Aussies make friends in high places

In terms of making friends and influencing people, it would be hard to match the feat of David McNeill, the Australian 5,000m runner, and Matthew Mahon, a board member for Athletics Australia, who this morning rescued the beloved dog of the UK’s top civil servant in the ministry responsible for the London 2012 games.

While Jonathan Stephens was hard at work in London in his role as permanent secretary at the Department of Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, his wife Penny was walking their frisky golden retriever Mia by the banks of a river near their home in Tonbridge, Kent.

The dog chased a ball into the water, a tributary of the Medway, but could not get out because the bank was too deep and steep.

“All I was able to do was to keep her head up out of the water, but that was not a long term solution,” Mrs Stephens told the FT.

Mia, who is 18 months old, was too heavy for Mrs Stephens to lift and was becoming increasingly agitated.

“I thought I had better not get in because I did not know how deep the water was and then maybe neither of us could get out, so I began to look around for someone to call for help, but there just wasn’t anyone around.

“Then I saw these two men running along and I called to them. I didn’t realise at first they were athletes and couldn’t understand why their first action was to look at their watches, but I now realise they were switching off their stopwatches.”

The Australian pair then held Mrs Stephens and between the three managed to get Mia out. “It was quite a struggle because she was very heavy and they being distance runners weren’t very big. The dog was all over them with gratitude when she got out and I had to put her on the lead to stop her chasing after them down the path when they resumed their training.”

Part of the Australian Olympic team has been based at Tonbridge School, which has among the best sports facilities of any school in theUK.

It was probably just as well that the Aussie athletes were making friends in high places. In the small hours of Thursday morning one of their compatriots in the rowing team was arrested for allegedly breaking a shop window in the high street of Egham, Surrey.

According to the Australian Olympic committee, while in custody at Staines police station, Josh Booth of the men’s eight fainted and hit his head, which meant he had to go to hospital. An investigation has been started into the damage to the shop and Booth, who was not badly hurt, was released on police bail.