Emotion and anger as Olympic dreams die12:26pm on 23 Jun 2012Alexander - Much of what I wrote to Jack, above, is relevant here. Thanks for your post which a few others have since followed up with me, but by all means write to me at email@example.com if you have anything else to add. I can't guarantee that we'll eventually report anything (primarily because I'd never offer that guarantee to anyone) but I'm always interested to hear more.
And, for the record, I've covered shooting a fair few times since May 2010 but not on this blog, which is used only sparingly these days since our main website is often the preferred bet (it allows more formatting and can take comments these days). But there's certainly room to do more, I will. How did Abbey Burton respond to her omission? I saw that Kerwood had been added on her own rather than in the main Team GB selection announcement, were there any reasons associated with that?
Rodneys Uncle - I'm hesitant to express my own view too much as what I would/wouldn't do in selection isn't the point. It's my job to report on it and if I compromise myself by giving my view away then somebody's going to be less than thrilled - either some athletes or the governing body - and that jeopardises my ability to get their side of the story properly in future.
That caveat in place… triathlon first. I understand why the team looks the way it does. The grievances of those who missed out also make a lot of sense to me and I know I'd feel exactly the same way if I was in their shoes. Overlooking someone who's spent a decade at the top of the sport in favour of someone who has under a year at the same level is never going to go down well with some people, but that selection has been made under the principles of elite performance sport as laid down by UK Sport, and not with rewarding the dedication of long-term athletes in mind.
How will I judge the selectors if nobody gets a medal? It depends on the circumstances. I think Lucy Hall can have a big impact on the women's race as Helen Jenkins' world title is based on consistency in the top five rather than the sheer race-winning dominance of the Brownlees. I can't forecast what questions the selectors will have to answer till that situation comes to pass and I know the circumstances. Sorry, ducking that one I know.
Fencing - I feel as though I still haven't had the selection of a women's foil team fully explained to me. That's not to say they're wrong, just that I'm yet to be 100% convinced of the reasoning, but that doesn't mean the reasoning doesn't exist. Bear in mind one of that team qualified on merit, too.
Taekwondo - As I've just written above, people in whose opinions I have some faith have come out in favour of the selection of Muhammad, but I wish GB Taekwondo had done a better job of communicating their precise reasoning. Hold a webchat even, go on Twitter and answer every reasonable question if you have to. I know GB Taekwondo felt they had to keep certain things to themselves for large periods, but now is the time to hammer home the message about why Muhammad deserved his selection. From the reasons I've read, again, I can understand why that decision was reached.
Emotion and anger as Olympic dreams die12:21pm on 23 Jun 2012Justin150 - Yes, much of the time I'm inclined to agree, although in some circumstances surrounding appeals I can see why we don't get every piece of information published. Lest we forget that the initial exchanges of fire surrounding Cook/Muhammad took place well before the taekwondo team had even been announced officially, in other words at a time when all the policies going and the BOA's own regulations demand that selection be treated in confidence.
I do, however, agree that the lack of transparency in most of these cases is the big issue - for the athletes and the general public. Will Clarke said that when he got the phone call, the selectors - who'd just told him he wasn't going - then said they couldn't provide him with further feedback at that time while selection was ongoing. Well, if I were Will Clarke I'm not sure I'd be thrilled by that. You have to be able to drop somebody and explain why in the same breath - to the athletes and the wider world.
This is what gets me about the taekwondo. If Dr Steve Peters is happy, then that makes me inclined to think they must have substantial evidence to support their decision. I've since seen one or two online press releases from GB Taekwondo that go some way to addressing the issues. But they did a comparatively poor job of disseminating all that vital information, the stuff which persuaded Dr Peters, compared to the efficiency with which we seemed to hear from all parties involved in the dispute calling each other names.
Jack024 - The lack of coverage often isn't for any reason other than journalists not knowing the detail that followers of the sports do. With 20-odd summer sports to follow, and a dozen-plus winter sports on top of that, we often need the help of insiders to get at the issues because there isn't the time to work them out on our own in each discipline.
For example, in fencing and triathlon, I rely heavily on people who know what's going on keeping me updated. Aaron Cook's camp have been instrumental in getting his story so much publicity - they've been hammering the media with their side of the argument. Ditto fencer Keith Cook, who bombarded people with press releases in great detail after his non-selection. It's not ideal that we rely on others for all of this information and obviously we check out everything we do get - volume of emails doesn't immediately equal publicity - but we have to hear about it to report it. Fans of any other sports who think we're missing something can always email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, and at the very least we can put appropriate questions to performance staff and begin to explore the official line and whether there's more to it.
Emotion and anger as Olympic dreams die2:46pm on 22 Jun 2012CranleighEagle - I totally agree re selection decisions being made in private, although some of that is legal. GB Taekwondo has certainly said it previously couldn't clarify its selections for legal reasons with appeals ongoing. However, somebody needs to sort that out then rather than sports hiding behind/being bound by that in future. Transparency would be a huge help, especially when the decision seems bizarre on the face of it, as Cook's omission did.
williamp78 - It depends. Any selection is "really controversial" if you're the one left out and you think you should've been picked, just ask Jon Willis. Yes, Aaron Cook's is the big one on paper but every sport has its internal logic and politics and so forth, and Willis feels just as neglected as Cook does - rightly or wrongly, depending on your point of view.
The Cook issue is that one person can go, there were two candidates, and GB Taekwondo felt the "merit" belonged to Muhammad. I can't comment on whether that's correct or not because there's been more than enough written about it by far more qualified brains than mine. Dr Steve Peters, the psychologist most noted for his work with British Cycling, was in on the selection meetings and pronounced himself satisfied with the outcome, and I feel like his opinion is worth noting, but without being in the room I can't argue for either case (nor is it my place).
The triathlon didn't have to do with host-nation places, but then I didn't say it did - I was using that as a counter-example, when places earned by Britain on merit (as a nation) still create selection dramas.
I also have sympathy with what you say about host-nation places but I can see why they're awarded and I can see why nobody is ever going to turn them down. That's a dicey road to go down because if you scratch host-nation places, you then look at most Olympic qualification systems and find they allow one, maybe two per country, thereby losing a massive number of excellent participants because countries hit their quota, while allowing inferior athletes from under-represented countries to compete. So others who ought to be there on merit don't make it, and then you'd be changing one of the fundamental philosophies of the Games, which is to encourage the broadest global participation possible. If the Games were filled entirely on merit they'd look very, very different to the way they do now, and not purely because of host-nation places.
shiveringonyerbike - I disagree. The six triathlon places at the Games were earned on merit by Britain but the individual places were not all distributed according to performance or results. They were explicitly awarded with a clear strategy in mind, and triathletes with certain talents were preferred to those with better world-level results and experience.
Taekwondo wasn't my other main example - I referenced it briefly as it's the best-known of these selection debates but the other main example was fencing, and that example was based entirely on the awarding of a host-nation place. Merit did come into that, but in weighing up various different fencing disciplines and Jon Willis's Olympic prospects versus those of others, the selection panel were making what could only ever be a subjective call.
I do however entirely agree with your last sentence, and was discussing this with the British Triathlon staff earlier this afternoon - who know that's how they will be judged.
Dave - Actually, I think if Muhammad does struggle at the Games, the selectors will feel the heat. There's been enough media attention now that if Muhammad makes an early exit (and I feel for him on this front) the proverbial will hit the fan in that sport. His results will be very closely watched. If he does well, that'll make it all the more impressive.
Rhythmic gymnasts' reprieve leaves questions unanswered3:58pm on 06 Mar 2012hectoring - This is the thing. We journalists were absolutely certain, before and on the day, that day two was the big deal and day three meant nothing. Hence I tweeted with certainty about it. However, the moment the team finished and came to talk to us, it was clear they were confused and thought they had another shot on Wednesday. I'm sorry if this didn't come across in my tweets at the time (I can't find them to check, if anyone can dredge up my tweets from 16-18 Jan 2012 then by all means send a link!), but I definitely reported it in this blog the following day - which deals specifically with their confusion.
However, at the time there was no appeal to report on and while it was odd that the gymnasts appeared so confused, it wasn't apparent that this would go on to play the vital part it subsequently has. Hence the focus on the score and the narrow margin by which they failed to reach it, rather than what we now discover to be a right old palaver about dates.
Martin - Agreed that wrestling has weightier, and farther-reaching, implications both for that sport and beyond. Did you see the Daily Mail report on Sunday re passports for two of the women on the team?
Rhythmic gymnasts' reprieve leaves questions unanswered1:21pm on 06 Mar 2012Jordan - I've sworn I'll never start calling for people's heads, particularly when (by the definition of this article, in this instance) I don't know the full details of what went on. I've asked British Gymnastics if there will be any internal recriminations, their response was there'd be "no witch-hunt" and they will "move on". Hence, I imagine nobody is losing their job. I won't pronounce on that topic. However, I agree that the legal fees incurred could have been better spent, for example by giving funding to a self-funded team, or by said self-funded team not having to fund its legal battle.
Martin - If I might briefly cut through your aspersion, the end result actually ensures the story continues, rather than anything being "taken away". Had they lost, that would have been that, and this would be the end of the line. Now, there is a team for us to report on at the Games this summer. Hard-luck tales are far removed from the point being made here, which is that a lot of people seem to have missed a lot of opportunities to avoid this particular tale ever having to pan out in quite the way it has.
And indeed, as you say, this whole piece makes clear that the "only bit I've seen is in front of the curtain". Nobody seems sure of what happened behind said curtain, but I feel like those minutes, if ever properly accounted for, may help us understand exactly what went on here. I can't start pointing fingers or shouting about wrongdoing (in the way to which you allude) because the evidence is not there but, after six weeks of this appeals process, you'd think it might be, wouldn't you?
Brekkie - Theoretically, the cut-off before the final was to replicate the pressure of Olympic qualifying being felt by the other teams. The test event also served as a full-on Olympic qualifying event for other international gymnasts, who had to finish above a certain position to reach the Games. They had to do that in qualifying, not in the final (which meant nothing to anybody, really), so British Gymnastics said that should be the same for the GB team, to replicate that sense of having to achieve on a given day.
#4 VMullen - Agreed. My focus is always on the Olympic disciplines so this deals more with the emergence of British dominance there than in the other (equally valid) triathlon distances. And I'd differentiate between this current GB ascendancy and the Lessing era by virtue of GB having male and female world champions at once, plus the added bonus of an U23 world title, which - correct me if I'm wrong! - I don't believe Britain has come close to seeing over the Olympic distance before.
#7 Collie21 - I don't believe the Brownlees have ever attempted an Ironman distance, at least not competitively. Someone is bound to know the answer, leave a comment if you can help. Right now, the brothers are for obvious reasons focused on the Olympic distance, as is the BBC. (Olympic races are considerably shorter than Ironman ones.)
#15 Martin - Good point although I'd argue none of those sports has experienced the same across-the-board dominance now exhibit by GB over Olympic-distance triathlon. Pentathlon's men have traditionally struggled (although in Jamie Cooke and Nick Woodbridge this year there have been glimmers of hope, mind you the weekend's Worlds were a GB washout). Perhaps you could argue decathlon and heptathlon have in the past been successes for Britain at reasonably similar times. I, personally, find the jack-of-all-trade events an excellent watch and good bang for your buck at the Games (not something you get to say often).
#17 Liam - Have you been to Hyde Park for one of these? You should. They're very easy to watch with a fun atmosphere, and this year you could barely move in the main stretch of the course for spectators. Perhaps in comparison to athletics or football and tennis at the Games it's a minority sport, but in terms of participation and interest (and TV viewing figures) it's right up there as one of the more popular Olympic sports.
#18 Tenniser - You see, I used to think that as well but I'm increasingly coming round to the idea that it's not the case. We only think it's all about the run because that's the denouement and, naturally, where the gaps begin to show. But you have to come through the swim and bike to get to that stage and how you do that - which breaks you follow as discussed above, what you preserve for later, what you expend there and then - directly affects what's in the tank come the run.
So when the Brownlees roar off into the distance on the run, it's not because they're better runners than anyone else. It's usually because they've positioned themselves and paced themselves in the swim and bike to be in optimum position and condition coming into the run, so at that stage of the race they are better runners. If they went from a standing start in a straight running race without a swim or bike preceding it, they might well not win.
Alistair won in Hyde Park without setting the fastest run time because he didn't need to, his swim and bike had set him up for the win. If drafting on the swim and bike was so easy, everyone would do it and they'd all emerge as healthy and powerful as the Brownlees for the run. But they don't, which suggests the Brits are doing something in those opening two stages which the others aren't.
With British Fencing it's a similar tale. At both Worlds and Europeans, the form and talent has been there for Britain to win something. At both, it hasn't happened.
You're right to draw the parallel, which is that in both cases there has been a failure to maintain the momentum from smaller competitions into one which carries more meaning. It's up to Britain's Winter Olympians to sort that out for Sochi in 2014, and the fencers to sort it a tad quicker than that.
You'll also be delighted to know that every fencing session will be available to watch live online (and on red button I believe, though not 100% sure). You won't miss a moment.
The argument that it's a long time since Britain won a medal, so it's less likely GB will win one now, is a hard one to make. Gymnastics at Beijing 2008 is just one example, the first that comes to mind, of a British team winning an important medal in a sport where success has been hard to come by (80 years in that case without an Olympic medal), on the back of increased funding and improving performances. Both of which British Fencing has, but the performances at world and European level have ground to an unsatisfactory halt for the time being.
The track cycling - "arses kicked" is one interpretation and, in fairness, not one I'd really disagree with. But it isn't how British Cycling see it. Whether or not those Worlds were quite that bad for GB was discussed here at the time.
markholds, Patrick and Russian Blue felt I might have hedged my bets a bit, labelling Cavendish "arguably" the best sprinter and Merckx as "maybe" the greatest cyclist ever. Probably a fair criticism but you learn, in this job, to avoid such bold proclamations as there will always be plenty of people to shout you down. Particularly as I don't feel I'm qualified to be deciding who the greatest cyclist of all time is. That said, I think most would have trouble conjuring up an alternative to Merckx for that honour.
Hopefully I'll see you all for a few Tour live texts over the next few weeks.
JohnJack - This is a problem by no means unique to sailing. Track cycling is another excellent example: new rules from world governing body the UCI mean only one top rider (or team) per nation will compete in each event at 2012. So either Chris Hoy or Jason Kenny will ride for Britain in the men's sprint, but not both. Hoy is on record expressing his dismay at this, as are a number of others.
In three-day eventing, which I covered last week, the Badminton Horse Trials are a four-star event whereas the Olympics are only three-star. In other words, Badminton is ranked a harder event than the Games, for precisely the same reasons: more people per nation can compete at Badminton, so the field is tougher.
And in slalom canoeing, this year's test event on the Olympic course will have a stronger field than the Olympics itself, for the same reason again.
So you have a point: the Olympics is, in many sports, not the toughest event. But in order to win Olympic medals you have to prove you are the very best in your country (to take up that one available position) and then be the best of the best at the Games. You can argue it both ways. Yes, the field at the Games won't be the strongest. But you arguably have to have proved yourself worthy to even compete.
(And "proving yourself worthy", in a weak nation, may be much easier than in a strong nation. Hence your Eric the Eels of this world. But that allows a wider range of nations to take part in each event, while theoretically the very best from each country should still be competing on their nation's behalf.)
All of this is not to deny that equestrian sport involves more cash than many other sports, or that it's a sport which picks up a share of its audience from society's upper echelons. But the former hardly makes it unique and it's difficult to understand precisely what the problem is with the latter.
You can't play in the Premier League, no matter how much cash you've got, if you're not very good at football. You can't ride a horse at Badminton, no matter how much cash you've got, if you're not very good at riding horses. You can play football even if you aren't rich, and you can ride a horse even if you aren't rich.
And now, having written another essay, that'll do from me. I've no desire to take sides or join in a slanging match about who is or isn't a troll, but for my two penn'orth eventing is a sport, and a good one at that. For those who remain to be convinced, that gives me the useful challenge of trying to make it interesting enough to persuade you. I'll do my best.
I'd be inclined to agree, but money remains an absolute fact of elite football around the world. There is no successful professional club, at domestic or international level, that is not throwing around a level of money which in the equestrian world would be obscene. I would have thought it barely an exaggeration to suggest that Manchester City's annual wage bill could buy every horse on the planet.
I'm not saying you've done this, but it would be highly irresponsible of anybody to criticise the money flowing in equestrian sport and then happily watch a Premier League football match.
TeniPurist - You make this later point: "Do you not consider how lucky Miss French is? At being able to put all her time and energy into a sport that doesn't even pay her enough to live on?"
If that concerns you, then we're going to have to do away with a lot of Olympic sports. Many elite athletes in this country, across a great number of sports, are able to put their time and energy into that sport by virtue of public funding alone, occasionally allied to private sponsorship. They certainly aren't living off direct earnings from the sport, even the most successful in some sports. Gymnastics, canoeing and hockey spring to mind as sports where Britain do very well but I highly doubt anyone could do it on the sport's proceeds alone. Once you get to UK Sport-funded weightlifters and handballers, the ratio of success to funding looks particularly bleak.
Now those athletes would all agree that they are lucky, but they also put in a lot of hard work in return for the funding. Equestrian sport is probably more expensive than those other examples but the same level of work goes in, and the financial shortfall is made up by more hard work attracting investors or running an equestrian business to generate the necessary profit (as French and others try to do).
TeniPurist - Thanks for the kind words about the blog, glad you enjoyed it.
There is no denying that Badminton is a social event. Nobody can tell me that the 100,000-plus people who turned up to the cross-country on Sunday were all there for the sport. There are shops galore, food festivals, other displays and attractions, and friends and family to see. Same applies to a fair few other equestrian events.
However, I've been to a few hundred football matches in my time and it seems to me that a pretty hefty percentage of football fans aren't necessarily there for the football. Don't quite a few football supporters go to games for the social side as much as, if not more so, than the actual match? There's a sense of camaraderie to following a team that, I'd argue, probably becomes the overwhelming motivation for many fans. Supporters' coaches there and back, pub before/after, chants etc. But there's an entire psychology dissertation in that and I won't get bogged down in it now.
And as stated in the blog above, the sport is more about the horse than the rider when it comes to the event itself. Of course it is. The better the horse, the better your chances of winning - hence top horses cost huge sums of money (though noticeably more in, say, dressage and racing than in eventing, where the horses are more jack-of-all-trades types).
But to suggest that Piggy French has "never had to work a day in her life" is overdoing it pretty drastically. These horses don't just "get good" overnight - they are trained for years and years, day after day, in any weather. And you can't just train one if you want to compete at the very top. If you did, and that horse suffered an injury, you'd be left with nothing. So you need a stable full of top horses.
gunnerdavec - You may well be right. Sam himself seems very confident he can find extra difficulty on high bar, plus he has high hopes to muscle in on the all-around final, and if he does both those things then he'll have a real chance of outshining Keatings and Smith in 2012. But there are big "ifs" involved there. From a GB point of view it's incredibly useful - Keatings, Smith and Oldham leading the GB men's team at this year's Worlds and then the Olympics, with Purvis and Thomas in the squad, would be as strong a line-up as you could wish for.
Chris1977 - That was a huge moment. In the short term it completely opened up the women's Euros and, at the risk of sounding reasonably heartless, we may have seen better performances from a lot of other competitors at the weekend simply because they knew they stood a chance with Mustafina out of the picture.
That said, she'll be a huge loss if she doesn't make it back in time for Worlds. If that is the case then the next chance she'll get to compare herself to the world's best will be the Olympics - which would make London 2012 a hell of a competition, if we've not had the chance to see Mustafina on the world stage in the build-up.
Nibs - As U14605335 suggests, it does feel as though you may have missed the point slightly.
Last week's Euros didn't produce great results for Britain based on their recent standards, but - like any sport - gymnastics isn't entirely predictable and individual finals don't always go the way they should. Smith fell, which is concerning and something he needs to conquer for 2012, but if you're going to fall at a competition then the 2011 Euros is the place to do it. Keatings wasn't there. Purvis did as well as he did last time, Tweddle won one gold medal but lost the other because of a slight injury and the perfectly sound reasoning that, this being Euros, it wasn't really worth knackering herself to defend the other gold when Worlds in a few months is the much bigger deal - with Olympic consequences.
Nothing in the above paragraph will have Tim Jones (British Gymnastics performance director) losing too much sleep at night. And then you have the likes of Oldham and Pinches coming through. Making a high bar final and then finishing fourth in it, in your major senior debut, is a big achievement and bodes extremely well for the future.
But the point I'm making above is that these are well-rounded characters as well as excellent gymnasts, and that ought to make Britain even more excited for their potential. Sam Oldham is not only making high bar finals, he's doing so with a clear and eloquently expressed plan for how he improves in those finals in the future, and he shows the focus and determination necessary to start getting medals. He's putting the stepping stones in place to get to London 2012 in his physical and mental prime. That Louis Smith fell off a pommel horse in Berlin isn't relevant to Sam Oldham's achievements now, and certainly won't be relevant to his achievements - whether they be many or few - in London next year.
derekthreepenny - You're right in as much as this piece does not address wider issues of national representation, as that's a subject in its own right and has only a small role to play in what I'm reporting here. But I suspect Robert Blair would agree with the sentiments of badmintonplayer007 in response. As for the 100-point plan mentioned, I'm afraid I've no knowledge of that and it wasn't a question I put to Adrian Christy.
I don't doubt your figures but if 2m people have registered an interest, it's unlikely that will equate to 2m people bidding for tickets. There will almost certainly be some drop-off. Moreover, a large chunk of those 2m will be after tickets to specific events, probably the heavily oversubscribed athletics, cycling, swimming sessions etc. There won't be an even spread where a similar number go for handball, hockey, fencing, taekwondo as go for the likes of athletics.
I do agree there will be a huge battle to get tickets for certain sessions, but I also believe that - if you're smart about it - you stand a good chance of getting tickets to excellent sessions in sports people may not have considered. For example, you have to know world number one Aaron Cook's taekwondo weight category to know which session to go for. And if you really know your taekwondo, you might say fine - Aaron Cook and Sarah Stevenson are well-known, I'll skip those as there'll be reasonably high demand and I'll go for Bianca Walkden's weight category, knowing she's world number two and therefore still a likely British medal chance. (All of which assumes you're British and choosing tickets partly in the hope of seeing British success... if one or both of those do not apply, then this widens your options even further.)
If Locog were so sure of selling out in almost all events, they wouldn't be mounting the concerted advertising campaigns that they are doing around certain sports like handball and hockey, That, more than anything else, is a sure sign that the demand isn't currently there for those tickets. Your chances of getting tickets to the Games, if you bid for 50 tickets, are far better than one in 50, just as long as you throw in a few sessions which aren't obvious choices.
And in terms of going to the event, in the main day-by-day guide I picked out Wednesday, 8 August (women's boxing, new to the Games, reaches the semis) and Thursday, 9 August (a huge day of men's semi-finals) as ones I'd suggest going to. Especially on the Thursday, you will get a lot of top-quality action on the card for your money.
Neil - I hadn't thought of that. Good tip, thanks.
I've called LOCOG on your behalf and spoken to them about this. Their advice is as follows:
"You should still try to buy tickets. There will be opportunities for people to resell or exchange tickets via the London 2012 website if it turns out they are unable to attend because they are volunteering. Alternatively, the tickets will be a great Christmas present for another family member!"
I should add that when LOCOG say you can resell or exchange tickets, that relies on someone else wanting to buy them. Even if you're selling in order to volunteer, LOCOG will not buy your tickets back from you.
The other thing to point out is that it's unlikely all tickets will sell during the initial period in March and April. Some tickets, especially for team sports, are likely to be left over and sold on a first-come, first-served basis afterwards. (But it may be a brave man or woman who relies on that approach and holds off until late 2011, once the volunteering decisions have been made.)