Canny Mancs make London connection
There are plenty of reasons why nobody should feel too sorry for London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton - he was a master of the universe at Goldman "Money" Sachs, for example - but his current job does involve a lot of headaches.
If it's 2012-related and it's attracted the interest of Fleet Street's Olympic attack dogs it will be in Deighton's in-tray. Which is probably why he looked so delighted to be in Manchester last week to see something wonderful take place, especially as it was happening three years early.
When London won the bid to host the Olympics one of the key pledges the leaders of the bid made was that these Games would benefit the entire country, not just London. Those leaders have spent much of the last four years trying to convince everybody there was some substance to that sentiment. It has not been the easiest of sells.
Until now, that is, because there's nothing like the presence of 70 members of the Australian swimming team in green, gold and flip-flops to convince even the most disbelieving of Mancunians that there might be more to this Olympic lark than a few games at Old Trafford and the vicarious thrill of watching our Manchester-based track cyclists ride to glory.
But before I get into that (and before you watch the video below) let me rewind a little and explain why I was in Manchester last week with Deighton, the Aussie swimmers, 400 screaming school kids and a healthy smattering of local dignitaries.
Watch Matt Slater's report on Swimming Australia's deal to train in Manchester in run-up to 2012
Almost 18 months ago, the organisers of the London Olympics (Locog) announced a plan to encourage countries to set up pre-Games training camps around the UK. The scheme was based on the camps Team GB had used to great effect before the last three summer Olympics in Queensland, Cyprus and Macau respectively, and the underlying motivation was to spread the benefits of hosting the Games beyond the M25.
Mindful that only wealthy nations could ever afford this type of thing, Locog put its money where its mouth was by preparing a guide to the UK's sports facilities and offering a £25,000 sweetener - from its own privately-funded pocket - for each national Olympic and Paralympic committee that came here early.
But having built the field, would they come?
The early evidence suggested not. Rumours of deals being struck between this country and that UK region came thick and fast, and the saga started to sound a bit like the "will he/won't he" summer dalliances of a "want-away" Premier League footballer.
I was sceptical. It struck me that the UK was a temperate nation, well placed for many of the larger Olympic/Paralympic teams, with good transport links but not quite so good sporting facilities (or not enough to go around). Why wouldn't most nations just turn up a few days before the Queen cuts the ribbon at 12 minutes past eight (think about it) on 27 July, 2012?
So when I heard a few grumbles from regions that were starting to wonder if they'd been sold a pup - and picked up the unmistakable smell of the French preparing a large revenge quiche in the shape of training camps across La Manche - I started to think another hand grenade was heading in Deighton's direction.
London 2012 chief Paul Deighton says there are benefits for hosting the 2012 Olympics for the whole country
And then, a bit like Ronaldo and Real, the dalliances stopped and alliances began.
The Kenyans bagged Bristol, Serbia signed up for Yorkshire, Japan opted for Loughborough and Dutch swimmers chose Leeds, which was really something as there are parts of the Netherlands actually closer to east London than the West Riding is.
But the really interesting deals were being signed in northwest England. Having already chalked up commitments from Thailand and the 15 island states of Oceania (apart from Australia and New Zealand), Manchester landed the first big fish: a six-year agreement with one of the most successful and well-resourced outfits in Olympic history, Australia's swim team.
What set this deal apart was that it started now. The Australians would be using the Manchester Aquatics Centre, the venue for the successful 2002 Commonwealth Games, as their "northern-hemisphere base" for the 2009 Worlds in Rome, the 2012 Games and the 2014 Commonwealths in Glasgow.
But there was more to the Aussie-Manc match-up than its longevity; there was also breadth and depth to this union.
The main matchmakers were the Northwest Regional Development Agency and Manchester City Council - although successes aren't short of fathers - and they should congratulated for grasping the fact that London 2012 could help maintain the good vibes started by the 2002 Commonwealths and continued by events such as last year's World Short Course Swimming Championships.
They should also be praised for realising there could be more to training camps than having a dozen Turkish wrestlers holed up in a gym for a few weeks in 2012. The arrival of the Aussies last week was marked by a series of events that demonstrated just how much can be achieved if you really put your mind to it.
There was a reception for Australian firms with Manchester outposts and local firms with Australian customers on Thursday, Friday witnessed a fantastic swimming gala for hundreds of schoolchildren and on Sunday the Australians held a master class for 150 local coaches (which was only fair as Sir Alex Ferguson gave the Aussies nearly an hour of his time on Wednesday).
There will be more of the same between now and 2014 as Manchester uses this relationship (which is worth £1m in immediately quantifiable economic benefits) to foster business links with Australia, improve its "brand" Down Under and tap into the sporting passions stirred by the once-in-a-generation opportunity of hosting the Olympics.
It would be easy to be cynical about this if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.
The Australians (God bless them) were superb sports during Friday's schools event - captaining the relay teams, dishing out prizes, signing autographs. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that their generosity of spirit could have provided the spark for a future Team GB swimmer.
There are still three more years before London 2012 and there are a lot more countries and teams out there. England's northwest already has a few more irons in the fire and there is growing speculation that Birmingham's patient wooing of America is about to pay off.
Add that to the £6bn-worth of contracts that Locog will be dishing out to British companies for supplying goods or services to London 2012 and you begin to realise just how valuable an economic stimulus the Games could be.
Throw in the revitalisation of London's last great bombsite and a month of great sport and you start to appreciate what gets Deighton (who is interviewed in the clip a few paragraphs up) and co out of bed each morning.