Tag Archives: traditions

Fran Halsall vows to bounce back in Rio – Laura Williamson

I'll make waves in Rio, vows Halsall after flopping at home Olympics

|

UPDATED:

22:09 GMT, 30 December 2012

Fran Halsall has made an important New Year’s resolution. The British swimmer never again wants to feel the way she did in the summer of 2012 after finishing the Olympic Games without a medal.

She has written it all down, just in case she ever needs a reminder, because Halsall is determined she will never feel like that again; so low she did not attend the post-Games parade because she ‘didn’t think she should enjoy it’.

While 2012 was an unforgettable year of sport for so many, there are those for whom 2013 and beyond promises far better things.

Gutted: Fran Halsall struggled to perform at the London Olympics

Gutted: Fran Halsall struggled to perform at the London Olympics

More from Laura Williamson…

Laura Williamson: Farewell to Plucky Brit syndrome, and good riddance
23/12/12

Laura Williamson: Pity 2012 feelgood factor has faded so quickly
16/12/12

Laura Williamson: Wake up Gary, or Match of the Day's old boys' club may close for good
09/12/12

Laura Williamson: Booth and Co aim to end golf's old school traditions
02/12/12

Laura Williamson: I won't be fighting in Rio but you could as taekwondo seeks new stars
25/11/12

Laura Williamson: Dangerous message that strong isn't sexy for women
18/11/12

Laura Williamson: As Sportsmail enters the ring with an Olympic star, Jonas shows being a warrior woman is worth fighting for
11/11/12

Laura Williamson: Kids have no chance when vile chants are treated like nursery rhymes
06/11/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

A silver medal in the 50-metre freestyle at the World Short Course Championships in Istanbul earlier this month ‘was never going to make up for the Olympics’, but it has helped Halsall get her spark back. She has a new coach — James Gibson, who guided France’s Florent Manaudou to Olympic gold in the men’s 50m freestyle in London. But, most importantly of all, her confidence has returned.

‘Knowing I’m still a fast swimmer feels really good,’ she says. ‘I gave myself a little pat on the back, if you like. I’m really happy.

‘It took me a couple of months to get over the Olympics. There was a lot of upset and blame; of thinking I’m not good enough. I couldn’t deal with the fact I wasn’t good enough and it wasn’t a very nice feeling.

‘But I took ownership of it and I swam fast again. That was all me. It’s not an Olympic medal but I had to differentiate between Fran the swimmer and the person. You can’t live your life like that.’

Halsall was tipped to star in the pool at London 2012 but did not win a medal in any of her five events. She was not the only one to disappoint, of course: Britain’s swimming team came away with only a silver and two bronze medals at their home Games and have lost 4million of funding as a result.

British Swimming conducted a review into what went wrong in London, which largely blamed the leadership of coaches and the timing of the national trials, which were held 13 weeks before the Games in March.

Bouncing back: Halsall has vowed to return to form for Rio in four years

Bouncing back: Halsall has vowed to return to form for Rio in four years

Head coach Dennis Pursley and performance director Michael Scott also quit, prompting Rebecca Adlington to call the situation ‘an absolute mess’.

Halsall, though, has conducted her ‘own review’ and has a much simpler explanation: she over-trained. Working under Ben Titley, who has since moved to Canada, at Loughborough University, she says she was an ‘Olympic keeno’.

Halsall picked up a shoulder injury in mid-May, which kept her out of the pool for ‘a few weeks’.

‘Trials weren’t the problem,’ adds Halsall. ‘I have always swum faster in the summer: this was the first year I didn’t. You have to swim fast for the trials, wherever you put them.

Back on track: Halsall in Turkey

Back on track: Halsall in Turkey

‘The issue for me was I did too much. I was an Olympic keeno. I probably overdid it and ended up picking up an injury. I tried to do more than I had ever done before.

‘I didn’t want to talk about my shoulder problem (before the Games). It’s an excuse and I didn’t want that. My focus was on swimming as fast as I could and I didn’t want to have that distraction. I still fought for every 10th of a second in every race.’

Halsall, though, is already a veteran of two Olympic Games, despite being only 22 years old.

She is determined not to make the same mistakes third time around.

‘I’m not too old just yet,’ she says. ‘I’m looking forward to Rio in four years’ time.’

Fran Halsall uses Multipower Sportsfood: www.multipower.co.uk

What they said

It's little wonder David Weir described the New Year Honours list as ‘a bit strange’ after Sarah Storey became a Dame but Weir, who also won four Paralympic gold medals in London, was given a CBE.

‘Sometimes it seems that Paralympians have to win lots and lots of medals to get a damehood or a knighthood,’ Weir told the Daily Telegraph.

Here's what I've been doing this week

Chugged around the country for the feast of festive football. Clubs might whinge about fixture congestion, but I love the tradition of it all. It works in other sports, too: just look at the record 82,000 people at Twickenham for Saracens’ win against Harlequins on Saturday.

Watched Superstars and revelled in the sheer naffness and rain-sodden Britishness of it all. I can cope with only having shooter Peter Wilson on my television screen every four years, but I enjoyed Mo Farah’s attempts at kayaking, the Brownlee brothers’ rivalry and being proved wrong by Helen Glover’s prowess on the track. And there was I thinking rowers are not always the most co-ordinated of athletes on dry land.

Back on our screens: Olympians took part in the BBC show Superstars

Back on our screens: Olympians took part in the BBC show Superstars

According to Fulham’s programme for their 1-1 draw with Southampton, I ‘swooned’ when I wrote about Dimitar Berbatov’s ‘style and swagger’ in his side’s 2-1 victory against Newcastle this month. That made me laugh, but not as much as the striker’s handwritten ‘Keep Calm and Pass Me the Ball’ T-shirt, which suggested Berbatov is not averse to ‘swooning’ about himself, either.

Performance of the week

Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert continues to predict that ‘Aston Villa will be fine’ despite his side suffering a 15-0 deficit over the festive period. That’s some crystal ball he got for Christmas.

Laura Williamson: Farewell to Plucky Brit syndrome, and good riddance

Farewell to the 'Plucky Brit' syndrome… and good riddance

|

UPDATED:

23:22 GMT, 23 December 2012

With all the hoo-hah over the Olympic and Paralympic sports that missed out on funding for the next four years, one very significant detail seems to have been overlooked.

As UK Sport announced a record 347million investment in British sport last week, they also revealed an ambitious target to beat 2012’s haul of 65 Olympic medals and 120 Paralympic medals in Rio de Janeiro.

We have just experienced the most incredible year of British sport and now we want to get even better That should surely be celebrated.

Golden year: UK Sport a investing record amount into sporting excellence in Britain in 2013

Golden year: UK Sport a investing record amount into sporting excellence in Britain in 2013

More from Laura Williamson…

Laura Williamson: Pity 2012 feelgood factor has faded so quickly
16/12/12

Laura Williamson: Wake up Gary, or Match of the Day's old boys' club may close for good
09/12/12

Laura Williamson: Booth and Co aim to end golf's old school traditions
02/12/12

Laura Williamson: I won't be fighting in Rio but you could as taekwondo seeks new stars
25/11/12

Laura Williamson: Dangerous message that strong isn't sexy for women
18/11/12

Laura Williamson: As Sportsmail enters the ring with an Olympic star, Jonas shows being a warrior woman is worth fighting for
11/11/12

Laura Williamson: Kids have no chance when vile chants are treated like nursery rhymes
06/11/12

Laura Williamson: Wit is the only way to counter football's vile chants
04/11/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

So too should UK Sport’s ‘no compromise’ approach to funding the British Olympic and Paralympic team. The organisation will only support genuine medal prospects, meaning some Olympians and Paralympians have been cast out in the cold.

The basketball, handball and wrestling squads, for example, which will not receive a penny unless they can show they’ve bucked their ideas up at their annual review.

Harsh Yes, certainly. But fair Definitely. This is sport we are talking about here. It isn’t reality television. It is brutal and it hurts like hell if you lose. That is why it’s such a delicious feeling to win.

And British sport is about winning these days, after all.

We’re being fanciful if we think we still exist in a sporting utopia in which every contest ends with the schmaltzy climax of a Disney film and the nice guys always get the gold. Elite level sport is not a pastime, it’s a profession. It’s about British Cycling’s much-applauded ‘marginal gains’ and a pragmatic, analytical pursuit of success.

In the past it has too often seemed our athletes have achieved success in spite of the system, but now it is because of it.

I feel for the people who missed out. I know how hard the women’s indoor volleyball team have worked and seen the strides the men’s basketball team have made.

I was upset when I realised I had broken the news to a goalball athlete on Twitter that the men’s team would not be receiving any future funding.

There was a long conversation with the father of a table tennis player who felt badly let down and confused as to the next step, having spent the last decade looking for bargain budget flights to far-flung corners of Europe so his son could try to win peanuts in prize money.

These athletes have every right to feel slighted and disappointed; to wonder about the next step in their careers. But they should not be surprised.

Benefits: British Cycling's approach to success has been a shining example to other sports

Benefits: British Cycling's approach to success has been a shining example to other sports

Their governing bodies have let them down if they thought it would be any other way.

Many of them experienced London 2012 purely because we were the host nation and their chances of making it to Rio are remote, to put it kindly.

We were utterly abysmal at most team
disciplines at London 2012, don’t forget. Why should UK Sport divert
cash from the sports that did deliver to allow people to spend another
four years chasing an impossible dream

It is far better to cut our losses and
concentrate on helping the next generation to build an Olympic
legacy, hence the 493m of money that Sport England will invest in
grassroots sport over the next four years.

Olympic table tennis, for instance,
had all of its elite level funding cut on Tuesday, yet its governing
body still claimed the ‘future for English table tennis is assured’
after a sport played regularly by almost 100,000 people received a 20
per cent increase in support for building participation.

Be inspired: Luol Deng is the stand-out star in a Team GB basketball team soundly beaten at the Games

Be inspired: Luol Deng is the stand-out star in a Team GB basketball team soundly beaten at the Games

This is not about class, as some have tried to make out. Cutting basketball’s elite level funding for the next four years will make little difference to the inner city kids who are basketball’s primary target audience. There is still potentially 6.75m of funding to come from Sport England for their benefit, including 1.54m to support young, emerging talent.

I realise these future stars need to see a pathway to success and have role models to follow, but I fail to see how watching a British basketball team getting regularly hammered would have more influence than a teenager seeing Luol Deng do his thing for the Chicago Bulls.

Neither do I automatically buy the claims about all the ‘sacrifices’ people made to reach London 2012, either. They could have been working from nine until five in a dead-end job they hated instead of pursuing their dream of being a full-time athlete.

The ‘Plucky Brit’ – eternally hopeless but emotionally heart-warming – has, thankfully, been consigned to history.

The UK Sport formula works. Elite level British sport is no longer about making up the numbers and celebrating getting to finals. We want to be on top of the podium now, thank you very much. It may be a brutal approach but it is also brilliant.

Transition: Gary Neville showed Laura behind the scenes at Monday Night Football

Transition: Gary Neville showed Laura behind the scenes at Monday Night Football

…AND THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN DOING THIS WEEK

Spent the day behind the scenes at Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football. Interested to see Gary Neville agonise over whether to call Reading 'naive' during their 5-2 defeat by Arsenal. He thought it reflected badly on the manager, Brian McDermott, which was not his intention, deciding to highlight Nicky Shorey's 'poor' game instead.

Small steps

At UK Sport's funding announcement on Tuesday there were three female executives alongside Sports Minister Hugh Robertson. On the same day, UK Athletics announced Jenni Banks as their new wheelchair racing coach, reporting to Paralympics head coach Paula Dunn. Small steps…

Taking the mic
Sitting behind the dug-out during Tottenham’s dull draw against Stoke I noticed fourth official Stuart Attwell taking off his microphone when speaking to the managers. Did he not want the man in the middle to hear

Performance of the week

Double Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin and her horse Valegro ended a remarkable 2012 with dressage victory at the World Cup freestyle event at London’s Olympia. They scored 87.975 per cent, which is rather good.

Carly Booth trying to end golf"s old school traditions

Booth and Co aim to end golf's old school traditions

|

UPDATED:

23:56 GMT, 2 December 2012

Carly Booth is a 20-year-old Scottish golfer who is third on the European Ladies’ Tour order of merit, having earned around 130,000 in prize money and won two tournaments in 2012.

We spoke on the phone last week, as Booth was playing in the Hero Women’s Indian Open, and talk turned to the future of the women’s game.

After all, golf will be an Olympic sport — for men and women — in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, one in four regular golfers in Europe are female and prize money on the European Ladies’ Tour has risen 7,700 per cent in three decades.

Success: Carly Booth celebrates winning the Scottish Open earlier this year

Success: Carly Booth celebrates winning the Scottish Open earlier this year

More from Laura Williamson…

Laura Williamson: I won't be fighting in Rio but you could as taekwondo seeks new stars
25/11/12

Laura Williamson: Dangerous message that strong isn't sexy for women
18/11/12

Laura Williamson: As Sportsmail enters the ring with an Olympic star, Jonas shows being a warrior woman is worth fighting for
11/11/12

Laura Williamson: Kids have no chance when vile chants are treated like nursery rhymes
06/11/12

Laura Williamson: Wit is the only way to counter football's vile chants
04/11/12

Laura Williamson: After Twenty20 World Cup we must now start taking women's cricket seriously
07/10/12

Laura Williamson: Don't use women's sport just to plug a gap, please Auntie…
23/09/12

Laura Williamson: Thanks to our Ellie, 'normal' has been redefined
16/09/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

But, despite the guff on the R&A’s website about golf being the game of ‘honesty, integrity and courtesy’, Booth is not allowed to be a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. ‘Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden’: isn’t that how it goes Although, silly me, that’s an old wives’ tale.

The Augusta National Golf Club admitted two female members last year but Muirfield, which will host the 2013 Open, is still a male-only organisation — ‘although ladies can play as guests or visitors every day of the week’. There is also a ‘small’ ladies’ locker room. How thoughtful of them.

‘Some courses will always have that old school tradition,’ said Booth. ‘But Augusta even had two lady members, so I’m sure they will change.

‘It’s not just Muirfield. Lots of places have separate male and female clubhouses. I don’t see why. It just isn’t right.’

There are ladies-only clubs as well, of course, but they will not host one of the greatest tournaments in sport. That is why we should get our knickers in a twist over this one: not because it’s the whim of a private club or because male golfers particularly care, but because it suggests, once again, that sportswomen are second-class citizens.

It’s against this backdrop that Booth took up the game, looking up to Annika Sorenstam but immersing herself in the men’s game and playing, even as a junior, with men ‘because there weren’t any girls to play with’. Things, however, are improving all the time.

‘The ladies’ game is definitely developing,’ says Booth. ‘There are so many lady golfers now. It’s things like how we dress; trying to get out there.

‘We want as much support as we can in the future so hopefully we can have more sponsorship, tournaments and money.’

Mission: Booth hopes to help bring an end to the male dominance of golf

Mission: Booth hopes to help bring an end to the male dominance of golf

Wait a minute: ‘How we dress’ Booth
is a beautiful young woman and I understand her desire to wear what she
wants to work (Ian Poulter has made a very nice sideline out of it), but
the phrase instantly jarred. Why should that matter ‘I make an effort
to look nice,’ she replies. ‘Match your shoes with your earrings,
something like that. You dress nice, you putt nice.

‘It all helps to make it more appealing. It might help to get more younger girls involved in the game, too.’

More appealing to whom, I wonder. Sex sells, but it does not always lead to a long-term commitment. Saying female athletes must be ‘feminine’ — in the stereotypical sense of the word — is a dangerous game.

But then I cannot help but smile at the idea of a lady golfer one day strolling into the clubhouse at Muirfield head to toe in pink, a fully-fledged member of the old boys’ club. Just because she wants to — and just because she can. And that’s the ultimate aim, after all.

Sky Sports HD has live coverage of the Dubai Ladies Masters between December 6-8 as part of the year-round schedule of women’s golf.

Tweet of the week

Former Australia international David Campese on the Sydney Morning
Herald’s new female rugby writer. ‘Why does the smh get a girl to write
about rugby….now we have someone who has no idea about the game!’ he
wrote, before deleting his tweet. It just shows you the danger of making
assumptions. Anyone would think he was a bloke who always thought he
was right and did not have a clue about journalism.

Main man: Bradley Wiggins

Main man: Bradley Wiggins

This is what I've been doing this week

Watching A Year in Yellow, a documentary about Bradley Wiggins’ last 12 months. I struggled with the claims that he is a staunchly private individual (delivered, with apparently no hint of irony, while being filmed in his garden shed or at his nan’s house), but it was impossible not to warm to him. Great Britain’s head cycling coach, Shane Sutton, was the star of the show.

Listening to a podcast of London 2012: What Now a BBC Radio 5 Live show about how athletes deal with the comedown after an Olympic Games. It was fascinating. Whether athletes’ dedication to their sport produces glory or devastation, what happens next Either way, they must be impossible to live with.

Pleased to see Nicola Adams included on the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year. The ‘personality’ bit seems to stand for the athlete who conjured up a moment that was the most personal to you and Adams’ history-making fight was right up there for me. So were David Weir’s four Paralympic golds, which totally transformed my view on disability sport.

Performance of the week

The men’s thrilling win at Twickenham on Saturday was a wonderful warm-up but England’s women then went on to complete a 3-0 series win against New Zealand with a 32-23 victory. Stop thinking ‘but it’s only the women’ and read that again: a 3-0 series win against the world champions, New Zealand. That is phenomenal.

Tiger Woods hopes long putters are banned

Long putters should be banned, says Woods as golf awaits outcome of ruling bodies

|

UPDATED:

10:20 GMT, 28 November 2012

Tiger Woods was hoping to hear on Wednesday that the way long putters are anchored to the body is going to be outlawed.

An announcement is expected at a teleconference being held by the Royal and Ancient Club and United States Golf Association, golf's two ruling bodies.

It is widely thought that from 2016 there will be no fixing of putters to a pivot point, whether it is the belly, chin or chest.

Keegan Bradley

Webb Simpson

Putt: Bradley and Simpson are among the last five major winners

Three of the sport's last five major winners – Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els – have used long putters in such a way.

Woods, in California this week for his final event of 2012, said: 'I was just asked my own opinion and that was it.

'I don't know if it carried any weight or not, but I just believe that the art of putting is swinging the club and controlling nerves.

'Having it as a fixed point, as I was saying all year, is something that's not in the traditions of the game.

No tradition: Woods wants long putters outlawed from the game

No tradition: Woods wants long putters outlawed from the game

Phil Duncan F1 blog

'We swing all 13 other clubs. I think the putter should be the same. It should be a swinging motion throughout the entire bag.

'I don't know if there's any statistical data on it, but I'm sure there is somewhere about whether or not anchoring the putter does help on a certain range of putts, especially the guys who have gotten the twitches a little bit.

'One of the things that I was concerned about going forward is the kids who get started in the game and starting to putt with an anchoring system.

'There have been some guys who have had success out here and obviously everyone always copies what we do. That's something that I think for the greater good of the game needs to be adjusted.'

Woods, the defending champion in the World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club, also said he was ruling out European Tour membership next season.

The possibility was there for him to meet the criteria after it was decided to include the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup in the 13-event minimum, but

Woods stated: 'I certainly understand the ruling and that's nice, but no.

'It's a bit much for me still. Certainly I've had opportunities over the years – I was very close a couple of times and could have taken membership up and played it.

'I enjoy playing around the world and I still always will, but I am going to play this (PGA) Tour.'

If there had been no minimum requirement Woods would have been the European circuit's leading money-winner six times between 1999 and 2007, but he added: 'It wasn't important to me.

'It just wasn't important to me. My main concern was winning major championships – I've won 14 of them and I'm very proud of that.'

Alan Pardew on Demba Ba: His faith makes him perfect professional

Alan Pardew: Brilliant Ba's faith makes him the perfect pro

|

UPDATED:

22:45 GMT, 2 November 2012

Signing Demba Ba in the summer of 2011 was a complete no-brainer for me and Newcastle United.

I still have contacts at West Ham, friends throughout the club who told me all about Demba. After watching his performances for West Ham, I was convinced he had the right attitude and characteristics. More importantly, he was a player who would score goals at this club.

One of the things I wanted to check out was his injuries. I had heard the rumours, and there was the failed medical at Stoke, but he trained every day at West Ham and they didn’t perceive it would be an issue.

Loving life: Alan Pardew enjoys working with Demba Ba

Loving life: Alan Pardew enjoys working with Demba Ba

Other than the fact there is a picture of his knee which doesn’t look very well, I wasn’t bothered. I’ve not even seen the picture. That’s not to say that at some time in his career it won’t have an effect on him, but he has trained every day with us, too. That is all I need to know.

As a man and a footballer he is strong, clear management material and a leader who tells you how it is. I like all of those attributes in a player.

He is a big leader in the dressing room and I want him here for years, to take the club forward.

Demba is one of a number of Muslim players at Newcastle United. We have as many as eight, and it is a very important part of our club.

Some don’t portray it openly, some do, and Demba is a strong believer who follows the traditions, perhaps more than others, and I respect that.

Their lifestyle makes for great professional footballers because they don’t drink, they live correctly and are absolutely perfect ambassadors for their religion. It is nice to listen to their opinions, too.

There are players who aren’t religious who live just as well. But this group’s focus on their life, career, profession and success is very important to them, and it is not just about how they live, eat, sleep or conduct their lives.

Perfect: Pardew hailed Ba's determination and professionalism

Perfect: Pardew hailed Ba's determination and professionalism

We have thought about building a prayer room for all faiths within St James’ Park which can be used on match days. It is right and we are still trying to nail a place down within the stadium and are investigating the issue to make sure we get it right.

Demba has shown great determination to get where he is today and I see that every day. I see it in negotiations with him. I think he has been hurt by the whole process and he wants to prove to people he is a top player.

I would like to think we have helped him do that at Newcastle United. We are one of the first clubs to offer him security. We all want Demba to stay at Newcastle and we’re working on trying to secure his future at the club.

Steve Bould "honoured" to be Arsenal No 2

Bould ready to fill Pat's big boots after moving up to be Wenger's right-hand man

|

UPDATED:

17:20 GMT, 24 May 2012

Steve Bould has described his appointment as Arsenal's assistance manager as 'an absolute privilege'.

The former Gunners defender, who had been working in the club's youth set-up, has replaced Pat Rice as Arsene Wenger's right-hand man.

Moving up: Steve Bould

Moving up: Steve Bould

Former reserve-team coach Neil Banfield has become the club's new first-team coach.

'It is more than excitement, it is an absolute privilege and an honour,' Bould told Arsenal Player.

'I know I have some big boots to fill with Pat having spent 44 years at the club and that is going to be the hard part.

'I will be learning on the job a little bit but myself and Neil Banfield are more than excited.'

Wenger added: 'I have always felt it is important to have people around who understand what this great club is all about.

'With Steve and Neil joining the first-team staff, it ensures we carry forward our traditions and approach in a consistent way.

'I am looking forward to working closely with Steve and Neil and wish them every success.'

London Marathon 2012: BBC show off the city ahead of Olympics

BBC show off the city during London Marathon ahead of Olympics

|

UPDATED:

21:33 GMT, 22 April 2012

If you pay close enough attention to your TV, chances are that come the end of August, you'll have seen enough of the streets of London to have a decent stab at passing the Knowledge and earning the right to drive a black cab in the bus lanes. But sorry, guv, don't go south of the river.

In March, there was the Sport Relief Mile. Then, of course, in summer there is the Olympic road racing. In between, it's one of our great modern traditions – the London Marathon.

Now in its 32nd year, the 'Virgin London Marathon', as host Sue Barker announced it (Sir Richard's upped his game and is buying capital cities, then) was the ideal opportunity for the BBC to get in a dress rehearsal for the Games.

Sights: Buckingham Palace forms the backdrop to the finish line

Sights: Buckingham Palace forms the backdrop to the finish line

Sights: Buckingham Palace forms the backdrop to the finish line

In doing so, they seem to have made Brendan Foster's century. Having previously covered every race from TV Centre at White City, he was now at the finishing line on The Mall, in what looked rather like a garden conservatory.

'Remarkable,' beamed Brendan. 'I've seen 817,819 (runners) in all, but it's the first time I'm actually going to see a human being in the flesh!'

One of those runners was GB prospect Freya Murray (one of many from around the world chasing a Stratford call-up), who told Colin Jackson that it should be a 'really good race amongst the British, as well as the race at the front', which puts our medal prospects in context, but also the London Marathon itself.

Within the ranks of thousands there are hundreds of mini-races, each with their own story. What surely makes the London Marathon so compelling – as Foster's co-commentator Steve Cram said: 'what sets it apart from other great races' – is the fact that aside from the competitive element, so much money is raised for an array of causes.

Towering success: The famous bridge is the half-way mark for the runners, while the famous tea clipper Cutty Sark is set to reopen

Towering success: The famous bridge is the half-way mark for the runners, while the famous tea clipper Cutty Sark is set to reopen

Towering success: The famous bridge is the half-way mark for the runners, while the famous tea clipper Cutty Sark is set to reopen

This is where the real human drama can be found, the spirit of which was summed up perhaps most touchingly when the late Jane Tomlinson's husband Mike (with their daughter) explained to Sue Barker: 'We shouldn't be running today, but no way we can't.'

Let us not forget that this was the Olympic city on display. Not that there was much chance of forgetting, as barely an opportunity was spurned to give us the full tour.

I imagine anyone watching was left in no doubt that the Cutty Sark would reopen in four days. Cram was also doing his best, pointing out that The Shard 'would be the tallest building in Western Europe', although his theory that it would manage that by 'putting a fairy on the top' may not be what the architect had in mind.

Human toll: The runners who race for charity have plenty of stories to tell

Human toll: The runners who race for charity have plenty of stories to tell

Human toll: The runners who race for charity have plenty of stories to tell

Of course, the thing about the London Marathon coverage is that it's, well, a marathon, not a sprint, and once the real racing's done, it's time for the multi-coloured river of fun runners that burst its banks in Blackheath to have its stories told.

This was instigated with Barker, now in The Mall (made good time there, Sue!) chatting to a former resident, one Prince Harry – who volunteered 'my brother and his wife' for next year's race – before handing to a team of reporters extricating thoughts and dedications from a variety of sweaty bodies all doing their bit, something the coverage was meticulous in acknowledging.

'London looks at its best today,' mused Foster. 'Imagine what it'll look like in August' Not too long to hold that thought now.

WEDGIES

Small hours of Tuesday morning over on ESPN America and part owner Jay-Z and Beyonce were watching The Nets beat the high flying Heat – Miami's last game in New Jersey before The Nets move to Brooklyn for the new NBA season…

ITV4 on Tuesday afternoon as Rajistan Royals play the Deccan Chargers in the IPL and in a list of tweets from viewers is a hello from David Lloyd. You just can't keep the boy Bumble out the of the game…

Saturday evening on ESPN at Loftus Road, and as QPR take the lead against Spurs, the camera finds two very sullen Spurs fans in the Rangers end – the camera being helped to spot them by two men in hooped shirts pointing at their heads and laughing…

Day 1 of the World Snooker Championships on BBC and John Virgo calls it like it is: 'another magic Crucible moment created by the King of The Crucible, Stephen Hendry'…

MASTERS 2012: Augusta in gender war – Martin Samuel

Augusta in the shadow of gender war

By
Martin Samuel

PUBLISHED:

21:38 GMT, 4 April 2012

|

UPDATED:

21:38 GMT, 4 April 2012

The sun burnt off the morning mist to reveal Augusta National in all its verdant glory, and the patrons began snaking their way downhill from the immaculate lawns in front of the clubhouse to the place of worship known as Amen Corner.

The course wasn’t quite ready for its close-up because a terrific overnight thunderstorm had left slices of it littered across the fairway. Dead leaves and pine straw interrupted the perfect lines. Men with rakes worked frantically on restoration. Augusta will be looking its best by Friday, they promised.

As long as nobody peers beneath the surface.

Serene: Augusta's natural beauty is one of the main attractions when the Masters comes to town

Serene: Augusta's natural beauty is one of the main attractions when the Masters comes to town

MASTERS BY NUMBERS

21 holes-in-one in 75 Masters. Padraig Harrington and Kirk Triplett aced the 16th 10 minutes apart in 2004

Several hours later Billy Payne, the
chairman of Augusta National, chief executive of the 1996 Atlanta
Olympic Games — the only edition not to be branded ‘the best Games ever’
by former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch — and an investment
banker with New York-based Gleacher & Company, sat before the
assembled media. He spoke proudly of this exquisite golf course, this
proud club, its founders and their noble traditions. He praised the
feats and remarkable narratives that had unfolded here. He then talked
with concern about the diminishing number of young golfers. He expanded
on Augusta’s great efforts to reverse this trend.

‘What ideas might attract kids and other groups of potential golfers to the game’ asked Payne. ‘How can these ideas be integrated into the expansive and impressive efforts of the other golf organisations The problems are so easy to identify. Golf is too hard; it takes too long to play; it’s not a team sport; it’s too expensive. The solution is more difficult. But we must try. Golf is too precious, too wonderful, to sit on the sidelines and watch decreasing participation. Whether we lead occasionally or follow always, it doesn’t matter; it only matters that we try.’

Hear, hear. But try what Try how Payne is chairman of an organisation that excludes 50 per cent of humanity on the grounds that they do not possess one vital piece of equipment. Put simply, you need wood to get into Augusta, but not the kind you take on the tee. No women are allowed. The argument around this issue has raged for a decade now, but is live again since Virginia Rometty took over as chief executive officer of IBM, one of the Masters’ main sponsors. Previous CEOs have been offered membership of this exclusive club. Then again, previous CEOs have been men.

Quite how Payne thought he was going to pull off preaching inclusion and practising exclusion, who knows The press call was two questions old when somebody dropped the W-bomb. It went down much like the falling tree that reduced an outhouse by the 16th tee to splinters on Tuesday night.

‘Well, as has been the case whenever that question is asked, all issues of membership are now and have been historically subject to the private deliberations of the members,’ said Payne. ‘That statement remains accurate and remains my statement.’

Under scrutiny: Billy Payne came under fire for Augusta's policy on female members

Under scrutiny: Billy Payne came under fire for Augusta's policy on female members

MASTERS BY NUMBERS

575 yards The longest hole is the second, called Pink Dogwood. The shortest, at 155 yards, is the 12th, named Golden Bell

It was tried again. ‘Is it possible to elaborate further on why membership for Mrs Rometty wouldn’t be considered’

Payne replied: ‘I guess two reasons. One, we don’t talk about our private deliberations; two, we especially don’t talk about it when a named candidate is a part of the question.’ The game of golf seemed to get smaller by the minute.

‘Mr Chairman, I note your concerns about the growth of golf around the world, and I also note that Augusta National is a very famous golf club. Don’t you think it would send a wonderful message to young girls if they knew that one day they could join this club’ Payne: ‘That deals with a membership issue, and I’m not going to answer it.’

‘No, it doesn’t.’

At which point, it became open season.

‘It seems like a mixed message. You’re throwing a lot of money into growing the game, and yet there’s still a perception that certain people are excluded.’

Payne: ‘That is a membership issue that I’m not going to — thank you for your…’
‘It sends…’

Payne: ‘Thank you.’

‘It sends a wonderful message to girls around the world that they could join this emblematic golf club. It’s not a membership question.’

Payne: ‘Thank you for your question, sir.’

Tough test: Justin Rose putting during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the Masters

Tough test: Justin Rose putting during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the Masters

MASTERS BY NUMBERS

-18 Lowest overall score, by Tiger Woods in 1997 when he won by 12 shots

+1 Highest score to win, in 1954 (Sam Snead), 1956 (Jack Burke Jnr) and 2007 (Zach Johnson)

A female voice seized the ball and ran. ‘Mr Chairman, as a grand-father, what would you say to your granddaughters How would you explain leading a club that does not include female membership’
Payne: ‘I think that’s a question that deals with membership and…’

The questioner interjected: ‘It’s a kitchen‑table, personal question.’

Payne: ‘Well, my conversations with my granddaughters are also personal.’

‘Well, what would you suggest I tell my daughters’ echoed a male colleague.

Payne: ‘I don’t know your daughters.’

To which the best reply would have been ‘And you’re never going to if you won’t let them join your stuck-up golf club, mate’, but sadly the interrogation persisted with a more reasoned approach.

‘About how this is the most prestigious golf club in the country, but they are not…’

‘I have no advice for you there, sir,’ said Payne.

As society continues to evolve so Augusta’s position grows increasingly indefensible. One day the years of male-only memberships will appear as incongruous as the Caucasians-only rule that existed in the US PGA prior to 1963.

‘As long as I’m alive,’ said Clifford Roberts, a founder of Augusta National in 1933 and Masters chairman from 1934 to 1976, ‘all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.’

It is testament to the faultless beauty of Augusta, the time and effort that goes into its vision of aesthetic flawlessness, that this past is so easily forgotten. And it is a gorgeous place, a truly captivating environment and one of the greatest arenas for sport.

Legend: Arnold Palmer made an appearance at Augusta for the Par 3 Contest

Legend: Arnold Palmer made an appearance at Augusta for the Par 3 Contest

MASTERS BY NUMBERS

46 & 21 The oldest winner was Jack Nicklaus (46 years, 2 months,
23 days) in 1986, the youngest
was Tiger Woods (21 years, 3
months, 14 days) in 1997

Yet this splendour also has the capacity to bewitch. There is good reason why the sports editor of one national newspaper allows his Masters correspondents a single mention of azaleas all week, and strikes completely any use of the adjective ‘manicured’. Without self-control reports from here could quickly become hackneyed celebrations of horticulture and southern charm.

Players are not subject to such editorial control, however, and continue to talk of Augusta traditions as if all were admirable, when on the margins sit men like Pete Brown and Charlie Sifford, black pioneers on the PGA tour who never got to play in a tournament that should have been their destiny.

‘Before I won [the 1964 Waco Turner Open in Oklahoma] they were taking tournament winners,’ Brown recalled. ‘Once I won they changed the rules. They had a kind of points system like they do now in the FedEx Cup. Also, if you played good the former champions could invite you; but the Masters sent out a list for them to vote. If your name wasn’t on that list, you couldn’t play anyway.’

No doubt, players could have done more in Brown’s day, just as they have the power to influence male membership issues now. Asked about it earlier this week, however, Lee Westwood preferred to hide behind jokes.

They all want that Masters invitation to continue dropping through the letterbox. Rory McIlroy spoke of the honour he felt on opening this one particular piece of mail, despite his trauma on the 10th last year. Westwood described the particular appeal. ‘Every putt you approach here is a new challenge,’ he explained. ‘Every single one.’

A recent survey by Golf World magazine made Augusta National the professionals’ favourite. ‘It makes you feel uncomfortable, but in a good way,’ said one.

Increasingly, though, not everybody finds agreement with the second clause of that rather personal statement.

Favourite: Rory McIlroy will be one to watch when the Masters gets underway on Thursday

Favourite: Rory McIlroy will be one to watch when the Masters gets underway on Thursday

MASTERS BY NUMBERS

63 The lowest round in Masters history,by Nick Price (1986) and Greg Norman (1996)

DOWN THE DECADES…

Thirty Years Ago: The opening two rounds of the Masters are televised for the first time and it might have been the most exciting part of the tournament, as Craig Stadler went on to beat Dan Pohl in a one-hole play-off.

Forty Years Ago: Jack Nicklaus joined Arnold Palmer as a four-time champion and the Golden Bear was seen in all his glory as colour photos were despatched over the wires from Augusta for the first time.

Fifty Years Ago: The Masters had its first three-way play-off and the legend of Arnold Palmer grew as he came home in 31 shots before going on to beat Gary Player and Dow Finsterwald in sudden death.

Sixty Years ago: Ben Hogan has his wish granted and gets to play host as the first champions’ dinner is held. The man who won and got to host it the following year was his great rival, Sam Snead.

Seventy Years Ago: Gallery control and roping are introduced as the Masters grows in popularity and esteem. Byron Nelson beating Ben Hogan in a play-off can only have helped.

Derek Lawrenson

Ollie Phillips joins Gloucester

Former England Sevens skipper Phillips heads to Gloucester

On the move: Phillips has joined Gloucester

On the move: Phillips has joined Gloucester

Gloucester have strengthened their back division with the signing of former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips.

The Cherry and Whites turned to Phillips after wing Lesley Vainikolo left the club for La Rochelle and full-back Olly Morgan suffered a season-ending knee injury.

The 29-year-old has been a free agent since leaving Stade Francais in the summer, when a knee injury hampered his search for a new club.

But Phillips trained with the England Sevens squad to regain his fitness and will link up with Gloucester after this weekend's Heineken Cup clash with Harlequins.

'It's a fantastic opportunity for as I've always had a great deal of admiration for Gloucester and its rugby traditions,' said Phillips, who was the IRB world sevens player of the year in 2009.

'It's a proper rugby club in a proper rugby city and Kingsholm is a place I've always enjoyed playing at. I can't think of a place I'd rather play my rugby.

'I had a call from Bryan (Redpath, the Gloucester director of rugby) who told me that Lesley Vainikolo was moving on and that he needed to strengthen the squad.

'Then I heard that Olly Morgan was injured, which was terrible news. Olly is actually a really good friend of mine and I'm gutted for him but the news sped things up a bit.

'I'm fit and raring to go. There was an opportunity to play some Sevens but, once I knew of Gloucester's interest, my mind was made up.'