Welcome to this week’s Olympics+ column. As I indicated last week, I can’t keep up with all the stories and results from the Olympics, but I would be remiss if I didn’t report on some of my favourites. So, as well as my highs and lows from the first Olympic week, I also have stories from tennis, cricket, football, sailing and sports politics.
So let’s plunge straight in!
It may just be my age, but top of my list is Kristin Armstrong’s win in the time trial on 10 August. At a mere 42 years, 364 days, she won her third Olympic time trial title in a row in a time of 44:26.42, five seconds ahead of Russian Olga Zabelinskaya in second. Anna van der Breggen, who won the road race earlier in the week, took the bronze. In difficult wet and windy conditions Armstrong looked strongest and most able to cope.
And while we’re on the subject of age, what about 41-year old gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, who competed in her seventh Olympic Games this week? She won her first medal in 1992, a team gold for the Unified Team (former USSR). She competed for Germany in 2008, winning a silver in the vault. She now competes for Uzbekistan. There are some great pictures of her with her 17-year old son! Inspirational! At Rio she qualified for the individual vault and finished fifth.
The US gymnastics team wowed everyone this week with their power, talent, grace and style, fitting winners of the team event. Pity the NBC commentator said, when they were having a group discussion, “They might as well be in a mall.” Yes, because that’s all women are interested in.
Another high for me was been Sally Conway’s silver medal in the judo -70kg class. She was very unlucky to lose the semi-final to Colombian Yuri Alvear but came good in the bronze medal match against Bernadette Graf of Austria, winning by a single yuko to nil.
Finally, the phenomenon that is rugby sevens. Making its first appearance in the Olympic Games this year, the tournament has been a feast of fast-flowing, attacking, heart-pounding athleticism. Australia won the tournament, beating New Zealand in the gold medal match 24-17. The Australians outscored the Black Ferns by four tries to three. Crucially, two of the tries were scored when Portia Woodman was in the sin bin. Woodman still finished top of the try-scoring tree with ten.
Canada took the bronze, beating Great Britain by 33-10. This was a real disappointment for Emily Scarratt’s side which had thrashed the same team in the pool match, 22-0.
All in all a brilliant entry into the Olympic timetable.
And possible British highlights to come include the rowing, track cycling, athletics, hockey, sailing, and it goes on…..
Top of everyone’s low has to be the crash suffered by Annamiek van Vleuten in the road race on Sunday 7 August. I bet I wasn’t the only one to shed a tear as she lay motionless on the side of the road. The fact that we didn’t get any further information for some time heightened the horrible worry of it all. The rest of the event was a bit of a blur. Happy to say that although Annamiek remains in hospital in Rio, she is improving. It was amazing when she tweeted that she had suffered
“a few injuries and fractures” as if it was nothing. Mind you, I’m not sure I would have borne this tweet with which a kindly chap replied;
“First lesson in bicycling, keep your bike steady…whether fast or slow”.
Gee thanks Martin. That’s a real help; that would never have occurred to me.
Not wanting to sound grouchy about it, but there have been some hideous examples of sexist reporting already, most of which would make classic entries into the “And finally” annals of this column.
The NBC network in the USA is a particular favourite in this category as we have already seen with the “mall” comment:
Of star swimmer Katie Ledecky,
“some people say she swims like a man”
Of star gymnast Simone Biles
“I think she might even go higher than some of the men”
On Hungarian star swimmer, Katinka Hosszu, after she broke the 400m medley world record,
“Here’s the person responsible” (her husband and coach)
And my personal favourite, NBC’s Chief Marketing Officer, John Miller, on the reason for their broadcast delays;
“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and minseries wrapped into one….”
But the ultimate prize goes to the Chicago Tribune. Corey Codgell, a local sportswoman, won bronze in Rio in the trap shooting. Her reward, a tweet from her local paper, the Tribune;
“Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics”.
Need I say more? Classy.
Any woman competing in a hijab has been under scrutiny, particularly when it can be illustrated in such hilarious term of cover-up v bikini at the beach volleyball.
And, somewhat disappointingly, there has been some degree of homophobic chanting, particularly at the football. It has largely been aimed at the USA team, which does contain some lesbian athletes, but the chant of “bicha” seems aimed at them all.
So let’s see what week two brings; some fantastic sport certainly, some distinctly unprofessional comments, probably, but no doubt we’ll all be there glued to the action.
Away from the Olympics, a stranger-than-fiction story broke earlier this week when it was suggested that the police are investigating an allegation that British tennis player, Gabriella Taylor, was poisoned during the Junior Wimbledon championships in June.
Taylor withdrew from the tournament during her quarter-final match after succumbing to a mystery illness, spending four days in intensive care, where she was, according to her mother, “close to death”.
Taylor finally returned to training this week.
The police investigation is ongoing.
Plenty of cricket news to report this week as the KSL is now in full swing. With only five games to go in the pool stage, things are hotting up and by the end of the weekend we will know who will be at Finals Day on 21st August in Chelmsford. There have been some excellent tight games as well as some one-sided ones, but generally the standard of cricket has been good with plenty of county cricketers making a contribution as well as the more famous England players or international names.
Sunday 7 August
Surrey Stars v Western Storm
Stars 161/6 (20 Overs)
Storm 165/5 (19.4 overs)
Storm won by 5 wickets
What a stunning game! Stars have seriously under-performed so far in this tournament so when they hit 161 off their 20, they must have thought their form was about to change. Captain Nat Sciver hit a wonderful 90 not out, but she had precious little back-up from the lower order.
But they didn’t reckon on Stafanie Taylor. When tweeting about this game I ran out of “wows “. Storm got off to a terrible start and were 17/3 in the fourth over. Captain, and in-form all-rounder Heather Knight was dismissed cheaply for just six. Enter Taylor. She and South African Lizelle Lee put on 76 for the fourth wicket before Lee was caught by Sciver off the bowling of Tahuhu for 53. Georgia Hennessey went for just one, but then Taylor and Sophie Luff put on an unbeaten stand of 71 to take the game away from Surrey. Taylor’s innings contained six 4s and five 6s.
Unlucky for Sciver to be on the losing side after such a great innings of 90.
Monday 8 August
Southern Vipers v Yorkshire Diamonds
Vipers 118/4 (20 overs)
Diamonds 64 all out (16.3 overs)
Vipers won by 54 runs and take a bonus point
Southern Vipers were unbeaten coming into this match and favourites to top the table.
They batted first at the Ageas Bowl and would have been expected to make a big score against the badly-performing Diamonds. But when Charlotte Edwards was caught behind off her first ball from Katherine Brunt, it could have been a different story. Collis, McGlashan and Greenway all followed cheaply and it was left to opener Suzie Bates and former England all-rounder Arran Brindle to build a partnership.
Scoring was difficult on a slow pitch, but the pair worked hard, taking the Vipers to a satisfactory total of 118 with both Bates and Brindle finishing unbeaten on 45.
But, as all cricket fans will know, you can’t judge a total until both sides have batted. At the half-way stage the Vipers could have no idea that their 118 would be more than enough to take the win.
Diamonds have seriously under-performed in this tournament and against the Vipers their batting was abject. The only batter to make double figures was Beth Mooney with 17. Best bowling figures were for Berkshire player Linsey Smith who took 4/10 off her four overs. She was backed up by Bates and Nielsen who took two wickets each.
Tuesday 9 August
Surrey Stars v Lancashire Thunder
Thunder 102/9 (20 overs)
Surrey 106/3 (15.2 overs)
Stars won by 7 wickets with 28 balls remaining
Lancashire have had an up and down tournament, to say the least. Batting first at Guildford they lost Hayley Matthews for a duck after just two balls.
Emma Lamb, Amy Satterthwaite and Laura McLeod tried to take it on. Lamb scored 27 and McLeod 17, but it was Satterthwaite who showed the way, scoring an unbeaten 34. Unfortunately, she ran out of partners, with both Dottin and Wyatt out for ducks and no-one else getting into double figures. They limped to a disappointing 102.
England spinner Alex Hartley took 3/11 off four while Marizanne Kapp took 2/ 18 from her four.
In response the Stars cruised to the total with 28 balls to spare. Tammy Beaumont scored an unbeaten 45, with contributions of Bryony Smith with 30 and Nat Sciver with 14.
In other KSL cricket news, the ECB announced this week that they would be creating KSL Regional Development Centres. They will start this autumn and will provide coaching for up to 120 girls under the age of 16.
This will replace the England Women’s Development Programme for under 15s. It is hoped that the result will be a stream of talent that will play for both county and KSL.
Sport England is contributing significant funds to the scheme as part of their “Reward and Incentive Programme”.
While we love to see any investment in women’s cricket, I still fear for the future of county cricket as more and more emphasis is placed on the KSL, particularly when the 50-over competition begins next season.
South Africa won their four-match ODI series against Ireland 3-1.
They took an unassailable 3-0 lead, before Ireland claimed a consolation win on Thursday 11.
1st ODI, 5 August
South Africa 283/7 (50 overs)
Ireland 194 all out (44.5 overs)
South Africa won by 89 runs
2nd ODI, 7 August
South Africa 272/6 (50 overs)
Ireland 204 all out (48.2 overs)
South Africa won by 68 runs
3rd ODI, 9 August
South Africa 260/6 (50 overs)
Ireland 193 all out (45 overs)
South Africa won by 67 runs
Notable because Laura van Wolvaardt became the youngest South African player (male or female) to score a hundred. The 17-year old scored 105 in her team’s series clinching win. Sune Luus also picked up her second five-for in three games with 5/32 off 10 overs.
4th ODI, 11 August
South Africa 143 all out (46.4 overs)
Ireland 146/3 (36.1 overs)
Ireland won by 7 wickets
For the fourth time in a row South Africa batted first, but this time Ireland performed beautifully with both bat and ball to take the consolation win. Kim Garth and Ciara Metcalfe took three wickets each to restrict the Proteas to 143 and Isobel Joyce scored an unbeaten 62 to win by seven wickets with 14 overs to spare.
The Continental Cup semi-finalists have been decided this week and among the quarter-finals there was an interesting ”first” when Manchester City Women became the first club to stream a game live on Facebook . The club has 4.5 million likes on its Facebook page. They played Doncaster Belles in the Continental Cup quarter-final on Sunday 7 August.
First team to qualify for the semi-finals was Arsenal:
Friday 5 August
Arsenal Ladies 3 – 2 Notts County Ladies
Fara Williams converted a last minute penalty at the Hive to send Arsenal through to the semi-finals of the Continental Cup.
The home side took the lead in the eighth minute through a Casey Stoney header, but it was level at half-time when Fern Whelan headed in from Jo Potter’s free kick.
Notts County star striker, Jess Clarke came on after the break and scored just seven minutes into the second half, making the score 2-1.
But with just eight minutes to go, Arsenal sub Kelly Smith struck from 20 yards to equalise.
The momentum was with Arsenal and when County conceded the penalty there was only going to be one result.
Sunday 7 August
Birmingham City Ladies 0-0 Liverpool Ladies
Birmingham won 1-0 after extra time
Both sides had chances in regular time at Solihull Moors, but the deadlock was not to be broken.
But it was Birmingham who went all-out in extra time and they were rewarded in the final added minute of extra time injury time (!) when Coral-Jade Haines put the ball past Siobhan Chamberlain to claim the win.
Manchester City Women 4-1 Doncaster Rovers Belles
Manchester City are looking invincible on all fronts. It may have been 38 minutes before they took the lead, but after they did the result was never going to be in doubt.
The league leaders’ first goal came through Izzy Christiansen in the 38th minute, but they didn’t score a second until the 78th when the in-form Georgia Stanway made it two. Belles pulled one back Marta Bakowska-Mathews just two minutes later, but City were not be outdone.
Two late goals from Toni Duggan and Jane Ross flattered the home side somewhat, but they were easily too strong for a Belles side hit by injuries.
Sheffield FC Ladies 0-2 London Bees
It’s good to see some different names doing well in the cup. London Bees’ surprise win over Chelsea in the last round obviously buoyed them up significantly as they went into this quarter-final.
After a goalless first half, Ashleigh Goddard scored the first for Bees in the 63rd minute with Evie Clarke making sure of the win with a last-minute goal.
This win meant the Bees are the first WSL2 side to reach a Continental Cup semi-final.
There has only been one FAWSL fixture this week:
Doncaster Rovers Belles 0-4 Manchester City Women
For the second time in week, City put four past a luckless Belles side to keep up their winning run in the top flight.
Jane Ross scored for the leaders in the first minute, with Izzy Christiansen adding a second on the 15 minute mark.
In the second half Lucy Bronze stuck the ball away from a Toni Duggan cross and substitute Daphne Corboz sealed the win with a fourth in the 89th minute.
The Belles are still looking for their first league win of the season.
It has been Cowes Week this week so Abby Ehler has been a tiny bit busy! You’ll be glad to know, though, that she’s agreed to write a piece on how it all went, which will appear in next week’s column.
Two pieces of sports politics this week (if everything else isn’t political):
Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud of Saudi Arabia has vowed to involve women in her country in sport.
Her plans include licensing women’s gyms and modifying outdoor spaces so that they are suitable for women to train and play in. She will also look at the recruitment of female coaches, putting women’s toilet and changing facilities in public spaces and the design of sports clothes in line with traditional rules.
The Princess is tipped to take a post at the Saudi General Sports Authority next month and if she does, this could mean a sea-change in the way sport for women is perceived in Saudi Arabia. She is currently in Rio supporting the four-strong women’s Saudi team (up two from London 2012).
Russian double Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva has announced that she is going to run for president of the Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF).
“The chance to help Russian athletes return to the elite is a huge motivation for me,”
“It will be some sort of compensation for not being able to compete in Rio. I want our athletes to take part in international competitions,” she said.
She is looking to replace Dimitri Shlyakhtin when he retires from the role in November.
A couple of different “And finally” pieces this week, in that it’s two campaigns which my readers can get involved in. Firstly, there is a petition out there to try to get the international basketball governing body (Fiba) to allow Muslim players to play in a hijab. The petition was started by Asma Elbadawi, Sudanese player and coach who lives in West Yorkshire and argues that the hijab, turbans and other religious headwear pose no threat to the safety of players. FiFA has already removed its opposition to the wearing of such headwear. The petition has garnered 90,000 signatures so far. If you would like to sign it, here’s the link: https://www.change.org/p/fiba-federation-international-basketball-association-fiba-allow-hijab?source_location=movement
Another campaign underway is that to get netball into the Olympic Games. Netball has never even been a demonstration sport and it’s high time that it was included. Over 80 million people worldwide play the sport. The hashtag to follow on social media is #whynotnetball and again, if you would like to support this campaign by signing the petition, please follow the link: https://www.change.org/p/international-olympic-committee-include-netball-in-the-tokyo-2020-olympics