James Toney

19.08.04

An official Olympic sponsor and high street purveyor of all things fried has issued me with a pedometer. Today it broke. Whether that’s a reflection of my Olympian efforts or dodgy manufacturing, I’m not sure.

This is my tenth day in Greece and I’ve worked out that I’ve spent more than 40 hours either on a bus or waiting for one – surely that qualifies me for some sort of medal, or at least a pedometer that works.

Morning whizzes by in a blur of copy for early and late editions. My column, which is being syndicated to UK regionals and US papers, comes together easily, thanks mainly to the ideas I’d generated before I arrived.

Dash to the hockey, only to find out we’ve won gold in sailing. Sweating profusely – a dip in the Aegean would be great.

With a small team of three reporters here, we have developed a canny knack of cutting ourselves in three. Shirley Robertson’s gold makes solid page leads in ten client papers.

20.08.04

Three sports in one day. Swimming, cycling and athletics – is that what they call a journalistic triathlon?

There have often been times when I’ve praised the Lord for the two-hour time difference to London or the whopping seven hours we get on the United States.

However, the big stories still always seem to arrive on deadline. Chris Hoy claims cycling gold – 800 words needed, with just 45 minutes to put it together. I sweat on quotes until the last minute. I file from the bus on the way to sport number three.

21.08.04

Five weightlifters test positive for drugs. They’ve taken the Olympic motto to heart, but should learn that steroids might make you stronger and faster, but drugs also make you higher. Rattle off the yarn and head to the pool, where Welsh swimmer David Davies grabs a bronze. Good quotes, easy tale – will I be home before midnight?

22.08.04 Today was meant to be Paula’s day – but it ended with a story I didn’t want to write. The marathon finishes in the Panathinaiko Stadium, a terrific setting, and the historic venue for the 1896 Games.

However, the media facilities are chaotic. Not enough seats in the venue press centre and not enough room in the mixed zone, the area where journalists and athletes are allowed to mingle.

It’s hot and tetchy, and my mood isn’t lifted by taking the full force of a Nikon F1 round my face. Radcliffe emerges to the full glare of Fleet Street flash bulbs, muttering just nine words. I’m now running late.

File Radcliffe with my laptop perched on a bin that smells as high as a Russian shot putter. After an endless bus journey, I run to the stadium to see Justin Gatlin win 100m gold.

His trainer, speaking to just a handful of us moments later, admits he was the whistleblower at the centre of the BALKO drugs controversy.

My word count is now rising more quickly than my heart rate.

Office calls with a ‘gentle’ reminder about the column. Knew there was something I was supposed to do.

23.08.04

There have been so many sad faces at these Games that it’s easy to see why the Greeks are such fans of wreaths.

Sara McCann, the US wrestler, tells me: “I don’t think there’s anything more painful in the world than not winning gold” – even though her brother was murdered in 1999. A more repulsive sportswoman you couldn’t wish to find.

But then Kelly Holmes lifts the spirits. I lose all sense of decorum in the press box when she hits the front. No more than the result scrapes into first editions.

However, I’ve got time after the press conference to write about a gold that seemed at best improbable, and at worst impossible, at breakfast.

24.08.04

After ten phone calls I track down Giorgos Stavrakakis, the top seismologist in Greece, who tells me today’s mini earthquake – which measured 4.5 on the Richter scale – was ‘nothing serious’. Really? Take a look at the Olympic pool and there appears to be no roof.

The decision by organisers to finish track events at midnight is not helping my quest for sleep. After a quick meal and a glass of red, I get into bed at 3.30am and set the alarm for four hours later. Soon wake with a start – didn’t I have to do something for Press Gazette?

25.08.04

I’m trying to track down the parents of a child killed by American synchronised swimmer Tammy Crow. It’s not going well.

Otherwise it is one of those days when the column just comes together, with the right mix of hard and quirky news that will satisfy clients in Llandudno and Los Alamos.

Leave the stadium late again, but head to the Main Press Centre bar for a couple of pints. There’s a choice of Heineken or Heineken – another curse of the official sponsor. Oh, and you can only pay by Visa, which makes my Mastercard pretty redundant. Suddenly I’ve got the dawning feeling it’s all coming to an end. For all the moans and groans you can’t beat these Games. This is a great job.

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