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Germany are set to send their smallest team to an Olympics since reunification and expect to finish below Britain in the medal table at London 2012, they have admitted at a press conference in Frankfurt attended by Sebastian Coe.

There will be approximately 380 athletes competing in 23 of 26 sporting disciplines, compared to 440 in Beijing four years ago.

German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) general secretary Michael Vepser said their target was to finish fifth in the medals table, while President Thomas Bach admitted he expected London 2012 to be "the toughest Olympic competition ever".

Germany won 16 gold, 10 silver and 15 bronze medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, and three of those gold medal winners - Britta Heidemann and Benjamin Kleibrink in fencing and Ole Bischof in judo - were among the first names announced for this year's event.

The size of Germany's team has been hit by the failure of its basketball, football, handball and water polo teams to qualify for London.

"Even if it is the smallest team since reunification [of Germany in 1990] it will be a strong one," said Vesper.

So far 85 team members - 48 men and 37 women - have been confirmed, with the rest due to be announced on June 25 and July 4.

"Under the motto 'We for Germany' our athletes will represent Germany in a likable and successful manner in the toughest Olympic competition ever," said Bach.

"The anticipation of London is growing.

"You have the feeling now it's really taking off."

China and the United States will compete for the first place in the medals table probably followed by Russia in the third place, Bach predicted.

He also added that  he believed Britain will take the fourth place in the medal tally.



Coe, a close friend of Bach's, the vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) who is expected to succeed Jacques Rogge as President next year, promised a great London 2012.

"There is an unprecedented appetite among elite level competitors around the world to get to London," he said.

Bach claimed that he has been expecting London to deliver a great Olympics since 2005 when, as the returning office for the IOC at the vote in Singapore, he knew the result before almost anybody else.

"This will be Games for the athletes, it is how Seb has always worked," he said.

Coe promised that he would do his best to make sure that happened.

"We both see the world through the eyes of the athletes," he said to Bach.

"This is what we both have always worked - the athlete must take centre stage."

-Duncan Mackay

Source: www.insidethegames.biz

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June 4 - The London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay has been disrupted for the first time on its 70-day tour of the UK following a dissident Republican protest in Northern Ireland.

One man was arrested after minor scuffles with police as the Flame was about to pass the Peace Bridge linking the divided communities in Londonderry.

Nobody was injured.

The Torch was re-routed by about 100 yards.

The protest was not aimed specificially at the Torch but it caused anger among senior figures in the local community.

"We support anyone's right to protest but that has been abused here today in Derry," said Mark Durkan, who represents the Social Democratic and Labour Party in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

"People are just absolutely disgusted that there will be negative headlines for the city coming out of a great afternoon."

Durkan claimed there had been an agreement not to disrupt the Relay.

Shoving with stewards broke out and police intervened to push the crowd of around 100 - half of them children - back.

A Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) spokeswoman said several dissident Republicans were involved.

"Due to a protest that took place at the rear of the Guildhall this afternoon, the Torch was diverted past Guildhall Street on to Whittaker Street where it continued on to the peace bridge," she said.

One man was arrested and there were no injuries.

Police presence in the city was heightened over the Bank Holiday weekend after an attack on PSNI officers, which it was claimed was attempted murder.

They were also combing the grassy banks of the River Foyle close to the railway line.

Searches at homes in Nationalist parts of the city took place over the weekend.

Specialist police officers abseiled off the side of the Peace Bridge, which links the Nationalist and Unionist communities, to check its underside for devices.

Next year Derry will celebrate its title as City of Culture 2013, but recent dissident activity has clouded the city.

The Olympic Flame also today crossed Carrick-a-rede rope bridge and stopped off at the Giant's Causeway on the second day of its tour across Northern Ireland.

The Flame is due to spend five days travelling around Northern Ireland and Dublin as a token of closer Anglo-Irish ties following the Queen's visit there last year.

-Duncan Mackay

Source: www.insidethegames.biz

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May 31 - Sir Craig Reedie is to stand for election as vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which would make him the first Briton to hold the position for nearly 50 years.

Sir Craig will stand for election at the IOC Session in London, which is due to take place on the eve of the Olympics between July 24 and July 26.

The 71-year-old Scot is set to be one of two candidates for the two spots available, along with Morocco's former Olympic 400 metres hurdles Nawal El Moutawakel, who is currently heading the IOC's Coordination Commission for Rio 2016.

"I can confirm that I am standing for vice-president of the IOC," Sir Craig told insidethegames.

If he is successful, Sir Craig will become only the second Brition in the 118-year history of the IOC to hold the post, following in the footsteps of Lord Burghley, Marquess of Exeter, the 1928 Olympic 400m hurdles champion, who stood down from the role in 1966.

It would be fitting if Sir Craig was to be elected at London as he was one of the key figures in the capital's successful bid to host the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

His contribution led to him being knighted but the huge role he played is still often overlooked by many.

As a former President of the International Badminton Federation Sir Craig was the driving force behind the sport being elected onto the Olympic programme, making its debut at Barcelona in 1992.

He was also the chairman of the British Olympic Association (BOA) from 1992 to 2005, stepping down after London's succesful bid.

Sir Craig's influence has grown since London were awarded the Games.

He was elected onto the IOC's ruling Executive Board in October 2009 and is also a leading member of the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) Foundation Board.

-Duncan Mackay

Source: www.insidethegames.biz

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Blair hails 'momentous day'
UK bid beats France by four votes
Lord Coe transformed 'joke' bid
London today won the right to host the 2012 Olympic games,
beating the long-term favourite, Paris, at the finish line to secure the world's biggest sporting event.
It was breathtakingly close: just four votes edged London past Paris in a secret electronic ballot of 115 members of the International Olympic Committee in Singapore. London won after a maximum four rounds of incredibly tense voting, beating Paris by 54 votes to 50.
Speaking at Gleneagles ahead of the G8 summit, the prime minister, Tony Blair, said he had been too nervous to watch the final stages of voting but had punched the air and danced a "jig" when he heard the result. He called it a "momentous day" for London.
The IOC president, Jacques Rogge, announced the result at 1248BST - around an hour after it had been decided in secret.
Watched by television audiences around the world, Mr Rogge opened an envelope containing the winner's name and told the hushed ballroom of the Raffles city complex: "The International Olympic Committee has the honour of announcing the games of the 30th Olympiad in 2012 are awarded to the city of London."
The London delegates in the hall reacted ecstatically, leaping up and hugging one another. There was also jubilation in London's Trafalgar Square, where several hundred supporters of the bid had gathered and in Stratford, in the east of the city, near where the games will be based in a massively regenerated Lower Lea Valley.
In contrast, the crowds gathered at the city hall in a drizzly Paris reacted with dismay at the city's failure to win the games despite bidding three times in the last 20 years.
Paris had been praised for a near-flawless bid but the one thing members of a jubilant British team kept repeating was that the IOC had recognised London's ambitious plans promised a great legacy.
Before the voting, Lord Coe, the London 2012 bid leader, presented IOC members with a passionate final presentation in which he said a London games would show "magic happens" and inspire young people around the world.
As expected, Moscow, then New York and Madrid, were eliminated in the early rounds of voting and Paris and London were left to go head to head in the final round. London's chances grew after no city won more than 50% of the votes in the first round, meaning there was no instant winner. The London 2012 tactic had been to court Madrid's supporters in the hope of securing their votes should the Spanish capital be eliminated.
Mr Blair, who left Singapore last night after three months of frenetic campaigning and two days of last-gasp courting of IOC members, had earlier promised work would start on preparing the games "within 48 hours" of a successful bid.
Today the prime minister told reporters: "I couldn't bear to watch [the final announcement]. It is not often in this job that you get to punch the air and do a little jig and embrace the person standing next to you."
Mr Blair said Paris had lodged a very strong bid but that London offered a great legacy for the city, the country and the Olympic movement. He admitted that when he arrived in Singapore he felt London had only an "outside chance" but said the bid had succeeded because the British people were behind it.
Mr Blair denied the win would make the G8 summit, starting tonight, more difficult, with a disappointed French president, Jacques Chirac, learning the result while en route from Singapore to Scotland.
In a statement released by his office, Mr Chirac sent his congratulations to London and praised the "fair play" shown by the Paris bid team. The statement said: "The head of state congratulates the city of London ... he wishes good luck and full success to the British authorities and people in the organisation of the 30th Olympiad."
David Beckham and a host of sporting celebrities have been in Singapore pressing for a London games. London last hosted the Olympics in 1948 and will become the first city to host sport's biggest event three times.
An emotional Beckham was in the hall to hear the result and said later that it was an "incredible" victory.
Today's result was also a huge victory for Lord Coe, who transformed a bid that was originally seen as something of a joke. In an IOC evaluation report last year, London was ranked third in the race behind Paris and Madrid and its transport system was castigated as "obsolete".
The London team improved its bid and assuaged concerns about transport to secure a much better write-up in a subsequent IOC evaluation report published earlier this year.
Lord Coe said winning the Olympics was "massive" and that he hoped to "change the face of British sport". "We won't let you down," he told Mr Rogge at a news conference.
Earlier, Lord Coe told Sky News: "I feel absolutely ecstatic we've got the opportunity to do what I've always dreamed about in British sport which is to involve more young people."
He said he would be involved in hosting the games but that his first priority was to get some sleep.
Downing Street said the culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, had been appointed minister for the Olympics, alongside her current responsibilities. Speaking in Singapore, Ms Jowell said she could not believe London had won, but promised a games that would show the country's passion for sport and provide inspiration for the next generation.
Ms Jowell said: "We've come from nowhere to win the Olympics and that is quite something. I really want to say thank you: there have been thousands of people involved in this."
She said she initially thought Paris had won because the photographers in the hall had moved over to where the French team were.
She believed the quality of the London presentation had been the crucial factor in its victory and said IOC members had told her how impressive they had found it. During the presentation, the Princess Royal had read a message from the Queen inviting the IOC members to Buckingham Palace if London prevailed.
Paris had been the favourite since the race began, partially because its main prospective Olympic stadium and others had already been built, in stark contrast to London's plans. The French team may be aggrieved because its bid also fitted with the IOC's blueprint for controlling the size and cost of the games.
VisitBritain said the Olympic games in London could be worth more than £2bn in tourism revenue for the country; the television rights are also expected to be worth more than £2bn.
When asked if holding the games would cause taxes to rise, Mr Blair said the event had been costed and would benefit the country. The games will be financed in part by a special Olympic lottery competition, expected to raise £1.5bn, and an average council tax increase for London households of £20 a year.
Five-time Olympic gold medal winner Sir Steve Redgrave is a bookmakers' favourite to light the Olympic torch at the opening ceremony.

-Mark Oliver

Source: www.guardian.co.uk

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LONDON — Seventy Shakespeare productions from companies around the world, performed in 30 theaters all over Britain. A 33-foot-high puppet of Lady Godiva (wearing undergarments by the fashion designer Zandra Rhodes) moving through the streets of Coventry and into London, powered by 50 people on bicycles. Music from everywhere performed free in choice spots up and down the Thames.

The organizers are calling it “the biggest festival the U.K. has ever seen.” For eight weeks from June 21 to Sept. 9 — before, during and after the 2012 Olympic Games — Britain is hosting the London 2012 Festival, an outpouring of events across the country including theater, music, visual arts, dance, sculpture, performance art, film and other genres. The plan is to put on a show that rivals the sports spectacle in breadth and excitement, not to mention Olympian flights of excess. London 2012 is part of a broader, multiyear effort called the Cultural Olympiad, showcasing events like the World Shakespeare Festival, running April 23 until November, and a major exhibition of Lucian Freud portraits (through May 27) at the National Portrait Gallery. “Even before we won the bid, we said we wanted culture to be part of it, in the run-up to the games and through the games themselves,” said Moira Sinclair, the executive director of Arts Council England, the London 2012 Festival’s lead organization.

Deborah Shaw, the associate director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said the effort brought the modern Olympics back to the ancient idea that the arts were as important as sports.

“It was about celebrating the whole human — both physical prowess and the spiritual, artistic side,” Ms. Shaw said. “If this culture program works, it could mean a whole recalibration for the Olympics.”

This program does not come cheap, which is something of a disconnect at a time of severe government cutbacks in arts financing here. Organizers say they do not yet know the final cost of the Cultural Olympiad, but The Guardian recently estimated the total at more than $154 million: $83 million for commissions for the London 2012 Festival and $71 million for the Cultural Olympiad.

Artists were chosen in a variety of ways: through commissions, applications and organizations taking part in the festival. In one initiative, called Artists Taking the Lead, potential participants were invited to submit projects that would celebrate Britain’s different regions. The winning ideas — a 30-foot seafaring yacht constructed from donated wooden objects, a floating building that generates its own power on the River Tyne — were then selected by a regional panel of artists.

The final lineup of events will be completed this month, when the full catalog is published. But dozens of projects — deadly serious and seriously offbeat, traditional and conceptual, from Britain and abroad — have been confirmed.

One piece, “Work No. 1197: All the Bells in a Country Rung as Loudly as Possible for Three Minutes,” by the Turner Prize-winning artist Martin Creed, is scheduled to take place from 8 to 8:03 a.m. on July 27, the first day of the Olympics. The idea, according to the festival’s Web site, is to encourage the nation “to ring thousands of bells at the same time, whether school bells, church bells, town hall bells, bicycle bells or doorbells.”

Other events will be less fleeting, like a retrospective of the German choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009, at the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells, which will feature 10 of her works; a Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern; and “Back2Black” with the Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil, a three-day exploration of the links between Africa and Brazil.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis will have a two-week residency at the Barbican and other spots, culminating in the British premiere of Mr. Marsalis’s “Swing Symphony (Symphony No. 3)”, performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Simon Rattle. There will be screenings of Alfred Hitchcock silent movies, restored by the British Film Institute and shown with live musical accompaniment. At the Barbican, Cate Blanchett will star in “Big and Small,” by Botho Strauss.

Offbeat fare is also on the agenda, like “Bee Detective,” a murder mystery in which the audience travels through a beehive.

The verdict on whether the selections in the cultural festival are successful may have to wait until after the Olympiad has ended. But for now cultural critics and members of Britain’s arts world establishment seem open-minded and optimistic. There will probably be little argument over the prominent inclusion of Britain’s most enduring cultural export, Shakespeare. As part of a program called the World Shakespeare Festival, some 70 productions will take place across Britain in 30 locations starting on April 23, Shakespeare’s birthday.

“The theme of the festival is to look at Shakespeare as a world playwright, so we’re not getting just one perspective on his work,” said Ms. Shaw, who is also serving as the director of the World Shakespeare Festival.

The festival, which is costing the Royal Shakespeare Company about $9.5 million, she said, will feature a dozen new productions, some in collaboration with international companies and some performed outside theaters. There will be amateur performances, a chance for people around the world to discuss online what Shakespeare means to them, and an educational conference on how Shakespeare is taught in schools. The Globe Theater in London is hosting an ambitious undertaking called Globe to Globe, in which all of Shakespeare’s plays, and one poem, are to be performed, each in a different language and each from a different international company.

“Four hundred years ago he was using the world to talk about Elizabethan Britain, and it’s very interesting now to look at how the world sees their own societies through the prism of Shakespeare,” said Ms. Shaw, of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

That has raised some controversy, with a number of artists recently calling for the Globe to cancel a planned performance of “The Merchant of Venice” by the Israeli theater company Habima, which has performed in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“By inviting Habima the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practiced by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theater company,” said a letter in The Guardian that was signed by the director Mike Leigh and the actress Emma Thompson, among others. In response the Globe has said the festival is a “celebration of language,” not “nations and states.” It is also featuring a performance of “Richard II” by the Palestinian company Ashtar Theater.

The festival arrives during a painful economic retrenchment across Europe that has drastically cut into government grants for the arts. In Britain the Arts Council’s government funds have been cut by 20 percent; many smaller groups have lost all their financing. “When we won the Olympics, we weren’t in the same position we’re in now,” Ms. Sinclair, of Arts Council England, said.

But, she added, the program should make it clear how important the arts are to the world’s perception of Britain — and Britain’s perception of itself.

“The range of activity that we’ve got to offer shows that we really are a contemporary-art nation, as well as having this extraordinary heritage we can hook into,” she said.

After the last athlete has gone home, she added, “we want to convey the sense that the Olympics is over, but the arts aren’t.”

-Sarah Lyall

Source: www.nytimes.com

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