzie O’Neill the swimmer was Australia’s equivalent of London’s Jessica Ennis or Chris Hoy. She had the hopes of the nation piled high on her shoulders and in her star event, the 200 metres butterfly, she was cruelly pipped at the post by American Misty Hyman.

She’s now in town talking to London’s athletes about the pressure of performing at a Home Games. For me, the hardest part of her story was the fact it has taken 10 years for her to properly process her loss. She was devastated and couldn’t even look at any footage surrounding the Games for many years.

It’s an interesting read, particularly when you realise how much extra energy she spent doing things like signing autographs and talking to people wherever she went. This sounds simple, but actually, for a focused athlete, it must be trying at times. All in all, Suzie’s interview outlines just how precious the chance to compete at an Olympics is for athletes. And while the rest of us can only begin to imagine what they go through to get there, it’s often what happens afterwards that gives us their full story.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Diary entry from Sydney 2000 Opening Ceremony

Well, the crowd was huge: 100,000 people and 3.7 billion watching on TV. The biggest peacetime event. But in our little corner, you only saw the media boxes and VIP bit in front of us and it was easy to relax and it wasn’t until you looked over your shoulder that you realised what was behind; a sea of people, torches glowing. And when they cheered, you couldn’t help but be affected. The defining moment for me was when Australia came on: the roar from the crowd pricked your senses, you watched and admired the huge team as they took in the view walking past you. I could smell the athletes they were so close; body cologne and aftershaves from all around the world. Wow. Not to mention the third time I’ve seen Pat Rafter this week – I swear he’s stalking me! (Sorry, got distracted, a couple of Coogee lifeguards just walked past…!)

Anyway, when Team GB walked past, I don’t think I recognised one of them! The track and field team weren’t there and it was kind of disappointing. They were all dressed in tracksuit tops; men in blue, women in white, and all mashed in together. Not particularly eye catching at all. Not smart and chic like some of the other teams. Notably, Italy in navy blue blazers and each athlete had a different colour of trousers on – red, yellow, green and blue – it was great. The Dutch looked good too in their orange blazers and so did the African countries. Swaziland was cool as they did an African dance on their way round. Mongolia had what looked like a sumo wrestler carrying their flag and he was dressed like one too! Japan was wearing coloured kite/cape type things on their backs. Canada looked good in their beach hats. Yep, it was lovely. So then India and Italy were behind us and the atmosphere was wicked. Golly, my hand is hurting from writing; I’ve got to stop for a bit!!! All too exciting for words.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Ambassador Becks

Just seen this headline on The Telegraph website: David Beckham says winning Olympic gold would be 'ultimate achivement'. Apart from the glaring spelling mistake, I thought it would be the perfect antidote for my previous doom and gloom post. You can always rely on the man who has everything to put a positive spin on just about anything. But it’s good to hear he’s praising the Olympics this week when much of the coverage by journalists is so flat right now. Could they be in the midst of choosing who’s going to light the Olympic cauldron I wonder?

Difficult days ahead

I’m finding it hard to be inspired about life in London at the moment. The news is increasingly depressing about the economic situation. Right now there are sit in protesters in London’s banking district, camped up outside the London Stock Exchange. The Evening Standard led with the headline ‘Biggest inflation rise for 20 years’ last night. Today, radio 4 was talking about the shortage of affordable homes and older people having to downsize and move out of their properties to ‘free up space’. Not exactly a chipper way to start the day. Should have listened to my daughter’s Black Lace album instead. It seems the Daily Mail headlines are everywhere.

It couldn’t be further from the heady days of 2000. We didn’t know it at the time when John Major was talking about Back to Basics, but the 1990s were bliss by comparison with today. And when I worked at the Sydney Olympics, it was pre 9/11. I had no qualms about stepping inside a massive aeroplane every few weeks when I was travelling.

So I just wonder how the London Olympics are going to be received next year? Hopefully it means lots of cash will be spent – although hard to imagine and not exactly what the Games are supposed to be about – and everyone will soak up the goodwill and high spirits that existed in Sydney. There, people stopped in the street when Grant Hackett won swimming gold. Cars would honk their horns and everything just stopped for sporting victories. When Cathy Freeman was due to race, everyone came together in parks and public spaces to be a part of racing history. A Somali resident proposed to my friend Steph that night, I seem to remember. Everyone was just so happy. Can London achieve the same incredible atmosphere, I wonder?

Of course, I imagine that if you’re not in London or in places where other events are taking place, this could pass you by. But when a Football World or European Cup takes place, there’s always a unique buzz when you’re out and about, wherever you are. It helps when the sun shines, naturally, but everyone remembers where they are when England wins an important match/goes out in a big competition.

I just hope that the London Olympics can ride the storm that’s brewing.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Mark Cavendish

In the run up year to the London Olympics, one athlete deserves a special mention for an outstanding triumph this weekend at the World Road Race Championships in Copenhagen. Probably like a lot of Brits, I confess I am new to the sport and it took me a while to work out the whole ‘team’ element of it. I was convinced we’d fill the podium up with Union Jacks at one point until hubby explained – phew!

Actually, I stumbled across the women’s race on the BBC and was instantly hooked. It’s good to see different sports championed on the Beeb, even if it is only because we have a chance of a medal. To put it into context, it was the first time a Brit had won the event since 1963 I believe. Watching the race, I have no idea how he came from what seemed like the back of the pack to clinch the first place. It was so exhilarating and simply sublime. Especially as Australia were beaten to second place.

Lizzie Armistead was less happy with her performance as a crash scuppered her chances of a medal. It was very moving to see her close to tears at the end of the race – and incredibly, she didn’t even look puffed out. It’s enough to make you want to go down the gym. Almost. See you at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, Mark!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Diary entry from Sydney 2000 Opening Ceremony

16th September 2000

Well. WOO-HOO!!!!! Where to begin? So we were taken to the SuperDome which is where all the gym stuff is – it’s on TV back at the flat right now – and only hours ago, I was there, with all the countries of the world – the athletes of the world – doing Mexican waves and clapping and cheering, watching the torch on huge TV screens as it was taken over the Sydney Opera House sails by swimmer Sam Riley. Incredible.

As I sit here on Coogee Beach the day after, it all seems like a dream. Anyway, as we waited for our cue to join the Opening Ceremony, the Aussies started chanting ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ or rather, we did, the marshalls, as the Aussie team came in to take their place in the SuperDome. They were last in. And the US team couldn’t let it go – they had to have their say – so they started with ‘U-S-A, U-S-A’. And it was all too cringeworthy for words. Because then they were booed by all the countries of the world. Hardly in the Olympic Spirit, but they should’ve kept their mouths shut in the first place. The Aussies are allowed to cheer; they’ve paid to fly them all here and put them up as the host nation after all… anyway, enough about that.

So then we marched over to the stadium. Writing this now, it seems like ages ago that we first did that walk back on the 6th of August, and how exciting and far off it seemed back then. We were old hands by now. All the performers were coming out buzzing, the looks on their faces telling it all. Electric. They high-fived us on their run of victory out of the tunnel. And then it was our turn. I had my camera and got a piccie of the Ned Kellys and fishies. And then we were on.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

BT Storytellers 2012

I found out today that Oscar Pistorius, the first paralympic amputee to run against able-bodied athletes at the World Championships in South Korea, has just answered one of my questions on the BT Storyteller website.

I also found out that he failed to make the 400m final in South Korea. However, what he has done, is put the Paralympics centre stage in time to celebrate International Paralympic Day on 8th September. What's going to be interesting is whether he is allowed to compete in both the Olympics and the Paralympics next year. And if he is, will that set the beefeater amongst the ravens, so to speak?

Monday, 22 August 2011

Traffic talk

A lot has been made of the traffic problems that people encountered last weekend during the London-Surrey Cycle Classic. And what’s interesting about this warm up event is that it’s put a spotlight firmly on the subject of transport and the way London is going to deal with disruption next year.

Eamonn Holmes was just one of the celebrities reported as tweeting about the inconvenience the race caused. He tweeted, ‘Big tailbacks on A3 and A3 approaches to M25 and in other direction to Wimbledon. Due to flamin [sic] Olympic bikes. Keep sport in a stadium.”

Now, if you’ve been anywhere near Surrey the past month or so, there’s no way you’d have missed the massive TFL signs telling you about the race. And if you know Surrey well, you’ll also know that parts of it are terrible for traffic even on a normal Saturday or Sunday morning. It used to take me half an hour to visit my mother just 4 miles away at weekends. So the thought of going anywhere by car in the area that day just seems crazy.

However, it seems unfair that some roads weren’t opened again until 4pm that day, according to reports. But given that the race is going to be 110 kilometres longer next year, I do wonder whether people will think twice before setting out on their journeys. And as to whether they’ll be smiling about it? Well, that will be an entirely different state of affairs. My advice would be to stay home, stick the telly on and just go with it from the comfort of your sofa…that or they can always get on their bike.

Monday, 15 August 2011

My diary from Sydney 2000 Olympics Opening Ceremony Day

I recently found my diary that I kept during the Sydney Olympics. I was just 22, living and working in Sydney and full of enthusiasm for life – and in particular, the Games. Now I'm a mum of a toddler with ten years of work under my belt in advertising agencies, it's not quite as easy to be so energetic and positive about everything as it was then - especially when you're sleep deprived!

However, that said, we've seen too many examples of what too much cynicism does for society this past week, so I'm going to embrace the spirit of 2000 and try and think a bit more like my 22 year old self...(even if I don't look it!)

15th September 2000

"Watching a show about the torch. Nearly 11,000 people have run with the torch. The General Manager of the torch relay said they try and ‘capture the vision of a place and community’ when deciding where the torch goes – which streets it goes down etc. I think they did that when they chose to go down Arden Street (in Coogee where I live). It’s a long street connecting Bronte, Clovelly and Coogee. Stood on our roof we could see it coming down the huge hill. Prince Albert of Monaco was here running a leg of it too. Todd Woodbridge is about to accept the torch live on TV. Right now. His gold medal tennis doubles partner Mark Woodford is also there. I slept too long. Can’t believe today is the day. Have to get the bus around 12pm." TO BE CONTINUED...

Monday, 8 August 2011

Volunteers' legacy

Here are the pics of the pillars at Sydney's Olympic Park (Homebush). My friend Marianne (pictured) took these once the Games were finished. Each pillar contains names of all the Sydney Olympics volunteers, including her and myself. You'll see I'm just one of three Katie Taylors! I like to think I'm the third one down. If you're going to volunteer at London 2012 or know an Olympics volunteer, it's a wonderful experience - pillars or no pillars.

The ugly side

It’s bad news about the Tottenham riots this morning – particularly as there’s only one year to go until the Olympics. Will this put people off visiting our great city? Well, every city has its seedy side, and times are tough. What concerns me more is whether the government will be able to stop the costly impact of illegal immigration that comes with staging an Olympics.

In Sydney 2000 and again after the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne 2006, several athletes went missing after the games, and chose not to go back to their countries; some Tunisians went missing simply because they liked Australia so much. I know the feeling. And one Ugandan swimmer was actually charged with raping a teenage girl just over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

So there’s always an ugly side to everything, but today I just pray London 2012 will come out looking more radiant than the ugly ducking who turned into a beautiful swan.

Marathon planning

I keep hearing people saying how amazing it is that London 2012 is ahead of schedule. When you think about the economic situation over the past few years, this seems an amazing feat. Especially when you consider that Los Angeles 1984 and Montreal 1976 didn’t pay off their Olympic debt until 2006. And let’s not mention Athens 2004. Sydney 2000 was one of the most hugely successful and organized games of all time – but fell down when it came to planning the legacy of the Homebush Olympic site, which has subsequently cost the government money.

So here are a few more amazing stats coming out of City Hall about London 2012:

• 125,000 school children in London will receive tickets from the Mayor’s office.

• Europe’s largest urban shopping centre will open in Stratford.

12 new schools and nurseries are being planned for the Olympic Park once the Games are over.

• There will be 100,000 summer jobs during the Olympics with 10,000 new jobs in the new shopping centre alone.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Opening Ceremony dramas

Danny Boyle wants athletes to play a big part in the Opening Ceremony. This has caused controversy according to some news reports and I can see why. And yet it’s a huge privilege to even be there, at this, the world’s most watched event ever – with one third of the planet’s population estimated to be tuning in.

All of the countries of the world are represented – although not all attend if they are competing in the following days immediately after the ceremony. In Sydney, I remember our Canoeists didn’t get to go because they were still at a training camp on the Gold Coast, thousands of miles away.

Then there’s all the standing around – I’d know because I was one of the volunteer ‘field marshalls’ who had to ‘fence’ the athletes in for close to 3 hours, with no toilet trips allowed. So I can see why athletes might be reluctant to get started even earlier when the preceding ‘show’ takes place. That’s a long evening directly before competing.

The good news for the rest of us though, is that on last week’s Olympic Debate on BBC1, Boris Johnson announced that volunteers are being sought now to take part on the night. So if you fancy doing a bit of ‘athlete guarding’, now’s your chance…


Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The best ever games yet?

It’s all happening today. I’d planned to get down to Trafalgar Square tonight for the One Year to Go celebrations – I was there in 2005 so it was important for me to be there again today. But alas, the curse of the dreaded nursery bugs. So I’m home sick and will be an armchair viewer later when Lord Coe and Mayor Boris Johnson take centre stage at 7pm on BBC One.

Magic FM broadcast from the top of the BT Tower this morning, with Daley Thompson and fellow BT Storytellers present. Several Twitter names were put in lights at the top of the tower and more content is to follow at btlondon2012.co.uk http://ow.ly/i/eUBK

Also, the international press were briefed earlier this week ad so far the feedback has been positive from around the world. John Coates, the Australia Olympic Committee president had some kind words this week about London 2012:

“I think we’re all pretty proud of Sydney (2000) and many people say that Sydney remains the benchmark. But from where I've been sitting London has been six months to a year ahead of us in their preparations all the way through since they were awarded the Games six years ago." He adds, " ... these Games now have the very British stamp to them and I think there's every prospect of them surpassing our Games."

And although British star Tom Daley was dethroned at the Diving World Championships in Shanghai, he will be the first to dive into the new Olympic pool later today. Expect to see him front page of papers tomorrow...

PS – if you’re going down to Trafalgar Square tonight, have a great time!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Dreams for tomorrow

Now I’m a mum, it’s great to see so many strong role models for my little cherub to aspire to in the future. In my day it was huge news when Sally Gunnell picked up gold for the 400m hurdles at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. But now there are so many more female athletes to be proud of, we’re almost spoiled for choice – and I’m certainly not complaining.

Dame Kelly Holmes’ double gold in Athens 2004 was remarkable but now it begs belief whether every single female athlete who won a medal at Beijing will be made a Dame, there were so many. Remember the ‘three birds in a boat’, Rebecca Romero and Nicole Cooke? I struggled to recall their names – but that doesn’t mean their success is any less than say, Rebecca Adlington or Victoria Pendleton.

So it’s no wonder articles are popping up like today’s 'Win the medals or else, warns Britain warns top athletes', in the Saturday Times, saying athletes are under more pressure than ever to perform at London 2012. It’s a real shame to think that sports won’t get funding if London’s athletes don’t bring home the medals and the 'kudos' effectively. What happened to the saying ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ (and other well verses phrases we tell our children)? We’ve become such a results driven world and this is the side of the fairy tale that won’t help the girls and boys of tomorrow. Take away the funding and you take away the possibility of dreams.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The allure of the golden arches

A small column caught my notice in the Evening Standard last night on my way home from work. It announced McDonalds’ intentions to open their largest ever restaurant yet during the course of the Olympics. So far, lots of people, (including Olympic athlete Amir Khan), have been questioning whether it’s appropriate to have a fast food giant supporting the world’s greatest sporting event (particularly given the worrying levels of obesity around the globe).

What interested me however, was the fact that there would be a McDonalds in the athletes’ village and media centre. Now back when I worked in the Sydney athletes’ village, a few things struck me as remarkable – and one of these was the endless queue for the McDonalds outlet in the dining hall. In spite of the fact that there was quite simply every single type of cuisine that you could ever want or need, McDonalds still proved the most popular meal at whatever time of the day you walked in there. And given that most people there were supposed to be finely honed athletes or their management, this really surprised me.

I also noticed that many of the third world nations seemed to like going there the most – although maybe that was more to do with the novelty factor? Either way, I don’t expect London 2012 will be any different. And when you consider 50,000 Big Macs, 180,000 potions of fries and 30,000 milkshakes will be served over the 29 days of the Olympic and Paralympic Games across the four announced venues, it doesn’t matter whether you like it or not: McDonalds has cast its spell.

Monday, 18 July 2011

BT Storytellers 2012

So this is my first post on my shiny new blog to celebrate becoming one of the BT Storytellers for London 2012. I’ve been enlisted, along with 100 others, to help put together a creative legacy that people can look at in the years to come and see what it was like to be a part of the London Olympics in 2012. It’s going to be an exciting year, that’s for sure – although am slightly apprehensive at Lord Coe’s mention of Chaucer in the same breath as BT Storytellers – but hopefully we’ll do the London Olympics justice.

I’d just like to add that I never thought I’d get up close to one Olympic Games in my life time, nevermind two (Sydney 2000), so I will probably end up comparing the two experiences, as well as documenting what it’s like to work in an Olympic city in the months before the greatest show on earth gets going. Wish me luck…