Personalities

Everyone likes an underdog. The British, however, love them. It’s much more acceptable to cheer an unlikely winner than a likely one. How fitting then that Britain should host the Olympics — a competition where the entry mechanics ensure that underdogs will turn up by design.

We’ve already been treated to a number of spirited and inspiring performances. These are delicately chosen adjectives, for the winning attributes were admittedly not strength, speed, or precision.

In this, the XXX Olympiad, the crowds kept cheering all the way up to the 8 minute and 39 second mark in the men’s single sculls second repechage. For a full minute and 20 seconds of that, everyone’s hearts and minds were the sole property of a rower from Niger … until he also managed to cross the finishing line, that is.

On the same day, swimmer Jennet Saryyeva of Turkmenistan enjoyed a full minute and 18 seconds alone in the limelight at the end of her 400m freestyle heat.

Both are clearly impressive athletes, and both are clearly not up to Olympic standard. They will have known that when they signed up. Given this, how and why did they enter? Read more

James Murdoch holds a UK and a US passport, but even dual nationality is not enough for his patriotic needs when watching cycling, a sport he has loved since his youth.

Murdoch, as chairman of British Sky Broadcastingin 2008, approved the creation of Team Sky, the professional cycling outfit run by Dave Brailsford whose members keep winning Olympic medals. Read more

Boris Johnson on the London Underground earlier this year. Photo: LEON NEAL/AFP/GettyImages

Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, is not normally lost for words. But for once the most high-profile local British politician has fallen silent. Transport for London has confirmed it has stopped playing a pre-recorded message by Mr Johnson.

The recording was aimed at encouraging Londoners to replan their journeys to allow for a deluge of visitors expected during the Olympics. The message, which warned of “huge pressure on the transport network” was pulled on Tuesday, a move which coincided with reports that overzealous warnings by TfL had scared people off coming to central London and had damaged business. Read more

Helen Warrell

Photo via @BTLondonLive on twitter

Even before Boris Johnson got stuck in the middle of a zip wire, suspended high above a crowd of Olympic revellers in East London, it was clear that this was not a stunt that any other politician would have attempted.

Wearing a giant red and blue harness over his suit, a hard hat strapped securely under the chin, and waving a Union Jack in each hand, the London mayor’s aerial progress towards spectators was anything but dignified.

The harebrained scheme had been intended to provide a spectacular mayoral entrance to one of the many “live” Olympic events being held around the UK capital, this one sponsored by BT and held in Victoria Park. However, when Boris came to a halt after gradually losing momentum, he was left prone above the assembled masses, unable to do anything except wave his flags in a lacklustre way and call on onlookers to throw up a rope.

The mayor was helped down around five minutes later when officials arrived with a ladder, and his spokesman waved off the incident in typically light-hearted fashion. “Clearly the judges are likely to mark him down for artistic interpretation”, he quipped, adding that Boris wouldn’t be bagging any gold medals but remained “unbowed” by the experience. Read more

Rupert Murdoch at the Sun Valley conference on July 13. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Rupert Murdoch will be making an appearance at the Olympic Games this week, when he attends an evening of swimming finals as the guest of Boris Johnson, the mayor of London.

It will be Mr Murdoch’s first appearance in the public eye since he gave evidence to the Leveson inqury into press standards last May. A person familiar with his movements said that he would be visiting the aquatics centre in Stratford, east London, the main base for the Games, with his wife Wendi Deng.

The person said that Mr Johnson had invited Mr Murdoch because he was “the single biggest investor in British sport in recent years”, a reference to the billions of pounds that British Sky Broadcasting pours into buying the rights of Premier League football, cricket, rugby and other sports.

BSkyB is also the sponsor of the team which was responsible for the first ever British winner of the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins, earlier this month. Read more

General Electric chief executive, Jeff Immelt, is in town for the games, which GE sponsors, and happy to talk about most Olympian matters, except one: Mitt Romney, writes Pilita Clark.

“I’m not going to touch that one,” said Mr Immelt, when invited to comment on the storm of controversy stirred when the Republican presidential contender said Olympic-eve stories of immigration officer strikes and private security personnel shortages were “disconcerting”. The comments had prompted Boris Johnson, London mayor, to encourage a crowd of thousands in Hyde Park to roar their disapproval at Mr Romney for appearing to suggest the capital was not ready to host the games. Read more

At the Rome Games of 1960, the British runner Peter Radford won bronze in the 100m sprint. Radford, now 72, was one of the former British medallists honoured in London’s opening ceremony on Friday night.

Yet while banks of seats have remained empty at many Olympic events on the first weekend of competition, he will not be attending a single event at London 2012. The organisers have not given him a ticket. All he received for participating in the opening ceremony was a free one-day Oystercard to use public transport: while most of the sponsors arrived at the stadium in corporate buses, he came and went on London Underground.

Radford, a former chairman of UK Athletics and now professor of sport at Brunel University, says none of the other British medallists he has spoken to had been given free tickets to the games. “It’s a general policy, as far as I can see,” he says.

 Read more

Helen Warrell

Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Boris Johnson probably put it best when he said this morning that the geiger-counter of Olympo-mania was “creeping towards the red zone”. The UK is abuzz and senior politicians – already relieved that the Olympics are finally distracting from Britain’s economic woes – have entered fully into the manic spirit.

First off, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt provided some unexpected entertainment when he waved a hand bell rather too enthusiastically during the “all the bells” celebration on HMS Belfast to mark the start of the games. The bell flew off its handle, narrowly missing the crowds on deck. “Oh, oh dear! Are you all right? Health and safety!”, Mr Hunt cried, in a very British way. He later recovered enough to laugh off the incident with a humour rare among politicians who have suffered televised mishap. “I was ringing a bell in a very excited way and the bell actually collapsed in my hand and went flying off,” he told the BBC. “It was a clanger, if you’ll forgive the awful pun.” Read more

Jacques Rogge (L) arrives with Princess Anne at the Opening Ceremony of the IOC at the Royal Opera House on July 23. (Fabrice Coffrini/Getty Images)

With a goodly number of crown princes, princesses, sheikhs and counts in its ranks, the International Olympic Committee is not a club inclined to cut corners.

The presence in London of the 109 IOC members, led by president Jacques Rogge, is quickly coming under the kind of scrutiny they presumably knew they were in for seven years ago when they decided, narrowly, to stage the 2012 Olympics in London rather than Paris.

The grandeur of their five-star residence in the Park Lane Hilton, complete with security cordon, set the tone for the criticism they can probably expect to encounter on a regular basis during the games. Read more