Pooley proves she is not a lightweight in medal stakes

From Barry Newcombe, SJA Chairman
Beijing, Wednesday:
Cyclist Emma Pooley‘s silver medal in the women’s individual time trial only went to demonstrate that hard work has its rewards. It was Pooley who selflessly did much of the donkey work earlier in the week in the women’s road race to make the break that set up Nicole Cooke for her gold medal.

When British Cycling’s performance director, Dave Brailsford, attended our SJA Olympic lunch a few weeks ago, he spoke of the extraordinary preparations his team had gone to ahead of the Beijing Games. In the case of Pooley, pictured right, that involved riding the road up the mountain to the Great Wall in the winter, with snow all about, to acquaint the rider with what was to come, and checking out all previous Olympic time trial courses over the last 50 years.

None, they found, had such a stern climb as Beijing’s course, which would perfectly suit the tiny 25-year-old PhD student, who weighs in at less than 8st and this year has been in fine form, becoming only the second British woman, after Cooke, to win a World Cup road race.

And there’s more to come: senior British cycling figures are saying that Cooke and Pooley’s medals are “bonuses”, and that these road results were not included in their medal-winning projections.

â–¡ The day for me began in the medical room at the Main Press Center where I explained that I had broken a crown – the gap was obvious – and could they do something about it?

No, they couldn’t, but they sent me to the Athletes’ Village where there is a resident dentist. They couldn’t help there, either, because the dentist worked in a secure zone and I had no credentials to enter that area. Instead, Chinese officials summoned an ambulance and with the blue lights on and siren wailing we surged through the busy rush hour traffic to the Anzhen Hospital and the dental section of its VIP clinic. Less than half an hour later, tooth repaired at a cost of £20, I was back in the ambulance and returning to the MPC. The ambulance charge for the return journey was £13.

â–¡ The fix is in. Further to our report on Monday about the swathes of empty seats around several Olympic venues, Wang Wei, vice-president of the Beijing Olympic organisers, admitted yesterday:

“If local venue managers find there are not enough people in the venue or too many empty seats they arrange for local volunteers as cheerleaders, and they are told to cheer for both teams to create a better atmosphere.”

Can’t quite see that happening at the opening match in the football tournament at Hampden Park in four years’ time, can you?

â–¡ Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe‘s much-publicised bet with his Australian counterpart over which country will win more medals in Beijing has put unnecessary pressure on Britain’s team, has reported.

Sutcliffe’s bet with Kate Ellis means that the loser must wear a shirt of the other one’s country at the next major sporting event they attend. Duncan Mackay‘s Olympic website reported that Hugh Robertson, the Conservative’s Shadow Olympics and Sports Minister, fears that behind the light-hearted bet, Sutcliffe, pictured right, is putting too much pressure on Britain’s team because he is desperate to justify the amount of National Lottery funding they have received.

“I am not convinced that having a public bet with the Australian Sports Minister was the wisest thing to do – or that British sport will welcome the consequences if it goes wrong,” Robertson said.

“This is exactly the sort of thing that happens when you get too many Ministers in the same place all fighting for publicity.”

Perhaps someone should point out to Robertson that one of his predecessors as Tory party sports spokesman, Colin, now Lord Moynihan, the BOA chairman, has struck a similar bet with his Australian opposite number, John Coates.

â–¡ The crowds at the Beijing Games may not need warming up, but they are doing it anyway. Swimming crowds apparently like Abba’s Dancing Queen, while in the weightlifting Blondie’s The Tide Is High is popular. Well liked, too, is music by artists from Taiwan (or Chinese Taipei, as we are supposed to call them here).

â–¡ SMOG BLOG: Clear skies 2, Smog 9.

â–¡ The fix is in (part 2). If you were among the billions around the world enchanted by the grace and voice of the young girl singer in a red dress at last Friday’s Opening Ceremony, then the reports that the girl in question was actually miming to another singer – who was sidelined by Chinese organisers because she has crooked teeth – will dismay you.

Lin Miaoke, 9, was not actually singing Ode to the Motherland. She was just determined to be more photogenically pleasing after high-level discussions – which included a member of the Politburo. The teeth of the real singer, Yang Peiyi, aged 7, were considered potentially damaging to China’s international image.

â–¡ What journalistic doyen of his sport, a veteran Olympic reporter, was caught yelling from the press box during the women’s judo “Go on luvvie! Throttle the bitch!”? Answers on postcards only, please…

â–¡ Has Barnes done it this time? Simon Barnes‘s Olympic blog, referred to here in previous entries, looks to have sparked transatlantic warfare between readers, with rabidly anti-American and anti-European comments being posted. Check it out (scroll down past the column to read the comments) by clicking here.

And all this sparked by Barnes innocently expressing the difficulties (as he says he finds it) of doing justice in his writing to the great achievements of the likes of swimmer Michael Phelps – who this morning grabbed his ninth and 10th Olympic golds, both in world record times.

Here’s a clue for any American readers: Barnes clearly admires Phelps, but rarely feels inclined to join in with the often excessive – as we Brits see it – triumphalism of many of Phelps’s US compatriots. But with Britain’s super sailor Ben Ainslie already at loggerheads with his American rival at the Olympic regatta and a golf Ryder Cup to come next month, this US-GB verbal sparring could run and run.

â–¡ The fix is in (part 3)? The Daily Mail‘s Des Kelly is convinced that the child-like demeanour of some of the Chinese girl gymnasts is no coincidence. He has spotted several inconsistencies in the details of their ages as they appear on their passports. The minimum age to compete in the sport at the Games is 16 (younger, pre-pubescent children tend to be more flexible, but can also be subject to abusive coaching regimes: the old Eastern Bloc used to give small, gifted gymnasts catatonic steroids to delay the onset of puberty). See what you think by clicking here.

â–¡ Anyone who thought that readers of The Independent were rather high-minded might have that notion disabused when seeing the “most-read” listings yesterday of the newspaper’s website’s Olympic coverage.

Top was photographer David Ashdown‘s photo blog – featuring, as it does, a set of shots taken at the women’s beach volleyball. Second was something called “World-class pin-ups: Meet the Olympic contenders for the gold medal in glamour” (the SJA’s Sportswoman of the Year for 2007, Victoria Pendleton, features prominently). Third was a story about the latest Chinese faking scandal.

Next, former sports journalist Roger Alton, now editing the paper, will be reconsidering what he runs on Page 3.

□ The fix is in (part 4): Capitalism is alive and well and thriving in Communist China. The charge to journalists for vital internet access during the Games is £300, a one-off, all-in charge, no discounts or reductions for shorter periods of usage.

â–¡ Parodying live broadcast commentary, of course, can be an easy gig. However, several of the commentaries and links from the BBC’s vast team in Beijing have been less than accurate or insightful, according to my contact on the couch in Croydon.

In fairness to the Beeb’s TV staff, this has sometimes been due to some pretty shabby direction of the worldwide picture feed, which is outside the BBC’s direct control. The nadir of this so far was during Monday’s eventing cross-country, which at one point prompted the refreshingly straight-talking new summariser, Ian Stark, to explode in frustration as Britain’s final rider, Mary King, was approaching the water complex: “Oh, that’s right, just cut away as they’re about to jump.”

â–¡ Worse came today at the women’s cycling time trial: the director missed the scheduled start of the ride of Nicole Cooke, the Olympic road race champion.

â–¡ One discovery the BBC has made is Ronald McIntosh, their new man beside the basketball court. Although British, McIntosh speaks with a transatlantic accent thanks to his having enjoyed a basketball scholarship at a college in Canada. He stands about 6ft 8in tall, too.

A genuine journalist, rather than an ex-sports star, McIntosh’s BBC career began a decade ago, working as an assistant producer on John Inverdale‘s sports chat show, On Side, and has since seen him conduct on-screen ringside interviews at boxing and trackside at athletics.

His partnership with former NBA star John Amichi, a thoughtful co-commentator, could be one to watch over the next four years as basketball is expected to grow in Britain. The SJA membership forms are in the post, Ron.

â–¡ Giles Smith, in The Times, bases his entire columns on sport on TV, so he has plenty of material to work with from Beijing. It seems that Eddie Butler, former Wales rugby international in Beijing commentating on… wait for it… archery, has really caught Smith’s attention.

According to Smith, Butler for one will be hoping the IOC adds rugby 7s to the Olympic roster of sports without further delay.

Click here to read: Lonsbrough quick off the blocks in gold run

Click here to read: Differing fortunes for Britain’s tennis and diving pairs

Click here to read: Adlington makes British swim history by her fingertips

Click here to read previous blog entries from Barry Newcombe in Beijing

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