With one year to go, the build-up to the London Olympics has been a roler coaster ride so far, writes Danny Collins
Ten years is a long time in the life of any sport. For athletics, it is an eternity. From the humiliation sustained by the Picketts Lock fiasco to the very cusp of “the greatest show on earth”, British athletics has provided its followers with the full spectrum of emotions down the years. Here we chart the events, performances and individuals that have left an indelible mark upon the build-up to London 2012.
October 4, 2001
The embryonic plans of a bid for the 2012 Olympics were almost brought to an abrupt stand-still before they could begin in 2001 when Britain handed back the responsibility of holding the 2005 World Championships in Picketts Lock, north London, to the IAAF. Cue a wave of indignation and embarrassment as many people asked: “If London cannot organise a World Championships, how could it host an Olympics?”
The Labour Government cited the rapidly spiralling costs of a new 43,000-seater stadium as unacceptable, with Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium being mooted as a possible successor. The IAAF did not take kindly to such a suggestion, stating: “Like the Olympics, if you change the city you change everything.”
They were not alone in their disappointment. A bemused Sebastian Coe gave a damning verdict: “People abroad must be looking at us with incredulity, and if I was sitting on the IAAF committee I’d genuinely wonder if we in Britain were capable of operating a whelk stall.”
Coe would go on to dispel such fears, and in the year London had been expected to host the World Championships he would prove vital in helping to secure the city the greatest sporting event of them all.
July 15, 2003
This was the deadline to submit a bid to the IOC and London found competition from Madrid, New York, Paris, Moscow, Havana, Istanbul, Leipzig and Rio de Janeiro.
May 18, 2004
The IOC reduced the nine contenders to just five cities: London, Moscow, Paris, New York and Madrid.
July 6, 2005
London made history on July 6, 2005, in Singapore when it was announced as the host for the 2012 Olympics – the first city to host the Games three times, following 1908 and 1948.
Previous failed bids for an Olympics in Birmingham and Manchester had shown beyond doubt that London was the only feasible location for a Games, and so it would prove as the Government backed the London bid in May 2003.
During a tumultuous process in which London had long been in the shadow of the frontrunner, Paris, a late surge saw the London bid, led by Coe, secure the Games. Much weight was given to the theory that the last-minute campaigning of Tony Blair and David Beckham had won the Games for London. This would be to do a great disservice to a bid, first conceived by the BOA in 1997, which formulated the powerful idea of a legacy for the Games.
Following the resignation of Barbara Cassani in 2004 as the bid’s chairman, Coe took the reins and successfully led the London bid to a four-vote victory over Paris in the final round of voting. Coe would go on to oversee the deliverance of the ideas he had so passionately impressed upon the IOC.
Coming only four years after London had handed back to the IAAF the responsibility for hosting the 2005 World Championships, the awarding of the Olympics in 2005 was a turnaround of remarkable gravity.
There was bad news, though, when the bid victory was overshadowed by terrorist attacks in London on July 7.
June 4, 2007
There was uproar as a controversial Olympic logo was unveiled. The design divided opinion and led to strong criticism in some quarters.
London 2012 organisers, however, insisted it was a modern and flexible design that was aimed mainly at the younger generation.
Almost as if the Olympic organisers were intent on proving that London would deliver upon all of its promises, work began on the Olympic Stadium in Stratford three months early in mid-2008.
The laying of foundations for the £496m stadium began after the process of removing thousands of tonnes of contaminated soil had been completed ahead of schedule.
A time of 9.69 seconds was all it took to put athletics back on the map. When Usain Bolt stormed to the Beijing Olympic 100m gold, he not only redefined what was thought possible, but he also re-introduced an exhilaration the sport had so urgently needed since the days of Carl Lewis and Daley Thompson. Millions of floating athletics fans around the world returned to the sport, astounded by what the Jamaican, who few outside of athletics circles had heard of before, had achieved.
Bolt, of course, was far from a new kid on the block. The youngest world junior champion in history, he had for long been predicted great things – the real shock came in how quickly his talent blossomed, and blossom it did. Following a 9.72 world record run early in the season, he would prove a man for the big occasion, taking three world records and three gold medals in front of over a billion viewers around the globe.
It wasn’t only his supreme talent that delighted fans, either. His demeanour, relaxed yet controlled, endeared him to a new generation of fans, and gave athletics the front pages for the right reasons.
His exploits, allied with his fascinating rivalry with the brilliant Tyson Gay, will provide London with the expectation and electricity it will need to become a truly great Olympics.
When Beijing ended, too, it was a crucial moment for London as the baton of responsibility very much passed to the British city in that moment and the glare of the spotlight moved away from China and toward the 2012 host.
The English football team has made a habit of appointing expensive foreign coaches to no avail in recent years. Their athletics counterparts have proved much more successful following the appointment of Charles Van Commenee as head coach in 2008.
The Dutchman, who coached Kelly Sotherton and Denise Lewis to Olympic heptathlon bronze and gold medals respectively, as well as leading the Dutch team to their second best Olympic performance in 2008, has proved himself a tough taskmaster. Just two weeks ago he announced that British athletes would not attend the Olympic opening ceremony.
A public disagreement with Phillips Idowu following his withdrawal from the European Team Championships does a disservice to a man who inspires great confidence and loyalty from his athletes. Van Commenee has made a habit of identifying the major problems facing British athletics, and he is beginning to see the fruits of his labour present themselves as 2012 approaches.
Where Britain missed out on its target of five medals in Beijing, a strong nucleus of truly world-class talent accompanied by a larger group of potential medal hopes has been assembled by Van Commenee. Dai Greene, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Idowu provide the real possibility of gold medals in Stratford, with a supporting cast of Jenny Meadows, Perri Shakes-Drayton, Chris Tomlinson and Greg Rutherford likely to challenge for podium positions.
Van Commenee will be tasked with ensuring that Britain’s athletes retain their focus as the pressure of 2012 mounts, and for this reason alone he will be integral to the success of the Games.
Sydney had Cathy Freeman, Beijing had Liu Xiang and London will have Jessica Ennis. For the Sheffield athlete has become, undoubtedly, the face of the Games so far.
The prodigiously-talented heptathlete announced her Olympic credentials to the world in 2009 when she won gold at the World Championships by a resounding 238 points.
Ennis recognises the pressure she will face in the coming year: “With it being next year, it’s quite scary. I suppose it puts quite a lot of pressure on you if everyone expects you to bring home a gold medal.”
It will become a pressure Ennis, alongside diver Tom Daley, will learn to cope with as 2012 approaches. Her continued excellence could go on to provide the catalyst for a successful Games for Team GB’s athletes.
May 19, 2010
Wenlock and Mandeville, the official mascots of the Olympics and Paralympics, were shown to the public for the first time. They were named after Much Wenlock and Stoke Mandeville, both of which had strong parts to play in the history of the Olympics and Paralympics, and their release was accompanied by a video.
February 11, 2011
The term “legacy” was one of the very foundations on which the bid for the 2012 Olympics was based. So when it was proposed by Tottenham Hotspur that they would bid for the Olympic Stadium on the basis that they would redevelop it solely as a football venue and instead redevelop Crystal Palace, it was met with widespread anger.
West Ham’s rival bid, which proposed to retain the athletics track and downgrade the capacity from 80,000 to 60,000, was widely seen as the bid which would help the Olympic Park provide an athletics legacy.
Coe came out in support of West Ham’s bid, saying: “It’s really serious that we deliver on what we said we were going to deliver, unless we are prepared to trash our international reputation.”
The Hammers’ bid would go on to be approved by the Olympic Park Legacy Company and, despite protestation and appeals from Tottenham and Leyton Orient, they will call the Olympic Stadium their home following the Games.
June 25, 2011
If ever a golden ticket existed, it is for the London Games, as millions of Britons will attest. Where Athens struggled to fill even some of the most popular events, and where Beijing was often forced to bring in hundreds of choreographed supporters, London has almost sold out – a year in advance.
A fantastic story in itself, and a promise of capacity venues fulfilled; however, the ticketing process was not without controversy. Astronomical sums bid for tickets, confusion about payment methods, millions left empty-handed – you name it, sports fans found fault with it.
More than one million applied for the limited supply of 100m final tickets, and the few remaining athletics tickets were snapped up early in the second chance ballot, held for the million of those who had been allocated no tickets in the original sale.
Anger reverberated about the sale of tickets to EU citizens, the perceived unfairness of the allocation process and the ability of the Olympic ticket website to withstand phenomenal demand.
However, the fact remains that all athletics sessions will be sold out – a fantastic signal for the Games ahead if ever there was one.
July 27, 2011
Today marks the “one year to go” milestone as London prepares to welcome the world.