It’s only three weeks until the 2012 Olympic Summer Games and the tension is certainly building up on all fronts. The Team GB favourites for a home medal – Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah, Ben Ainslie, Beth Tweddle, etcetera etcetera – are all facing intense media scrutiny over their chances and they’ll be hoping to avoid injury in these vital last weeks. Some events have slipped completely under the radar; very few people have much interest in how our handball and fencing teams will perform. Then you have sports that have only gained any attention because of their controversial selection policies. Many athletics participants have cruelly missed out, taekwondo’s Aaron Cook stirred up a storm about his omission and there are the likes of Ukrainian-born wrestlers Olga Butkevych and Myroslav Dykun (who today was banned for two years for failing a drug test) who some feel shouldn’t represent a country they weren’t born in or to.
Then we have football, which falls under the category of “dubious media frenzy”. Instead of talking about our chances in this prestigious competition, almost all of the focus has been on manager Stuart Pearce’s selections, namely the freezing-out of veteran midfielder David Beckham. Many believe that the 37 year old should have been picked for the competition based on his influence in getting the Olympics to London. That was seven years ago, when Beckham was still a spritely champion of football. He is now an ageing footballer that would not be able to keep with the youngsters in the finals. Just today, Beckham was banned for a pathetic scuffle with an opposition player in the MLS, not something that particularly enhances his profile.
So, we turn to Britain’s chances in the tournament. Fortunately, should we progress beyond the group stage (which I imagine we will, although we will have to navigate both Senegal and Uruguay), we won’t face the prospect of Brazil or Spain until the semi-finals. Those two teams look fearsome, even without considering their overage players. Brazil’s list of talent is ridiculous – their group C rivals, Egypt, will be forced to square up to Thiago Silva, Ganso, Alexandre Pato, Neymar and Hulk, not to mention the English Premier League’s rising talents, Rafael and Sandro. Spain are no less threatening, bringing with them European champions Jordi Alba, Javi Martinez and 15-minute man Juan Mata. Add to that EPL’s David De Gea and Chelsea’s Oriol Romeu and they have the makings of Olympic champions. Britain don’t have anywhere near that depth of talent. We can call upon Manchester City’s Micah Ricards to perform strongly at the back and we have to hope Ryan Gigg’s legs hold out for the whole competition. The squad is augmented by the likes of Champions League winners Ryan Bertrand, and Daniel Sturridge rising star Scott Sinclair and strong performer Joe Allen but many others are just making up the numbers. I believe we will squeeze out of the group and will breeze the quarters, but we’ll get no further than that with Brazil our likely opponents.
The English Premier League is set to provide a few more stars to the competition. Uruguay have named Liverpool’s Sebastian Coates and Luis Suarez in their provisional squad, with the latter striker hoping to have found his shooting boots. Senegal will be desperately hoping Newcastle will allow Papiss Cisse to join them as an overage player after a stunning first season. Elsewhere, South Korea will be joined by Sunderland’s Ji Dong-Won and Arsenal star Park Chu-Young. New Zealand have the highest number of England-based players, with Tim Payne (Blackburn), Tommy Smith (Ipswich), Cameron Howieson (Burnley), Chris Wood and senior captain Ryan Nelsen (both QPR) all selected. Giovanni dos Santos (Tottenham), Benjamin Siegrist (Aston Villa) and Pajtim Kasami (Fulham) round off the players to watch.
Goalball is one of the most ridiculous sports I’ve ever watched.
I’m not the biggest fan in the world of Paralympic sports and I’ll get to that in a bit. Goalball, however, is one event that takes the biscuit. It is a discipline for people that are either blind or partially-sighted. To ensure nobody has an advantage, all players (three per team) are blindfolded. They aim to throw a ball loaded with a bell into the opposition’s goal at the other end of the court. This isn’t the daft part and I’m all for allowing the blind to star in an elite sport. What gets me is the seeming lack of tactics in the game. One player picks up the ball (once they’ve found it) and rolls it towards the other team’s goal. All three of them dive onto the floor, lying across the goal in the vague hope that they’ll stop the ball rolling it. On many of the highlights I’ve seen, this rash reaction often sees the ball deflect into the ball, made worse that nobody knows it’s gone in until the crowd begin cheering. If this human wall saves the ball, we repeat the previous action. All game. There are some talented individuals in the game and some of the actions are pretty incredible considering nobody can see what on Earth is going on. I’m just not sold on the repetitive to-ing and fro-ing and the scrabbling about on the floor for a tinkling ball nobody can see.
The Paralympics just aren’t a big draw to me. The Olympics are a gathering of the absolute best athletes in the world (except for amateur events like boxing and, to a degree, football), whereas the Paralympics are a gathering of the best athletes that have missing limbs or impaired senses. It probably strikes most as a controversial opinion, but many of these Paralympians would have little to no chance of competing at the top level were they not disabled. Their disadvantage has created the ultimate advantage for them to represent their country and I just don’t feel it’s right. There are exemptions; Pistorius of South Africa has just qualified for the Olympics despite being a double amputee. He has gotten into the highesr level of competition despite his crippling situation. He has my respect, many others do not. Fans of the Paralympics can keep their “sitting volleyball” (go on, look it up), I’ll stick with the thrills of watching the best.
Although the first qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League already began with Portadown’s goalless draw, the other five Welsh and Northern Irish sides joined the fun on Thursday, with the usual disappointment to be expected from the lowly clubs. Only Cliftonville were able to pull off a victory, gaining an impressive 1-0 lead against Kalmar FF. Goalless draws were to be hand between Bangor City and Zimbru Chisinau as well as Cefn Druids (based a division below the League of Wales) amazingly holding Finnish team MyPa. Things didn’t go so well for Llanelli as they lost 2-1 to Kuopion Palloseura. Irish team Crusaders also crumbled at home, losing heavily to Norwegian side Rosenborg 3-0.
Ladies from the GB football team were also in action yesterday as Arsenal Ladies beat their Chelsea equivalents 4-2. Braces from both Kim Little and Kelly Smith, herself a substitute, gave them the win.
In cricket, Yorkshire were able to defeat the unbeaten Nottinghamshire to be the first team to reach the Friends Life Twenty20 quarter-finals. Yorkshire ran out winners by six wickets, leaving Notts having to win against either Leicestershire or Derbyshire. Surrey were defeated again, this time by Kent, as Chris Tremlett took two wickets whilst Kevin Pietersen suffered once again, this time scoring just 7 runs in one over. In international cricket, Ireland overpowered Afghanistan by 49 runs, allowing them to keep the top stop in the ICC table.
The French Golf Open kicked off yesterday, with England’s Lee Westwood as a strong favourite. However, a torrid start saw him +3 after just six holes. He managed to salvage his first session, including a shot from a lake, and finished overnight on -1. Gary Boyd is our highest finisher, ending the first day on -5 just one point off the lead. David Lynn is one point behind him. In the GreenbrierClassic, a US competition, England’s Greg Owen is currently joint-26th on -2.
The Six-Red Snooker Championships moved towards the final stages in Bangkok yesterday with some frenetic action. After a series of close matches, the quarter-finals saw some big match-ups, particularly Mark Selby and Judd Trump. Holder Selby was unable to defend his title and was knocked out by Trump, who goes on to challenge Shaun Murphy in the semis. Murphy almost lost himself, but edged out Dominic Dale 7 frames to 6. Walden also made his way to the semi-finals but was stopped emphatically by Mark Davis, 7-2.
In the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish highed another sprint victory after his crash on Wednesday but was pipped by the post by Griepel, earning his second successive stage victory. Cavendish’s legs denied him and he finised fifth. Bradley Wiggins remains seven seconds off the lead.
The Speedway Elite League saw Swindon thump their Lakeside challengers 53 points to 37. Birmingham’s bout against Coventy was a much closer one, with the home side coming from behind to beat their neighbours 46-44.
It was a big day for Team GB’s showjumping team in Aachen. The Prize of Handwerk trophy was the first prize on offer, with Guy Williams finishing sixth on Bijou van de Vijfheide. Scott Brash was only able to muster 23rd on Don’t Go but made up for it by winning the Prize of the Soers on Bon Ami, netting him €5750. Michael Whitaker finished that event in 18th and Guy Williams missed out on a top prize again by coming 37th. The S8 team, comprising of Williams, Brash, Whitaker and the previous day’s winner Nick Skelton, took part in the latest round of the FEI Nations’ Cup but finished fifth of eight countries. They were well off fourth and narrowly avoided being overtaken by the Netherlands after finishing last in the first of two rounds. GB’s female riders had a worse day, Emma Hindle the most successful by coming in 20th for the Prize of TeschInkasso. Hindle, Nikki Crisp and Hannah Biggs combined for the Lambertz Nations’ Cup but finished last out of seven teams.
Great Britain’s Pool team were overpowered in the World Team Pool Championships, getting whitewashed by likely champions Chinese Taipei 4 games to 0.
Andy Murray v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Jonathan Marray/Frederick Nielsen v Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
British Grand Prix – practice
Friends Life T20
Yorkshire v Lancashire
Alstom French Open and Greenbrier Classic
Current GB leaders: Gary Boyd/Greg Owen
Leeds Rhinos v Hull FC
Sheffield Eagles v Halifax
Six Red World Championship
Judd Trump v Shaun Murphy
PDC European Darts Open
Athletics Diamond League in France
Tour de France – Day 6
Newmarket July Festival – Horse Racing
Baskeball European Championship for Small Countries
Gibraltar v Wales
Victoria Squash Open
World Equestrian Festival
Triathlon World Cup