Writing tips by Brendan Gallagher

Brendan Gallagher

The sports journalist shares his tips for writing a winning article.

Read Brendan's article on Nicole Cooke's Olympic gold medal winning performance, then find out how he put it together. Using his tips, why not write your own article and send it in to us at raiseyourgame@bbc.co.uk? You never know, we might publish it on the website!

Nicole Cooke by Brendan Gallagher in Beijing

The genius of Nicole Cooke, Britain and Wales' newly crowned Olympic Road Race champion, is her consummate all-round skill. Nicole is one of the ultimate bike handlers in the sport, male or female, having trained and competed across a broad spectrum of events in her youth.

The Wick Wonder won no less than four World junior titles in three separate disciplines - road, mountain bike and track and is at home in any weather. While the rest of the Olympic field at the Great Wall of China last Sunday bemoaned the monsoon rain that lashed the surrounding hills and saw the temperature plummet, Cooke was absolutely loving every moment.

Afterwards she explained this was mild stuff compared with some of the snowy, muddy, days she has spent on a mountain bike up in the Welsh hills or rain-lashed afternoons at a domestic British road race. We may complain about our weather sometimes, but it's a great preparation for the extremes that can be thrown at you in competition.

Since emerging as Junior into the senior racing world Nicole has concentrated on the road and again, as a senior rider, she has emerged as an all-rounder. At this level you have to realistically put all your eggs in the one basket if you want to succeed. She is not the best climber in the Peloton, but she's not far short. She's not the best sprinter, but you would definitely have her in your top five or six, and she is definitely the best speed merchant after a long day in the hills.

Nicole CookeShe is a good enough time-trialist to have already finished fifth in the World Championships in Salzburg in that event, and come London you might find her challenging seriously in that event as well as the road race. Tactically she is superb, one of the brightest riders in the world and she rarely misses a trick as the peloton jostles for position. She passed all her exams a year early in an attempt to win selection for the Sydney Olympics, but in the end the GB selectors thought she was just too young.

Nicole knows when to chase and when to stick in the bunch, who is dangerous and must be covered, who can be allowed to have their moment of glory up the front in the sure knowledge that they haven't got the stamina or ability to see it through.

She would also be the first to acknowledge that in Beijing she also benefitted with a little help from her friends. Good enough in the past to win silver and bronze medals in the World championship virtually racing on her own, this time she was part of a GB team consisting of Emma Pooley and Sharon Laws. Emma demonstrated just what a class rider she is by taking the silver medal in the individual time-trial and played a great part in Nicole's victory by pushing the pace on the first mountain circuit and ensuring that many of her toughest rivals - not so good in the hills as Nicole - felt the heat.

It was a fine team effort and forged out of familiarity and experience - Nicole, Emma and Sharon now all ride in the same British based ladies team - Halford's bikehut - and have logged hundreds of training and competition hours together. Victory in Beijing was the ultimate reward.

All-round talent, dedication, ambition, experience born of not so good days and defeat and well honed team work. An unstoppable combination and there could be more where that came from in years to come.

Like many of the British cycling squad Nicole has been working recently with Steve Peters, a forensic Psychologist and a world Masters (over 45) 400m champion who seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to preparing our cyclists mentally.

What Nicole needed to do was banish the memory of Athens when, although by no means disgraced, she finished what she considered to be a disappointing fifth in a race she probably started as favourite.

The result was buried, but the lessons learned. Riding on the limit in Athens she didn't time her finish as well as she might have done, but this time she had clearly rehearsed the final run-in many times. She was in total control as she laid off round that treacherous final bend and knew she had the beating of the other girls up that steep final sprint.

She also changed her preparation. Formerly an addicted racer Peters and the GB management persuaded her that she would be remembered, in 2008, solely for how she performed at the Olympics. She could win every race she entered - maybe even the World Championship - but all that would be forgotten unless she won Olympic gold.

The focus had to change and to that end she cut right down on her racing schedule, trained hard - often in tandem with the talented Pooley and Laws - and only really tested herself once - in the tough ten day Tour De L'Aude, where she was more than satisfied with her showing. That was early in June and from that moment, having done the ground work, she went into Olympic mode. She arrived in Beijing fresh and hungry and the rest is history.

Notes on writing the perfect article

  • I very rarely start a piece by writing the intro. I start in the middle. That's the meat of the piece, and you start adding on top of that. Once you've got that the intro comes nice and naturally.
  • If I haven't got a tight deadline, but I'm still stuck, I'll walk away from it for half an hour. At other times I'll read some pieces by my favourite sports writers to inspire myself. Once you get going, that's it.
  • A good story is something that the reader wants to read. You've got to make the reader think that they were there with you, enjoying the day.
  • You've got to be as accurate as you can, but it's much more important to listen to the person. If you listen to somebody you know what they meant. That's been my rule of thumb for over 25 years and I've never been pulled up or queried about a quote.
  • Before skills you need stamina. You've got to have the energy and the staying power. You need lots of energy to get out of bed and go to a press conference at 8 o'clock, then race back to the office to wade through your notes or transcript.
  • Half of the job is about talking, interviewing, listening and interacting, so you've got to enjoy meeting people. If you don't enjoy that, then you're going to struggle.

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