Olympic odyssey that has not been without a racket

LONDON CALLING: KEVIN FRANCIS is covering his eighth summer Olympics for the Daily Star. Here, he recalls some of the highs and lows of the previous seven Games

From Rocket Man to Racket Man – it’s been an Olympic odyssey of moments to remember forever – and some that should be consigned to the dustbin.

Journalists hard at work in the John Rodda workroom in London’s MPC

It all started for me with a never-to-forget Opening Ceremony at the Los Angeles Games in 1984 when I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. There, just yards in front of me, was the brilliantly-named Bill Scooter flying on to the track with a jetpack strapped to his back.

It was a major trick that could only have happened in the shadow of Hollywood and set the scene for the most extravagant Opening Ceremony of them all.

And Racket Man? That’s my name for the muscular Chinese chap who burst into my hotel room at the Beijing Games four years ago “for a friendly chat”.

Apparently, he was a member of the organising committee and held me responsible for an allegedly unpaid hotel bill. All of my paperwork was in order, but Racket Man only had one task – to lighten my wallet to the tune of £2,000.

The “friendly chat” turned nasty as he threatened to have me kicked out of the hotel onto the streets – with two weeks of the Games remaining.

I had to use all of my streetwise ability to turn the tables on him, threatening him with all the bad publicity the Daily Star could muster, in order to eventually get rid of him.

Thankfully, such moments have been a rarity in the seven Olympics I have covered where the overall helpfulness of the host cities has invariably been a great memory.

Mind you, the organisational ability hasn’t always been there. Take Atlanta in 1996, for instance. Please….someone take Atlanta.

They were, without doubt, the most badly organised Olympics that I have ever attended. It was chaos from start to finish.

Transport was deplorable, with bus drivers being bussed into the Georgia city from all over the States.

They had no knowledge of the city with the inevitable result that athletes, officials and journalists regularly found themselves heading in completely the wrong direction.

I was once on a bus that became stuck under a canopy outside one hotel while the female driver of another bus just stopped and ran away screaming after getting hopelessly lost.

While Atlanta was the worst of the Games I have been to, Sydney in 2000 stands out as the best of them all.

There was an amazing feel about the whole Sydney experience that other Games cities – Atlanta excluded – came close to matching but never quite succeeded.

The organisation and atmosphere was superb, particularly in the Olympic Stadium on the night when Cathy Freeman struck 400 metres gold.

Other golden highlights of my seven Games include watching Seb Coe and Daley Thompson take the honours in Los Angeles.

Then, of course, there was Sir Steve Redgrave winning gold medals at five successive Games from 1984 to 2000.

And, in my first-ever Games, there was Carl Lewis emulating the feat of Jesse Owens by winning four titles.

Now I head for London where, fingers crossed, we can stage a Games to be proud of – an Olympics to knock Sydney off the top of my list.

  • This is an edited version of a column that first appeared in the Daily Star and is reproduced here with permission.


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