A Questionnaire of Sport: The stars name their own stars to light up 2003


Katharine Merry on athletics

Katharine Merry on athletics

Who will make the biggest impact in your sport in 2003 and why?

You couldn't fail to be inspired by what Paula Radcliffe has done this year. I've known her since our days in the junior team together and it's been wonderful seeing her win gold medals on the track and break a world record in the marathon. She's made the improvements she needed to make her that bit faster and she's thoroughly deserved everything she'd gained. Even if she wasn't British I'd be going, 'Wow. Look at her. Isn't she amazing?' Next year shouldn't be different.

Which up-and-coming talent should we look out for?

I'm probably biased, because he trains in the same group as me [under the guidance of Linford Christie in Cardiff], but I would say Matt Elias. He broke the Welsh 400m hurdles record, running 49.28sec, took a Commonwealth silver [just behind Chris Rawlinson], and ran a 44.2sec relay split [0.1sec faster than Daniel Caines, who just held him off on the last leg of the Commonwealth 4 x 400m relay final]. He's really come through this year and is a big raw talent.

What are your personal hopes and ambitions for next year?

Just to get back running and back in the mix after missing the 2002 season with a heel injury. There's no one in the 400m who's out of sight. Only two women have got under 50 seconds this year, Ana Geuvera and Lorraine Fenton, so the event hasn't really moved on. I've got under 50 seconds a couple of times and if I can do that again I can get back among the mix. The world championships are in Paris and I've got a lot of connections with France [Merry's husband, Olivier-Jean Theodore, is a French international].

If you could change or improve one aspect of your sport, what would it be?

Just to make it cleaner. Paula's made it such a high-profile issue and the more high-profile it gets the more will be done about it. The more something's done about it the more chance there is of a level playing field. On the negative side, that's what I'd like to be seen done. On the positive side, I'd like to see more kids get involved in the sport.

Interview by Simon Turnbull

Barry McGuigan on boxing

Who will make the biggest impact in your sport in 2003 and why?

Lennox Lewis. He will be looking to solidify his place in history and I see him having three fights, against the Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir, and Mike Tyson again. Lennox has been a tremendous champion but he hasn't got the greatest chin in the world, and Wladimir is a 6ft 7in Adonis who can knock him out. But I can still see Lewis winning all three. The fight I want to see more than any is Roy Jones against John Ruiz. Jones is amazingly talented but the question is whether he has the intestinal fortitude to be a heavyweight.

Which up-and-coming talent should we look for?

Alex Arthur, the British super-featherweight champion, has already shown his potential. He may take a few punches but he also cleverly adapts to the style of his opponent. He is the best young talent we've got out there, alongside Ricky Hatton, closely followed by an unbeaten welterweight, David Barnes. There's also Matthew Macklin, Stevie Foster and even David Haye. But Arthur's the man for me.

What are your personal hopes and ambitions for next year?

I have just signed a new contract with Sky and my aim is to get better at what I do as a boxing analyst. I don't think the BBC can hold a candle to us. They are so bumptious and cocky about their coverage, but it is good for boxing that they are back in the game. And as president of the British Boxers' Association, I want to see more boxers join and make our union stronger.

If you could change or improve one aspect of your sport, what would it be?

Boxing is still the most popular one-on-one sport in the world, but I would like to see promoters disregard all these meaningless titles. What we need are more unification fights. There are some super 10-rounders out there, too, as the Americans have shown. I also want more safety measures, with the Board of Control turning down boxers who seem to be having weight problems, however big the fight. More than 90 per cent of fighters struggle to make weight and that brings the risk of brain damage.

Interview by Alan Hubbard

Darren Clarke on golf

Who will make the biggest impact in your sport in 2003 and why?

My fellow Ulsterman Graeme McDowell made an immediate impact when he started playing on the Tour last season and won after only a handful of starts, but I think England's Paul Casey will be equally big next year. Paul did not quite achieve what he wanted for himself last season considering the talent that he has, but he is now ready to take his place on the European Tour's top table. I will be very surprised indeed if he does not make the 2004 Ryder Cup team.

Which up-and-coming talent should we look out for?

Nothing is predictable in golf, but I have no hesitation in naming South Africa's Charl Schwartzel as a potential superstar. In fact, I believe he will be one very soon... and that's not just my opinion – Open champion Ernie Els is of the same mind. Charl collected his Tour card at the year-ending Qualifying School. At 18 years, two months he was the second youngest ever to achieve that feat. The teenager has everything.

What are your personal hopes and ambitions for the year?

Apart from getting the family home sorted out as quickly as possible, because moving has been a nightmare, they involve fulfilling everything I did not achieve in a largely disappointing 2002. I want to have a title early in the season and go on consistently to give myself opportunities to win. I was dissatisfied to have won only once last season, but I intend to put that right.

If you could change or improve one aspect of your sport, what would it be?

I would like to see authorities limit the length professionals are hitting the ball. Something has to be done to stop courses being overpowered. A great number of people are hitting the ball a long way – 345 yards and rising – and it's taking away the advantage those with talent previously held. We will never again see wooden drivers, but it would be interesting to see what the ball flight is like with persimmon rather than metal. I'm talking about pros only – I'm in favour of anything that enhances the enjoyment that amateurs get.

Interview by Andy Farrell

Olivier Dacourt on football

Who will make the biggest impact in your sport in 2003 and why?

Two strikers will dominate the headlines next year. One of them will be confirming his achievements, while the other will be returning to his best. If you look at the way Thierry Henry plays for Arsenal and France, I can't see how he will fail to be the Premiership's Player of the Year. He is the most complete centre-forward around and, if available, would be top of every manager's shopping list. As for Nicolas Anelka, I have been noticing how he is slowly and quietly coming back to form. He has clearly found a club in Manchester City and coach in Kevin Keegan he likes, and he is definitely on the way back.

Which up-and-coming talent should we look out for?

I know there has been a lot of talk about Everton's Wayne Rooney, but we have a young kid of our own who can become a real star. And I'm not just saying this because James Milner is a Leeds United player. You only have to look at the quality of his performances since he's been coming on this season to realise that he could go a long way. He's a very complete player for a kid of his age, and he conducts himself in a really impressive manner. People haven't realised that he was even younger than Rooney when he scored his goal against Sunderland. He's going a little unnoticed, but that will change in 2003.

What are your personal hopes and ambitions for the year?

My one remaining dream is to establish myself as a regular in the French national team, and then go to the European Championship in Portugal in 2004. I've played for France, but I want to be involved all the time. For that to happen, though, I need to be playing good football for my club. I know that, and that's why I want to get back in the first team as soon as possible.

If you could change or improve one aspect of your sport, what would it be?

I think that throw-ins should be scrapped in favour of free-kicks. If you could use your feet to swing the ball in from the touchline, it would add to the spectacle. There would be more dangerous balls landing in the penalty box and, as a consequence, more goals. The new rule would also make defenders think twice about hoofing the ball into touch, something which would also help create a faster-flowing game.

Interview by Alex Hayes

David Graveney on cricket

Who will make the biggest impact in your sport in 2003 and why?

Michael Vaughan is ready to be one of the most influential batsmen in the world. He had a pretty good 2002 with a sequence of fine hundreds, but the way he has developed against all bowling – a massive contribution from Duncan Fletcher there – speaks of a player who is entering his prime. Vaughan is already one of the highest rated players in the world and can go on from here. The quality of his strokeplay is obvious and his temperament is first-rate. If I had to pick a player from around the world it would be Shane Warne. Until his recent shoulder injury he had enjoyed a marvellous renaissance. I think he has it in him to continue being one of the major threats to batsmen. He is a great who enjoys being a great.

Which up-and-coming talent should we look out for?

A close call between Simon Jones and Stephen Harmison. For the first time in a very long time we have two very quick bowlers. Most people agree that any side that want to be successful have got to have high speed and mystery spin. This pair provide one of those options. We have identified them both as leaders of our attack for the future. Jones's horrific knee injury in Brisbane was desperately unfortunate, but he has the character to get back into it. They both have work to do but look to have the ingredients. They are different types of bowlers and they can both do well for England. But in view of Jones's injury I'd say Harmison for 2003.

What are your personal hopes and ambitions for the year?

It would be tremendously helpful if we looked at the way we played the game in this country. We must examine the number of games we play and how we play them so that we can start to close the gap on Australia. That has to be the wish of us all. It is what we have to be geared towards: beating Australia.

If you could change or improve one aspect of your sport, what would it be?

Any hope of enduring improvement rests on choosing properly between play and practice. We play too much, we don't have enough time for practice.

Interview by Stephen Brenkley

Mark Johnston on racing

Who will make the biggest impact in your sport in 2003 and why?

Whether we like it or not, it's the Office of Fair Trading. They are investigating many aspects of the way racing is run and I fear that, at the very least, this will result in some major arguments and upheavals. I do not think it is safe to say that just because the OFT are staffed by intelligent people with extensive experience of conducting such investigations, and they have carried out rigorous and lengthy enquiries, that they will reach the right conclusions. I'm not one of those who would "close ranks" to avoid change, but I don't have a lot of faith in outside government agencies trying to change systems that have taken decades to evolve.

Which up-and-coming talent should we look out for?

Jockey Keith Dalgleish. He has made steady progress up the ranks and is now, despite his relatively low profile, capable of mixing it at the highest level.

What are your personal hopes and ambitions for the year?

I don't like to chase records just for the sake of being a record-breaker, but I have said for some time that, by breaking Henry Cecil's record of nine consecutive centuries of winners, I wanted to show that we were the most consistent yard in the country. Now that we are so close, it is the most important goal for me in 2003. I also want to continue the upgrading of the stock in our yard and, hopefully, inch closer to the No 1 position in the training ranks.

If you could change or improve one aspect of your sport, what would it be?

All of us want to see further increases in owners' prize money, but in 2002 I have come to realise that I have a separate, and equally important, goal for racing. It is clear to me that many of racing's ills and, in particular, the perception that there can be great advantages in not winning, stem from our reliance on the handicap system. I want to see that system changed to ensure that the advantages from moving down the handicap scale are minimised and horses are, as near as possible, rewarded in relation to ability.

Interview by Sue Montgomery

Damian Hopley on rugby union

Who will make the biggest impact in your sport in 2003 and why?

I shall be toasting the incredible achievement of Jason Leonard winning his 100th cap for England. I'm in awe of him and we'll never see his like again. The sheer longevity of his career, especially for a prop, is mind-blowing and sets a great example to every other professional, but there's something else. The reason why he has endeared himself to so many people is that he plays with a smile on his face.

Which up-and-coming talent should we look out for?

James Simpson-Daniel is such an exciting ball player and I expect to see a lot more of him. At the moment he's a bit like Simon Halliday, a talent who was stuck out on the wing. I would be interested to see Simpson-Daniel at centre for England. It is perhaps the one area where we need a little more creativity. The young Leicester centre Ollie Smith is another to watch. With players like Jonny Wilkinson and Jason Robinson, England have a multi-functional threequarter line.

What are your personal hopes and ambitions for the year?

It is imperative that a northern- hemisphere country breaks the southern monopoly on the World Cup. As a former England player I would like it to be England, and I sense it all coming together. England will be under tremendous pressure in Australia and there's a question mark over their away form, but they have strength and depth they never had before. When you look at young forwards like Lewis Moody, James Forrester and Ben Kay, there's an array of talent pushing very hard.

If you could change or improve one aspect of your sport, what would it be?

We must have a structured season that will guarantee the players 14 weeks' rest so they will have time to recover. It would lead to a significant improvement in all areas, raising the values of commercial and playing aspects. When we've got the right structure the potential will be fulfilled. Some clubs' finances are not as robust as we thought and the promotion and relegation stage will come back to haunt.

Interview by Tim Glover

John Lloyd on tennis

Who will make the biggest impact in your sport in 2003 and why?

It is with hope rather than confidence that I nominate Andy Roddick. The game needs American stars, it is important for someone in the United States to take over from Agassi and Sampras. Roddick has the power, the skill and is very charismatic. I was disappointed with him in 2002 because he almost took a step back. But if he can improve his court awareness he has the potential to make the jump into the top half-dozen and maybe achieve something even bigger.

Which up-and-coming talent should we look out for?

Chile's 21-year-old Fernando Gonzalez made one of the biggest leaps in the rankings this year and was one of the most eye-catching competitors with his serving and forehand. Having ended 2001 at No 135 in the world he surged up to inside the top 20. He is a wonderful talent and it would not surprise me to see him as a Grand Slam contender. Of Britain's players, Alex Bogdanovic has done well and improved steadily.

What are your personal hopes and ambitions for the year?

An injury-free year on the seniors circuit would be nice after two bad years with knee problems and a couple of arthroscopic operations. However, they were the first two bad years I have had in a long playing career. I was also able to expand my TV commentating in 2002 and would like to keep that going. And, who knows, Britainmight be interested one of these days in offering me and my brother David further involvement in the game's future!

If you could change or improve one aspect of your sport, what would it be?

Tennis needs to be better promoted. I went to the recent women's world championships in Los Angeles, and all the players could talk about was how tired they were. Quite rightly, the local media ripped into them. Footballers are tired by the time the FA Cup final comes round, American footballers are tired by the time of Super Bowl. Yet the women were getting $50,000 each just for turning up. They should remember people with a 9 to 5 job are tired, too.

Interview by Ronald Atkin

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