Nicole Cooke retires

One of Britain’s most successful road cyclists ever retired today. Nicole Cooke won races all over the world, including a World Championship and an Olympic gold medal in 2008, but she got a fraction of the attention that riders like Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins have received.

I think her retirement shows some of the problems that are faced by women in cycling, especially the lack of attention they receive. Cooke’s retirement has made headlines, though that seems to be just as much for the fact that she’s not gone quietly into retirement as it is for the fact that she’s retired. As she says:

“Tyler Hamilton will make more money from a book describing how he cheated than I will make in all my years of honest labour.”

For me, that goes to the heart of the problem – Cooke and her fellow female professionals have slogged it out around the world, delivering some exciting racing with huge ability, yet she’s had to talk about Armstrong, Landis and Hamilton to get significant attention for her retirement.

So to redress the balance, here’s my favourite memory of her career – winning the Olympic road race in Beijing. Unfortunately, the editing of the video is terrible, and it misses out the key moment when the lead group of five come round the final bend and start the drag to the finish. At that point, Cooke looked like she’d made a mistake and been dropped off the back of the group, but she powered up the final straight, overhauled the others and won the medal.

Chapeau, Nicole Cooke! Or ‘het!’, if you want it in Welsh.

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So, unless they suddenly remember a third set of sporting events they’d agreed to hold in London this year, that’s it for the 2012 Games. There’s been a lot of talk about how we can carry forward all the good feeling and the spirit of the Games, but rather than go into a general ‘why the Olympics and Paralympics prove we must support my politics‘ piece I wanted to look at sport on TV, following on from this post I wrote during the Olympics about BBC Sport.

I was prompted into it by noticing that while Channel 4′s coverage of the Paralympics was excellent, the only mention of sport on C4 in the future was all the horse racing coverage they have coming up in the next year. As with the Olympic sports, there’s been lots of talk about how exciting and interesting the Paralympic sports have been to watch, but few moves to bring them to the viewing public. Yes, people could get up off their couches to watch it live, but not everyone has what they want to see available on the doorstep, or the means to travel and see it.

The point I’m ambling towards is that this summer has shown that not only are there great athletes competing in a huge variety of sports, but that there’s an audience that wants to watch them. Surely it’s not beyond the wit of the TV companies to realise that and bring it to our screens? It doesn’t have to be the huge sporting glut of the last month – though I expect sports channel viewing figures to go up as people avoid going cold turkey with their viewing habits – but a return of something like Grandstand or World Of Sport. Rather than shunting each sport off into a separate programme, have something that shows everything, that – like the Games did – can surprise you by introducing you to something fascinating that you’ve never seen before.

Rather than the absurdity of watching men watching football on screens we’re not allowed to see and shouting the score, why not give the public actual sport, played by a wide range of people?

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The early Olympics were intended to have a much wider context than being just a sporting contest. There were contests in the arts alongside the sporting contests, and two of the first Games were held concurrently with international expositions (Paris in 1900 and St Louis in 1904). This year, there’s also been the Cultural Olympiad alongside the Games, but should there perhaps be something more.

I’m not talking about the old idea of arts contests, or the reviving the occasional suggestion of ‘mind games’ having contests during the Olympics, but instead making them a celebration of all the great things that have happened over the four years of an Olympiad. (Disclaimer: this was inspired by someone else’s tweet the other day)

On Monday, there were a lot of people comparing the landing of Curiosity on Mars to the Olympics as if the two events were in some sort of contest, but why can’t we instead accept that they both come into the category of human beings doing awesome things. And then, why not carry that forward?

How about, after the Olympics are over, the host city then establishes what we’ll call for now the House of Awesome (a duller and more worthy-sounding name may also be acceptable). This then becomes an information store or active museum cataloguing all the awesome things humanity does until the next Olympics ends and another city takes on the role. This place would be responsible for seeking out the amazing things that humans do over the next four years and making more people aware from them, from scientific achievements and discoveries through to examples of people doing amazing things in their everyday lives. There’d be public displays within the house of things that have been done, and an online presence to spread the word and gather in information. Then at the end of its time, it would remain there, adding in things that had happened but didn’t come to light until later but also serving as a reminder that during a particular four year period, human beings did a huge amount of awesome things. Over time, as the Olympics move around the world, so would the new Houses of Awesome (or the Museum of Human Achievement, if you prefer something worthy-sounding) appear, each one there to tell future generations about what great things their ancestors did.

So, anyone got a building in London and some funding to get this going?

It’s all still ongoing, but I wanted to set these down before I forget them.

First, the Olympics Live red button coverage has been great. Just getting to flick through and watch everything that’s going on live, without someone deciding what we should be watching is a whole new way to watch sport. So why not continue this after the Olympics? Every weekend, there’s lots of sport going on across the country – and further afield – so why not make the live coverage (there doesn’t have to be commentary) available? They could even rebrand the multiple feeds as a revival of Grandstand, which always had the aim of showing viewers a range of different sports in an afternoon.

Second, should BBC Sport introduce a system of parity for men’s and women’s sports? Not just in terms of one-off events, but as a culture – if Football Focus and Match Of The Day are concentrating on the Premier League, then there should be equivalent programmes covering the Women’s Super League, for instance. There have been lots of laments recently about there not being enough live sport to cover because Sky have bought it all up, but that only seems to apply to the men’s versions of them – why shouldn’t the national broadcaster focus on the sport played by the majority of the population instead?

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Not done one of these for a while, but people still continue to put interesting things on the internet.

Come write me down – Phil Edwards explains the phenomenon of policy-based evidence.
Reviewing through the Time Machine: Remembering Margaret Cavendish – Ro Smith on the 17th century female founder of science fiction. I’d honestly never heard of Margaret Cavendish or The Blazing World before this, but it sounds fascinating.
How I Lost My Fear of Universal Health Care – An expat American in Canada’s experiences of what it means to not have to worry about the cost of getting ill.
Money and the love of money – Excellent Ross McKibbin piece in the London Review of Books about the corruption of Britain’s political system.
Comment: Nightmare result for dream team – A very good analysis of what happened in the Olympic men’s cycling road race.

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