Focus now shifts from Bird’s Nest to Stratford

From Barry Newcombe, SJA Chairman
Beijing, Friday:
London began to make more impact on the Beijing Games today with 2012 chairman Seb Coe heading a conference in the Main Press Center and the British Olympic Association preceding that with a conference headed by Denise Lewis on Britain’s Olympic Ambition.

Lewis, the heptathlon gold medallist in Sydney eight years ago, said: “It is a privilege and an honour to watch the progress of the British team here. We are one of the best in the world. It has taken us a long time to prove it and it can only get better going into 2012. We have surpassed our medal hopes.”

Asked to contrast London with the Beijing production, Lewis said: “London has to have its own identity and it will be about what we do well. The Chinese have surpassed their own expectations and London will be amazing and will step up to the mark.”

Coe was flanked by 2012 director Paul Deighton and Bill Morris, who is in charge of London 2012’s eight-minute presentation at Sunday’s closing ceremony.

Coe praised Beijing and the British team: “We could not have had more help and support in our learning process. You only get one opportunity to watch the working model close up as a future host city and we have grasped that with both hands. The platorm provided for us by Team GB is one we will not overlook, we are very grateful for it.”

â–¡ The Mail‘s Charlie Sale reports that London Mayor Boris Johnson, who wants to stamp his own identity on the 2012 Games, gave notice yesterday that he is prepared for a heavyweight fight with Lord Coe over the future of the London’s Olympic Stadium.

Johnson intends to ask his star adviser, the multi-millionaire Carphone Warehouse tycoon David Ross, to lead the investigation into the best legacy solutions for the Stratford venue, which is being downgraded after the Games into a 25,000-capacity track and field facility.

Johnson, after arriving in Beijing on Thursday, said about the stadium’s future: “I don’t think the story is closed. I hope people will continue to investigate it as long as they can, with all options explored.”

Lord Coe is relaxed about the Mayor’s camp looking at any ways of improving the legacy plans in and around the stadium – but is adamant that the core promises made by London to the International Olympic Committee will not be affected.

Johnson, however, gave the impression that he hasn’t ruled out a Premier League football buyer, mentioning that the one failure of the fabulous Bird’s Nest in Beijing has been in not attracting a football tenant to move in after the Olympics.

Premier League West Ham, who are in complicated negotiations with Parcelforce over a proposed site for a new 60,000-seater ground two miles from the Olympic Stadium, are open for dialogue.

â–¡ SMOG BLOG: Blue skies 7, Smog 13.

â–¡ FIG, the international gymnastics federation, could rule as early as today on whether a double-gold winning Chinese gymnast was underage – but any online debate of the row has been censored.

FIG launched the probe into He Kexin, darling of the host nation, after an American computer hacker told The Times that he had uncovered Chinese government documents proving she is only 14, making her ineligible to compete in the Games.

He, pictured, who won gold in the uneven bars – relegating Britain’s Beth Tweddle to fourth place – and in the team event, is listed as 16 years old, the minimum age for competitors, but the United States has repeatedly questioned that claim, as well as the ages of other members of the winning team.

News of the investigation has set the Olympics abuzz, but the reports have been hidden from ordinary Chinese. None of the major Chinese news websites has published the story and some where reports of the inquiry had appeared have been closed down.

This has not prevented some online debate – although several chatrooms where debate had been heated earlier in the day have since been shut down as site hosting companies censor what could be a sensitive topic.

â–¡ The broadcasters, with their soaring viewing figures for the Beijing Games, do very nicely out of the Olympics worldwide.

In America, NBC has broken the $1 billion barrier for ad revenues during the Beijing Olympics – thanks largely to insisting on having swimming finals staged in the mornings in China for the American viewing public to see Michael Phelps‘s eight-gold feats in the first week. NBC has sold $25 million-worth of extra ads since the Games began, and is averaging audiences of more than 29 million for its daily peak time Olympic programme.

â–¡ Any boost in the IOC’s US-generated earnings from TV and sponsorship can only increase the momentum for the Games to be staged in the Americas in 2016. Although NBC is the largest single funder of the IOC, even having a senior executive as an IOC member in Alex Gilady (who for protocol reasons is listed as from Israel), the Olympics have not returned to the US since the disaster that was Atlanta in 1996.

Given that 20-year gap, and after having summer Games in Australia, Asia and Europe, some Olympic-watchers suggest the time is right for Chicago’s bid for 2016 to succeed. Others, though, are tipping IOC President Jacques Rogge to lean on members heavily to take the Olympics to South America for the first time and vote for Rio de Janeiro.

â–¡ An early campaign for the voting for SJA Sports Broadcaster of the Year is being launched by our man on the couch in Croydon. He reckons that the performance off-shore at the Olympic regatta of the BBC’s Rob Walker deserves a fifth Olympic gold medal for Britain’s sailors.

Alongside Walker was former Olympic champion Shirley Robertson, who made an assured Games debut as the sailing venue link woman.

Walker’s near-explosive enthusiasm, as he bobbed about on the Yellow Sea wearing wetsuit and life jacket, getting up close and personal with the live action on the water to explain the intracacies of the classes and the action, and then hauling boat after boat alongside to conduct post-event interviews, has been among the highlights of BBC’s Olympic coverage.

â–¡ Four sailing gold medals in Beijing – Britain’s best ever – has had another impact. While property prices around Britain decline, the Olympic sailing effect is exciting estate agents in Dorset: the 2012 Olympic sailing regatta is prompting a minor local housing boom, as flats and holiday cottages are bought up with a view to letting them out to potential competitors wanting to research the local conditions at sea over the next four years, and to the media and the rest of the Olympic circus in 2012 itself.

Click here to read: Jowell – Beijing has taken Games to a new level

Click here to read: What’s Chinese for “Six blank receipts please?”

Click here to read: Liu’s injury creates Beijing media frenzy

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

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