Thursday, 15 March 2012

Dwain Chambers: Honest about drugs - As the BOA court case looms, will Chambers get his last hurrah in London?


Chambers in his return to the sport in the 2006 European Championships


A make or break month for Great Britain’s Dwain Chambers began last weekend at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul where the 33 year old Islington born sprinter claimed bronze in the men’s 60m. Chambers went into the competition as defending champion, but was well beaten by Justin Gatlin of the US, who stormed home in 6.46 seconds. Seb Coe remarked that the final was like watching the ‘Rehabilitation of offenders’. Perhaps for Gatlin, but an odd sentiment referring to Chambers in that his own offences date back nearly a decade. Since his return to the sport, the Briton has won 8 major Championship Medals, all of Gold and Silver bar this weekend; for him, Saturday was hardly redemption, nor image defining. For a man who has absorbed such a ferocious media barrage since 2003, Chambers has shown immense humility in both public persona and his work in educating schools and colleges, steering the next generation away from the fateful path which marred his otherwise exceptional career. In light of this, public opinion towards Chambers is positively growing, with an increasing tide of voices believing that his treatment by the UK media has been disproportionately unfair to say the least.

In stark polarity, Justin Gatlin returned home to a hero’s welcome this week just two years after his own ban, stepping off the plane to the patriotic adoration of the American press; no mention of the drug cheat who’s Olympic gold from Athens still hangs on the wall of his Florida home. Of course Gatlin never admitted to knowingly taking any performance enhancing substances. With no straws left to clutch, he pointed the finger at his massage therapist Chris Whetstine, whom he suggests must have rubbed testosterone laced cream into his skin on the fateful day of his positive test. As baffling as it is that attempts are made to construe a positive drugs test in any other way than for what it is, it is further baffling that such a result does not trigger an automatic confession from the accused, if only to clear their conscience, allow rehabilitation and potentially reduce their sentence. In the world of athletics however, Dwain Chambers is the flagship reminder that confessions and apologies do nothing to reduce ones sentence. In his case, his confession proved to do nothing but extend his sentence.

    So why is it then, when presented with these two individuals, can one be eligible to run at the London Olympics, but the other not? On one hand, there is Dwain Chambers - a man who served his sentence by 2006, showed remorse in its entirety for his actions and did all in his power to assist those authorities in helping educate future generations to the dangers of replicating his mistakes. One the other, there is Justin Gatlin - a man who was found guilty, but by never admitting his wrongdoing he deprived WADA the opportunity of backdating his offences. As a result of this, he keeps both his personal best of 9.85, every penny of prize money he won up until the day of his positive test, and the gold medals from both the Olympics in 2004 and the World Championships the following year. Of these two, as it stands, Justin Gatlin is eligible to compete at the London Olympics should he qualify, yet Dwain Chambers is not.

Globally, there are 204 National Olympic Committees, each in charge of their own jurisdiction or country for selecting individuals to represent them in Olympic competition. Each body sets its own rules for eligibility and indeed for Olympic selection. Standard procedure in Britain for the last two decades has been simple, major drug offences can carry sentences anywhere up to 2 years. Included in this is the stipulation, or bye law, that the athlete will never again represent Great Britain at the Olympic Games. The BOA introduced this ruling in 1992; it was not the only country that put this in place. However, as time progressed, many argued on moral grounds that although the Olympic ethos encompasses fair play and an even playing field, it also promotes rehabilitation and redemption. Over the two decades since its initiation, more and more National Olympic Committees’s have dropped this stipulation; in 2011 the remaining pockets of resistance, including Canada, New Zealand and Denmark, abolished the outdated ban, leaving Britain as the sole representative of its cause.

As of this moment, 203 of them are in agreement, whilst Great Britain, in true stiff upper lip fashion, has refused to budge. Lord Colin Moynihan’s arguments as to why the BOA are so staunch in their defence seem to have very little empirical grounding, lots of rhetoric and imaginary figures of ‘athlete support’, but athlete support for what exactly? A strong stance against drugs? Yes, says Siza Agha, they probably are in favour, but thats not the question that is being asked here. I met with Agha, Chambers Barrister and agent a few weeks ago: ‘The BOA is acting unlawfully - they have covered themselves in a cloak of righteousness upon what I understand is a completely false premise. I would like to know how dated their statistics are what question was asked of their athletes. If the question was ‘Do you think there should be a tough stance taken against drugs in sport’, then I would expect 100% affirmation which would include Dwain. If the question was ‘Whether in light of the fact that the BOA are the only organisation that is supporting a life ban, and that every anti-doping agency in the world is opposing the BOA because they believe the policy is counterproductive in the fight against drugs in sport, as well as the fact that there will be hoards of sanctioned athletes from every other country at 2012, should the BOA maintain their current position? – I anticipate that like the Emperor’s new clothes, the BOA’s current cloak will be exposed for what it really is.’


Letting go of the past: After a fractious end to the Europeans in which Campbell (far left) refused to accompany Chambers on a victory lap following their victory in the 4x100m. The two are now back on talking terms.

 It seems the BOA’s argument has lost its focus somewhat; in the public eye it has been angled as the case which decides whether Dwain Chambers runs at the Olympic Games - this is short sighted and it has only garnered such attention because if we’re being completely honest, he is the one man who could sneak a medal in the men’s 100m. Had he not false started in last year’s World Championship semi-final, the 10.14 he ran in the previous heat, comfortably within his capibilities, would have secured him a bronze medal. Of course, for fans of the sport, and for fans of Chambers, this is an important issue, but a side issue nonetheless. Agha believes that it has gone far beyond whether Dwain should or should not compete and is more about Britain failing to adopt advice from the world’s leading Anti-doping authority: ‘As hosts of the games, the BOA should firstly draw on the advice and expertise of those responsible for the fight against drugs in sport, and secondly, apply their minds to the reason every other jurisdiction (recently Canada, New Zealand and Denmark) have amended their rules to comply with WADA and the CAS decision’. Agha, who fought Chamber’s first unsuccessful appeal at the Court of Arbitration for sport in 2008, stated ‘Having read a line of CAS law, for me the CAS decision was not only correct in law but also predictable. The same applies to the BOA bye-law. What I find most disappointing is that the BOA are not viewing the decision as an opportunity to promote tougher sanctions when the code is reviewed.’ 

In discussing this, Agha referred to the US sanctions currently in place, Justin Gatlin served a 4 year sentence but is now free to compete at the Olympics in a logical approach to punishing offenders more seriously and offering them the chance, should they wish, to redeem themselves both on the track and in the public eye. ‘If they (the BOA) had adopted a more considered course then their views would have been respected and given great weight in such future debate. However, the BOA’s conduct and course over this matter has, in my view, undermined their and indeed the ministers credibility on this topic. The overwhelming majority of worldwide opinion, including I understand the IOC, is that the BOA are simply wrong in their present position. This issue is not about whether an athlete should or should not compete. It is about a worldwide code that has been adopted by every jurisdiction, the harmonisation and adoption of a universal set of rules on drugs in sport. The BOA are undermining the code - the agreement they themselves entered into, as well as the opinions of every other jurisdiction. As a professional I am astonished by the position taken.’

The debate was sparked last year when Lashawn Merritt, defending Olympic 400m Champion overturned his Olympic ban for failing a drugs test by challenging the IOC on Rule 45, which Merritt said represented double jeopardy. His argument was backed by a number of anti-doping agencies including the US Anti-Doping Agency and their counterparts in the UK, Denmark, Norway, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa. There is a strong feeling in the anti-doping community, epitomised none more so than in Chambers’ case, that the IOC ban deters potential whistle blowers and provides a disincentive for athletes to tell the truth about doping.

Agha’s closing comments present an interesting argument, one that bears weight on both legal and moral grounds:

'As a Barrister my opinion of the Bye Law was formed 2 years ago when I first started working with Dwain. We have been working hard with charity, school and colleges to show that Dwain has a very positive and powerful message that in my view out to be embraced rather than marginalized. There is, in my opinion, no room in a modern democratic society for a draconian policy that in principle is the antithesis of redemption and rehabilitation. Essentially the bye-law represents the notion that if you do something wrong, despite acceptance of guilt, providing assistance to those in authority and doing positive work in the community, you will never be forgiven. Conceptually in my view, this runs against core values, modern thinking and it is certainly not the message that I give to my children.' 

Is it time for the BOA to modernize its principles and adapt to the changing environment of global sport? Will upholding its current stance benefit the Olympic Games in light of the fact that all athletes who have served a ban under every other Olympic jurisdiction can now compete freely at London 2012? Stopping Chambers competing certainly won't change that. And of all the athletes who have committed a doping offence, none have shown more remorse, dignity and courage in admitting their wrongdoings, few have come anywhere near garnering the respect that Dwain Chambers has among fellow athletes and fans alike. 2012 is the year to put to bed a chapter that has gone on far too long - It is time to let Dwain Chambers finish his career where he started it, so he may walk away from the sport he loves with the dignity he's earned back from his colleagues, his fans and his sport. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, Dwain has shown us that honesty really is the best policy, London 2012 is our opportunity to show him that forgiveness isn't a bad one either. 

You can follow the progress of the court case this month on BBC at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/2012/

My thanks to Dwain Chambers and to Siza Agha for meeting me in preparation for this article.

Twitter @ChrisLloyd2012

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Like Father, Like Son: Max Stewart on his Olympic Journey

Olympic hopeful talks this summer’s games, his plans 
for the future, and living up to the success of his father. 

'Coach and athlete on the mat, father and son off the mat' - Max Stewart (right) with dad Dennis

Seoul, South Korea, 1988. An Olympic Games that would define the sporting career of Great Britain’s Dennis Stewart. As the 28 year old Dudley born lad stepped onto the mat for what was to be the pinnacle of his Judo career, Stewart fought and won Olympic bronze for his country. Success enough for some it would seem, this was just the beginning of the Stewart sporting legacy. Some 7 years later, Dennis became the proud father of baby boy Max, and a near quarter century after his own Olympic success, watched his son win his first major championship medal as he took home Silver at the European Junior Judo Championships last year.
The saying ‘Like father, like son’ rings no truer than when watching these two together. Playfully wrestling on the mat in what appears a routine training scuffle, I ask Dennis whether he’d let Max throw him to the mat for a photo. ‘No chance you’re getting that on camera, not for a few years yet’ he laughed. It seems true in many walks of life that the next generation, inspired by the legacy and success of their elders, often tread a similar path to the footprints left by their fathers. It would seem here that young Max has taken the first steps of his own Olympic journey, both inspired and led by his Dad’s wisdom and success. This hereditary influence has been true since the early days of man and its modern form is easily traceable in the world of sport; Many of the great British father-son legacies – Footballs Brian and Nigel Clough, Formula one’s Graham and Damon Hill and crickets Chris and Stuart Broad provide continual evidence of hereditary sporting greatness.
Last month, What Culture caught up with the father son duo at the annual C2 International Judo camp; an organisation which brings together the best junior Judo talent from all corners of the globe. Widely considered to be the best camp of its type in the world, this was its third annual meeting in as many years. Among the head coaches were Moscow Olympian Chris Bowles and double Commonwealth Champion Carl Finney. I spotted Max Stewart among a sociable crowd of a hundred or so athletes, coaches and parents. He seems an extremely popular young man amongst his peers, carrying a likeability factor which will pay dividends in his later career. Stewart was play fighting with a younger lad when I arrived, almost big brother-esque around his younger cohort. There are many similarities between father and son, both had a smile and a greeting for everyone couple with a relaxed, sociable manner on and off the mat. For Max, there are no signs of his reputation getting ahead of him.

Countries from all corners of the globe brought their best Judoka for the 4 day event

Commenting on his European Silver in Brussels, the young lad from Birmingham said ‘Even though I was disappointed not to win the gold, It was great to get a Silver medal. I’ve studied the guy who beat me in the final, so next time I should beat him’. The 18 year old impressed in the preliminaries in the Belgian capital last year and was competition favourite going into the final. His Dad remarked ‘There are so many different styles in Judo which vary from country to country. When you lose to an international opponent, it can happen so quickly that you don’t get a chance to learn from it. That’s why this camp is so good, the British juniors get to practice against some great international opponents and learn from their mistakes again and again’.

Also present at the camp was Ashley McKenzie, one of the subjects for the ongoing BBC documentary ‘Olympic Dreams’. McKenzie told me that he’d just flown back from a competition in Tokyo. ‘It went badly. I felt so tired’ said the 21 year old Londoner. ‘It’s difficult fighting off a long flight and with only two days to adjust. I’d rather go over and adjust over a week or so to the time difference, or get straight off the plane, fight within 12 hours, and go straight home, but we got caught somewhere in the middle, so jetlag hit me and my body felt shattered.’ When asked whether that sort of experience made him relish the home advantage in London this year, he replied ‘Definitely, we’re used to the weather, we haven’t got to go anywhere, haven’t got to adjust to the time difference and all these things mean we can focus solely on the task at hand; other countries have got to take these things into account, and that might just be the difference between winning and losing a medal’.

Speaking to GB head Coach Chris Bowles on similar matters later that day, he reflected on his own Olympic experiences. When asked what it would take for the many squad members who had fought at international level to prepare for the games, Bowles’ reply was ‘Forget everything you think you know, because nothing quite prepares you for what it takes to reach the Olympic Games. It’s the loss of privileges, the loss of every day norms, the blood, sweat and tears. Train as hard as you possibly can, and when you think you’ve done enough, train some more, you might just get there. It is an experience you can never replicate. Many try, but few actually make it.’ Resounding advice from the Moscow Olympian, words that Bowles hopes will feed their way through the team and reach those who really desire Olympic success this year.   


video

But what of Max’s Stewart’s plans for 2012? Speaking realistically about his chances of Olympic qualification, the young man appears under no pressure to compete in London if he’s not ready. ‘There’s a big jump between the junior and senior rankings, and being 18 there’s a lot of big strength differences I need to adjust to, so the best thing I can do right now  is compete in lower level senior tournaments and build my way up over the next few months’. Realising that his overall development could take time and patience, Stewart seems unphased by the impending rush to improve in time for a home Olympics this summer. After all, his father didn’t capture Olympic bronze in Korea until the ripe old age of 28; Spring chicken Max shows maturity beyond his years in realising that patience could be the making of his long term career. ‘When the time’s right I’ll go to an Olympics, if it’s this year, so be it, my aim would be to qualify and get a medal, but we’ll just see what happens.’ But that’s not to say he’s hanging around, far from it; Stewart currently holds the title of British number 1 and world number 5 in the Junior Under 73KG rankings; His success thus far stands firmly in its own right. However, viewed alongside his father’s pedigree in the sport, it begs the question of just how far young Max can go.

Dennis Stewart (Right) was a Bronze medalist at the 1988 Seoul Olympics


‘People are always saying that I have to do better than my Dad, but I don’t see it as pressure, it’s just good fun, trying to win competitions that he’s won previously and things like that’. There can be no argument that the two share a fantastic father son connection and there is a bond present that no coach, however experienced, could forge with an athlete who was not his own flesh and blood. ‘My Dad’s a great role model, a great coach’ Max remarked,  ‘I’m always with him, so we have a lot of time to talk tactics; When we’re on the mat he’s my coach, when we’re off it he’s my Dad’.
It is clear to see that this young man will grow into an already broad physique, naturally increasing in size and strength by the time he is out of his teens. Add to this the skills, senior experience and the best mentor he could wish for, Max Stewart will be good in London, and formidable in Rio. Could he repeat the success of his father? Absolutely. He could even go two better.

You can follow Max Stewart and all of the GB Judo team in the lead up to 2012 on Twitter @BritishJudo
Follow Ashley McKenzie @Ashleymckenzi12
The BBC Documentary series 'Olympic dreams' is available on Iplayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00d4df5

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

2012: Remembering the Past to Shape the Future



There are only 191 days left until London takes centre stage. (Photo courtesy of  Mr David Goss)


London, July 6th 2005. Not 12 months since the double dose of Dame Kelly’s golden heroics over the middle distance, Mark Lewis Francis’ desperate dip to quash 4 of the largest and fastest ego’s on the planet, and the photo finish that iced the cake of Golden Saturday for Matthew Pinsent and the coxless 4. For Britain, 30 medals and the beginning of an Olympic legacy that teetered on a knife edge just a year later, as millions around the world waited with silent expectancy for the decision of the 117th IOC Session in Singapore. The announcement muted the crowds in Moscow, Madrid, New York and Paris, whilst setting alight a jam packed Trafalgar Square for the most jubilant scenes witnessed in the capital since midnight on the Millennium. For It was London who would host the 30th Olympiad, and boy were the French annoyed. Jacques Chiraq voiced his immediate disapproval that the Games had been awarded to a country with such terrible food and who's only contribution to Europe was mad cow disease. Best not to mention livestock or poor cuisine when grazing on horse thighs marinated in the bitter sauce of contempt, eh Jacques? 

English-French relations have not so much drifted but rather nose dived into the abyss ever since; giving us more hostile table service in Paris and Jeremy Clarkson enough material for yet another 5 books about what really annoys him. For London however, the first seeds planted by our Olympic heroes way back in 2005, on and off the track, are beginning to flourish. Every volunteer, torch bearer, construction worker, cameraman, dinner lady, bus driver, mother, father, brother and sister are beginning to see the fruits of a nationwide effort culminating in less than 200 days from today. For it is this collective that has allowed a stage to be set for the brightest stars in sport to shine. 

To look back at an Olympic games is to remember the once in a lifetime performances from the world’s foremost sporting personalities. It is the stories behind these personalities, the drama’s and ultimately the legacies that we come to witness with each Olympics that pass, that help the Olympiad to grow in stature every fourth year. Be it the Christie, Redgrave and Johnson of the 90’s or the Freeman, Holmes and Bolt of the last decade – each performance characterizes the ethos of the Olympic spirit, fuelling our hopes and expectations that once again such memories will be created in London. 

Over the next few months, I will be meeting Britain's top athletes from across the country on their quests for Olympic glory; recording their thoughts, stories and journeys as they progress towards their ultimate life goal at the London Olympic Games.

There are only 191 days until these memories begin; follow me on the road to 2012.   


Twitter: @ChrisLloydTV

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Great Britain Olympic Boxing Trials: Day 2


Britain’s boxing youth impress both in and out of the ring.

At the beginning of last month, it was reported that former world heavyweight champion Nicolai Valuev had hung up his gloves in favour of Yeti hunting in Siberia. Turns out David Haye hit him quite hard after all, and its fairly safe to say there will be at least one confused Yeti wandering around southern Russia this Christmas. Meanwhile, while big Nick trudges through the snow in search of his non existent cousins, it turns out the rest of the world has gone barking mad as well.

I’m not sure at what point footballers wages became acceptable, America’s basketball players felt it appropriate to boycott the NBA, or when cricketers began betting on themselves to bowl a wide in the 17th over. Yet for all these money grabbers are worth, the economy, along with Wayne Rooney’s hairline, is apparently coming out of recession. Regardless of the mode by which it arrives, there is a distinct correlation that when money in a sport becomes excessive, those receiving the extra pennies begin to accumulate not only better suits, teeth and hair, but a distinct lack of respect for those around them, on and off the pitch, in and out of the ring. Gone are the days when footballers worked 9-5 jobs and played for their country at the weekends. Carlos Tevez refusal to play for City is inappropriate at any level, but it’s made immeasurably worse by the fact that he receives £35,000 a day. Likewise, I never remember 'Money' Mayweather speaking to an interviewer in his amateur days the way he spoke to 80 year old Larry Merchant last month. This cash phenomenon is spreading fast and it looks as if Russia could be the next infected; Samuel Eto’o certainly has enough spare to pay for Valuev's unicorn expedition, as well as the central heating bill for the whole of Makhachkala. I don't know where it is and I’m confident Mr Eto’o didn’t either until they offered him €25m a year.

Richie Woodhall (left) was joined by John Inverdale for the BBC Broadcast of all the days action
This weekend was a refreshing change from the Tevez Tantrums and baffling boycotts of professional sport, and as I arrived at York Hall early Saturday for day two of Britain’s Olympic Boxing trials, an unpolished York Hall greeted me with open arms. At first glance the people and the place seemed fairly ordinary, but as the day grew older there was a certain warmth about the East London folk housed under its gritty ceilings. The door was immediately held open for me by a hardened local gent of about 50, who met me with a smile and an East end accent: ‘After you son, fights about to start’. I took my seat ringside for Savannah Marshall’s international clash with German Andrea Strohmaier


The crowd were in good voice as the 2010 World Silver Medalist started aggressively, landing hooks and a couple of hard rights early on. There was clinching aplenty, but it was inevitable from the two aggressive inside fighters. Strohmaier came off well in a couple of exchanges in the first round, but that was the extent of the challenge mounted by the German. 


Marshall was patient in the second, reading her opponent well and countering with solid rights; by the end of the round Strohmaier was being caught at will. Points wise, both fighters knew the Brit was in the lead, and as the German tried to force the fight in the third, Marshall kept her distance with the jab; a mature decision from a fighter who could have easily been sucked into the brawl. This continued into the final round but Marshall, keen to show the judges and selectors a strong finish, put all 75kgs behind a couple of big right hands which put the German on the first flight home. 


I caught up with the young lady from Hartlepool after the fight: ‘I’m very happy' said Marshall, 'I’ve had a few months out with injury to my elbow, a bit of bruising on the bone which was troubling me when I threw hooks, so I took a bit of time out to recoup and I’m really pleased to have come back and made a good impression on selectors.’ A tired Marshall added ‘I really wanted to fight, but there was no one else for me to box so they arranged an international opponent – It’s given me a lot of confidence before the test event at the end of the month’. A huge win for Marshall saw her the victor 20-3.

A tired but Happy Marshall (right) picks up her gold medal in the women's 75kgs

An Unlikely start to Saturdays action saw Andrew Selby progress to an easy second win in his 'best of three box-off' with Khalid Yafai. So easy was it that Selby, who won yesterdays encounter 26-12, didn't have to throw a single punch. Upon the 9.30am close of the weigh in, Yafai, who sustained a hand injury in Fridays encounter with Selby, was unable to train as he'd wished and the 22 year old from Birmingham could not shift the final 300g. An extremely dissapointing end to a much anticipated second fight.

A dejected Khalid Yafai moments after failing to make the weight

Of the many personalities in the crowd, one man arrived fashionably late, dressed in a suit, braces, dark sunglasses and a 1920’s bowler hat. Approached by autograph hunters every minute or so, I was struggling to recognise the man under the mock gangster disguise. However I had an inkling and i knew i'd watched this old champion on video before. Upon removing his sunglasses to pose for a fan photo, 51 year old Lloyd Honeyghan, former WBC/WBA and IBF Welterweight champion quietly took his seat at the back of the arena. It says much about the man that he still keeps a keen eye on Britain's amateur proceedings; he commented on Andrew Selby ‘I like the kid, i read something a couple of weeks ago about the way he trains and it reminded me of myself when i was a youngster’. When probed on how the young men and women would be feeling ahead of competition, Honeyghan replied ‘The way I see it, it’s just another fight, I’m ready and if you’re not ready you’re in trouble’ - Johnny Bumphus certainly wasn’t ready when he hit the canvas seconds into round 2 of Honeyghan's first title defense in 1987. Steve Collins, a good friend and boxing enthusiast, grew up in Honeyghan's era and remarked 'Honeyghan was class...when he beat Don Curry in '86 I think it was the biggest shock in boxing for years'. For all his success and obvious fanbase, there are no airs and graces about the Jamaican born legend; he remains a sincere and polite character to all around him: ‘Everyman is different...some will be nervous, some will be confident, I think most will just be looking forward to (competing)’ and with regards to Andrew Selby, Honeyghan replied ‘He’ll be pleased to get through, he won’t care if (Yafai) made the weight or didn’t make the weight and it’s his (Yafai’s) business.’  
   
video
Honeyghan on Britains new generation of boxing talent

A tall, muscular frame stood between me and my seat. The man in question was a young Joe Joyce, who was in particularly good form in his heavyweight clash with Scotland's Ross Henderson on Friday. After congratulating him on his win he commented 'Thanks, I feel great, it was nice to loosen up yesterday and I fought well.' A solid first round saw Joyce backing up his larger opponent with several stiff jabs and causing blood from the nose early on. 'It was good to fight well yesterday, nice to get the knockdown' remarked Joyce after he floored Henderson on the bell of the first. Henderson got up, and while his head fought on, his legs took another round to gather their thoughts. By this time Joyce had taken full advantage, comprehensively out boxing the Scotsman 25 -16. A popular lad it seems, Joyce received a big welcome ahead of his final clash on Saturday against Frazer Clarke: ‘It was a good win yesterday and gave me confidence in moving towards Olympic qualification.' When asked if today was a must win for Joyce, he replied 'Without a doubt'. Indeed it was a must win and after the first round of action, Joyce had done some damage. Slipping jabs with nimble confidence for such a big man, the 6ft 6 lad harbors encouraging power, closing Clarke's left eye completely shut after just 3 minutes. As the fighters sat in their respective corners, the doctors were called to Clarke's assistance. The decision was imminent and Joyce raised his hand to the applauding crowd. Frazer Clarke was judged to be unable to continue, much against his will. However, and it was clear to see how bitterly dissapointed the Burton ABC athlete was, he stood and applauded the crowd, walked over to his opponents corner and held Joyce's hand aloft. Here were two men, win or lose, that exemplified the Olympic ethos of sportsmanship; On this merit alone, either are worthy of a squad place.

Joyce (right) has his gloves checked before the first of two wins this weekend

In the final of the mens 81kg category, Newcastle lad Lawrence Osueke lined up against Scottish international James Cunningham. Osueke was pressed hard in the early goings by an aggressive Cunningham, with the two exchanging blows; Cunningham effective when he got on the inside. It seems to have been a pattern over the last two days that some of the taller fighters have taken much of the first round to establish their range, not for want of trying, but many of the shorter, inside fighters had a tendency to walk forward and work the body early on, unsettling the rhythm of fighters like Baister, Joyce and Osueke. Most seemed to find the jab and establish their range by the end of the opener and Osueke was no exception. Patiently sounding each other out, Osueke finished the first round with a good left hook, moving off to the side, ducking underneath and landing a solid uppercut to the body. In the second and third rounds, Cunningham had fewer and fewer answers, but in true Scottish style, walked his man down. Osueke had to keep on the move to avoid the marching Scotsman, picking his jabs and avoiding the counters from his rival. As Cunningham slowed, Osueke launched a counter flurry of his own. The Scotsman's intention was clearly to get on the inside, but every time he tried to do so, Osueke calmly locked him up until the referee separated them, whereby he instantly re-established range with the jab. On the bell the two fighters hugged in the middle of the ring and the referee announced a 20 point margin of victory for the North East Light Heavyweight Champion, who can now add the national title to his 2011 spoils. Cunningham, gracious in defeat, held his opponents hand aloft in a day of great competition matched by even greater sportsmanship. 

I caught up with Osueke after the fight. When asked about his slightly rusty start to the first round, he informed me that he'd sustained a hand injury and had been unable to compete for six months. Disappointed that he couldn't defend his ABA national title, Osueke said that it felt good to shake out the cobwebs before the Tammer International tournament in Finland next week. The Newcastle born lad is certainly one to watch in the coming months; Provided he stays injury free, it will take someone special to beat him in the qualifiers early next year. 

video
                         Lawrence Osueke on his chances of Olympic qualification next year  

So there you have it, a weekend full of superb action and mature performances from many of the Great Britain youngsters; there is more than enough to be encouraged about. It seems that the work being done at the GB boxing HQ in Sheffield is sharpening up the team nicely; be assured that they are on course for a very good performance in London next year. Upon leaving the arena early Saturday evening, I felt most impressed about the athletes I observed this weekend. Not least by the embarrassment of boxing riches that have bestowed themselves upon us at this crucial time, but above all, by those boxers attitudes towards each other. Yafai's comments to Selby on BBC1 in wishing the Welshman the best of luck next year and willing him to claim the gold epitomises the spirit in which these trials took place. It is not easy to come by words like that when you've missed out on Olympic selection by 300g and it says a lot about the maturity of these young boxers that they value team success on an equal platform to individual achievement; I believe the world of professional sport could learn more than a thing or two from GB's young amateurs. The future is bright for British boxing.


Follow boxing legend Lloyd Honeyghan on Twitter @LloydHoneyghan or go to www.lloydhoneyghan.com


Below are the results from all the weekends action, winners on the left:


Friday 11th November: Semi Finals


52Kg - Andrew Selby beat Khalid Yafai (Eng) (Wales)  26-12
56Kg - Joe Ham (Scot) beat Alimaan Hussain (Eng) 22 -13
56Kg - Sean McGoldrick (Wales) beat Gamal Yafai (GB) 13-13 (countback 29-25)
60Kg - Joe Cordina (Wales) beat Ian Weaver (GB) 22 -13
60Kg - Sam Maxwell (Eng) beat Sean Dick (Scot) - Referee stopped contest
64Kg - Louis Adolphe (Eng) beat Mano Lee (Wales) 8-4
64Kg - Josh Taylor (Scot) beat Danny Phillips (GB) 10-7
69Kg - Kieron Smith (Scot) beat Jamie Evans (Wales) 11-8
69Kg - Anthony Fowler (GB) beatThomas Langford (Eng) 19-14
75Kg - Callum Smith (GB) beat Danny Dignum (Eng)19-8
91Kg - Warren Baister (GB) beat Lloyd Davies (Wal) 29 - 10
91Kg+ - Joe Joyce (Eng) beat Ross Henderson (Scot) 25 - 16


Saturday 12th: Finals


49Kg - Charlie Edwards (GB) beat Ben Baker (Wal) Referee stopped contest rd 3
52Kg - Nina Smith (GB) beat Katie Rowland (IRE) 19-9
56Kg - Joe Ham (Scot) beat Sean McGoldrick (Wal) 25-14
60Kg - Amanda Coulson (Eng) beat Chantelle Cameron (GB) 22-17
60Kg - Sam Maxwell (Eng) beat Joe Cordina (Wal) 16-14
64Kg - Louis Adolphe (Eng) beat Josh Taylor (Scot) - 9-9 (Countback 3-2) Judges decision
69Kg - Anthony Fowler (GB) beat Kieron Smith (Scot) 15 - 9
75Kg - Savannah Marshall (GB) beat Andrea Strohmaier (Germany) 20-3
75Kg - Callum Smith (GB) beat Tommy Philbin (Scot) 13-7
81Kg - Lawrence Osueke (GB) beat James Cunningham (Scot) 26-6
91Kg - Warren Baister (GB) beat Ben Ilyemi (Eng) 23-9
91Kg+ - Joe Joyce (Eng) beat Frazer Clarke (GB) Referee stopped contest 


The Olympic Test Event will take place at the ExCeL Arena, London from the 23rd - 27th November.


You can re-live all the action from this weekend on BBC iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01772jz/Boxing_British_Championships/

Saturday, 12 November 2011

A Legend has passed, but the show must go on.

A packed house at York Hall, Bethnal Green yesterday saw the British squad fight for selection


In a sobering week for world boxing, many of Britain’s young pretenders will be mourning the loss of a man whom the BBC have called ‘One half of boxing's greatest ever rivalry’. Sadly for these youngsters, not even an occasion such as this can afford to distract them for too long. Nearly half a century since Joe Frazier’s stunning win at the Tokyo Olympics, Great Britain’s young hopefuls turn their attention to their own Olympic journey, which began, for some at least, this weekend. It is no secret that in recent years the heavyweight division has offered little more excitement than the numbers round in countdown and with David Haye deciding to give the other half of the Ukrainian twin towers a miss, one wonders where the next generation of exciting heavyweights will come from. A more recent turn of events has seen the welterweight divisions creating much of the hype around professional boxing; Floyd Mayweather recently cashed in a handy $40m for his WBC title win over fellow American Victor Ortiz; who wasn’t quite so ‘Vicious’ after their head to head, so to speak. Both Ortiz and Mayweather had differing Olympic experiences in the Amateur ranks and while Mayweather became the first American to defeat a Cuban fighter in two decades, Ortiz never quite made the cut for the US team in Athens. Proof then, that Olympic success is not the be-all-and-end-all in the journey from Amateur to professional boxing.  Try telling that to the British squad this weekend.


In a decade where British boxing has increased in both depth and breadth, I have turned my attention to the GB Olympic trials this weekend in London. Strange to think now that only a few years ago British amateur boxers were so thin on the ground, Amir Khan was the only fighter on the plane to Athens. His heroic Silver medal inspired a new, young and hungry generation of fighters in the UK; it begs the question of just how many future World champions (or strictly come dancing contestants) may touch gloves under York Hall’s dark ceilings this weekend. I am lucky enough to be ringside for both days of the championships; here is a summary of yesterdays action:

In the Men’s 75kg category, England’s Danny Dignum took on GB representative Callum Smith. Establishing the jab early on in the fight was the key to Smith’s success, and whilst he kept the fight at range for much of the opener, Dignum struggled to find his feet. Round 2 saw much of the same, with Smith setting up combinations with the jab, leaving Dignum frustrated, lurching forward with off balance, inaccurate punches. Smith’s comfortable start to the fight left him well in the lead going into the final round, and patient work from the Commonwealth Silver medallist saw him pick his shots and stay out of trouble. So in control was the 21 year old that he afforded himself the luxury of a few head and body combos to finish off the final round, and while Dignum fought with pride, he was outclassed by a mature and comfortable performance from his Liverpudilan rival.

Final result: Callum Smith (GB) wins 19 -8.

The Men’s 69kg category saw Scotland’s Kieron Smith take on Welshman Jamie Evans. Scottish born Smith had an obvious height and reach advantage over his opponent but failed to make it count in the early goings. Calls from his corner to use the jab were unheeded and Evans worked the inside well, landing powerful hooks to the body on numerous occasions. There is a common consensus that if a fighter holds his hands low, then his head movement must be exceptional. Smith’s jabbing hand wavered around his midsection, and while his footwork got him out of trouble from time to time, more often than not he walked clumsily onto some fairly avoidable hooks. By the end of round 2 it was too close to call but there was a feeling that it was Smith’s fight to lose. The Scotsman had bucked up his ideas by the beginning of the third and began to find his range with the jab, picking clear single shots to edge the Welshman out on points. Smith certainly looked the fresher of the two men by the bell, but will do well to work on a few defensive frailties in the coming months.

Final Result: Kieron Smith (Scot) Wins 11-8

The men’s 91kg category pitched Welshman Lloyd Davies against GB’s Warren Baister. Good early movement from Davies left Baister exposed on a number of occasions throughout the first round; the counter punching Welshman landing the cleaner of the two. Round two saw neither man convincingly take charge, Baister slightly more settled than he had been in the first, getting through on occasion with a solid left jab. The bell at the end of the second came at the right time for Davies, who looked to be tiring somewhat after taking a handful of clean shots right at the end of the round. Early in the third, Baister stepped the pace up a notch, firing off rallies of six or seven at a time, many of which scored. Davies was backed onto the ropes for large portions and it looked to be a case of damage limitation for the Welshman. Baister’s late charge saw him extend his lead over Davies, who after a promising start, was picked apart by some accurate shots from the Englishman.

Final Result: Warren Baister (GB) Wins 29-10



Boxing legend Richie Woodhall working in dual capacity as Squad Coach/Presenter as he brought us yesterdays action


The big fight of the day finally arrived after the midway interval, a much anticipated clash between two of Britain’s rising stars. In the first of a ‘Best of three’ box off in the men’s 52Kg category, England’s Khalid Yafai, former European Silver medallist and U17 World Champion, took on Welsh fighter Andrew Selby, who, after missing out on automatic qualification by one point at the World Championships, looked to cap off his incredible year with Olympic qualification. The build up to the fight was tense; many of the opinion that the box-off is unreflective of Selby’s success this year. I managed to catch up with Nigel Davis, coaching staff in  Selby’s team, shortly before the fight: ‘All I can say is that Andrew’s happy and has no qualms with the box-off, they both (Selby and Yafai) knew that this would happen before the world champs, it was pre-agreed, so it hasn’t been sprung on either of them.’

I spoke to Richie Woodhall, who was presenting the live broadcast of the fight for BBC1, moments before the first bell. As part of the official coaching set up in team GB, Woodhall could not offer a prediction for the fight, instead saying 'I think 3 fights is the fairest way of seeing who is the better fighter, there can be no accidental upsets this way.’ Woodhall also added ‘You have to take into account that although Selby’s the European champion and world silver medallist, Yafai has beaten him twice in the past, and in boxing thats a big psychological advantage, so it’s anyone’s to call’. 


Welshman Andrew Selby surveys the arena before the first of a 3 match box off with rival Khalid Yafai (ENG)
















I watched Selby in his pre-fight routine for around half an hour. His focus looked fear driven; although I think it was fear of not taking an opportunity that he feels is rightfully his given what he has achieved this year, rather than fear of his opponent. Rightly so, and one could forgive Selby for feeling slightly aggrieved. However, rules are rules, and the Welshman looked supremely focussed as he went through some fast, sharp pad drills. He was a man on a mission, and there was no sign of Yafai. At 5ft 4 and only 52Kgs, Selby isn’t much to look at, almost ‘Little brother-esque’ in appearance, until he starts throwing punches that is. For a lad of his size to generate the thumping cracks coming off the pads at the rear of the arena was a sight to behold, enough to turn heads away from the ring in fact. Each combination was thrown and landed with a Ricky Hatton grunt and lightning speed.

Among the heads turned was current WBC World Super Middleweight Champion Carl Froch, who’ll be in the midst of his own preparations for a title defence against Olympic champion Andre Ward next month. As the crowd regained their positions, Khalid Yafai appeared as if by magic in the ring, and he looked in superb shape. My first thought was whether his obvious height and reach advantage was going to be a factor in the forthcoming rounds. The fighters touched gloves in the ring; there is mutual respect and definite friendship between the two men, but both know what is at stake and nothing will be reconciled until after the final bell, be it later today or at the end of the month.

Selby began the first round tentatively, feeling out his old adversary. The pace was quick, the fighters understandably twitchy. For the first minute or so, Yafai moved well, coming forward as he tends to, ducking hooks and dodging jabs on his way in. There was nothing to call between them early on, until Selby landed a crashing left hook to the chin of Yafai, sending him to the mat. Yafai, up on his feet and seemingly undeterred by the knockdown, came forward once more, returning fire with a left hook of his own, hurting Selby in the process. Although far the quicker of the two men, Selby is susceptible to a decent left hook, and later told the BBC ‘It was the hardest punch I’ve ever taken’. For a man of his stature, getting on the inside of his taller opponent was vital to his success in the first round, but he was often doing so at the expense of catching a hook. Nonetheless, round 1 went to Selby.

In a more open second round, Selby began to let go of some decent combinations, slowing Yafai down. Yafai managed to catch Selby with a few decent shots on his way in and Selby’s occasional gung-ho approach to attack left him open for the counter. Towards the end of the second however, it was clear that Yafai was being outworked by the Welshman, and with most of his combinations coming off the gloves, the Englishman was beginning to slow. Selby’s attack became relentless and he went in at the bell clearly in front.

The third round was now or never for Yafai. He began to chase Selby and try to press the fight, however this played nicely into the Welshman’s hands. Selby caught his rival on the counter time and time again; a solid right hook to the body hurt Yafai late on, who began to clinch more often. A brief readjustment of Selby’s shorts gave Yafai one last breather and a chance to regroup. If the fight had been closer, his last 30 seconds could have been crucial, as he landed 4 or 5 clean shots to the Welshman’s head, who had luckily given himself an unassailable lead. A great finish to the first fight and a clear win for Andrew Selby. One down, one to go for the Welshman. It’s going to be a long way back for Khalid Yafai.

Final Result: Andrew Selby (Wal) Wins 26-12


Keep your eyes peeled Sunday afternoon when I shall publish all the results from the weekends action. Can Andrew Selby stave off a third fight decider by beating Khalid Yafai today? Or will the Englishman learn from yesterdays mistakes and get one up on the European Champion. It’s all to play for and you can catch all the action live today on BBC1 and BBC Sport Website 1430 – 1600 GMT (12 November).

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The 100m Dash for Tickets

London 2012 organisers have recieved 20 million ticket applications

                               
As the applications for London 2012 tickets close up shop tonight, BBC News reported today that the number of applicants over the bank holiday weekend has ‘Hit the roof.’ I’m beginning to think that my chances of getting a ticket to the men’s 100m final are about as likely as Phillips Idowu getting through an airport scanner without the alarm going off.
Surely It’s not much too ask in wanting to see the pinnacle of Olympic sport, live and uncensored, at the only games that will be held on British soil in my lifetime, is it? A simple request, one would think, had 10 million other Brits not stolen my idea first. And with tickets for the most oversubscribed events decided by a random ballot, the odds of success have suddenly become rather slim. For the 17 action packed days, over 6.5 million tickets are available to the public; London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton told the BBC that the numbers of people applying in the last week has been three of four times that of the previous month. With the current pattern as it is, Mr Deighton believes that the ‘Sky’s the limit’. Great for the sport, however not so great for my fast fading hopes of getting a seat next July.
Then of course there’s the small and somewhat overlooked matter of the payment. With a maximum of 20 ticket applications per person, any tickets you are allocated must be paid for in full. With this being the case, and in the unlikely event that all of my applications are accepted, the bill is going to be so whopping that I’ll have to pawn my dear Mum’s wedding ring, and sell the dog back to those people with the double barreled surname whom we brought him from at the Kennel Club. Of course, for those looking for an alternative avenue in getting a piece of the action, there are other options.
There is the volunteer route, but unfortunately applications have been and gone, so unless you’ve applied already then I’m afraid you’ve missed the boat. So how on earth then are we supposed to experience this marvellous spectacle of the Olympic age?
In 2008, all of the major cities in the UK including Manchester, Plymouth, Bristol, Cardiff and Middlesbrough had big screens installed to ensure sports enthusiasts do not miss a moment of the Games. Great idea, although I’m not convinced I’ll be spending 17 days watching Jessica Ennis from the middle of a Westfield.
Then there's the third option; enter the wonders of modern technology, and 3D TV. The Loughborough University sports bar has just been equipped with a 50 inch, state of the art 3D screen with images so crisp, you can see just how little contact there was with Didier Drogba’s back leg before he hit the deck like one of Mark Wahlberg’s victims in Shooter. With image quality heralded as ‘So good it could almost be live’, the only drawback with 3D TV is that no one in their right mind would wear those ridiculous glasses outside of the home. In saying that, Bruce Willis was photographed in 2008 wearing UGG boots, so I suppose anything is possible.
Of these minor foibles, it must be said that the image quality is astounding, and there is certainly a backbone to the claim that the experience is almost live. However, almost live, isn’t live, and that’s the whole point. I've never thought to myself 'I haven’t been to Rio yet, I’ll set the screensaver on my laptop to ‘Christ the Redeemer 3D’ and gaze away the hours until I’m satisfied that I was ‘almost there’. If I was so inclined (and wealthier) I'd book a flight, get on the plane, and go to Rio. And with 3DTV’s starting at £600, if you can afford one of those, you may as well apply for tickets.
Don’t get me wrong, who wouldn’t want to see every strand of Usain’s untied laces as he zooms across the line at the national speed limit, or the rattling of the hurdles as David Oliver gallops ever closer to Dayron Robles’ already impossible world record. But however eye popping these details, and whatever ‘5.1 to the power of 4’ surround sound Bang and Olufsen have wired into our earlobes by next July, it will never be the same as actually being there.
Case in point, and being the lucky owner of a ticket to the Crystal Palace Grand Prix last Summer, I sat yards from the starting blocks of Bolt’s closest rival, American record holder Tyson Gay, as he powered his way to a seasons best of 9.78 seconds. The experience was jaw dropping. On the word ‘set’, you could hear a pin drop from the other side of the stadium; an eerie still in the floodlit arena and an air of expectation from the 15,000 strong crowd, as they awaited a man who would be the world record holder, had the gangly Jamaican not got there first. On the crack of the gun, the athletes exploded into action and the crowd erupted in a wave of sound comparable only to a goal at a premier league football match. Gay was moving, and moving fast. By the time the smoke from the starting pistol had settled, he was already half way round his victory lap, celebrating the fastest run of 2010, to a standing ovation.
Of course, with the speed that Bolt is predicted to run at the games, pushed all the way by his seriously in form American rival, seat holders could well be paying over £100 per second of action for the men’s 100m final. But no-one complained when they had to fork out upwards of £700 to watch David Haye tickle Audley Harrisson to the floor in November; a fight which may as well have lasted 10 seconds, had Haye decided not to river-dance around the former Olympic champion for the first 2 rounds.    
And so what if you have to re-mortgage your parent’s house to pay for a ticket, they can stay in the kennels for the summer; your dog's not there remember, you sold him. This will happen once, and only once in your lifetime. So get online (you already are, you’re reading this) and apply for tickets. Prices start at £20 and, and if you’re lucky enough to be in the higher echelons of society (or a lottery winner) then the top ticket for the opening ceremony is comically priced at £2,012, so go for it. Applications close at midnight tonight, or probably 12 minutes past 12. Nice to know the organisers have a sense of humour then.
Here's the website, good luck!