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Jessica Ennis wants to keep Toni Minichiello at any cost

Ennis willing to pay to keep Minichiello after UK Athletics restructure sees him axed as Olympic coach

, has lost his job as an Olympic coach, becoming a high-profile casualty of UK Athletics' restructuring plan around a single High Performance Institute in Loughborough.

Ennis wants to keep training in her home city of Sheffield – potentially at a redeveloped Woodbourn Road Stadium with her current training base at Don Valley to be demolished – and Minichiello plans to stay with her.

He has no other Olympic or world medallists in his training group, meaning he will not be due a full-time UK Athletics salary.

Minichiello
had been in talks with the governing body, and it was thought he would
be offered a new consultancy role on reduced terms to work specifically
with Ennis, but it seems he will not be taking up any such offer.

Asked
on Monday about the possibility of helping fund Minichiello, Ennis
said: 'We have had a chat and if that is what it comes down to, then of
course I will just support him where I can, and we will just carry on.'

Award winning: Ennis was given the Laureus Sportswomen of the Year trophy on Monday night

Award winning: Ennis was given the Laureus Sportswomen of the Year trophy on Monday night

She added: 'There is not going to be any change – a lot of people have said, “Are you moving to another coach”

'No, everything is going to stay the same, but we just need to find a way of funding it.'

Ennis
was speaking in Rio de Janeiro, where she was yesterday named Laureus
World Sportswoman of the Year in recognition of her heptathlon triumph
in London, achieved with a British record score of 6,955 points.

She has been keen to emphasise the part played by Minichiello in that success.

And while sure her coach can fight his own corner well enough, Ennis has also made it clear that she is there for him.

'I will obviously support Toni as much as I can, and I am there for him, because we are a team, but I do have to let him fight his own battles and get on with it,' Ennis said.

Support: The gold-medal winning athlete Ennis pledged Minichiello her backing

Support: The gold-medal winning athlete Ennis pledged Minichiello her backing

'But I do feel that we had such a great year together – it wasn't just me that performed, it was both of us who worked really hard for that performance in London.

'So it is just not a nice position to be in when you have done something so special, and then you find yourself in a really difficult situation after.'

Several of Ennis' fellow Britons also picked up awards at Monday night's Laureus ceremony, with Andy Murray claiming the World Breakthrough of the Year gong having followed up his own medal success at the Olympics – gold in the singles and silver in the mixed doubles – by winning his first grand slam title at the US Open.

Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the organising committee for London 2012, received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and there was further recognition of a memorable year for British sport as the European Ryder Cup squad, which featured seven UK golfers, were named World Team of the Year after their 'Miracle of Medinah' comeback triumph over the United States.

Among the other winners was Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, named World Sportsman of the Year for a third time after he claimed a treble of gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay in London, repeating the hat-trick he pulled off at Beijing 2008.

Jessica Ennis interview: On pressure, her wedding plans, winning Olympic gold

EXCLUSIVE: Winning gold was the best day of my life… until I tried on my wedding dress! Olympic star Ennis chats to Sportsmail

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UPDATED:

23:23 GMT, 9 December 2012

It was not until Jessica Ennis crossed the finish line of the 800 metres to become the Olympic heptathlon champion on that unforgettable Saturday night last August that we really saw the burden of expectation.

She stretched out her arms, her palms open, as if trying to touch every corner of the stadium.

Her face, the face that had adorned so many posters and billboards around the capital for so long, folded into a slight frown as she looked to the sky as if to say: ‘I’ve done it.’

Relief: Jessica Ennis's magic moment as she wins heptathlon gold and became a British legend

Relief: Jessica Ennis's magic moment as she wins heptathlon gold and became a British legend

It was not the frenzied release of
another Sheffield star, Lord Coe, after the 1500m in Moscow in 1980 but
it was relief, all right. Ennis had done it. She was the Olympic
champion.

‘It was quite a lot to do,’ she says in her modest, understated way. ‘I think the over-riding feeling was definitely relief. I couldn’t quite believe it had all gone the way I hoped and wished.

‘Everyone’s been talking about it for years. It’s been the longest build-up to anything I’ve ever experienced. Then I realised I was really tired — mentally, more than physically, really.’

Adored: Ennis's triumph inspired the public who cheered her on during the events

Adored: Ennis's triumph inspired the public who cheered her on during the events

As we sit at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield and giggle giddily about engagement rings, the focused, determined athlete who crossed the line in London seems a world away from the 26-year-old woman blushing about reading Fifty Shades of Grey on her post-Games holiday.

Ennis got through half of the second book in the trilogy and then got too embarrassed because they are ‘really quite raunchy’.

‘When I got back my mum asked to read them and she’s read all three,’ she adds, giggling again, ‘but I was embarrassed. I kept folding it over so no-one could see what I was reading.’

She is also enjoying planning her ‘medium-sized’ spring wedding to Andy Hill, a construction site manager she met at school, and is ‘loving all the girlie stuff’.

Winner (again): Ennis poses with both the SJA Sportswoman Of The Year award (left) and the Pat Besford award for outstanding sporting achievement

Winner (again): Ennis poses with both the SJA Sportswoman Of The Year award (left) and the Pat Besford award for outstanding sporting achievement

‘The dress bit was the best day of my life because you never try dresses on like that, do you’ she says. ‘It’s very special.’

Ennis’s knack of remaining rooted in the everyday feels completely at odds with her extraordinary achievements on the track, yet her girl-next-door demeanour may just explain how she has managed to reach those heights.

How else could she have made sure the pressure in the build-up to London did not overwhelm her

She can laugh about it now, but Ennis admits she found it ‘weird’ when other members of the British team asked to have their picture taken with her in the Athletes’ Village.

She had never been to an Olympics before, yet people, particularly children, would often ask her what it was like to win a gold medal, an honour she felt the British public had already hung around her neck.

‘I think they did, really,’ she says, ‘because I’d had a good few years, so that added on a bit more pressure.

Style: Ennis dressed up

Style: Ennis dressd up

Down to earth: Ennis says she found it 'weird' when other athletes asked for a picture with her

Award: Ennis proudly holds her MBE, with fiancee Andy Hill

Award: Ennis proudly holds her MBE, with fiancee Andy Hill

‘People would come up to me asking, “What was it like when you won the Olympics” This is before London! I think that’s what people automatically thought before I’d even got there. Just to add a little bit more pressure.

‘I kept saying, “I haven’t actually been to an Olympics or won an Olympic medal. So I’ll hopefully let you know in a few weeks”. Then it was weird going into the village. Some of the British athletes from other sports were asking for pictures with me and things like that. I felt we were one team, we were all the same, but they wanted pictures and that was really weird.’

Just to add to the butterflies, there were the two silver medals Ennis won at the 2011 World Championships and the world indoors last March. They were two ‘seeds of doubt’ to remind Ennis that things can go wrong, especially in a gruelling two-day multi-event discipline.

At the time she masked her disappointment by saying it would help her preparation for London but, looking back, she has realised it did. There was no way she wanted to experience the ‘worst feeling’ of coming second at her home Games.

‘Not that I needed any more motivation because it was already there,’ she says, ‘and not that I was really settled and thought I was going to win everything. I never thought that. But I think it kind of showed me how easily things can go wrong.

Icon: Ennis with Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe (left) and Ricky Gervais (right) at the Graham Norton show

Icon: Ennis with Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe (left) and Ricky Gervais (right) at the Graham Norton show

‘It plants that kind of seed in your
mind of things kind of falling apart. It’s quite difficult. You don’t
want that negative thought to be there all the time.

‘It wasn’t a nice position to be in and I think that was the main thing I took from it: it was just the worst feeling to come second at that time and that moment I was in — and I did not want to experience that again.

‘I definitely didn’t want to experience it on such a large scale in London so that did make me really keen to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes.’

She did not, of course. She flew, producing a British record of 12.54 seconds for the 100m hurdles in her first event and setting three personal bests in the seven events on her way to a British and Commonwealth record of 6,955 points, culminating in that final 800m on ‘Super Saturday’.

The impact of that moment, coupled with the public’s admiration for the poster girl who lived up to her billing, makes Ennis the leading female contender for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award on December 16.

She is pleased she does not have to pick a winner herself, mentioning Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah and Ellie Simmonds before sitting firmly on the fence and concluding it is a ‘tough’ competition this year, but will see any award as a bonus.

These things take time: Laura Williamson with Ennis in 2011, before the Games

These things take time: Laura Williamson with Ennis in 2011, before the Games

Golden girl: Ennis with her spoils

Golden girl: Ennis with her spoils

‘Sports Personality is a nice thing to achieve at the end of the season,’ she says, ‘but we would rather have that gold medal. All the athletes are like, “That’s what we set out to achieve — a gold medal”. We’ll see what happens.

‘It’s so hard to say your (achievement) is better. You won a gold medal and so did they, but you’re going to get first position. I suppose it is down to personalities people like. It will be tough.’

And after that, who knows. Under new performance director Neil Black the coaching structure of UK Athletics is changing, with more coaches and athletes based at Loughborough University.

Sheffield, however, has quite clearly proved a successful environment for Ennis and her coach, Toni Minichiello, recently voted the UK Coach of the Year, and the pair are yet to discover how the changes will affect them.

Ennis says she was not particularly
surprised to hear of head coach Charles van Commenee’s departure after
UKA failed to match their medal target of eight in London, despite
winning four gold medals, but admitted looking beyond 2012 is ‘quite
scary’.

‘I thought we were
really successful at the Olympics,’ she says, ‘but I didn’t know if
Charles wanted to go and pursue something else. There’s always a big
change after the Olympics, so I always expected there to be some
changes.

‘Everyone was
building up for that one moment and it’s scary to think what’s going to
happen after, but obviously change is what’s happening at the moment.
We’ll just have to wait and see.’

Minichiello is ‘convinced’ Ennis can compete at two more Olympic Games, defending her heptathlon title in Rio in 2016 and then concentrating on the hurdles, while Ennis wants to join the elite group of three athletes who have broken the 7,000 points barrier.

Moving targets: Ennis said her Olympic success was the best day of her life... until she tried on her wedding dress

Moving targets: Ennis said her Olympic success was the best day of her life… until she tried on her wedding dress

‘I still feel like I’m new to the sport,’ she says, ‘but I suppose I have been around a while now.

‘I want to keep doing the heptathlon and see if I can get closer to 7,000 points and see what I can do at the worlds (in Moscow next year). It’s nice to have that option that I can go and do the hurdles as well, hopefully one day.

‘Olympic gold is any athlete’s dream and that’s what you always work towards. And now I’ve got that. I do feel really complete but it’s nice to then re-evaluate and re-set your targets; 7,000 points would be amazing because you go down in history for that as well.’

Jessica Ennis, Olympic heptathlon champion, is an official Powerade ambassador. For more information, go to www.poweradegb.com

Olympic taekwondo stars launch talent programme

Britain's Olympic taekwondo stars launch hunt for medal winners of the future

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UPDATED:

00:01 GMT, 16 November 2012

Great Britain’s taekwondo Olympic stars Jade Jones, Lutalo Muhammad and Sarah Stevenson have launched the first talent identification programme following the success of London Olympics.

In the build-up to the Rio Games in 2016 — and in conjunction with UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport — GB Taekwondo has launched Fighting Chance: Battle4Brazil, a nationwide talent identification programme.

The programme is aimed at high achieving 16 to 26-year-old male and female combat athletes from all kick-based martial arts who believe they are capable of transferring to Olympic Taekwondo (WTF style) and making an impact on the medal table in 2016.

Talent search: The road to Rio has begun for taekwondo stars

Talent search: The road to Rio has begun for taekwondo stars

The sport has enjoyed an increased profile after the Games with one gold and one bronze medal achieved, which added to the bronze won four years ago in Beijing, but GB Taekwondo and the UK Talent Team remain convinced that there are athletes not currently involved in Olympic Taekwondo (WTF) who are capable of challenging for positions in the national team.

Recent rule changes increasing points scored for kicks to the head will further enhance the opportunity for talent transfer.

GB Taekwondo performance director Gary Hall said: ‘The original Fighting Chance talent identification campaign in 2009 was very successful for athletes to complement the talented juniors we were already developing.

‘The new Fighting Chance: Battle4Brazil campaign should help us build on the successes we have had so far and reach wider audiences. The success we achieved in London was incredible but we are not resting on our laurels, there is more talent out there to discover.’

Since 2007, the UK Talent Team has worked in partnership with 20 Olympic and Paralympic sports and over 100 World Class coaches; run seven National athlete recruitment campaigns, and assessed over 7,000 athletes. These projects have resulted in over 100 athletes selected by sports into the World Class system with 293 international appearances made and a total of 102 international medals won.

Golden girl: Jade Jones celebrates her success at the London Olympics

Golden girl: Jade Jones celebrates her success at the London Olympics

Twelve identified athletes from the campaigns represented Team GB at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, including rower Helen Glover, who was part of the crew which won Team GB’s first gold medal and Taekwondo player Lutalo Muhammad, who won Olympic bronze.

Ian Yates from the UK Talent Team said, ‘The London 2012 Games saw great success for British athletes and there was notable impact on the medals won from talent ID athletes who have come through our campaigns including an Olympic gold medal for Rower Helen Glover.

‘The talent initiatives have a proven track record in discovering untapped sporting potential and we are now focussing on continuing to impact on British success through to Rio in 2016. It is fantastic that Taekwondo will be involved in our first initiative post London 2012.’

Jade Jones shot to fame this summer by winning Olympic gold in the women’s -57kg Taekwondo. Jones, who is also the current world number one, began taekwondo at a young age and now trains at the GB Taekwondo Olympic headquarters in Manchester. Jade made the switch from ITF Taekwondo five years ago.

She said: ‘I’ve had a lot of feedback since the summer’s Olympic Games that more and more people are looking to get into WTF Taekwondo,’ she said.

‘It is a fantastic sport and certainly has attributes which appeal to other combat athletes. My experience at London 2012 was incredible and I’m so happy that the sport is receiving more interest but I want to see this grow and continue in the lead up to 2016. Fighting Chance: Battle4Brazil is a great programme to help that happen.’

Action stations: Jones (right) hopes to identify talent for Rio in 2016

Action stations: Jones (right) hopes to identify talent for Rio in 2016

Lutalo Muhammad came through the Talent 2012 Fighting Chance scheme before winning bronze in this year’s Olympic Games and commented on the campaign launch: ‘It is exciting to see the increase in popularity that Taekwondo has gained since our success this summer. London was an incredible experience for me and I would encourage others who think they could transfer their skills to WTF Taekwondo to apply for Fighting Chance as they too could experience the thrill of an Olympic Games in 2016.’

Sarah Stevenson won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games and became the first ever British athlete to medal in the sport of Taekwondo at an Olympic Games.

The 29-year-old from Doncaster said: ‘The Fighting Chance: Battle4Brazil programme is a fantastic way to bring new talent to our sport. We had great success as a team in London and it would be fantastic to see that grow and develop on the road to Rio.’

The 2009 Fighting Chance campaign saw over 1,000 applicants from a variety of other combat sports, including ITF Taekwondo, kickboxing, karate, muai thai and others.

The application process is online and further information can be found at: www.uksport.gov.uk/talent, with the application process closing on Monday 14 January 2013.

UK Athletics appoint Peter Eriksson as Olympic head coach

As Dutchman Van Commenee steps down, now UK Athletics turn to Swede Eriksson

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UPDATED:

13:59 GMT, 29 October 2012

UK Athletics has appointed Swede Peter Eriksson as their new Olympic head coach.

Eriksson will move immediately from his role as UKA’s Paralympic head coach to succeed the outgoing Charles van Commenee, who will officially step down when his contract expires in December.

Van Commenee opted to walk away, despite a hugely successful four-year spell, when Team GB failed to achieve his target of eight medals at the London 2012 Olympics.

Welcome on board: UK Athletics have turned to Swede Peter Eriksson

Welcome on board: UK Athletics have turned to Swede Peter Eriksson

Britain’s haul of six medals still represented a successful tenure for the Dutchman, however, and Van Commenee leaves massive shoes for Eriksson to fill.

The 59-year-old Scandinavian does have pedigree, however, having led Britain’s Paralympic athletes to 29 medals at the London Games, 11 of which were gold.

'It is a great privilege to be asked to take on this role,' Eriksson said. 'I will continue with the methods and approach that has proved so successful in the Paralympic arena, and that has been about strong performance management of our best medal prospects to maximise the likelihood of medal-winning performances.

'The Olympic team performed very well in London, finishing fourth in the world with four golds so I have a great platform on which to build.

'But I believe we can still do better in Rio 2016, and of course when the World Championships take place in the London Olympic Stadium in 2017. The next five years look like an exhilarating time for British athletics.'

Out: Charles van Commenee will step down as head coach in December

Out: Charles van Commenee will step down as head coach in December

The recruitment had been shrouded in
secrecy since Van Commenee’s announcement, with UK Athletics
successfully keeping a lid on speculation.

Welshman
Tudor Bidder, who operates in a similar role for the Australian
Institute of Sport, was linked with the post in recent days with
Eriksson another name in the frame.

Eriksson will work closely with UKA chief executive Niels de Vos and new performance director Neil Black.

Kevin
Tyler, who worked closely with Van Commenee as head of coaching
development, had been the early favourite for the top job before
deciding to return to Canada.

Triple jumper Phillips Idowu, who had a long-running feud with Van Commenee which dominated the build-up to the Olympics, gave his backing to the appointment of Eriksson.

He Tweeted: 'Happy 4 Peter Erikkson, met him in Italy a few yrs ago & he was actually coaching (not just a title). We had a nice convo about his kids.'

THE ISSUES FACING ERIKSSON

PHILLIPS IDOWU
Neither Idowu nor Charles van Commenee even attempted to disguise their mutual dislike, with their long-running feud dominating the build-up to the London Olympics.

One of Eriksson's first tasks will be to bring the enigmatic Londoner in from the cold and rebuild his relationship with UKA.

The fact they are both fans of Twitter – Van Commenee described it as for 'clowns and attention-seekers' and it was the source of his falling out with Idowu – is a good start and Idowu backed the Swede's appointment on the social networking site.

Fresh start: Phillips Idowu did not get on with Charles van Commenee

Fresh start: Phillips Idowu did not get on with Charles van Commenee

SOLVING SPRINT RELAY PROBLEMS
The men's and women's 4x100m teams require huge work. The women did not even qualify a quartet for the London Olympics, while the men's four were disqualified at the Games for a now customary baton fumble.

The men's team were also disqualified at the previous Games, the last World Championships and the last two European Championships.

Steve Peters, the renowned sports psychiatrist who has joined UKA, believes he can have a positive impact on that appalling record, but it will be a far from simple task.

Room for improvement: The GB relay team blundered at the London Olympics

Room for improvement: The GB relay team blundered at the London Olympics

SUCCEEDING VAN COMMENEE
Despite failing to meet his own eight-medal target at the London Games, Van Commenee's stint in charge of British athletics was still an undoubted success.

The Dutchman was virtually the only man in the country unhappy with a haul of six medals, including a magnificent four golds, from the Olympics and he will be a tough act to follow.

Eriksson's style is different, not as confrontational as the notoriously hard-line approach of his predecessor, but his record as Paralympic head coach shows he has similarly high standards.

OLYMPIC HANGOVER
Eriksson may be called on to boost the motivation of athletes who spent their career building up to the London Olympics and then achieved their career goals, although it is hard to imagine the likes of Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis lacking drive.

Harder, perhaps, could be the task of inspiring those athletes who failed to live up to expectations in Stratford, or even missed out on a place in the team altogether, with four years to wait for another chance.

GAINING RESPECT OF ATHLETES
Anyone questioning whether Eriksson, as a coach of Paralympic athletes, is deserving of the top job at UKA need only look at his record.

He has coached athletes to well over 100 Paralympic medals during a 30-year career and took Great Britain's Paralympians from 18th on the medal table in 2008 in Beijing to third in 2012, converting two golds into 11.

Any athlete struggling to respect a CV of that calibre would be just about impossible to satisfy.

PETER ERIKSSON PROFILE

1952
Born 19 November in Sweden.

1963-1980
Competes for Sweden as an international speed skater, finishing 10th in the 500metres at the 1977 World Championships. Also worked as a fireman in Stockholm until 1983.

1980
Moves into coaching and works in speed skating and ice hockey in Sweden before moving into athletics.

1987
Moves to Canada where he embarks on a career spanning three decades coaching Paralympic athletes, specialising in wheelchair racers.

2004
Becomes the first Paralympic coach ever to win the ‘Coach of the Year’ at the Canadian Sports Awards.

2008
Coaches Canadian wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc to five gold medals and three world records at the Beijing Olympics.

December – Appointed UK Athletics Paralympic head coach.

2011
January – Great Britain finished third in the medal table at the IPC Athletics World Championships in New Zealand with 12 gold medals and 38 in total.

2012
September – Guides ParalympicsGB’s track and field team to third place in the medal table at the London Games with 11 golds and 29 medals in total. Four years earlier the team had won two golds and 17 medals and finished 18th overall.

October 29 – Appointed the new Olympic head coach at UK Athletics, succeeding Charles van Commenee.

Alan Pardew warns Nile Ranger to clean up his act

Sort your act out! Pardew tells bad boy Ranger he's heading for the scrapheap

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UPDATED:

10:03 GMT, 17 October 2012

Bad boy: Ranger arrives at Newcastle Crown Court earlier this week

Bad boy: Ranger arrives at Newcastle Crown Court earlier this week

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew has revealed his immense frustration at the attitude of young striker Nile Ranger.

Ranger this week was given a 12-month conditional discharge after admitting assaulting two police officers last year.

The conviction is not Ranger's first. He was sentenced to 11 weeks in a young offenders institute in 2006 and was given a six-month conditional discharge in March of this year – the same month in which he was fined by the FA for making homophobic comments on Twitter.

Last season Ranger – who made 58 appearances for the club between 2009 and 2011 – was shipped out on loan to Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday having lost his place in the first-team, and Pardew revealed that the 21-year-old has been out of favour because of his consistent lateness.

'I think I’ve been fair with him,' Pardew, who gave Ranger 18 first-team chances in his first season in charge, told the Newcastle Chronicle.

False dawn: Ranger had impressed when breaking into the first-team in 2009

False dawn: Ranger had impressed when breaking into the first-team in 2009

'This guy is late so often, it is unbelievable. He’s still at this football club and we’re still trying to do something with him.

'But he will still not get back in the team unless he has a period of six weeks where he isn’t late.

'I don’t think it is going to happen.

'It is important, I’m not going to let him train with my first team because he is letting the other players down.'

Asked if he thought Ranger would ever clean his act up, Pardew responded: 'For Nile That’s up to him.'

Not impressed: Pardew has challenged Ranger to improve his punctuality

Not impressed: Pardew has challenged Ranger to improve his punctuality

Pardew went on to reveal that the reason for Ranger not being sent out on loan this season is that no clubs have shown an interest in him.

Pardew said: 'The bottom line is we haven’t got four or five clubs queuing up (to take him).

'In fact we haven’t got one club queuing up for him.

'That should be alarm bells in his head to get his act in order.

'But maybe he doesn’t want to be a footballer.'

Things are shaping up nicely in Poland for Hodgson and England

Things are shaping up nicely in Poland for Hodgson and England

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UPDATED:

21:31 GMT, 22 May 2012

Below you can see the immaculate surface waiting to greet Roy Hodgson and his England squad in Krakow.

Hodgson’s predecessor Fabio Capello was criticised for setting up England’s Euro 2012 camp in Poland when their group games are in Ukraine.

But the FA insisted pitch quality was the key factor, and the players will not be disappointed when they report for training at the Stadion Suche Stawy next week.

Now and then: The training facilities in May 2012 and below, in November 2011

Now and then: The training facilities in May 2012 and below, in November 2011

Before the changes to the facilities

The original pitch – worn and muddy in patches – was removed and the Sports Turf Research Institute nurtured another one from seed to Barclays Premier League standard. STRI made the acclaimed pitches at England’s World Cup base in South Africa and their engineers worked through Poland’s coldest winter in 40 years to deliver the new pitch on time.

The six-figure revamp of the 6,500-capacity stadium, home to Hutnik Nowa Huta of Poland’s fifth tier, was funded by the FA and the city of Krakow and includes new changing areas, showers and bathrooms.

London 2012 Olympics: Savannah Marshall going for gold

Newly crowned world champion Marshall determined to box her way to gold

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UPDATED:

16:20 GMT, 21 May 2012

Golden girl: Savannah Marshall

Golden girl: Savannah Marshall

Savannah Marshall has vowed to follow up her historic women's world boxing title win by claiming Olympic gold – and inspire the rest of the 10-strong Great Britain team to believe they can do the same.

Marshall became Britain's first women's world champion when she beat Elena Vystropova 17-15 in the middleweight final in Qinhuangdao, China on Saturday, on what was also the Hartlepool fighter's 21st birthday.

Marshall flew back to big celebrations in her home town and said: 'The response has been amazing. I can't believe it's all for me. Seeing how much it means to everyone makes me even more determined to win Olympic gold.

'I am going to the Olympics as world champion but I won't feel any extra pressure. I just go out there to box my best and it makes no difference what people are saying about me.'

Among those offering his congratulations was men's middleweight and fellow Olympic qualifier Anthony Ogogo, with whom Marshall has sparred many rounds at their training base at the English Institute of Sport.

Ogogo said: 'Before I sparred with Savannah I'd never sparred with a girl before so of course you think about taking it easy and not punching too hard – but I soon realised Savannah could give as good as she got.

'I think we have both benefited enormously from our sparring sessions. Savannah winning the world title will give the whole British team a lift, and help us all find that extra five per cent that might make the difference.'

Great Britain performance director Rob McCracken said Marshall's sparring sessions with both Ogogo and British light-heavyweight Callum Smith had helped play a major part in her rise to the world title.

Eyes on the prize: Marshall (left) boxes her way to the world title

Eyes on the prize: Marshall (left) boxes her way to the world title

'Savannah has benefited from sparring Anthony and Callum,' said McCracken. 'We have really stepped it up in recent months and her stamina and footwork have improved enormously.'

Marshall arrived home from China on Sunday night to a party at Hartlepool's Headland Gym, where she first started boxing at the age of 12 despite the reservations of her coach Tim Coulter.

Coulter said: 'Savannah deserves everything she gets for all the hard work and dedication she has put in over the years. She certainly proved me wrong and now I see no reason why she shouldn't go on and win Olympic gold.'

Despite the plaudits there seems little danger of Marshall getting carried away by her success. Notoriously reticent in interviews, she admits she is still struggling to come to terms with the magnitude of her achievement.

No 1: Marshall celebrates her win against Elena Vystropova of Azerbaijan

No 1: Marshall celebrates her win against Elena Vystropova of Azerbaijan

Marshall added: 'When I started boxing I dreamed about things like this but I never really thought it would happen. Women's boxing wasn't even in the Olympic Games. I just boxed because I loved doing it.'

Marshall is one of the maximum quota of three Great British women to qualify for the Olympics. Nicola Adams will fight at flyweight after winning a silver medal in Qinhuangdao, while bronze medallist Natasha Jonas competes at lightweight.

The trio – plus the seven male qualifiers – Andrew Selby, Luke Campbell, Josh Taylor, Thomas Stalker, Fred Evans, Ogogo and Anthony Joshua – will be officially unveiled at a British Olympic Association press conference next month.

London Olympics 2012: Sir Chris Hoy: After every session I"m helped off the bike … the pain is unimaginable

Hoy: After every session I'm helped off the bike … the pain is unimaginable

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UPDATED:

21:48 GMT, 21 April 2012

Sir Chris Hoy does not mince his words.

'It's the worst pain imaginable,' he says. 'You feel as if you are dying. You're physically sick and you writhe around on a mat in a world of pain until you can form a foetal position, which you stay in for 15 minutes thinking you can't go on.'

But, of course, Hoy will go on. And before the Olympic Games begin in London this summer, he will endure the pain on a weekly basis, pushing himself to the limit – and beyond – as he trains at the English Institute of Sport just across the road from the Manchester velodrome that has become his second home.

Still got it: Chris Hoy (centre) with his World Championship gold medal

Still got it: Chris Hoy (centre) with his World Championship gold medal

Hoy may have four Olympic gold medals, including an incredible hat-trick four years ago in Beijing, but at 36 the body and the demands of his sport care nothing for reputations and past achievements.

So as he prepares for his bid to add yet more medals to his collection, he must face eight more sessions of interval training, all undertaken on a stationary bike and all expected to cause him the discomfort that any athlete who wishes to become an Olympic champion must confront.'

The lactic acid builds up in your legs until, in the final minute or so, your muscles begin to shut down,' says Hoy. 'When the session is over, people have to unclip me from the bike, ease me out of the saddle and lay me down on a padded mat.

Good Hoy: Sir Chirs celebrates his victory in the World Championship Keirin

Good Hoy: Sir Chirs celebrates his victory in the World Championship Keirin

'If it is painful during the interval session, it is nothing compared with the pain that immediately follows when you end the training.

'Every time, you think it's worse than ever. Every time, you convince yourself that something's wrong, you must have a virus, or you're ill, or something. You have pretty much decided you're not going to do it again – ever. Then after 15 minutes, almost to the second, the pain subsides, you sit up, start talking and get on with it.'

This is how it will be until just a few weeks before the Games begin. This is how it has always been.

At 32, Hoy defied the traditions of sport by winning golds in the men's sprint, team sprint and keirin inside the Laoshan Velodrome in Beijing in 2008, picked up the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award that December, and followed that by being knighted.

Already considered old for his sport, and with four golds and a silver medal as well as 11 world titles, it seemed the ideal time to retire.

Maybe he would have done if the Olympics were being staged anywhere else, but London had been in his sights even before his triumph in Beijing.

'I was on the stage in Trafalgar Square in 2005 when the IOC announced that London had got the 2012 Games,' says Hoy. 'Now that was seven years ago, when I was 29 and already veering towards middle age in track cycling terms. Anything could have happened since then. But on that day, on that stage, there was no doubt in my mind I'd be in London.

Outrageous manouvre: Sir Chris Hoy beats Maximilian Levy in the Keirin final

Outrageous manouvre: Sir Chris Hoy beats Maximilian Levy in the Keirin final

'What then clinched it after Beijing was my reaction. Don't get me wrong, all the awards and the plaudits, the knighthood, it was all incredible and hugely exciting, but it was also a fantasy land, one far removed from my real life.

'I was commentating on TV at a World Cup event in 2009 and realised how much I hated watching my team-mates and rivals competing while I was on the outside. I realised that all I really wanted to do was get back on my bike.'

Hoy then provides a third reason for putting himself through the pain again, three times a day, six days a week.

'I've never said this before, but I see it as a matter of honour that I defend my titles and give people the chance to beat me,' he says. 'The alternative is to win and then simply run for the hills. I don't like to do things that way.'

And so Hoy climbed back on to his bike, and promptly fell off it again in a crash in Copenhagen that put paid to the rest of 2009, before picking up an assortment of medals at the 2010, 2011 and 2012 World Championships, the most recent in Melbourne two weeks ago when he and his team-mates were disqualified in the team sprint, and he took bronze in the individual sprint and gold in the keirin.

Crashing out: Chris Hoy's accident in 2009 put him out for the season

Crashing out: Chris Hoy's accident in 2009 put him out for the season

Throughout this time, Hoy's 'failure' to emulate his Beijing feats has prompted comments concerning his waning powers connected, naturally, to his advancing years.

'To the outsider, what we achieved in Beijing probably looked easy,' he says. 'We turned up and won. It was simple as that. Seven golds in 10 track events. Of course, it wasn't easy. It was the culmination of an incredible amount of work. I aim to win every race I compete in, but it's impossible to do so. You just can't keep up the level of performance witnessed in Beijing for four years.

'I also noticed a change in my opponents' approach to me in races post-Beijing. Suddenly, they were trying new tactics that veered away from tradition. They knew they didn't have the horsepower to beat me in normal racing circumstances, so they tried different strategies.

'Of course, I didn't want to be beaten at all over the past few years, although I have consistently been picking up global medals. In track cycling, though, you're ultimately judged on your Olympic performances. That's all that matters.'

Still, it was good to finish the recent World Championships on a high with a keirin gold achieved with an outrageous, last-gasp manoeuvre after the disappointment of losing out to team-mate Jason Kenny in the individual sprint semi-finals, a defeat that has presented British cycling with a nasty selection dilemma concerning the one spot available for the event at the Olympics.

On a high: Chris Hoy celebrates with his family after his World Championship win

On a high: Chris Hoy celebrates with his family after his World Championship win

'With 50 metres to go, you wouldn't have put a penny on me winning that keirin,' says Hoy. 'I went for a gap that wasn't there but I hoped would open up for me. It did. It doesn't have too much relevance concerning what happens in London. It's another race. But at least it reminded people that when I'm in a corner I come out fighting.'

Will it be enough to be selected in all three events again His places in the team sprint and the keirin are all but assured, but in the individual sprint, Kenny, the man Hoy beat in the 2008 Olympic final, has a big claim, too.

'I don't know for a fact that I've been selected for anything yet,' says Hoy. 'I'd be a little surprised if I didn't make the team sprint and the keirin, though. As for the individual sprint, it's a tough one. My hunch is they'll leave the decision until much closer to the Games.

Golden Hoy: Sir Chris with his Beijing Olympic medals

Golden Hoy: Sir Chris with his Beijing Olympic medals

'After all, on the form of Jason in the 2008 worlds he may not have been picked for Beijing in the team sprint, but by the time the Games came round he was in good enough form to help us win team sprint gold and lose in the individual sprint final to me.

'It might make sense to see how we're performing in a few weeks' time. But whoever they pick, don't be surprised to see him standing at the top of the medals podium.'

Whether he competes in two or three
events, Hoy has the chance to overhaul Sir Steve Redgrave's medal tally
of five golds and a bronze, a collection that makes the rower Britain's
most successful Olympian.

Hoy, who rowed for Scotland as a junior, admits that Redgrave was one of his heroes.

'For a time I took my rowing as seriously as my cycling and that meant Steve was the man,' he says. 'Even if I won three golds in London, to take my tally up to seven, would that really diminish what he achieved No, it would not. Steve still is a total hero of mine.'

Good memories: And Chris Hoy will be hoping history repeats itself in London

Good memories: And Chris Hoy will be hoping history repeats itself in London

Like Redgrave, Hoy remains ultra-confident, despite recent results suggesting he is far from unbeatable. His reasons are threefold, beginning with his stunning performance inside the new London Velodrome at the World Cup event staged there in February.

'I was back to my old self,' he
says. 'The crowd was the nosiest I'd ever heard inside a velodrome, and
it wasn't even the Olympics. In the sprints and keirin you hear the
volume of support go up whenever you make a move. It definitely helps.

'I know if I'm in good shape and in the right frame of mind I'll still
beat anybody. Does this mean I believe I can win three gold medals
again

'Yes, it does. I
achieved my lifetime ambition of becoming an Olympic champion in 2004.
My next dream was to become a triple Olympic champion and I achieved
that in 2008. Now I have another dream – to become a champion in front
of a home crowd.'

And what happens then

'Well, I won't do a Redgrave,' he says. 'I won't ask to be shot if I get back on a bike. I'll see how I feel after a few weeks away.'

Astonishingly, Hoy may be prepared to put himself through further pain to compete in Glasgow's Commonwealth Games in 2014, when the cycling will be staged at the velodrome which bears his name.

'I'll be 38 and it will mean two years more of training,' he admits. 'But then I've never competed in an international event in Scotland.'

The rationale says everything about Hoy's obsession with his sport – and his willingness to punish himself in the pursuit of glory.

Sir Chris Hoy supports Sky Ride, a national campaign from British Cycling and Sky to get more people cycling regularly. Everyone's invited to get on their bikes this summer with their friends and family. www.goskyride.com

Footballers in top two per cent of brain power

Study claims footballers are in top two per cent of the population by brain power

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UPDATED:

17:44 GMT, 5 April 2012

A new study has found that footballers score higher than normal people on 'cognitive function' – brainpower – tests and that professionals are in the top two per cent of the populace.

The difference in mental horsepower also seems to be directly related to their abilities on the field, with players in higher divisions scoring higher on the same tests than ones in lower divisions.

The tests were broad tests for
'cognitive abilities' – but players seemed to score highly for
'executive functions', the brain functions that 'oversee' others and
allow people to make rapid responses to new situation.

Brains in his feet: A new study says footballers score higher than normal people on 'cognitive function' - brainpower - tests

Brains in his feet: A new study says footballers score higher than normal people on 'cognitive function' – brainpower – tests

Such abilities are obviously very different from, say, being well-read, or having been taught complex mathematics – but indicate a level of underlying intelligence.

The Swedish study authors say that footballers appear stupid simply because they 'don't have time' for education.

The process of thinking about a field in 3D and plotting tactics may be more demanding than people think.

The study's authors, at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, were unclear about whether football training enhances people's brain power, or if skilled footballers rise to the top because of their born intellectual brawn.

'The study cannot answer the question whether the difference
in executive functions mirrors practice or genes,' say the study authors.

'There is probably both an
inherited component and a component that is trained.'

Struggles: David Beckham has previously admitted to having difficulties with his children's maths homework

Struggles: David Beckham has previously admitted to having difficulties with his children's maths homework

Torbjorn
Vestberg, one of the study authors said in an interview with The
Times, 'To be a footballer, you must have physical ability and speed.
But that doesn't help if you don't have a brain that knows what to do. '

'Footballers
are not stupid. They are very clever. But they start to play soccer
when they are young. They don't have time for education. That's why they
sometimes look stupid.'

The study authors suggest that in future, clubs could even pick young players on the basis of mental abilities.

'Investment in soccer players is a risky business where predictive
tools are lacking,' say the authors.

'This study suggests that the precision in selecting future stars should include not only judgement of physical capacity. Our data suggest that neuropsychological tests may establish if a player has the capacity to reach top levels in soccer.'

Jessica Ennis looking good in Sheffield

Ennis looking good in Sheffield as she builds up to World Indoor Championships

Jessica Ennis made the most of home advantage to enjoy an encouraging day as she builds up to the defence of her world indoor title in Istanbul next month.

Ennis trains at the English Institute of Sport in her home city of Sheffield, the venue for this weekend's Aviva Trials and UK Championships.

And the 26-year-old duly looked at ease in the surroundings with victory in the high jump and 14.09 metres in the shot on an otherwise low-key first day of competition.

Raising the bar: Jessica Ennis competes in the high jump

Raising the bar: Jessica Ennis competes in the high jump

Ennis cleared her opening three heights at the first attempt, but then needed two attempts to clear both 1.85 metres and 1.87m.

She then needed three attempts to clear 1.89m and found herself trailing on countback to Emma Perkins, who had cleared the same height at the first attempt.

However, Ennis dug deep to then clear 1.91m at the first try to seal victory, one made even sweeter when it was pointed out to the former world heptathlon champion that she had equalled her best jump in all of 2011.

'I'm really happy then,' Ennis said. 'It was a good competition because it puts you under pressure and a different state of mind when you have to clear heights at the third attempt.

'It was my first high jump competition of the indoor season and it felt comfortable. My run up felt good.

Looking good: Ennis is facing the biggest year of her career

Looking good: Ennis is facing the biggest year of her career

'You always want to jump as high as you can for yourself, but when you have someone there and a real battle it makes you raise your game, which I need to do in the world indoors.

'I think you do worry a bit (when you have failures at a lower height), because you don't want to go out at that height and I really wanted to jump in the 1.90s, but you have to get yourself together and refocus.'

Although Ennis lost her world title in Daegu largely as a result of a terrible performance in the javelin, she also only managed 1.86m in the high jump.

A clearance of 1.91m instead would have been worth an extra 65 points, bringing her much closer to eventual champion Tatyana Chernova of Russia.

Her best of 14.09m in the shot was some way down on her personal best of 14.67m set in Daegu, but anything over 14m was the target and she also managed 14.07m in the first round.

Veteran Yamile Aldama won the triple jump with a best of 14.09m, the 39-year-old, who was born in Cuba and also competed for Sudan, showing no signs of slowing down after reaching the World Championship final last year.