News & Current Affairs

August 24, 2008

Beijing primed for Olympic finale

Beijing primed for Olympic finale

The Bird's Nest stadium hosts the closing ceremony

Plenty of fireworks are in store at the closing ceremony

The Beijing Games draw to a close on Sunday after what many have described as one of the best Olympics ever held.

China, having beaten the United States to top the medals table, will hand the Olympic flag to the 2012 hosts London at a closing ceremony from 1300 BST.

Great Britain surpassed all targets by winning 19 golds at the 2008 Games – their best haul for a century.

Kenya’s Sammy Wanjiru won the men’s marathon on the final day, with basketball and boxing finals to come.

Six boxing titles are being decided while the men’s basketball final, featuring the United States and Spain, starts at 0730 BST.

Later, the spectacular farewell in front of a packed house of more than 90,000 at the Bird’s Nest stadium is set to last three hours and will include fireworks displays at 18 locations across Beijing.

The organisers have promised a more light-hearted show than the opening ceremony, which focused heavily on Chinese history.

Scottish cyclist Chris Hoy, who claimed three gold medals at the Games, will carry the flag for Team GB at the closing ceremony.

The ceremony will also see London mayor Boris Johnson receive the Olympic flag to signal the countdown to the 2012 Games.

Team GB have been congratulated for their efforts in a message from The Queen.

“As a nation we now look forward to holding the Olympic Games in London in 2012,” she said.”The golden triumphs of the present British team can only serve as further inspiration to those who will be working hard over the next four years to make the London Games a shining example of Olympic success.”

China staged the Olympics against a background dominated by fears of pollution, worries over security and protests about its human rights record.

But the sporting action has been enthralling, with highlights including Michael Phelps swimming to a record eight gold medals and Jamaican Usain Bolt breaking three world records as he bagged a sprint title treble.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who spoke on Sunday of his hope that a UK football team could compete in the next Olympics, will attend the closing event.

Prime minister Gordon Brown and footballer Beckham

Brown rubs shoulders with Beckham in Beijing

The London Olympics will also have a eight-minute slot that will feature a version of Led Zeppelin classic Whole Lotta Love performed by the group’s guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Leona Lewis.Footballer David Beckham will be involved as will the Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra.

The closing show will also feature a duet by Chinese folk singer Song Zuying and Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, along with a performance by a 350-strong kung-fu group.

There promises to be another spectacular show earlier in the day when the US basketball team, aka the ‘Redeem Team’, look to reclaim their crown against world champions Spain.

There are also six boxing gold medals to be decided, with Ireland’s Kenny Egan going in the light-heavyweight final.

Other finals are taking place in the men’s water polo (0840), men’s volleyball (0500), and men’s handball (0845).

In the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around event, Russia defended their title to take gold, while China claimed silver and Belarus bronze.

In total, there will be 12 gold medals won on the final day of action before the Games are handed on to London.

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August 21, 2008

Snail hides from march of history

Snail hides from march of history

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

National Trust)

The snails were found in a balustrade imported from Rome

A colony of Mediterranean snails has been found at the UK’s Cliveden House, where they have lived in marble-wrapped secrecy for a century.

The snails, never found before in the UK, apparently came from Italy in a balustrade bought by a Lord Astor, a former owner of the mansion.

There are thought to be several hundred of the 11mm-long snails at Cliveden.

John Profumo met model Christine Keeler at the Buckinghamshire house in 1961, which led to a political scandal.

Footballer Steven Gerrard married at the National Trust property last year.

Amidst all this activity – and the visits down the years of luminaries as important as Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin – the Papillifera papillaris snail has been a reclusive guest.

What they’re doing, what they’re eating, we don’t rightly know
Matthew Oates

“They were found by a specialist volunteer who helps us clean the statuary in Cliveden,” said the Trust’s nature conservation adviser Mathew Oates.

“He went to a talk at the local archaeological society given by a snail specialist, mentioned his find, and it turned out he’d spotted the colony which had almost certainly been there since 1896,” he told BBC News.

Common around the Mediterranean, this is believed to be the UK’s only sighting of the species.

School for scandal

It was in 1896 that Cliveden took delivery of a travertine marble balustrade that now runs for about 100 metres along the top of the house’s immaculately coiffured lawns.

“It was purchased and brought over from Rome by the first Viscount Astor,” said John Bignell, visitor services manager at the property.

“He’d been an ambassador in Rome and was a great collector. The Villa Borghese in Rome, which he bought it from, now has a copy.”

When the snails climbed on board is not known, although the balustrade itself dates from about 1816.

At Cliveden, they have lived in crevices in the marble and at the bottom of the balustrade.

“What they’re doing, what they’re eating, we don’t rightly know, although it’s likely they’re feeding on lichen or algae growing on the marble,” said Mr Oates.

“But what’s important is they’ve also been found in two, possibly three other places at Cliveden, so all our eggs are not in one basket from a conservation point of view.”

Cliveden House

Cliveden’s past includes the pool party where John Profumo met Christine Keeler

Over the years, the snails would have had the chance to witness a number of seminal moments in UK politics.

Nancy Astor, wife of the second viscount, was the first woman MP to take her seat.

In the 1930s, ministers, prime ministers and other dignitaries came so often to mull the issues of the day that the circle of habitues gained the sobriquet of the “Cliveden Set”.

But the most notorious event was undoubtedly the meeting of Profumo and Keeler in 1961. The 18-year-old model and call-girl was having an affair with a Soviet military attache; and when she later started an affair with the cabinet minister, and he then lied to parliament about it, his fall was a matter of time.

Still owned by the National Trust, the house itself is used as a hotel. Its most famous recent visitor was probably Liverpool star Steven Gerrard who tied the knot there in June 2007, though whether he or his guests spotted the odd Papillifera papillaris is not on record.

August 13, 2008

Phelps breaks Olympic gold record

Phelps breaks Olympic gold record

US swimmer Michael Phelps broke the record for Olympic gold medals won by taking his 10th and 11th in a double victory on Wednesday.

Phelps, 23, won his fourth gold of the Beijing Olympics and 10th of all time with victory in the 200m butterfly.

And he claimed yet another gold as part of the US 4x200m freestyle team.

Phelps has now surpassed the nine golds won by Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz and Larysa Latynina to cement his place in Olympic history.

606: DEBATE
Rafa fan

He is also bidding to beat Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in a single Olympic games and has moved to within three of that achievement.

The US star swims in the individual medley, 100m butterfly and finally the 4x100m medley relay later in the week.

“There is still something left in the tank,” he said. “I’ve got three races left, so there had better be something left in the tank.”

Phelps began proceedings in the Water Cube on Wednesday in typical fashion, beating Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh and Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda in a world record time of 1:52.03 to claim 200m butterfly gold.

He looked slightly underwhelmed following the victory, despite the magnitude of his achievement, and revealed that a pair of leaky goggles almost scuppered his chances of glory.

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Video – Phelps bags fifth gold in relay

But he battled on despite the fault to shave 0.06secs of his own 200m butterfly world record.

“My goggles kept filling up with water during the race,” he said.

“I wanted a world record, I wanted 1:51 or better, but in the circumstances it’s not too bad I guess.”

And along with US team-mates Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens and Peter Vanderkaay, Phelps later claimed relay gold in the 4x200m freestlyle in another world record time of 6:58.56secs.

Russia took the silver and Australia the bronze, while Great Britain’s four came in sixth.

“I’m pumped about our relay,” said Phelps. “It’s the most fun thing to be in a team environment and be part of a relay.

“It’s cool when you get four Americans who all swim well together. Everyone has to play their part or it’s just not going to happen.

“We’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to do that.”

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