Thursday, December 4, 2014

Review: The Breakaway from Olympic cyclist Nicole Cooke

Nicole Cooke wins Gold at Beijing PIC AP via The Telegraph
Do you know Nicole Cooke? You should if you have or want to have an interest in women’s sport, but especially if you’re interested in clean sport.

The Welsh cyclist retired last year with a screamer of a retirement statement laying bare the hypocrisy of doping and blatant discrimination against female riders. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for the sports fan in your life, a copy of “The Breakaway” will ignite a few fireside chats.

So who is Cooke? Starting in 1994 with British Youth titles, and peaking with Gold at the Beijing Olympics, she claimed numerous World Championships and World Cup first places, UCI No 1 ranking, race and stage wins in the Giro and other races along the way.

Impressed yet? In her own words most of this was achieved in spite of rather than because of support from the official world of British cycling. And as a clean rider, the race was often lost before the starter’s pistol.

She wrote about her first setbacks on the international scene: “It didn’t really matter how many times I beat the WCPP (World Class Performance Programme) riders. They were on the WCPP, coached by the WCPP coaches and managed by the WCPP management. I was a schoolgirl. If they sent me to Sydney (Olympics), they would be telling the rest of the world they were wasting the Lottery-playing public’s money. They were wasting it, but did not want to admit it.”

This post on teases out the backroom intrigue of her Beijing medal. However Cooke raises a key question – why is the well-funded Team SKY an all-male outfit? 

BSkyB came on board after Beijing but simply ignored the female riders, and it seems this was accepted by the cycling authorities.

Cooke writes: “I didn’t need a crystal ball to predict that, by the time of writing six years later, while millions have been poured into a system to convert the male non-finishers at Beijing and Varese into world beaters, virtually nothing has come the way of the female road riders whether it was Emma, Lizzie, Sharon or me.”
PIC via MailOnline

Alongside comes the steady beat of injuries, and sadly of court battles to get paid. Also the devastating impact of doping.

Canadian Geneviève Jeanson was a great rival but in 2007 admitted using EPO since she was 16. Male riders like Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis smashed the sport’s reputation.

Cooke writes: “As Floyd grabbed the headlines … Thomas (team manager) was rightly livid as his sponsors for 2007 walked away. It is very difficult to think about the consequences.”

And later: “It is these unknown riders who are the victims” remembering clean riders disillusioned and quitting. 
The technicalities of cycling are sometimes difficult to grasp for the layman reader, but you’re cheering for her to win with every turn of the page.

Graeme “The Flying Scotsman” Obree wrote in a powerful foreword: “Nicole was a trailblazer who forged a path that was clearly defined for the male riders but equally she struggled to get women’s cycling treated seriously in the UK, and there were many barriers placed in her way.”

A competitor to the last Cooke ends graciously: “I couldn’t have had the career, the fun and the ups and downs without any of you. Sometimes I won, more often I lost. There is nothing I loved more than a rival who would not give me an inch.”

It’s a shame for women’s cycling and sport that more often than not her biggest rivals were not clearly visible.

You can order “The Breakaway” through Cooke’s website and follow Cooke on Twitter.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Speed Sisters in Palestine

Speed Sisters

When you see Tanya Habjouqa's photographs of cars drifting in the West Bank it takes a moment to realise the drivers are women. When I did, I flicked quickly back to the start to really understand what I was seeing.

Speed Sisters ( postcard above from the promotional material) is a short film by Amber Fares created around those women. The promo reads: "The Speed Sisters are the first all-women race car driving team in the Middle East. They’re bold. They’re fearless. And they’re tearing up tracks all over Palestine."

Premiering at the Ajyal Youth Film Festival in Doha this week, you can find out more at: Speed

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Taylor joins Mary Kom to take five boxing world titles

So once again Katie Taylor has taken a record and made it her own - joining Mary Kom on a select list of boxers with five world titles. Picked off consecutively no less.

Yana Allekseva, Katie Taylor and Yin Junhua PIC Doug McDermott

Watching someone stay compeditive over so a long period of time, taking on the 'young Turks' and winning over and over is inspiring. Even if you have no interest in boxing whatsoever (really, not even a drop?) you have to agree this is a supreme sporting achievement.

Indian fighter Mary Kom did it before her over two weight-divisions. They who know all said that could not be equalled but it speaks to the growing strength of women's fighting that records tumble.

Mary Kom with her bling

" “You are a fifth-time world champion. Only one other person in the history of this sport has achieved that,” said RTÉ’s Hugh Cahill. Pete, her father, was standing by her side.

Her head jerked back, her sinking eyes filled, and Katie Taylor stood there in the Halla Gymnasium in Jeju City, South Korea, mute and overthrown with emotion.

She threw her head back and as the tears welled up; she couldn’t speak. For perhaps 20 seconds we watched on as intruders in her unguarded moment as she made a nonsense of the week-long talk of the cold mechanics of how to win fights."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Boxing can be cruel" as Irish team has mixed fortunes in Korea

Irish team at the AIBA world champs PIC via
The AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships continue in Korea this week with some great fights popping up all over the internet. 

It used to be that women's boxing existed in a shadowy corner of said internet. But add the influence of the London Olympics and the reach of social media networks like Twitter together and you get pretty decent coverage. 

In Ireland we're lucky in having Katie Taylor going for her fifth title, and three other great battlers in Michaela Walsh, Joanne Lamb and Claire Grace.

Walsh's Twitter feed has carried her raw feelings out to fans, no filter. 

She started with this: "Weigh in on Sunday for World Championships! Can't come quick enough I hate all this waiting about I just wanna get in and fight!!��"

Then: "The road to Gold starts for me on Tuesday. I box Jamaica, can't wait to get in and do the job! This is my time���� #worldchampion2014"

And: "First fight at the Worlds and I got the win! In control & gave her 2 counts. Good performance, next up Azerbaijan on Thursday.. lets go!!��"

Only to sadly finish with this today: "Gutted 2 say I lost on a split decision when I was clearly the more dominate boxer & knocked her down in the last round. Boxing can be cruel"

One of the Irish papers carried an in-depth piece on Taylor at the weekend, read it here online. She pays tribute to Indian boxer Mery Kom - at present the only woman boxer to hold five world titles. 

I was privileged to see both of them fight in London and look forward to see many more young champions coming from these games as we move towards Rio2016.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Vote Stephanie Roche for FIFA Goal of the Year

PIC via FAI Twitter

Every year FIFA chooses the best ten goals from the thousands scored around the world in amateur and professional matches. 

This year's final group contains a shaky-cam video of a goal scored by an amateur Irish female player in front of a crowd of ... dozens. Stephanie Roche plays with Peamount United, and she scored this cracker against Wexford Youths in October last year.

Have a look and please vote here on the FIFA page if you like what you see - one giant step for women in sport to see her judged on a par with male players. And even more exciting as this was an amateur match and Roche pulled off a goal to equal players paid millions for their work.

FIFA Ballon d'Or 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

I was up in Croke Park - national stadium for the GAA sports of hurling and football recently. Delighted to spot this on the Christmas poster - a girl dressed up in a Dublin shirt.

Small steps, small steps ...
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