If you have talent, you must use it

What is the right age to compete at the Olympics?

Well obviously it depends on the sport – despite his keenness to get anyone and everyone into sport ahead of the Games, even Lord Coe hasn’t managed to persuade too many from the 50+ demographic to take up pole vaulting. Even gravity would be against him in this endeavour. Neither has there been an increase in the number of teenagers bouncing down to the local archery range for practice of the quiet, repetitive variety that requires optimal concentration. I’m not saying they can’t do that, most of them chose not to.

The textbook path for a talented athlete to follow would look like this

Chapter 1 – Start young, be active, try different sports out, play some games

Chapter 2 – Decide what you like, practise, get good

Chapter 3 – Compete in junior competitions, do well, progress to senior level

Chapter 4 – Break records, win titles, make money, retire

Not all athletes take this route though which is what makes sport so appealing. Talk to players in the same team and they won’t have come off a conveyor belt to reach where they are let alone athletes from different sports.

Take the GB Eventing team selected for the London Olympics – the youngest member is Zara Phillips (or should that be Tindall?) who is the Queen’s grand-daughter and 14th in line to the throne. This athlete would have all the pony power she wanted to hack around her choice of landed estates. She, naturally, has good pedigree as both her parents represented their country at past Olympics.

The oldest member of the equestrian team is Mary King, (surely soon to be Dame Mary). The 51 year old grew-up in Devon but none of her family rode. She borrowed a pony that belonged to the local vicar who her father worked for. She did all sorts of jobs to feed her horsey habit including a delivery girl for the butcher’s and a gardener. Her fierce determination got her a position of head girl at notable stables and since then she has competed and won medals at British, European and World Championships as well as 4 Olympic Games.

These stories are so unorthodox they have become orthodox. There is no right and wrong direction to the top (unless you are Ben Johnson or Marion Jones, or Eric Moussambani). As the Dwain Chambers saga continues, a tale that is destined to be more than a trilogy of volumes,

The story of another sprinter comes to light, and not just as a subplot. Adam Gemili finished second to Chambers at the GB trials in Birmingham last weekend but had already achieved the Olympic A-standard ahead of this meet.

The teenager only began to take athletics seriously in January having been on the books at Chelsea FC and Dagenham and Redbridge. He forgot about football (heaven forbid) and ran 10.08 seconds inGermanyto make the Olympics a possibility. This is the second fastest time by a European in 2012 so his name was added to the list being rewarded with a summer jolly toStratford. As he is still 18 he can compete at the World Junior Games in July before trying his luck against men the following month. Why wouldn’t he? He will have a whole month more experience by then and fearlessness is the mark of the young and the brave. Although the world and its mother, and presumably Gemili’s mother too, think that as long as Usain Bolt can wait for the B of the bang, he will win the 100m, there is no reason why he shouldn’t turn up. It will make a man out of him, there’s no time like the present.

The secret to Frankies success….

If the old adage of horses for courses is true, does the same apply for jockeys? Yesterday Frankie Dettori provided the jewel in the crown at Royal Ascot when he steered Colour Vision to victory by half a length in the Gold Cup. Remarkably, this is the fifth time the Italian has weaved his way to the front of the field in this marquee race. How did he do it again? Surely he is old, past it? Maybe it was divine intervention, an unworldly gift, the aligning of the galaxies. Or maybe it was the mans instinctual determination to stick two fingers up to those who doubted him, advising him to retire when basically, he doesn’t want to?

Horse racing is a technical sport. Two athletes are involved, they both have to be in the best physical condition and they need to work together to be successful. Don’t underestimate or dismiss the role of a jockey in the partnership; they aren’t merely passengers. The fitness, agility and strength necessary to produce the best performance from a hot-blooded, highly-conditioned animal with expectation from trainer, owner and punters, silently yelling, screaming and shouting anxious glares and nervous scowls at you in the betting ring beforehand and voraciously vocalizing the same sentiments when you get on to the track.

The physiological strains have the potential to be enormous, as they can be in many other sports. But this isn’t anything new for Dettori, he is used to such anticipation. What is not normal is the disappointment of not being entrusted a ride. There was a time, not long ago, when he was the number one pick. However, in 2012 he was overlooked for the Oaks and couldn’t get a chance in the Derby at Epsom either. At 42 years old he has been dethroned by a younger model in Mickael Barzalona, who has already won the Derby and the Dubai World Cup at the age of 20. These elements collided to hurt Dettori. For a man who has achieved so much and still believes in his own abilities, this is understandable. Winning the showpiece event again at Ascot proved that where there’s life, there’s hope. Dettori rightly pointed out in a post-race interview that although his own ride, and the horse that came second, ridden by Barzalona, were both from the Godolphin stables, when he is out there racing, it is every man for himself.  He might be the darling of the winners enclosure with his cheeky smile and spectacular flying dismounts, but don’t be distracted by the theatrics, this is fighting talk from a fiery Italian.

Come On Football – Catch yourself on

FIFA, UEFA, FA, Ronald McDonald, Kate Middleton, please, anyone with a modicum of power stop this embarrassing hash that is the lack of goal line technology in football. The man with the wand has proved far from magic as the extra official refuses to make a decision.

Any Englishman who tried to justify the Ukraine goal by regurgitating the Frank Lampard/World Cup fiasco should bury his head in shame. Much drivel was spouted during post match interviews and phone-ins last night claiming that because Jorge Larrionda didn’t allow the goal against Germany two years ago that was somehow tough luck for Ukraine in 2012, in the Euros, a competition they are hosting, in a game were England were out played, when Rooney headed in a goal from three feet out after it had taken at least two deflections and skidded off the turf on the way across the box. As I’m sure St George would agree, two wrongs don’t make a right. Look at Ashley Cole’s hair for example. The right side is as daft as the left side and together, his style is wrong, as far away from right as James Milner is from winning the Golden Boot award.

Football needs to catch on and catch up.

Sport that’s good in bed

When I was younger and still living at home I thought the best Christmas, Birthday, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, deceased dog anniversary day present would be a subscription to Sky Sports, with added everything. This notion continued with me long after I left home although obviously it was effectively suppressed by the reality of having to pay for it myself, coupled with the relief that I could legally and dutifully get into a pub and watch from there (even this isn’t a barrier anymore as I discovered a local bar has placed a widescreen TV facing outside so smokers can still follow the sporting action while comfortably and simultaneously killing their insides).

I do feel like I’m missing out sometimes though especially in light of the rapidly depleting ‘free’ coverage provided by the BBC, or when the big draw of the weekend isn’t horse racing or, bizarrely, yachting as shown on Channel 4.

That was until I gave radio a chance. I knew how excellent it could be as I had listened to the excitement of the Ryder Cup from Celtic Manor being lived out over the airwaves, but it had slipped my mind somehow. Maybe in the blaze of psychotic Olympicism or overdone, wall to wall to ceiling to floor coverage of Euro 2012, including official, and unofficial pants.

My subconscious is definitely tuned in like a satellite dish to attract signals from significant (self definition) sporting events. I’m able to wake from my sleep just when the action gets good enough to make you sit up straight. It happened when Alistair Cook reached his double century during the 2010 Ashes Test in Brisbane and the internal Sky Plus reminder worked again a few nights ago. I rolled over in bed and pressed the radio on just as Graeme McDowell was teeing off from the 17thhole at the Olympic club course in San Francisco needing to birdie the final two to be in with a chance of winning the US Open for the second time. This was more pertinent as McDowell is a favourite of mine being from Northern Ireland, despite his motley Yankee twang. He reads the green right on the second last to sink a tricky putt from 12 feet before practically jogging to the 18th like a celebratory Darren Clarke would head towards the 19th. GMac must have had a trademark motivating cliché enter his mind as he makes his way to his ball, 25 feet from the hole, needing a birdie to force a play-off with American Webb Simpson. It doesn’t sink the same way the clichés do and as his attempt drifts left his opportunity of winning this Major twice in three years slips away too. That isn’t the only thing drifting, as I have heard all need to know, as Rio Ferdinand should say, “at the end of the day, it’s night”. No trophy for McDowell to curl up in bed with but enough sporting delights to send us both dreaming. Thanks to the wonder that is the wireless.

Cringe or revel? What a dude. Classic GMac by Gmac

Dear God, if you are listening, can we please have more hours in the day for sport?

As already mentioned I was at the Investec London Cup last week with the final being held on Sunday. It is fairly unusual that someone who plays or supports one sport, will not like another sport too. A lot of fans enjoy sport but focus in on one or two for special attention. The ‘problem’ recently is that there is so much going on that it’s hard to keep up! In an ideal world I wouldn’t go to work at all, I’d spend my time watching sport, preferably live but I’d settle for the TV or radio. Since hockey is considered a minority sport the organisers of the London Cup were up against it to get publicity out there and let people know what was happening. Unfortunately the competition was England Test match cricket, Formula One grand prix, Test match rugby involving Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, Roland Garros final, and the Euro 2012 football championship. That’s tough.

This week is no better – the Euros continue, US Open golf, more rugby union, ODIs, MotoGP, while Royal Ascot begins on Tuesday.

And all this before you look across the pond to the land of stats, whoopass, smashing, hussling and ‘oh no he did innt!’ of the NBA. Game 3 of the Finals between LeBrons Miami Heat and the threatening Thunder OKC driven by Kevin Durant is on Sunday night with the series tied at 1 apiece. Sport back to back, all day all night – now that’s what I’m talkin about!

Homer Simpson leads the way for sporting greats

When thinking of a sport to get involved in many things might come into your mind – what are the chances of a lot of beautiful people, bending and flexing towards a giant mirror, doubling the view of their efforts? Can you spend hours drooling over high spec, state of the art, faster, lighter, stronger carbon fibre that you are not actually sure what to do with but undoubtedly really, really want? Is the longhaired, tanned instructor with designer ruggedness and soft voice paying you enough attention?

Do it, get into the gym, the cycling, the yoga or whatever else takes your fancy and your monthly payments but every so often call on the less obvious sports that are a game, that are just for fun. Sport can be competitive but not aggressive, it doesn’t have to involve taking a verbal beating from a primate in lycra or falling into a trance where even your Corpse has gone limp because of an hour of repetitive mantra, “breathe in through your nose……and out through your month”.

The master

I played ten-pin bowling last night with 12 of my friends who each claimed to be that bit worse than the last person in order to protect their ego if they did turn out to be a gutterhogger. As everyone maintained it had been years since they played the standard was gradually impressive, although honestly there were a couple of shockers but this added to the unpredictability of the scores. Fred Flintstone and Homer Simpson are just two stellar guys street enough to get away with ruling the alleys and they both made an appearance last night. It won’t get you rippling abs or Madonna like biceps but it was good for a laugh and not-so-sporty people have the chance to be Stealth –

“Black, marbleized with a liquid center. The Stealth Bowler. The pins don’t know what hit ’em” — Homer Simpson

Girls on top

It is often said that sport can teach us valuable lessons. This is true, but there are limits, something so familiar in sport. We have to decide we want to learn, which given the amount of time people spend in blissful ignorance is not a given state. We also need to take a look and see which message is trying to weasel its way into the narrow section of grey matter labeled “Useful stuff”. Last Tuesday was the opening day of the Investec London Cup, an international invitational hockey tournament run by the England Hockey Board (EHB). By the time the final came around on Sunday, played out between the Netherlands and Australia I learnt that women’s sport can be as good as men’s. Considering that three of the top four sides in the world were showing off their extensive range of skills the standard should have been high, and it was. This isn’t always enough for some people, but these people are caught up with what is ‘supposed’ to be, they fail to see what is actually in front of them. England are supposed to be among the favorite’s in every major international football competition, tail-enders are supposed dismissed easily in Test cricket, northern hemisphere rugby teams are supposed to lose when they go Down under and men are supposed to be better than women at sport. The achievements of some of the players representing their country are difficult to dismiss. South African Pietie Coetzee for example, is the all-time leading goal scorer in international hockey while Dutch captain Maartje Paumen is the current World player of the year. The gap between the top nations in this sport and the next four or five has definitely narrowed since the Beijing Olympics. A skillful, entertaining South African side proved this when they held the Netherlands to a 2-2 draw in the semis, missing out on a place in the final after a penalty shoot-out. Despite being staged on a weekend that a=saw several other major sporting events going on (including Euro 2012, Canadian Grand Prix, Roland Garros tennis and Test cricket for example) the stands were filled will vocal, enthusiastic supporters who all knew of course, well before I had caught on, that women’s sport is good. Not just good for girls, or a good effort, or good because in 2012 all sport is good. But good. And getting better.