What does the Olympic torch have to do with Hitler?

The original Olympic Games established a basic canon of seven games unchanged over some 900 years: foot, horse and chariot races, boxing, wrestling, pankration, and pentathlon. This year’s Olympics feature 42 games, adding for the first time ‘competitive breakdancing, an urban sport that originated in the hip-hop culture of 1970s block parties in the US’. It has been ever thus since the Games were first revived in Wenlock in 1850, when soccer, cricket and quoits appeared. The first ‘Olympics’, started in Greece in 1859 – a minor, one-day event in the context of a huge agro-industrial exhibition – featured climbing the greasy pole. In 1865 a National Olympian Association was

Dear Mary: how can I unmask anonymous marathon sponsors?

Q. My son-in-law is running the Paris marathon to raise money for cystic fibrosis research and has sent out a mail shot to friends and family asking to be sponsored via He has had a fabulous response. Some people have posted supportive messages alongside their names but have chosen to conceal the amount of money they are donating. Yet two supporters, who have been spectacularly generous, have anonymised their names –although not the giant sums of money that they have pledged. My son-in-law would like to know who these people are – what do you suggest he do? – A.E., Pewsey A. For practical reasons certain people make a

Help! I’ve become a marathon bore

Over dinner with a friend last week, halfway through a bottle of Merlot, I noticed her eyes starting to glaze over as I spoke. Normally, I’d be offended – but it’s something I’ve experienced a lot lately, and I’ve only got myself to blame.  I was in the middle of telling her a story about my latest running route, which is a slightly different version of a run I’ve been doing for years – down the country lanes near my house, but rather than cutting through the footpath in front of the fields, now I take a sharp left and go round the farm, doubling back behind the houses and adding

Switch over to Eurosport: BBC’s Olympic coverage reviewed

I’ve not been allowed anywhere near the TV remote control this week because of some kind of infernal sporting event taking place in Japan. You may gather that I have mixed feelings about the Olympics: on the one hand, I like most of the competitors, who are so much more affable and modest (those delightful Gadirova twins!) than the overpaid, overindulged prima donnas who recently took part in the Euros. Also, it’s impossible not to get sucked into the drama of individual stories such as that of Beth Schriever, the humble, underfunded former teaching assistant who took gold in the women’s BMX. But on the other, it’s bread and circuses