Saturday, 30 June 2012

The Prologue Liege- Tour de France 2012 #tdf

So we are in Liege in Belgium for what the start of the 99th Edition of the Tour de France. No Centenaries this year but some new places to visit and new mountains to climb. Though over 90km of time trialling and no severe mountain top finishes. Just the sort of route that may suit a certain Brit.

But first up there is a 6.4km prologue around Liege.

There is an old adage that the Tour cannot be be won on the prologue. While that may be true with only a few seconds separating the top riders when we get to end of 3000+ km Tours in recent years there have only been a few seconds separating the first and second finishers.

In 1989 the defending champion Pedro Delgado missed his start time by 2 mins 40 secs and his tour was more or less over before it started. In 1995 and in form Chris Boardman crashed out on the prologue, I hope he doesn't have to relive that in his commentary this afternoon for some other unfortunate. So it can be lost just in interesting ways.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Possible new chant for Livingston

In 2009 my beloved Livingston were forced into insolvency due to a rogue owner. HMRC were after their money. We were thrown out of the league but the next day we were out of liquidation due to the bid the fans had been supporting, as well as the administrators, all summer came in to rescue the club and put it on a firm footing.

Roll on three years and another team with a number of rogue owners owes HMRC a lot more money and same goes to other creditors. Like Gretna before them they look like they will be penalised by the other SPL Clubs with full force. They will then have to reapply to join the SFL like Livingston and Gretna before them. But here the story changes.

The SPL is known as the Self Preservation League in some quarters always looking out for their own. But the SFL may now be known as the Smels Fishy League after they are saying:

"The SFL is trying to address the question of whether we are in a position to accommodate a solution to the Rangers FC scenario.

"We are trying to achieve a solution which will be in the best interests of the SFL and the wider game."

And propose:

  • Rangers are to be relegated with immediate effect and replaced in the SPL by Dundee
  • Television rights for Rangers matches in Scottish Football League Division One are to be bought by the SPL for £1m
  • The SPL and SFL will merge into one body at the start of season 2013-14
  • Play-offs between the top two divisions will be introduced in time for the coming season with one team from the top flight and three from the second tier competing for a place in the following season's SPL
  • There will be an increase in the parachute payments made to clubs relegated from the SPL
  • Changes will be made to the distribution model for clubs in the top two tiers with teams in the lower leagues earning a similar amount to the current set-up
  • A new pyramid system will become effective from season 2014-15 that will allow a potential place in the new league format for a team from either the Highland league or newly-created 'Lowland League'
  • Rangers newco's acceptance into the Scottish FA would only be approved if they accept responsibility for the football debts and fines incurred by the previous club along with their waiving of rights to a legal challenge
 I know that should Ranger Newco come to Almondvale or the Amber and Black go to Ibrox under such an arrangement rather than the path through Division 3 there will be a new chant rolled out just for the occasion. It may go something like this.

If you've been through liquidation clap your hands
If you started out again clap your hands.
But unlike the Hun we're in Division One
Having won Division Three and Two
We didn't cheat our way back here unlike you

Nikki Thomson 1967 - 2012

My friend and Lib Dem colleague Nikki Thomson passed away last night. Because I had moved away from Edinburgh I do remember the last three times that I met Nikki while I was living and working in Edinburgh and the Lothians. I'm going to share the three of them as they pretty much sum Nikki up.

First of the three was at the Meadows Festival in 2010. She was in position in the control tent giving instructions and directions to all those who were around. She devoted a lot of time to the Meadows Festival making sure it was run smoothly and well. On that particular occasion we both agreed that neither of us were talking shop. She knew I could distract her for a few minutes from the busyness of what was going on around her, me taking a break before canvassing support of Edinburgh Central Lib Dems for the rest of the afternoon, when she saw me heading towards her she said don't try and canvass me now.

The second was my time to be grilled, and I mean grilled, by Nikki about why I should be her candidate for the 2011 Socttish Elections. She wasn't letting any of us get away with anything and merely knowing her for some time was not going to be enough for either me or Alex Cole-Hamilton that much was clear. She had been in the party like me a long time, back from the days when you either a Young Liberal Democrat or a Student Liberal Democrat, yes Liberal Youth reader pre-LDYS days, when she acted a conduit between the two. She had been involved in Kingston just after I had left, in Edinburgh South campaigns she was one of my many slave drivers, often running the office that I saw only long enough to refuel, use the toilet and stock up on leaflets mostly.

I have to admit that Nikki's grilling of me did come along with a nice glass or two of red at Bar Reverie on Nicholson Street. But you could tell that she knew exactly what she wanted from her questions. She'd already talked to the other three candidates but I must have done ok, because at the end she promised me her first preference.

The final time me and Nikki met that summer was to relax in a shared passion. It was a Neil Hannon concert in the Liquid Rooms on Victoria Street. We met for a meal at Pizza Express at the top of the hill where we could watch all the wet (well this was Edinburgh) tourists heading for the queue for the Tattoo. Pizza and pasta were washed down with more wine and by the time we were ready to head the short walk down the hill to see Neil it was dry. Of course for a Hannon gig in the liquid rooms there is only drink that can be drunk, so I imbibed on gin while we belted out lyrics, or brass sections or whatever, while Neil performed some of his back catalogue and new stuff from Bang Goes the Knighthood.

I think those three elements sum up Nikki. Her desire to serve other, her love and devotion to doing things right through the Liberal Democrats and her sense of relaxing and having a good time. Of course the Liberal Democrats are one big family of interconectiveness. When I came to Northern Ireland both Michael, then local party chair, and Pam, then Treasurer, also knew Nikki amongst other Lib Dem friends. Nikki, Pam and I all having bizarrely a connection to Kingston.

I know the sudden news of her illness and now passing has affected all of us and our thoughts and prayers are with her family and other friends who are also missing her vibrancy and her smile.

As for you Nikki, tonight you fly over the houses, the streets and the trees

See also Caron's post with her memories

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

To Egypt from a non real person

Many of us believe that the right to peaceful association is one of innate human rights. However, if you are gay that appears not to be the case in the Middle East according to Egypt's chief diplomatic representative to the United Nations' Human Rights Council.

At a meeting discussing the universal right of association he said that gay people were not considered 'real people' before concluding with:

"Finally, concerning the highly controversial notion of sexual orientation, we can only reiterate that it is not part of the universally recognized human rights."

So apparently I am not real should I visit Egypt, but more worryingly those who life there are seen as not human. Which means that the authorities will treat them as they see fit or let others do so without protection. Once again I am drawn to the words I learnt for my O'Level English literature from Act III Scene I of the Merchant of Veniece with slight alteration

Hath not a gay eyes? Hath not a gay hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means,
warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer
as a Egyptian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us,
do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
If a gay wrong a Muslim, what is his humility?
Revenge. If a Egyptian wrong a gay, what should his
sufferance be by Egyptian example? Why, revenge.
The villainy you teach me, I will execute,
and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

Of course people are human whatever their sexuality. They should be offered the same protection under the law, otherwise vigil antes can run amok even at the rumour that someone is different.

It is a shame that a diplomat cannot be diplomatic in his approach to all the people of his nation.

The fact that I can write a blog and talk about such things shows that I am a real person. My politicians here in Northern Ireland at least all acknowledge my existence and admit that I should be protected under the law with my basic human rights.

The handshake

Tour de France 2012: The Teams - Euskaltel Eusakdi

It is that time in the look at the teams in this years Tour to head to the Pyrénées and see the Orange wearing basque flag waving fans cheering on the race and hopefully some of their home grown talent. There are a few in other teams but their team is Euskaltel Euskadi. And in Olympic year they do have the Olympic champion. Samuel Sánchez.

Samuel Sánchez not only is Sánchez a great climber he is also one of the fastest descenders in the peleton as well. With less mountain top finishes this year he may be a great danger at the end of stages. He has podiumed twice in the Vuelta a España and in 2010 once Alberto Contador was removed from the standings he was raised to 3rd in the Tour. Between the Vuelta and the Tour he has seven top 10 Grand Tour finishes. With the descents after a number of climbs this year he will be looking to open gaps to make up for his relative inability on the long time trials.

Mikel Astarloza during the 2009 Tour he tested positive for EPO. But having served his two year ban Euskaltel Eusakdi rehired him and he will be making his return to the Tour this year. He had been originally 11th in the 2009 race. Until then he had taken part in every edition of the Tour since 2003 coming 9th in 2007. Now that he is back he is yet to see any results but with experience of being in and around the top 10 will certainly be up there in support in the Mountains.

Egoi Martinez  has been a King of the Mountain in the Vuelta (2006) as well as the 2010 Critérium du Dauphiné. Twice he has been the most combative rider in a stage of the Tour. One on the flat stage 4 of the 2006 Tour as part of a breakaway with a young British rider making his Tour debut called Bradley Wiggins. The other on the Mountainous stage 15 of 2008. His best Tour finish was last year's 33rd but he has been in the top 10 of the Vuelta (2008).

Jorge Azanza Soto a domestique for the team. His only success came in 2004 when he came first in the Vuelta a Córdoba. He made his Tour debut in 2007.

Gorka Izaguirre Insausti the elder of two young brothers in the Basque team joining last year. He is making his Grand Tour debut in the Tour while his brother Ion made his debut in the Giro. He placed 12 in the Tour Down Under at the start of the season.

Alan Pérez Lezaun another domestique for the team.

Rubén Pérez Moreno an experienced Grand Tour rider having debuted in the Vuelta in 2006 and Tour in 2007. His only victory was a stage win in the 2009 Tour of Bavaria.

Pablo Urtasun Pérez is the sprinter on the team he has yet to win a stage on a Grand Tour but has won stages in the Vuelta a Asturias and Vuelta a la Rioja which he actually came second in this year.

Gorka Verdugoan another experienced campaigner having completed the Tour 6 times since his 2006 debut. Although he has never finished in the top 10 he does strike fear into Cadel Evans. But only because he brought Evans, a former mountain biker, down in a downhill fall in 2009.

Tour de France 2012: The Teams - Europcar

Continuing to look in depth at the teams that will be taking part in this years Tour de France. Today it is looking at the somewhat surprise package from last year that almost put a Frenchman on the final podium for the first time since 1997.

Thomas Voeckler was ahead of the race last year on the stage that the TV car took out Johnny Hoogerland and Juan Antonia Flecha. But he was one of the three who stayed on their bikes and away to the line. Coming second on the stage was enought to give him a lead of 1'49" over fellow break survivor Luis Léon Sanchez but 2'26" over the first of the favourites Cadel Evans. He then held his yellow jersey through the Pyrénées and Alps until the slopes of the last Mountain Alpe d'Huez, when his legs gave up and his loyal lieutenant was also to take his own glory.

Pierre Rolland stuck by his team leader in yellow through all the Mountain passes often pulling him back when it looked like he was about to lose it. But finally on the stage to Alpe d'Huez his leader knew he was unable to keep up with those that were challenging him and young Rolland then 24 was given his wings. In the end he secured his first stage win in a Grand Tour seeing off Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez and Alberto Contador. It also secured him the white jersey for best young rider and a top 10 spot, both of which he defended on the following day's time trial.

Anthony Charteau was the 2010 King of the Mountains in the Tour. With Rolland he was shepharding Voeckler through the mountains last year. He is a three time winner of the Tropicale Amissa Bongo a stage race in Gabon which he defended for a second time earlier this year.

Damien Gaudin the 25-year-old has recently moved from the track where he was a two time individual pursuit and madison French champion. It suggests that he may be a threat on the opening prologue as well as have potential in sprint finishes.

Cyril Gautier another able young rider. Was the European U23 Champion in 2008 and best young rider ealier this year in the Critérium Intenational

Yukiya Arashiro in 2009 Arashiro became the first Japanese rider to be complete the Tour along with Fumiyuki Beppu. When he completed the Giro in 2010 he became the first Japanese cyclist to finish two Grand Tour events. He is a domestique for the team but was national champion in 2007 and Asian champion last year.

Giovanni Bernaudeau his major success was coming 2nd in the U23 Paris-Tours in 2004 but he is here to ride for the leader he completed the Giro d'Italia in 2005.

Yohann Gène has won stages in each of the last three Tropicale Amissa Bongo he was also the points winner in this years event.

Christophe Kern was the French Time Trial champion in 2011 as well as winning Stage 5 of the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Tour de France 2012: The Teams - Radioshack-Nissan

With the Tour de France only days away Radioshack-Nissan should have been preparing the only other previous winner for the Tour. But 2010 winner (upon removal of Alberto Contador) Andy Schleck suffered a fall in the Critérium Dauphiné that fractured his pelvis which means he will be going for a fourth podium in a row.

However, the team is still strong having another podium finisher from last year in the team who just happens to share the same name.

Fränk Schleck in recent years the Tour has seen the Schleck brothers often riding in tandem through the high Mountain passed. But of course in 2010 on the cobbles of stage 3 Fränk crashed out. But last year their one-two strikes returned and they both ended up on the Podium with Fränk taking third. Like his brother hs has worn yellow in the Tour before but while he is strong in the mountains it is often his time trailling that lets him down. So with 94.8km over the two time trials this year. Either he is going to have to make big inroads in the mountains or have lifted his time trialling ability to be able to hold on in the penultimate stage especially if Wiggins and Evans end up as his main rivals.

Fabian Cancellara time trialling is no difficulty to the four time World Champion in that discipline. He is also a classics winner having won Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris Robaix (twice). But he is also handy to have in the mountains able to put in long turns that can help his leader hit the last climb in the right place and state to make an impact.

Chris Horner managed to come 9th in the 2010 Tour despite in the start working for his team leader Lance Armstrong. In 2010 he won Vuelta al País Vasco and last year the Tour of California. He will be handy man for Schleck to have all the way through the mountains and although 40 now may well be able to spring the other half of the one-two attacks to help Schleck in th GC. Last year an early crash on the flat first week meant he left the Tour.

Andreas Klöden will actually be the man with the best finishing position in previous Tours in this Radioshack team with his two seconds in 2004 and 2006 while with T-Mobile. He won the 2011 Vuelta al País Vasco and came second in Paris-Nice. But like Horner crashes early last year curtailed his Tour, he returned for the Vuelta but again withdrew early. Still yet another strong component of Radioshack's team when the roads go up.

Yaroslav Popovychwas 3rd in the Giro d'Italia as far back as 2003 but has never been on the podium at the end of a Grand Tour since. Although he was best Young Rider in the Tour in 2005 when finishing 12th and managed 8th in 2007 while working for Contador and Levi Leipheimer. But having ridden for some of the best through mountains another part of the Radioshack engine that takes the Schlecks upwards.

Jens Voigt may have worn the yellow jersey twice but it is as one of the best rouleurs in the peleton that he is best known because he is not great in high mountains. In 2006 he took a stage in the Tour as part of a five man break that finished 29 minutes 58 seconds up the road from the leaders. Expect to see him just plodding away keeping things tight for Radioshack on the flatter stages.

Maxime Monfort is another climber on this team. He finished 6th in last year's tough Vuelta. Therefore he is yet another man who will marshall Schleck through the mountain passes.

Haimar Zubeldia has twice been 5th in the Tour (2003 and 2007) while riding for Euskaltel-Euskadi which tells you that he is a Basque cyclist. In that 2003 Tour he had great finishes against Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich. But yet another strong rider who has been in the top 10 of Grand Tours (six in all) showing the strength in depth of this team.

 Tony Gallopin is a young French rider who is in the Tour to be an engine for Schleck when it is required on the flat.  Haimar Zubeldia

Tour de France 2012: The Teams - BMC Racing

With the Tour de France starting in Liege on Saturday it is time to look at the teams for this year's race. So let's look at the team that will be looking to retain the title for Cadel Evans. Team BMC's sole objective is to get Evans a second win.

Cadel Evans finally won the Tour after two seconds in 2007 and 2008 followed by two rather disappointing years. He won the Critérium International earlier in. But only managed third in the Critérium Dauphiné behind Sky's Bradley Wiggins and fellow Aussie but Wiggins team mate Michael Rogers earlier this month. He is also a former Road Race World Champion from 2009 so has the rainbow cuffs on his jersey.

George Hincapie is no stranger to trying to defend this title for his team leader. He was part of all seven of Lance Armstrong's titles as well as being a Domestique for Alberto Contador in 2007 and Evans last year. This is his 17th Tour start and apart from the first one his has finished them all. As one of two men to have ridden on 9 winning teams he is man of unmatched current experience and a loyal lieutenant.

Philippe Gilbert had a brilliant year riding the classics last year with 4 wins. He has been rather quiet since joining BMC this year. But some of the stages at the start of this year's Tour will again suit him. As someone who has won stages in all the Grand Tours he is always a danger when the conditions are right for his style of win. He came third in last year's points competition for the green jersey.

Marcus Burghardt may be best remembered for hitting a dog on stage 9 of the 2007 Tour. But the German also won the Mountain Classification on the 2010 Tour de Suisse. But he is a domestique for Evans once again.

Steve Cummings was one of the engines in the GB train that took Mark Cavendish to the world championship last year. He also in 2011 beat Alberto Contador to a mountain top finish in the Tour of Algarve, keeping the lead in the Tour until the final Time Trial. He is one the Team GB shortlist for the Olympics.

Tejay van Garderen is an exciting young American rider and potentially the successor to Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong. With HTC disbanding last year he moved to BMC. He impressed having just turned 22 in the 2010 Vuelta and last year in the Tour won enough points on stage 8 to win the Polka Dot jersey. The following day he became the first American to wear it in the race (LeMond had earned it while he was in yellow in 1986)

Amaël Moinard is another mountain man having won the polka dots in the 2010 Paris-Nice. But also this French rider did manage to finish 15th in the 2008 Tour.

Manuel Quinziato the Italian has been European Under 23 Time Trial Champion, but now at 32 is just a domestique for his team leader.

Michael Schär from Switzerland is starting his fourth Grand Tour having ridden one of each over the last 3 years. Having been national junior Time Trial champion.

Tour de France 2012: The Teams - Sky Pro Cycling

It is that time of year once again that the 21 teams in the Tour de France will be naming their nine man squads for the Tour de France which starts on Saturday.

So lets start with the team that will be hoping to see the world champions rainbow jersey replaced by the maillot vert (green jersey) as well as hoping to see the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) in their midst on the Champs-Élysées. But there is an home Olympics ahead for the British Team's big stars and one Geraint Thomas will be doing laps of a velodrome instead of the roads of France to prepare to defend his Olympic title.

Bradley Wiggins already this year he has won Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie as well as defending the Critérium du Dauphiné. He is in form over these week long Tours and Sky seem to have the team to help Brad both on the flat and in the Mountains. After crashing out last year he came third in the Vuelta a España his first Grand Tour podium. He is seriously being talked of as a contender again this year to go further than his 4th place finish in 2009.

Mark Cavendish will start the Tour wearing the World Champion's rainbow jersey. He moved to Sky at the start of the year after his former dominant team HTC-Columbia ceased to exist. He finally took the Green Jersey in last year's tour after 5 more stage wins and an unprecedented third win on the trot on the Champs-Élysées. With the Olympic Road Race coming only 6 days after Paris a target it is yet to be seen how much Cav puts into this year's Tour.

Edvald Boasson Hagen last year he was often contending with Cav for the sprints he actually took two stages last year. But this year his role has been to replace Mark Renshaw as the man who launches the Manx Missile to the line. In some of the tougher finishes he may be Sky's go to man if Cavendish is not going for line honours simply to stop people like Philippe Gilbert gaining points over Cav, but he will be at the front with about 600m to go ready to take the World Champion into his final sprints.

Bernhard Eisel has moved with Cavendish from HTC last year. Bernie will be ever present with Cav helping him through the mountains but also staying beside him in the peleton as the race trundles along before being a key component of the lead out train.

Chris Froome the Kenyan born Brit was actually ahead of Brad in last year's Vuelta a España coming in second. But as he proved there he is an able lieutenant in the Mountains as he was in the Tour de Romandie. Last year he was also one of the engines in the train that Great Britain used to control the peleton in the World Championships to deliver the rainbow jersey for Cav.

Richie Porte from Australia has a palmarès to his name this year winning the Volto ao Algarve but like Froome he is there to help Bradley control events in the mountains. He was best young rider in the 2010 Giro d'Italia.

Michael Rogers has been world Time Trial champion three times in 2003, 2004 and 2005. But he has also long been a mountain support in 2003 he helped Richard Virenque to his six polka dot jersey. He had periods leading T-Mobile and HTC coming as high as 9th in the Tour in 2006. But his role like Froome and Porte is to get Wiggins through the mountains.

Christian Knees was the 2010 German Road Race Champion but his role in the tour is a domestique and wingman on the flat stages.

Kanstantsin Siutsou has been Belarus road and time trial champion. He finished 10th in last years Giro with Team Highroad but is another engine for the flat stages of the Tour.

Monday, 25 June 2012

BSD better buck up their online strategy

 I was rather horrified earlier to read this line from the Daily Telegraph coverage of the Better Together (campaign against Scottish Independence) launch today.

"The campaign has brought in Blue State Digital, the US political experts who ran President Barack Obama's web campaigns, to build a website and oversee its online strategy."

The reason being that throughout most of the Yes to AV campaign whenever Blue State Digital were mentioned it was often followed by the phrase "forgive me for swearing".

I have no doubt that they are very good at running US nationwide campaigns but when it came down to the dynamics of the recent yes campaign they failed miserably to adjust to the requirements of UK based campaigns. Indeed throughout the whole campaign despite me mentioning it from when I first got sight of their software it was impossible to search using any Northern Irish postcode. This is a common enough error in a lot of postcode based software, but one that I always checked on updates of the software I've used in any job that requires it.

But it was worse than that. Trying to develop delivery walks, or even to access the data to make the telephone campaign was incredibly difficult and took far too long to sort out when the issues were raised. Indeed issues were usually within hours of the latest update and took weeks to rectify if at all.

Therefore to have them oversee the online strategy terrifies me. I'm hoping the chain to get stuff updated online isn't as cumbersome as the Yes 2 AV leadership made things. I hope that rebuttals can get out there swiftly when need and leading the debate rather than constantly rebutting is the name of the game, taking Alex Salmond into areas that he isn't willing to have looked at too closely should be the battle ground.

For example over the weekend Joan McAlpine claimed "Scotland's future should be in Scotland's hands. We have 8.4% of UK population but contribute 9.6% of UK taxes." so in other words being part of the UK makes Scotland better off than the rest. So how is this plus the giving back with the Barnett formula of more per capita a keeping down of the Scots?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Cameron wrong to take benefit from needy young people

Not every person under the age of 25 has the ability to turn up at home and be welcomed with open homes, Indeed some people under the age of 25 do not have parents or other family at all to turn to. Therefore the decision to scrap all housing benefit to people under the age of 25 is repugnant and should not be allowed to happen.

There are all manner of reasons that someone under the age of 25 may not have a stable household they can live in.

They may have been living in care until the age of 18, when they are turned out into the world, maybe unable to get a job, but needing to find a roof over their head at least to enable them to claim other benefits.

They may have been orphaned themselves in late teens.

They may have been kicked out of the family home, either because they have come out as LGBT or maybe because they have become pregnant or for any other reason.

Or what about those young people who have moved far away from home for the chance to gain employment, even if that is in a low paid job that entitles them currently to housing benefit. Surely Mr Cameron isn't asking them quit their job and return home (if they have one) because they cannot afford to live near their place of work?

The lives of under 25s can at times be hard enough if they are made to fend for themselves for whatever reason, whether above or something else. Scrapping housing benefit for under 25s fails to look at the need and seriously puts many young people in the dangerous position of finding themselves living on the streets.

Cameron said that the Conservatives were now the compassionate party in the lead up to the 2010 General election. That compassion seems to only kick in once you reach 25 or maybe pensionable age.

Friday, 22 June 2012

1996 Summer Olympics Atlanta: XXVI Olympiad and X Paralympics

1996 would be the Centenary of the Modern Olympic era and many people felt in their heart that Athens would be the natural place to take the Games for the XXVI Olympiad. Indeed that sense of history that Athens played up in the candidate presentation at the 96th IOC Session in Tokyo in September 1990.

 However, they were not as well prepared for hosting a modern Games as some of its competitors, plus the demand by their bid leader that they had the historical right to host the centenary Games wasn't univesally popular. Though Athens did lead the bidding on the first round and again after round two when Belgrade, Yugoslavia were eliminated. With the elimination of Manchester, UK there was a tie between Athens and Atlanta. Melbourne, Australia who had come second in round two but lost votes in round three were eliminated with half of their 16 votes going to Atlanta and the rest split evenly between Athens and Toronto, Canada. But with the Canadian's eliminated the head to head led to an extra 17 votes for Atlanta and only 5 for Athens making it a 51-35 final vote.

Twelve years after the last Summer Games in the USA they were to return to the third city in that nation to host the Games And the only Country so far to have hosted four Summer Games.

Nations 197
Competitors 10,320
Sports 26
Events 271

19 July to 4 August, 1992 hosted by Atlanta, Ga., USA 


Nations 104
Competitors 3529
Sports 20
Events 508

16 to 25 August, 1992 in the same venues

There were fourteen countries that were making their Olympic debut in 1996, 10 had debuted in the Winter Games of 1994. Of the first category Azerbaijan, Burundi, Cape Verde, Comoros, Dominica, Guinea-Bissau, Macedonia, Nauru, Palestine, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were all for the first time taking part in any Olympics. While the first Summer turn outs for Armenia, Belarus, Czech Republic, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Slovakia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan after their winter sportspeople had appeared in Lillehammer.

It was also the first time Russia were to appear at the Summer Games since their last appearance in 1912.

With the result of the USSR and Czechoslovakia break up there was obviously some new medalists, though they weren't the only debut nations to medal
Stepping up in distance to give a coach a chance

One of those medals listed above was the only one that Burundi have won so far in the Olympics. But for Vénuste Niyongabo it was only his second ever race at the 5000m distance, he was better established as one of the World's top 1500m runners.

He had actually taken bronze that the 1995 World Championships for the 1500m and was scheduled to appear in that event in Atlanta. But he sacrificed his place in that race to that another Burundi athlete, Dieudonné Kwizera, could take his place.

In 1987 Kwizera had come third in the 1987 All Africa 800m final and the following year had come third in the IAAF Grand Prix final behind Tom McKean and Seb Coe. But because in 1988 and 1992 Burundi did not have an Olympic Association he had never got to be an Olympian during his peak years. Kwizera had come to Atlanta purely as a coach, though he was given the honour of carrying his nation's flag in the opening ceremony, until Niyongabo gave up his spot in the 1500m. Although he did not progress from the first round he had achieved his ambition to be an Olympian.

Niyongabo was relatively quiet for the first part of the race only moving up to fourth after 3000m, then briefly taking the lead before 800m but USA's Bob Kennedy made his bid for a medal and came past him after about 40m. But with 450m to go opening up a 10m lead at the 200m mark from Khalid Boulami (Morroco), Paul Bitok (Kenya) and Dieter Baumann (Germany) the reigning champion. But he was tiring in the last 100m and Bitok was closing fast with the others just behind. But the Burundi athletes decision to go so far out paid off and he took gold home.

The 'Greatest' Cauldron LighterThe final bearer of the Olympic Torch is always guarded with secrecy. In 1996 there was a living legend to carry out the honour of lighting the cauldron. The 'Louisville Lip' was one of the South's greatest sportsmen who as Cassius Clay had gold in the light heavyweight boxing in Rome in 1960.

Ali's history with the Games was checquered as he in 1975 he apparently threw his Gold medal into the Ohio River after being denied service in a 'whites only' restaurant. Even as a World Heavyweight Champion he was still prejudiced against in the Deep South.

During a Basketball Game at the Atlanta Games Ali was presented with a replacement medal.

First and last for Hong Kong

In 1997 Hong Kong was going to be handed back to China by Britain. But they had never won an Olympic medal. Mistral sailer Lee Lai-Shan was their best hope to break that having won the world championships on 1993 and coming 3rd and end in 1995 and 96.

She lived up to expectations indeed by the time she finished in front in the penultimate race of the nine race regatta she had already done enough with four seconds, one third, fourth and seventh to not even get on her board for the medal race. Her net points of 16 were not going to beaten by any of her closest opponents even when they discarded their highest score to take a win.

Four years ago she had the honour of carrying the Olympic Torch twice, she was the first person to carry it when it came to Hong Kong and also the last to carry it as it lit the cauldron at the Qingdoa International Marina for the sailing events own opening ceremony.

She was to represent Hong Kong, China in the next two Olympics taken her total to 4 Games coming 6th in Sydney and 4th in Athens. But she was the first and last time that the British Colonial flag ever flied during an Olympic medal ceremony while the National Anthem played.

Fourth time lucky

 Australian visually impaired swimmer Kingsley Bugarin had been two three previous Paralympics and not yet stood on top of a podium. Though he had first been a world Champion in 1990.

In 1984 in New York he took two silver and one bronze, but in 1988 in Seoul only managed 3 bronze, before 3 silver and a bronze in Barcelona. At 28 he was lining up for his fourth Games and it was to be his break through Games.

In the end he was to take gold in the 100m and 200m breststroke as well as the 200m individual medley. Plus silver in the 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle and bronze in the 400m freestyle in the B2 category. He was to retain his titles in 100m breaststroke and 200m IM titles at his home Paralympics before retiring from international competition.

Triple gold for Ireland
In 1996 there was a single 50m pool anywhere in Ireland. Indeed it would be 6 years before the first one at the University of Limerick was opened, followed by one in Dublin in 2003 with the first in the North opening here in Bangor before the end of this year. Therefore it is somewhat of a shock that Ireland's most decorated Olympian should be in the pool.

But in 1996 one woman took away three golds and a bronze from the Atlanta pool. The first was on the 20th July when Michelle Smith won the 400m individual medley. It was Ireland's first ever swimming gold and also the first medal even won by a woman representing Irland. It came just 8 years after the country's last gold in boxing and 40 after the one before that. The next wait for gold lasted only 2 days when the 400m freestyle again went to Smith when she was 1.05 seconds faster than the defending champion Dagmar Hase of Germany.

It would be another 2 day wait for Ireland's next gold when in the 200m IM she completed her hat trick. A further 2 days later she tried for a fourth gold in the 200m butterfly but could only manage bronze.

There was some suspicion at the time in how Smith had managed to improve so much for her third Olympics, suspicions that were further raised when two years later she was banned for using alcohol as a masking agent in a drugs test. However, her Olympic medals were not removed and she remains Ireland's most successful ever Olympian, having taken all four of her countries medals in these Games.


 Although it was only a demonstration sport in Atlanta the most aggressive wheelchair sport, wheelchair rugby was added to the family, the other Paralympic demo sport was sailing. 

It is a game that is full of clashes of chairs unlike basketball which like its Olympic equivalent is 'non-contact' sport rugby is a full contact sport.

Unlike basketball however it requires the users to have some lose of function in at least three limbs. This is why the need for dribbling meant that some wheelchair users couldn't take part in a team sport to an equal level and so rugby filled that niche. 

In the inaugural event the USA beat Canada in the final with New Zealand beating Great Britain in the bronze medal match.

Women no longer merely foiled

It had been 72 years since women had first been allowed to fence at the Olympics, but while the men had had a choice of three blades the women had until now only been able to go en garde in the foil. Atlanta saw the intorduction of the épée to the women's event. On the second day of competition the first women's Olympic épée final turned out to be an all French affair.

It was between Laura Flessel, who had been a former foil exponent until she announced her retirement in 1991 after breaking her fencing arm, and Valérie Barlois.  For Flessel coming out of retirement and picking up the épée proved most successful, over the first three épée events she would pick up a completer set of medals as well as teaming up with Barlois and Sophie Moresse-Pichot for team gold in 1996, team a further team bronze in 2004. Her five Olympic medals are two more than any other French female Olympian.

Bulgarian Turk Pocket Hercules

Atlanta saw the Naim Süleymanoğlu step up from the -60kg category to -64kg in weightlifting. He was going for a third Olympic gold in a row in the slightly modified Olympic weight divisions the first time they had changes since their introduction in 1920.

After the snatch in which he lifted 147.5kg taking a 2.5kg lead into the clean and jerk. He had failed at his first attempt at that weight and his opponent Valerios Leonidis had pulled the weight over his head at his only attempt with his third lift at that weight . He and Leonidis had yet to lift when all the other competitors had finished their third lifts. China's Xiao Jiangang had managed 177.5kg for a total of 322.5kg.

They both started with 180kg lifting that easily. Süleymanoğlu stepped up for his second lift at 185kg at the time a world record for his weight and lifted it first time. Leonidis has passed 185kg and went instead to 187.5kg which he lifted taking the world record higher. Süleymanoğlu stepped up and matched it with his third and last lift, but had to sit and watch while Leonidis had one lift left and attempted to lift 190kg which would have tied the total of 335kg but given him gold due to being a lighter lifter. He failed, but on the podium the Turkish lifter kissed his Greek opponent in contrast to the state of their two nations historically.

Süleymanoğlu had become the first lifter to win gold at three golds at consecutive Games. It could have been four but for the Soviet led boycott of 1984. Süleymanoğlu was born in Bulgaria and had set his first world record at 16 before the Games in Los Angeles. Shortly after those Games Bulgaria forced their Turkish minority to change their names to Bulgaria he became Naum Shalamanov. In 1986 he defected while at the World Cup Final in Australia before heading to Turkey to claim citizenship. This lead to a dispute about him being able to represent Turkey at the Seoul Olympics which was settled for $1,250,000.

He attempted to make a come back for the 2000 Games but failed in the snatch on his three attempts at 145kg in the -52kg category, this would have been a World record at the time but was beaten by two other lifters. He therefore ended his Olympic career with three no lifts.

Mozambique's first medal

Mutola in red edging out Kelly Holmes for bronze
In 1992 Mozambique had hoped to secure their first medal at the Olympics through a 19-year-old  800m specialist, it wasn't her first Games as a 15-year-old she had gone to Seoul. It wasn't to be and she only game in fifth but she was back in Atlanta to try again, having run the world's best time in each of the years in between as well as World Champion.

Maria Mutola it was who had the hopes of her nation on her shoulders. She ran fastest in the semi-finals and only Britain's Kelly Holmes had run faster than her in the heats.

She had not been beaten in over forty 800m and 1000m finals in a row, when she lined up for the final. In the end she was only to cross the line in the bronze medal spot, edging out Kelly Holmes into 4th.

Four years later however, she was to achieve Mozambique's first gold with Kelly Holmes in third this time. Another four years and these two were there again. This time is was Holmes crossing the line first with Mutola going from 2nd to 4th in the last two strides of the race. In 2008 she appeared in her 6th and last Games only the 4th track and field athlete to do so, she ended up in fifth once again. But had been in the top five of the last five 800m Olympic finals.

Keeping up the gold standard

Not only had Great Britain taken part in every Summer Games but they are also the only country to have won at least one gold at every Games.

Our world record holder and world champion triple jumper Jonathan Edwards only managed silver this time. So it fell on the broad shoulders or a 34-year-old going for a fourth gold in four Games to make sure the run trailing back to 1896 was not broken. With 500m to go in the men's coxless pair Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent were just over a length up but the Australian and French pairs starting to close in.

At the end as pictured after winning by half a length Redgrave for the first time in any Olympics looked exhausted. As he was interviewed even before getting out of the boat at the pontoon he famously said:

"Anybody who sees me in a boat has my permission to shoot me."

However, within two days he had told Pinsent he wanted one more go and the fifth gold was forthcoming in Sydney 2000.

Off road on yer bike

Cycling added a new discipline to the track and road events that had been part of the Games for so long. Mountain biking took place over the tough course out at the equestrian park at Conyers, the men raced over 48.7km while the women did 31.8km.

In the men's race in the morning of 30 July Dutch world champion Bart Brentjens set off fast from the start leaving the competition behind. After 2 hours 17 minutes and 37 seconds he was to take the initial gold medal in the event over 2 and a half minutes clear of his nearest rival Thomas Frischknecht of Switzerland.

He would carry on to take bronze in 2004.

But sitting in 9th place in that race there was an Australian 19-year-old who would in his home Games in four year's time rise to 7th in what was his last mountain bike competition before turning to the road's full time having already won the Tour of Tasmania in 1999. That young Australian was Cadel Evans who if he takes part in these Games will be his fourth Games having taken part in the road race in 2008.

The women's race on that afternoon was won by Italian cyclist Paola Pezzo just over a minute clear of Canada's Alison Sydor who had done the reverse move from Evans going from road to cross country actually in the 1994 Commonwealth Games medalling in both.

The Golden Slam Couple

 Only three people have so far won a career golden slam in tennis. But the first man to do so won his Olympic gold in his own nation in 1996.

It was still three years before he would add the last of the career slam titles the French Open but Andre Agassi had already won three of the titles he would need.

It was also a little over 5 years after picking up his Gold Medal that he would marry the only women's player who has so far won a singles golden slam (which she did in a calendar year) Steffi Graf.

Therefore Agassi and Graf truly are the golden couple of tennis

Read also the full list of my posts about the past Olympics

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Jimmy "Mr 1%" Carr

Jimmy Carr took up this 1% tax scam offer himself

Strange that he pokes fun at those who avoid paying tax when he himself has been exposed doing just that. He says "I pay what I have to and not a penny more." obviously he means he pays what he has to for those accountants and lawyers to get him out of paying what he has to.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

FOI Request on MSM Blood Ban - Part Two

Strangely it is almost 9 months since I first sent a Freedom of Information request on this issue. I received two responses the first telling me that the Department of Health, Social Services and Pensions would not be able to respond to me within the required deadline. The second that as the Minister had yet to made a decision on the issue that they could not disclose any information to me at that point.

Well it appears that for the second time, the first is here, Edwin Poots has made a decision.

Therefore it was time to raise a new request both because my deadline for comeback to the previous response had passed and because there was new Information that needed to be requested.

Here is my new request:

 Retention of MSM Lifetime Blood Ban

Dear Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
(Northern Ireland),

Further to my previous request, your ref FOI 2011/140

I understand that the Minster has now come to a decision which your
previous response, of 15 November, told me you could not disclose
information until he had come to one.

Therefore I'm writing to you under the Freedom of Information Act
2000 requesting:

1. For minutes of any meetings that the Minister has had pertaining
to the SaBTO report "Donation selection criteria review - men who
have had sex with men" 8-Sep-11

2. For details of any information that the Minister has received
that conflicts with or supports the quantitative and qualitative
substance of the above report. Especially that of the two pieces of
the evidence that the Minister announced on 17-Jun-12 that he had
received in recent weeks.

3. Minutes of any meetings the Minister has had with professionals
in the health and LGBT fields, since receiving this new
information, regarding their contents.

4. Minutes of any meetings or information that the Minister has had
regarding people who have had sex with prostitutes or someone from
Africa that has led to his conclusion to lift their 12 month
deferral period for blood donations to a lifetime ban.

5. The number of meetings or conversations that the Minister has
had regarding their positions and actions on MSM blood donations
with his counterparts in:
a) Westminster
b) Edinburgh
c) Cardiff
d) Dublin
both before these two new pieces of evidence arose and since.

6. Minutes of any meetings or information that the Minister has had
regarding as yet undiscovered or undisclosed blood borne diseases
that the Minister alluded to on 22-Sep-11.

Yours faithfully,

Stephen Glenn

I look forward to finding out how information received in the last couple of weeks can be so startling that it makes up the Minister's mind that has been contemplating SaBTO's very thorough report for over 9 months so rapidly. Not just for my sake but for all the men who have had sex with other men.

Poots taking his lead from Dublin not London on blood donations

Today is Father's day.

About 24 years ago just after I had turned 18 my father took me somewhere that in our family was somewhat of a right of passage, to the Good Templar Hall on Hamilton Road for a cup of tea and a biscuit. Of course before that I had to give a little something in return a unit of my O- blood. Like my father and grandfather I then had a little book showing that I was a blood donor. The last little piece of paper that was placed in that book shows that I gave blood in the week after the Omagh bomb, though I shouldn't have given it as I'd forgot to check the small print.

There was a question that I said no to, probably because my dad was with me and he did not yet know that the answer was yes. The question:

Have you ever if you are man had sex anally or orally, either with or without a condom?
Today is one of those days that I remember that father who gave enough blood through the Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service to earn his gold badge 100 units. Something he was in the Belfast Telegraph for as he did so at Hunterhouse College along with some of his pupils giving their first donation.

But it is also the day that Edwin Poots finally announced that he was going to maintain the lifetime ban on men who have had sex with men giving blood, rather than as the rest of the UK allowing a 12 month deferral period.

But he then went further to say that anybody who engages in risky behaviour should be treated the same. His listed two examples people who have sex with prostitutes who who have sex in sub-Saharan Africa.

Now it may surprise Mr Poots that there are already restrictions in the later two categories, on the Blood Transfusion Service website it says:

You should not give blood for 12 months after sex with:

A man who has had sex with another man (if you're a female).

A prostitute.

Anyone who has ever injected themselves with drugs.

Anyone with haemophilia or a related blood clotting disorder who has received clotting factor concentrates.

Anyone of any race who has been sexually active in parts of the world where AIDS/HIV is very common. This includes countries in Africa.

So there you have it these other 'risky' sexual practices are subject to as referral period of 12 months both here and in the rest of the UK already. The lifetime MSM blood ban ranks up there with people who have worked as a prostitute, injected themselves with drugs, or have ever had syphilis, HTLV (Human T - lymphotropic virus), HIV or hepatitis C.

So is Mr Poots saying that all gay men are as risky as those three?

For a start many gay men regularly get blood tests from the diseases mentioned in the final exclusion. Even in the medical examination performed before a donation a gay man could be asked when he was last tested. Seeing as one of the questions at STI testing is how many sexual partners you have had since the last test this is on the patient records of that individual. A failure for a gay man to have had a blood screen in the last 12 months could be a reason to deny them to donate blood, even though all blood donated is tested.

Is he seriously comparing the many gay men in monogamous relationships with prostitutes? Or intravenous drug users?

It does look as Sue Ramsey, the Sinn Féin chair of the health committee, suggests that he is pandering to his own prejudices and not making the decision based on facts.

Mr Poots did say that he had received two bits of correspondence in the last week. One came from his Irish counterpart informing him that Ireland did not have any plans to lift their lifetime ban. The other advising the the majority of the EU maintained a life time ban. Although Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain and Sweden are like the rest of the UK operating a maximum of the 12 month referral period and not a lifetime ban, as do Australia and New Zealand (5 years).

Indeed Poland has a rather sensible policy based on sexual practice rather than orientation. There people of any sexual orientation involved in any kind of sexual activity are welcome to donate blood, if they are confident that their sexual behaviour is safe and does not expose them to sexually transmitted diseases by i.e. unprotected sex with non-trusted partners, whether homo-, bi- or heterosexual.

There is an cruel irony that the Democratic Unionist health minister is siding with Ireland on this issue while the Sinn Féin chair of his assembly committee wants the UK policy expanded to Northern Ireland. Just who is the unionist?

Update I've done a little further reading since yesterday. In the USA there are calls in congress to look at alternatives to their MSM gay blood ban (Poots cited the example of the USA as one he was following in keeping the ban).  France one of the EU's largest countries by population is about to lift its blanket ban on MSM blood donation, looking not at "nature of sexual relations or sexual inclination" but on the "multiplicity of partners" as the way to deal with risky behaviour.

Friday, 15 June 2012

1992 Summer Olympics Barcelona : XXV Olympiad

It was a bit of a battle of the Bs for the right to host the 1992 Games, seeing as four of the six candidate cities started with that letter. Brisbane (Australia), Belgrade (Yugoslavia), Birmingham (Great Britain) and Barcelona (Spain) along with Paris (France) and Amsterdam (Netherlands).

In the first round of voting at the 91st IOC Session in Lausanne in Octobner 1986 the Spanish city took 29 votes in the first round 10 ahead of Paris who were six ahead of Belgrade, a further 2 back to Brisbane on 11 with Birmingham on 8 and Amsterdam 5.

Amsterdam were eliminated for round two, but Belgrade and Brisbane both lost 2 votes. Paris picked up 1 and Barcelona 8. On the third round the city that was the birthplace of the then IOC President Juan Antonio Samarach gained a further 10 votes and the Games were heading to Barcelona, they had been a candidate once before in 1936 losing out to Berlin.

Nations 169 (+9)
Competitors 9356 (+955)
Sports 32 (+5)
Events 286 (+23)

25 July to 8 August, 1992 hosted by Barcelona


Nations 82 (+21)
Competitors 3020 (-37)
Sports 15 (-1)
Events 487 (-245)

3 to 14 September, 1992 in the same venues

A lot had changed politically in the world since the last Olympiad.

  • Germany had united as a nation and therefore for the first time since 1964 they sent one team for all Germany
  • Yemen had also united so South Yemen only appeared at one Games as a separate nation those of 1988
  • Yugoslavia, who  six years earlier had been attempting to host the Games in Belgrade, was still in the midst of war. Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina sent their own teams for the first time. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was banned but individual athletes did take part as Independent Olympic Participants under the Olympic Flag
  • The mighty USSR was in the process of breaking up. The Baltic States took part as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania while the rest took part as the Unified Team also under the Olympic Flag
  • Namibia which had gained full independence from South Africa in 1990 also made it's debut

Of those Independent Olympic Participants from Yugoslavia Jasna Šekarić won silver in the Women's 10m Air Pistol, with bronzes for Aranka Binder (Women's 10m Air Rifle) and Stevan Pletikosić (Men's 50m Rifle prone). The Unified Team of the remaining former USSR States rose to the top flag pole 45 times.

New Territory Diamond Coast turns silver

Namibia being the only really new area of the world to take part actually was one of the most successful new 'territories' for a while with two silvers from their team of six. But that  was all down to one man.

Just after independence Namibia were allowed to take part in the World Athletics championships in 1991 World Athletics Championships in Tokyo, but for Michael Johnson in the men's 200m they could have had a golden start.

So it was that a year later Frankie Fredericks was already amongst the favourites for the half lap, although Johnson was, as the fastest man in the world for the previous two seasons, still going to be the man to beat. Johnson though had contracted food poisoning two weeks before the games and in his weakened state only managed to come 6th in this semi-final.

With Johnson out of the final the Namibian lined up with the other two Americans, two Nigerians, two Brits and Robson da Silva from Brazil. Michael Marsh of the USA had won the fastest semi in 20.08, while Frankie had won the other but Fredericks had run the fastest time to far in qualifying 20.02 in his quarter final. It looked like a time of under 20 seconds would be required by one of them to take gold.

In the end Marsh ran only 20.01 but it was 0.17 seconds faster that Federicks who would have to settle for silver again. Five days earlier he had run 10.02 in the 100m final only to lose out to Britain's Linford Christie who ran 9.96.

In Atlanta in four years time he was again to take home the same two silvers, he is still not only Namibia's first but only Olympic medalist.

72 Years of Hurt

It is hard to believe looking at the state of GB Cycling today that since 1920 when Thomas Lance and Harry Ryan took gold in the tandem the National Anthem had not been played at an Olympic velodrome. But in 1992 it was ready to sound again and in what a dominant performance.

The Final capture
In the individual pursuit there was the German world Champion Jens Lehmann against the man on the Lotus designed bike GB's Chris Boardman. In the qualifying round Boardman had set the World Record with 4:27.357 almost three seconds faster than Lehmann. In the Quarter Final both Lehmann and Boardman overtook their opponents with Lehmann just behind that world record pace and Boardman a further 3 seconds faster. In the semi-final Lehmann was faster recording a time of 4:27.230 quicker than the world record set in the qualifying, but Boardman was doing enough to beat his Australian opponent by over 3 seconds.

In the final Boardman started out fast taking a third of a second out of Lehmann on each of the first three laps but he kept closing it down relentlessly closing in all the time on the German until just as the German was getting to his start position with a lap to go, the almost unheard of happened in an Olympic final for the pursuit, the silver medalist was captured.

Britiain may not have won gold at the next Olympics but it wouldn't be 72 years before they won another cycling gold. Only 8 before Jason Queally won the 1km time trial in Sydeny,  then another pursuit title for Bradley Wiggins and 1km time trial for Chris Hoy in Athens, before taking 8 in Beijing with only Mark Cavndish of the track team returning home without any medal.

Bizarre Olympic Fact Chris Boardman was not the first British Gold medalist with that name. Christopher Boardman was a member of the winning crew in the 6m sailing at the 1936 Games.

Hosts splash to first swimming gold

Rather surprising for a nation with so many wonderful beaches Spain had never managed to win a gold in the pool before. However, with King Juan Carlos in place for his continual mission to watch home gold on the 28 July there was a World Champion and record holder who was determined to make amends for that. 

Although born and raised in the Florida, USA, he father had moved from Zaragoza to study medicine,  Michael López-Zubero was not the first of his siblings to represent Spain in the Olympics. His elder brother David had taken bronze in the 100m butterfly in Moscow in 1980.

He was world champion at the 200m backstroke and had taken bronze in the 100m the year before in Perth and was looking to do at least as well in his 'home' Games. His main rivals were his fellow Europeans, Italy's Stafano Battistelli and Russian Vladimir Slekov who had taken silver and bronze at the worlds 18 months previously. Fortunately His Majesty did not leave his seat under the sun at the Piscines Bernat Picornell disappointed as it was another of Spain's 13 golds.

Spain were hoping for more 2 days later when he returned to the pool for the 100m backstroke final, but like his compatriot Sergi Lopes in the 200m breaststroke he would have to settle for fourth place just outside the medals.

Her roll to gold

Tanni Grey as she was then had been to her first Paralympics four years previously when she took a sole bronze in the 400m to start her Olympic medal collection. But in 1992 she dominated.

She took gold in 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m, a feat she would duplicate in 2000, as well as helping GB to silver in the 4x100m.

In total Tanni won 11 Paralympic gold, 4 silver and one bronze between 1988 and 2004.  She also would hold over 30 world records and win the London Marathon six times, though she never competed at this distance in the Paralympics.

She is now a member of the BBC's athletics commentary team not confined to Paralympic sport as well as being a member of the House of Lords.

Two boxers, two traditions, two second chances

 Earlier this month when the Torch relay took a morning excursion out of the UK to head to double there was this rather touching scene at the border.

Twenty years on it was the two boxers who won all of Ireland's medals from these Games. Ireland had not won a gold since the 1956 Games and Ron Delany's shock gold in the 1500m: Delany was also to carry the Torch that day in Dublin.

So on 9 August having both won through to their finals in the Olympic boxing ring Ireland were looking at two chances to return to winning ways.

First up was Wayne McCullough (on the left in the picture) this was his second Games for the Shankhill lad from that Protestant heartland. At 18 in Seoul he had been the baby of the team, but he was asked to carry the Irish Tricolour in the opening ceremony, something he did with pride. He lost to Canadian Scott Olson in the 3rd round of those Games.

He was back in 1992 at bantamweight having taking Commonwealth Gold at flyweight in 1990. He was up against the Cuban Joel Casamayor in the final (who would later defect to the USA on the eve of the 1996 Games). He lost 16-8 on points, but it was Ireland's first medal of those Games, know there was one more to come.

Michael Carruth was a catholic from Dublin and a soldier in the Irish Army, but like McCullough he was back after being beaten in the third round in Seoul. He too faced a Cuban for his final the taller Juan Hérnandez Sierra. A couple of hours after McCullough's defeat he entered the same ring for the welterweight final. A couple of times during the fight the referee talked to Carruth about holding before having a warning and losing three points in the second round. But it was all square at the end of the second 8 a piece going into the final round.

To increasing cheers of Ireland, Ireland however Carruth started to dominate from the start of the third as the Cuban looked more and more tired. The Irish man ended up taking the bout 13-10. Ireland had won their first gold in 36 years, their first ever in boxing. On the day he returned pubs were selling pints at 1956 prices to celebrate. You're not sure as a result whether the Irish were hoping to wait so long for more gold or not but indeed they wouldn't, but more of that later.
Triple gold in the pool

 While Tanni Grey was taking four golds on the Barcelona Track in the pool another British Paralympian was sweeping up too.

Peter Hull has been born without legs and arms that ended at the elbow. But that didn't deter him he started swimming at 5 and won his first competition at 9.  In Seoul he had been in the worst possible spot 4th a total of four time.

But Barcelona was his time to shine. He won the 50m freestyle and backstroke as well as the 100m Freestyle. His times were all World Records

Asia not totally dominant at the table

Table Tennis had only been introduced at the previous Games in Seoul. But all but one of the finalists came from either China or Korea. In 1992 There was a stronger European breakthrough and actually both the men's finalists were from Europe. Jan-Ove Waldner of Sweden who had beaten South Korea's Taek Soo Kim in the semi finals and Jean-Philippe Gaitien of France who had beaten China's Ma Wenge at the same stage.

Waldner was one of the few who had been challenging Eastern Supremecy in the sport since he first came unto the circuit 10 years earlier at 16. In deed he had been in the last three world championship singles finals winning gold in 1989, and helping Sweden to three team silver and two gold in the last five.

In the end it was Waldner (pictured) who won. In 2010 he won his 9th Swedish title against Pär Gerell who was born in the same year, 1982, he won his first. It is sign of the respect that he has in the sport as one of those present at the first five Olympic tournaments that he is known in Chinese as 常青树 Chang Qing Shu Evergreen. 

He would win silver in the Olympics in 2000.

Mr and Mrs Badminton

Badminton was new as a full Olympic sport in the 1992 Games but it was dominated by Indonesia, who provided four of the eight finalists including an all Indonesian men's singles, as well as one of ther defeated semi-finalists in the same event. Only Thomas  Steur-Lauridsen in the men's singles broke the Asian domination of the last fours.

However, in that men's final it was Alan Budikusuma who took gold from his fellow country man Ardy Wirinata 15-12 18-14.

But the first final was the women's singles and therefore it was Susi Susanti (pictured) beat South Korea's who was awarded the first Olympic Gold medal in her sport by IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, but there was also the honour of being the first Olympian from Indonesia to hear their national anthem play as they stood atop an Olympic podium and watch their flag being raised.

However, five years later after Susi took bronze in the next Olympics she and Alan got married to become the golden couple of Olympic badminton.

See also my full list of posts about past Olympics

Never, say Never to second looks - Argyll and Bute Update

Earlier today Argyll and Bute Council issued this statement in relation to their decision banning Martha Payne's taking pictures for her Never Seconds blog from yesterday.

Published Date:
15 Jun 2012 - 10:53

Argyll and Bute Council wholly refutes the unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which culminated in national press headlines which have led catering staff to fear for their jobs. The Council has directly avoided any criticism of anyone involved in the ‘never seconds’ blog for obvious reasons despite a strongly held view that the information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils however this escalation means we had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing. In particular, the photographic images uploaded appear to only represent a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision has been made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen.

There have been discussions between senior council staff and Martha’s father however, despite an acknowledgement that the media coverage has produced these unwarranted attacks, he intimated that he would continue with the blog.

The council has had no complaints for the last two years about the quality of school meals other than one from the Payne family received on 6 June and there have been no changes to the service on offer since the introduction of the blog.

Pupils have a daily choice of two meals from a menu which is designed with pupils, parents and teachers. Our summer menu is about to be launched and includes main course choices like meat or vegetarian lasagne served with carrots and garlic bread or chicken pie with puff pastry, mashed potato and mixed vegetables.

Pupils can choose from at least two meals every day. They pay £2 for two courses and this could be a starter and a main or a main and a desert. Each meal comes with milk or water. Pupils can have as much salad and bread as they want. Salad, vegetables, fruit, yoghurt and cheese options are available every day. These are standing options and are not a result of any changes in response to the blog site.

As part of the curriculum for excellence, pupils in all our schools are regularly taught about healthy eating and at lunch breaks staff encourage pupils to make good choices from what is on offer. We use a system called ‘Nutmeg’ to make sure everything is nutritionally balanced. Our staff also get nutrition awareness training so they know how to provide a good healthy meal. There is portion sized guidance which we adhere to and it is matched to the age of the child so they get the right amount of food. Second portions would mean too many calories for pupils.

In Lochgilphead Primary School we are piloting a new pre-ordering scheme which is designed to encourage class discussion around meal choices and also improves the accuracy of meal choices. The pupils use a touch screen to select their lunch option and the data is downloaded in the kitchen so they know how many portions of each meal are required. As they place their order, the pupils are given a coloured band which relates to their meal choice that day. They wear it during the morning, and at lunchtime they hand it to the catering assistant, who will give them the corresponding meal.

The council’s focus is now on supporting the school in the education of young people in Argyll and Bute.
What a difference two and half hours more careful consideration brought to the situation they have since changed that statement on the same page to this from the council leader

Published Date: 
15 Jun 2012 - 10:53
Updated: 14:19 - 15 June 2012

Statement from Cllr Roddy McCuish, Leader of Argyll and Bute Council

"There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader.   I  have advised senior officers that this Administration intends to clarify the Council's policy position in regard to taking photos in schools. I have therefore requested senior officials to consider immediately withdrawing the ban on pictures from the school dining hall until a report can be considered by Elected Members. This will allow the continuation of the "Neverseconds" blog written by an enterprising and imaginative pupil, Martha Payne which has also raised lots of money for charity.

But we all must also accept that there is absolutely no place for the type of inaccurate and abusive attack on our catering and dining hall staff, such as we saw in one newspaper yesterday which considerably inflamed the situation.  That, of course, was not the fault of the blog, but of the paper.

We need to find a united way forward so I am going to bring together our catering staff, the pupils, councillors and council officials - to ensure that the council continues to provide  healthy, nutrious and attractive school meals.  That "School Meals Summit" will take place later this summer.

 I will also meet Martha and her father as soon as I can, along with our lead councillor on Education, Michael Breslin to seek her continued engagement, along with lots of other pupils, in helping the council to get this issue right.   By so doing Martha Payne and her friends  will have had a strong and lasting influence not just on school meals, but on the whole of Argyll & Bute."

This statement supersedes all other council statements on the matter already issued.
You somehow think that if the latter statement had been the way the council decided to proceed on this matter intially, listening to Martha and other children about the state of school meals under their influence that maybe people would never have heard of Argyll and Bute. Some would still think it is spelt Argyle or something to do with Plymouth, and Martha would not have soured to her target by over 400% of fundraising for Mary's Meals most of that in the last 24 hours.

But seeing as the council leader says there "There is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst [he is] leader" before totally replacing the previous disingenuous statement with his own, I'm sure he won't mind me copying them both here in full. I only do that so that we can see how someone in the press departments knee jerk reaction was so poorly letting down the children and end users of school meals provision earlier today.

Argyll and Bute Council censoring 9-year-old creativity

Argyll and Bute council yesterday made a very supportive head teacher in a primary school take one of their nine year old pupils out of class to inform her that she could no longer take photographs of her school dinners and rate them in a fun way with fun facts and blog them. As the blog grew to over 2 million hits since it started in April to feature international school dinners as well.

My friend Andrew (aka Scottish Liberal) wrote this excellent post about it, which explains he take on what she has done from a professional photographer and .

Another Scottish twitter Wings Over Scotland talking to Andrew came up with the idea that every  Scottish blogger should blog one of her pictures today.

So while Argyll and Bute council can censor a 9-year-old they can't silence all of the MacBlogosphere

All the best Veg and don't let the heavy handed bureaucrats stop you being creative.