Tag Archives: animal

Arsene Wenger urges Arsenal players to complete the impossible dream by defeating Bayern Munich

Dream the impossible: Wenger urges players to defy the odds and complete the stunning turnaround in Munich

Jim Van Wijk, Press Association


19:02 GMT, 12 March 2013



19:16 GMT, 12 March 2013

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has challenged his players to produce a performance which will define their careers and knock Bayern Munich out of the Champions League against the odds tomorrow night.

The runaway Bundesliga leaders look all set to take their place in the quarter-finals having delivered a European masterclass in their 3-1 victory in north London three weeks ago.

Bayern's home defensive record is formidable and have not conceded three since losing to Inter Milan two years ago, while this season they have let in only 10 goals in 25 Bundesliga matches.

Prepared for battle: Arsene Wenger looks ready to take on the media during his press conference in Munich

Prepared for battle: Arsene Wenger looks ready to take on the media during his press conference in Munich

Still hopeful: Despite having to recover from their 3-1 first-leg defeat, Wenger believes his team still stand a chance of progressing tomorrow

Still hopeful: Despite having to recover from their 3-1 first-leg defeat, Wenger believes his team still stand a chance of progressing tomorrow

Despite his side having travelled to Bavaria without injured England midfielder Jack Wilshere, set for around three weeks out because of an ankle problem, and first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny rested, Wenger insists now is the perfect moment for his team to return all his belief with what would go down as one of the greatest European comebacks.

'I am convinced that if this team can find a big game, with a big win, you will see a completely different animal. This season we have fought to find that in the big games and we have another opportunity tomorrow night and I hope the team takes this chance,' Wenger said at the Allianz Arena tonight.

Chilling effect: Wenger is without injured star man Wilshere

Chilling effect: Wenger is without injured star man Wilshere for the trip to Germany

'I have a great respect for this team and its attitude and they have not been rewarded yet. It is important for the end to our season that we do it tomorrow.'

Despite everything seemingly stacked against them, Wenger insists it is not a case of Mission: Impossible.

He said: 'It is a difficult task, we know that, but we think it is not impossible.

Stepping in: Aaron Ramsey (second left) is more likely to start in Wilshere's absence

Stepping in: Aaron Ramsey (second left) is more likely to start in Wilshere's absence

'The only way to make it possible is to have a real go and play at our best tomorrow night, that is what we will do.

'I am confident we will be completely focused and up for it, and give it our best shot.

Keeping watch: Wenger (centre) during training before tomorrow's crunch clash

Keeping watch: Wenger (centre) during training before tomorrow's crunch clash

'Football is football – everything is possible.'

David Weir interview: You have to be quite scary, give evil stares, says Paralympic gold medal hero

EXCLUSIVE: You have to be quite scary, give evil stares and tell them to get out of my way, says… the Weirwolf of London!



23:01 GMT, 10 December 2012

The man known as the 'Animal' of wheelchair racing, who won four gold medals at the Paralympic Games in London, is sitting in a cafe in Richmond Park, south-west London, sipping a coffee.

David Weir is quiet, humble and softly spoken, smiling tiredly as he talks about his 10-week-old daughter, Tillia Grace London. He still seems overawed by the scale of his achievements and how his life has changed since that glorious summer.

But when the conversation turns to sport — and, specifically, competition — Weir is transformed. His blue eyes become piercing and intense as he explains, with passion verging on venom, what it means to him to race in a British vest and the ruthlessness it takes to succeed.

Animal passion: David Weir wins gold in the T54 800 metres at the London 2012 Paralympics

Animal passion: David Weir wins gold in the T54 800 metres at the London 2012 Paralympics

It was a striking change that was noticeable during the Games, too, as this polite, mild-mannered man executed four tactically perfect finals in nine days.

Weir won the T54 800 metres, 1500m, 5,000m and marathon and now has a tattoo of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, to match the insignia on the four gold medals which he removes carefully from their black velvet cases. Appropriately, the six-time London Marathon winner also has another tattoo on his chest which means ‘winner’ in Japanese.

‘You have to be quite scary,’ says Weir, ‘because if you’re not, people will box you in. So you give them some evil stares and tell them to “**** off and get out of my way”. They’re going to move. I wouldn’t move, but some people will.

‘On the track I just switch on to being a racer and winning. It takes anything to win. I wouldn’t say I would cause accidents but you have to be ruthless.

‘I do certain things on the warm-up
track that might unsettle the guys’ minds. I will wait until they’ve
gone past me and then start my warm-up lap, pushing at a good speed and
just sitting behind them. Then I go past them and look like I’m at ease.
Just to show them. When I was sprinting, my starts weren’t great and,
because you would be allowed one false start without being disqualified,
sometimes I used to false-start on purpose. Then I knew I would get
away as good as everyone else.’

Patriot: Weir celebrates his marathon victory

Proud day: Weir was awarded the Freedom of City of London at Guildhall last week

Proud patriot: Weir celebrates marathon victory (left) and was awarded the Freedom of City of London (right)

There are two distinct sides to ‘The Weirwolf’. After the Games the 33-year-old, an aspiring DJ, spent five days in Ibiza indulging his love of house music, yet he arranges our interview for 9am so he can spend the day with his family.

He was awarded the freedom of the City of London last week but still lives in ‘a two-bedroomed terrace’ on the ‘same council estate’ in Wallington, south-west London, where he grew up.

Weir was so painfully shy when he rediscovered athletics in 2002 that he took months to pluck up the courage to ring his coach, Jenny Archer, because he ‘didn’t want to bother anyone’. Archer, who worked with Wimbledon FC’s ‘Crazy Gang’ in the 1980s, has subsequently helped him become the greatest wheelchair racer of all by training with cyclists in Richmond Park.

His drive and toughness surface again when we discuss the BBC Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday evening, for which Weir has been nominated along with fellow Paralympians Sarah Storey and Ellie Simmonds. Weir says he does not normally attend because a Paralympic athlete has not been included on the shortlist since the then Tanni (now Baroness) Grey-Thompson in 2000. She came third but was unable to accept her award because there was no ramp to the stage.

So should there be a separate award to recognise the achievements of Paralympics GB ‘No, never,’ Weir says. ‘We want to compete against the best. All right, we probably won’t win it, but we want to compete.

Hometown hero: Weir still lives in his two-bedroomed house in Wallington despite his extraordinary success

Hometown hero: Weir still lives in his two-bedroomed house in Wallington despite his extraordinary success

‘I am just in awe of being in the top 12 with these great athletes, but I don’t think it should ever be separate because then you’re segregating it again and we don’t want that.

‘Sports Personality is about sport. We want to be branded as athletes. Speak to any Paralympian and they’ll tell you the same — and if they didn’t…’ His voice trails off and he takes a deep breath. God help anyone who dares to disagree with Weir in this mood.

‘I would hate to see it separated,’ he continues. ‘You’re a sports person and that’s what it is: sports personality. It doesn’t matter about colour, race, women, disabled — it’s all about sport and that’s all that matters.’

The quality of the sport, after all, was the most memorable thing about the 2012 Paralympics, the ‘perfect Games’ that Weir describes as being ‘like a storybook’.

‘It just feels like I’ve read a story on an athlete’s life,’ he adds.

The positive experience Weir had in London is even more moving when you consider his first taste of the Paralympics in Atlanta 16 years ago.

It was, as he puts it, ‘shocking’. The Athletes’ Village, the facilities, the crowds were all ‘very disappointing’. America did not — and still does not, to a large extent — ‘get’ the Paralympic movement, leaving a 17-year-old Weir thinking: ‘What’s the point’

Path to glory: Weir trains in Richmond Park with professional cyclists and credits beetroot juice for his success

Path to glory: Weir trains in Richmond Park with pro cyclists and credits beetroot juice for his success

‘I did nothing after Atlanta,’ he
explains. ‘No training. I couldn’t get a job, couldn’t do anything. I
struggled. I had left school at 16 and was on the dole, doing nothing.

‘Then I saw the Games in Sydney on TV four years later and that broke my heart a little bit. I thought maybe I would have been there, winning a medal. I thought, “What have I done” I just wanted to represent my country. I felt like I let my country down and a lot of other people down. I had missed the World Championships in ’98. I just didn’t turn up. I didn’t do enough training so I didn’t deserve to be there and I told them (the British team) that.

‘So when they did ask me to come back on the squad I felt like I was paying it back. I felt very proud after that.’

Weir’s pride in competing for his country shines through. He is not thinking about defending his titles in Rio in 2016 yet, but the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is a real desire.

His willingness to discuss his patriotism is not sickly, but heartfelt — and fairly unusual for athletes in an individual sport who, in their blinkered pursuit of success, can appear selfish. Weir desperately wanted to finish London 2012 by winning his fourth gold in the marathon on the Mall, ‘with Buckingham Palace and all those British flags’ behind him.

Golden boy: Weir shows off his four medals from 2012

Golden boy: Weir shows off his medals

‘I was very conscious I was competing in a British vest,’ he says. ‘I saw all those British flags and people jumping up and down and just thought, “No way am I going to let anyone past me”.

‘I think the British public gets Paralympic sport and I think it was the first time (at a Games) we didn’t get treated as disabled. It was, “We’re going to watch David Weir, or Hannah Cockroft, or Jonnie Peacock”. It wasn’t because they’re disabled.’

Quite the opposite. Watching Weir in the distinctive red helmet Archer has spirited away for safe-keeping was a distinctly enabling experience. He was imperious and apparently unstoppable for that nine-day period, powered only, as Boris Johnson pointed out, by beetroot juice.

Weir drinks ‘litres of it’ — mixed with apple juice — three days before a race and then had a concentrated shot of the red stuff during the marathon. He seems a little miffed, however, that the Mayor of London decided to broadcast his ‘secret’ to the ‘whole world’ during the Team GB parade.

‘It’s a bit stronger than coffee,’ he says, laughing now. ‘It’ll give you a stamina shot all day.
‘I wonder if Boris went home and tried it.’

England warned about Australia backlash – Stuart Lancaster

Beware the backlash! Aussies will be hurting, warns England coach Lancaster



15:59 GMT, 12 November 2012

Stuart Lancaster warned England must be prepared for an Australian backlash in Saturday's Cook Cup showdown.

Hours after England opened their QBE autumn campaign with a 54-12 win against Fiji, the Wallabies crashed to a thumping 33-6 defeat to France in Paris.

Lancaster expects the wounded Wallabies to bounce back with a vengeance at Twickenham on Saturday.

Heavy load: Tom Wood stretches using a weight bar during the England training session

Heavy load: Tom Wood stretches using a weight bar during the England training session

'We recognise the challenge that is coming our way,' Lancaster said.

'There is bound to be a reaction from the weekend's performance against France. They are a side with character and resilience.

'I am sure if they have got a few players coming back as well they will be a different animal on Saturday. We need to make sure we are ready.'

Alex Goode lifts weights during the England training session

Alex Corbisiero performs pull ups

To the limits: England's players are put through their paces during a training session

Australia endured a welter of criticism for their performances in the Rugby Championship but responded to that by pushing New Zealand to the brink in Brisbane before departing for Europe.

Lancaster will prepare England to face that side, who drew 18-18 with the All Blacks, rather than the Wallaby outfit that folded in Paris.

'It was only a couple of weeks ago they
pushed the All Blacks and we are expecting that type of performance this
weekend,' Lancaster said.

Tough task: England will face an Australian side hurting after defeat to France

Tough task: England will face an Australian side hurting after defeat to France

'In this situation there is bound to be a reaction. They are a nation full of resilience in adversity and we need to be ready for it.'

Alex Corbisiero and Jonathan Joseph have both returned to the selection mix for England this week after recovering from knee and ankle injuries respectively.

Lancaster and the England coaches will decide tomorrow whether Corbisiero is ready for Test match action, after only his first start of the season yesterday.

Lift it: Chris Ashton joined his England team-mates in the gym after Saturday's victory

Lift it: Chris Ashton joined his England team-mates in the gym after Saturday's victory

Corbisiero played 62 minutes for London Irish in their LV= Cup win against Sale Sharks and Lancaster may look to give him another run at club level.

That would leave England with Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola as the loosehead options, with Corbisiero potentially returning to the squad for the tougher scrummaging battle South Africa are likely to pose.

Easy does it: England cruised to victory over Fiji at Twickenham on Saturday

Easy does it: England cruised to victory over Fiji at Twickenham on Saturday

'(Forwards coach) Graham (Rowntree) went to watch the game yesterday. He was pleased with how (Corbisiero) went but it was his first start in five months,' Lancaster said.

'We have got a decision to make and we will make it after training tomorrow. It is fair to say that is not a huge amount of time.

'Also, Mako did well for us in the game and what he has done in training has been impressive. He has been very accurate in everything he has done.'

Main men: Manu Tuilagi celebrates with Chris Robshaw as he scores their seventh try against Fiji

Main men: Manu Tuilagi celebrates with Chris Robshaw as he scores their seventh try against Fiji

Joseph, who was unavailable for the Fiji game with an ankle injury, trained with England today for the first time since the summer tour of South Africa.

Centre Manu Tuilagi (foot) and lock Geoff Parling (shoulder) both sat out training but Lancaster was confident they would be fit to face the Wallabies.

London 2012 Olympics chiefs told athletes to cash in

Olympic chiefs told athletes to cash in on glory and charge 10,000 for appearances



23:09 GMT, 3 November 2012

Champion shooter Peter Wilson has revealed how Britain’s gold medallists at London 2012 were advised by their Olympic bosses to cash in on their fame by charging up to 10,000 a time for personal appearances.

Wilson, 26, took the gold for Britain in the double trap shooting and was the self-confessed ‘party animal’ of Team GB.

Now, three months on from topping the podium in a sport widely regarded as one of the ‘fringe’ events of the Olympics, Wilson says the response to his success has been ‘insane’.

Champion: Great Britain's Peter Wilson with his gold medal

Champion: Great Britain's Peter Wilson with his gold medal

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‘I’d never earned anything from shooting beyond around 9,000 a year from UK Sport in Lottery grants. Double trap is not exactly high profile, so I’ve never had a deal with Nike or anything like that or had commercial contracts.

‘But Team GB athletes were advised in the run-up to the Games that if we won medals we shouldn’t sell ourselves short afterwards, that we must make the most of the opportunity. There was a letter from the British Olympic Association saying that you could ask for something like 10,000 per event if you won gold and different amounts for silver and bronze.

‘I thought at the time “My God, you can’t charge that”. Except that you can and I’ve got an agent now who handles it all.’

Prior to the Games, Wilson, who still lives at his family’s Dorset farm, survived on his Lottery money plus expenses for travelling to competitions.

The BOA letter which urged medallists to make the most of their fame was, in fact, an annexe document to the Team GB athletes’ agreement. It advised on what winners might earn from involvement in a BOA appearance scheme in association with their commercial partners.

Wilson added: ‘I’m not saying I’m getting 10,000 every time I do anything now. I’ve done lots of charity things and I’d never ask for a penny for them. But the opportunities have been amazing. Winning gold at a home Games is a once in a lifetime thing and I’m going to make the most of it.’

Wilson says life has been a ‘blur’ since his triumph in August at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, a non-stop series of charity functions, award shows, corporate gigs and TV appearances, including Alan Titchmarch’s show, A Question of Sport and a secret project to be screened over Christmas.

He will also be at the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year show next month, along with his father, Charles, who had a moment of fame himself when, during live TV coverage of his son’s victory, he shouted: ‘Peter, remember me I’m your dad.’

Wilson was invited to the film premiere of The Sweeney but skipped that to go to another function with Prince Harry (‘A really lovely bloke and a really level-headed chap,’ according to Wilson).

Perks: Wilson meets Prime Minister David Cameron after his success

Perks: Wilson meets Prime Minister David Cameron after his success

He has also met musician Myleene Klass (‘That was cool’) and actor Christopher Biggins (‘Brilliant guy, so interesting’) among umpteen other celebrities.

But another appointment in the near future will definitely be for free when Wilson attends the opening of an exhibition by his artist girlfriend of three years, Michelle McCullagh.

He will soon be visiting Dubai to see his coach and mentor, the millionaire Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Hasher Al Maktoum, who won the double trap Olympic gold in 2004 and paired up with Wilson ‘over a coffee and a handshake’ at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Maktoum, who coaches Wilson for free, is recovering from heart surgery. ‘He’s just had a pacemaker fitted in America,’ said Wilson. ‘During the Olympics, I joked that I almost killed him off with the tension!’

Wilson does not hesitate for a second when asked to recall his most satisfying moment since winning gold.

‘You’re going to say, “Shut up Wilson, that’s too corny” but this is true,’ he said. ‘It was visiting the children’s ward at Dorchester Hospital not long after I won. There were all these kids with serious illnesses, and it was a privilege to be there. And I just thought “I am so bloody lucky”. And I’ve thought that every day since.’

Marathon man Mo

Mo Farah is the ‘dream participant’ the organisers of the London Marathon want as their marquee name for the men’s race in 2014 — with an appearance fee of around 250,000 likely to be part of any deal.

Marathon man Mo Farah could be tempted by the London race

Marathon man Mo Farah could be tempted by the London race

Farah, 29, won double Olympic gold at London 2012 in the 10,000m and 5,000m and his coach, Alberto Salazar, says he could run the 10km and marathon double at the Rio Games. A debut marathon in London in 17 months’ time is possible — if the price is right.

Kauto spared racing’s grisly secret

Kauto Star’s retirement may have been greeted by a flood of tributes to the horse that won the Gold Cup twice and the King George VI Chase five times but animal rights groups claim most racehorses meet a far more grisly end than the privileged dotage that awaits the 12-year-old gelding.

Many racehorses are killed in Britain then sold for human consumption abroad, in Belgium and Italy particularly.

Kauto Star’s retirement followed Classic winner Frankel being sent to stud with the expectation that he would earn 100 million in fees.

But official figures compiled by the British Horseracing Authority show that 1,127 thoroughbreds left racing and were slaughtered in abattoirs last year.

Over and out: Kauto Star has been retired from racing

Over and out: Kauto Star has been retired from racing

Dene Stansall, a spokesman for Animal Aid, said: ‘The shame of the industry is that nobody much cares about the fate of the bread and butter animals. Thousands are going to abattoirs and being turned into meat and we know that other animals are being shot in their stables and the meat given to the local hunt for their hounds.’

Grace Muir, whose Heros charity found homes for 84 of the estimated 7,500 horses that left Britain’s racing industry last year, claims many horses are killed each year when they stop being economically viable. Muir said: ‘It’s not something they [horse racing’s authorities] want to voice but I’m sure it happens.’

SPOTY plans a secret

Clare Balding, Gary Lineker and Sue Barker, the big-hitting BBC trio who will present the Sports Personality of the Year show, took a nocturnal helicopter flight over London last week to film footage for the programme, to be screened on December 16.

Sources claim the trip was part of plans to feature the presenters in a parody of of Danny Boyle’s ‘James Bond meets the Queen’ sequence from the Olympics opening ceremony. The Beeb are tight-lipped, saying they want ‘to save surprises for the big night’.

Neil Lennon says Celtic are hitting form ahead of Spartak Moscow clash

Lennon believes Celtic are hitting form at just the right time for Spartak clash



16:15 GMT, 30 September 2012

Neil Lennon believes Celtic have hit the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League in perfect time for their Champions League clash with Spartak Moscow on Tuesday night.

The Hoops swept Motherwell away at Fir Park on Saturday to replace the Steelmen at the summit, thanks to a strike from in-form Gary Hooper and an own goal by the unfortunate Well defender Adam Cummins, who compounded a miserable afternoon when he was sent off after the break for a professional foul on Kris Commons.

Celtic could afford to have skipper Scott Brown's penalty saved by Darren Randolph and they were handed an added boost when Georgios Samaras returned for the first time since injuring his elbow on international duty early in September as a second-half substitute.

Delight: Celtic's Scott Brown after the own goal

Delight: Celtic's Scott Brown after the own goal

Lennon said: 'We have gone top of the league so going into the game on Tuesday, that is a good marker for us psychologically.

'We are starting to hit a bit of form which is great.

'The new lads are starting to settle in, we have players back and we will need them.

'We were very motivated going into the game and we picked Motherwell off very well at times.

'They found it a little bit difficult to adjust to the movement and we were able to get down the sides and round the back of them because we isolated their two centre-halves and some of the passing to get the boys in was very good, so overall it was a big performance.

'It was great to see Samaras back in full flow, and I thought Emilio Izaguirre was brilliant, he set a really good tempo and example and it augurs well but we know Tuesday is a different animal.

'We won't have anywhere near the bulk of possession or chances created but it is a huge confidence-booster going into that game.'

Form: Neil Lennon thinks Celtic have hit the top at the right time

Form: Neil Lennon thinks Celtic have hit the top at the right time

Any notions that Motherwell could be genuine contenders for the SPL title this season came to an abrupt end against a rampant Celtic side who could and should have scored more, notwithstanding the fact that the home side played most of the second half with 10 men.

Indeed, Fir Park manager Stuart McCall was pleased to escape without suffering a bigger drubbing.

'We wanted to do better but their movement was outstanding,' he said.

'We have a young side and there was a certain naivety, we squeezed too high.

'So it could have been more but one thing was, my players didn't chuck it.

'We said before the game that regardless of what the score was, they had to stick at it and they certainly did.'

Grand National shortened in bid to reduce horse deaths

Grand National shortened as safety changes bid to reduce horse deaths



13:20 GMT, 20 September 2012

The 2013 Grand National will be run over about half a furlong shorter after a safety review concluded that the start should be moved closer to the first of the 30 fences.

The review, conducted by both the BHA and Aintree, will result in a change in position of the starting line by around 90 yards. The hope is that this will reduce the speed built up by the field as they run to the first fence.

Procedural changes to the starting process will also include the establishment of an larger ‘no-go’ zone, defined by a line on the track away from the starting tape. This will be extended from 15 yards to around 30 yards from a starting tape, which will be made more visible.

Changes: The 2012 Grand National brought more chaotic scenes

Changes: The 2012 Grand National brought more chaotic scenes

There will also be a general drive throughout the jumps season to improve the starting process, particularly in big races. It is hoped this will help prevent the farcical scenes which saw two false starts in April and all 40 jockeys later told that they were in breach of starting regulations even though no charges were pressed.

The safety review, the second in two years, has been carried out after both Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised and According To Pete died in this year’s race.

It was the second year running two horses have been killed in the most watched jumps race of the year, prompting calls for significant changes to the four and a half mile contest from animal welfare groups.

These included reducing the size of the 40-runner field and abolishing the drops on the landing sides of fences, particularly Becher’s Brook where According To Pete was fatally brought down by another faller.

Another significant proposal relates to the testing of a newly designed prototype fencer.

This specifically focuses on utilising materials other than the existing timber and protective rubber padding that make up the central frame of a fence, also known as the 'core'.

This work is now in development stage with prototype fences currently being assessed and it is planned that at a small number of fences be trialled with a different core at the Becher Chase meeting in December.
Fence heights will remain unchanged

John Baker, who runs Aintree Racecourse as part of his role as North West Regional Director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said: “Balancing the Grand National’s enduring appeal whilst working to reduce risk in the race is a delicate but important balance to strike.

'In recent years, we have made significant investments in safety and believe today’s announcement demonstrates we will continue to do so whilst preserving the unique character and appeal of the nation’s favourite race.'

Jamie Stier, Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation for the BHA, added: ‘Aintree and the BHA’s approach has been to reference the findings of the comprehensive 2011 Review, while taking account of any additional data and evidence collated from this year’s race.

'This includes the BHA’s thorough report into specific incidents in the 2012 running published in May. Following this year’s race, our priorities were to establish the facts surrounding the incidents that occurred during the running of the race and, secondly, to review the events which led to what was an unsatisfactory start to the race.

'We have worked closely with Aintree and consulted widely with jockeys, trainers and legitimate welfare organisations – the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare – on a range of elements related to the race.'

Horse charity World Horse Welfare has welcomed the changes but said it was disappointed that race organisers do not plan to trial a reduction in the number of horses running in next year’s race.

WHW chief executive Roly Owers said: 'We welcome Aintree’s demonstrated commitment to making the course safer and the changes proposed today which make good sense.

'We are especially encouraged by their programme of work on the fences, replacing the hard cores with softer materials to make them more forgiving to the horses. This has the potential to make a big difference to safety.

'However, we are disappointed that they have not proposed reducing the size of the field, although we note that they are keeping this under review.

'We believe that the number of fallers, unseated riders and horses being brought down by other horses in the National is too high (50 per cent in 2012).

'While there is clearly no magic formula here, changes need to be made to significantly reduce the faller rate which will reduce the number of injuries, fatalities and loose horses which pose risks to themselves and others on the course.

'We believe the single most effective way of doing this is to trial a reduction in the field size – say for three years.’

London 2012 Olympics: Louis Smith going for gymnastics gold

Arise King Louis! After bronze in Beijing, Smith leads the charge for gold in London



01:56 GMT, 28 July 2012

Olympics 2012

Wearing a sharp grey suit and open-necked white shirt, Louis Smith looks the epitome of cool as he stands in front of a crowd of diners at his farewell meal before the Olympics. The hair is styled, the goatee trimmed, the stance poised to perfection.

Then the compere asks a question Smith has probably heard 2,012 times before: how does he feel ahead of the Games It elicits a candid answer.

‘To be honest, I’m c***ping myself,’ he replies. ‘It will be emotional.’ Smith then nods to fellow gymnast Luke Folwell, a multiple Commonwealth medallist, who, minutes earlier, announced his retirement from the sport. ‘I’m a little bit jealous of Luke.’

No horsing around: Louis Smith will be going for gymnastics gold in London

No horsing around: Louis Smith will be going for gymnastics gold in London

Louis Smith

‘I’d rather be in your position, mate,’ Folwell quips, fast as a gymnast’s dismount. It is a moment of levity in the main hall of Wood Green Animal Shelter, a 10-minute drive from the Huntingdon gymnasium that has made Smith a contender for the gold medal in the pommel horse event.

Qualification for his individual event and the artistic gymnastics team competition, of which he is part, starts on Saturday. London 2012 is the culmination of more than 19 years’ hard work and has been the refrain since we picked Smith to be one of our Magnificent Seven athletes seven summers ago.

Back then, he was a hyperactive 16-year-old boy. When we visit him now, in both the council-estate house where he grew up and the chalet bungalow he is building, he is a charismatic 23-year-old man on the cusp of something special: Britain’s first Olympic gymnastics champion. Little wonder he feels occasional strain.

‘Beijing was just fun,’ Smith says of the event that thrust him into the public eye as the first British gymnast to win an individual medal for 100 years when he won bronze for the pommel horse. ‘I knew I could get a medal, but going there not having the pressure of anyone else thinking I could was fun. I could do what I wanted. After the Olympics, things were completely different. I was doing media all the time. As soon as Beijing was finished, everyone was talking about gold in London. The last two years it’s just been mad.’

It is the afternoon before the
evening meal and Smith sits on a sofa in his mother’s front room,
wearing recently acquired Team GB gear, sipping a cup of tea. Two
six-year-old sibling dogs, Simba and Nala, named by Smith after the Lion
King protagonists, yap away noisily, ignoring mum Elaine’s pleas for
silence. Pictures of him and his elder brother Leon line the walls.

is the modest semi-detached home in the village Eye on the edge of
Peterborough where, as a toddler with the hyperactive disorder ADHD,
Smith would run around causing his mum no end of worry. She was a single
parent with little money. ‘We’re not extravagant people,’ Elaine, a
47-year-old hairdresser, says. ‘I don’t go out, don’t smoke, don’t
drink. It just went on the children. Louis had broken his arm, his wrist
and his elbow before he was three. He was very active, always jumping
off things.

Happy families: Louis Smith with his mother Elaine as he prepares for the Olympics

Happy families: Louis Smith with his mother Elaine as he prepares for the Olympics

‘So it was either him being in the house, doing your head in, or take him somewhere he enjoys and he’s taking his energy out.’

Smith tried swimming, athletics, football, golf, basketball and roller-skating before sticking to gymnastics.

‘It got to horse riding where he’d have a lesson and come say, “Mum I don’t want to go any more because my bum is really sore”,’ Elaine laughs. Earlier, she had brought out a picture of said bottom — naked in the pages of Cosmopolitan. For charity, of course. It is one of the many ways her son has been on display to the public this summer.

He is one of Team GB’s chosen few to appear on huge billboards around London.

features as much for his personality as his talent, and listening to
his mother enthuse it is easy to work out where he got his exhibitionist
nature. To his Jamaican father, Smith owes a natural sporting ability
and surname, but not much else. Claude Smith separated from Elaine Petch
20 years ago, leaving the child-raising to her. He is now a bus driver
in Nottingham

Happy families: Louis Smith with his mother Elaine as he prepares for the Olympics

Project: Smith is building a new house near Peterborough for after the London Olympics

Louis Smith in front of the new house he's having built near Peterborough

‘We met at a soul club aged 17 — he had come over four years earlier,’ Elaine says. ‘We split up when Louis was about three and a half. I’m not going to slag him off. It didn’t work out. Just because he didn’t help out all the time, doesn’t matter.

‘He rings Louis and visited on Christmas Day and Fathers’ Day for a few hours. He is coming down to watch Louis in the Olympics.

‘I’ve not dated once in 20 years, I didn’t want to answer to anyone and didn’t want anyone coming in to boss the boys’ lives. They’re protective over me.’

Would Smith say he has a good relationship with his dad ‘I’ve got a relationship with him, I wouldn’t say it’s great. It’s nice to keep in contact.’

Did Paul Hall, his long-term coach,
provide that role growing up ‘I think gym itself has been like a father
figure because it teaches you so many things: discipline, respect,’
Smith adds.

What about Claude’s presence at the
North Greenwich Arena ‘It’s different for my mum going and watching,
and my dad going and watching. They’re sat in different positions.

D-Day: Smith practices on the pommel horse during a training session at the O2 Arena

D-Day: Smith practices on the pommel horse during a training session at the O2 Arena

‘My mum’s sacrificed a lot over the years for me to be where I am. My dad’s had a very outside view. He sees news clippings every now and again, and people comment at his work saying, “I saw your son in the newspaper.” So he’s in a very proud position, but my mum’s taken the journey with me.’

That Jamaican heritage does form a major part of Smith’s life, though. He loves reggae music and has a large collection, from Bob Marley to Beenie Man, on his iPhone. His favourite meal is chicken, rice and peas cooked Jamaican jerk-style, a recipe Claude taught Elaine.

Practical jokes are a common occurrence when Smith is around, a prime example being the time he convinced his British team-mates to scare their coach during a stay at the Lilleshall training complex.

‘We pretended to be ghosts,’ he smiles. ‘We all put white sheets over our heads and I got everyone to stand in the field.

‘I went to the coach’s window and
knocked. He looked out and saw all these figures. I reckon we would have
got away with it if I hadn’t laughed.’

then sniggers his way through a recent tale about filling team-mate
Daniel Purvis’s bag with gym chalk, leaving the Liverpudlian somewhat
bemused. ‘I could go on for ever,’ he adds.

Stepping stone: Smith won bronze in Beijing but is tipped for gold in London

Stepping stone: Smith won bronze in Beijing but is tipped for gold in London

Those incidents have become less frequent as Smith has got older — ‘I think about consequences more,’ he says — and a sign of increased maturity can be seen in his decision to use sponsorship money to build a house to live in post-Olympics.

It is a 10-minute drive from both his mother’s place and the flat in which he lives.

Only the brickwork of the ground floor is complete but once finished, it will be a three-bedroomed chalet bungalow.

He describes the motivation: ‘There’s nothing like being at home. I love having my own space.

‘Providing the Olympics goes well, I can’t wait to come back here, clear out my suitcase, throw my jacket on the floor and then just go like this on the sofa (he flops, arms spread). As soon as I went onto podium-level Lottery funding, I moved out.’

His brother has been the spur for much of Smith’s success. His mother tells how, as infants, Leon would play a tune on a keyboard and Louis would be able repeat it instantly on his toy guitar — an indicator of excellent perception, ideal for pommel.

Also, Smith concedes: ‘He was just always better than me at stuff. I think that’s where my competitiveness came from.’

Penny for your thoughts: Louis Smith

Penny for your thoughts: Louis Smith

His chances of gold are not mere hype. He has conceived the most difficult 50-second pommel horse routine in the world, which if performed cleanly, should prove unbeatable.

At the British Championships last month, Smith nailed it to record a personal best of 16.375 — one of the highest scores ever for pommel. Was there ever a moment when he doubted himself Not a bit.

He says: ‘I’ve known for ages that I could be a brilliant gymnast. I went to my first international competition when I was 12, in Pennsylvania. Aged 14, I went to the European Junior Championships and won gold; at 16, I won the Commonwealth Games. So there was never a moment when I thought, “Ugh, is this the right decision”’

Besides: ‘After the Olympics, I can do what I want.’

And what might that entail ‘If it goes well, you could see me doing something pretty cool. Once I’ve finished competing, I’m hitting the gym, gonna rip up. My body at the moment is built for gymnastics, I want it for photos.’

Coach Hall believes Smith will have done one million rotations of the pommel by the time London is done. Smith thinks before saying: ‘Hopefully, the financial side will work out and I’ll have earned a pound for every one. Sport is short-lived if you’re an athlete. The work starts now to help set myself up. There’s no point finishing my gymnastics career and then just twiddling my thumbs.’

A millionaire gymnast would certainly be some feat.

Euro 2012: Fred the Ferret is one of three psychic animals

Want to know who's going to win Euro 2012 Just ask Fred the Ferret…



09:24 GMT, 29 May 2012

Without further ado, please meet Fred the Ferret, the latest psychic animal predictions guide for Euro 2012.

The Kharkiv resident follows on from Paul the Octopus, who became the real star of the 2010 World Cup as he selected results which came true.

Hmmm: Fred the Ferret pondering over the upcoming tournament

Hmmm: Fred the Ferret pondering over the upcoming tournament

Om nom nom: Fred tucks into a dish of some delicious ferret food

Om nom nom: Fred tucks into a dish of some delicious ferret food

Paul was retired after the tournament and died the following year, so Fred will hope not to befall the same fate.

But Fred is not alone. A veritable menagerie of animals will be predicting results in Ukraine and Poland, with the Soothsayer Hog in Kiev and Citta the Elephant in Krakow also foretelling results.

Legend: Paul the Octopus made his mark on the 2010 World Cup

Legend: Paul the Octopus made his mark on the 2010 World Cup

Non-believers: Some German fans foolishly scoffed at Paul's predictions

Non-believers: Some German fans foolishly scoffed at Paul's predictions

Kharkiv fan zone organiser Sergei Kharkov said: 'We have chosen the cutest little animal.'

That's debatable, if you see him with his mouth open. He will have to choose between two bowls of fresh beef to make his prediction, with each dish featuring a flag of the teams playing.

Meanwhile, Citta will be using apples which stand for 'win', 'lose' and 'draw' to make predictions.

She had to earn her place at the Euro 2012 table, seeing off competition from Katherine the Donkey and Jacko the Parrot by picking the right result in the Champions League final.

Rival: Citta the Elephant is Poland's answer to the Soothsayer Hog and Fred the Ferret

Rival: Citta the Elephant is Poland's answer to the Soothsayer Hog and Fred the Ferret

The Soothsayer Hog is being well-treated for the tournament, having his own little house built for him in the Kiev fan zone.

The organisers of the zone claim the hog is 'an expert on the mysteries of football.'

But he will have to go some way to beat Paul the Octopus, who picked the right result of every match Germany played in, as well as predicting Spain to beat Holland in the final.


Grand National 2012: Paul Nicholls calls for improved safety

Nicholls hopes Grand National safety can be improved after tragic deaths at Aintree


15:03 GMT, 15 April 2012



15:05 GMT, 15 April 2012

Paul Nicholls, the trainer behind Saturday's surprise Grand National winner has thrown his weight behind improved race safety.

Outsider Neptune Collonges won the historic annual steeplechase event by a nose in an electrifying finish.

But that triumph was overshadowed by the death of two horses, joint favourite Synchronised and According to Pete.

Tragedy and triumph: Neptune Collonges won but Synchronised died

Tragedy and triumph: Neptune Collonges won but Synchronised died

Four horses died at the famous Merseyside meeting last year, including Dooneys Gate and Ornais during the big race itself.

Nicholls admitted that the deaths of the two horses had overshadowed Neptune Collonges'.

As he basked in the success of Saturday's victory he insisted that he just wanted to enjoy the moment.

But he went on to accept that safety had become an issue and should be addressed.

Winning feeling: Neptune Collonges is paraded through the village

Winning feeling: Neptune Collonges is paraded through the village

Winning feeling: Neptune Collonges is paraded through the village

'I just want to enjoy the day today,' he said speaking at his training stables in Ditcheat, Somerset.

He added: 'But, of course, if there is anything that can be done to improve the safety of the race then it should be done.'

Angry animal rights leaders hit out after the race yesterday branding the Grand National 'mob entertainment.'

Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, described the race as an 'utterly depressing and melancholy experience.'

Winning team: Neptune Collonges with jockey Daryl Jacob (left), owner John Hales (centre) and trainer Paul Nicholls (right)

Winning team: Neptune Collonges with jockey Daryl Jacob (left), owner John Hales (centre) and trainer Paul Nicholls (right)

He added: 'The Grand National is a disgusting and shameful spectacle masquerading as sport.

'There is nothing sporting about an event that routinely kills so many horses.'

The RSPCA added its voice to calls for the race to have a radical overhaul.

Spokesman David Muir called for the number of runners in the race to be reviewed and said jump design and race length should also be looked at.

'I am not happy about drop fences like Becher's,' he said. 'It appears the horses still had difficulties with it.'

Oscar Pistorius meets Anthony the cheetah: My image of the week by Andy Hooper

Andy Hooper: My favourite image of the week…. Oscar Pistorius meets Anthony the cheetah



09:09 GMT, 26 March 2012

week, Sportsmail's top snappers Andy Hooper, Graham Chadwick and Kevin
Quigley will be showcasing their favourite image.

Andy chooses this capture of Oscar Pistorius.

I’d already decided on big the image I wanted to take when I spent a few days with Oscar Pistorius last month. I was in Pretoria to photograph him in training for the London 2012 Olympics and to shoot pictures of him at home and around the city.

Having discovered Oscar’s legs are called ‘cheetah legs’ I wanted to shoot an image with him going head-to-head with the world's fastest animal. The difficulty for me was how I’d ask an Olympic athlete to stare into the eyes of a big cat sitting just a couple of feet away. Despite not being in the best of moods and preparing for the Olympics with a demanding training schedule, he agreed.

Anthony, the only cheetah in the world trained (and trusted) enough to be let off the lead, behaved impeccably.

But not surprisingly, Oscar still looked at me with a certain amount of doubt, especially when he found out that Anthony hadn’t been fed that morning.

The ranger from the game reserve was standing just out of shot to the right with pieces of raw chicken to keep Anthony focused and looking at Oscar.

All in all the picture only took a few minutes to shoot but hours to set up. A special thanks must go to The Farm Inn Wildlife Sanctuary in Pretoria and especially to Oscar and Anthony.

Camera Data
Nikon D3
Lens 24mm-70mm
Exposure 1/200th sec at F8
ISO 100

Oscar Pistorius and Anthony the cheetah