AT AN ungodly hour in London last Thursday morning a small group of people gathered in the Adidas store on Oxford Street. They were there to unveil the official Team GB kit for Beijing, and among their number were seven potential medallists.
Ninety-two pieces of kit are given to each athlete, adding up to 75,000 individual 'units', made up of 680 different products, with the heat and humidity of Beijing obviously a key factor in its development. Dr Marco Cardinale, an honorary lecturer at Aberdeen University as well as head of sports science and research at the British Olympic Association, has played an important role in the development of much of this kit.
The impression is that nothing has been left to chance; that even the tiniest detail has been taken care of. Chris Tomlinson, the long jumper, pointed out that "athletes analyse every part of their performance now… when there are so many world class athletes out there you're looking for that tiny detail which will give you an extra edge."
Here is the thing, though – and it illustrates that the British Olympic Association is still capable of neglecting some rather important details. This kit launch, involving those seven medal hopes, got underway at 7.30am. One of them, a gold medallist in Athens, said, while rubbing his bleary eyes, that the taxi sent by the BOA to collect him from his hotel had arrived at 5.30am.
It might not sound like a big deal for those used to catching the 'red-eye', but those athletes who aim to peak in Beijing in eight weeks are typically now in the hardest – and most important – period of their training. Liz Yelling, the marathon runner who was also at the kit launch, said that she is currently running between 15 and 25 miles a day.
The timing was, of course, dictated by the fact that at 9am the doors of the enormous store, adorned on the outside not with Olympians but with giant images of Chelsea footballers, opened to the public. Two questions occurred: why did the launch have to be held in a place with a chucking out time of 9am? And would the superstars of Chelsea submit so easily to such demands from their sponsors, and get up at 5.30am to attend a press conference? Would anyone even dare ask them?
Otherwise, Simon Clegg, chief executive of the BOA and Team GB's chef de mission for Beijing, spoke about the team's aspirations. It was interesting to hear what he said, and to see how he said it, because he appeared circumspect. "We have to scratch below the medal surface," he said in relation to whether Beijing might indicate that the team is on track for London in 2012, when the target is to finish fourth in the medals table.
That 2012 target was set by the BOA, though, curiously, Clegg was unwilling to reveal any targets for Beijing, even though UK Sport has said top eight is the aim. "We haven't set a target," insisted Clegg. "We need to be more scientific, and drill down into the performance of the whole team rather than just look at medals." Sounds like a case of getting your excuses in first.
Clegg admits united defeat
SIMON Clegg, the British Olympic Association chief executive, rolled his eyes as he was asked, once again, about efforts to get the Scottish and Welsh Football Associations to discuss entering a joint British team in the London Olympics. We were speaking at the early morning kit launch in London on Thursday, and Clegg came close to admitting defeat. "I have tried many times to get them to sit down around a table to discuss it," he said, "and I'm disappointed it hasn't happened. But if people aren't willing to discuss it, what can you do?
"I've tried very hard," he continued, "and spectacularly failed."
The result is likely to be that the men's and women's teams that represent Great Britain in 2012 will be English-only, which would still, presumably, present the threat the SFA are so concerned about, since the very fact of a British team – even if it is actually England in disguise – could threaten the status of the home nations. Will Fifa care that the SFA hasn't endorsed the British team? Not likely. But on the prospect of British teams, Clegg is adamant: "We've made it very clear we're entering teams in the men's and women's football competitions in 2012, even if they are composed entirely of English players."
Youths show way in Kenya
THE second Commonwealth Sports Development Conference, hosted again by Glasgow, concluded on Friday. It was hailed a great success by Michael Cavanagh, chairman of the newly-renamed Commonwealth Games Scotland (CGS), formerly the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland.
Cavanagh says that the presence of 68 Commonwealth Games Associations amounted to a huge vote of confidence in the conference, and allowed for some useful "dialogue" regarding the 2014 Glasgow Games. The conference, with its focus on development rather than elite sport, emphasised to Cavanagh that the developed world has much to learn from the developing world in this area. "What some projects do with limited resources is incredible," says Cavanagh.
Among the groups who presented to the Glasgow conference was the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA), based in the Mathare slum in Nairobi.
It runs 18,000 programmes, mainly based around football, and it uses sport to promote health and education.
But it isn't only concerned with grassroots sport – it also runs a professional football team, and eight of the Kenyan national football side come from the MYSA. Perhaps most impressively, it is exclusively managed by young people – there is a maximum age of 21 for those on its management groups, and one group has as its vice-chairperson a ten-year-old girl.
There are lessons here, says Cavanagh. "Having young people close to the decision-making is something we'd like to promote more widely throughout the Commonwealth Games movement."