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Archives for June 2011

Is Mark Cavendish already a legend?

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Ollie Williams | 06:57 UK time, Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Pushed for time to tell a story on television, succinct soundbites are a gift. Brian Holm, sports director for the HTC-Highroad cycling team, delivers one with the final words of his interview.

We are discussing Mark Cavendish, road cycling's supremely talented Manx sprinter, who begins his fifth Tour de France campaign next week. Earlier this year, we spent two days with him and his HTC team in Belgium.

Holm, a Danish former pro, clears his throat a final time. With the air of a doting grandfather, he looks me in the eye and says: "He is already a legend."

Holm and his HTC colleagues do not see the enigma in 26-year-old Cavendish that others do. Despite 15 Tour de France stage wins in the last three years - almost unparalleled in the sport - Cavendish sometimes seems known in Britain only as a spiky personality. Irritable, outspoken, even selfish.

When he received an MBE earlier this month, somebody on Twitter said they didn't know why: "The stories I've heard don't make him sound like a team player." Cavendish, a sigh audible in his typing, replied: "And I drown kittens."

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How hockey united the Home Nations

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Ollie Williams | 13:56 UK time, Thursday, 23 June 2011

Creating a British football team to play at London 2012 makes hosting the rest of the Games look like child's play.

Leading figures in the sport expressed anger bordering on disgust following the British Olympic Association's announcement, on Tuesday, that a "historic agreement" had paved the way for a GB football team.

Former Scotland manager Craig Brown said any Scots who chose to play in that team would be "selfish", adding: "There might no longer be a Scottish team."

He, and many others, fear a united British team at the Olympics may see the home nations' teams subsumed into Great Britain for ever more.

Others, like Northern Ireland boss Nigel Worthington, took a different view. "I understand players wanting to play in an Olympics and they shouldn't be criticised for that," said Worthington on Thursday. "As an international manager I would have no problem with players wanting to be involved."

But while the debate over how to field a British football team has raged for years, hockey, which has a similar structure in the United Kingdom, reckons it has an answer which solves the political quandaries and boosts its chances of Olympic medals.

This article, originally published in April 2010 and now updated, examines what the sport of hockey has done and what relevance that has to football's current quandary.

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Romance, intrigue and a £10m horse

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Ollie Williams | 11:05 UK time, Thursday, 16 June 2011

Ah, young love. Girl meets boy. Boy meets girl. Boy acquires world's most expensive horse. Girl and boy battle for Olympic glory.

Welcome to the wealthy, wonderful world of dressage. We've been filming with chief protagonists Laura Bechtolsheimer, in the British corner, and Matthias Rath of Germany.

The pair, both 26, are the two strongest candidates for Olympic gold in London next year. They are also former lovers.

Until late last year, they faced another rival in the form of Totilas, the Justin Bieber of the equestrian world. Totilas is a prancing black stallion with moves unlike any other, a genuine equine superstar who helped the Dutch team to two world titles in 2010.

But then the Germans bought Totilas - for a fee believed to be upwards of £10m, making the horse as valuable as a Premier League footballer - and handed Rath the reins. Great news for him, less so for his British ex.

"Totilas has been amazing for the sport, he's a phenomenon," says Bechtolsheimer as we tour her luxurious yard in Gloucestershire, which has been nicknamed the 'Hilton for horses'.

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Fumbling in the dark? Athletes learn to draw the line

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Ollie Williams | 10:45 UK time, Tuesday, 7 June 2011

When Britain's athletes were told London 2012 would hand them a global television audience, Dating in the Dark was not what most had in mind.

Sprint canoeist Andrew Daniels thought differently. He successfully applied to take part in the Sky Living show, which lobs six singletons - three men and three women - into a house on the condition that the two genders may only meet in a darkened room.

"They're trying to find out whether looks matter through the hilarity of dating in a pitch-black room," is how Daniels sells the concept to me. The episode featuring him, filmed last autumn, is due to air some time in June.

It sounds unmissable. "I had one date [in the dark room] with a girl where I took my kayak paddle in there with me," says Daniels.

"We went through a bit of kayaking technique together, but then I accidentally jabbed her with it. I'm not sure where. It went downhill from there."

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The Olympic tipping point

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Ollie Williams | 20:30 UK time, Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Everyone who competes at an Olympic Games must have shared the same moment of realisation at some point in their career: "I can do this. I am good enough to reach the Olympics."

If you don't have that moment, you can't commit to it - and most sports demand years of commitment to stand the remotest chance of Olympic participation.

What is that moment like? How does it feel to realise you might have what it takes? When do you start sacrificing things to pursue that dream?

I've had the privilege of meeting one family in the same week that this moment struck their teenage son.

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