This Sporting Summer

September 16, 2018

This morning, the British cyclist Simon Yates won the Vuelta a Espana grand tour. That event capped off a wonderful summer of sport — in cycling and cricket, at least — for British fans.

Simon Yates

Yates majestic victory in the Tour of Spain meant that all three of cycling’s Grand Tours — Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, and the Vuelta — were won by British riders in 2018; and that three different riders (Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, and Simon Yates) accomplished this shows the depth of British cycling these days.  Six of the last seven Tours de France have been won by Brits (Wiggins, Froome & Thomas), while Froome and Yates have taken the Spanish title for the last two years. This is a level of dominance at the top by one country that we haven’t seen for a while.

Now, for the fall, we look forward to the World Championships.

Joe Root, ENG Captain

Last week also saw the last cricket Test Match to be played in England this year. England played five Tests against India and won the series 4 games to 1. Earlier in the summer a 2-Test series against Pakistan was drawn 1-1.  I love our team right now — they are unpredictable and exciting; sometimes they collapse in a heap, sometimes they reach the pinnacles of the sport, but they are finding ways to win. And many of them are young. With the last ball of the last Test, England’s James Anderson took his 564th Test wicket, making him the greatest fast bowler in the history of the game.

In October and November, England tour Sri Lanka, including 3 Tests. In January, England travel to the West Indies to play a full series of 3 Tests, 5 ODIs and 3 T20Is.  That’ll be a good winter’s viewing.

Mitakeumi

Sumo has been especially interesting this summer. There are now a number of YouTube channels that feature all the day’s bouts which we can stream while we have breakfast instead of staying up until 2 each morning. That helps. More importantly, the upper ranks of sumo seems to be undergoing a periodic renewal, with older rikishi fading away and bright newcomers (such as Endo, Mitakeoumi, and Abi) moving up the ranks. In fact, the young Mitakeumi won the last tournament in July. But, it has to be said, that was partly because the three yokozuna (or “grand champions”) failed to show up: Kisenasato and Hakuho deliberately sat out, while Kakuryu was injured early on). But the hesitations of the yokozuna have made the tournaments (or basho) a lot more open and interesting.

We are now half-way through the September basho. All three yokozuna showed up, and two of them are currently leading.

I haven’t seen much boxing this year, but I did manage to catch the magnificent World Middleweight title fight last night in which Canelo Alvarez barely beat Gennady Golovkin to take the title.  Skilful scientific boxing from both instead of the brawling we often get these days.

Finally, I caught the second half of the rugby game between the All Blacks and South Africa a day or so ago. It was an historic win for the Springboks and, more importantly, allows all us others to believe that the All Blacks are not invincible.  It makes the northern hemisphere Test season something to look forward to.


Muhammed Ali — The Greatest

June 3, 2016

Ali

The men in my family always loved boxing. I regularly saw fights on BBC TV and I listened at night to American Forces Radio to follow the American boxers. In May 1966 my Dad spent good money to take my grandfather and me to Highbury Stadium in London to watch the rematch between Muhammed Ali, by then world champion, and Britain’s hero Henry Cooper. I was already a (secret in that crowd) Ali supporter and wasn’t surprised when he stopped Cooper. It was a great night (even from a very long way from the ring) and a memory I shall cherish always.

Soon after he was challenging the draft and the Vietnam War (“No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger”) and the establishment itself, and he was even more of a hero to me. His pride and his sacrifice for his beliefs were inspirations for us all.  As was his calm demeanour while facing a future with Parkinson’s.  He deserved every moment of glory he ever received. Hard to believe there will be another anything like him in my lifetime.

I am saddened to lose him, but glad that his trials are over.

Ali 2


Canadian Sumo Starts Well

July 26, 2015

BrodiLast night, while, with all the pomp and circumstance that Japan can bring to its national sport, the Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho won his record-breaking 35th Emperor’s Cup at the Nagoya basho, something else occurred: A young and huge Canadian, known in the sport as Homarenishiki, achieved a winning record of 4 wins and 3 losses in his very first basho.

Homarenishiki, who’s real name is Brodi Henderson and who hails from Victoria BC, has entered the sport at its lowest rank, Jonokuchi. But his early wins and his 6’7″ 360-lb frame show promise that he will soon climb the ranks.

Well done!


Women’s World Cup

June 27, 2015

Canada lost its FIFA Womens World Cup match this afternoon, to England. I quite enjoyed the game and I think it was a fair result.  Canada finishes in the top eight which is what was to be expected (they were rated #8 in the world before the tournament) and I suspect they have advanced the women’s game here in Canada.

But there are issues with women’s football, and it could be improved to the benefit of both players and spectators.

For someone like me who has been raised for decades on the highest quality British and European football, watching many thousands of games, the three main differences between top level male football and the teams at the top of FIFA’s Women’s World Cup are in individual skills, strength, and conditioning.

The basic skill level, the level of precision in passing and moving, is much lower in the Women’s game; but I don’t think that is so important. The skill level will continue to improve as the teams play more and more top-level opponents. I have no doubt that soon enough the average top-level female players will have the equivalent skills of the average top-level male player.

The gap in strength and conditioning can certainly be reduced by better training, but much of the difference here is physiological: men are generally faster and stronger than women.  The lack of speed and resilient strength in the womens’ game slows (comparatively) attacking buildup in general and slashing attacks in particular.

I believe the womens’ game could be much improved if the field was shortened and narrowed by, say 15-20%. I think this would allow faster and more exciting play by countering the speed and strength deficits.

Anyway, that’s my two cents.  I’ve enjoyed the games I have watched, and I will certainly watch and enjoy the Final.  I’m cheering for England now.


The Echoing Wave Along The Drive

June 6, 2015

As I strolled mindlessly along Commercial Drive this afternoon, I could not fail to notice that every single Italian bar and cafe, along with every Vietnamese and Portuguese joint and bakery, was playing the European Championship final on their TVs. Juventus from Italy against Barcelona from Spain. And every single place was jammed and involved.

And every single place had a video feed that was streaming at a slightly different time than its neighbour, by a few seconds usually.

So I was watching the game through one window when there were loud cheers from an Italian bar up the street. Moments later, a bar across the street burst into happy celebration. Maybe ten seconds later, I watched as Juventus scored on the TV I was watching, and five seconds later the bar next door exploded with loud applause. It was if a single moment of perfect joy had echoed along the Drive for almost half a minute.

Later, without seeing, I heard a series of groans bounce along the street as Barcelona moved ahead again, for the win.


This Sporting Life #10

October 10, 2014

I watch a lot of football (or soccer as it so quaintly known in North America) but I don’t usually watch MLS, no matter how well or badly the Whitecaps may be doing.  However, this evening, I watched the second half of the game against Seattle that the Whitecaps won by a single goal; and I tried to analyze why I don’t follow MLS more closely.

I worked it out:  the MLS is rather like a no-contact schoolboy league game and is therefore quite boring to anyone used to the best.

Modern football, as epitomised by the major European leagues (the English EPL, German Bundesligia, Serie A in Italy, or La Liga in Spain, for example), is a super-fast full-contact sport played by hard men (many with exquisite skills, but hard men nonetheless).  There is a certain level of brutality, I suppose, but that is the way the game has developed. It is hard to imagine any of the players I saw tonight coming off well in any clashes with a top European half-back.  I  can see them crawling off the pitch and crying into their yoga mats.

Perhaps more importantly is the lack of speed.  MLS forward advances seem ponderous at best and old-fashioned in their rigidity.  Top-class footballers follow their team’s prescribed shape at top speed but are always willing to tweak the tactic for an opportunity.

Finally, if tonight was any guide, the MLS officials are mediocre and proscriptive.  They also seem to miss a lot of the action and get little help from their assistants. They reminded me of European hockey refs who call a lot more contact penalties than an NHL official ever would.

And that, perhaps, is the best analogy:  MLS football is to European football as the British Hockey League is to the NHL. They all play the same game, but ….

Previous This Sporting Life epsiodes.


This Sporting Life #9

July 26, 2014

With the completion of today’s Individual Time Trial, and with the exception of the almost-celebratory run into Paris tomorrow, this year’s Tour de France is now complete; and it has been a quite marvelous race.

There was a clear expectation by most observers that this year’s Tour would be a closely fought battle between Alberto Contador and Chris Froome.  However, with both of them being forced to withdraw during the first week, the “lesser lights” who normally would have been supporting their leaders were given a lot more freedom to go for stage wins and high rankings in the overall classification. This opened up the race and made for some spectacular days.

NibaliVincenzo Nibali (nearly always my second choice after Contador) has been the leader almost from the beginning and will win tomorrow by more than seven minutes; a victory thoroughly deserved.  He has looked cool and prepared on every single stage, winning a major mountaintop finish, handled the difficult cobble stage, and competing effectively in the time trial.  In hindsight, I suspect that he might well have won this year even had Froome and Contador stayed in.

Peter Sagan is such a consistently good performer that he has swamped everyone else in the green jersey (sprinters) competition without winning a single stage (though he has a chance still tomorrow morning).  In the King of the Mountains polka dot race, the young Pole Rafal Majka wins after an exciting contest. Majka reminds me that this Tour has thrown up a new crop of your riders, raiders we will be seeing at the top of the lists throughout the next decade.

Just as important, this year has been the best in a full generation for the French with their riders taking 2nd, 3rd and 6th place.  In addition, with the collapse of the Sky team this year, French team AG2R Las Mondiale will win the team competition by a wide margin.

It has been a great race — a true Grand Tour — and now we look forward to the Vuelta d’Espana later this summer which may well have the finest group of riders for many years with Contador and Froome trying to make up for their TdeF failures.  I will probably be supporting the young Colombian Nairo Quintano.

 

Previous This Sporting Life episodes.