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Newly discovered director dissolves into sparkling sea

Jean Epstein.LAUNCHING his career in Paris in the 1920s, Jean Epstein approached the new art of cinema from a position of rare intellectual freedom. Few filmmakers have worked so fruitfully in the zone where fictional narrative meets the avant-garde, and few have shown such wholehearted enthusiasm for using the camera to transform our vision of the world.
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It has taken a while for English-language film culture to discover Epstein. A retrospective at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival gives an indication of what we have been missing.

Epstein is a ''flashy'' filmmaker, in a literal sense. He is attracted to elemental forms of movement - whatever sparkles, flows, or drifts like smoke. He loves reflections, veils, superimpositions, close-ups, blurred focus, and anything involving rivers or the sea.

His favourite device is the slow dissolve, especially when dissolving between the rippling surface of water and the face of a character in thought.

Often developing his visual ideas through conventional melodramatic stories, Epstein rarely delves into psychology as commonly understood.

Instead, he invites us to relish the faces, bodies and gestures of his performers: one sequence of The Beauty from Nivernais (1923) is devoted to a small boy doing a giddy dance, with little relevance to the plot.

There's a playfully eerie side to Epstein's work, linked to a use of slow motion that puts human activity and the inanimate on equal footing.

In his 1928 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of The House of Usher, candle flames and curtains acquire wills of their own, while hands and faces move as clouds.

Covering a fraction of Epstein's output, the retrospective concentrates on his 1920s silent films. Still, the new documentary Jean Epstein, Young Oceans Of Cinema covers his later, quasi-ethnographic shorts and features.

In the 1947 short Le tempestaire the obvious camera tricks have mostly gone: what remains is a spare yet intricate game with a handful of elements of image and sound. The rhythmic flashing of a lighthouse lamp is set against the whistle of the wind, the roar of the waves, and a plaintive melody sung by a fisherman's bride-to-be as she awaits her lover's return to land.

Asked why he so often depicted the sea, Epstein said it was out of a fear that ''obliges us to do what we are afraid to do''. That might be a clue to the true nature of this mysterious filmmaker, whose works seem lucid almost to the point of abstraction, yet deeply personal in their mingled ecstasy and fright.

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Regulator takes tougher stance with telcos

The communications regulator is warning of "more investigations [and] more court cases" against telcos that breach new customer service rules starting in four weeks.
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The new rules will stop telcos using the word "cap" and force them to offer clear pricing information, usage alerts and better complaint handling services. It also set up Communications Compliance - an industry funded body that will monitor breaches.

General manager of content, consumer and citizen at the Australian Communications and Media Authority, Jennifer McNeill, said it will have little patience for telcos that flaunt the new Telecommunications Consumer Protection code.

The ACMA previously used a gentle 'engage and educate' method to help telcos comply, but this attitude would be replaced with a tougher stance, she said.

"You will see more investigations, more directions and more court cases," she told a room full of telco industry representatives at a briefing.

"We expect immediate compliance with the obligations that have been substantially carried over from the old code."

Ms McNeill said the ACMA would no longer tolerate "good natured incompetence" as an excuse for breaches and would also ask telcos to substantiate any unbelievable service offers. Staff had been shifted around within the ACMA to bulk up its ability to enforce compliance, she added.

When the code starts on September 1, it will be the first time all Australian telcos are bound by a customer service code enforceable through fines of up to $250,000. The old code was voluntary and impossible to enforce.

The industry body that drafted the code, Communications Alliance, is conducting briefings and training sessions around the country to help companies prepare for the changes.

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Nufarm to settle class action for $43.5 million

A group of Nufarm shareholders, super funds and banks, who launched two class actions over the company’s alleged failure to disclose company weaknesses three years ago, are expected to share $43.5 million as part of a proposed settlement.
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In a statement released this morning, the law firms Maurice Blackburn and Slater & Gordon said an in-principle settlement had been reached with the agricultural supplies company after a mediation which was held yesterday.

The deal is subject to certain conditions, which at this stage have not been disclosed publicly. The deal must secure the approval of the Federal Court.

The class actions claimants accused Nufarm of failing the tell the stock exchange how worsening conditions in the market for herbicide glyphosate had affected its business and therefore its profitability and debt position.

Nufarm had denied the allegations.

The company’s chaiman, Donald McGauchie, said the board had considered the likely risks and potential costs of pursuing a defence at trial as well as the distraction it might cause to management.

“We are pleased to put this behind us and have the company fully focused on continuing to improve the operating performance of the business,” Mr McGauchie said.

In a statement to the stock exchange, Nufarm said the proposed settlement, which covers investors who bought shares between September 2009 to August 2010, encompasses claims made by the plaintiffs, accrued interest, the sums that will be paid to litigation funders for each of the class actions plus legal costs.

The class actions had been rolled into a single case and were due to be heard next year before Justice John Middleton in the Federal Court.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jason Geisker said the proposed settlement “represents a very positive and expeditious outcome for shareholders”.

Slater & Gordon’s Ben Phi said participants in the case included retail and institutional funds, individual shareholders and banks. Clients would be told about the deal in the next few weeks.

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Fumbles put AFL bosses firmly in spotlight

TOMORROW night's blockbuster between Hawthorn and Geelong should be a beauty. And it certainly can't come quickly enough for the AFL, which needs a win far more desperately than either the Cats or Hawks.
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This has been a pretty ordinary little period for league football on several levels, but more specifically the way it is being administered, with this week's re-emergence of the tanking issue just the latest thorny problem to confront the league.

The cumulative bottom line is a football public whose faith in the powers-that-be to oversee the game has been eroded to depths as low as I can remember, at least since the mid-1990s, when the AFL was attempting to merge several clubs out of existence.

There's the tanking controversy that refuses to die. There's continued griping about the various contradictions and the inconsistency of the judicial arm of the game through the match review panel and tribunal.

There's a video referral system for disputed goal-umpiring decisions, which remains clunky, and for which the technology remains inadequate despite it first having been mooted about 18 months before it was introduced. There's increasing grumbles about the injury rate and scepticism about the AFL's methodology in attempting to reduce it, even the veracity of the figures which claim it is, in fact, on the decline.

There's continued and more vociferous complaints about the uneven fixture and the advantages handed those who get to play the competition weaklings twice, plus real concerns from the clubs about the length of the season, the toll taken on players and the quality of the spectacle they're providing.

On that purely aesthetic level, there are a couple of new teams getting ritually smashed, with the prospect of a lot more floggings to come.

And underpinning all the discontent, a deeply rooted cynicism about the AFL administration's capacity to put things right, which - going back to the clumsy handling of the affair involving AFL community engagement manager Jason Mifsud at the start of the season - subsequent events have only enshrined.

The fact the guffawing continues at the league's vigorous denials that tanking has ever taken place shows the stock the public puts in the league's fairly rudimentary ''investigation'' last year when departing Melbourne coach Dean Bailey alluded to the practice. And the decision to investigate further after the Brock McLean revelations seems only to confirm the inadequacy of those initial interrogations.

Match review panel findings are now known as a form of football ''chooklotto'', the head apparently sacrosanct in cases like Jack Ziebell's, not so in this week's deliberations on Scott Thompson.

We've had legislation on the run via the slide tackle controversy, a virtual admission on the tanking front that the AFL hasn't asked enough questions, and, on the lack of competitiveness of Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney, acting chief executive Gillon McLachlan conceding, ''I think we probably underestimated the amount of pain''.

All that doesn't engender confidence they're getting anything much right of late. And one thing the AFL bosses really wouldn't want to underestimate right now is the extent to which they're on the nose with their football public.

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Harvey stays at top of game

Booming... Brent Harvey, 34, and in career-best form.NORTH Melbourne's Brent Harvey is defying his veteran status and continuing to be a matchwinner for the club, and Roos great Glenn Archer believes he can keep it up for a few years to come.
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Since 2005, the 34-year-old has averaged 22 disposals and two goals a game. This year, he stepped that up, kicking 25.5 - the third most goals for the club - with a career-high scoring accuracy of 83 per cent.

''I was thinking to myself, 34, maybe he is coming towards the end, which I have never thought about 'Boomer','' Archer said. ''But he's quickly changed my mind in the past 10 weeks. He's been unbelievable.

''He's one of those guys whose consistency has been amazing. You can't keep him down for too long.''

Andrew Swallow, 25, replaced Harvey - the only Roo from North's 1999 premiership team still playing AFL after Geelong's Cameron Mooney retired last year - as captain in February. But it wasn't a signal the veteran was nearing the scrap heap.

He revealed he had always told coach Brad Scott he would like to play at least one year without being captain, and Scott was happy to support that wish.

But with the Roos looking to make the finals for the first time since 2008, when they fell by 35 points to Sydney in the elimination final, Archer believes there is more than just one more year left in his former teammate's career.

''He'll definitely play next year, and even if he does slow down a little bit the year after, you could always use him as a sub. He'd be a pretty handy sub to come on halfway through the third quarter.''

Archer attributed Harvey's longevity to hard work and good preparation - a combination that he had followed diligently throughout his career.

''He's always been the same, his preparation has always been as good as anyone's at the club, if not better. He sort of set the standard in the late '90s in how to prepare for footy, and I reckon having those good habits as a young kid - and they've just got better as he has got older - has held him in good stead.

''When someone sets the standard like that, they force you to start doing the same sort of things.''

And it seems that North's emerging midfield brigade, including Liam Anthony, Sam Gibson, with Swallow at the helm, has adopted that hardened discipline, which has further lengthened Harvey's career and turned around the Roos' patchy start to the year.

''What helps … is the young midfielders coming through,'' Archer said. ''When you're 34-35, you need to rely a bit on your team to play well as well. It's been great that they have stepped up and helped him out.

''There was a four-week period there that was probably the worst football I have seen them play. And then they have gone from that to the best football I've seen them play. It's been amazing and a credit to them to be able to turn it around quickly.

''When you are playing that poor, some teams turn it around for a week or so then they'll go back to where they were. But they have been able to turn it around and sustain it.''

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High life in the NBN fast lane

NBN seeks verdict on 'wall warts'
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BRUNSWICK in Victoria is no Silicon Valley. Couches and bikes nestle on cobweb-covered verandahs, a bearded twentysomething ambles over the fracturing concrete with his laundry basket, and the tram hums along Sydney Road.

But one year after the national broadband network went live in this hipster hamlet, some locals are starting to upgrade their internet connection, and with it their income.

''We are looking at new cars,'' said David Kofoed, 32, who works from an office at an old hat factory in Victoria Street with business partner Sam Dawe, 32. They call themselves NBN consultants, guiding business and local government through new applications made possible by download speeds of up to 100 megabits a second.

''A year and half ago we were looking at making wages. Now in this financial year it's possible we could see a tenfold increase in revenue,'' said Mr Kofoed. ''It's a very, very exciting time for us. We are on the verge of expanding exponentially.''

They moved in just before the square of 2600 households wedged between Lygon Street and Sydney Road went live last August. It was one of five first-release sites in Australia for the $35.7 billion project (plus about $14 billion going to Telstra) to connect 93 per cent of premises with high-speed fibre-optic cable over the next 10 years. The other 7 per cent will be reached by fixed wireless and satellite.

Mr Dawe and Mr Kofoed began by backing up companies' data in 24 hours that would have taken 150 days on the old copper network. Then they sold video conferencing technology to doctors as the government provided funding for more consultations to be done remotely.

''There are over 20,000 GPs in Australia and each one of those GPs can receive funding from the government for their first Telehealth consultation,'' Mr Kofoed said. ''So there's a huge market.''

The pair heard reports of doctors conducting one-off consultations to receive the $4800 incentive, but Mr Dawe said the government now requires doctors to conduct at least 10 consultations before receiving the full payment.

Mr Dawe and Mr Kofoed now consult on other NBN aspects, such as how people can work from home, saving transport and childcare costs.

This whirlwind year has left them NBN evangelicals. ''It reminds me of when the postmaster-general had the crazy idea of getting everybody's house connected to the copper network,'' Mr Kofoed said. ''I mean, how decadent is that, to have a phone in your house?''

The duo's vim has drawn others to the area. Downstairs, Australia's first NBN internet cafe, Hungry Birds, hosts geeks doing speed tests on their laptops. Art dealer Nick Kreisler live-streams gallery openings next door to promote his web-based business.

So far, so great - just don't mention the hours of illegal film, TV and music being downloaded each evening in these quiet suburban streets.

Caitlin, 26, lives nearby with her boyfriend, Rob, 31. Since getting the NBN they only have to wait 15 minutes rather than an hour to download a film.

''Freaks and Geeks and Game of Thrones, we just downloaded the whole thing and watched it,'' Caitlin said. ''We went through The Sopranos a few months ago. I don't know how I feel about it. It's just so common and so acceptable now that your conscience is removed. Everyone is doing it.''

The NBN is also essential for Rob's business, writing music with a friend outside the NBN area. "We've had clients and they've said, 'OK, you've got an hour', and we've had to fix this track up and then upload it to them. We've had to drive over here to do it, because it's going to take half an hour, an hour at his place because he's got the slowest internet ever."

NBN Co will sell service providers network access at a wholesale price of $24 a month for five years, after which the price will rise at no more than half the inflation rate. How internet companies package their service is up to them.

Rob and Caitlin settled on an $80 monthly plan with a 200-gigabyte quota for downloads, which they have only exceeded once.

They could have got a better deal with a smaller operator (500 gigabytes for $60 a month) but said this offered less flexibility and customer service.

NBN Co's chief technology officer, Gary McLaren, said this was evidence the competitive model for service providers was working. ''That is part of what we expected to happen with some innovating more than others, some probably coming through and being more cost-effective than others,'' he said.

Take-up in the area has been modest, but Mr McLaren said it was early days. ''It is over 15 per cent take-up and this is before we've done any work migrating customers from the copper network,'' he said. ''So these are really good numbers for what we see as an initial stage of a rollout."

One reason given for the slow take-up rate is the high number of rental properties in the area.

Art dealer Mr Kreisler has another theory: ''It's traditionally a working area, so the older people could be less educated,'' he said. ''There are a lot of junkies around here. Even the educated people I talk to are not that interested. They are older intellectual people rather than older tech-boffin people."

Seeing is believing, however, for Methiye Nuka, 71. She helped translate when four members of her Turkish women's group visited Brunswick Neighbourhood House for a computer training course as part of the federally funded Digital Hubs program.

One woman watched a doctor explain her back condition on Turkish TV, others hunted for their home towns on Google Earth, and Ms Nuka headed for YouTube.

"I'm watching Justin Bieber," she said. "He's a handsome boy. The girls are crazy about him. He has a nice voice, he is young, clever, a millionaire."

It was difficult to tell how much of the group's enthusiasm was thanks to the NBN and how much was the inevitable thrill of discovering the internet. But according to assistant manager Anoop Nair, speed matters. ''If it was slow internet, they would look at it and say, 'I give up,' '' Mr Nair said. ''As people get older their patience levels go down.''

Another deterrent is cost. None of the Turkish women had a computer at home.

In response Mr Dawe and Mr Kofoed are working on computers costing less than $50 where processing is done on servers based back at their office. Users will only need a palm-sized device to connect their mouse, keyboard and monitor to the NBN.

And the network is still capable of going 10 times faster with the flick of a switch from NBN Co.

''We are just not releasing it until we've got enough capacity in the back of our network to make sure we don't overload it," Mr McLaren said.

Meanwhile, back at computer class Galsen Gencen, 73, had her hands full. The headset mouthpiece poked her eye, each click of the mouse caused the cursor to splay upwards, and finding the cross to close a browser window resembled threading a needle.

Then her screen went white save for a paragraph of jargon. Ms Gencen leaned back in her chair, and threw up her hands.

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Actor stars from go to whoa

DEBORAH Mailman marks the beginning and the end of this year's Melbourne International Film Festival. She is one of the stars of The Sapphires, the movie that opens the festival tonight, and she's also in the closing-night feature, Mental, the reunion of the Muriel's Wedding team of Toni Collette and director P. J. Hogan.
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The Sapphires, based on a true story, is set in the 1960s. It is about four indigenous women who formed a singing group and found their way to Vietnam, performing for the troops.

It was originally a play written by Tony Briggs, who based his story on his mother's experiences. Mailman was in the first stage production in 2004, although she played a different role. On stage, she was Cynthia, the most irrepressible of the four; in the film she's Gail, the eldest, who watches protectively over the others.

Wayne Blair, the movie's director, also goes back to the beginning of The Sapphires; he played opposite Mailman in the stage show.

''It was one of the most challenging productions I'd ever done,'' she recalls. ''But every night, without fail, there was such a buzz when we came off.''

For the film, the cast and crew headed to Vietnam. ''It was wonderful we were able to go there. We had so many different locations. It's a period drama; we were going from country Victoria to Saigon - it's a huge challenge.'' It was, she says, a tight budget. ''But what's great about Australian crews and creatives is that they know how to work that way.''

The Sapphires had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, in an out of-competition screening, an experience whose significance Mailman says she didn't fully understand until she returned home.

The Sapphires is one of nine films eligible for The Age Critics Award, judged by Age reviewers, which goes to the best Australian feature in the festival.

The Age is a festival sponsor.

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Can the Hawks end the hoodoo?

Geelong players celebrate after edging out Hawthorn in another classic earlier this year.1. Is Hawthorn better without Buddy?
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Ridiculous, I know, but a question worth asking at least.

If Lance Franklin's primary role is to score and create scoring opportunities, then consider the past three games that he has missed with his dodgy hamstring.

Against the Bulldogs, Hawthorn kicked a healthy 17 goals, against Collingwood 21 and against Essendon 27. Jack Gunston has relished the extra freedom and responsibility, kicking four, three and three. Pinch-hitters Jordan Lewis (five against Collingwood) and Luke Hodge (five against Essendon) have helped fill the breach.

All three games provided thumping wins and Hawthorn is far less predictable to opponents without Franklin.

At the end of which you have to say that yes, you'd want him to play, but no, it's not a disaster for Hawthorn if he doesn't.

2. Is the MCG coach's box safe?

If coach Alastair Clarkson is demolishing walls when Hawthorn is playing like it has in the past two months, what happens if Geelong gets up tomorrow night?

At that rate Clarkson might be in the market for a sponsor. We can see it now: Clarkson's Anger, brought to you by Knock 'Em Down Demolitions. Cue Clarko punching the wall, and Clarko berating a turnover-prone Hawk (might be hard to find that footage, the way his team kicks the football).

But seriously, which decent coach did not operate on a little bit of fear? Even mild-mannered Paul Roos had the capacity for a sharply delivered spray, and Mick Malthouse and Leigh Matthews could stare a man down at 10 metres. Footy would be less interesting without the Clarksons of the game.

3. Does the streak matter?

Geelong has won the past eight of these encounters since the amazing 2008 grand final. It is a matter of record that then coach Mark ''Bomber'' Thompson implored his players to seek revenge after that shock defeat and they have carried out his wishes even in his absence.

But here is the thing: Hawthorn will have - at our best estimate - only nine players from the 2008 grand final in its team tomorrow night. Hawthorn has rebuilt its list; so has Geelong.

Hawthorn was using a grid defence then that was designed to counter Geelong's quick, corridor ball movement, a tactic that seems ancient now. Geelong has changed too, as forward presses gave the Cats problems and forced them to be more careful with the football.

If you look at Geelong's record since the start of 2007, you can only admire what Hawthorn did that day in conquering the favourite, conceding behinds to slow the game down. As a coaching feat, it is one of the best ever.

4. Which duel is pivotal?

Geelong needs someone, say Taylor Hunt, to step on the supply line usually filled by Sam Mitchell's dinky handballs and chip kicks, but possibly more important is the Hawks' ability to contain Tom Hawkins. Josh Gibson shapes as the guy.

Some of this depends on whether James Podsiadly plays, but the most likely scenario with Hawkins in good form is for Gibson, Hawthorn's best tall defender, to take the Tomahawk.

Hawkins has become the Frankenstein that Geelong had been waiting for, a monster in a pack-marking situation, excellent in wet conditions and a contender for All-Australian honours. Gibson has sensational closing speed and a lethal spoiling fist.

5. How many shots left in the locker?

Geelong has pride. The core of the current group first contended in 2005, when Nick Davis broke their hearts in Sydney. With the exception of 2006, they've been thereabouts ever since. Gravity, the salary cap and the draft ought to have sent the Cats down by now, but they refuse to accept these realities.

Geelong just keeps bobbing up behind its veteran players - Corey Enright, James Kelly, Jimmy Bartel, Paul Chapman, Joel Corey, Matthew Scarlett, Steve Johnson - and the men who have followed, Joel Selwood, Harry Taylor, Hawkins.

It is a culture that makes a nonsense of this week's discussion on tanking. Geelong does not know the meaning of tanking. If the Cats are going down, then it'll be with a hell of a struggle.

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The pace picks up

ON Friday, the first day of athletics, we'll see the women's 100 metres get under way, the first round of long-jump favourite Mitchell Watt's qualification and the women's discus qualification, where Dani Samuels, the world champion from 2009, will compete.
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The first of the medals will be handed out for the women's 10,000m; Vivian Cheruiyot from Kenya will be looking to take out the double in the 5000m and 10,000m as she did last year at the world championships.

It's also a big day in the pool. James Magnussen and Eamon Sullivan will go up against each other in the 50m freestyle, and Michael Phelps will go for his third consecutive gold in the 100m butterfly. Rebecca Adlington will be out to defend her 800m freestyle title. On the cycle track, Anna Meares and Victoria Pendleton will compete in what will be the Ashes on wheels. I'm sure Meares will win, though this will be one of the most strongly contested match-ups for sure.

SATURDAY Day 8

Today is very significant as it's the first run of Usain Bolt. Also, the first of the women's sprint medals will be decided in the 100m, while we'll also see the finals of women's discus and men's long jump.

Another highlight is the women's triathlon. Emma Moffatt won a bronze medal in Beijing and has been leading the world in the past couple of years. Local favourite Helen Jenkins is tipped to win bronze, but the Aussie girls will be on the hunt for medals for sure. They'll just have to get used to the horrible water in the Serpentine Lake.

SUNDAY Day 9

As an athlete, today is the blue-ribbon day. Local girl and defending champion Christine Ohuruogu goes into the women's 400m, but most attention will be on the men's 100m. Could it be the end of the reign of Usain Bolt? I went to his training session last week and he didn't look the silky-smooth Usain Bolt I've seen in the past. Yohan Blake's trajectory is really on the rise.

The men's 100m is the most competitive race of any Olympic Games of the modern era, with the top-four fastest men in history taking part. A world record? If the weather keeps up, maybe. I don't know if anyone in the world can run as fast as Bolt has. He's a unique being physically and mentally, but if anyone can it's Blake. He ran 9.75 seconds this year, which is the fourth-fastest of all time. But watching that 2009 final when Bolt ran 9.58 seconds was one of those races you think might never be equalled again.

In the final of the men's tennis singles we might see a match-up between Andy Murray and Roger Federer. Played at Wimbledon, it has a special significance.

MONDAY Day 10

LaShawn Merritt is the defending champion in the 400m. He's in fantastic form, but my money is on Kirani James from Grenada, who's hoping to win his country's first Olympic medal. He's 18 and has a natural running style. Hopefully he'll claim some big scalps.

In the women's pole vault, Alana Boyd, who broke the Australian record this year, has an outside chance. Michael Diamond is in action in the men's trap, having won gold in 1996 and in Sydney and with six Games under his belt. He is now in his 40s but he might be able to get another gold. Sally Pearson is in the heats of the hurdles. She's only lost one race since becoming world champion last year. I'm sure she can overcome that hiccup.

TUESDAY Day 11

We have an outside chance of getting a medal in the men's triathlon. We'll come up against the British triathlon twins, the Brownlee brothers. Alistair is favourite for gold and Jonathan is favourite for silver. Our Aussie boys will give it a crack but we're outsiders.

The women's sprint will be another cracker between Anna Meares and Victoria Pendleton. That's the most significant race in terms of rivalry because Meares has been hard-pressed to knock off Pendleton in the sprint.

The 100m women's hurdles final will be massive. We haven't had a gold medal-winning female track athlete since Cathy Freeman, so it is very significant.

Lauren Mitchell in the gymnastics finals should win a medal.

WEDNESDAY Day 12

The women's 200m final on the track will be a match-up between Jamaica and American Carmelita Jeter. But Allyson Felix is the favourite to win, and everyone will be hoping she does because she has been the bridesmaid for so long.

Current world champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen are favourites to take the gold medal in the sailing 49er class.

One of my favourite events, which I reckon is going to be a cracker, is the BMX. Sam Willoughby, the world champion from Australia, is a true athlete. He trains as hard and competitively as any of the top sprinters. In the women's event, British girl Shanaze Reade is in the mix for the gold medal. At the world titles, ''Speedy Reedy'' was three or four bike lengths ahead and blew it. She comes in here with something to prove. It is one of those sports where you cannot pick the favourite.

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Meares gears up for final stoush

While British golden girl Victoria Pendleton’s face and body lit up screens and billboards all over London in the lead-up to the games, Anna Meares trained in anonymity in northern Italy.
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When every English newspaper splashed with Pendleton’s take on the most hyped rivalry in track cycling and how it might play out in London, no one could get to Meares.

The 28-year-old from Central Queensland was holed up with the Australian sprint cycling team in Montichiari, a small town in scenic Lombardy, preparing quietly for what could be the final showdown between the two undisputed queens of the velodrome. Decamping to mainland Europe allowed the team to escape winter in Adelaide. But it also removed Meares from the spotlight – first in Australia and then in London, where Pendleton is ‘‘Queen Victoria’’ and Meares is portrayed as some sort of athletic wicked witch, the fly in ‘‘Our Vicky’s’’ ointment and the biggest obstacle to the 31-year-old’s perfect Olympic swansong.

Today, the games begin. The pair meet in the first of three events they will both contest, the team sprint. ‘‘I am relaxed and confident that I have done all the work that I could have possibly done,’’ Meares said from Montichiari shortly before she left for London. ‘‘I don’t believe there is anything more or anything that I could have done better ... I am in the form of my career.’’

She will need to be. Though favourite to win the individual sprint and the keirin, Meares learnt four months ago, when she was pushed into disqualification at the track cycling world championships in Melbourne, how badly Pendleton wants to finish her career on top.

It was the latest, extraordinary twist in their rivalry. Before Beijing, where Meares took silver – behind Pendleton – seven months after breaking her neck in a cycling accident, the Australian was used to playing second fiddle in the sprint.

It took Meares another three years to crack a victory – an emotional win at the world championships in Holland – and she maintained the upper hand with a semi-final win over Pendleton in the Olympic test event in February. The Melbourne race in April has given Sunday’s sprint showdown a deliciously uncertain edge.

‘‘There are so many components you have to get right to end up on top,’’ Meares said of her favourite event. ‘‘You can be the fastest and lose, you can have all the skill and technique yet lose. This race is about who can compile all the qualities and components required to win, who can perform under pressure, [who’s] done their homework, who knows their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, who can confront another and outwit them. It is the most difficult and challenging race I have ever had to ride ... it tests me to the max.’’

Pendleton has made it clear she wants a normal life after London. No more soul-bearing documentaries, no more glamorous fashion shoots, no more pressure to win, win, win. From her training base across the channel, Meares followed a lot of the commentary on their rivalry but didn’t think she stood to benefit from Pendleton’s sky-high profile.

‘‘If Vicky can keep herself grounded and not allow the many distractions of being a home Games and of being a face of the Games to a minimum then no, it is of no help to me, the spotlight she is under,’’ Meares said.  ‘‘She has proven many times in the past she can handle it, I am not expecting any different. She is a good competitor, as are all the other girls.’’

Two weeks ago, Meares stopped posting on Twitter. The usually relaxed and bubbly voice on social media fell silent. ‘‘Thanks for the support. See u all after its all been run,’’ she posted in her farewell.

‘‘The build-up has been long and the excitement hard to control,’’ Meares said from Montichiari around the same time. ‘‘Nerves are there but under control ... I hope I can do something great and all I want is that chance. The rest is up to me to get over the line – first.’’

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Mass disqualification of badminton players may open the door for Australia

EIGHT female badminton players have been sent home from the Olympics, disqualified by the sport's world federation after throwing matches in a case condemned by London Games boss Sebastian Coe as "depressing" and "unacceptable".
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A disciplinary hearing held this morning, which Australia's badminton coach made a submission to, found that four players from South Korea, two from Indonesia and the competition's top seeds from China deliberately tried to lose their qualifying matches in an attempt to manipulate their draws.

The four sets of doubles teams were charged after matches on Tuesday littered with basic errors. Accused by badminton's international governing body of "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport", they were ultimately found guilty of trying to lose with the motive of improving their positions for the knockout stages.

The sensational mass ejection could lead to Australia's reinstatement in the round robin competition - a new, and now controversial, format for these Olympics - but the Australian Olympic Committee says it is yet to receive advice amid reports that the Indonesian team might appeal the disqualification. Regardless, Australian pair Renuga Veeran and Leanne Choo stand to receive a lifeline after initially being eliminated in the quarter-finals.

Meanwhile, the women's doubles competition has been thrown into disarray with the looming appeals and decisions on whether teams previously eliminated will be reinstated or whether the competition will proceed without the disqualified teams. The competition was due to resume - at quarter-final stage - on Wednesday afternoon at Wembley, but half of the eight teams would be missing.

According to reports, the head coach of South Korea, Sung Han-kook, admitted before the disciplinary hearing that his players threw their games, but he blamed the Chinese team for initiating the contest to lose so that the teams didn't have to meet again in the semi-finals.

"Who would want to sit through something like that?" Coe said on Wednesday morning before the disqualifications were confirmed.

"It's unacceptable. And I know he badminton federation really well and they will take that really seriously. It is unacceptable."

Australia's badminton coach, Lasse Bundgaard, become involved in the case after lodging an official protest over the alarming 'contests' at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday night that provoked booing from the crowd. The players served into the net repeatedly and hit wide.

"He didn't do that in order to Australia to progress in any way shape or form," Australia's deputy chef de mission Kitty Chiller said.

"He genuinely feels it's important for the integrity of the sport to lodge that protest. He cares about the sport, and it is found that that's happened, it's certainly not something that we would encourage or condone."

London's Olympic organising committee said it would not refund tickets because spectators had watched other matches in the session.

"You get into all sorts of strange precedents if people aren't satisfied with what they see," London organising committee CEO Paul Deighton said.

"If you get into that territory it's very grey."

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Schlanger flies the flag for Australia after Campbell’s withdrawal

Thumbs up ... Australia's Melanie Schlanger after winning her heat.LONDON: Her teammate Cate Campbell may have been missing through illness, but Melanie Schlanger proudly flew the flag for Australia in the 100m freestyle heats on Wednesday morning, qualifying for the evening semi-finals as the second fastest.
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Campbell was hit by a gastro bug on Monday, and the decision was made for her to miss the 100m heats and hopefully be able to recover in time for the 50m freestyle on Friday.

In her absence, her gold medal-winning relay teammate clocked a slick 53.50s to be only behind China Yi Tang (53.28s) in qualifying times for the semi-finals.

In her heat Schlanger also claimed the scalp of the event favourite Ranomi Kromowidjojo (53.66s), but the Dutchwoman can be expected to go much faster in the semis as she has a 52.75s performance this year to her name.

‘‘It felt pretty good. I wanted to sneak under 54s this morning so to go 53.5s is pretty good,’’ Schlanger said. ‘‘I guess my second 50m is always my strength and I didn’t quite give it 100 per cent this morning but it’s still encouraging.’’

Schlanger was asked if everything was now a bonus after winning the gold in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay on Saturday night. ‘‘Yeah, but I’d love to be up there individually as well,’’ she said. ‘‘We’ll have to wait and see.’’

She also confirmed she will be swimming in the final of the 4 x 200m freestyle relay tonight. She has a good break of 75 minutes between the 100m freestyle semi-final and the relay final. As to who her partners will be remains a mystery until an hour before the finals’ session.

Bronte Barratt, who claimed bronze in the individual event on Tuesday, and who was in the 4 x 200m team which won gold in Beijing, will be there, and while Kylie Palmer has been struggling this week in both the 400m and 200m freestyle events, she is also expected to make the team. Before London it was expected Stephanie Rice would be the fourth member, but her battles at the Games meant she was probably going to be overlooked this time around.

The other spot is expected to go to the best performer out of the heats, Brittany Elmslie, who with Schlanger, Campbell and Alicia Coutts won relay gold on night one.Elmslie clocked 1min.57.50s off the blocks. The next fastest with the adjustment for the flying start was Blair Evans who clocked 1min.56.99s but 0.7s is added to make the adjustment, which means she was outside Elmslie’s figures.

‘‘I’ve been itching since day one to get out there and swim for Australia again,’’ Elmslie said. Asked if she had come off the high of winning gold on night one: ‘‘The first couple of days I was still running on a high, but by yesterday I was normal and tried to stay focused for today.’’

Australia qualified fastest for the final with an overall time of 7min.49.44s. The United States were second with a 7min.50.75s effort, but they will be bolstered by the addition of 200m individual gold medal winner Allison Schmitt and teenage superstar Missy Franklin and are the favourites for gold.

In the men’s 200m backstroke, Mitch Larkin advanced from the heats into the evening semi-finals with a 1min.57.53s swim. Matson Lawson though could manage only 21st with his 1min.58.92s swim.It was the same story in the men’s 200m individual medley with one Australian getting through and one missing out.

Daniel Tranter qualified in 13th with a 1min.59.70s swim, while Jayden Hadler was 31st in 2min.01.54s.In the women’s 200m breaststroke Sally Foster qualified 10th in 2min.26.04s, while Tessa Wallace squeaked into the semis in 16th place with a 2min.2min.26.94s.ends

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Hurt locker: your team’s injuries

ADELAIDE
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0 matches unfit (10 - 13th): Dangerfield, Reilly, Rutten, Sloane, Smith, Talia, S.Thompson, van Berlo, Walker, Wright.

1-3 matches unfit (9 - Eq 2nd): Callinan (2), Doughty (1), Jacobs (1), Johncock (3), Mackay (1), Petrenko (2), Porplyzia (1), Tippett (2), Vince (3).

4-6 matches unfit (1 - Eq 12th): Douglas (6).

SUMMARY: Has fared brilliantly, with its formidable midfield almost entirely unscathed. Tippett is clearly the biggest concern.

BRISBANE LIONS

0 (7 - Eq 5th): Hanley, Merrett, Patfull, Raines, Redden, Rich, Rockliff.

1-3 (9 - Eq 2nd): Adcock (1), Black (3), Brown (2), Drummond (1), Lester (1), Maguire (2), Polec (2), Polkinghorne (2), Zorko (3).

4-6 (2 - Eq 8th): Banfield (6), McGrath (4).

10+ (2 - Eq 2nd): Leuenberger (14), Staker (17).

SUMMARY: The effect of long-term absences to Staker and Leuenberger, particularly on the ladder, have been underrated outside Queensland. Best players have been largely unaffected.

CARLTON

0 (4 - Eq 2nd): Betts, Garlett, Gibbs, Judd.

1-3 (9 - Eq 2nd): Armfield (1), Jamison (2), Kreuzer (2), Robinson (2), Scotland (1), Simpson (3), Tuohy (2), Warnock (2), Yarran (3).

4-6 (4 - Eq 1st): Duigan (4), Henderson (6), Murphy (6), Walker (6).

7-9 (1 - Eq 5th): Carrazzo (7).

10+ (2 - Eq 2nd): Laidler (13), Waite (10).

SUMMARY: Waite's continued injury woes have undermined the Blues' strength across half-forward. Murphy's mid-season absence was significant, while Henderson's premature end to the season leaves the back line thin.

COLLINGWOOD

0 (4 - Eq 2nd): Beams, Cloke, Toovey, Wellingham.

1-3 (8 - 9th): Blair (1), Dawes (1), Fasolo (1), Maxwell (2), O'Brien (1), Shaw (2), Sidebottom (1), Swan (2).

4-6 (4 - Eq 1st): Jolly (4), Pendlebury (4), Reid (5), Thomas (5).

7-9 (2 - Eq 2nd): Tarrant (7), Didak (9).

10+ (2 - Eq 2nd): Ball (14), Johnson (11).

SUMMARY: Horror start to the year, with Ball gone for most of it and all of its gun midfielders bar Beams being sidelined for at least a fortnight.

ESSENDON

0 (7 - Eq 5th): Bellchambers, Davey, Howlett, Jetta, Melksham, Stanton, Watson.

1-3 (9 - Eq 2nd): Carlisle (1), Crameri (3), Dempsey (2), Fletcher (1), Heppell (2), Hocking (1), Monfries (3), Pears (1), Ryder (3).

4-6 (2 - Eq 8th): Hooker (4), Hurley (6).

7-9 (1 - Eq 5th): Zaharakis (7).

10+ (1 - Eq 9th): Winderlich (12).

SUMMARY: While the injuries have been plentiful the silver lining is that few have been long term. Zaharakis'absence has been significant, while Hurley's continued inability to stay on the ground is a concern.

FREMANTLE

0 (11 - Eq 14th): Ballantyne, Barlow, Crowley, de Boer, Duffield, Ibbotson, Johnson, McPharlin, Mzungu, Pavlich, Pearce.

1-3 (5 - 13th): Broughton (2), Hill (2), Mayne (1), McPhee (3), Mundy (2).

4-6 (1 - Eq 12th): Dawson (6).

7-9 (1 - Eq 5th): Sandilands (8).

10+ (2 - Eq 2nd): Fyfe (12), Morabito (17).

SUMMARY: Has not had a lot of players go down but those who have - Fyfe and Sandilands - are, alongside Pavlich, undoubtedly in the top three. Fyfe put in a blinder in his return last week. The key will be whether he can keep the Dockers in finals contention by the time Sandilands returns.

GEELONG

0 (2 - 1st): Mackie, West.

1-3 (14 - 1st): Bartel (1), Chapman (1), Corey (1), Duncan (1), Enright (1), Hawkins (1), T.Hunt (1), Johnson (1), Kelly (3), Lonergan (1), Motlop (1), Scarlett (2), Selwood (1), Taylor (1).

4-6 (3 - Eq 4th): Christensen (5), J.Hunt (4), Podsiadly (4).

10+ (1 - Eq 9th): Varcoe (17).

SUMMARY: On the surface looks to have struggled badly with continuity, with only Mackie and West fit every week, although that could be an extension of last year's successful strategy of not taking any chances on players who are borderline.

GOLD COAST

0 (9 - Eq 10th): Bennell, Brennan, Caddy, Day, Hunt, Shaw, Smith, Stanley, Warnock.

1-3 (4 - Eq 14th): Ablett (2), Brown (3), McKenzie (1), Russell (3).

4-6 (4 - Eq 1st): Dixon (5), Matera (5), Prestia (4), Rischitelli (4).

7-9 (2 - Eq 2nd): Harbrow (9), Swallow (7).

10+ (1 - Eq 9th): Bock (13).

SUMMARY: The three long-term injury victims - Bock, Harbrow and Swallow - are arguably only exceeded in importance by captain Ablett. Bock has undoubtedly been the biggest blow.

GWS

0 (6 - 4th): Adams, Davis, McDonald, Mohr, Smith, Ward.

1-3 (9 - Eq 2nd): Bugg (1), Cameron (3), Cornes (3), Greene (1), Giles (2), Palmer (1), Power (2), Scully (2), Treloar (1).

4-6 (3 - Eq 4th): Coniglio (6), Patton (6), Shiel (5).

7-9 (1 - Eq 5th): Brogan (7).

10+ (1 - Eq 9th): O'hAilpin (16).

SUMMARY: The recycled veterans have, unsurprisingly, struggled to play out the year without interruption, with Brogan's absence felt because of the absence of mature ruck alternatives.

HAWTHORN

0 (9 - Eq 10th): Lewis, Mitchell, Puopolo, Rioli, Roughead, Schoemakers, Sewell, Stratton, Suckling.

1-3 (9 - Eq 2nd): Birchall (2), Bruest (1), Burgoyne (1), Franklin (3), Gibson (2), Guerra (3), Hale (1), Smith (3), Whitecross (1).

10+ (2 - Eq 2nd): Bailey (15), Hodge (11).

SUMMARY: Apart from Luke Hodge's frustrating year and, of late, Franklin's troublesome hamstring, 2012 has been great for the Hawks injury-wise. Roughead's return from a ruptured Achilles has been remarkable.

MELBOURNE

0 (8 - Eq 7th): Blease, Garland, Grimes, Gysberts, Howe, Martin, Rivers, Trengove.

1-3 (9 - Eq 2nd): Bail (3), Frawley (2), Jones (1), McDonald (1), McKenzie (1), Moloney (2), Sylvia (3), Tapscott (3), Watts (3).

4-6 (2 - Eq 8th): Clark (6), Jamar (4).

10+ (1 - Eq 9th): Jurrah (15).

SUMMARY: The long-term absences of Clark and Jurrah have left the Demons with one of the competition's least imposing forward lines. Jamar's recurring injury has also exposed another area in which their depth is thin: ruck.

NORTH MELBOURNE

0 (16 - 18th): Adams, Anthony, Atley, Bastinac, Firrito, Goldstein, Harper, Harvey, Macmillan, Petrie, Swallow, Tarrant, Thomas, Wells, Wright, Ziebell.

1-3 (2 - 18th): Grima (3), Thompson (2).

4-6 (1 - Eq 12th): McMahon (5).

10+ (1 - Eq 9th): McIntosh (10).

SUMMARY: Few would begrudge North's elevatation into the top eight after successive ninth placings. But with its favourable draw and remarkable run with injury it should be improving at least as much as it has.

PORT ADELAIDE

0 (8 - Eq 7th): Broadbent, Carlile, Chaplin, Cornes, Brad Ebert, Pearce, P.Stewart, Westhoff.

1-3 (6 - 12th): Boak (3), Cassisi (3), McCarthy (1), Thomas (1), Trengove (2), Wingard (2).

4-6 (2 - Eq 8th): Hartlett (5), Surjan (4).

7-9 (2 - Eq 2nd): J.Butcher (8), Schulz (7).

10+ (2 - Eq 2nd): Gray (15), Pittard (13).

SUMMARY: Scoring options cruelled by the long-term absences of Gray, Butcher and Schulz.

RICHMOND

0 (11 - Eq 14th): Cotchin, Deledio,

Grigg, Houli, Jackson, Martin, Nahas, Newman, Rance, Riewoldt, Tuck.

1-3 (4 - Eq 14th): Edwards (2), Griffiths (3), I.Maric (1), Morris (1).

4-6 (1 - Eq 12th): King (6).

7-9 (3 - 1st): Foley (7), Grimes (8), Vickery (8).

10+ (1 - Eq 9th): Astbury (12).

SUMMARY: Long-term injuries to Grimes and Foley have hurt, but at least core leaders Cotchin, Deledio and Newman have been available throughout, as have bookends Riewoldt and Rance.

ST KILDA

0 (12 - 16th): Armitage, Dal Santo, Dempster, Gilbert, Goddard, Koschitzke, Hayes, Milne, Montagna, Riewoldt, Sipposs, Steven.

1-3 (4 - Eq 14th): Geary (2), Gwilt (3), Jones (1), Saad (1).

4-6 (3 - Eq 4th): Blake (4), Fisher (5), McEvoy (6).

7-9 (1 - Eq 5th): Stanley (8).

SUMMARY: Yes, the Saints are lower on the ladder than this time last year, but strategically their trajectory looks much more positive. Hayes' knee is robust, Riewoldt is again a hard-running threat and their young players have shone.

SYDNEY

0 (13 - 17th): Bird, Bolton, Grundy, Hannebery, Jack, Jetta, Johnson, Kennedy, Malceski, McGlynn, McVeigh, Reid, Richards.

1-3 (4 - Eq 14th): Mattner (1), O'Keefe (1), Roberts-Thomson (3), Shaw (1).

4-6 (1 - Eq 12th): Goodes (6).

7-9 (1 - Eq 5th): Mumford (8).

10+ (1 - Eq 9th): Rohan (13).

SUMMARY: The Swans' top two players, Goodes and Mumford, have missed 14 matches between them but injury has hardly affected the middle to upper-core of the squad.

WEST COAST

0 (9 - Eq 10th): Cox, Darling, Gaff, Hurn, Kerr, Lynch, Masten, S.Selwood, Shuey.

1-3 (7 - Eq 10th): Glass (1), Mackenzie (1), Naitanui (2), Priddis (2), Rosa (1), Schofield (2), Waters (2).

10+ (4 - 1st): Embley (14), Kennedy (12), LeCras (17), Nicoski (17).

SUMMARY: Among the core squad most have missed no more than two matches, but it has been saddled with four major long-termers, of which Embley is the only one whose return this season looks assured.

WESTERN BULLDOGS

0 (8 - Eq 7th): Boyd, Cross, Dahlhaus, Lake, Liberatore, Minson, Picken, Wallis.

1-3 (7 - Eq 10th): Cordy (2), Griffen (1), Hargrave (1), Higgins (1), Jones (1), Murphy (1), Roughead (1).

4-6 (3 - Eq 4th): Cooney (6), Giansiracusa (4), Wood (6).

10+ (2 - Eq 2nd): Morris (17), Williams (13).

SUMMARY: There is not much for the Dogs to savour in an awful season, in which injuries cannot be blamed. Morris is no crowd-puller but is hugely under-rated as a negating defender, while Cooney's degenerative knee condition shows no signs of stabilising.

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