Princess Anne disliked him intensely, but London has good reason to be grateful to the late Juan Antonio Samaranch. The former International Olympic Committee president, who died last week aged 89, was as much responsible for London getting the 2012 Games in Singapore four years ago as Seb Coe with his impassioned oratory or Tony Blair with his relentless glad-handing.
The wily old bird, who fought with Franco, always saw London as the perfect venue, and once Madrid was eliminated it was Samaranch who persuaded most members who had voted for Madrid to swing behind London. The Paris contingent were furious, convinced that not for the first time sport's imperious grandee had stabbed them in the back. When I first interviewed Your Excellency (as the former Spanish ambassador to Moscow liked to be addressed) in Room 309 of the five-star Palace Hotel in Lausanne, where he seemed to have permanent residence, he hinted that he saw Coe as a future IOC president. To him, Coe was the ideal Olympian. Samaranch admired him so much that he even tried to get him special dispensation to compete individually when Coe was controversially omitted from the British team at Seoul in 1988. But that was one IOC rule even he was unable to bend – and there were several that he did, much to IOC member Princess Anne's obvious displeasure. Samaranch will go down as the man who turned the Olympics pro; a visionary with a touch of Machiavelli.
Boxing's novel attraction
Boxing has always fascinated the literati, from Gallico to Hemingway to Mailer. But not since Budd Schulberg wrote 'The Harder They Fall' 63 years ago has there been a novel about the sometimes ignoble art. This is a point made by Steve Bunce, who has penned a racy thriller built around a match-maker called 'The Fixer' (Mainstream, £9.99). Now not even the ubiquitous Buncey would consider himself a budding Budd, but anyone who follows boxing – even some who don't – will find this an intriguing tale, not least because Bunce cleverly mixes fictional characters with real personalities, staying just on the right side of litigation – he hopes.
All going swimmingly
We certainly know how to do things big in this country. Today it is the London Marathon, the world's biggest mass run. Last weekend it was Swimathon, the world's biggest swimming fundraising event. Some 1,500 took the plunge into 500 pools throughout Britain to raise £1.5 million for charities including Marie Curie Cancer Care. Now in its 24th year, over half a million have participated, swimming the equivalent of 24 times round the world to put over £30m into charity coffers. But like the Marathon, this is not simply a fun event. A British four-woman team led by the world open-water champion Keri-Anne Payne (see page 23) set the fastest time in Swimathon history, 58 minutes for five kilometres. Swimming alongside them at Crystal Palace, though not quite keeping up, were celebrities including Blue Peter presenter Zoe Peters, a sporty type who has also run the Marathon and Danced On Ice. Always a problem with these charity affairs is collecting the sponsorship money, and the organisers ask us to remind those who pledged but haven't paid to go online to swimathon.org and cough up.