11 world records in the first 2 days of the swimming world championships in Rome. This occurred on the back of 25 world records and 65 Olympic records in Beijing last summer. In any other sport we would be extolling the virtues of the athletes, their determination, their training methods or their sheer commitment. Instead we look to the materials engineers at Jaked, Arena or Speedo and feel compelled to congratulate them on their polyurethane composites. While I do appreciate the work they do, and generally will where technological advancement is concerned, the brand you are sponsored by is now equally important as how fast you can swim and that is where the problem lies.
FINA is the sport’s governing body and as such sets the rules for competition. Instead of, and I will use a motorsport analogy here, an Indycar environment where the rules of the car are very strict with little room for manoeuvre and racing is dependent upon the skill of the driver we have a Formula 1 scenario. Where last year’s world champion, bar last weekend, is struggling to find the podium and a guy who has been the very definition of mediocrity in the past few seasons wins the first half dozen races. Paul Biedermann beat Michael Phelps’ 200m freestyle record by nearly a second, he’s knocked 4 seconds off his personal best in 11 months a feat that took Phelps 5 years. These examples are down to the technology around them and not the athlete in the car or suit.
FINA has some difficult decisions to make. They can let the technological fight continue and with it continue the loss of reputation the sport is suffering. They can change the rules to end the suit supremecy race as it stands where all the records made are kept and all swimmers (who are sponsored or can afford £300 for a suit) can fight it out going forward. Or finally they can strip all records since this started and reignite the purity of the sport, bring back the excitement of the finals where, as in track sprint events, athletes build up through the heats to peak in the final and potentially need to break a record to overcome their opponent. The alternative is to have 2 world records fall in the heats and have those who’ve trained equally hard in the years leading up to an event have no hope because the guy/girl in the lane next to them has better threads. Get a grip FINA.
This years Tour de France is almost at the end of its’ second week. From a British point of view first of all; great riding Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins, hopefully they’ll come out with that green sprinters jersey and a high placed finish respectively. While tempting, I’m not going to spend this blog lauding British cycling, it’s had quite enough of that in recent times. Instead I’m intrigued by the goings on in the Astana team.
I don’t know whose decision it was to place two former tour winners in the same team and to position the junior, certainly in terms of past accomplishments, as the lead rider. Lance Armstrong has won seven tours, had a bestselling book, brings a strong media and fan following wherever he goes and is arguably the most well known cyclist…ever. Do you think that it would be an easy transition for him to drop down the pecking order to team rider regardless of current form? I don’t. And so it is proving to be.
Fair play to Contador, he’s coping admirably with the demands and trying to let his riding do the talking, which the mountains will almost certainly allow him to do. But criticism about his tactics and experience from Armstrong, his ‘team’mate, don’t make the task any easier. I don’t place much blame on Armstrong, I can’t imagine Michael Schumacher going back into formula 1 and playing second fiddle to Sebastian Vettel, but the difference is that none of the F1 team principals would allow that. The head of the Astana team should be reviewing his/her decision to recruit both riders.
Who knows, it may turn out to be positive with the competition pushing Contador to better performance…or it may prove to be a massive distraction, time will tell. I know that I’d want my rider free to concentrate 100% on his own performance supported by his team instead of on one of the most prolific tour riders ever and his teammate trying to usurp him.
That, simply put, was the best sporting series I’ve seen in my life. I am of course talking about the British and Irish Lions in South Africa. Plenty of others have discussed the decisions that affected the outcomes; the what ifs and what could’ve beens. What stood out for me was the pure intensity, desire and tenacity of every player who took to that field. It was obvious to anyone viewing that the players competing were playing in the biggest games of their lives and that they were very aware of that fact. Not one player took a backward step. Danie Rossouw was pretty much knocked unconscious a few minutes after coming onto the pitch in the second game, he cut a dejected figure when he was carted off the pitch having realised he would play no further part.
In articles since, numerous writers have suggested that this may be an opportune time to disband the Lions, let me say that this is something I don’t agree with. There is nothing comparable in the world, particularly now in professional sport. The challenge of bringing together a group of players who have spent their careers playing against each other, even throughout age group representative competitions, to play as one team should not be underestimated. Anyone who takes more than a passing interest in team dynamics or has tried to do it will tell you the difficulty of this inside a restricted time frame, even if those partaking are professional. That is what makes the Lions so special.
It is obvious that it was thought up in an amateur era, no one would agree to this today, there are too many parties with interests vested in their commodities, or athletes as they’re more often referred to. It’s a relic, an antiquity, and it’s priceless. The mechanism that allows the concept to work is it’s history. The aura of pulling on the red jersey as those great names have before empower those selected to act differently, to draw together for a common purpose. The friendships and camaraderie that develop on the tour as a result, as I’m sure the accompanying DVD will show, are unique. I recently read ‘the book of fame’ by Lloyd Jones about the 1906 New Zealand tour to the British Isles where they played 33 games in 3½ months! It encaptures this much better than I can and is a worthwhile easy read.
Even though the Lions lost the series, if you asked anyone in that camp whether they think it wasn’t a valuable exercise I believe you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that didn’t. People will argue that the clubs and the unions that employ the players and have a lot of money invested are the ones who lose out which is a valid point. Sometimes the balance sheet is hard to ignore, but like I mentioned, some things are priceless….