From the Borders to Beijing


IT was an enormous thrill to be up on the Great Wall at Juyongguan on Sunday to see cyclist Nicole Cook win Britain's first gold medal of the Beijing Games.

We stood for five hours in torrential rain, but I certainly wasn't complaining!

This is my second Olympic Games with the BBC and I am here primarily to cover the cycling, so I can't wait for the track programme to begin on Friday at the velodrome.

One of my greatest sporting memories was seeing Chris Hoy take gold in Athens four years ago and I think the British cycling team will enjoy unprecedented success on the track here in Beijing.

The scale of an Olympics is breathtaking and it is a real privilege to be here with such fantastic access to the sport and the athletes. Our offices and broadcast headquarters are in a vast building called the IBC which is the size of an international airport terminal and next door to the press building.

There are somewhere in the region of 10,000 journalists and broadcasters here, so I was amazed to be approached on Monday by someone from Hawick who recognised me and came over to say hi.

Rob Mallin is involved in the vast catering operation here and it was lovely to hear a familiar accent among the dozens of languages here in Beijing.

But I haven't been limiting myself to the capital city – last week before the opening ceremony I travelled east to Tianjin, the birthplace of Eric Liddell. The city was also where the 1924 Olympic 400m champion returned after the Games to work as a missionary.

His Olympic triumph was immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire, but his life after the Paris Games is even more fascinating and he is revered here as China's first true Olympic champion.

We are very busy trying to cover dozens of sports simultaneously and tell the stories of the athletes and give everyone at home a flavour of these Games.

I have been hugely impressed by the organisation so far and think London will realise we have a lot to live up to in 2012.


WHEN I worked for the Southern Reporter the best stories from swimming pools revolved around protests and petitions from users when the council tried – on an almost annual basis – to save money by reducing opening hours.

Ten years on and I'm more concerned with the iconic Water Cube in Beijing and it's all about Michael Phelps.

Already the greatest Olympian ever, winning more golds than any other in history throughout the course of his career, there is still the hope he can surpass Mark Spitz's record haul of golds in a single Games. And, so far, I have been there for every one of them.

He has said that he never tires of winning races, breaking records and climbing onto the podium. He said he could not become blas. And I can understand that because watching it never gets old either.

It is at times like this that I am reminded of how glad I am I chose sports journalism as a career.

History is being created and I am one of the thousands of people charged with reporting on it. With all due respect to the Border Games circuit and East of Scotland football, it’s a definite step up. One thing remains the same, though, it’s all about sportspeople trying to give their all. It’s the rewards that differ.

But the beautiful thing about Olympic Games – and this is the second time I have covered them – is the variety of sport and the enviable access accredited journalists get. We have some of the best seats in the house, and speaking to winners and losers sometimes a matter of seconds after they compete, we get to experience the emotion of it vicariously. It’s an undoubted privilege.

It’s also blooming hard work. Time differences, allied to the fact some sports get under way at 9am here, while others don’t get finished until well after midnight, and then the stories have to be written, means the average working day is 16 hours and as I’m working for both the Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman out here, it’s a non-stop seven days a week job. But, it’s still worth it.

As a sports fan who has always loved the Games and got caught up in cheering British athletes to glory, I was on the edge of my sofa as Steve Redgrave got his fifth gold, laughed as Daley Thompson whistled along to the national anthem and cried as Derek Redmond had to be helped over the line by his father after pulling up injured. In Athens and here in Beijing it is just as amazing, but I’m no longer on my sofa, I’m sitting a few rows back, in line with the finish line. With one of the best views in the arena.

Yesterday, Scotland’s first medallist of these Games, David Florence, stepped straight out his canoe and before he had even had a chance to chat with his parents, he talked with the press.

The other day, we witnessed the other side of it as Andy Murray crashed out of the tennis singles in the first round.

These guys all started out in their local competitions, the same sort of community tournaments I covered while I was at . We have all moved on, but some things haven’t changed. They are still giving their all, desperate to be the best, and I am still loving covering it. As they say, if you can’t beat them join them, and for me, this is the best way I know.