6 Nations: : Lions Watch

After a few Blog-less months (caused by the stresses and strains of a journalism course which has somewhat taken over my life the past few months…), I am pleased to make my return and what better excuse to do so than the 6 Nations and the forthcoming Lions tour.

The British and Irish Lions have a mouthwatering summer tour of Australia lying in wait and as is always the case in a 6 Nations tournament in the lead-up to a Lions tour, competition for places is starting to hot up.

Gatland has much to consider after the first weekend of action

The opening weekend had all British rugby fans wishing that the likes of Martin Castrogiovanni and Sergio Parisse were not Italian and were English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish dynamos instead as they helped inspire Italy to a stunning victory over France.

The opening weekend also saw a rejuvenated Ireland conquer Wales who are continuing their free-fall from their Grandslam-winning pedestal, and England demonstrating the sort of attacking verve en-route to victory against Scotland that helped them defeat world champions New Zealand in the Autumn.

As is nearly always the case in a Lions year, the opening weekend provided a fascinating insight into who might make the trip and who might not.

It threw up the usual blend of ‘dead-certs’ confirming their status as being such (e.g Dan Cole, Rory Best, Johnny Sexton, Brian O’Driscoll, Chris Ashton), former favourites for selection on the wane (Sam Warburton and Jonathan Davies, the latter seemed to just have an off-day) , and young unexpected contenders throwing their hats into the ring for selection (e.g Joe Launchberry, Billy Twelvetrees.

Anyway, now that the dust has settled on the wonderful opening round of this year’s tournament it is time to look ahead to this weekend’s action and I have decided to highlight some of the key British and Irish players and clashes to look out for this weekend.

Cian Healey Vs. Dan Cole:

Come the first test match against Australia this summer these two could well be partnered as the first-choice tight-head and loose-head props for the Lions but this Saturday they will be head-to-head and it promises to be a snarling battle. Both were true to form on the opening weekend and proved why they are both regarded amongst the very best in the world in their respective positions.

Ben Youngs Vs. Danny Care:

This is an ‘in-house’ battle within the England setup and one which seems to drive both players on rather than inhibiting their performances. They are both world-class, both exciting, both energising, but unfortunately both are still pretty young and each have a tendency to undo some of their fantastic work with some clumsy errors. They are however both in the running for a spot in the Lions squad as well as being locked in a battle to wrestle the number 9 England shirt from one another. Hopefully this battle can continue to inspire the pair of them and we can look forward to a big 60 minutes from Ben Youngs this weekend and an exciting cameo from Care in the last 20.

Justin Tipuric:

 

Justin TipuricLess than a year ago it seemed that Sam Warburton could do nothing wrong. He had performed and led the Welsh side superbly at the World Cup in late 2011 and then he flourished again as skipper as Wales went on to Grandslam glory in 2012. He has however been a steep downwards slide since then and so have Wales as a collective unit. Captain Sam is missing this weekend though and at the moment this actually seems to be a positive for the Welsh as it opens up a space for the dynamic Justin Tipuric. Prior to last weekend I had heard an awful lot about him but hadn’t seen much of him myself, however, his performance after coming off the bench against Ireland made me sit up and take note. Could he be the answer to Wales’ desperate prayers of late? Could he even be Lions material? We might just find out against the French this weekend…

Brad Barritt Vs. Brian O’Driscoll:

Brian O' Driscoll 6 Nations 2013This week Sir Clive Woodward conceded that in England’s last Grandslam winning year in 2003, when Brian O’Driscoll was at his dazzling best, that he earmarked no less than three England players to nullify the Irish master’s threat. If last weekend is anything to go by then Stuart Lancaster may have to follow Woodward’s lead in his team instructions as O’Driscoll returned from injury in stunning fashion. Barritt playing alongside Billy Twelvetrees in the England midfield will surely be charged with such a task this weekend at the Aviva Stadium and the whole game could well hinge on this battle.

Other things to look out for this weekend:

The Irish back-three (even without the absent Tommy Bowe), the battle of the two fly-half Lions front-runners Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell and the development of Scotland flyer and Lions full-back hopeful Stuart Hogg who made a great impression at Twickenham last Saturday.

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My Soundtrack to a Year of Gigging

Having had the pleasure of seeing both Bon Iver and Matt Corby live in the past couple of weeks I have found myself reflecting on twelve months of gig-going and the best live tracks I’ve seen during that time.

Matt Corby SCALA

In that period I have seen James Vincent McMorrow at the Queen’s Hall Edinburgh supported by Lindi Ortega, Ben Howard at the Riverside in Newcastle supported by Lucy Rose, Matt Corby topping the bill at one of Communion record label’s host evenings at the Notting Hill Arts Club, Bon Iver at Wembley supported by The Staves and then Matt Corby again, this time at a headline show supported by Lucy Mason and Bear’s Den.

Within these shows there have been special moments by the barrel-load and all-in-all very little to complain about. I have in the past been to a few underwhelming gigs but those which I have been to over the last year haven’t let me down in the slightest and if anything have far exceeded expectations.

So, in tribute, to I have put together a little album/playlist of the best live tracks I have seen at the shows I’ve been to over the year…

Bon Iver – Perth

This opened their Wembley set and the live performance gave a whole new dimension to their prog-rock inspired second album, the self titled Bon Iver.

Ben Howard – The Wolves

This is perhaps Ben’s most well-known and well-loved single and it didn’t disappoint live and had the entire crowd howling back at him.

James Vincent McMorrow – From the Woods

Before seeing him live From the Woods was far from being one of my favourite songs from James’ debut album but after seeing him and his brilliant band playing it in Edinburgh it soon became a firm favourite.

Matt Corby – Made of Stone

I have now had the pleasure of seeing Matt play this liver twice and on each occasion he played a totally different version. The second time I saw him play it was at SCALA and he played it with the accompaniment of the band but the first time he played it he performed alone with just his piano for company and it was stunning.

Bon Iver (feat. The Staves) – RE: Stacks

This has always been my favourite track from their first album and hearing Justin Vernon play it live was a pretty special moment for me and having support act The Staves on backing vocals made it even better still.

The Staves – Facing West

A three-piece female, folk-harmony group doesn’t exactly sound like a formula for filling an arena as huge as Wembley but their performance was surprisingly brilliant.

Lucy Rose – Shiver

Like The Staves at Wembley little Lucy Rose didn’t exactly seem suited to the venue she was playing, The Riverside in Newcastle, but this track stood out in her stint supporting Ben Howard.

Ben Howard – Black Flies

Easily dismissed as “just another bloke with a guitar”, Black Flies proves exactly why Ben Howard is so much more than that. Dark, intense and evocative, this was a song that came to life on the stage.

Bon Iver – Creature Fear

This song is an understated effort from their first album but at Wembley the arena-filling chorus contrasted brilliantly with the low-key verses and proved a great link between their first and second albums.

Matt Corby – Brother

His most celebrated work to date. This track is tinged with regret and harks back to masters of the genre, namely Jeff Buckley, and there are also comparisons in the vocal delivery to be made to Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon fame.

James Vincent McMorrow – Higher Love

Just prior to this song bursting into prominence courtesy of the LOVEfilm advert, I saw James play this in solo mode at the Queen’s Hall Edinburgh and it was at the time a startling version of Steve Winwood’s cheesy 80’s pop hit.

Alexander Wolfe – Stuck in September

Playing as part of the bill at Communion record label’s regular slot at the Notting Hill Arts Club, Alexander Wolfe lulled the crowd into a mild stupor with this gentle and somewhat haunting offering. Granted, his sets will never be thrill a minute but he certainly has his appeal.

Matt Corby – Kings, Queens, Beggars and Thieves

This makes the cut purely on grounds that it is a personal favourite of mine. I wasn’t expecting it to be on the set-list but it was and it would be fair to say I was pretty chuffed.

James Vincent McMorrow – Wicked Game (Chris Isaak’s cover)

Stunning. Need I say more?

Bon Iver – The Wolves (Acts I and III)

This first-album-favourite from the Wisconsin folk-sters formed part of their encore and it provided the sort of stunning and dramatic ending the brilliant show deserved.

The Ryder Cup 2012: How the teams match up…

Europe may be the holders going into golf’s bi-annual fun-fair but home advantage tends to prove a huge factor amidst the most dramatic atmosphere that the sport is capable of serving up.

So then, who will prove triumphant at the Medinah Country Club this week?

Ryder Cup 2010Team Europe will be looking to hold onto their crown but the USA will offer a greater challenge this time around

The US are looking as strong as they have done in years with the likes of Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Nick Watney having not even made the cut and Europe too can boast about their chances with three of the world’s top fou ranked players hailing from the continent.

It seems then that things will be very tight in Chicago so in order to try and assess the two sides’ respective chances I have produced a guide to the teams and a run down of their world rankings, form and Ryder Cup records.

Rory McIlroy:

Europe’s top dog is Northern Ireland’s super-talent who has bagged his second major title this year at the PGA as well as a second placed finish in the FedEx Cup series.

World Ranking: 1

Form: 10/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 2 points.

Luke Donald:

‘Luuuuuuuuuuuukkkkkkeeeeee’ as he is affectionately known has had a fantastic couple of years but the past few months haven’t quite hit the heights of the 18 months preceding them. However, a third placed finish at the Tour Championships at the weekend will have provided a timely boost to his confidence.

World Ranking: 3

Form: 7/10

Record: 3 appearances; 11 matches, 8 1/2 points.

Lee Westwood:

Westwood has been one of Europe’s most consitent performers over the past decade and he has tremendous Ryder Cup experience, however, he has really struggled for form in recent months in spite of his world ranking.

World Ranking: 4

Form: 5/10

Record: 7 appearances; 33 matches, 19 points.

Justin Rose:

He is in the form of his life and he is as ready as anybody in Team Europe to face-off against the formidable looking Team USA.

World Ranking: 5

Form: 9/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 3 points.

Martin Kaymer:

He has struggled over the past couple of years since having reached the top of the world rankings but he just about achieved automatic selection to the team and will be hoping to find his best form once again.

World Ranking: 32

Form: 6/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 2 1/2 points

Graeme McDowell:

He was the hero for Team Europe at Celtic Manor in 2010 and he will be chomping at the bit to return to golf’s premiere team event. He is a man built for matchplay in terms of his attitude and demeanour and he will undoubtedly play a huge part in proceedings.

World Ranking: 18

Form: 7/10

Record: 2 appearances; 8 matches, 5 points.

Sergio Garcia:

Having returned to the top table of European golf Sergio Garcia is set to thrill in Ryder Cup golf once again and he has as much to prove as anybody at Medinah.

World Ranking: 19

Form: 7/10

Record: 5 appearances; 24 matches, 16 points

Francesco Molinari:

Molinari lined up alongside his brother Edoardo in Team Europe for the 2010 Ryder Cup but this time he is going it alone and is hoping to end on the winning side once again.

World Ranking: 31

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 3 matches, 1/2 a point.

Peter Hanson:

He is one of the European Tour’s most consistent forces and he also shot into the consciousness of global golf fans with a valiant shot at winning the Masters earlier this season having led going into the final round.

World Ranking: 25

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 3 matches, 1 point.

Paul Lawrie:

Lawrie’s return to the forefront of the global game has been as stunning as it has been unlikely but the ultimate reward for his efforts is his place in Team Europe in a competition he loves playing in.

World Ranking: 28

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearce; 5 matches, 3 1/2 points.

Ian Poulter:

Poulter might not have been at his best this year and may not be the best player in Team Europe on paper but he remains one of the most confident and flamboyant characters in the game and he has a fantastic Ryder Cup record and will expect to be as involved and as successful as anybody in the team.

World Ranking: 26

Form: 7/10

Record: 3 appearances; 11 matches, 8 points.

Nicolas Colsaerts:

Colsaerts has had a really good couple of years off the back of several disappointing campaigns and his rise in fortunes has resulted in a wildcard pick for Team Europe, which will surely rank as his proudest achievement to date.

World Ranking: 35

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Team USA:

Tiger Woods:

He’s back. He might not have won a major since his fall from grace but he has come very close on a couple of occasions this year and his PGA Tour form has been stunning throughout 2012. The Ryder Cup hasn’t been his happiest hunting ground in the past but I wouldn’t be surprised if he bags a few crucial points for his team this time around.

World Ranking: 2

Form: 9/10

Record: 6 appearances; 29 matches, 14 points.

Phil Mickleson: 

‘Lefty’ has been painfully inconsistent over the past couple of seasons but he is still capable of the sublime and he performed strongly throughout the FedEx cup series.

World Ranking: 16

Form: 7/10

Record: 8 appearances; 34 macthes, 14 points.

Bubba Watson:

Having landed his first major title at Augusta people have started to take Bubba a little more seriously and as unconventional as he is he deserves no less than to be regarded as one of world golf’s finest players.

World Ranking: 7

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 1 point.

Webb Simpson:

Having landed his maiden major title many would have expected Simpson to have cemented his place amongst the world’s best players but the past few months since this success have been tough for Simpson as he has struggled to produce his best on a regular basis.

World Ranking: 8

Form: 6/10

Record: Rookie

Jason Dufner:

Jason Dufner has proven over the past two seasons that he can be a regular challenger in major events and now he will be hoping to prove his match-playing talents also.

World Ranking: 9

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Matt Kuchar:

Kuchar is one of world golf’s most solid competitors and possesses very few weaknesses. He could play a huge part if chosen to play alongside one of Team USA’s more flamboyant players.

World Ranking: 15

Form: 6/10

Record:

Keegan Bradley:

Bradley’s stunning victory in the PGA Championship last year, his maiden major tournament appearance, was one of the more extraordinary moments in golf’s rich history and he has proven himself not to be a one hit wonder with a year of consistently competing well on the PGA Tour and by establishing himself in the world’s top 20.

World Ranking: 14

Form: 7/10

Record: Rookie

Zach Johnson:

Johnson has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance over the past couple of years and he has re-established himself as a regular contender in the majors and will be hoping to take this form into the USA’s fight to steal the Ryder Cup from Europe’s grasp.

World Ranking: 17

Form: 7/10

Record: 2 appearances; 7 matches, 2 1/2 points.

Brandt Snedeker:

Has there been anyone who has enjoyed as good a year as Snedeker in 2012? Well, if there is they are few and far between as Snedeker has won the Farmer’s Insurance Open, tied for third at the Open and then won the FedEx Cup in style after triumphing in the Tour Championships as the weekend and bagging himself a double jackpot of over $11 million.

Just to top it off he has been selected as a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup and there will be no player higher on confidence than him going into his rookie appearance in the famous competition.

World Ranking: 10

Form: 10/10

Record: Rookie

Steve Stricker:

It is great testament to Stricker that he has managed to maintain such a high world ranking in what has seemed like a fairly quiet year for the veteran. Even when his long game is letting him down his putting remains immaculate and that could again prove to be a huge asset to Team USA.

World Ranking: 12

Form: 7/10

Record:

Dustin Johnson:

The Medinah Club is theoretically a big-hitter’s paradise and Johnson certainly fits the bill. He may not have achieved automatic qualification but his length of the tee made him impossible to ignore in terms of Davis Love III’s captain’s picks.

World Ranking: 13

Form: 7/10

Record: 1 appearance; 4 matches, 1 point.

Jim Furyk:

Furyk hasn’t played anywhere near as consistently well in recent times as he has become renowned for throughout a great career but he has enormous experience both as a PGA Tour player and as a Ryder Cup competitor and that is exactly why he was chosen in spite of failing to make the team by way of automatic selection.

World Ranking: 23

Form: 6/10

Record: 7 appearances; 27 matches, 10 points.

London 2012: Team GB’s Awards Ceremony

Best Quote:

Nominees: Boris Johnson – “They [the female beach volleyball players] are glistening like wet otters”, Boris Johnson ” ‘Inspire a generation’ is our motto. Not necessarily ‘Create a generation’, which is what they sometimes get up to in the Olympic Village…”, Ben Ainslie – “They’ve made me angry and you don’t want to make me angry”, Lord Coe – “When the time came, Britain, we did it right!”

Ben Ainslie Angry

You don’t want to make him angry…

Winner: Ben Ainslie’s fighting talk

Ben Ainslie’s threat to the rest of the Finn Class field may have sounded a little preposterous at the time but he yet again proved himself a class apart as he recovered a sizeable early deficit in the competition so sufficiently that he went into the final race in pole position and managed to hold on for his fourth gold medal. Like he said, you don’t want to make him angry…

Golden Oldie:

Nominees: William Fox-Pitt, Nick Skelton, Mary King, Greg Searle, Ben Ainslie, Katherine Grainger, Sir Chris Hoy

Winner: Nick Skelton

54 year old Nick Skelton may have narrowly missed out on a gold medal in the individual showjumping competition but in playing a huge part in Team GB’s gold medal winning success in the team competition he proved that he is still a spring chicken at heart.

Most Inspiring Member of Team GB:

Nominees: Jess Ennis (‘The face of the Games’), Anthony Agogo (Won boxing bronze and dedicated his triumph to his hospitalised mother), Nicola Adams (Women’s boxing trailblazer and gold medal winner), Gemma Gibbons (Judo silver Medallist who dedicated her success to her dead mother), Katherine Grainger (Three consecutive Olympic silver medals and now, finally, a gold medallist), Bradley Wiggins (Tour De France winner and now a four time Olympic gold medallist), Sir Chris Hoy (Six time Olympic gold medallist), Tom Daley (Bronze medallist so soon after the death of his beloved father), Joanna Roswell (Alopecia sufferer and now an Olympic gold medallist)

Winner: Nicola Adams

In a home Games that were full of emotion and tales to tell this was undoubtedly one of the most hotly contested categories and I have opted for Adams who endeared herself and her much-maligned sporting discipline to the nation. Before the Games many would have had reservations about women’s boxing but Adams’ bravery and skill turned people’s frowns upside down and she deserves an enormous amount of credit for playing a huge part in convincing the nation and indeed the world into giving the sport a chance and then some… 

Saddest Moment:

Nominees: Zak Purchase and Mark Hunter post-final interview, GB’s lighweight four post-final interview, Gemma Gibbons’ “I love you mum” moment

Winners: Zak Purchase and Mark Hunter

Most Exciting Moment:

Nominees: Mo Farah (Home straight of the 10,000m), Mo Farah (Home straight of the 5,000m), Laura Trott (Final event of the Omnium), Etienne Stott, Tim Bailie, David Florence and Richard Hounslow (C2 Canoe Finale) Peter Wilson (Double Trap Shooting Final), Tom Daley (10m Platform Diving Final), Victoria Pendleton (Individual Sprint)

Mo Farah Mobot

The ‘Mobot’

Winner: Mo Farah (10,000m home straight)

Mo Farah’s double gold medal winning performance at London 2012 was a treat to behold and for me at least his 10,000m race was the most exciting moment of the Games. It put the icing on the cake of an incredible Saturday night in the Olympic Stadium as it was Team GB’s third gold medal in the space of an hour and it was the ‘mo’ment which ensured that that night would forever go down as one of the very finest in British sporting history.

Best Team:

Nominees: Cycling, Rowing, Equestrian, Tennis, Gymnastics, Canoe/Kayak

Winners: Cycling

Gold after gold after gold. Once again the cycling team were unbelievable and there huge level of achievement was made all the more incredible by the heartbreak of Mark Cavendish’s ‘failure’ to live up to the huge weight of expectation on his shoulders when he finished way off the lead in the men’s road race on the first day of the Games. Such was the British cycling team’s success that the French team were crying foul play, accusing Dave Brailsford and his team of cheating by way of having wheels that were unfairly round… 

Biggest Disappointment:

Nominees: Dai Greene, Shanaze Reade, Perri-Shaykes Drayton. Phillips Idowu, GB Relay Teams, GB Swimming Team

Winner: Phillips Idowu

As the Olympic Games have been such an overwhelming success in London and as Team GB have for the most part been terrific it is easy to forget that there have been some major disappointments along the way. The greatest of the disappointments was arguably been Phillips Idowu both in terms of his behaviour in the lead up the Games and then his performance in the Games itself. His ‘invisible man’ act beforehand and his poor performance in the preliminary rounds of the triple jump contest at which he was eliminated will have won him few admirers and one would hope he can find a better performance soon otherwise this will have been a horrible way for one so talented to leave his sport.

Best Celebration:

Nominees: Tom Daley (Pool jump), Mo Farah (The ‘Mo-Bot’), Andy Murray (A la Pat Cash), Sophie Hoskings and Kath Copeland (Kath Copeland’s ‘The face of victory’), Etienne Stott and Tim Bailie (Capsize into the rapids), Jade Jones (Good, old-fashioned scream, roar and phist-pump)

Tom Daley Team GB

Daley’s bronze medal celebration was one of the highlights of the London Games

Winner: Tom Daley (Pool jump)

There was so much reason for celebration within Team GB during Olympic fortnight that it all seems to blend into one but one of the stand-out celebrations of the Games was undoubtedly that of Tom Daley and his diving team mates. Imagine if he’d won gold…!

Superstar in the making:

Nominees: Anthony Joshua (Boxing gold medallist), Laura Trott (Track cycling double gold medallist), Jason Kenny (Track cycling Double Gold Medallist), Lizzie Armitstead (Cycling Road Race Silver Medallist), Alistair Brownlee (Triathlon gold medallist), Adam Gemili (100m semi-finalist), Sophie Hitchon (New British record holder in the hammer throw), Michael Jamieson (Swimming – Breaststroke), Jade Jones (Taekwondo gold medallist)

Winner: Laura Trott

It is hard to see Laura Trott not ending her cycling career amongst the most decorated British Olympians of all time as she has already bagged two golds at the age of 20. If she continues at her current rate then she could well be a ten-time gold medal winner if she carries on until she is Sir Chris Hoy’s current age!

Star Performer:

Nominees: Mo Farah, Jess Ennis, Laura Trott, Jason Kenny, Andy Murray, Sir Chris Hoy

Winner: Mo Farah

There have been almost too many success stories to mention for Team GB and for London over the past few weeks but the stand-out performer of the Games has to be our favourite Somalian born distance runner, Mo Farah.

Farah’s nerve, concentration, strategic nouse and physical strength have peaked at the perfect time and in becoming only the eighth person ever to do the 5,000m and 10,000m double he has written his name into the history books as one of the greatest ever Olympic athletes.

So, huge congratulations are in order to the likes of Jess, Jason, Sir Chris and Laura as well as the rest of Team GB’s medal winners  and emerging talents but perhaps even greater congratulations are due to Mo. He might not have the looks of  our “Face of the Games” Jess Ennis but who can resist a scrawny-looking, bald, bearded man win a penchant for slapping his own slap-head and for performing the now infamous ‘Mo-bot’… Sir Mo, we salute you!

London 2012: My Top 10 Moments Of Week 2

London 2012 Closing Ceremony

London 2012 has sadly come to an end but the following are some of the memories that will last a lifetime…

Andy Murray’s Sweet Revenge:

Just a couple of weeks prior to the Games SW19 played host to Andy Murray’s proudest career achievement to date when he reached his first Wimbledon final and lost valiantly to Roger Federer, but now he can finally say that he has become a champion at Wimbledon.

He still isn’t yet a winner of Wimbledon title ‘proper’ or a Grandslam title but his fantastic performances en route to the Olympic final and then in hammering Federer in the final will have given him an enormous amount of hope in his quest to land a first Slam. It was also fantastic to see him gunning for glory on all fronts as he teamed up with his brother in the men’s doubles and with Laura Robson in the mixed doubles where they landed a deserved silver medal.

Golden Saturday:

Little can be said about Saturday the 4th of August 2012 that hasn’t already been said a thousand times but there is no way it could be left off of this list. 6 golds in one day and three of those in the space of less than an hour in the Olympic Stadium. It was awesome.

Epke Zonderland flies his way to Gold in the Men’s High Bars:

In a week of phenomenal achievements for Team GB it was tempting to fill this list with tales of home glory and triumph but one of my personal highlights of week two came in a somewhat surprising form. In the build-up to the Games I hadn’t exactly set my heart on watching an enormous amount of gymnastics but Team GB’s unbelievable success got me hooked and then a certain Mr. Zonderland  made me really sit up and take note. His High Bars routine was truly a sight to behold and he more than deserved his gold medal. If you haven’t already seen it then please use this link and do so… http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/18903127

Trotty’s Double Gold:

With some of team GB’s more high-profile members such as Jess Ennis, Mo Farah and Sir Chris Hoy delivering in fantastic fashion I felt as if young Laura Trott’s double gold went unfairly a little under the radar as did her boyfriend Jason Kenny’s double gold. Her individual winning performance in the women’s omnium was terrific and she sealed her precious second gold in stunning style by romping to victory in the final event and replacing the experienced American Sara Hammer at the top of the standings.

Ben Ainslie makes it 4 out of 4:

Ainslie yet again did it the hard way as he always seems to do as he once again he came from behind to land a stunning fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal and a third consecutive gold in the Finn class. The man is a legend and one would imagine that a knighthood could well be forthcoming.

Sir Chris replaces Sir Steve at the top of GB’s gold medal winners list:

Chris Hoy London 2012

His Royal Thighness grabbed two golds in what is almost certain to be his last Olympic Games

Chris Hoy’s outstanding performance in the Keirin was arguably the highlight of yet another stunning team performance from Britain’s cyclists at the Olympics and it saw him reach the incredible tally of six golds, one more than Sir Steve Redgrave who provided a very nice touch by going to the Velodrome to congratulate the man who has arguably deposed him as Team GB’s greatest ever Olympian.

Bolt doubles up on all three fronts:

I’m pretty certain that most people would already have regarded Usain Bolt as a legend prior to London but now he himself believes once and for all that he has the right to be called a legend. Once again Jamaica’s finest produced storming performances in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay and his second consecutive triple-gold medal haul silenced all of the doubters who thought he might not be able to match his displays in Beijing. My favourite Bolt moment from the last fortnight though was his homage to home favourite Mo Farah when he performed the ‘Mo-bot’ just after crossing the line for gold in the relay.

Farah Bolt London 2012

‘Mo Bolt’ and ‘Usain Farah’ celebrate their triumphs with each other

Brotherly love in the Triathlon:

For years I have been derogatory about triathlon in order to wind up a friend of mine who is all to keen on the sport but the truth of the matter is that triathlon is an unbelievably demanding discipline and both of the Brownlee brothers are phenomenal athletes. Tuesday’s triathlon drew an enormous crowd, one which  included myself, and Alistair Brownlee’s gold medal winning performance was well worthy of such phenomenal support.

Mo Doubles Up:

Saturday night saw Mo Farah complete arguably the greatest British athletics achievement ever as he landed the 5,000m gold medal to add to the 10,000m gold which he won a week earlier. This achievement has seen Farah soar into the realms of the greatest athletes ever to have competed at the Olympics as only seven people have ever done the long distance double at the Games.

Stephen Kiprotich defies the odds to bring glory to Uganda:

Kiprotich Marathon Winner

Stephen Kiprotich took an unlikely victory in Sunday’s showpiece event

Uganda are traditionally one of the least successful competing nations at the Olympic Games and until yesterday they were still without a medal at London 2012. However, on the final day of the Games Kiprotich stepped up to the plate and beat the favourites from Africa’s distance running strongholds Ethiopia and Kenya en route to winning the marathon and becoming not just Uganda’s first medal winner of the Games but also Uganda’s first gold medal winner in 40 years. This was a staggering achievement for one so young and it was deserving of the traditionally special medal ceremony that the marathon receives in the closing ceremony.

London 2012: 100m Men’s Prediction

The Semi-Finals:

Semi-Final 1 Winner: Justin Gatlin in around 9.85

Semi-Final 1 Runner-Up: Asafa Powell in around 9.90

Semi-Final 2 Winner: Usain Bolt in around 9.80-9.85

Semi-Final 2 Runner-Up: Daniel Bailey in around 9.85

Gemili Olympics

I have an inkling that Gemili will run his first sub-10 second time in the 100m and will get into contention for a place in the final

Semi-Final 3 Winner: Yohan Blake in 9.80

Semi-Final 3 Runner-Up: Tyson Gay in 9.85-9.90

Fastest Losers: Richard Thompson in around 9.90 (Semi-Final 2) and then either one of Adam Gemili, Dwain Chambers or Keston Bledman in around 9.95

In short, I think that all the usual suspects will advance to the final as well as young talents Ryan Bailey and perhaps even Adam Gemili. If events on the track so far are anything to go by then I have a feeling that the home crowd could inspire either one of Gemili or Dwain Chambers to make the final as one of the fastest losers from the semis.

I think Yohan Blake, Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt will set the tone for medal-winning finishes in the final with victories in each of their semi-finals and I think that each of their times will crank up into the region of 9.80-8.85 seconds as they start to move through the gears of the competition.

The Final:

Gold: Yohan Blake in around 9.65

Silver: Usain Bolt in around 9.65-9.70

Bronze: Justin Gatlin in around 9.75

Fourth: Asafa Powell

Bolt and Blake

Will Bolt hold onto his 100m crown or will the young pretender Yohan Blake pip him to the post?

Fifth: Tyson Gay

Sixth: Ryan Bailey

Seventh: Richard Thompson

Eighth: Adam Gemili/Dwain Chambers/Keston Bledman (Second fastest loser from the Semi-Finals)

You heard it hear first: Usain Bolt will ‘only’ win a silver medal! You can never rule out Bolt, I know that of course, and I am not ruling him out. I think the pace of the final will be very decent and I think it will be either Blake or Bolt that win it in around 9.65 seconds but for the sake of interest and in aid of backing up what I have been saying to anyone who will listen for months I have gone for Blake to win.

I then think their will be a real dog-fight for the Bronze medal in a time of 9.75-9.80 seconds with Justing Gatlin pipping Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay and Ryan Bailey in the battle for a third-placed finish.

Whether Bolt wins tonight or not, tonight is sure to be another historic night for both British and World athletics so sit back, relax (if you can…) and enjoy another sporting feast.

London 2012: My Top 10 Moments Of The Opening Week

France Win 4x100m Freestyle Gold:

France Swimming London 2012

The French quartet shocked everybody in the relay as they defeated the USA and Australia

In what was billed the battle of the USA and outsiders Australia, the tables of swimming superiority were momentarily turned and the French took a remarkable victory. Everybody loves an underdog even if it is the French…

Grainger’s Gold At Last:

Grainger Watkins London 2012

Ably supported by team mate Anna Watkins, Kath Grainger finally got her hands on a gold medal

When she managed ‘only’ a silver in Beijing it looked as though Kath Grainger might never achieve a gold medal at an Olympic Games and as she put it before breaking down into a flood of tears she looked to destined to be “always the bridesmaid and never the bride.”

However, Friday morning’s terrific performance alongside the magnificent Anna Watkins saw her finally achieve the gold she so deserved and how she managed to hold herself together so well I’ll never know. Well done Kath, you are the bride after all!

Sir Chris Makes It 5:

Amidst the drama and disappointment of Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton’s disqualification on the first evening of Velodrome action, Sir Chris Hoy and his trusty team sprint team mates Jason Kenny and Phillip Hindes triumphed in their final breaking the World Record along the way.

Hoy fifth gold

Sir Chris brought home GB’s WR breaking team pursuit effort

This success was Chris Hoy’s fifth Olympic gold medal and the scenes it prompted inside the Velodrome were about as euphoric as the games has served up so far.

King-Size Judo Battle:

If you haven’t seen this already then please just take a look at this link and enjoy…

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/19109181

Still Life In The ‘Old’ Dog:

On the opening night of the games Michael Phelps managed only a fourth placed finish in his first final and this result was made all the more startling by the fact that it was his fellow US star Ryan Lochte who bagged the gold medal. This triumph for Lochte led to him being asked in a post-race interview if 2012 was his time and his games and he answered “Well… Yeah… I guess so…”

Phelps Greatest Ever Olympian

Phelps had a sluggish start to his last Games but he has since stormed back to multiple gold medal winning success

However, the greatest Olympian of all time has had something to say about that and he has out-‘golded’ him so far this games and in doing so has kindly reminded Lochte (who for the record I cannot stand…) that for this week at least he still has some serious competition.

Gold-Silver Finish For Britain’s Men In The C2 Slalom:

Team GB flourished in the two-man canoeing discipline

Going into the finals of the C2 hopes were hight that one of the two British pairings might manage to get in the mix for a medal winning finish but a GB 1-2 was never really though to be on the radar.

It was a staggering performance from both pairs and the two medals captured for Team GB contributed to a mad five minutes in which Peter Wilson also showed phenomenal nerve to grab a shooting gold to make it three medals in five minutes for us Brits.

British Men’s Gymnastic Get Team Bronze:

Team GB came within a judge’s review of a silver medal in the team competition

Having gone into the team event in the gymnastics with hopes higher than ever before and aiming for a top five finish, our men’s squad excelled beyond belief and ended up getting themselves an awe-inspiring Bronze medal.

The Olympic Games are all about triumph in the face of adversity and performing to the very limit of your abilities and this success was the very epitome of such sentiment. I never though it would have been the case but their battle for a medal was probably my highlight of the first week of Olympic action and they came agonisingly close to bettering their final position with only a judge’s review denying them the silver medal.

South Africa Get Gold In The Lightweight Four:

South Africa’s first ever rowing old may have come at GB’s expense but it still made for fantastic viewing

Before this historic race South Africa had never before won a rowing gold but their staggering late burst in the lightweight fours earned them an awesome victory at the expense of the GB crew who were narrowly squeezed out into the silver medal position in the final few metres.

The South Africans were never meant to win this race but they did and they more than deserved to on the day even though it was heartbreaking to see our boys lose out so narrowly in a race they were very confident of winning beforehand.

Wiggo Rides His Way Into The History Books:

Having fought manfully for Mark Cavendish’s failed crack at winning gold in the men’s road race, Bradley Wiggins had to lift himself for Wednesday’s time trial and he did just that.

Wiggo Gold

Britain’s greatest ever Olympian?

His staggering victory by over forty seconds saw him win his fourth Olympic gold and his seventh Olympic medal in total and these achievements coupled with his historic triumph in the the Tour De France have put him right up there in contention to be thought of as Britain’s greatest ever sportsman. Arise Sir Brad….

Jess Ennis Blowing Away The Field In The 100m Hurdles:

At the time of writing this piece Jess Ennis has now built on her brilliant start to the heptathlon and has just one event remaining in her quest for an Olympic gold and looks set to close the deal with a fair amount of ease in tonight’s 800m.

Ennis Heptathlon Gold

Ennis’ awesome opening run in the hurdles catapulted her into the record books and straight o the top of the heptathlon standings

But in terms of the first week of the games she had only completed four of her seven events and the first of these, the 100m hurdles, saw her start her campaign in phenomenal fashion allaying any fears about her being overcome by the huge pressure of being the ‘face of the games’.

Her time of 12.54 seconds would have seen her in a photo finish for Olympic gold in the women’s 100m hurdles as an individual discipline in Beijing in 2008 and it was also the fastest hurdles time ever run by a British woman. This was an incredible start to her Games and it set the tone beautifully for the rest of her competition.

Bittersweet Weekend on the Road Continues Cycling Fever across GB

Following Danny Boyle’s brilliantly bonkers Opening Ceremony on Friday night, hopes were high across Britain that one of our glory boys of recent times would cash-in on the wave of euphoria and kick-start our Olympic campaign with a gold medal. Sadly though, Saturday’s Men’s Cycling Road Race failed to deliver the result we were all hoping for when our great hope Mark Cavendish failed to ever seriously threaten a podium finish.

However, from the ashes of Cav’s failed attempt to get Team GB off the mark rose Lizzie Armitstead’s quite magnificent ride to a silver medal finish in the Women’s Road Race and this first medal of the Games was arguably made all the sweeter by the disappointment that Cavendish, his team mates and the entire sporting fan-base of Great Britain had suffered on the opening day.

Armitstead Silver Medal

The whole of GB was holding out for a Cavendish victory in the Men’s Road Race but instead we were able to celebrate a silver in the Women’s race for Lizzie Armitstead

I was one of many who was fortunate enough to see first hand the efforts both of the men and of the women in the road races and having never been a real fan of cycling before recent British successes (call me a glory supporter if you will…) I must admit that I am well on the path to conversion.

Don’t get me wrong, you are unlikely to find me gripped to my television screen watching road cycling events all year round but the monumental achievements of the likes of Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Lizzie Armitstead on the road over the past couple of years have certainly gone a long way towards inspiring a passion within me for the sport as a whole.

In order to break the back of learning both to watch and to enjoy road cycling I have found it helpful to compare it to test cricket which is a sporting discipline I have always had an enormous affection for.

Sure, some stages of test cricket can be an absolute bore as can some stages of the Tour De France but the beauty of both comes in the moments of sheer excitement that emerge from these lengthy spells of monotony and tedium.

Just as Cavendish’s disappointment made Armitstead’s success so thrilling, the dull and at times dismal periods of test cricket and road cycling make the great spells of play all the more memorable.

I can accept that road cycling will never be on a par with something like the 100m sprint at the Olympics in terms of sheer and complete excitement but where it does excel is in it’s ability to drag viewers through the seemingly more boring moments with captivating tactical battles which can only be fully appreciated as a result of an increased understanding.

Until recently I have never tried to properly understand the real gritty and at times enthralling tactical side to top-level cycling and though I am a million miles away from being an expert on the subject now, my knowledge has certainly improved and I can say with undoubted integrity that I am much more appreciative of the skill of road cycling for having spent some time taking an active interest in it.

It is also immensely helpful to me as a spectator of road cycling that I have now had the opportunity to see before my very eyes the world’s finest road cyclists’s taking on roads and landscapes with which I am well acquainted. Even if the route had taken in merely 250 km of straightforwards roads in my local area I would have gained a greater appreciation for their talents for having a more enhanced knowledge of the route, but for the male competitors in particular to have had to conquered Box Hill nine times in a row in the middle of their race is truly phenomenal and it has earned all my respect.

I myself am sporty and would consider myself to be reasonably fit but I would happily wager that I couldn’t manage one round of Box Hill in isolation without doing myself a serious mischief along the way. So, for them to have completed nine straight circuits of the area as just the focal point of their gruelling ride is totally astounding as it is a tricky enough ascent when walking on foot let alone when trying to force an unwilling bike up there.

As for the women’s race, they may only have had to conquer Box Hill twice in a shortened version of the men’s route but I have a very sizeable amount of respect for their efforts too in what was still an enormously demanding race which was also played out in some of Britain’s very filthiest summertime weather, unlike the men’s race which was awash with sunshine.

As I mentioned I was road side to see Armitstead and co whizz down Hampton Court Way on their route back towards The Mall and as I stood observing the latter stages of the race the conditions ranged from bellowing thunder, to huge bolts of lightning and then most joyously of all to a storm of hailstones.

That spell of vile weather was enough to make me feel terribly sorry for myself for just having to stand there getting soaked and stung by the hail let alone cycle into it at 50 kph for hours on end. Therefore I have nothing but the highest of praise and admiration for Lizzie Armitstead as she rustled up a whole lifetime’s worth of my capacity for bravery and resolve in just one day of phenomenal effort on the roads of London and Surrey.

Though Team GB’s plans may have gone a little awry in the men’s race, the women’s plans were implemented and executed superbly off the back of the knowledge provided by the previous day’s efforts and Lizzie Armitstead demonstrated tremendous skill, power and determination to force home a splendid finish and to grab a hold of Team GB’s first medal of our third Olympic Games.

Armitstead’s awesome show on the roads will undoubtedly see her go down in pub quiz folklore for the rest of her existence and beyond and the honour of becoming Team GB’s first medalist of our home games must surely be beyond her comprehension.

Hopefully over the next few days Armitstead’s opening medal for Team GB will inspire further success both on the bikes and in the many other varied sporting disciplines in which we are battling for medal success and just as an aside, congratulations to Rebecca Adlington for facing up to the enormous weight of expectation in grabbing a bronze medal in the Women’s 400m Freestyle. It has been a slow start for Team GB but the best is still to come…

Wimbledon 2012: Piecing Together The Tournament’s Best Male Player

Every year our TV screens are awash with a Stat-Attack throughout Wimbledon fortnight so I have used the official Wimbledon statistics website to piece together the men’s tournaments most successful players in all areas of the game and tried to come up with a resulting amalgamation of a player that would be unbeatable on the courts of the All England Club. Here goes nothing…

Federer wins Wimbledon

Roger now has seven titles to his name at Wimbledon and he features heavily in the component list for my imaginary hybrid player…

Serving Power: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga topped the charts with the tournament’s fastest individual serve when he rattled an 140 mph-er past Andy Murray in the Semi-Finals.

Aces: Philipp Kolschreiber produced the most aces in tournament with an impressive total of 98 at an average of around 20 per match on his journey to the Quarter-Finals where he was beaten by Tsonga.

Serving Accuracy: The tournament’s highest serving accuracy statistic belongs to Albert Montanes who landed 80% of his 1st serves in play. The Spaniard did however have little else to cheer about in his tournament as he fell at the very first hurdle.

Winning Points On 1st Serve: The big-serving Croat Ivo Karlovic produced a percentage of first serve points won of 86%, which is hardly surprising given the speed and angle his enormous frame helps him generate when his first serves find their required destinations.

Winning Points On 2nd Serve: Ernest Gulbis produced the tournament’s finest record in terms of winning points on his own 2nd serve with an impressive 66%. Sadly though this impressive stat couldn’t save him from an early second round exit from the competition.

Winning Points Against The 1st Serve: The now seven-time champion of the All England Club, Roger Federer, managed an impressive tournament topping total of 186 points won against his opponents 1st serves, which is of course a statistic aided by the fact that he played more matches than any other player in the tournament other than Andy Murray who also played seven times but his average of around 27 points won against the first serve per match is also superior to all other players in the draw.

Winning Points Against The 2nd Serve: Andy Murray, the beaten finalist at this year’s championships, topped the charts in this category with an enormous tally of 192 points won against his opponents 2nd serves throughout the tournament. His nearest challenger in this category was Federer who beat him in the final but the gap between the two in this department was a gaping 40 points.

Break Points Won: The tournament’s most prolific breaker of serve was unsurprisingly it’s champion, Roger Federer. Rodge notched up 38 breaks of serve in his seven matches in the tournament, 8 more breaks than his nearest challenger both in this category and in the tournament as a whole, Andy Murray, who managed 30 breaks of serve.

Break Point Conversion: Without a pause for thought you might just assume that the tournament’s strongest performers in this department would have the highest percentage of break point conversion but actually logic prevails and two first-round flops Simone Bolelli and Thomas Berdych share the honour of having converted 100% of their break points in the Championships. This, if you think about it, is an unsurprising outcome as they only managed one break a-piece in their only matches of the tournament.

(All stats provided by the official Wimbledon website: http://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/scores/extrastats/rally_count_ms.htm

The Conclusion:

So, according the official stats for the tournament the make-up of this year’s perfect men’s player at Wimbledon would be the serving power of Tsonga, the Ace-making ability of Kolschreiber, the 1st serve accuracy of Montanes, the 1st serve points conversion of  Karlovic, the 2nd serve points conversion of Gulbis, the 1st serve returning talents of Roger Federer, the 2nd serve returning talents of Andy Murray, Federer’s prolific serve-breaking powers and finally the break point conversion and ruthlessness of Berdych and Bolelli.

Unsurprisingly, it is Federer that has dominated proceedings in the creation of this Wimbledon ruling hybrid player make-up but there were also a fair few surprises thrown into the mix. The fact that Federer topped the most categories though goes a long way towards explaining why he won his seventh Wimbledon crown and why he could yet go on to win even more, he has an exceptional all-round game and over the past fortnight very few challengers have been able to live with him! Surely, he can for now be labelled at very least the equal best player of all time?


Euro 2012: My Team of the Tournament

Last night’s resounding 4-0 win for Spain sealed their third straight major tournament victory and furthered their case to be considered the greatest international team of all time and as such it is no surprise at all that they have dominated my team of the tournament.

Spain Win Euros

Spain answered their critics with an outstanding performance en-route to a 4-0 win in last night’s final

The team is as follows…

Formation: (4-3-3)

Iker Casillas:

It is very hard to argue with Casillas’ stunning record of five clean-sheets in six games and with him now homing in on a staggering 140 caps  for his country one might be forgiven for thinking that he could yet go on to reach an even more unbelievable total of over 200 caps! His form has been terrific and he has fully justified his continuing superiority over and above the likes of Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes in Spain’s goalkeeping pecking order which is littered with an embarrassment of riches.

Mathieu Debuchy:

Until he was played out of position in the quarter-final against Spain, Debuchy had looked a very useful attacking right back and it is easy to see why several clubs appear to be interested in acquiring his services in time for the new season.

Mats Hummels:

Having heard much about Hummels’ development at Borussia Dortmund but having not actually seen much of him play myself I looked forward to seeing what he had to offer and he didn’t let me down. He looks strong, comfortable on the ball and very assured in the challenge whether it be aerial or on the deck and I think he proved that he has the makings of one the world’s finest centre-halves.

Sergio Ramos:

Ramos may have spent much of his career as a right back but he looked very assured in the central role and he grew in stature throughout the tournament. His contribution to five straight clean-sheets was immense and it will be hard to see Carles Puyol getting his place back in the side if he were to choose to keep playing international football.

Jordi Alba:

Alba deserves a place in this side even if only for the remarkable off the ball run he produced to score the second goal in the final. He has had a fine tournament and he deserves an enormous amount of praise not only for his attacking value at full-back but also for proving that his defensive abilities are right up there too.

Xabi Alonso:

I think Alonso might well be the most underrated player in the Spanish side. As well as providing a tremendous work-rate and a bit of steel in the Spain’s sextet of midfielders, his passing ability sometimes goes under the radar when playing alongside the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas but it is supremely good over both short and long distances. Alonso also deserves great credit for his two well taken goals in the game against France and the composure he demonstrated in scoring his penalty in the semi-final shootout with Portugal.

Bastien Schweinsteiger:

Like Alonso, Schweinsteiger gets through a hell of a lot of work in the ‘engine room’ of his side’s midfield and his ability to play a slick, slide-rule pass is second to none (…well, very few anyway…) Gomez’s prowess in front of goal impressed in the group stages for the Germans and it was  mainly Schweinsteiger’s hard work which earned the front man his best opportunities.

Andrea Pirlo:

If it weren’t for the outcome of the final then he would be a runaway winner of the player of the tournament award as he was at the heart of all that was great about a surprisingly strong showing from an Italian side that few people fancied to make a huge impact on this tournament. Against England and Germany in particular Pirlo played wonderfully well from deep in the Italian midfield and his exemplary displays of passing football demonstrated exactly what many of the sides at this tournament lack; a midfielder with so much class and ability that they can create space for themselves and dictate the play from multiple positions on the field.

Andres Iniesta:

Iniesta had a fabulous tournament and even though he may not have scored any goals he was a constant threat to all opposition that Spain came up against and the pressure built by his passing play and smart movement contributed significantly to Spain’s third straight major tournament success. He has been named the player of the tournament by Uefa having not managed to get himself on the scoresheet at any point in the tournament and this speaks volumes about his contributions.

Cristiano Ronaldo:

Love him or hate him, you have to respect him. I definitely and unashamedly veer on the side of ‘love him’ and was pleased to see him have a major impact on a major tournament in international football, as it has put many of his doubters to shame and it demonstrated that he does indeed possess the leadership skills necessary to captain a Portugal side who impressed throughout much of this tournament. He may not quite have inspired his side to make it all the way to the final but he goes home with a share of the ‘golden boot’ award having bagged three goals.

Mario Balotelli:

As is the case with Ronaldo you may well love or hate Balotelli, but regardless of which side of the fence you sit on it is hard to deny that he isn’t a joy to watch one way or another. Throughout lengthy periods of this tournament Balotelli was superb and his behaviour was generally pretty decent by his standards which perhaps showed signs of increased maturity in the unpredictable young front-man. He too will return home with a share of the ‘golden boot’ and one would hope that he can look back on this tournament as the start of a more consistent and reliable stage of his developing career.