Thursday, January 10, 2008

Chief of 2012 Olympics visits Morocco

Chief of 2012 Olympics visits Morocco to promote youth sports
Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic Games, met with Moroccan officials and athletes Monday (January 7th) to discuss how to promote sports among young people.

"Few countries are able to boast of having such sports stars as Nawal Al Moutawakil, Said Aouita and Hicham El Guerrouj", Lord Coe said at a press conference in Casablanca. "It's a great honour for me to be in Morocco, a country that has contributed so much to sport in general and athletics in particular."

According to Lord Coe, his discussion with National Athletics Federation President Abdessalem Ahizoune was quite relaxed. "We talked about a range of topics directly or indirectly affecting athletics in Morocco, with the sole purpose of bringing sport up to speed just four years ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in London," he explained, adding that the big challenge today is getting young people to take up athletics rather than other activities. He emphasised that realising this goal is in everyone's best interest.

Legendary Moroccan athlete Hicham El Guerrouj said, "When I learned that Lord Coe had come to Morocco, I left Nice in France straight away to come and meet him, because he was always a role model for me." It is a great honour, the former Olympic and world champion said, to work with Coe on youth athletics in Morocco and elsewhere.

Nawal El Moutawakil, named Minister for Youth and Sports by King Mohammed VI last month, also appeared with Lord Coe at the press conference. She said Morocco needs the know-how of a great champion like Sebastian Coe to move forward in athletics. "I met Lord Coe at the Moscow Olympics in 1980, and for me he was a model to emulate, especially in his determination to succeed," said the minister.

In 1984, El Moutawakil became the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She is now a member of the International Olympic Committee and, as president of the IOC Evaluation Commission, helped choose the host nation for the 2012 Games. London won the rights to organise the Olympic Games, beating out Paris, New York, Moscow and Madrid.

The new minister is also vice-chair of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, which uses sports programmes as a "universal language" to battle crime and drugs, "break down the barriers of war-torn nations and regenerate forgotten communities".

Sebastian Coe broke the world records for the 800 m, 1500 m and mile in the 1980's. He has been Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the 2012 Olympic Games since 2005. He is also Vice-President of the International Athletics Federation.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The complete guide to: Beijing 2008 Olympic travel

The world's first sporting arena was at Olympia in the Greek western
Pelopponese. A five-day festival of chariot and horse-racing, long-jumping and
foot-racing was held every four years from 776BC until the Games were abolished
nearly 1,200 years later. Happily, a fair amount of ancient Olympia is still
intact. Down the centuries, the site has been hit by two earthquakes and severe
floods, and the site was almost consumed by forest fires that engulfed the
region last August, claiming 63 lives. The field and the surrounding buildings
and temples are now overlooked by a hillside of charred trees.
The flames came within a few metres of the rectangular field that was
rediscovered only in the 19th century. Years of careful excavation have made
sense of the tangle of fallen columns and stones, assisted by scale models in
the adjacent museum. The temple of Zeus, three times the size of the Parthenon,
has not survived but another, dedicated to Hera, has been almost wholly
reconstructed, and its magnificent 4th-century BC statue of Hermes is on display
in the museum. Other sights include a monument containing the heart of the
founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who died in 1937.
Ancient Olympia (which reopened within two days of the fires) opens every day
from 8.30am-3pm (November-March) and 8am-7.30pm (April-October). The admission
charge of €9
You can reach Olympia by flying to Athens and travelling overland to the far
west of the peninsula. Olympia's largest hotel is the Europa International (1
Drouva Street; 00 30 2624 022650; A double room, including hot breakfast, can
be secured online for €64 (£45) until the end of March. A good, family-run
alternative is Hotel Pelops (Varela 2; 00 30 2624 022 543;, in the
heart of the village about 800m from the archaeological site. Double rooms, with
buffet breakfast, are €54 (£38).
No one with a sense of history or a love of sport will fail to be moved by
the experience of standing on the field where man, for the first time in
recorded history, found a competitive alternative to warfare.
The organisers of the Athens games in 2004 paid homage to Olympia by staging
the shot-put finals there, and in March the Olympic torch will be lit there,
from the rays of the sun, before being relayed around the world to Beijing. The
first stop will be the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens, built around 330BC and
gloriously reconstructed for the first modern Games in 1896, thanks to a wealthy
Athenian benefactor. In the eyes of Greeks and of the Olympic movement,
Panathinaiko has iconic status. Lying just east of the National Gardens, it is
the only stadium in the world constructed entirely out of marble. It did further
Olympic service in 2004, hosting the archery competition and the finish of the
Marathon, but its elongated shape, like a giant paperclip, makes it unsuitable
for most modern sports. On 30 March, the 2,300-year-old stadium will witness the
passing of the flaming Olympic baton from the Greeks to the Chinese.
The flame takes a 137,000km journey through every continent except Antarctica
over a period of four months. The torch is scheduled to pass through London on 6
April, San Francisco (9 April), Buenos Aires (11 April) and Canberra (24 April),
before reaching Hong Kong on 2 May at the start of a tour of China and Tibet.
The highlight – literally – will be an attempt to take the flame to the summit
of Mount Everest: a second torch will be left with a group of mountaineers who
are planning an ascent in May.
Is Beijing ready for the games?
In contrast to Athens 2004, whose Olympic building programme only just met
the deadline, the Chinese capital is well ahead of schedule. In fact, some of
the 15 new venues were completed more than a year ago, prompting the IOC
President Jacques Rogge to urge the organising committee to slow the work down,
so that Olympic venues wouldn't be left standing empty for long periods.
The centrepiece is the Swiss-designed National Stadium, handily located in
the north of the city near the international airport, with a latticed outer
structure resembling a giant bird's nest. It can seat 91,000 spectators, but
it's been reported that four times that number of people were removed from their
homes to make way for it – without being compensated.
The main stadium is not yet finished, but don't doubt for a second that
everything will be ready for the opening ceremony, which starts at 08:08:08pm
(local time) on, you guessed it, 08-08-08. The airport has a new, third terminal
to cope with the Olympic traffic, and Beijing's metro is being almost trebled in
size, with seven new lines and 90 new stations. That apart, the most obvious
sign that the Olympics are coming to town are the hundreds of official
merchandise stores already doing brisk business.
Beijing's urban poor notwithstanding, China has embraced the Olympic movement
with enthusiasm, and its sportsmen and women are expected to challenge the
Americans at the head of the medals table next year. Sportsworld Travel (01235
554844; is the official ticket agent of the
British Olympic Association, and the only UK company authorised to request
tickets from the Beijing organising committee. The company will do this on a
monthly basis according to demand, and will organise your accommodation, airport
transfers and Chinese visa. Flights to and from Beijing, however, are not
included. The cheapest package costs £850, for a four-night visit between August
17-21, just in time to see Paula Radcliffe's attempt to win the women's
marathon. If your application is successful, a day watching the athletics finals
at the main stadium will cost from £63, including handling charges.
Where best to explore the Olympic past?
The headquarters of the Olympic movement is in a city that has never staged
the Games, and is never likely to. Baron de Coubertin founded the International
Olympic Committee in Paris in 1894, but it moved to Lausanne after the First
World War because of Switzerland's neutrality. In the rolling gardens of Olympic
Park, a cunningly concealed piece of modern architecture houses the world's
finest collection of Olympic memorabilia. The Musée Olympique at 1 Quay d'Ouchy
(00 41 21 621 6511; has permanent exhibitions devoted to the
summer and winter games, and an Olympic Hall of Fame. Plenty of athletes have
provided historic items of kit. On display are Carl Lewis's golden running
shoes, Chris Boardman's bicycle, which revolutionised the sport at Barcelona in
1992, and Jean-Claude Killy's boots, which the French skier modified after an
injury in a car crash, whereupon he won the slalom, giant slalom and downhill
races at Grenoble in 1968. Serious students of Olympic history can pore through
some of the uo 18,000 books and 17,500 hours of film and video footage in the
library, and enjoy panoramic views of Geneva and the Alps from the rooftop
restaurant and terrace. The museum opens 9am-6pm daily (except Mondays between
November and March); admission is 15 Swiss francs (£7).
Lausanne is most easily reached by flying to Geneva and taking the train
direct from the airport station in less than an hour. Alternatively, you can get
there by train from London St Pancras via Paris through Eurostar (08705 186 186; ).
Where next?
All the modern Olympic stadia survive, but some have fallen from grace. The
most obscure is Francis Field, which hosted the St Louis Games of 1904. Now used
by students at Washington University, safety regulations have reduced its
capacity to just 4,000. But it is worth taking a look if you find yourself in St
Louis, the "gateway to the West" which has daily flights from Gatwick on
American Airlines (08457 789 789;
The Olympic Stadiums of Antwerp (1920), Amsterdam (1928) and Barcelona (1992)
are now the home grounds of lowly professional football teams, although
Amsterdam hosted Ajax FC for some years; it also boasts the best Olympic museum
outside Lausanne.
The Olympic Experience in the Dutch capital is currently celebrating the
spread of the Games to China; it is located at Marathon Port (00 31 20 305 4400;
on tram routes 16 and 24 from Centraal station, and opens 11am-5pm daily except
Monday; admission €5(£3.50).
Another feature of the Amsterdam stadium is its Marathon Tower, with four
open balconies at the top which were fitted with what, in 1928, was the novel
facility of loudspeakers to keep the crowd informed.
The Olympic Stadium in Helsinki (1952) has a taller tower, 72m high, that
still dominates the city skyline. On the outskirts of Paris, the stadium that
hosted the 1924 Chariots of Fire Olympiad has been overtaken by developments
elsewhere in the city. Known as Stade Colombes, it was the pride and joy of
French sport until the Parc des Princes opened in 1972. These days, Colombes has
to make do with club rugby, but it still has a special aura about it. The
stadium is a 15-minute train ride from Gare St-Lazare, on the line to
None of these ageing venues, however, has suffered misfortune on the scale of
Montreal (1976) and Moscow (1980). The Montreal Games were in trouble long
before a starting gun was fired. Labour disputes and technical glitches delayed
the construction of the main stadium – an ambitious affair designed with an
external tower to control the retractable roof. The Olympics began with neither
roof nor tower in place; in fact, the complex took another 14 years to complete,
with the cost mounting so high that the city paid off its Olympic debt only in
As one mishap followed another, the stadium became variously known as " The
Big Owe", "Uh-O" and "The Big Mistake": there was a serious fire, bits fell off,
beams snapped, the roof didn't work properly, the weight of snow one winter led
to a further collapse of masonry, and the floor of one of the Olympic pools fell
in during a water therapy session for senior citizens.
Montreal's stadium is now described as a "multi-purpose facility", which is
another way of saying it has very little purpose at all, and its demolition has
been proposed. However, it remains the city's most eye-catching piece of
architecture – and a big tourist attraction. Half-hour guided tours of the
complex (001 514 252 4141; start at 10am in summer; 11am in winter
(C$8/£4.10), and you can take a cable car (C$9/£4.10) to the top of the leaning
tower that looms over the arena like a preying mantis, and provides wonderful
views of the city. The nearest Metro station is Vian.
At the height of the Cold War, the focal point of Moscow's much-boycotted
Olympic Games was known as "The Grand Arena of the Central Lenin Stadium ". This
is where Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett fought two epic duels over 800m and
1500m, but two years later it was the scene of a ghastly spectator stampede near
the end of a football match, which claimed the lives of at least 66 people.
The stadium, now named the Luzhniki Olympic Complex, has since been
extensively modernised and is due to stage next year's Uefa Cup Final, but the
authorities are still unhappy with the entry and exit facilities.
Which Olympic venues survived the test of time?
Just as London intends to show off the likes of Tower Bridge and Buckingham
Palace on its planned 2012 marathon route, the organisers of the Rome Olympiad
of 1960 made a point of staging events in and around notable landmarks. The
Stadio Olimpico itself had already been built in the Foro Italico; the wrestling
competition was held in the 4th century Basilica of Maxentius (open 9am-7pm;
admission €7.80/£5.50); the gymnastics at the 3rd century Caracalla Baths (open
9am until an hour before sunset; admission €6/£4.20), and the marathon ended
under the Constantine Arch on the Appian Way.
You approach the Stadio Olimpico along a pavement lined with pleasing
classical statues, but every slab of paving is dedicated to Mussolini: the
slogan "Il Duce ...Il Duce ...Il Duce" dogs your every step. For some reason,
the Rome authorities never bothered replacing them. Despite these fascist
undertones, the stadium has enjoyed a glittering life, hosting football's World
Cup Final in 1990.
The other Olympic city tarnished by fascism is Berlin. The 1936 Games were
inaugurated by Adolf Hitler, who was in the stadium to witness the arrival of
the first Olympic Torch, borne aloft by an unquestionably Aryan, blond male
athlete. Somehow, the giant concrete edifice in the Grunewald Forest west of the
city survived the ferocious Allied bombardment of 1945 with only minor damage,
and it later survived a strong public campaign for its demolition.
In 2006, like Rome's Stadio Olimpico, Berlin's totally remodelled stadium
hosted the World Cup Final. West of the main arena the original Olympic bell
tower has been rebuilt, but without the bronze bell that sounded the opening of
the Games. This is mounted immediately outside the stadium, with its engraved
swastika clearly visible.
The 77m tower (00 49 30 305 8123; contains a two-floor
exhibition of Olympic history in German and English, and a glass lift to an
observation platform at the top, which is open every day between 9am-6pm from
April to October, and from 10am-4pm on "sunny weekends" in November and
December. Admission to both is €3.50 (£2.40).

London's Olympic mementoes
There's scant evidence that the city staged the Olympics of 1908 and 1948,
although the decision by exhausted, bankrupt Britain to step in and save the
Games after the Second World War may well have counted in London's favour when
it bid for 2012. Against the odds, the 1948 Olympics (right) were a success,
with the "old" Empire Stadium at Wembley the focal point. The Games were cobbled
together on an austerity budget. There was no Olympic Village: male athletes
were quartered at an army camp in Uxbridge, Middlesex, while the women used
dormitories at Southlands College, Roehampton.
The first London Olympics, 40 years previously, had a stadium specially built
for the purpose. White City, near Shepherd's Bush, took only 10 months to build
and cost a miniscule £60,000, but when it opened it was the largest sports arena
in the world, with a vast tank at one end for the swimming events, a cycling
track, and a running track. After the Games, White City never found a permanent
role, although it kept going until 1978 – and even staged a World Cup qualifying
match (between France and Uruguay) in the 1966 World Cup.
In 1985 it was demolished to make way for the new BBC Radio headquarters, and
the only clue that it once staged the Olympic Games is a list of the gold
medal-winners on the wall of a nearby housing estate. Since 1908 remains the
only Olympiad in which Britain came first in the medals table, a proper memorial
would be fitting.
Britain rewrites the rules
The most enduring legacy of the 1908 Olympics in London is the exact length
of the marathon. At 26 miles 385 yards, it's the only Olympic event with an
imperial measurement (although it is uncertain whether this will help Paula
Radcliffe, above, at this year's Games). In previous Games, the marathon had
been 40km (24.85 miles) and then 26 miles, which was roughly the distance from
Windsor Castle to the White City stadium. The extra, lung-bursting 385 yards
were added when Princess Mary asked the organisers to move the finishing line to
a point beneath the royal box. After passing famous landmarks such as Tower
Bridge, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, the 2012
marathon will also finish directly below the royal box at the new Olympic
Stadium in Stratford. Plus ça change...

Saracens consider move to Olympic Stadium

Saracens yesterday confirmed Eddie Jones will take control of coaching next
season while talks continue with new backers whose injection of cash may lead to
the club to leaving Vicarage Road, possibly for the 2012 Olympic Stadium. Jones,
the 47-year-old former Australia coach, who also helped South Africa to their
recent World Cup final victory over England, will sign a three-year contract and
begins a new role as the club's director of rugby at the end of the season. Alan
Gaffney will continue in a part-time role.

Meanwhile, the club is in talks with the South African businessman Johann
Rupert, who once had plans to form his own club in London based on South African
players. Rupert's company is expected to become a shareholder in Premier Team
Holdings, an umbrella company for the rugby club, with Nigel Wray remaining as
Saracens' chairman.

Mark Sinderberry, the club's chief executive, said yesterday talks were
taking place with several companies and that a move from Watford, where Saracens
play, is a possibility. The club has identified new sites in Hatfield, where
Saracens are based during the week. Sinderberry said: "The Olympic Stadium could
be one option but it won't be ready until 2012 and in the meantime we are happy
at Vicarage Road. But if a partnership goes ahead these are exciting times for
the club."

Saracens have been the Premiership's great underachievers despite Wray's
investment of millions since the game turned professional in 1995. They have won
only one domestic cup, 10 seasons ago. But Gaffney helped Saracens to fourth
place in his first season last year, they are currently third in the Premiership
and are challenging for three trophies with a major home game against Biarritz
in the Heineken Cup next weekend. To add to the air of optimism Andy Farrell is
also expected to sign a new deal next week.

Jones, who had a spell at Saracens two years ago, said: "I have a great base
to work on here after Alan's good work. We have aspirations to challenge the
likes of Leicester and Wasps and we need to build a strong academy to bring
young English guys through.

"There won't be an influx of Australians or South Africans but hopefully we
will cherry-pick some imported players if we can identify that they will become
a big influence. Saracens have developed a style of play over the last couple of
years. If the players swapped shirts I think you would still know they are

Louis is ready to take on the best at Beijing Olympics

CITY gymnast Louis Smith could be about to make British sporting history by grabbing himself a dream ticket to the greatest sporting show on earth.
After a series of superb displays on the pommel horse in 2007 – reaching a peak with a first medal for a British man in over a decade at the World Championships in Stuttgart – 18-year-old Smith has made himself a red-hot favourite for one of only two places on the gymnastics team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

If Smith is selected in April, the news will be a huge four-year leap into the future for the Olympic hopeful who many had thought would not be ready for the ultimate test of his precocious skills until London 2012.

But having proved his status as a world class competitor with a string of gold, silver and bronze medals at international events throughout the past year – the Hunts Gym Club member is eager to prove to the country that he is ready to make history.

"I obviously do not know what is in the selectors' minds for Beijing but I know what is in mine and I know I am ready now," he said

"A lot of people thought I would be targeting London in four years but with the way it has gone for me I feel ready to go to Beijing to try and become the first British man ever to win a gymnastics medal at the Olympics.

"Just lately I have realised that my dreams may be about to come true. No British man has ever even got to a final and I know I have the talent to deliver under pressure. I love to perform in front of big crowds, I always have. I have an excellent chance of being selected, I will just have to wait and see what happens."

But despite his relcutance to second guess the selectors, Smith should be confident of his place on the plane should he wish to take it.

The Eye youngster's performances on all six pieces of apparatus alongside clubmate Dan Keatings in Stuttgart, proved decisive in the decision to hand Britain two Olympic places instead of one and should be enough for Smith to head to the Chinese capital for a shot at a medal in his favoured discipline.

He said: "While I consider myself a six-piece gymnast, I would go to Beijing as a specialist in the pommel. I know I can compete with the best in the world in that discipline and only missed out on a silver at the worlds by a tiny fraction so I feel I have a real chance.

"But even just to be there would be amazing, pulling on the GB vest at the Olympics has always been my ultimate dream and would make all the hard work worthwhile – but a medal and a little piece of history would really be the icing on the cake."

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