OLYMPICS BLOG: The Star’s Richard Fidler says farewell to London 2012
THE Star’s Olympics Editor Richard Fidler has been at London 2012 to bring you all the latest breaking news about South Yorkshire’s athletes and more - read his final daily blog.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 11, 9.30PM
All good things come to an end.
Soon Mo Farah won’t be the fastest long distance runner in the world, Jessica Ennis will one day be beaten by Katarina Johnson-Thomson and Sir Chris Hoy will find himself distanced in the velodrome.
Good things and times are there to remind us that life can be beautiful. That when something is done well it can take your breath away and leave tears streaming down your face.
It has been my privilege to watch all three of those Olympic champions mentioned above over the past fortnight.
Each has moved me in a way that only sport can.
And now it’s coming to an end.
How should I feel? I feel a bit sad that the greatest experience of my working life is over. I won’t have that anticipation as I walked to the bus each morning in Russell Square that today I could see something truly extraordinary.
Usually I did.
I won’t have the chance to meet up with new friends and discuss the day over a pint into the early hours. Talking about how we’re the luckiest people in the world that we get the best seat in the house to watch the greatest show in the world.
Gone will be the time that my office is the Olympic Stadium or the velodrome or the Aquatic Centre or the basketball Arena or, just for the hell of it one afternoon, the Copper Box where the handball was played.
No longer will I be stood in the media mixed zone waiting to ask a question to Pendleton or Hoy or Ennis or Deng or Adams or Trott or any number of people who are now idols to millions of kids.
I can look back and say hand on heart that I gave everything to this Olympics. Not a moment was wasted. And for that I’m proud because any sports journalist worth their salt would have swapped places with me in a heartbeat.
The Olympic Games, its competition, its people and its spirit are what sport is all about.
I’ll remember it for the rest of my life and when times are tough I’ll think back to how sport can be. How it can lift you and make you think anything is possible.
But it’s not the most important thing in the world. Not even close.
For that you have to look closer to home. My wife and two children are what really matters.
They’re who I was thinking of when all these great sportsmen and women lifted their performances to magical levels.
The gold medallists were young once. They had mums and dads who wanted their kids to be the best they possibly could be,
Not to pressure them, but to nurture, to encourage to provide an example that if you have a dream then go and follow it.
My son came to visit me while I was at the Olympic Park and even though he’s six I told him to remember everything he possibly could.
Because the Olympics are what excellence looks like. Why settle for second best when you can fulfill your own potential.
As I head back north on the train that is what I’ll take away from the Games.
Dream big. Work hard. And love every moment of your life. Then the good times will go on and on...
FRIDAY, AUGUST 10, 8.45 ONWARDS
For something a bit different I thought I might try and do a running diary of the athletics tonight in the Olympic Stadium.
I’ll publish it at the end, but it will be an ‘as live’ version of events.
Just recovering from seeing the USA women’s 4x100 metre team from demolishing the world record. I though Jamaica may win but the American’s scorched round the track and Carmelita Jeter was already pointing at the clock before it flashed up with a time of 40.82 seconds.
It’s often hard to know everything that’s going on in the stadium when you don’t have the benefit of the television.
The announcers try their best to keep you informed but there’s always something to look at and you may not have got the information immediately at your fingertips.
The women’s 1,500m is up next. Great Britain has a couple of runners in Lisa Dobriskey and Laura Weightman.
Over at the far side, Britain’s Steve Lewis has just missed his second attempt at a new British record of 5.85m. I’m surprised the wall of noise didn’t push him over!
The Games Makers regularly provide updated start lists. The 4x400m relay teams have just been confirmed. Dai Greene does run for GB, which is a bit of a surprise but I’m sure he’ll want to make up for a relatively poor showing in the 400m hurdles.
Steve Lewis is out of the pole vault. He knocked it off with his feet.
All eyes on the 1,500m now... and they’re off. Quite a cagey opening lap of 75 seconds. Still fairly steady heading up to 800m with both the British girls towards the back.
Coming up to the bell and a trip clears out a runner, she’s left thumping the track in disappointment.
A race full of incident was won by Alpte Cakir of Turkey. Second was Gamze Bulut also from Turkey and third Maryam Jamal from Bahrain.
The British pair were 10th and 11th, with the unfortunate fallen runner, with shades of the famous Mary Decker incident of LA 1984, being Morgan Uceny of the United States.
The men’s pole vault is getting interesting. Two have gone clear at 5.91m, Raphael Holzdeppe and Bjorn Otto. Both are German.
Also, it’s not just our Jess who sheds a tear when presented with gold. Ethiopian 5,000m winner Meseret Defar had a properly trembly bottom lip when her national anthem was played. Good on her. She should be very proud.
The 4x100m relay time has been confirmed. The USA team that made history and wiped the tainted 1985 mark of East Germany from the records book was Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter.
Looks like Britain’s Steve Lewis will finish in fifth in the pole vault. The bar is now 5.97m. Leader Otto just fails then third placed Renaud Lavillenie misses out.
The men’s 4x400m relay teams have just come out onto the track. Each leg of the race is kept together rather than the four members of each team being in line.
There’ll be nine teams in the relay. USA are always strong. Belgium are strong with the Borlee brothers on legs one and three.
South Africa have Oscar Pistorius on their team and Great Britain will be hoping to sneak a medal.
Here we go... All fairly tight after first change but as the stagger unwinds GB are sixth.
Dai Greene gets the baton in fifth. And Martyn Rooney has a chance to snatch a bronze...
But just misses out. GB finish fourth but it was a fine run by the British quartet of Conrad Williams, Jack Green, Dai Greene and Martyn Rooney.
Bahamas won, USA second and Trinidad and Tobago third. Russia were fifth and Belgium a surprise sixth. Venezuala in seventh and South Africa eighth. Cuba didn’t finish because of an injury on the second leg.
Meanwhile in the pole vault Lavillenie shocked everyone by clearing 5.97. Holzdeppe failed all three and Otto passed on his final attempt.
So he has one attempt at 6.02 to keep himself alive in the competition. It’s 10cm above his personal best.
Very close but he brings the bar off. The French journos go wild and Lavillenie is new Olympic champion.
And that is that for another great evening of athletics.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 9, 10.30PM
The highs and lows of sport were in clear focus today.
From the delight of Sheffield trained Nicola Adams, who is the first woman to win an Olympic Games gold medal for boxing to the despair of the city’s Alastair Wilson and Doncaster’s Barry Middleton as their gold medal dream at the hockey disappeared beneath an avalanche of Dutch goals.
All three are classy performers in their own right, but while Leeds-born Adams will be celebrating her golden day Wilson and Middleton will be wondering what went wrong.
The Netherlands are a good team, however they shouldn’t be the ones who inflict a joint record margin of defeats on Team GB.
Both Wilson and Middleton were honest after the match. Describing it as embarrassing and humiliating, Wilson wants to use the fire of the inept performance to drive the team to a bronze medal in their play-off with Australia on Saturday.
Middleton, looking the most rattled he’s been during the Olympic fortnight, said the players reverted to their own individual games rather than playing as a team.
It will be a bad night for them both and serious questions will be asked when they train tomorrow by coach Jason Lee. Expect a revved up Great Britain when they take on the Aussies.
Being at the hockey meant I missed the amazing Usain Bolt live. The man is clearly a one in a lifetime type of athlete and it makes you wonder just how fast he may go one day.
Also today I caught up with our golden girl Jessica Ennis for the first time since her press conference after winning the heptathlon.
Friday’s Star has lots about Jess. Definitely worth a read.
Tomorrow is all about Sarah Stevenson. Can the Doncaster lass win gold in taekwondo? I do hope so.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 8, 1.30PM
At the boxing now. Two quick things.
One, I’d been wondering where all the Irish were during the Olympics. Well, they’re here in force for their gold medal favourite Katie Taylor.
And two, Star columnist Charlie Webster is doing the MC’s job. Doing it very well too.
Nicola Adams is second bout on against India’s Mery Kom.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 8, 12.45PM
Just sitting in the ExCeL Centre watching the men’s team table tennis bronze play-off match.
I’ve come over to this venue today because Nicola Adams, who trains at the EIS and is a regular at Brendan Ingle’s gym in Wincobank, is in action later this afternoon as fights for a chance to contest a gold medal.
And then it’s onto the diving at the Aquatic Centre where Monique Gladding will be taking part in the 10m preliminary round.
I’ve just been thinking back to the hockey match last night between Great Britain and Spain. There’s never a dull moment at the Riverbank Stadium.
The game itself was frenetic and passionate with Team GB needing just a point to get through to the semi-final and Spain needing a win.
GB hung on with a bit of help from the officials who twice, correctly I may add, over-ruled their own decisions to award penalty corners to Spain.
In the post match press conference the Spain coach Dani Martin pretty much accused the officials of favouring the British and said the victors had been denied the honour of their achievement by the way the game was concluded.
It’s the second time I have been involved in a very bizarre press conference at the hockey.
The other was when GB played Argentina and most of the questions related to the promotional video, which included former Argentina skipper Fernando Zylberberg performing exercises in the Falkland Islands.
Both British teams have made the semi finals so there could be a good chance of British medals at the hockey.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 7, 3PM
Just a very quick update. Look in on the hockey tonight at 7pm.
Great Britain men’s team are playing Spain. They can’t afford to lose if they want to make the semi-finals.
Two of our local lads - Barry Middleton from Doncaster, who is the captain, and Alastair Wilson from Sheffield, are playing a big part in the tournament.
And Great Britain have an excellent chance of getting a medal.
The media will focus a lot of attention on the team should they reach the semi-final, so now’s a good chance to get ahead of the game and give them a watch.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 7, 2PM
Had a very interesting chat this morning with Sharks chairman Yuri Matischen.
Yuri has been one of the leading lights behind the sporting revolution in Sheffield going right back to his major role in bringing the World Student Games to the city in 1991.
At that time he was the head of the British Universities Sports Union but moved to Sheffield for the Games and stayed here ever since.
For the Olympics he’s working as the volleyball match announcer at Earls Court.
It’s another Sheffield link with the sport because both men’s and women’s GB squads have been based at the EIS and Wayne Coyle, himself hugely influential in the city’s sporting scene, is head of athlete services for Olympic volleyball.
Matischen has been thrilled by the success of the Games and praised the role Toni Minichiello played in Jessica Ennis’s gold medal.
He told me: “The work Toni has done is phenomenal. You have to remember he’s worked with her since she’s 10 years old and has guided her all the way.
“Toni hasn’t changed. He’s stayed the same person under all the pressure and deserves to be recognised by the city in some way.”
Minichiello has often talked about a legacy in the city after Ennis in the form of some sort of Academy.
Don’t be surprised if Matischen brings his expertise to helping set this up.
The athletes often talk about the superstars who they meet in the village.
They’re all very successful sportspeople in their own right, but still feel in awe of others from different sports.
It’s the same with the media centre. I’ve had the chance to chat to a few people who I respect very highly.
I was delighted to be sharing a question session in the mixed zone at the basketball last night with the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan.
He is one of the best basketball writers of all time and has probably forgotten more about the sport than I’ll ever know.
Amazingly as I was coming through security today, who should be collecting their belongings next to me but Bob Ryan.
We had a little chat and he said how pleased he was for British basketball making its Olympic breakthrough last night with their win against China.
They say you should never meet your heroes. The Olympics is the exception to this rule.
MONDAY, AUGUST 6, 8.45PM
* On Friday, the Rands family from Sheffield; Ian, Lynda, their 6 year old son George and 5 year old daughter Hannah went to London to experience the Olympics. This is the story of their visit.
We went armed with our “Go Jess” posters our union flags and our Team GB t-shirts, but the first part of our Olympic adventure started on Friday.
After a journey down from Sheffield and an afternoon with the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, we made our way to Earls Court to watch the women’s volleyball prelims.
Greeted by cheery members of the armed forces and chatty “Games- Makers” you can only imagine people are leaving London and these Olympics with a wonderful impression of our country and our people.
Whilst waiting for the previous session to finish we had our photos taken with an Olympic torch and gathered seated on the floor around a TV screen hurling vocal encouragement at Victoria Pendleton and the Team Pursuit cyclists.
The noise being generated was nearly drowning out the encouragement for the GB volleyball team losing inside the arena.
We then took our seats for an entertaining, but one sided game between the women of the USA and Serbia; George and Hannah asking questions, learning about the game, taking in the noise and everything going on, both on and off court in the arena.
Our first experience of volleyball saw a 3-0 win for the USA, but provided a great display of athleticism and teamwork. We couldn’t stay for the Italy - Algeria game that followed, it was late and an early start beckoned.
Just before 8 o’clock Saturday morning and we were boarding the Javelin service at St Pancras, just over 6 minutes later we were heading into Olympic Park full of wonderment at the vast scale of what was in front of us.
Walking through Stratford Gate you can see the Aquatics Centre, Basketball Arena and Water Polo Stadium and there, overlooked by the Orbit sculpture, the vast bowl of the Olympic Stadium.
When we walked out inside the stadium and saw the Olympic flame, the vast stadium and felt the buzz of anticipation and excitement we all admitted to having a lump in our throats and a tear in our eyes.
For the next four hours we shouted ourselves hoarse for Jess, watched in wonder at Oscar Pistorius setting a personal best in the 400m and admired the ease by which the fastest men in the world eased through their heats.
There was so much to take in that George and Hannah found it as over-whelming as it was exciting. There was so much going on around the stadium, with very little let-up in the action, be it long jump, pole vault, javelin or track.
The noise when Jess took her final long jump was incredible, but so was the support for those who couldn’t compete at such an advanced level.
Given how loud it was that morning, I can only imagine the roof nearly came off that night as Jess struck gold and Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah followed.
By that time we were watching from our hotel room with two shattered children whose senses had been aroused by all they had seen and heard.
The message of this Olympics is Inspire a Generation. We saw so many examples of inspiration whilst we were there.
From the supreme levels of athleticism of Ennis, Bolt and Blake, to those for whom just being at the Olympics was an achievement, such as the 100m runner from the Marshall Islands who ran in just under 13 seconds and the Turkish female steeplechaser roared on by the capacity crowd as she finished over half a lap behind the rest in her heat.
The levels of friendliness and customer care from the volunteer Games-Makers, the paid staff, the armed services and police force; a brilliant unifying positivity from all ages and races just twelve months on from the riots.
From the sports that don’t normally get the media attention such as the volleyball, which has its national base at the EIS. Watching the competition ought to be an inspiration to local children to have a go and get involved. Who knows where it might take you...
Then on the tube, as we departed West Ham station, we saw an elderly couple sat opposite us. The woman was wearing a dark blue blazer, embroidered with a union flag and the words Great Britain - Olympics 1952.
I asked if she was a competitor and her husband proudly explained that his wife won a bronze medal for the long jump in Helsinki (one of only 11 British medals at those games).
He explained how the athletes had to pay their own way in terms of uniform and getting there and how the only way of watching her success was in brief newsreels at the cinema back home.
Her name was Shirley Cawley, a humble lady who remained quiet throughout our conversation, but proudly wore her GB Olympic uniform 60 years on.
From watching Jess Ennis that morning to seeing Shirley Cawley an hour or so later,
I hope that the pride in representing your country and succeeding can inspire success for George and Hannah’s generation and the next generations to come.
MONDAY, AUGUST 6, 1.10PM
Today is a big day for British basketball. It seems like it will be the final match as head coach for former Sharks boss Chris Finch and may also see several players, including current Shark Nate Reinking, calling time on their international careers.
Now, you may not be interested in basketball or volleyball, water polo or handball but it’s important that as a nation we’re strong in these sports. Finch has been the standard bearer for Great Britain basketball since he took the head coach’s job when the programme was created in December 2005.
Over time he has put together a competitive squad that is a genuine force at European level.
He’s had the help of being able to call on the services of NBA all-star Luol Deng, but he’s also unearthed and cajoled others to be part of his team.
Losing Finch will be a big blow.
Basketball needs to keep moving forwards in this country at all levels and both in the men’s and women’s game.
If youngsters can see that Britain competes at the highest standard, that there’s interest and that the financial rewards of playing in America or Europe are there then more may choose to play the sport seriously.
Of course a stronger more financially prosperous domestic league would be beneficial but that requires me and you going to watch the Sharks or Hatters and paying our money for tickets.
We can’t have one without the other. It’s our choice.
For the Olympic two weeks we have been exposed to sport in its entirety.
I’m not going to criticise football because the game has been a major part of my life since I was born and it still is.
I just think we need to keep this momentum going.
In basketball’s case it means finding a coach equal in stature to Finch who can drive the programme on. There is no reason why we can’t have teams as strong as Spain or France.
And that goes for the other sports too.
Volleyball, handball and water polo have no magic ingredients. It just needs an interested public, strong leadership and good coaching at junior levels with a clear path to competing as a senior.
The Olympics has shown that we are a great, not good, sporting nation. Let’s not squander all this hard work.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 5, 4.45PM
Back at the Olympic Stadium today. It seems bizarre that just over 24 hours ago the greatest night of British athletics was happening on this very track.
It’ll be remembered by us, of course, for the feat of Sheffield’s Jessica Ennis who produced an incredible performance to win the heptathlon.
What was great was her receiving the recognition worldwide. We’ve always known that she was something special but until you win an Olympic gold there’s always a few doubters out there.
An emphatic victory will ensure she is remembered for a long time by people who have had only a passing interest in sport before last night.
It’s very hard to explain what the emotions were like in the stadium and on the Olympic Park.
I’ve been describing the experience of coming to the Games as everyone knowing they’re going to have the best sporting day of their lives.
You can see it in people’s faces as they walk through the gates. Mums and dads holding the hands of their kids each as excited as the others.
Hearing voices and not recognising accents and realising that the world has come to the party too.
I can imagine other Olympic Games being excellent. But they will always be someone else’s Games. Rio in 2016 will be Brazil’s time to shine and we’ll just be visitors.
This is our Olympics. We’re determined to put on a good show and I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re absolutely nailing it.
But back to last night.
As I’m sure many people did, I cried last night when I saw Jess stood on the top step of the podium with tears in her eyes.
The amount of times I have spoken to her about how things are going. I tried to avoid the P word because it was obvious that people were expecting her to win.
I wrote a column for The Star saying how unfair it was to burden her with the expectation when form suggested she wasn’t the leading contender.
However as the year progressed and her times and scores carried on improving I began to think that gold was hers for the taking.
By this week I was convinced she’d win, hence the back page on Friday which explained why I though Jess would win gold.
The way she carried it off was sensational. I managed to have a quick chat to her after the morning’s events yesterday when she was still just plain old Jess Ennis and had no bling round her neck.
I could tell she knew she’d won. It was a great moment and only topped by watching her storm home in the 800 metres to a deafening roar.
I’ll need to keep remembering to put ‘Olympic champion’ in front of her name whenever I write about her in the future.
Now she deserves a good rest and to spend time with her brilliantly supportive fiance Andy, family and friends.
The motto of these Olympics is ‘Inspire a generation’. Over two days our Olympic champion Jessica Ennis inspired several.
She is part of history and we couldn’t be more proud.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 4, 11AM
As I didn’t get a chance to update my blog yesterday I thought it was about time to post something.
Sat typing this in the Olympic Stadium. The long jump competition for the heptathlon is going on at the far side of the track.
Hopefully Jessica Ennis can get through that event and the javelin still in first place.
It’s still going to be tough for her to win. Her rivals are excellent on the second day so they’re bound to make it tight over the next couple of hours or so.
Yesterday was sensational. Her runs in the 100m hurdles and 200m were the highlight of a day that included a gold medal for Barnsley’s Ed Clancy in the velodrome.
It’s a big weekend for all our sports. Obviously for Jess but also for our volleyball teams, basketball and hockey.
Qualification is at stake. The hockey lads of Sheffield’s Alastair Wilson and Doncaster’s Barry Middleton have a great chance of competing for gold.
They’re both very impressive people and the hockey team is one of the best prepared in the Games.
It’s going to be a very exciting weekend.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 2, 12.10PM
The Games are beginning to get serious.
The atmosphere, certainly within the press sections at the various venues, has noticeably changed with the sports where our best chances to win medals either start or reach a climax.
Rowing, cycling and athletics are where this Olympics will be remembered.
Bradley Wiggins delivered in emphatic fashion yesterday, our rowers are doing their bit at Eton Dorney and it now remains to be seen how the athletes do when competition begins tomorrow.
Of course it’s the first day of the heptathlon for Jessica Ennis. Hurdles followed by high jump will complete her first morning in the Olympic Stadium.
Before all that though, today Ed Clancy begins qualifying with the pursuit team at the Velodrome.
Barnsley-born Clancy will also take part in the multi-event omnium race on Saturday and Sunday. Hopefully he’ll be weighed down slightly by a gold medal hanging round his neck from the pursuit final tomorrow!
A quick word for sailor Paul Goodison. A back injury has hampered his attempt to retain his laser class gold medal off the coast of Weymouth in Dorset.
However, the Rotherham lad has shown true Yorkshire grit to fight his way back up the field and will begin racing again tomorrow in sixth place.
He’s got four rounds left and then the medal race to see if he can pick up some more silverware. At this point, with momentum definitely in his favour, you wouldn’t back against him.
And a final thought on Becky Turner. On her 20th birthday yesterday she completed her first Olympic Games with a barnstorming swim in the 200m freestyle relay.
Chatting to her afterwards I got the impression that if the 2016 Rio Olympics started tomorrow she’d jump on the next flight, so much has she enjoyed the experience.
The next four years will be extremely interesting for Turner. With one Games under her belt she could become a major force in British and world swimming.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 1, 1PM
Just a very quick blog because it’s going to be a very busy day today.
Jess Ennis press conference was good. She seems in good spirits, excited to be here and can’t wait to compete.
Nothing earth shattering in that, but she has tried to maintain a certain amount of normality to her preparations throughout the build up.
The day got off to a good start with Swinton’s Amy Oliver winning her first match in the archery at Lord’s. Unfortunately she lost her next one and that’s the end of Amy’s Games.
Lots to look forward to today. Nick Robinson-Baker and 3m synchro partner Chris Mears competes at 3pm at the Aquatic Centre.
And later this evening Joe Roebuck will be trying to make the final of the 200m medley in the pool.
Already in a final are Sheffield’s Ellie Faulkner and Rotherham’s Becky Turner, who were part of the 200m freestyle relay team. They’re off at about 9pm.
In amongst everything else Barry Middleton and Alastair Wilson will be in action against South Africa in the hockey.
Rachel Laybourne and the volleyball girls will be hoping to follow up their stunning success from the other night with another win, this time against Italy.
Fran Leighton and the water polo team will try and get their first win of the Games.
And Paul Goodison is in his last two races before a rest day tomorrow in Weymouth in the sailing.
Plan for me will be to see Nick RB, hopefully a bit of hockey and then back to the pool for some swimming.
Great Britain has its first gold of the Games, maybe Mr Robinson-Baker can deliver another medal later.
TUESDAY, JULY 31, 3.15PM
Today my office is very noisy. The people sat behind keep shouting in my ear, others are clapping and stamping their feet. And the lights keep going down every 15 minutes or so as some girls (and boys) do a dance in the middle of the floor.
Today my office is the Basketball Arena and I love it.
At the moment Lithuania, and their - only one word for it - crazy fans, are playing Nigeria.
It is the second match I’ve seen today after earlier sitting through Spain against Australia.
As working environments go I don’t think I could choose a better one. I’ve just been to get a cup of tea from the media centre and there’s people in there working.
I’m sure they need to concentrate. It could be their fifth Olympics, not first. Or they may just not like basketball.
But for me this is what the Games are all about. The chance to beat yourself over the head with sport until you can’t take anymore.
And then remind yourself this is only once every four years, so you go back and see some more.
It’s also an opportunity to get some of the stories that you wouldn’t normally be able to source.
Earlier, for instance, I spoke with a Spain player who is a team-mate of young Sheffield basketball star Devon Van Oostrum in the Spanish Premier League.
He had some great things to say about Devon’s future, and, from an email I’ve just received, I know I’ve made one person’s day.
It’s a brilliant way to meet people too, many of who have a story to tell about Sheffield.
The lad handing out the statistic sheets at the end of each half has just graduated from Sheffield Hallam University.
There’s city links everywhere at these Games.
Over at the hockey venue, Riverbank Arena, the site is run by former Sheffield and Hallamshire FA PR manager Hayley Roach. And the hockey competition is in the hands of another Sheffield native Sue Catton.
We’re four days in and it seems the Olympics have been going on forever. Like all good things they will come to and end eventually, but for now the party is well and truly in full swing.
Even in my office.
TUESDAY, JULY 31, 10AM
It had to be them.
All Olympics we’ve waited for one of the teams from a ‘new’ sport to the Games to make a breakthrough.
Usually the basketball, volleyball, water polo and handball competitions take place without Britain noticing.
But in London Team GB is competing across all sports.
The water polo women, captained by Rotherham’s Fran Leighton, nearly shocked Russia earlier in the evening.
However, it was the girls who had had their funding cut a couple of years before the Games who stole the show.
The British women’s volleyball team, you could say, are made in Sheffield.
Supported by Sheffield businesses and organisations, no team has had to work as hard to make their dreams happen.
From charity bike rides through to fundraising events the team has conducted itself with dignity and humour when they could have packed up their kit and pursued careers elsewhere.
Lynne Beattie, for instance, the team’s inspirational skipper, is a qualified pharmacist and worked in Doncaster when the team moved its base to the English Institute of Sport in Attercliffe.
And so, after a beating by world champions Russia in their opening match, they went into one of their ‘must win’ fixtures with Algeria.
Coach Audrey Cooper had prepared her team thoroughly for the 10pm start. They played two matches late at the EIS in the week before travelling to London.
It wasn’t easy, but into the early hours of this morning they won the point that made history and put volleyball on the map.
How they carry on in this competition is now important.
The thrill of victory will create a tremendous high. However, to create the legacy that the team desires a quarter final place should be their aim.
It was before the Games and I’m sure it still will be.
I’m glad it was Lynne, Sheffield’s Rachel Laybourne and friends who made the biggest team splash so far.
You cannot say they didn’t earn every second of their winning moment.
MONDAY, JULY 30, 3.30PM
The levels of elite sport were never more clear than this morning at the Aquatic Centre.
Rotherham swimmers Becky Turner and Joe Roebuck both had high hopes of making tonight’s semi-finals in their respective events.
But first Turner, in the 200m freestyle, and then Roebuck in the 200m butterfly, missed out on a top 16 place by 0.02 seconds.
It’s around the distance of a fingernail touch to the wall of the pool.
Neither was ever a favourite to win a medal but both had wanted to make the final. Once you’re in a final, they say, anything can happen.
However, for whatever reason their top form just wasn’t quite there today. Afterwards both were disappointed by still looking forward to the rest of the Games.
I enjoy chatting to them both. They’re a no nonsense pair who work incredibly hard at what they do.
The fact they’re entered into three events each - Turner in 100 and 200m relays and 200m individual freestyle, Roebuck in 200 and 400m medley and 200m butterfly - shows their talent levels.
No each had just one more chance to show what they can do on the biggest stage.
They don’t seem the type to dwell on how close they came to racing again today. Maybe after the Games they’ll be kicking themselves that they didn’t get tonight’s extra swim.
But there’s plenty more to come, particularly for Turner who celebrates her 20th birthday on Wednesday, in their careers.
MONDAY, JULY 30, 1.30AM
Final blog for the day.
Was just thinking how good it was to see former Sheffield Sharks coach Chris Finch at the main after match press conference.
It should be no surprise because Finch is a talented, hard working coach, who has done very well since retiring as a player and taking up the job on the sidelines.
It shows how far you can go if you have the ambition and the fortitude to keep going. He did wonders for the Sharks both as a player and a coach and he still refers to Sheffield as the closest thing to home.
I’m sure Great Britain will get a win in this basketball tournament - and it will be a fitting reward for the work Finch has put in.
SUNDAY, JULY 29, 9.30PM
There’s so much to love about the Olympics.
Yes, there have been problems - I’ve encountered more than my fair share in my day-to-day work - but to host an event on this magnitude it would be almost impossible not to have any snags.
You have to take the Games as whole I think. The positives far outweigh the negatives in my opinion.
The best, and possibly the most obvious, is the sheer amount of sport. It’s breakfast to midnight action of the highest standard.
For sports lovers it doesn’t get any better than this. There’s matches starting at 10pm in the early phases of the competition, which is difficult for the players but brilliant at the end of a long day.
Each day the story unfolds just a little bit more. Medals start to be won and events reach their climax.
It’s hard to believe we’re only two days into the Olympics. It feels like I have been here for ages, but there’s still lots more to come.
In fact, the Games have hardly got going at all. The track cycling, athletics and several other events haven’t yet begun.
On Monday one of South Yorkshire’s best prospects for gold, Paul Goodison, begins his quest to retain his Olympic title.
And it’s now less than a week until the arrival of Jessica Ennis.
Now that will be something.
SUNDAY, JULY 29, 10AM
Several things to get through this morning, so straight into it.
* The organisers are getting some stick for empty seats at venues. All the events I’ve been to have had spare places, most particularly in the expensive bits.
In some ways it is impossble to make people attend if they have a ticket but it doesn’t look good and hopefully something can be done to fill those empty spots.
The atmosphere and noise generated by the crowd has been immense. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing what it’s like with a full house and a British medal.
* I went to see the British volleyball women start their Olympic campaign yesterday at Earls Court.
It’s a nice venue but a very long way from the Olympic Park so it did feel quite isolated.
The team did well against Russia and will be stronger for it in their next ‘must win’ match against Algeria tomorrow.
I did find out, on the way back to the Park, that the West Ham station is a decent bet for transport. A lot quieter than Stratford it’s a 20 minute walk, which was nice.
Also, on the walk there must have been 250 volunteers lining the way. The amount of manpower down here is massive. Not always useful as I have found to the cost of my legs when directed in totally the wrong direction, but very willing and friendly.
* In the end we’ll never know if Becky Turner could have helped Team GB to a medal last night in the swimming 100m relay.
She was dropped from the line up because her time in the heats was the slowest of the four. She will respond well though, and her stronger event of the 200m is coming up next week.
* Today I’m off to see Paul Drinkhall in the table tennis. He and Joanna Parker (his girlfriend) who both live in Rotherham won their opening matches on Saturday.
He has a tough game today but Paul is a gritty competitor so it should make for an excellent encounter.
* And later I’m at the men’s first basketball match with former Sharks boss Chris Finch and current Shark Nate Reinking.
They play a tough Russian team who they have already lost two twice in warm up matches.
I finished last night by watching the women against Australia. The Aussies are a medal contender and eventually won fairly comfortable.
I had a chat with Hatters coach Vanessa Ellis, who is assisting Tom Maher to lead the women.
She said it felt good to get the Olympics started: “They’re a very good team. We know they’re a medal hope. All we’re doing is go out and do our best and play our game.
“We were ready and raring to go. Australia are a good challenge for us. If we can play like that against Australia it’s good.
“I think when we came over the Arena tonight that was it (we knew the Games had started). We had our pre game meal and it was into normal preparation.
“We try and treat it like a normal basketball game but when you walk in and hear the crowd shouting ‘GB’ it is different but once get going it is just a game of basketball.”
SATURDAY, JULY 28, 8.10PM
I found out from Team GB that Rotherham’s Becky Turner won’t be in the British 4x100m freestyle relay team later.
It’s a shame because it was her last leg that pulled the team through into the final. Yes, her time was the slowest of the four, but on the anchor leg it’s often about keeping your nerve and overhauling your opponent rather than the time.
In her place will come 100m freestyle specialist Fran Halsall. It does make the team considerably stronger than this morning but, personally, I’m disappointed Becky won’t have the chance to finish off the job.
On the positive side, if Team GB do finish in the top three I have had it confirmed that she would still qualify for a medal.
SATURDAY, JULY 28, 11.15AM
What with one thing and another yesterday, an opening ceremony for instance, I didn’t get much chance to update my blog so while I’m sat here in the super impressive Aquatic Centre I’ll take this opportunity.
It goes without saying that the ceremony last night was amazing. I wanted to go to it but if I hadn’t been able to get a ticket I wouldn’t have been too upset.
However, after witnessing it I can truly say it is one of the most memorable occasions of my life. The spectacle was extraordinary in itself, but I kept coming back to how much it displayed Sheffield and South Yorkshire as well as the host city.
Lord Coe’s links with Sheffield are well known, but it was also a pleasant surprise to see Doncaster’s Sarah Stevenson given the honour of taking the athletes oath. Well deserved.
Also the giant red hot rings were a nod to the country’s industrial past and very much had Made in Sheffield stamped all over them.
The ceremony slightly over ran but nobody minded. I’m just glad our bus driver finally found his way back from Lord’s - where I’d been watching Swinton’s Amy Oliver - to the Main Press Centre so I could pick up my ticket to attend.
On the sporting front Amy was a bit disappointed with her performance in the ranking round. A problem with her bow didn’t help but she still has every chance of progressing on Wednesday. Before that on Sunday she is in the team event.
So, onto today. Rotherham’s Joe Roebuck was the first Brit in the pool and it didn’t go too well for him as he finished seventh in his heat.
The 400m medley is his weakest event out of the three he is doing at the Games, so he wasn’t too concerned afterwards.
“The butterfly felt really easy which is a great positive with the 200m fly coming up, and I feel strong going into that,” said Roebuck.
“I feel I’ve got the speed for both remaining races.
“I prioritise the other two races but it was nice to get the first race out of the way, to get over the nerves.
“I would have liked to have done a much better job being the first Briton out to help kickstart the team but it was not to be.”
Onwards and upwards for Joe.
A bit later this morning we have Becky Turner, also from Rotherham, as part of the women’s 100m relay team.
FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2012 9.40AM
Security as you would expect is tight. I’ve just had a pretty intimate search by a rather large security guard after I went ‘beep’ passing through the metal detector.
It’s just a fact of Olympic life that you’ll have to go through several security checks every day.
The thing that takes me most time is getting all my stuff out so it can be scanned. So I thought I’d do a little list of what’s in my bag.
Today will be a long day. Archery began this morning and I’m typing this in the iconic media centre at Lord’s cricket ground.
Later is the Opening Ceremony, so there’s no time to go back to my accommodation in case I’ve forgotten anything.
As a standard I have my laptop and cable, two phones plus cables to charge, a dictaphone, three notebooks, three pens, a Team GB media guide (434 pages thick), the guide on a USB, a transport guide (184 pages), wallet, keys, coins, archery media guide, headphones and today, because it’s a bit overcast, a jumper. I’ve also got one of those towels you’ll see the divers use just in case it does rain and anything gets wet.
Optimistically I have my sunglasses and a hat too. Well, it is the British summer after all...
FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2012 12.30AM
These have already become known as the Twitter Games with athletes and journalists documenting every aspect of their Olympic lives to their devoted band of followers.
I had a chat with the impressive Doncaster-born skipper of the Team GB men’s hockey team, Barry Middleton, about the perils of social media for sportspeople who suddenly may find themselves thrust into the public eye.
Barry is one of the few hockey players not be on Twitter. He said it was a personal choice but accepts there are benefits to it as well.
He said: “I decided it’s safer for me to not to. I don’t think it has got anyone into trouble yet but it has the potential to.
“We police it a bit. People ask each other if there is one they’re going to send that may cause trouble. They’ll say ‘is this right?’ and there’s a discussion.
“It’s brilliant if it is used in the right way. It’s the time when you use it. One of the things we have is a protocol within hockey of not tweeting while the game is going on or just after.
“It’s then when you’re focusing on the game and what your job is. I think if you start tweeting on emotion, or write things on Facebook on emotion then the trouble starts.
“If you lose and 10 minutes after the game you’re picking your phone up and writing something then I don’t think it will ever come out very well.
“But I think it is brilliant for the interaction. The pictures that are going around at the minute with people seeing behind the scenes, I think it’s a great thing for the media to get an insight.
“Not everyone can get in the village, so it’s a good thing.”
The hockey squad are quite pro-active in looking after their image. A firm was brought in to teach the players about the pitfalls of exposing their lives on Twitter or Facebook.
One of the exercises included being shown a mocked up tabloid front page with details gleaned from their Facebook accounts.
Barry said it was a lesson learned: “I think it showed how easy it is to put stuff together. It’s something that you need. It was exaggerated in a way but it makes sense.
“We’re quite smart as a group are hockey players. We have a bit of intellect behind us. Making good decisions are part of life and hopefully we’ve done that so far.”
Barry and his team, including Sheffield’s Alastair Wilson, begin their Olympic campaign on Monday at the Riverbank Arena against Argentina.
THURSDAY, JULY 26, 2012, 3:30PM
With competition beginning tomorrow morning I thought I’d travel over to the venue for where it will take place.
The Archery ranking round starts at 9am at Lord’s cricket ground with the men first in action. Amy Oliver, from Swinton, gets going in the afternoon at around 1pm.
Each archer will get 72 arrows. The person who comes out top will play the one who finishes 64th and so on.
Anyway, I’d seen a sign at the media centre that advertised a have-a-go at archery day, so I thought, why not.
The added bonus is that it was at Lord’s, one of the most iconic and historic sporting venues in the world. The traditions of the Marylebone Cricket Club are well known.
It’s only recently that women members were allowed and to gain access to the pavilion is a rare honour.
So I can only imagine what some of the more uppity ‘colonels’ of the MCC will have thought at the sight of us wandering through their hallowed halls in shorts, t-shirts and baseball caps. In our defence it was very hot!
The session was lots of fun. Advice came from some pretty impressive experts. Juan Carlos Holagdo may not be a household name to many but the chances are that he has one more Olympic gold medal than most of us.
He was part of the Spain team at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
British men’s number four Michael Peart was our local guide to archery and the upcoming competition. He also had some very nice things to say about Amy Oliver, which will be in The Star tomorrow.
And finally American Douglas Denton, who is the Games’ archery equipment technician and the man responsible for the design of the Hoyt bow, which 60 per cent of the competitors will use in the Olympics this year.
I did okay. It’s definitely not as easy as it looks and when you consider the Games competition distance is 70 metres it makes you wonder how they manage to hit the target at all.
Douglas told me that the arc of an arrow shot from that distance, at it’s highest trajectory, is roughly 15 feet above the target.
It was good to experience a sport in an actual venue - although not on the main arena.
Tomorrow it is the turn of the professionals. Hopefully Amy can get our South Yorkshire athletes off to a good start.
She’d tweeted me some advice, and I’m glad to say it worked! So, thanks Amy. And good luck!
WEDNESDAY, JULY 25, 2012, 11:50PM:
The first day has gone incredibly well.
I was determined to get an early start and caught the 7am bus from the media transport hub at Russell Square.
The city was just waking up but there was still lots of people around. It was the first day of the much criticised ORN - Olympic Route Network.
For those of us lucky to be on vehicles that are allowed to use it, it is priceless. No waiting in queues for us!
I can see how it could be a pain for people who drive on roads that now are one lane less spacious, though.
I also have a feeling that the route is designed to impress a few tourists. There seemed to be a fair few landmarks along the way...
The day was all about getting used to my new ‘office’ for the next couple of weeks.
A mini IT glitch was on the downside of a full shift of exploring and talking and getting myself acquainted with the world’s biggest sporting event.
For those who are coming down to the Olympic Park - you’ll love it.
Sounds a bit daft, but it is just like a park. Lots of grass, places to sit, a lovely river running through the middle of it and lots of things to do.
And that’s besides the sport.
The venues are spread out into three or four sections depending on how you look at it.
They’re all impressive in their own way, but a quick favourite of mine so far is the velodrome.
I was trying to get round as many as I could so I’d find out where the media centres are and what the mixed zones - where I’ll be able to interview athletes - looked like.
It’s interesting seeing and hearing all the nationalities. There’s a tremendous range of headwear to be admired, which I’m sure will keep me amused over the coming days.
For now, the place has the feel of the hours before you host a party.
Everyone is making sure everything is just right. There’s an air of nervous friendliness in the volunteers that is sure to wane when they’re asked the same question for the 500th time.
I hope not though. Because despite its size London the city isn’t hosting these Games, it’s the people. And they’ve come from all over the country.
Every bit of the United Kingdom and beyond in some cases is represented. They want to make a good impression, and so far they have.
One final story. I was thinking on the train down - thanks to East Coast Trains by the way - about what Seb Coe will make of it all when the Opening Ceremony is out of the way.
Going way back in time I once gave him a lift back to Sheffield railway station from the English Institute of Sport.
It must have been sometime in 2004 (maybe earlier) and he was trying to drum up support in the regions to Back the Bid, as it became known.
The miles he must have travelled, the speeches he must have given and the hands he must have shaken to lead the winning bid doesn’t bear thinking about.
I’ve interviewed him on a couple of occasions since and he politely pretends to remember me.
It’s the little things like that, that make me want the Olympics to be successful.
Coe, a son of Sheffield, will get the plaudits and rightly so. But it didn’t just happen overnight.
He’s had to endure some very difficult moments along the way. Not least my driving.
* East Coast operates 70 services each weekday between Doncaster and London King’s Cross. Customers travelling First Class can enjoy East Coast’s complimentary food and drinks offer plus unlimited Wi-Fi. Advanced return fares, booked online at www.eastcoast.co.uk: start from £20 Standard Class or £71 First Class. Times and fares can also be found via 08457 225225 or from any staffed stations.
Follow me on Twitter @RichardFidler and The Star @SheffieldStar
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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