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27 November 2014
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The Beijing Games on the BBC
Steve Cram

The 2008 Beijing Olympics and Paralympics on the BBC

BBC TV team Olympic impressions

Steve Cram


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.


One of 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.


Other notable 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.


"The 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.


"No other 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 adaptable.


"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 an issue.


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 dead silence!


"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 in China.


"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 top 10.


"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 to 2012.


"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 we can.


"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."








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