Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Abbey Dash 2016

Monday, November 28th, 2016 | Sport

abbey-dash-2016

Earlier this month I took part in the 31st Abbey Dash.

It was the first time I had run the Dash. However, it is not a race I do particularly well. Last year, I set a personal worst over 10k. This year looked like to be a repeat of previous years: old and wet.

Luckily Jane and Rob were already there when I turned up and Chris and Carley turned up later too. Usually, I am stood around by myself for the hour you have to wait, so it was nice to feel like I had some friends for a short while.

Organisation was improved. They only do one water point (Run For All does two) but they did text me my result this year. There was still stuff to fix, though. They let the sub-60 and sub-70 pens go at the same time. I was at the back of the sub-60 pen, so I was running behind a lot of the sub-70 runners. By the finishing straight, I was literally having to push my way through, and it slowed me down a lot.

Despite my previous bad times, I was hopeful. So far in 2016 I had run my first half marthon, set a personal best at Parkrun and run my first sub-60 over 10k when I managed a 59:59 in the Leeds 10k in July. My faith was rewarded: I brought it home in 56:45 setting a new 10k PB.

Immigration levels compared with Olympic medals

Sunday, August 28th, 2016 | Religion & Politics, Sport

Nothing to see here. Correlation does not imply causation.

immigrants-to-medals
Number of immigrants (millions), number of Rio 2016 Olympic medals at 1/4 scale

In fairness, if you line the countries up in population size, they come out in a pretty similar way. But it doesn’t fit quite as well as these figures do.

Caster Semenya, and hyperandrogenism

Saturday, August 27th, 2016 | Sport

Caster_Semenya_2010_Memorial_Van_Damme

Caster Semenya is a South African athlete who recently won gold in the women’s 800m at the Rio 2016 Olympics. That should not be controversial, but it is, because she has hyperandrogenism.

Hyperandrogenism is a medical condition where you have an excess of testosterone in your body. Because testosterone helps you train harder and recover faster, it is on the banned substance list in athletics. If you get caught taking it, you will be banned from competing (unless you are Russian, of course).

Caster Semenya hasn’t been taking it: she just has incredibly high levels of it in her body. But other athletes claim it is unfair: they say no matter how hard they train, they can never compete with someone who has so much testosterone.

My view, is that that is tough luck.

Caster Semenya isn’t cheating. She is just naturally bigger, stronger and faster than other athletes. That is just how sport is. It has never been a meritocracy. You can train as hard as you want, you are never going to beat Usain Bolt in a sprint. When we take the top athletes in the entire world, of course they are both hard working and physically gifted.

I have been running for 25 years and I still can’t get my 5k time to within a few minutes of Mo Farah’s 10k time. No amount of training is going to make me faster than he is. However, for consideration, I have laid out the possible paths we could take.

Let Caster Semenya compete

This is the obvious one, and the one I favour, as outlined above.

Not let Caster Semenya complete

So now we’re banning anyone with hyperandrogenism competing because we’re confused about their gender? That’s obviously discriminatory.

Make Caster Semenya take medication

You know, like we did with Alan Turing to try and cure his homosexuality. We could give her pills to reduce her testosterone levels to a “reasonable” level.

This sounds like Kurt Vonnegut’s distopian short story Harrison Bergeron in which ballet dancers must wear weights, newsreaders must have stutters and smart people must be dumbed down. We will be giving Usain Bolt a drag parachute and removing large segments of basketball players legs so that I can compete in the NBA?

Do away with gendered sport

Instead of diving everyone into men and women, we could just allow everyone to compete in the same competition. Do away with discrimination and give everyone an equal opportunity.

Make Caster Semenya compete with the men

Which would be totally unfair, because she is a woman.

Have a new “we’re not sure” category

As well as having a men’s race and a women’s race, we could introduce a new intersex category that would allow the IAAF to parade around anyone who doesn’t exactly fit into their nice gender boxes.

Conclusion

Personally, I find all other possible routes out of this situation either ridiculous, or offensive, or in some cases both. Caster Semenya is a wonderful athlete and should be allowed to compete.

Rio 2016 Olympics: a review

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 | Sport

rio-2016

I have really enjoyed the Rio 2016 Olympics. London 2012 was pretty good: a spent a lot of time watching that too, but no where near as much as I spent watching Rio. My love of sport has grown over the past four years. This time I was watching it from 9am to midnight most days. I am exhausted from sitting around watching sport.

It helps that Team GB has completely nailed it. Without home advantage I assumed we would be unable to hold on to third place in the medals table. The predictions said we would match last time. But as things progressed, people asked question. Could we beat China? The answer was yes. We finished in second, our best performance for over one hundred years. The only time we have ever done better than third was when we came first at the 1908 London Olympics. We have never matched that away from home before.

Brazil did a good job overall, in my opinion. Their opening ceremony was okay, but if we have learned anything from Bejing and London, you probably do need to spend an obscene amount of money to make it mind-blowing. Despite the odd technical glitch, Rio did a wonderful job though. Compare this to #SochiProblems at the Winter Olympics two years ago, or the absolute disaster that was India’s attempt at hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Things were not perfect, but isn’t it better to give a developing country a chance and accept it isn’t going to be London?

Brazil’s support for the Paralympics has clearly fallen short of the mark, and I will not defend them on that count.

In some ways, the Olympics has also been depressing. I remember spending an afternoon watching dressage. I lay on my sofa, wishing I had the motivation to get up and sort my life out and get things done. But all I could do was lie there and watch more dressage, a sport I have very little interest in.

But for the most part it was just sport, amazing sport, and the Union Jack being hoisted up a flag pole again, and again, and again.

Team GB to finish second in Rio 2016

Saturday, August 20th, 2016 | News, Sport

silver-in-rio

It’s official! Team GB will finish second in the Rio 2016 Olympics medal table. Nicola Adams’s gold in the women’s boxing moves us up to 26 gold medals. China have 23 and only have medal hopes in three remaining disciplines (men’s 10m diving, team volleyball and taekwondo). Given they are so far behind in the silver medals, they can no longer overtake Team GB.

Can Team GB beat China in the Olympic medal table?

Friday, August 19th, 2016 | Sport

union-jack-and-chinese-flag

I remember London 2012. It was magic. We smashed our medal predicts and earned ourselves third in the medals table. It was brilliant. Coming into Rio 2016, this made for a bit of a downer though. Without the home crowd, how could we hope to hold on to our spot as third in the world?

That all seems silly now. We’re smashing our medals target in Brazil as well. In fact, we were predicted to come third with 20 gold medals, just behind China who were predicted to score 22. Both of those targets have now been revised by Gracenote Sports who are now predicting Team GB to finish neck and neck with China.

They are predicting both countries will now finish on 25 gold medals.

Country Britain China
Gold medals so far 22 20
Predicted golds Mo Farah (5,000m)
Nicola Adams (boxing)
Bianca Walkden (taekwando)
Liu Hong (20km walk)
Fu H F/Zhang N (badminton)
Chen Long (badminton)
Qiu Bo (diving)
women’s volleyball
Predicted total 25 25

China took their predicted gold in the badminton so they remain on track for their predicted totals.

Team GB is now exceeding these predictions however. Nick Skelton’s gold in the individual show jumping today was an unexpected result: Britain was not predicted to win any medal in that competition. Joe Joyce, predicted bronze in the boxing, has just won through to the final too.

Of course one defeat for a British athlete expected to win, or one win from a Chinese athlete expected to take silver, could change everything around. It is going to be a nail biting finish.

I’ll keep this page updated as we go, if I can be bothered.

Day 14

19:31 China continue to follow their predictions: Liu Hong wins the women’s 20km walk by just two seconds, while Yin Junhua takes silver in the boxing, also as predicted.

21:56 Lutalo Muhammad was predicted to lose his semi-final taekwondo fight. He won, and so is through into the gold medal match.

22:46 Well blow me down, England have won a penalty shoot-out! Maybe we should play football as Team GB. Our women coming good in the hockey final mean we move two golds ahead of our predicted total.

Overnight We have teams running in both the men’s and women’s 4x100m relays: bronze predicted in each. China’s other medal hope for today was synchronised swimming, which they hit their silver in.

Day 15

Absolutely heartbreaking for Lutalo Muhammad in the taekwondo final, losing the gold in the very last second. Still, silver is better than his predicted bronze. Our women took bronze in the relay, unfortunately our men could not.

Today, both GB and China are predicted three golds each. We also have Joe Joyce (predicted bronze) in the boxing final and Liam Heath being the fastest qualifier in the K1 final (predicted not to place).

13:08 Liam Heath wins in the 100m kayak! Another unpredicted medal means we are now on 25: giving us three clear over China. We’re four silvers ahead too, so China would need four to catch up. With three predicted goals each for today, that is a tough ask.

15:58 China clean up in the badminton, keeping them on target for 25 with two golds and two more silvers predicted.

16:16 Here is the schedule for our remaining medal hopes today:

18:00 Nicola Adams
01:30 Mo Farah
02:00 Bianca Walkden (if she qualifies, China’s Zheng Shuyin also in contention)

Tom Daley is also fighting for a place in the men’s 10m diving final. He is predicted to make the final and earn a bronze, finishing behind China’s Qiu Bo and Chen Aisen. That starts at 20:30.

No predicted medals for Team GB tomorrow. That’s now impossible though as Joe Joyce is through to the men’s boxing final, and therefore guaranteed one. That starts at 19:15.

16:26 It is looking good for Team GB. Here are the remaining predicted medals for Team GB and China:

Gold: Nicola Adams, Mo Farah, Bianca Walkden
Silver: Joe Joyce
Bronze: Tom Daily, women’s 4×400 relay

Gold: Qiu Bo, women’s volleyball
Silver: Chen Aisen, Zheng Shuyin

We’re currently two golds and four silvers ahead. Given the gap in silvers, China can only overtake us by winning more golds, which would mean three. This is the maximum they can win: Qui Bo and Chen Aisen are both in the same diving competition, so they would need to take gold in all three events to overtake us.

Even if that happened, we would only need a single gold to seal the deal.

16:59 Well done Vicky Holland for taking bronze in the women’s triathlon. Bianca Walkden easily through the round of 16. Unfortunately Tom Daley failed to get into the 10m diving final. China finished one and two in that the semi-final.

We can wrap up second place with a gold for Nicola Adams in the boxing. Just over an hour to go for that.

The best pitches for Olympic sports

Friday, August 19th, 2016 | Sport

Some people are simply brilliant salespeople. They have a gift for persuasion. I have always thought physicists must be some of them. They persuaded grant funders that the only place they could put observatories was in the tropical paradise of Hawaii.

Watching the Olympics, I think even they have been outdone though. Consider the successful pitches that must have been made in order to secure our current line-up of events.

dressage

“We are going to train horses to dance.”
“Hmm. Jousting? That’s a sport?”
“No, we just want the dancing included. Maybe a bit of jumping.”

nicola-adams

“Well, it’s just hitting each other really.”

keirin

“It’s an eight lap cycle race. But for the first five laps, the cyclists will queue up behind a motorbike.”

triple-jump

“It’s like the long jump, but the athlete will do a hop and a skip beforehand.”

hammer-throw

“Well, it’s not quite a javelin and it’s not quite a shot put, but man, will they be able to throw that hammer a long way.”

diving

“Yes, it’s diving. But there will be two of them. Doing exactly the same thing.”

beach-volleyball

“Exactly, it’s volleyball. Except with a lot of sand, and the women will be in bikinis.”

10 sports that should be added to the Olympics

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016 | Sport

I’m very much enjoying the Olympics. I have no idea how I managed to fit the rest of life in before it started. However, it is clear that it is lacking some of the most fun sports on the planet. Below, I have highlighted some I think are worth including for Tokyo 2020.

Kabaddi

Kabaddi is a massive sport in South Asia. It’s the national sport of Bangladesh and India loves it too. If you haven’t heard of it, you might think it sounds odd. The idea is to go into your opponents half, tag them and run back, all while holding your breath. So the referee can see you are not taking a breath, players chant “kabaddi” the whole time they are doing it. You can watch some on Sky Sports and England’s women’s team want it included in the Olympics.

kabaddi

Flag football

What would American football look like if it was replaced by a far less dangerous non-contact version? The answer is flag football. All the fun of the NFL without the inevitable season-ending injury.

flag-football

Wife-carrying

One of the traditional sports of Finland, the rules are now relaxed so you can carry any “wife” as long as they are 17 years old and weigh at least 49 kilograms. The heavier the better because the prize is your wife’s weight in beer. Traditionally the piggyback was the lift of choice but Estonian-style has now become the dominant technique.

wife-carrying

Bog snorkelling

It’s like regular snorkelling, but in a bog. The annual championships take place in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales. It is a straight race that you must complete just using the propulsion of your flippers.

Wereldkampieonschappen Moeras snorkelen (Bog Snokling)

Dodgeball

Dodgeball teaches children a lot of important skills. If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball. Despite extensive coverage by ESPN-8 of the American Dodgeball Association of America’s tournaments, dodgeball has not yet managed to make the Olympic roster.

dodgeball

Cheese-rolling

This isn’t really a sport, but would still make a fun show. The rules are simple: someone starts a cheese rolling down a hill and everyone has to chase it. The winner is the first one to the bottom as nobody ever actually catches the cheese. Several people usually end up in hospital though.

cheese-rolling

Air guitar

Every year the town of Oulu in Finland welcomes music lovers for the air guitar world championships. Each contestant faces two one-minute routes, one of their own music and one chosen by the organisers. They are then scored by a panel of judges on a series of criteria including technical skill and stage presence.

air-guitar

Baking

With Great British Bake Off about to start, the competitive baking season in the UK is literally heating up. Some people would argue it is not a sport. Not so. Whisking a sauce for ten minutes takes incredible arm strength and has Bake Off shows there is a competitive element., thus fulfilling the definition of sport.

At very least, it is more of a sport than wrestling, which enjoys a large section on Sky Sports.

great-british-bake-off

Quidditch

In real life quidditch is far less amazing than it is described in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. But it’s still a fun game to watch. Players are mounted on brooms and the snitch is moved by an impartial player who runs around with it. Since 2009 the sport has even had an international governing body: International Quidditch Association.

quidditch

Ultimate frisbee

Ultimate is a form of competitive frisbee throwing that in practice is a lot like netball. The score you have to catch the frisbee in the opponent’s end-zone, similar to American football. The game is usually self-refereed with people just being honest when they commit a foul.

ultimate

Leeds 10k 2016

Monday, July 11th, 2016 | Sport

leeds-10k-2016

I ran my first Run For All Leeds 10k in 2014, achieving a time of 1:06:14. Despite it being a hot day this was faster than both my subsquent Abbey Dash times, and remained my personal best 10k race time. This year’s Leeds 10k was also warm (19 degrees) but cloudy (and still cooler than the half marathon!).

I have been running better than ever before in training so I was hoping to knock a significant block off my personal best, and for a stretch target try and run a sub-60 time.

Unfortunately, things were off to a poor start. The 60-minute pacer was right at the front of the green group (athletes predicted to run 60+, I think) so I couldn’t get close to her. By the time I had crossed the starting line she was out of sight. I only saw her at the turnaround point, at which time she was way head of me.

My GPS said that I was running a sub-60 time. However, it kept reporting I was ahead in distance: it would give me my kilometre split before I reached the official marker points and clocked my total 10k distance at 10.26km. When I clocked my final time via GPS I was at 1:00:10. 10 seconds over the hour!

workout-details

I had given it my all, and come up short.

Run For All usually text you your official time straight however. Mine never arrived, so I faced a nail-biting wait in the pub while waiting for the official times to be posted.

Finally, it arrived.

chip-time

My time was 0:59:59. The slowest possible time you can run while still being under an hour. But it was under an hour. I had taken 6:15 off my personal best. An incredibly fortunate ending.

I really like the way Run For All run their events. My race pack and race number arrived on time. They have markers at every kilometre, plenty of water, pacers every five minutes and even though my my text never arrived, the results were available online within a few hours.

Who should survive the Euro 2016 groups?

Saturday, June 18th, 2016 | Sport

euro-2016

When you make it to the finals of Euro 2016, you are allocated to one of six groups. The top two teams from each group, after three matches, get a pass into the round of 16. An additional four teams also make it through.

But should we expect to see there? One way to calculate it is to work out how tough each group is. By taking each team’s world rankings and averaging them, we can see how tough each group is.

Group Teams Rank
A France, Switzerland, Romania, Albania 24
B England, Wales, Slovakia, Russia 22.5
C Germany, Poland, Northern Ireland, Ukraine 18.75
D Croatia, SPain, Czech Republic, Turkey 20.25
E Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Belgium 20.5
F Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, Austria 18

A lower number represents a tough group and a higher number represents an easier group. This suggests England is in one of the easiest groups: only group A has a lower average world ranking, and this does not factor in the home-field advantage that France has.

We can then compare the team ranking to the average group ranking to see who should find it easiest to quality.

Team Difference
Belgium +18.5
Germany +14.75
Spain +14.25
England +11.5
Ireland -12.5
Sweden -14.5
Iceland -16
Albania -18

I have shown the top and bottom four here. The other home nations do not find themselves at the bottom of the table, which is positive news too. Having said this, the difficultly of the group makes little difference: all of these teams are in the same order as if you had just taken the world rankings. So how tough your group is, is probably not a factor.