Fond farewells after an Olympic job well done

LONDON CALLING:The SJA chairman BARRY NEWCOMBE says goodbye to the MPC, the Wentworth and some senior colleagues

On the final morning of the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Main Press Centre was slow to come to life. The British Olympic Association had called an early conference to outline some of its aims and objectives and introduced a handful of their medallists to talk about their experiences.

The majority of British journalists were gearing themselves for the Closing Ceremony. All around, the place which had been the home of the 5,000-plus written media for a couple of key weeks and many more before that, was winding down.

Olympic veterans Neil Wilson, left, and Alan Hubbard, centre, at the special presentation from Lord Coe to mark their long and distinguished careers, hosted by John Goodbody (right)

The MPC showcased to us and our guests what could be done for the media. The operation, planned for a good few years beforehand by Jayne Pearce and her large team at LOCOG, worked. From the welcome desk to the working desk, with the sustained backing of dozens of volunteers, little was left to chance. It was a formidable effort.

The day before the closure, the MPC staged an Olympic farewell for Neil Wilson of the Daily Mail and Alan Hubbard of The Independent on Sunday, who were both at their last Olympics. Lord Coe found the time to call in and make a moving tribute.

“These two guys have been with me every step of the way but their contribution is much wider than that, it has been seismic. They are both extraordinarily respected writers,” the double Olympic gold medal-winner said.

“I want to personally say what you have meant to me and a whole generation of athletes coaches and sports administrators have been brought up on your observations, acute, sometimes harsh, but always fair.”

Alan Hubbard’s first Olympic Games were in 1964 in Tokyo. For much of the time he has covered boxing. A visit to Angelo Dundee, Muhammad Ali’s trainer, led him to watch Teofilo Stevenson. “He told us Stevenson was special. He was the best Olympic boxer I have ever seen. I named him Ali’s right-hand man.”

Wilson has covered the Games since 1972. “Daley Thompson’s two gold medals stand out, particularly the one in Los Angeles because he nearly didn’t win until his throw in the discus.” Wilson watched the London Games from the stadium each night, where David Rudisha’s 800 metres world record was the stand out performance.

Hubbard, Wilson and the rest of the British media always recognised that 2012 would be a hard slog. They had thought about it for years and the reality of the Games enforced their views. There would be no tougher beat in their lives and they would have emerged the better and wiser for it. On that final afternoon, over pizza and beer, you could hear that viewpoint expressed time and again.

What happens next for our sportswriters remains to be seen but the indications are firmly that there will be even more and even faster activity on the digital front with more outlets and greater ambitions within them.

The British Olympic Association did much of its Press work from their own office within the MPC. Director of Communications Darryl Seibel spent much of his time there while Miriam Wilkens, director of media operations and services, operated from Team GB House adjacent to Stratford Station where many media conferences and other activities took place.

Beyond them, there was a team of sports press officers operating in all the disciplines across the country. Bill Bradshaw was head of the news service team which did distinguished late night service.

Many of the media stayed in central London and used the bus services laid on to transport them to the Olympic Park and elsewhere. On the day I went to Wimbledon to see Andy Murray win a gold medal, I was on the first bus of the day from the Park, the only passenger as it went through London’s empty streets to the All England Club.

Much, much later, Andy Murray, Olympic champion, reversed that journey, though he wasn’t on a bus.

My home during the Games was at Queen Mary University at Mile End. The British support team was there, so were the French, Australian, Russian, Italian, Hungarian,and Danish support contingents.

Getting to the Olympic Park was a matter of choosing between one stop on the Central Line or a seat on the 25 bus to Stratford. Both choices worked.

Sometimes, at the end of the day, it was possible to take a night cap in the Wentworth pub close to Mile End Station, which had three television sets permanently on Games coverage.

After the closing ceremony, around 1am, I walked past the pub. It was closed and dark. Suddenly, a door opened and the landlady, in colourful dressing gown, emerged with her dog. “Goodnight darling,” she called, “hope you enjoyed the Olympics.”

Yes, Madam, I did.

  • Picture and additional reporting by Philip Barker


Mon Sep 24: SJA Autumn Golf Day, Muswell Hill GC. Click here for booking details

Thu Dec 6: 2012 SJA British Sports Awards. An Olympic year extravaganza. Note the date in your diary now. Details to be announced soon.