The 2008 Beijing Olympics
on the BBC
BBC TV team Olympic impressions
In a career spanning more than three
decades since he appeared as a 17-year-old
at the Commonwealth Games in 1978,
Steve's many achievements include six
Commonwealth gold medals and the
European and World Championships.
the world's most successful middle-distance
athletes of all time, at the 1984 Los Angeles
Olympics Steve returned from injury to take
a silver medal in the 1500m behind Sebastian
Coe. The following year he broke world
records in the 1500m, 2000m and a mile, all
within 19 days.
Since retiring from competitive athletics Steve
has become a successful television
commentator, joining the BBC in January
1999 as the chief athletics commentator.
Steve has co-presented the 2000 Sydney
Olympics, the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt
Lake City and the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Steve has also been a regular contributor to
BBC Radio 5 Live including hosting the
popular 606 and Sunday Sport.
achievements include being voted BBC Sports
Personality of the Year in 1983 – one of the
few athletes to have won the award – and in
1986 he was awarded an MBE.
"The first Olympics I really watched was the
Munich Games, and what happened with the
Israeli athletes tarnished those; then we had
the first African boycott in 76; then I was in
the team for Moscow and we had the
American boycott over Afghanistan; then in
84 the tit-for-tat boycott by the Russians.
first athletics world championships was in
1983 and a lot of us thought that maybe
there won't be an Olympics if it goes on like
this, and the world championships could
become the main event.
"But then you
realised the difference between 83 and 84;
when you're at a multi-sport event and you
have all of the best people in the world
across all sports it does raise it to a different
level than your own championships.
event has that tradition and if you look back
into the history of the Games, there's hardly
been any Games where everybody was
there; even back to 1896, the first of the
modern Games, there's always been issues
around who's there or not. But nothing ever
comes of the boycotts, nothing ever changes
in terms of policy or wars ending and the only
people who suffer are the athletes.
"At the end of the day the Olympic champions
go down in the history books so you aspire to
be part of that; it's the pinnacle of world sport
from an athlete's point of view.
"It'll be interesting to see how Beijing works
because I remember Seoul in 88 – while it
was really exciting because it was culturally
very different, you never quite felt as though
the people there were really engaged in the
whole thing. They kind of knew that
something big was going on but it wasn't the
same level of knowledge.
"My first visit to China was in 1984, on an
athletics visit. It was a really interesting place
to be then – one of the great things about
being an athlete, particularly back then, was
that the world had lots of very different
places, there wasn't a McDonalds
everywhere… when you went to places like
China it was a challenge for athletes to make
sure they were getting what they wanted
nutritionally and you had to be very
"So I'll be very interested to see
how much it's changed, particularly in the big
cities. I remember in 84 with Daley
Thompson you couldn't walk down the
street because people just gathered round
us, staring at us – Daley, this big black guy
and myself with blond hair… I don't think it's
quite like that now!
"As for the significance of the venue, I think
we sometimes forget that the world sees us
in a slightly different way as well and if
London were hosting the Games this time
round, or perhaps in 2004, I'm pretty sure
there would have been parts of the world
where our presence in Iraq would have been
So if the IOC decide they want to
go to China for whatever reasons, and
everyone accepts the decision at the time –
which they obviously did – it's a bit rich
when people six months out suddenly decide
to say we shouldn't be going there.
"I have my
views on human rights and Government
policy but as an athlete that's not how you
operate, you just go and compete where the
world takes you. You compete on a regular
basis around the world in places that are not
in the media spotlight but if you were choosy
about where you went you'd end up not
competing very often!
"But the Olympics doesn't work in isolation
so I think it is important that sport stays as
open as possible. I'd have more sympathy for
people saying you shouldn't be going to
compete in China if other sectors of society
were following the same pattern.
"As for the actual sport, I think the men's
110m hurdles is going to be the event of the
Games, with Liu Xiang, the Chinese favourite
for the gold medal; there's incredible
pressure on him, he's the big star of Chinese
sport but he's up against some formidable
opposition so for him it's the Cathy Freemanmoment of the Games. If he wins it'll be
phenomenal and if he doesn't there'll be
"The men's 100m will be intriguing because
of all the controversies that have been
kicking around and we've got the continuing
debate over Asafa Powell's mental state.
"On the women's side I picked out three
events and they all have British interest. The
women's heptathlon first of all; 1
Kluft stepping aside so suddenly someone is
going to become an Olympic champion who
probably six months ago didn't think they had
a chance of doing so.
"The dynamic of an
event changes when someone so dominant
disappears, when you suddenly have to make
a decision whether to go for it, to go for gold,
whereas before you knew it would probably
be silver or bronze anyway so you could play
a bit safer. It really will be interesting to see
who steps up and grabs the opportunity, with
Kelly Sotherton in with a good chance for GB.
"In the women's marathon, the Chinese have
got five or six women who are really good;
the Japanese won it last time and they train
"For us the big question mark is
against Paula Radcliffe, if she's going to be fit,
and we've got Mara Yamauchi, who's not one
of the big favourites, but I expect her to be
"I'm also really looking forward to the
women's 400m too after what happened last
year with Christine Ohuruogo and Nicola
Sanders, but Sanya Richards wasn't there.
She's already run very quick this year and is
looking in great shape, but she'll have to be
because our girls are still improving.
"I think there are lots of medal opportunities
for GB – cycling is going to be big for us,
rowing, sailing, boxing, equestrian, canoe-slalom
– but we're very much on a curve in
"London 2012 is the biggest thing to happen
to sport in this country for generations and
to be part of that will be fabulous. People
will talk about it for the next 40, 50 years
until we get it again, hopefully!
"The BBC will
obviously be playing a major part as host
broadcaster and it will be really exciting. I've
got other hats I wear away from
broadcasting and it's great to be helping the
teams prepare and get the best results that
"Hopefully we'll have our best Games
of the modern Modern era. It'll be great to
witness it, first of all, and to have some role
in that will be great."