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Exclusive: As UK Sport"s record 355m investment in British athletes begins, Sportsmail speaks to those who have already seen gold from the…

EXCLUSIVE: As UK Sport's record 355m investment in British athletes begins, Sportsmail speaks to those who have already seen gold from the funding boost

, in which Great Britain won 65 Olympic medals and 120 at the Paralympics and finished third in the medals table in both events, but British sport has aimed high since National Lottery funding was introduced in 1997. It is hard to believe Britain won just one gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Joy: The Olympic Parade which celebrated all the British success during the Olympics and Paralympics

Joy: The Olympic Parade which celebrated all the British success during the Olympics and Paralympics

Glory boys: Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent were the only GB gold medalists in Atlanta

Glory boys: Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent were the only GB gold medalists in Atlanta

Here, some of the athletes who have benefited from UK Sport funding tell Sportsmail exactly what it has meant to them…

Sir Ben Ainslie, 36
Four-time Olympic gold medallist, sailing

‘Trying to become the first nation to better our performance after a home Olympics is a fantastic goal. For me, it shows just how far British sport has come.

‘I’m not thinking about Rio right now because I’m in San Francisco with my America’s Cup team but you never know – it’s still a few years away.

History: Ben Ainslie won a record fourth sailing gold medal after a titanic battle in London

History: Ben Ainslie won a record fourth sailing gold medal after a titanic battle in London

'I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made in my career so far and I’ll definitely be in Brazil in some capacity, even if I’m not racing.

Sir: Ainslee was knighted for his heroics

Sir: Ainslee was knighted for his heroics

‘I started receiving funding in 1997. I went to my first Olympics in 1996 and won a silver medal, but we didn’t do very well as a team. We won just one gold medal – in rowing, Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent in the men’s coxless pair. It was a pretty poor performance overall.

‘Then UK Sport funding came in and I think, straight away, you could see a big change in the way we were able to train. We enjoyed a big jump up the medal table in Sydney (from 36th to 10th) and that continued all the way to London.

‘British sport became more
professional, but the rest of the world upped their game as well. When I
started travelling to compete internationally most people were sleeping
in tents or in the back of their cars and trying to hold down jobs as
well as training.

'There
were very few full-time athletes. I think that’ s been the biggest
change: we have always had the passion but we simply didn’t have the
time to train and recover properly.

‘I
was lucky because I was still studying, but I relied on my parents an
awful lot. I’m sure they were very relieved when funding came on, as a
lot of parents must have been.

‘The
medical support has been unbelievable. I had a back injury six months
before London and it really was a difficult time. I had to have surgery
and a lot of physio but the support I received was phenomenal. It made a
huge difference to me and my chances of winning that gold medal.

‘Could I have achieved what I did without funding It’s a difficult one. I was fortunate in that I had success early on and was able to attract commercial sponsors, but I couldn’t have done it without the coaching and medical support there in the background.

'It was about setting up a long-term strategy to win medals and they certainly got the right people and the right strategy to do that.’

Perri Shakes-Drayton, 24. Double European indoor champion, athletics

‘It meant a lot to win two gold medals at the European Indoor Championships (in the 400m and 4 x 400m relay) in Gothenburg. You train to win medals and to be a champion was even better.

'The training that I’ve done and any doubts I may have had have gone away. I can do it and I want more. It gave me that confidence that I am as good as the rest of the girls and I want to maintain it.

Champion: Perri Shakes-Drayton won gold in the Women's 400m at the European Indoor Athletics

Champion: Perri Shakes-Drayton won gold in the Women's 400m at the European Indoor Athletics

‘It meant a lot after the Olympics. I finished on a high and I kept running close to my personal best but it was a disappointment (failing to make the final of the 400m hurdles). But rewards will come. The European titles have put the Games behind me. It’s a good feeling.

‘The 400 metres isn’t my event and hopefully I can transfer that speeds to the hurdles now. I enjoy them – there is a lot more to think about, but I haven’t achieved what I want to do yet over the hurdles.

'I’m not saying “bye” to them yet. Hurdling comes naturally now. I see a hurdle and I know how to attack it.

‘I want to come home with a medal from the World Championships in Moscow in August. I want one and I have to win one. That’s my aim.

Pedigree: The British quarter cruised to victory in the Women 4 x 400m relay

Pedigree: The British quarter cruised to victory in the Women 4 x 400m relay

‘Chris Zah has been my only coach, for the past 11 years. He took me from the grass roots to the world-class athlete I am today. It’s not really common for that to happen, but we’ve grown as a team and learnt together.

‘We’ll stay in Mile End, not move to Loughborough. We’ll stay in that gritty, crusty gym in east London because it’s working for us. It’s a good set up and I’ m not going anywhere for the moment.

‘National Lottery funding just makes life so much easier for me. The money I receive in support helps with training camps – I’m going to Daytona in Florida for a month on April 2.

I don’t take it for granted because it makes life so much more stress-free. All I have to do is worry about getting to training on time and being the athlete that I have to be to achieve my goals.’

Becky James, 21. Double world champion, track cycling.

‘I couldn’t have made my career without Lottery funding, I’ve had it since I was 15 and it’s been a huge support for me. Without it, I couldn’t make a career out of cycling because women get paid differently to men if, say, I was on a road team.

'It gives you such a lift when you first get on the programme and you become part of British Cycling, too. It’s been a great help.

‘I’m sure I wouldn’t be a double World Champion if I had a part-time job. I worked until I left home – I used to work in a kitchen doing all the food prep and washing up, which wasn’t the most glamorous job. Then I did a bit of waitressing and then I worked in a cake shop for two years in Abergavenny – serving coffee and cakes. It probably wasn’t the most productive thing to do for my sport, but it was fun.’

Double: Becky James won two gold medals at the World Cycling Championships in Scotland

Double: Becky James won two gold medals at the World Cycling Championships in Scotland

Funding: UK Sport have been a key part of James' immediate success

Funding: UK Sport have been a key part of James' immediate success

Quillan Isidore, 16, joined UK Sport’s World Class Performance Programme as a Development athlete in November 2012 after winning the Boys Under-16 category at the UCI BMX World Championships in Birmingham last May.

Winner: James with her gold medal in the individual sprint

Winner: James with her gold medal in the individual sprint

‘I always looked up to people in the GB team and wished I could be one of them. It was a dream when I made it onto the Olympic development programme for BMX because there are only five of us: four boys and one girl. It’s really good when we all go away for training – that’s what I want to live my life like but I’m still at school so I have to be patient. But I’m proud to represent the British team and follow in the steps of people like Sir Chris Hoy.

‘I still live at home in south London so I get a set programme to follow from my coach. I’m very dedicated – I never miss training at all. We’re not the richest family so I’m really thankful for the support.

‘You can get pretty bad injuries in
this sport so it’s good to know the back-up is there, too. I’ve been
very lucky so far, but it’s impossible to be injury-free.

'I’m
aiming for the 2020 Olympics but I’ve got 2016 in the back of my mind. I
believe that if I work really hard it can be done. We’re all working
really hard to get up the rankings and try to get GB three spots in Rio.

‘I
do think BMX is becoming more of a recognised sport. I got into it
because my friend just took me to a track in Brixton one day when I was
eight. It only had about five jumps but I just loved the feeling of
getting my front wheel off the ground. I got my first bike for my eighth
birthday and have been hooked ever since.’

UK
Sport, funded by The National Lottery, is supporting Britain’s best
athletes on the #RoadtoRio. Follow their progress @uk_sport

Phil Taylor apologises after ugly confrontation with Raymond van Barneveld

I reacted disgracefully! Taylor apologises after ugly confrontation with Barney

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UPDATED:

11:42 GMT, 31 December 2012

Phil Taylor apologised for his ‘disgraceful’ behaviour after beating Raymond van Barneveld in the World Championship semi-final on Sunday.

‘The Power’, who will play Michael van Gerwen in the final, clashed with Barney after his 6-4 win at Alexandra Palace and the pair had to be separated by security guards.

‘I reacted disgracefully and I feel terrible,’ Taylor told Sky Sports.

‘I’m ashamed because I really like Raymond but he hurt me a little bit, that was all it was.

‘It was spur of the moment.’

Scroll down for a video of the incident

Head to head: Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld clash at the end of their titanic battle

Head to head: Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld clash at the end of their titanic battle

Head to head: Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld clash at the end of their titanic battle

Head to head: Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld clash at the end of their titanic battle

Head to head: Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld clash at the end of their titanic battle

Head to head: Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld clash at the end of their titanic battle

Clash: Taylor and Van Barneveld go head to head as they leave the stage

Clash: Taylor and Van Barneveld go head to head as they leave the stage

Taylor and Van Barneveld clash

Carly Booth making major championship debut in Liverpool

Following in the footsteps of… the Beatles Booth making championship debut in Liverpool

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UPDATED:

21:46 GMT, 12 September 2012

Where better for Carly Booth to make her major championship debut than the environs of Liverpool, her mother’s hometown and where her father once worked as a bodyguard at the Cavern Club and a minder for the Beatles.

It must be one of Booth’s professional ambitions to come up with a tale or two more colourful than her father Wally’s, who won a wrestling silver medal for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games when he wasn’t looking after John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Ready Carly Booth will make her major championship debut in Liverpool, her mother's hometown

Ready Carly Booth will make her major championship debut in Liverpool, her mother's hometown

Seemingly petrified when speaking to the press formally on the eve of the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Liverpool, the slender 20-year-old Scot proved charming company afterwards and more than able to hold her own when it came to a yarn.

Booth played golf for a while at Dunblane, where she became the youngest club champion in Britain at the age of 11, and naturally we wanted to know if she’d ever bumped into the local hero who is not only the talk of that town right now but these entire isles.

No, she’s never met Andy Murray – he’d probably moved to Spain by then, come to think of it – but she remembers a titanic battle against his elder brother Jamie in the semi-final of the Dunblane Junior Golf Championship.

Turns out Jamie holed a 30 footer to win on the 17th, which must have spared his blushes since it was a scratch match and he was 17 at the time, playing off a five handicap, while Carly was just 10.

‘That’s about all I do remember, which I guess is not too surprising given my age at the time,’ said Booth.

Destined for greatness: Booth, pictured in 2005, is hoping to realise her great potential at the Women's British Open at the Royal Liverpool

Destined for greatness: Booth, pictured in 2005, is hoping to realise her great potential at the Women's British Open at the Royal Liverpool

‘About the only thing I was interested in back then was whether my hair looked right and my earrings matched.’

A decade on, and sporting a strikingly large pair of matching earrings, she has lots to peak her interest, including spearheading the home challenge this week.

If truth be told, given her prowess at a formative age, it is surprising it has taken her until now to make her competitive bow in a major.

‘Don’t ask about my efforts to qualify in the past,’ she said, concerning results that were illustrative of the growing pains she experienced after turning pro.

Two victories already this year, including one on home soil at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, suggest they are all behind her now.

'It was very difficult for a couple of years,’ she confessed.

‘The first year I was still at school
and found it very hard to combine that with playing on tour. Then the
second year I started out with six missed cuts in a row and my
confidence was very low. I stopped enjoying it , which was a shame as it
was the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.

'So
this year I came out resolving to just getting back to enjoying it and
that has certainly been the case with winning a couple of tournaments.’

Indeed,
Booth has made her contribution to the welcome revival of the Scottish
game, and has witnessed at close quarters the re-emergence of European
Masters champion Richie Ramsay and Paul Lawrie’s heartwarming return to
the European elite.

'My
boyfriend (Argentine Tano Goya) plays on the men’s tour and so when I’m
not playing I spend a lot of time watching the men’s game,’ she said.

‘It has been great to see the likes of Richie and Paul winning and I want to keep playing my part.’

We can’t let her go without asking for her dad’s favourite Beatles story, can we

In the footsteps: Booth's father, Wally, was a bodyguard at the Cavern club in Liverpool

In the footsteps: Booth's father, Wally, was a bodyguard at the Cavern club in Liverpool

She loves the one about a young Cilla Black working as a coat room girl at the Cavern. Then there was the time Wally was asked if he would like to go to the States with the Beatles.

He turned them down because he was in training for the Olympics and was glad he did. ‘The man who went in his place ended up dying,’ said Carly.

Booth is not the only one who could follow on from Murray and make this two Grand Slam titles in a week for Scotland.

Catriona Matthew won this title an hour’s drive from here three years ago and won’t mind at all if the weather continues to be as frightful as it has in the days leading up to the start.

‘It’s going to be very tricky if the wind blows as it has been doing but I’ve been playing well coming into the event and I’m looking forward to it,’ said the 42 year old, who won the Irish Open last month.

First out this morning will be New Zealand’s 15 year old sensation Lydia Ko, the talk of the women’s game after winning the Canadian Open recently.

US OPEN 2012: Victoria Azarenka beats Maria Sharapova to reach final

Azarenka dances with delight after sinking Sharapova to set up US Open final date

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UPDATED:

00:07 GMT, 8 September 2012

World No 1 Victoria Azarenka repeated her Australian Open triumph over Maria Sharapova to reach her first US Open final.

The Melbourne victory, which gave Azarenka her first grand slam title, had been one-sided as the Belarusian lost only three games but this was a titanic struggle between two of women's tennis' biggest fighters.

Azarenka finally came out on top 3-6 6-2 6-4 after two hours and 42 minutes and will meet Serena Williams on Saturday night.

Dancing queen: Victoria Azarenka celebrates her win over Maria Sharapova with a jig on court

Dancing queen: Victoria Azarenka celebrates her win over Maria Sharapova with a jig on court

Dancing queen: Victoria Azarenka celebrates her win over Maria Sharapova with a jig on court

The 23-year-old said: 'I was just trying to grab the first opportunity that I had. Maria is such a great player. I knew she would come out firing and she did. I tried to find my rhythm and just fight.

'I tried to give whatever it takes. I knew my opponent was going to play hard so I had to play harder. I gave it my all. I guess it worked. It's my first final and I'm so excited.'

In the Australian Open final, it had been Sharapova who had made the better start before Azarenka took control and won 12 of the last 13 games.

The Russian again was the more solid in the early stages here, and this time she kept it going, turning a 3-0 lead into 5-1 and the opportunity to serve for the set.

At her best: Azarenka showed the form that helped her win the Australian Open earlier this year

At her best: Azarenka showed the form that helped her win the Australian Open earlier this year

Sharapova wobbled and looked like she would lose her advantage completely when Azarenka had two chances to reduce the deficit to 5-4, her opponent throwing in two double faults in the windy conditions.

But the world No 1, who hit only one winner in the opening set, could not take her opportunity and Sharapova clinched it with her first ace of the match.

Azarenka's superior movement had taken her opponent out of the game in Melbourne but here Sharapova was powering away winners and winning plenty of points with her serve.

At full stretch: Sharapova returns a shot to her Belarusian opponent at Flushing Meadows

At full stretch: Sharapova returns a shot to her Belarusian opponent at Flushing Meadows

The third seed had survived real battles against Nadia Petrova and Marion Bartoli to make it to the last four, while Azarenka prevailed in a third set tie-break against defending champion Sam Stosur in the quarter-finals.

This match did not look like it would be close when the Belarusian hooked a forehand well wide to be broken again at the start of the second set but from there things turned around.

Sharapova dropped serve twice in succession, with Azarenka now giving her opponent a lot fewer free points, and the top seed was clearly extremely pumped up as she powered away a forehand to level things up.

Maybe next year, Maria: Russian star Sharapova shows her frustration during her defeat to Azarenka

Maybe next year, Maria: Russian star Sharapova shows her frustration during her defeat to Azarenka

Because of the heat, the players took a 10-minute break, but something had to give in the final set.
Sharapova was unbeaten in 12 three-set matches this year and Azarenka 11, and the shrieking and intensity increased as they traded blows.

The first two sets had been too error strewn to really captivate but the start of the decider was on another level, particularly in a lengthy third game where Sharapova eventually held serve.

The third seed was certainly under the most pressure but she continued to cling on and the deciding set had been going for more than an hour when she served to stay in the match at 4-5.

It was a game too far. Azarenka missed with a forehand down the line on her first match point but a second one followed and this time Sharapova drilled a forehand long.

US OPEN 2012: Novak Djokovic beats Juan Martin Del Potro

Djokovic to meet Ferrer in US Open semi-final after beating Del Potro in straight sets

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UPDATED:

05:40 GMT, 7 September 2012

Novak Djokovic showed he is very much the man to beat at the US Open with a stunning display to defeat Juan Martin Del Potro in straight sets in the quarter-finals.

The 6-2, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 scoreline does not remotely tell the story of a match where 2009 champion Del Potro threw everything at last year's winner only to see it come back with interest.

Djokovic said: 'Even though it was straight sets it was much closer than that. He's a great player. I was lucky in the second set.

Marching on: Djokovic is the defending champion and favourite for the title

Marching on: Djokovic is the defending champion and favourite for the title

'We played some incredible points. It's always entertaining to play at night – so much fun. This is very special and I'm really happy to be in the semi-finals.'

Djokovic will now play fourth seed David Ferrer, who beat Janko Tipsarevic in another classic earlier on Thursday, in a rematch of a last-four clash from 2007.

Djokovic lost to Roger Federer in the final that year but, with the world No 1 knocked out by Tomas Berdych on Thursday, the second seed assumed the favourite's mantle.

So easy had the Serbian's progress been until this point, it was difficult to tell how well he was playing.

Titanic battle: Del Potro threw everything he had at Djokovic

Titanic battle: Del Potro threw everything he had at Djokovic

Titanic battle: Del Potro threw everything he had at Djokovic

Djokovic had seemed out of sorts at Wimbledon and the Olympics, where Del Potro beat him to the bronze medal, but he showed on Arthur Ashe Stadium he is back to the form that brought him three grand slam titles last season.

The first set was a bit of a procession as Del Potro struggled to find his rhythm on his huge groundstrokes but the second was tennis of the highest order.

Djokovic began by losing the first 10 points but was soon back on song and it became a tale of attack versus defence as Del Potro unleashed huge shots only to see the defending champion somehow retrieve almost every one.

The Argentinian served for the set at 5-4 but could not hang on and he then saved three set points in a titanic 12th game that lasted for more than 17 minutes.

Job done: Djokovic will face David Ferrer in the semi-final

Job done: Djokovic will face David Ferrer in the semi-final

Del Potro was having to work so hard just to win a point, and that was certainly the case in the tie-break, the seventh seed left draped over the net in exhaustion and disbelief after one such encounter that left him facing three set points.

And Djokovic needed only one, taking it with a ridiculous backhand winner.
It was a long way back for Del Potro now, and even more so when he was broken again at the start of the third set.

It was a deficit he never recovered, although there was time for one last hurrah as he chased down a Djokovic volley and drilled a backhand winner, with his momentum leaving him standing on the advertising hoardings as he soaked up the crowd's adoration.

But three points later the match was over, Djokovic clinching victory after three hours and six minutes.

Kevin Pietersen suffers at hands of Simon Jones in latest Surrey outing

Pietersen suffers at the hands of former England pal Jones in latest Surrey outing

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UPDATED:

20:30 GMT, 21 August 2012

His present woes are troubling enough — but on Tuesday Kevin Pietersen was scuppered by a vision from England's past.

Playing for Surrey against the Welsh Dragons in the CB40, Pietersen was bowled for 43 by his old friend Simon Jones, a team-mate from England’s 2005 Ashes-winning side.

And after falling first ball against Hampshire on Sunday to a beauty from left-arm spinner Liam Dawson, Pietersen was again the victim of a superb delivery, playing inside one from the seamer that held its line and sent his off stump flying.

On the attack: Kevin Pietersen in action against Glamorgan at the Oval

On the attack: Kevin Pietersen in action against Glamorgan at the Oval

That ended a fluent 44-ball innings which, on the day England’s team director Andy Flower called into question Pietersen’s international future, had the slight feel of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Applauded politely to the wicket by the Oval crowd following the boos that greeted his golden duck at the Ageas Bowl three days ago, Pietersen had to motivate himself for a county game while Flower and Andrew Strauss mulled over his England fate.

In the circumstances he responded
well, shrugging off the indignity of seeing Glamorgan’s left-arm seamer
Graham Wagg turn himself into a slow left-armer the moment Pietersen
walked to the crease in the game’s second over.

Cut short: Pietersen was bowled for 43

Cut short: Pietersen was bowled for 43

He immediately slapped Wagg through the covers, and although Pietersen could have been run out on five, he proceeded to unfurl some of the strokes that he hopes will persuade England to forgive him his texting indiscretions.

Like all the Surrey players, Pietersen’s shirt bore the initials ‘TLM’ — in memory of his former county team-mate Tom (Lloyd) Maynard, who was killed on the tracks of Wimbledon Park tube station in June.

This game was the focal point for the launch of the Tom Maynard Trust, with Surrey’s cricketers all wearing his old number, 55, on their shirts, and the Welsh Dragons choosing 33, Maynard’s number during his time with Glamorgan.

Before the game, a peloton of 30 cyclists — led by Tom’s father Matthew and including former England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff — rode into The Oval and performed a lap of the boundary after completing a 170-mile sponsored trip which started in Cardiff on Monday.

Both teams lined up before the start of the game, while a crowd of 6,000 stood for a minute’s applause in memory of Maynard.

Elsewhere, Neil Dexter celebrated his 28th birthday by hitting his first LV= County Championship century of the season. Dexter, who gave up the Middlesex captaincy earlier in the summer, scored 101 from 142 balls against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.

Plenty of wickets fell on the first day of the relegation clash between Durham and Worcestershire at the Riverside. Hosts Durham chose to field and their decision was vindicated as they skittled the visitors for 120, Chris Rushworth taking five for 44. They then struggled in reply, until 78 from Ben Stokes dragged them to 215 for nine at the close, gaining them a batting bonus point.

Meanwhile, the top two in Division Two were frustrated by solid batting displays from their opponents yesterday. Leaders Derbyshire were held up by Northants and especially No 5 Rob Newton, who hit 115 in his team’s 311 for six. Second-placed Hampshire allowed bottom side Leicestershire to rattle up 334 for eight, Josh Cobb top scoring with 82.

Manchester derby rivalry put to the side for basketball stunt

Net gains for Manchester pair as rivalry's put to the side by Johnson and Jones

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UPDATED:

14:22 GMT, 27 April 2012

Come Monday night, we'll have an almost definite idea of the destination of this year's Premier League title after the Manchester derby.

Fans of the two clubs will be in the lockdown over the weekend, preparing themselves for what is being touted as the biggest clash between City and United in a generation. Friendships will be tested, families will be divided and work places will be a battleground for debate.

In a spin: Phil Jones and Adam Johnson club together to promote basketball

In a spin: Phil Jones and Adam Johnson club together to promote basketball

In a spin: Phil Jones and Adam Johnson club together to promote basketball

But it seems two of the players didn't get the memo, and are carrying on like it's just another round of fixtures.

In the blue corner, Adam Johnson, and in the red is his England international team-mate Phil Jones, the pair laughing and joking as they undertook a series of little competitions involving a different kind of ball, a basketball.

Let battle commence: The Manchester derby is likely to decide the title destination

Let battle commence: The Manchester derby is likely to decide the title destination

The stunt was part of the promotion for the upcoming basketball tournament at the Manchester Evening News Arena, the showpiece of which is a meeting between the USA and Great Britain's Olympic teams.

As well as the titanic clash between nations, the USA will also play Dominican Republic, Spain, Argentina and Brazil as part of their preparations for London 2012.

To celebrate what is a huge event for basketball fans in Britain, Jones and Johnson undertook a selection of stunts, with the United man excelling in the finger spinning. Is it an omen