And the nominees are…

31 10 2010

The list reads like a Who’s Who of Australian sports, but of the 12 of the hottest and most accomplished sporting stars in Australia this year, only one will score the title of  Sports Performer of the Year.  But now that the 2010 Colonial First State Sports Performer of the Year Awards nominees have been announced, just what is it about this group of athletes that make the deserving of the title?
 
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Rest uneasy over Commonwealth Games

23 09 2010

The lead up to this year’s Commonwealth Games, due to commence in ten days’ time, has drawn headlines for so many of the wrong reasons.  The event aimed at bringing people together, appears to be doing nothing more than keeping them apart as participant countries concerned over safety and poor facilities.  Even if the bridges can be mended, the ceilings cease to fall, and terrorists keep their distance, the glamour of the Games has been dealt a serious blow with many of the world’s top athletes withdrawing from competition.

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For the Love of the Games Part V

27 02 2010

“I don’t think the Olympics are even about sport, they’re about the dream, they’re about the power of the human spirit.”

These words, spoken by Olympian Ruben Gonzalez, resonated as I watched Canadian figure skater, Joannie Rochette dance across the ice last night in the women’s Figure Skating final.  Only a few days ago the 24-year-old captured the hearts of international audiences when she stepped onto the ice for quite possibly the most gutsy of performances.  Just hours before having her Olympic dream come true, the six-time Canadian figure skating champion was dealt a devastating blow with the tragic death of her mother.

There was already an enormous amount of pressure on Rochette before the commencement of competition, with many predicting she would become the first Canadian woman since Elizabeth Manley in 1988 to stand on the podium.  But dressed in black, Rochette wiped her eyes and took a deep breath to compose herself before launching into her short program on Wednesday night (Australian) where she placed third.

To be able to go out knowing that she was competing at an Olympics, and to be able to put her grief to the back of her mind to pull out such a valiant performance was nothing short of amazing.  Skating to ‘Samson and Delilah’, the intense quiet of the audience – as if they had been holding their breath – made for a beautiful moment.  Rochette received her best ever free skate score of 131.28 for an overall 202.64 and secured the bronze medal. 

Rochette admitted that it had been difficult to compete, but that thousands of messages of support from people around the world boosted her.  She brought an 11,000-strong crowd to their feet with her final performance last night, and I’m sure that if her mother Therese could have been there, she would have been immensely proud.





For the Love of the Games Part IV

21 02 2010

After drawing attention to the youngest competitors at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, curiosity about this year’s oldest participant peaked.

The honour goes to 47-year-old Ruben Gonzalez.  Gonzalez’s story is an interesting one.  Competing for his country of birth, Argentina in the harrowing luge event, Gonzalez is the only Winter Olympian to have competed in a Games in four different decades.  A relative latecomer to the sport, Gonzalez did not take up luge until the age of 21.  He first competed in an Olympics in 1988, which is renowned for ‘Eddie the Eagle’ and the Jamaican national bobsled team, but it took him almost three decades to be at ease with the gruelling requirements of the event.  In an interview with the Times Online, Gonzalez admitted that he never took a breath when sliding on the track saying “It’s easy to hold your breath when you are scared to death.”  His honesty is admirable.

However, 2010 will be Gonzalez’s final Olympic Games.  Competing in the men’s singles Luge event last week, Gonzalez – affectionately nicknamed ‘Speedy Gonzalez’ – finished in 38th position, and at his best travelled a speed in excess of 134 km/h to cover the track in 51.312 seconds (more than three seconds behind the Gold medal winner, Felix Loch of Germany).  This year’s luge event was a test unlike any other for Gonzalez, overcoming the tragic death of his friend and fellow luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili who crashed in training just days before competition.

It would be fair to say that, as the recipient of last place in the luge, he is not the most gifted athlete in the field, but there is something inspirational to be taken from this man who has competed against other men half his age.  Surely he is testament to what a person can achieve if they have a dream and believe? 

Gonzalez has used his Olympic experiences to become a successful author and motivational speaker, and it can only be assumed that there will be another chapter to the story, the next time he’s called to tell it.





For the Love of the Games Part III

19 02 2010

Watching the highlights of the men’s Snowboard Halfpipe last night, and all eyes were fixed on young Australian athlete Scott James.  At just 15 years of age, James is the second youngest competitor at this year’s Winter Olympics and the youngest male Winter Olympian in 50 years (I also hear he’s the youngest EVER competitor in the men’s snowboard halfpipe event). 

This might be his first Winter Olympic Games, but James is no stranger to international competition.  He ‘cut his teeth’ as a 14-year-old at the 2008 Europa Cup in Switzerland.  By luck and good fortune, James secured his spot in the Australian Olympic team just two weeks before the Games commenced.  Teammate Nate Johnstone, the No. 1 snowboarder, was unfortunately ruled out with an ankle injury and James snared 15th place (his best performance to date) at the World Cup in Canada to get his ticket to the Games. 

Baby-faced though he may be, James is proving to be a hit with crowds, fellow competitors, and the media for a maturity beyond his years.  His future looks bright!

It was a baptism by fire for James, who fractured his right wrist in training just two days before the halfpipe event and was forced to compete with a cast, but he took it in his stride.  In an interview with The Australian, he admitted he held back with his performance and failed to do the must-do manoeuvre  for medal contenders (a double cork, in case you were wondering) just to get a score on the board after crashing out on his first run.  The boy can board though.  His combination of double and triple spins earned him 12th place in his group and put him just outside of qualifying for the semi-finals, finishing 21st overall.

An impressive result, and things can only get better.

The title of the ‘Youngest Competitor’ at this Winter Olympics goes to fellow Australian, Britteny Cox.  Also 15 years of age, Cox took part in the ladies Moguls a few days ago.  She started 19th in a field of 27 vying to qualify for the finals in the event.  Her jumps (a 360 and Back Puck/Pike with Position) scored her a 19.87 putting her in 23rd position at the end of the round, and a mere three places outside of qualifying for the finals.





For the Love of the Games Part II

16 02 2010

Here’s a shout out for cross-country skier, Tucker Murphy.  He’s from Bermuda, and he was the country’s single competitor.  Originally, Murphy was one of two Olympians from Bermuda taking part in the Vancouver games, but his compatriate, skeleton slider Patrick Singleton failed to qualify.  At the Olympic Opening Ceremony on Saturday, Murphy was one of 12 athletes who carried their country’s flag (and I guess the expectations of a nation) alone.

What’s so amazing about Tucker Murphy, I hear you ask.  Well it’s not that he scored gold in the 15 kilometre freestyle cross-country skiing event that was held last night.  That honour went to Switzerland’s Dario Cologna, and silver and bronze were awarded to Pietro Piller Cottrer (Italy) and Lukas Bauer (Czech Republic) respectively.  Murphy finished 88th out of 95 competitors in a time of 42:39.1, but given that this is his first Olympics I’d say things can only get better from here.  No, Tucker Muprhy is actually more accomplished off the snow field than he is on it. 

At just 28 years of age (born 21 October 1981), Murphy is a Rhodes Scholar studying for his Master of Science in Integrative Bioscience at Oxford University in England.  Previously a student at Dartmouth, Murphy was not only on the ski team, but the rowing team as well.  I guess what this proves is that it’s not just a case of ‘brains OR brawn’, as Murphy has proven you can have both.

Nice!





For the Love of the Games Part I

13 02 2010

I remember the exact moment I fell in love with the Games.  It was 1988, the summer Olympic Games were being held in Seoul, South Korea.  I had picked up a small book (it was a red hard cover and a number of Olympic images appeared on the front) and was completely in awe of all that was in front of me.  Florence Griffith Joyner, with her wild hair, patriotic fingernails and outrageous running suit, blitzes the field and smashes the world record in the 100m and 200m sprints, and becomes my role model.  (She was later replaced by Australian sprinter, Melinda Gainsford-Taylor, who inspired me to continue with my athletics in the hope I would one day represent my county… Ah-huh.)  Coincidentally, and unknown to me at the time, the Games of the XXIV Olympiad (as they are officially known) is to be remembered for the Ben Johnson drug-cheat controversy and the end of the debate surrounding amateur and professional sports persons.

February 2010 welcomed the return of The Games to the sporting spotlight, albeit the winter variety, and I found myself glued to the television for the Opening Ceremony.  Honestly, these ceremonies are becoming a bit much; they have turned into a ‘Anything you can do, I can do better’ competition between the countries and even if they are magical, I also think they are a huge and unnecessary extravagance.  However, all credit to the organising committee of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.   It was momentous, but the meaning behind the display leading up to the parade of nations attending was so well communicated, and the incorporation (without going overboard) of the indigenous people of Canada was truly beautiful.  Even though the event got off to a shaky start with the death of 21-year-old luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili from Georgia, more than 60,000 people filled the stadium in Vancouver to witness the ceremony (which I might add was the first Olympic opening or closing ceremony to be held indoors).

It can be argued that the Olympics unite the world in sport; that by bringing the nations of the world together the event is breaking down political barriers and strengthening the ties of friendship and peace.  Perhaps this is an idealistic view, and I will admit that some countries will use the Games to pursue their own interests, but I also strongly believe that the Olympics are consistent in their attempts to put feuds between nations to one side (even if it is for 12-16 days).

One of the great things about the Olympic Games (summer or winter) is that from out of the woodwork appear countries I can only assume have never existed from one four-year period to the next (seriously, Kyrgyzstan?).  In specific reference to this year’s winter Olympics, I am also genuinely amazed at the number of countries competing whose competitors would be more likely to suffer from heat stroke and frost bite.  For example, Jamaica (thanks Cool Runnings), Mexico and Morocco are making a return to the games, and they’ll be joined by the Cayman Islands, Colombia, Ghana, Montenegro and Pakistan who are debuting this year.  What the…?

This is the beauty of the Olympics – EVERYONE wants to take part!  For the record, there are 82 Olympic Nations taking part in the XXI Olympic Winter Games this year and Australia has 40 athletes vying for glory.

Of the 15 sports on offer this year there are a few that deserve extra attention.  The men’s Snowboard Cross is a nailbiter of an event, where boarders race to the finish line navigating narrow turns, jumps, drops, steep and flat sections.  It’s all about control, and Australia’s Alex Pullin is regarded as ‘hot favourite’.  While there is a men’s event, it is the women’s Skeleton that deserves a look.  Riding down a small sled at speeds in excess of 120km/hr and experiencing forces up to 5g face first is nothing short of madness, and the women who have the balls to risk ‘life and limb’ with this event are worthy of promotion.  Keep an eye out for Melissa Hoar and Emma Lincoln-Smith of Australia.  Let’s not forget the Figure Skating, with its intricacies and elegance.  But it’s not just the beauty of figure skating that has my attention, it’s the sexual naming of so many of its moves.  Who can go passed a ‘cherry-flip’ or a ‘open stroke’ or a ‘spread eagle’? 

 Eat your heart out and let the Games begin!