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Sport

Ryder Cup time

Friday, 28 September, 2018

Early hours at the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Guyancourt, southwest of Paris.

Ryder Tiger

Golf, like most sports, boxing excepted, has had a hard time convincing the movie-going public that it has a good story to tell. An honourable exception was Tin Cup, a 1996 film about a washed-up golf pro, Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy (Kevin Costner), working at a driving range who tries to qualify for the US Open to win the heart of his rival’s girlfriend. Costner had some good lines:

Roy McAvoy: “Yeah, to the gods. That he is fallible. That perfection is unobtainable. And now the weight begins shifting back to the left pulled by the powers inside the earth, it’s alive, this swing! A living sculpture and down through contact, always down, striking the ball crisply, with character. Such a pure feeling is the well-struck golf shot. And then the follow through to finish. Always on line. The reverse C of the Golden Bear! The steel workers’ power and brawn of Carl Sandburg’s Arnold Palmer!”


Time Trial in France

Wednesday, 11 July, 2018

When it comes to sport these days, all eyes are on Russia, where the World Cup is approaching its climax. For those who aren’t that into football, there’s always tennis and Wimbledon right now offers a more genteel alternative to the mania in Moscow. If neither small ball nor big ball satisfies, the Tour de France ticks the remaining boxes.

Today’s stage from to Lorient to Quimper glides past the citadel of Fort-Bloqué and through Pont-Aven, the city of the painters Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard. The focus will be on Ménez Quélerc’h, a famous climb in Breton cycling, and the last 35km includes the medieval village of Locronan and the challenging côte de la chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Lorette.

Couch-based Tour fans are treated daily to spectacular landscapes steeped in history but what’s usually missing from the picture is the pain of the participants. Finlay Pretsell, the award-winning Scottish filmmaker, places pain at the centre of his film, Time Trial, and his anti-hero is Scottish-born David Millar, a Tour stage winner, who was suspended for doping in 2004. If the World Cup is ecstasy and Wimbledon is elegance, the Tour de France is human, with all the heroic and horrible facets of humanity exposed. Time Trial is a valuable contribution to our understanding of sport.


Hurling is their song and their verse

Sunday, 3 June, 2018

Splendid evening had by all in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, where Cork and Limerick delivered 70 minutes of epic hurling in front of 34,000 delighted spectators, for whom this uniquely Irish game is their song and their verse.

“I believe hurling is the best of us, one of the greatest and most beautiful expressions of what we can be. If you could live again you would hurl more, because that is living. Hurling is our song and our verse, and when I walk in the graveyard in Cloyne and look at the familiar names on the headstones I know that their owners would want us to hurl with more joy and more exuberance and more abandon than before, because life is shorter than the second half of a tournament game that starts at dusk.” — Dónal Óg Cusack

Hurling


Hurling: Letter from Ireland (1937)

Sunday, 20 May, 2018

For some people in the Northern Hemisphere, summer begins with the start of the Munster Hurling Senior Championship. It’s a cultural thing that has its roots in an agrarian society driven by grass growth and the arrival of better weather. Today, the festival opens at 2 pm with Limerick vs. Tipperary at the Gaelic Grounds.

The connection between Munster hurling and Graham Greene would not be known to most attending today’s game, but the great English novelist was the editor of Night and Day, described as a British rival to the New Yorker, in the 1930s and during its brief life he published a piece titled Letter from Ireland by Elizabeth Bowen, the doyenne of Anglo-Irish writing. Snippet:

“Cork left Cork for Killarney when the All Ireland Hurley Finals were played there. Tipperary won. This was a great day for the whole of the South of Ireland; special trains were run and the roads for a hundred miles round streamed with cars and bicycles, most of them flying flags. The Tipperary contingent passed my way. Those who unluckily could not get to Killarney stood on banks for hours to watch the traffic. This is, in the literal sense, a very quiet country: the Troubles and civil war were fought out in an almost unbroken hush, punctuated by a few explosions or shots. Voices are seldom raised, and you can (so to speak) hear a dog bark or a milk-cart rattle or a funeral bell toll two counties away. But these great Sundays of sport galvanise everything; from the moment you wake you know that something is going on.

Hurley is the fastest game, short of ice hockey, that I have ever watched. It is a sort of high-speed overhead hockey, played with sticks with flat wooden blades, and it looks even more dangerous that it apparently is. Though a game that would melt you in the Antarctic, it is, for some reason, played only in summer.”

There are gems of appraisal and style in everything that Elizabeth Bowen wrote. Her observation that “the Troubles and civil war were fought out in an almost unbroken hush,” is revealing, given that her Letter from Ireland was published just 14 years after the conflict ended, and “Cork left Cork for Killarney” is delightful. Today, some 80 years later, Tipperary will leave Tipperary for Limerick.

Limerick vs. Tipperary


One Ring to Rule Them All

Tuesday, 20 February, 2018 0 Comments

“Eight medals he has, a record unbroken
Of Cork hurlers he is surely the king
So now all together, one last rousing chorus
Three cheers for the maestro, the bould Christy Ring”

Christy Ring


Nike and the Breaking2 gimmick

Friday, 16 December, 2016 0 Comments

If you’re interested in running, the news of the year was the announcement on Monday that Nike plans to “enable” a sub two-hour marathon time. Breaking2 is what it calls the project. Sarah Barker of Deadspin isn’t buying, however. It’s a gimmick, she says:

“They’ve identified East African talent upon whom they’re going to thickly apply advanced science, including nutrition, hydration, and shoes (strong retail potential amongst sub six-hour marathoners!), and set them loose on a cool, windless, sea level course with speedy pacers galore.”

And she’s not done: “This isn’t Roger Bannister and John Landy competing to break the four-minute mile; that record was within reach, and attained on a normal track during a relatively normal meet. Nike entering the race only confirms what we already knew: it’s about ego and the tremendous things money can buy, rather than athletic competition.”

Barker’s bottom line: “With details lacking and IAAF standards out the window, a downhill, wind-aided course, genetic manipulation, spring-loaded shoes and other such time-saving factors have been posited to get the job done.”

For Ross Tucker at the Science of Sport, those “spring-loaded shoes” could be decisive and he cites the athletic achievements of Oscar Pistorius to make his case: “Let’s say we could make a shoe with a stiffer material, or a spring, so that less energy is lost on compression of the material and the runner gets more return (remember, for instance, that carbon fiber blades lost only 8% of their energy compared to the able-bodied limb losing 54% of its energy — this illustrates the concept that drives a reduction in the O2/physiological cost).”

In other words, says Tucker, springs in the shoes, “which reduce the physiological cost of running by around 4%, could be enough to help a runner go from a 2:04 to a sub-2 hour marathon.” So, if you’re willing to set aside the rules, and belief in credibility and physiology, a sub-two-hour marathon will happen next year. Nike has the money and it’s persuaded three high profile runners — Eluid Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese — to miss out on the Spring marathons next year to give the barrier a shot. They’ll have a spring in their step, no doubt.

Nike runners


A cheery Spectator and a glum Prospect

Monday, 22 August, 2016 0 Comments

At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Great Britain won 15 medals, including a solitary gold. Team GB finished 36th in the medal table that year. This year, Great Britain finished second in the table, ahead of China, with 67 medals, 27 of which were gold. The greatest credit for this achievement is due to the athletes, but Sir John Major, whose Conservative government set up the National Lottery in 1994, is central to their success. The Lottery started funding athletes in 1997, the so they could train full-time and, by 2004, Team GB’s medal tally had doubled to 30, doubling again at London in 2012.

Andrew Marr credits John Major in his Spectator diary entry written in sunny Dubrovnik amid crowds of contented Croats and tourists. “Team GB is a near-perfect post-Brexit idea” says Marr, inspired by it all and hoping for happy days:

“Imagine a Britain which had seriously invested for the long term, focusing only on industries and technologies where we were likely to be world-class; and where ‘company’ was used in the old sense of being a tight, committed team of friends and allies working together for a goal many years in the future. It would be a Britain shorn of short-term political lurches in funding and direction, whose corporate leaders had a lively sense of how much they owed to their teams and didn’t treat themselves as Medici princelings.”

Prospect But all that is gold does not glisten. Well, not for the “remoaners”, anyway. With a most unfortunate sense of timing, Prospect depicts Team GB stuck on a self-imposed, starting line in its race for a place in the world. Jay Elwes, Deputy Editor of Prospect, argues: “…there is a strong case that Britain’s new settlement with the EU should be put to a further vote. As the economic threat posed by Brexit grows ever more apparent, so the need for parliamentary intervention will increase. Britain needs a new plan — in the end, a decision by the Commons not to proceed with Brexit might turn out to be the best plan of all.”

After a summer of gold for spectators, disgruntled remoaners are hoping for the prospect of a winter of discontent and an un-Brexit.


The day Jim Hogan ran the marathon in Tokyo

Sunday, 21 August, 2016 0 Comments

The men’s marathon event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was run on 21 October 1964. A total of 68 athletes started, 58 finished and the gold medal was won in a time of 2 hours and 12 minutes by Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia. One of the starters who did not finish was Jim Hogan from Croom, County Limerick, in Ireland. With the silver medal seemingly within his grasp, dehydration forced Hogan to abandon the race with just five kilometres remaining. His agony can be witnessed at the 5:30 mark in this clip.

After the Tokyo Games, Jim Hogan became disillusioned with the Irish athletics hierarchy, which he called “the blazer-wearing brigade”, and he decided to compete for Great Britain instead. He recorded the biggest victory of his career when he won the marathon for Great Britain at the 1966 European Championships. Later in life, he returned to Limerick and trained horses with success for local point-to-point races. Jim Hogan died on 10 January 2015 and is buried in Knocklong Graveyard.


Running man

Saturday, 20 August, 2016 0 Comments

Rio today: The men’s 1,500 metres Olympics final. It’s one of the classics of the track and field repertory and the greats over this distance include Hicham El Guerrouj, Bernard Lagat, Silas Kiplagat, Fermín Cacho, Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram.

“At any rate, that’s how I started running. Thirty three — that’s how old I was then. Still young enough, though no longer a young man. The age that Jesus Christ died. The age that Scott Fitzgerald started to go downhill. That age may be a kind of crossroads in life. That was the age when I began my life as a runner, and it was my belated, but real, starting point as a novelist.” — Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Running man shoes


The triumph of Usain Bolt foreseen

Friday, 19 August, 2016 0 Comments

American artist Jacob Lawrence was one of a number of illustrators invited to design posters for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He created this image to celebrate the involvement of black athletes in the Olympics, as track and field is an area in which they have excelled. This had a particular historical significance for Lawrence because Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where Hitler had planned to demonstrate the superiority of German “Aryan” athletes.

Munich Olympics poster


The Swimmer swims

Saturday, 13 August, 2016 0 Comments

It’s early to be contemplating life after Rio, but there’s just a week to go and our thoughts will soon turn to Tokyo, site of the 2020 Olympics, and the only Asian city to host the games twice. The first time was 1964 and highlights of the Games of the XVIII Olympiad included Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser winning the 100 metres freestyle for the third time in a row, Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila winning his second Olympic marathon, New Zealand’s Peter Snell winning gold in the 800 metres and 1500 metres, and the US men’s swimming team winning all but three gold medals in the pool.

“The Swimmer” is a famous short story by John Cheever, which was published in The New Yorker in the summer of 1964. It begins with Neddy Merrill sitting by a friend’s pool on a sunny day. Suddenly, he decides to go home by swimming across all the pools in the neighbourhood, which he names “The Lucinda River” in honour of his wife. He starts off energetically, but his journey takes on a dark and surreal tone. Snippet:

“He took off a sweater that was hung over his shoulders and dove in. He had an inexplicable contempt for men who did not hurl themselves into pools. He swam a choppy crawl, breathing either with every stroke or every fourth stroke and counting somewhere well in the back of his mind the one-two one-two of a flutter kick. It was not a serviceable stroke for long distances but the domestication of swimming had saddled the sport with some customs and in his part of the world a crawl was customary. To be embraced and sustained by the light green water was less a pleasure, it seemed, than the resumption of a natural condition, and he would have liked to swim without trunks, but this was not possible, considering his project. He hoisted himself up on the far curb — he never used the ladder — and started across the lawn.

When Lucinda asked where he was going he said he was going to swim home. The only maps and charts he had to go by were remembered or imaginary but these were clear enough. First there were the Grahams, the Hammers, the Lears, the Howlands, and the Crosscups. He would cross Ditmar Street to the Bunkers and come, after a short portage, to the Levys, the Welchers, and the public pool in Lancaster. Then there were the Hallorans, the Sachses, the Biswangers, Shirley Adams, the Gilmartins, and the Clydes. The day was lovely, and that he lived in a world so generously supplied with water seemed like a clemency, a beneficence. His heart was high and he ran across the grass. Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew that he would find friends all along the way; friends would line the banks of the Lucinda River.”

You can download a PDF (89.3KB) of “The Swimmer” here.

The pool