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.

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!

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.

Golf got interesting again thanks to the Celtic Tiger

Aside

For what seems longer than his record-breaking grip on the top spot of golf, Tiger Woods

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy - Number One (Photo credit: Ed (supergolfdude))

has been absent from the competitive edge of the sport he almost single-handily revitalized. Since his personal life imploded in 2010 Woods hid from the spotlight of the world’s media, not just the golfing purists. His impact barely lessened though in the time he wasn’t playing the game. Every winner of a Major or a significant title had to battle with the suggestion that they weren’t a worthy champion because they didn’t defeat an in-form Woods along the way; proper recognition it seemed demanded a wounded Tiger along the way. Lee Westwood and Luke Donald managed to steadily inch their way to the top of the world rankings without winning a Major which left many golf enthusiasts feeling lack-lustre. Golf might promote itself as a gentleman’s game but supporters want authority, a touch of the spectacular than encourages the notion of elitism. A respectable looking Englishman who politely plays his way around golf courses, not being bold enough to disturb the leaders of the event, hasn’t proved to live up to the standards of the golfing fraternity.

Rory McIlroy started the change. A young gun with bags of potential very publically crashed and burned at the 2011 Masters. The pain and disappointment of the 21 year-old was evident on his face and in the minds of the millions watching on television around the world. His positive response in light of such a catastrophic downfall at Augusta was welcomed but so many wondered if these were brave but empty words. The actual response to the situation was the U.S. Open. No-one would have believed the plot he conjured up on the greens of Congressional winning by eight shots, posting the lowest score in tournament history to blow everyone away; it was difficult not to exude admiration for the guy. He sorted his head and believed in his own abilities, then he proved himself to all. The only mention of Tiger Woods came in the form of how McIlroy had obliterated several records previously held by the American.

However, now things really get interesting. McIlroy triumphed at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida allowing him to take the small step up to world number one.  He won the tournament by two shots with his nearest rival being Tiger Woods who posted an impressive 62 in his final round. If the McIlroy factor wasn’t present hacks would surely have been writing about the form of Woods and the charge he put in which was definitely close to the Tiger of old.

Golf has a superstar in Rory McIlroy – Major winner, world number one, all round top guy, young and with the right amount of charm that makes him extremely likeable but not phony. But Tiger Woods has won 14 majors, was world number one for 623 weeks and has attitude, self-importance and focus that elevated the game to new standards that other players are striving to maintain, if they can get close in the first place.

McIlroy has reached the top, but Woods never enjoyed finishing second. Bring on the battle of the Celtic Tiger.

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England – what is wrong with Steven Gerrard?

English: Steven Gerrard playing for Liverpool ...

Gerrard - good enough for Liverpool but not England?

What does Steven Gerrard have to do to get a deserved break with England? He is finally fit, he has been a consistently strong player for his national team and he gives 100% each time he gets picked to play.

John Terry has made a fiasco of the England captaincy, Rio Ferdinand doesn’t want it, Frank Lampard can’t get a look in and while Scott Parker seems like a thoroughly sound character with leadership credentials worthy of a captain, Gerrard has been in the frame longer. He has captained Liverpool, supposedly one of the greatest football clubs in the world to major success including the  Champions League and yet he still gets snubbed by England. Take nothing away from Parker; in different circumstances he would be an admirable choice. There is not a debate to made that England have an abundance of leaders at the minute, with the squad and approached favoured by caretaker manager Stuart Pearce, Gerrard and Parker are it.  The thought that Gerrard is at best fourth choice to take the armband now, or for the up-coming Euros, is difficult to believe. What Herculean qualities do England selectors look for in a captain? Is a candidate who doesn’t have their martial affairs, disloyal relationships and/or racist allegations emblazoned across every tabloid from Barking to Brisbane not enough?

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