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Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 15:41 UK

Enter the sporting Dragon

Captain Ryan Jones leads Wales' Grand Slam victory celebrations

By Peter Shuttleworth

....And so the sporting dragon roars.

This is the year when the sporting landscape has been painted red - and Cardiff City blue.

Sporting success in Wales is normally the exception, yet take just the first half of 2008 and glory seems very much the norm as Welsh sport wallows in arguably its finest ever year.

Wales completing rugby's Grand Slam, Cardiff reaching an FA Cup final, a Welsh fighter beating a big-name American in Las Vegas and a Welshman winning his tenth football championship crown are once-in-a-generation feats that have happened inside five months.

But they're just the tip of Wales' sporting heroics this year - and how Wales is beaming from ear-to-ear.

"The achievements of Joe Calzaghe, Ryan Giggs and Cardiff City are successes every Welshman can be proud of," said Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland.

WELSH SPORT'S ROLL OF HONOUR
Joe Calzaghe celebrates beating Bernard Hopkins on points in Vegas
Mark Webster, BDO world darts champion
Welsh rugby, Grand Slam
Joe Calzaghe, beats Bernard Hopkins
Ryan Giggs, tenth league title
Sam Thomas, Cheltenham Gold Cup champion
Geraint Thomas, world track champion
Swansea City, League One champions
The Ospreys, EDF Trophy champions
Cardiff City, FA Cup finalists

"And we hope to ensure that Wales also continues to be proud of its rugby team."

And as boxing champion Joe Calzaghe so eloquently puts it: "We just keep whipping everyone's ass, it's getting a bit boring now!"

Unbeaten Calzaghe's light-heavyweight victory in Vegas over the great Bernard Hopkins is the culmination of a world-record stint as the king of the super-middleweight division, while Manchester United superstar Giggs is enjoying the twilight of one of the most decorated careers in British football history.

The accomplishments of Welsh rookies or young teams who want to be starting something offers much optimism for the future of sporting success in Wales.

Gatland led Wales to Grand Slam glory in his first campaign and he is not alone in hoping that his team's achievements are not a one-off.

"It has been a good start for us certainly, but this is just the start," said New Zealander Gatland.

"I'm here for four years and I want to leave Wales in a state where we are consistently beating the big teams and consistently performing to our own high standards - there is a lot of hard work ahead before that target can be achieved."

But why is Wales enjoying such a sporting purple patch.

"There's no higher power at work," quipped Gatland.

"Is it a coincidence that we have all achieved these things at the same time? Probably, but, as well as a lot of hard work, a little bit of luck in the right places has probably helped us all along the way too."

The Sports Council for Wales fund budding young athletes and aided in the development of world track champion and record-holder Geraint Thomas, Commonwealth swimming champion David Davies and Olympic cyclist Nicole Cooke.

Chairman Phil Carling said: "We have certainly witnessed a purple patch in Welsh sport recently.

"While there may be an element of chance in the timing of this, there is definitely more to it than that.

Wales coach Warren Gatland with the Six Nations and Grand Slam trophies
Wales' sporting success is probably a coincidence...there's no higher power at work
Wales rugby coach Warren Gatland

"A formula is needed to produce success. A talented team or individual performer, a gifted coach, appropriate competition and robust support services all add up to success.

"David Davies is a good example as he came on to our Elite Cymru scheme, which provided him with funding and back-up support, in 2001 at the age of 16. Seven years later, he has won Olympic bronze and Commonwealth Games gold medals and is swimming for two medals in Beijing."

The more immediate future is Cardiff City's first FA Cup appearance since their memorable triumph in 1927.

Bluebirds boss Dave Jones is preparing his team for Saturday's date with destiny and Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth fully aware of Welsh sport's current high.

"Wales is a good place to be at the moment, it has been a special year for everybody," Jones said.

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Joe Ledley returns to school

"Everyone is talking about Welsh sport and I'm particularly looking forward to watching an Ashes Test match in Cardiff next year.

"Every part of the country has a spell of sporting success and this is Wales' vintage year and at Wembley on Saturday we'll do all we can to ensure the good run continues.

"We have taken pride in the achievements of the other sports and Joe Calzaghe wearing a Cardiff shirt at his weigh-in before the Hopkins fight suggest the feelings sometimes are mutual.

"We were even delighted that Swansea City won promotion to the Championship as it'll add a little extra spice to an already tough division."

606: DEBATE

Many consider a cash-strapped Championship club such as Cardiff City reaching an FA Cup final is an achievement in itself.

But not Jones, especially this year.

see also
Portsmouth v Cardiff
16 May 08 |  FA Cup
Martinez hails 'fantastic' Swans
03 May 08 |  Swansea City
Ospreys 23-6 Leicester
12 Apr 08 |  Rugby Union
Wales 29-12 France
15 Mar 08 |  Welsh
Denman storms to Gold Cup victory
14 Mar 08 |  Horse Racing
BBC Sport Wales coverage
24 Dec 06 |  Wales


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