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Olympic pressure has got 'worse'

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David Bond | 16:23 UK time, Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Olympic Games have changed a lot in the 36 years since the Princess Royal competed for Britain at the Montreal Games.

A member of the three-day eventing team, she is well known for her competitive streak and proud of her achievements in equestrian which also include a European Championship winning medal in 1971.

She is the only member of the Royal Family to have competed in the Olympics and Sebastian Coe reflected here today that she often speaks as a former athlete when she is involved in meetings of the organising committee's board.

As president of the British Olympic Association she was asked to receive the Olympic flame on behalf of Britain and London at an official ceremony at the Panathenaic Stadium.

Princess Anne

Princess Anne meets Greek President Karolos Papoulias during the Olympic flame hand over in Athens. Photo: Getty

So it is interesting to hear her views on the modern pressures of representing your country at the Olympics.

In an exclusive BBC interview Princess Anne told me: "I would have found it really difficult, I suspect, to do it on a home patch - much easier to have done it elsewhere. I'd hate to be doing it now - that's all I can tell you. It's got worse."

I asked her whether she was referring to the pressures involved, to which she replied: "I think there's so much, yes, to everybody. Once upon a time it would have been for one or two of the athletes who were high profile and the BOA could help support and bring them on.

"All the things the electronic media have opened up, simply didn't exist when I was doing it. Some people do find it a help I am sure but I suspect for others that's a difficult level of intrusion to manage."

Of course, all members of the Royal Family are sensitive to media intrusion and Princess Anne would have been subject to a lot of attention when she competed for Britain back in 1976.

But a brief trawl of newspaper archives from the time shows a much more gentle, deferential time. Even when she suffered a nasty fall, it didn't dominate the front pages. In fact the papers seemed more concerned with David Wilkie's gold and Nadia Comaneci's perfect score.

Sarah Wooldridge, widow of the late Daily Mail's legendary columnist Ian, recalls that her husband wrote a lot of articles about the Princess and that there was inevitably a lot of attention but that it was by no means a frenzy.

Just imagine if a member of the Royal family were competing in any modern Games, let alone a home Olympics, today.

She didn't say it but I suspect in the back of her mind, Princess Anne was thinking about her daughter Zara Phillips's own possible involvement in this summer's Games.

Having missed out on Beijing because of an injury to her horse Toytown, it looks like Zara Phillips is facing more disappointment this time around.

She is running out of time to prove she and new mount High Kingdom are worthy of the last place in the eventing team in London. The cancellation of the Badminton horse trials last month denied Zara Phillips her last real chance and there is now a quiet acceptance among members of the BOA hierarchy that she is a long shot for a place in the team.

Judging by Princess Anne's remarks Her Royal Highness may see the brighter side of that.

Not least because of BBC Sport's own plans, these Games promise to be the most extensively covered in history.

The BBC announced this week it will broadcast 24 live high definition streams and 2,500 hours of coverage via the BBC Sport website.

Add to that the emergence of Twitter and other social networking sites and wall-to-wall newspaper coverage and it is easy to understand why there is so much pressure attached to being one of the "faces" of the London Games. Just ask Tom Daley and Jessica Ennis.

As for her role now, the Sports Minister Hugh Robertson today paid tribute to the Princess Royal, as one of the "unsung" heroes of the London Games.

As president of the BOA and one of Britain's three members of the International Olympic Committee she played a key role in getting the original bid off the ground and as a member of the Locog board has been at the heart of the seven-year preparations for the Games.

Interestingly she accepts that some people may view London 2012 as an "extravagance" when the British economy is bumping along the bottom, with the Bank of England yesterday downgrading its forecasts for economic growth.

But she argues the hosting of the Games has brought many economic benefits too.
She told me: "When you think about the time when the decision was made and the bid was going through, how well everything was going and how well everyone thought they were - that's quite a dramatic difference.

"But having that focus of the Games which isn't a moveable feast - it has to be done - there are also some advantages in having that.

"I understand that it looks like an extravagance but I think if they recognised the way a lot of that money has been spent, it has made quite a constructive impact on people's lives."

When the Olympic flame finally lands in Britain tomorrow for the start of its 70-day tour around the UK, it will be the Princess Royal who emerges on the steps of BA's gold painted flight 2012 carrying a special lantern. That will then be used to light a torch being carried by David Beckham.

It is the start of a relay which, as organisers never tire of telling us, will be within 10 miles of the entire UK population. The question now is whether the relay will ignite passion for the Games across the whole country.


  • Comment number 1.

    On a recent trip to Russia i was reminded of the Moscow Olympics, in which of course Britain took part, though it was boycotted by the US over the soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It just occurs to me that we should be grateful that our athletes were there, since relations with Russia have been a bit tetchy recently, and they might have seen any boycott by us, then, as a reason to stay away from this one (after all, they boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics). But perhaps this raises a slightly different point - shouldn't we be delighted, more than anything else, because so many of the world's countries are going to be competing? Inevitably, that makes gold medals harder to come by, but at the risk of being shouted down, isn't it primarily the 'taking part' that counts? Britain has given the world many of its favourite sports, but also, didn't we once put a premium on sportsmanship; 'playing the game' in the right spirit? Does this just sound ludicrously naive and whistful nowadays?


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