Inside Macau: Red-carpet treatment for privileged Paula
Sunday 03 August 2008
Team Radcliffe are on their way to join Britain's band of happy campers on an island more used to accommodating sybarites than sporting types. When Paula, husband and coach Gary, daughter Isla, mum, dad and personal physio fly into Macau today she will find her team-mates on the last leg of their pre-Games preparations. But some may wonder if she is being afforded special treatment by being allowed to having her entire entourage with her as she attempts to win her fitness race against a stress fracture and compete in the marathon. Dave Collins, the UK Athletics performance director, insists he has no qualms about this, or that if necessary Radcliffe will be given until the eve of the race to claim a place. "With proven performance comes privilege," he says, "and Paula is an exceptionally talented athlete who should be given every opportunity to do what she feels is best for herself. If you asked Alex Ferguson I'm sure he'd give one of his star players right up to the kick-off to try and pass a fitness test. When you have an athlete of her quality this has to be the case."
Dream on as United States seek redemption
No doubt who are the highest rollers in Macau. Overshadowing the presence of the Beijing-bound Brits are sport's biggest earners, the basketball giants of America's Dream Team, warming up here for Mission Redemption. Four years ago in Athens the NBA superstars, lacking interest and motivation, were embarrassed with only a bronze medal but now the new dreamers, spearheaded by Kobe Bryant, promise to atone. The fervour here for sell-out matches against Turkey and Lithuania leaves no doubt what will be the biggest attraction in basketball-besotted China.
Wiggins in pole position as flag-bearer
It is odds-on a cyclist or sailor being the flag-bearer when the British team of 313 march into the Bird's Nest Stadium on Friday evening, those being potentially the most productive sports as far as medals are concerned. For those fancying a flutter in one of the many casinos which dominate the Macau skyline, the smart money would be on Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy or Ben Ainslie. Of that trio, Wiggins seems favourite. The 28-year-old Londoner, a brilliant mimic who is popular with fellow athletes, pedalled to three golds in the previous World Championships and took a memorable collection of gold, silver and bronze from Athens. He is tipped to win three more golds in Beijing, which would put him close to Sir Steve Redgrave as an Olympic medallion man.
Testing time for Boris and the China watchers
A hundred British spies are heading for Beijing this week, briefed to watch every move the Chinese make. These are all members of Sebastian Coe's 2012 team, whose mission is to compile a dossier on how London can avoid being put in the shade by what will be the most stupendous Olympic production ever. Travelling with them will be London's mayor, Boris Johnson, who will be centre stage at the closing ceremony and, according to Coe, has been undergoing "some serious aerobic conditioning". Coe says: "We've had a series of coaches training him to wave the flag six times."
Joking apart, these archers can be Britain's golden shots
With inevitable references to Robin Hood, it is just as well Britain's archers, in form and on target for a team gold, have a sense of humour. Cumbrian carpenter Alan Wills says his home club, Sellafield, have only a handful of members yet regularly produce an array of champions. "It must be something in the water."
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