And where on earth is that, you may well ask. Well, it is the furthest- flung outpost of Greece, an Aegean island close to the Turkish coast, steeped in Greek mythology and the spiritual home of Nike - no, not the US sports-gear people but the winged goddess of victory who was symbolic of the original Olympics. Even Homer was said to nod here occasionally. From ancient to modern: Samothrace is also the location of a 500-strong convention of Greek journalists brought together this weekend by the Athens 2004 organisers for an update on next year's Olympic happening. It is rather like London holding an Olympic briefing on the Isle of Skye. For the assembled journos, many of whom subscribe more to the theories of Cassandra, the oracle of doom, than Nike, it is an opportunity to be reassured by an Olympic historian. Anthony Edgar, an Australian who worked at the 2000 Games and is now with the IOC, has reminded them that at a similar stage, Sydney had its doubters, too. "It is always the same story before most Olympics, that they will never be ready on time. But invariably they are," he said. Athens will be too, especially since Nike will now be spreading her famous wings across the redesigned Olympic medal which has been given a makeover for the first time in 17 years. This will reflect the Greek origins of the Games and their revival in Athens. The 1,500 friendly folk who populate this idyllic island are thrilled to be caught up in an event due to take place 500 miles away. If London can generate as much Olympic fervour on the Isle of Skye - or even the Isle of Dogs - they will be well on the way for 2012. For the moment, though, the Olympics are coming home to Homer.
Ryan lays down law to keep Athens safe
The Games begin in Athens in August next year, just 397 days from now - and on Friday the 13th, too. So the traditional worry-beads are working overtime, just like the construction corps, to fulfil the promise of Games president Gianna Angelopolous that "all the projects will be delivered on time". She admits concern that the football stadium, the light-railway system and the main stadium roof are behind schedule, but says they will catch up. One aspect in which Athens is way ahead of the Games, however, is security, thanks to the groundwork of former British bobby Peter Ryan, who is overseeing the safety of the city. Ryan, 57, who had a similar role in Sydney and Salt Lake City, heads up a £600 million operation with a 50,000-strong security force. As the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, has already advised London that security must be their main priority, no doubt Ryan will be getting a phone call from Downing Street - but they had better get in quick. Such is his reputation that he has already been booked for Beijing 2008.
England put best foot forward for Britain
Britain has not had a football team in the Olympic tournament since 1956, because the home-nation associations are scared stiff that Fifa will say if it is OK for UK United to play in the Games, then why not just one team for the World Cup? But next year a British team could be in Athens - though this is for the Paralympics, and the players are sightless. It depends on the outcome of the European Blind Football Championship in Manchester, where England meet France today. Spain, Italy and Greece are the other contenders, and if England reach the final they will represent Britain in Athens. It is a game played by ear, players using a ball filled with ballbearings. "People will be surprised by the skill levels," says manager Tony Larkin.
Of course Jacques Rogge is right to warn London against climbing aboard the Beckham bandwagon. As he says, Becks won't win them a single vote - but there is one football personality who surely should be aboard when Barbara Cassani gets around to picking her Olympic vanguard.
Trevor Brooking rose above the game to become chairman of Sport England, a role which gave him invaluable insight into sports politics. But will he ever be forgiven by Westminster and Whitehall for scoring with parting shots which embraced a few home truths when he stepped down? Significantly, he has been denied a knighthood by the mean-spirited mandarins who decide these things, but consolation comes this week when he at least receives a royal seal of approval. On Tuesday, Brooking will be honoured when Prince Philip, as chairman of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, hands over an award for his services to community sport. London bid bods please note: Brooking is a Londoner. Jowell and Prescott the Olympic rivals, page 14
A name like Mark Palios might suggest that English football has another foreigner sitting alongside Sven in the FA's Soho offices as chief executive. But there's no need to panic. He is very much an Englishman - well, almost.
Actually, Palios's origins are Greek - his forebears came from an island much like Samothrace, and some years ago, when he was a midfield player with Tranmere, the Greek club AEK tried to tempt him back to his family's roots. But the deal fell through, and Palios moved on from Rovers to become something in the City. But who knows what might have happened had he gone to Greece - maybe he would now be trying to sort out the financial woes of their football, rather than ours.
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