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Summer of Olympic sport still sizzles

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Ollie Williams | 13:31 UK time, Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The World Cup has left the building and the octopus has taken retirement. Isner and Mahut have trudged wearily out of the Wimbledon gates and the wind is just about dying down at St Andrews.

But if you think that's it for another summer of sport, you're wrong. This is the busiest time of year for sports that make up the Olympic Games, with British athletes preparing for - or doing battle in - major tournaments across the globe.

On Tuesday 27 July, we reach the two-year marker ahead of the London Olympics, and it is starting to get even more serious for Britain's finest. Those still in the reckoning for places in Team GB have to work harder than ever to fight off intense competition; those pushed out of the picture are running out of time to get back into the frame.

All of which means that if you watch any of these sports now, you will see athletes striving for an Olympic promised land which gets closer by the day - even if, to some of them, it might start to feel more distant than ever.

The action is frantic and the BBC will broadcast live, report from, and bring you the results of dozens of events between now and the Commonwealth Games, which are being staged in India from 3 October.

Bradley WigginsBradley Wiggins, leading the latest development in British cycling. Photo: Getty Images

Several of those are already under way, most notably the Tour de France, which this year hosts some of Britain's top cyclists beneath the banner of the newly founded Team Sky road racing outfit.

Under the watchful eye of British Cycling performance manager Dave Brailsford, prodigious talents like Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas have pitched themselves into the Tour maelstrom - with mixed results to say the least.

However, from a British perspective, the Tour is not simply about how these British riders develop. It also affords the chance to see how Britain's immensely successful cycling programme is continuing to reshape itself in the pursuit of even greater things come London 2012. Team Sky's battle bus is one example.

Speaking ahead of the Tour at the Manchester Velodrome last month, Brailsford told me he himself had to continue improving otherwise others would overtake him.

It might be an easy thing to say but, as a man at the top of his game, it is also easy to spot when that goes wrong. So the success or otherwise of his foray into road racing is well worth keeping an eye on. It appears his fledgling team still have plenty to learn.

Not that these are the only British cyclists in action. Shanaze Reade and Liam Phillips, GB's top BMX duo, have been crossing the globe from their base down the road at Manchester's Platt Fields track.

Phillips recently competed in the European Championships in Norway (where Twitter tells us the people "ticked the box" but the scrambled eggs did not), and the pair of them will head to Pietermaritzburg, in South Africa, for the sport's World Championships at the end of July. (Who said South Africa has had its time to shine?) More from Reade on this blog in the near future.

Think of sports with strong British medal hopes for 2012, and cycling is up there. So, too, are swimming and athletics, both of which get full, live BBC treatment this summer.

The European Championships of swimming take place in Hungary in the first half of August. The British team is led by household name Rebecca Adlington but British Swimming hopes new stars will be crowned in 2012. Chief among those prospects could be Achieng Ajulu-Bushell.

Watch the Euros to see how the 16-year-old, who was born in Manchester but swam for Kenya before switching her nationality earlier this year, fares against more experienced rivals in the 100m breaststroke in Budapest.

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Achieng Ajulu-Bushell - still focused on school

Ajulu-Bushell attends the same Plymouth school as another, better-known aquatics prodigy in diver Tom Daley. My colleague Tom Fordyce has been spending time with her ahead of the Euros, so watch his blog for more soon.

As for Daley, he has been announced as the star of the 40-strong British team for the first Youth Olympic Games, which take place in Singapore in mid-August. Another name to look out for is Sam Oldham, a young gymnast who took the Junior European Championships by storm in May - you can follow Oldham, Daley and the team with daily highlights on bbc.co.uk/olympics and on the red button.

Meanwhile, Britain's top junior athletes are in action at the World Junior Championships in Canada this week. The one to watch is 16-year-old Jodie Williams, an outstanding sprinting prospect and junior number one in the world over 200m (with a best of 22.79 seconds).

Williams has been held back from the senior European Athletics Championships in Barcelona to give her time to develop but the BBC's cameras will be out in force in Spain between 27 July and 1 August.

What state are Britain's senior athletes in right now? Performances at the Euros may go some way to answering that question, after some disappointing recent performances, such as the Gateshead leg of the sport's Diamond League.

Charles van Commenee, UK Athletics' head coach, admitted his charges were "not very good" in Gateshead but has come out with some bold predictions for a reversal of fortunes in Spain. He will be "embarrassed" if the team, captained by heptathlete Jessica Ennis, fails to reach the target of 10 to 15 medals set for it by UK Sport, and he wants "seven or eight" of those to be gold.

If that comes true, it will make for gripping viewing. But where are those medals going to come from, especially without the likes of injured Beijing 2008 gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu? (Her younger sister, Victoria, will be at the Youth Olympics.) Can Martyn Rooney, Michael Rimmer and others step up to Van Commenee's challenge?

Not that you should feel confined to watching BBC coverage on your screen, since your chances of catching Olympic sport live right here, in Britain, are excellent this summer.

Throughout the previous week I've been at hockey's Champions Trophy, watching England's women take on five of the world's best teams on home turf for the first time. You can see highlights of each England game on our website, including the 2-1 win over Germany that won them a bronze medal, their best-ever finish in the competition..

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Watch hockey highlights as England beat Germany 2-1

Bronze may not sound like much in a six-team tournament but, given the calibre of the opposition, that roughly equates to an Olympic semi-final berth. And that is a big deal for British hockey. (Read more in my earlier blog, here.)

If you couldn't join me in Nottingham then maybe you can catch the Hyde Park Triathlon in London, one of the biggest events in the triathlon calendar this year. If not, it'll be live on BBC television.

It's part of the World Championship Series, a sequence of seven races which determine the finest triathletes on the planet, so you are guaranteed to see the cream of the crop in action.

Among them is Alistair Brownlee, the Yorkshireman who was crowned world number one by winning the series last year and who has made an impressive comeback from injury so far this season, winning the European title earlier this month.

(By the way, I'll be volunteering at the triathlon on Saturday 24 July. Will you be there? If you see me guarding a crossing point, say hi!)

There's also fencing's British Championships in Sheffield to consider on the same weekend, following on from the European Championships in Germany, where Richard Kruse picked up bronze - and I'll have more from the GB fencing squad for you soon.

Or, you can catch some top-class sailing off the British coast.

The women's Laser Radial World Championships have been taking place around Largs, while the men's Laser event - including Beijing gold medallist and defending champion Paul Goodison - is coming to Hayling Island in late August. Click here for full details of when and where to watch.

Or how about taking in what amounts to an early test event for the Games in Weymouth? The Olympic sailing venue for 2012 hosts the Sail for Gold regatta from 10-15 August. The Hyde Park Triathlon and Sail for Gold are your best chances for a preview of what London 2012 will feel like.

The people who really need your support simply to reach 2012, though, are the British basketball stars. Both the men's and women's teams, neither of whom have been handed a free pass to the Games as hosts (though we'll have more about this from governing body Fiba soon), play vital qualifiers for the EuroBasket tournament in August.

I'd recommend putting Saturday 14 August in your calendar - the men play Ukraine and the women play Slovakia, both in Birmingham, if you want to make a day of it.

Much more is going on around the world while these events are happening in Britain. For example, if you didn't notice Sam Weale recently becoming the first British male pentathlete to win a European medal, you can follow him and his British team-mates at the Worlds in China.

Then there are the badminton Worlds in Paris, the sprint canoeing Worlds in Poland, sailing's Finn Gold Cup and RS:X windsurfing Worlds, the basketball Worlds and the women's boxing Worlds in Barbados - not forgetting boxing's Night of Champions in Cardiff, which features "Team GB v the Rest of the World".

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BBC Sport catches up with England's top lacrosse players

And, if that still isn't enough, try the World Lacrosse Championships in Manchester. I spent a day there last week and it's a fast, furious sport where England are a genuine threat at international level. No 2012 worries or funded athletes here, only a group of people with ordinary jobs, paying for the privilege of putting on an England jersey.

Anything else I've missed out? Let me know. Just don't tell me you miss the World Cup. Sport's a lot more fun when there isn't an octopus spoiling the ending.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Great Post Ollie, glad you mentioned the basketball, 4 big games in August, anyone interested check the site called BackBritishBall also on twitter, great guy called Sam Neter's 1 man campaign to increase the nations interest in British Basketball

  • Comment number 2.

    Whilst GB may well be on track to finish 4th in the medal table, for me the Olympic show-piece is track and field. If GB don't pick up medals there, then all the cycling and hockey and sailing and tiddlywinks golds will feel a little hollow to me.

  • Comment number 3.

    The Australian Rules Football European Championships begins in the first week of August in Denmark and Sweden. The GB Bulldogs will be heading over looking to make a big impression on the tournament.

    More info on the tournament can be found here:

    www.ec2010.info

    Would the BBC be interested in covering anything on this rapidly growing sport, one of the fastest growing sports in the UK?

  • Comment number 4.

    Its not a 2012 event but the Womens Rugby Union World Cup is also being held in Guildford (group stages) and Twickenham stoop (finals) in Aug/Sept.

    http://www.rwcwomens.com/

    Might be interesting to see whats going on there, with sevens included in the line-up for the 2016 Olympics.

  • Comment number 5.

    Have to say that I am not a fan of team sport in the Olympics. There is always the possibility that a player is being 'carried' by the rest and gets a medal. Yes, the team may deserve the medal but does every individual competing in that team. Now, in rowing and some other team events, you can't hide and the team is only as good as the weakest link.

  • Comment number 6.

    You forgot the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in October. Rather important given it'll be the last big competition for the Brits to compete as a team against the majority of the Olympic nations before 2012 in all three of the equestrian sports - Eventing, Show jumping and Dressage.

  • Comment number 7.

    How about a Football World Championships on home soil where England have a great chance of winning? The Blind World Championships is a direct qualifier for the Paralympics. It takes place at The Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford between 14th - 22nd August.

    More information can be found here - http://www.blind2010.com/

  • Comment number 8.

    Chrissie Wellington will also defend her World Ironman Triathlon title in October in Hawaii.

    Honourable mention too to our Acrobatic Gymnasts won won 2 senior world titles last weekend courtesy of 6 members of Spelbound. With increased recognition of this sport after Britain's Got Talent perhaps this will become an Olympic event in the future. Would much prefer to see this at the Olympics than Rhythmic Gymnastics & think it's more exciting to watch.

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks for the comments. First thing - I wish I could be at all these events, the ones I mentioned plus the ones in your comments.

    Ian - I once spent an afternoon with the Reading Kangaroos when I was a reporter for BBC Radio Berkshire. We did our afternoon sports bulletins from the side of the pitch as they played a team from Wimbledon. In one of the finest examples of a sport living up to stereotype, the first thing they did was throw me a can of a well-known Australian beer when I got there. (For the purposes of this blog, I did not drink it.)

    It would be very cool to see the Aussie Rules Worlds. Certainly, if they came to the UK, I'd like to think the BBC would show an interest. However, I suspect that may be a way off from happening - you probably know better than me!

    Vix2010 and Tiger Rose - not forgotten, I promise, just I'd written so much purely on things coming up in the next month or so that I had to draw a line before events in the latter half of September and October, or you'd still be reading this now. The World Gymnastics in Rotterdam will be my focus in October once the Commonwealth Games are finished, but I'll be following the action from Kentucky.

    As for Chrissie, she sometimes occupies a strange grey area for us because while triathlon is an Olympic sport, her discipline within it is not. Obviously, what she does is an endurance version of triathlon that ramps up the distances involved significantly, so her achievements are no less worthy of coverage for that fact. It hope she has a shot at London 2012 - I know BBC Norfolk, who do a fine job following her progress, have written articles to that effect in the past.

  • Comment number 10.

    Ollie
    The part
    "Under the watchful eye of British Cycling performance manager Dave Brailsford, prodigious talents like Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas have pitched themselves into the Tour maelstrom"

    Is Cavendish working with Brailsford?
    Regards

  • Comment number 11.

    What about the Archery World Cup? Several British archers are in contention for places (in particular Simon Terry and Nicky Hunt) and the final is being held in Edinburgh in September!

  • Comment number 12.

    teacher2g - Cavendish isn't working with Brailsford as part of Team Sky, obviously, but British Cycling's performance director will still be monitoring a British rider like Cavendish under his nose in an event like the Tour. If Cavendish is going to compete at London 2012 (by no means a given in itself, and Cavendish has in the past played down the Games as an ambition) then Brailsford is the man to convince. Being part of separate teams does not divorce the two in terms of longer-term Olympic prospects.

    sjmbarclay - You're right. As in my comment above, I ended up drawing a line in September otherwise I'd have gone on forever but I am expecting to be in Edinburgh to report on that. Will you be there?

  • Comment number 13.

    The World Equestrian Games is not only Showjumping, Dressage and Eventing, there is also Para Dressage, Endurance, Reining, Voltiege (Gymnastics on horse back and far better than was seen on Britains got talent!).

  • Comment number 14.

    Ollie - interesting to hear you spent a day with the Kangaroos. How did you find it? There are a few of their lads making the trip to Denmark and Sweden.

    The tournament might well be held in Britain in coming years, i'm sure AF Britain will be keen to promote this if/when it happens.

  • Comment number 15.

    Alright, Corvusali has sold me on voltiege. I'll be checking some of that out. Maybe I can get Louis Smith and Fresh Direct Corlato together for an entry into the next series of Britain's Got Talent.

    Ian - I didn't take part (for once!) but it was a really good afternoon out. That said it was a few years ago now and it's about time I paid another visit, so get on with convincing the powers that be to bring a major tournament over here...

  • Comment number 16.

    Ah, apparently it's voltige not voltiege. According to Google, at least. This video is holding my attention - if ever some footage cried out for a Monty Python voiceover. How on earth do people get into this sport? I couldn't do any of those moves on the floor, let alone the back of a moving horse...

  • Comment number 17.

    Ollie

    Your Quote

    "Cavendish isn't working with Brailsford as part of Team Sky, obviously, but British Cycling's performance director will still be monitoring a British rider like Cavendish under his nose in an event like the Tour. If Cavendish is going to compete at London 2012 (by no means a given in itself, and Cavendish has in the past played down the Games as an ambition) then Brailsford is the man to convince. Being part of separate teams does not divorce the two in terms of longer-term Olympic prospects."

    What happened between Cav and Brailsford in the 2008 Olympics? Im not sure many would see that to be a good working relationship. Cav is unlikely to ever win a World or Olympic Road Gold and he doesn't seem interested in the track either. I believe the focus will be on some on the younger brits on team Sky

  • Comment number 18.

    ' The World Equestrian Games is not only Showjumping, Dressage and Eventing, there is also Para Dressage, Endurance, Reining, Voltiege (Gymnastics on horse back and far better than was seen on Britains got talent!).'

    To whoever posted that - I'm well aware of those other sports, but the original blog was about the Olympic sports. I hate to say it, but it wouldn't surprise me if 2012 and 2016 are the last two summer games having Equestrian sport as part of them. If Eventing's still at a threat of being dropped, I really can't see the IOC taking up Vaulting as a sport...

  • Comment number 19.

    Vix, I don't think Corvusali was having a go at you, just broadening the point you had already made - and to be fair, the 10 minutes I spent investigating vaulting this afternoon were 10 minutes incredibly well spent.

    You're right about equestrian's Olympic prospects, vaulting is not exactly a likely saviour, but it wouldn't it be nice if we lived in a world where it was? Although, looking at some recent sporting successes, you maybe shouldn't rule it out... look at BMX from Beijing 2008, and especially snowboard/ski cross at Vancouver 2010.

    Those were hi-octane sports which offered something different. Now I'm not saying vaulting is the next boardercross but I do wonder how the face of the Games may change in the next two decades as the Olympics realises that the biggest-hitting sports this century are going to be the ones which make people sit up and take a bit of notice. Whether the general public are as impressed as I was by people doing handstands on a moving horse, I don't know.

    Teacher2g - I know what you're getting at and you're right that Mark Cavendish is unlikely to become the great white hope of British cycling at London 2012, but I've spoken to Dave Brailsford specifically about him and all he wants is for Cavendish's mentality to be calmed and focused a little more.

    How possible that is, is perhaps another matter, but I'm not as sure as you that Cavendish has abandoned his track career in its entirety just yet. However, I do agree the strength of British Cycling right now means Brailsford is in no way reliant on individuals like Cavendish, given the younger talent on offer.

 

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