I was in Birmingham for a meeting on Thursday, and found myself with a spare hour before needing to go for my flight. What better way to pass the time than going to see Crufts at the NEC, which is right beside Birmingham International Airport?
At £14 a ticket it probably wasn't the best value event I've ever been to, but it was fascinating to see it live. I wandered around, looked at a lot of dogs, and watched a few of the demonstrations. Not surprisingly I spent more time at the Labrador stall than anywhere else. One of the labradors on display was the double of my younger dog, Lucy.
I like going to major UK events, partly to see what they are really like and partly to say that I have been. A couple of years ago I was in London during the Wimbledon fortnight, and went along to it after my conference had finished for the day. I arrived about 5 o'clock, queued for an hour, then watched about 3 hours of tennis. I have to say that it was an absolutely fantastic event, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone. I even sat on 'Henman Hill', eating strawberries and drinking Pimms, so I could say I had the proper Wimbledon experience.
We have some brilliant sporting occasions in this country. The London Marathon is right up there with the best of them, and it is one of the very few top sporting events where you actually get the chance to take part rather than just watch. I've done 7 London marathons, and although it isn't my favourite race from a purely running perspective I wouldn't argue with the fact that it is a fantastic occasion. I've also been at a few Open golf championships - at Troon, Turnberry and St Andrews - and on each occasion it was a great day out, even though I didn't get the chance to play. I was lucky enough to spend 2 days at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Completely brilliant - I'll never forget it. I saw Paula Radcliffe win the 5,ooom, Lee McConnell win a silver in the 400m (and come agonisingly close to winning gold), and Jamie Quarry win a decathlon bronze. I've even been to a European Cup final, many years ago in 1976 when Bayern Munich beat St Etienne in Glasgow.
If I ever win the lottery (which may be difficult, as I don't play), then I'm going to spend a year going round the world attending all of the top sports events. Can you imagine it? Melbourne for the horse racing, the Monaco Grand Prix, the Champions League final, the US Open (both golf and tennis), Wimbledon, the Olympics, the New York marathon - I'm sure I've missed some, but it would be a pretty good year. I'd even go to Fort William for the Camanachd Cup final, and to the Falkirk Stadium to see Falkirk win the SPL. It is my dream year, after all.
All of which suggests that the Olympics in London in 2012 are going to be fantastic, hopefully followed by the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. From an athletics perspective I think we have a number of promising UK athletes coming through who will be real prospects in London, despite the general gloom in the media. The results at last weekend's European Indoor Championships were very encouraging. I would highlight Nicola Sanders (400m) who looks world class already. She is just in her early 20s so will hopefully get even better in the next few years. UKA's performance director, Dave Collins, has taken a lot of stick, but it was never going to be an easy job and I think we are starting to see signs of improvement, particularly in the attitude of our athletes. Let's hope it continues.