Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Melissa Ray retires from Muay Thai

Melissa Ray, MuayThai fighter from England has hung up her gloves. Ray has 41 professional fights and about eight amateur bouts to her name. She held the WPMF 126lb title, S-1 126lb title, and the WMA 57kg title. She talks here about why she is retiring.


So, let’s start with the good stuff, what was the highlight of your career?
Winning my first title (WPMF 126lb) during a rematch with Praewa Sor Penprapa on the Queen’s birthday, 2009. I lost the first bout on points with many of the gamblers disagreeing with the decision and throwing bottles and beer cans in the ring. Following that fight I was out of action for a long time after tearing a hamstring while sprinting. The rematch was my first bout in eight months.

You’re living in Thailand now, but you trained at a number of different gyms, which ones did you spend the most time at?
In England, I trained at King’s Cobra Gym, Co. Durham while I was studying my PhD, then trained at Dean White’s Gym when I moved back home to Yorkshire. My first gym in Thailand was Muay Thai Plaza 2004, then I spent a period of time at Chay Yai Gym in Chiang Mai, and have trained at Eminent Air Boxing Gym since the end of 2007.

I am grateful to so many people who have helped me along the way but have particular affection for Mr. Somboon and the people at Eminent Air. I have had excellent training with them and some amazing fighting opportunities.

Melissa in MuaySiam magazine
But in the last few months, retirement has been on your mind, what brought about the change in attitude?
I suppose my main consideration was money and a career. I’m 34 next month and there’s only so long you can dedicate so much time to what is essentially a hobby. It is hard to combine training and work, especially in Thailand due to the long training hours, which are also during normal office hours since the gyms are mainly catering for professional fighters. Particularly within the last year I have found the training much tougher on the body, with injuries becoming more frequent.
I think as you age you can still handle the hard training sessions but rest and recovery become increasingly important and it can be hard to factor in time for that.
The other change I’ve noticed as I’ve got older is the weight is much harder to keep off – for me it does unfortunately seem to be true about the metabolism slowing in the thirties!



And then an injury in June brought that decision forward?
I fell during sparring and my left arm went down to break the fall but bent at a strange angle. I remember hearing a ‘popping’ sound and feeling pain instantly. An MRI scan revealed that a group of tendons in my elbow had torn completely. During surgery a metal ‘anchor’ was placed in my arm which reattaches the tendons to the bone. Recovery will take six months to one year.

Some athletes find they miss the adrenalin buzz of competing, how are you adjusting to life without training?
Well, I can’t seem to stay away from the gym. Even though I can’t train Muay Thai I still go and run with the others, do sit ups etc. I miss the routine and the feeling when your body’s working hard; the heart’s pounding, the endorphins have kicked in, and you’re drenched in sweat.

Of course, now I can’t fight that’s the thing I would like to do most! After talking about retirement for so long, when that decision is taken away from you it makes you appreciate the things you were able to do before. To be honest, I would like to fight again sometime in the future; maybe not at the same level, but something for a personal challenge.

Melissa Ray in MuaySiam magazine, Thailand
Sometimes it's only when stopping that we have time to look back, how do you feel MuayThai has changed you? (deep question!)

I think it’s taught me that you can do anything you put your mind to. When I was at school I was not athletic in the slightest and very shy, so would never have dreamt that I would be able to enter a ring and fight, let alone compete in front of crowds of people and on TV.
Practising the sport has definitely given me much more self-confidence.

If you have any questions for Melissa about MuayThai training or dealing with retirement, leave a comment!  


UPDATE June 2015: Melissa Ray now has her own blog if you'd like to contact her directly: MuayThai on the Brain 
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Monday, August 29, 2011

Rugby 7s, smaller but just as much fun

Kalinga Insitute of Social Sciences, Orissa India
So having Rugby Sevens included in the Olympics for 2016 is already having an impact. I've noticed a jump in tournaments and competitions taking place around the world including some surprising places.

This article says a new series, the HSBC Asian Sevens, will use existing events in Shanghai, China and Borneo, Malaysia along with two new events - in Bangkok, Thailand and Goa, India - to make up the Asian calendar. Surprising because the Bangkok Sevens are a well-established event so you would have thought they'd get ranking for a new series first but I'm sure there is a reason for it.

And looking at it all from a woman's point of view, there is a great structure in place for women's teams with seemingly equal access to funding, training and publicity. This article covers the Indian women's 7s championships taking place this week , looks like they're building a strong base for the next few years. 

And Ireland? It's not a huge sport here by any mean, definitely a poor cousin to rugby and then tag rugby. But hopefully that will change over time. 

For any rugby fans out there, do you have a preference for 7s over the full-game or the other way around?


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Friday, August 26, 2011

The Old-lympics in Ireland

You did read that right, it's the Old-lympics. This is a production by 'Young Irish Film Makers' and is a more-than-a-little disturbing view of how children see sports for older people.

Have a good weekend! 


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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Another first for women in sport - rodeo-riding

Tammara Wrenn pic WA Today

Yup, that's a cowgirl right there. Bull - 900 kgs. Woman - 50kgs. You don't need to be a mathematical genius to work out the probability that this could end in tears.

Tammara Wrenn was the first woman to compete at the 53-years old Mt Isa show in Queensland, Australia. She stayed up for four seconds which I'm told is not bad but leaves room for improvement as the qualifying time for the next round was eight seconds. But it's definitely four seconds more than I'd give any bull that size. Speaking afterwards, she said: ""I didn't even hear the crowd. You have to stay focussed, squeeze your legs, watch the head and horns and keep up off the bull. I don't like the focus on me as I haven't ridden eight seconds (the requirement for a score) and there are so many riders who should be acknowledged.

"I don't want to be known as a female bull rider, just a bull rider."

And other reports say she's not only the first woman in the tournament, but by all medical rights shouldn't even be walking. Wrenn had a serious dirt-bike accident in 2003 which left her wheelchair-bound. She's quoted as saying she just couldn't accept it."Doctors said I was pretty much clinically dead with all the damage to my brain," Wrenn said. "I was sitting in my wheelchair feeling sorry for myself but I wasn't getting anywhere, so I just put all my energy into getting better, improving my strength and my speech."


So there you are, another bastion of all-male sport crumbling just a little around the edges. If you know of any other firsts or women competing in male-dominated sports, don't be shy - share the love in a comment.
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Mother love

Well done says Claire O Hara's Mum at World Kayak Champs

 Wordless Wednesday is a group of bloggers who give words a rest once a week.
 

Not so wordless today: You can see more great shots from kayaker and photographer Emily Wall here on her Flickr stream.
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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Television coverage of women in sport needed


Waterford County Images
It was refreshing to read this article a few days ago quoting an Irish politician asking for more television coverage of women's sport.

Cllr Joe Ryan was quoted as saying: "I have written to the Controller for Programmes at RTE to ask that it would be considered in the interest of gender equity."

The national station usually gives a big preview of the male All-Ireland finals while allowing the women's games to just go ahead unheralded. It's just one of those things apparently, and I would be surprised to see it change. I'm sure audience figures and so on would be quoted against the idea, but all the same it's nice to see someone thinking outside the box for once.

Cllr Ryan went on compare GAA and tennis: "I see no difference in terms of what female and male players do at the top level to succeed and I would like to see RTÉ accept this in terms of its national coverage of the national games. Gender Equity has benefitted tennis enormously and will benefit Gaelic Games too."

The key point there is that there is no difference in the effort put in by the male or female teams. I'm the first to admit there can be a skills difference between men and women doing the same sport but that is less and less the case.

Most examples of shocking games/fights cited by detractors of women's sports date back to the years when female athletes weren't trained properly or taken seriously by their sporting federations. Everytime someone speaks out like Cllr Ryan did, there is more chance of real change happening.

And if you're looking for more positive coverage, try this article from an English paper at the weekend on Japanese motorcycle racer Maya Sato.
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Monday, August 22, 2011

Ester Duflo, economics and rock-climbing

Rock-climbing and economics might not seem like obvious bed-fellows but when you read what Ester Duflo has to say you wonder how you never put them together before.
Ester Duflo

In an interview with an English newspaper, the journalist asks why she climbs. You get the feeling she thinks this is like asking her why she breathes when she says: "You have to be deliberate and patient, and confident you can make it. Otherwise it is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you think a climb is too hard it will become too hard."

Tipped as a future winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, Duflo is taking a fascinating approach to the slightly large problem of solving world poverty. I'm not kidding. The Frenchwoman's research into how poverty functions in villages in India, Ghana and Kenya is hoping to find why some development programmes fail while others succeed. 

Duflo climbs in the Alps, and has done some climbs in Kenya - Mount Kenya - and Tanzania - Kilimanjaro. And uses the climb as a break from her day-job, saying "You need to be entirely focused on what you are doing at that instant. Completely absorbed. So I can’t be thinking about economics."

Of course, why else would you swing from a mountain? She lectures at MIT and has co-written 'Poor Economics' described by the author of Freakonomics (note, one of the few economics books I understood!) as "a must-read".

Another version of play hard, work hard? 





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Friday, August 19, 2011

Gaelforce time

Gaelforce - run/walk 21 kms, cycle 45.5 km and kayak 1 km. In one day. Welcome to the madness of adventure racing in Co Mayo, Ireland. Watch out for the Killary Fjord in the video, very beautiful.


You can read about tomorrow's race here. Note that last year's winner Padraig Marrey came in at 3.36.51 and the first woman home Derval Devaney at 4:15:51  - just a stroll in the park really.

UPDATE Sunday: the 2011 women's race was won by by Emma Donlon, Ireland in a time of 4.09.22 for the 67kms. Almost 2,300 competitors finished the race.

I know of one woman who took nearly 12 hours to finish, amazed she was able to keep going.

And even though I don't usually talk about guys here, I heard about one man whose bike broke; he carried the bike for a while then ran the bike-section. Mentaller as they say in Cork. 


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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Behind the ring with Caley Reece, Australia


 The music starts, a mix of Thai orchestral pipes and dance music laying over it. The crowd is shouting and everywhere the smell of boxing liniment seeps into your hair, your clothes. Your stomach clenches, your feet tap and then it's time to fight.

This is a great mini-doco on how to prepare for a World Title fight, with Australian MuayThai fighter Caley Reece from Riddler's Gym in Perth, WA. I've interviewed Caley a few times over the years for boxing mags and this blog, always gracious with her time and full of such huge enthusiasm for this amazing sport. Watch for her focus when she's in the ring, listening to her titles being called out and waiting for the fight to begin - my stomach is turning somersaults just listening to the soundtrack.

Reece is fighting Madelaine Vall, Sweden (more pics of Vall here)for the WMC 57 kgs World Title at the end of June 2011.  (yes, late to the party but the video is just out)



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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Is London excited about the Olympics?

That question might have seemed a no-brainer until just over a week ago but things are changing fast in the home of the 2012 games. I've been reading some disturbing articles looking at links between the huge development going on for the games and the unrest.

This one over at Inside the Games says people see the millions being spent but don't see any benefit to their area other than getting lots of new buildings.

But the really disturbing information is when the journalist in this piece in an English paper looks back at what places like Korea, China and Mexico did in their preparations for the games. He remembers arriving in Mexico City in 1964 and says: "... observe tanks outside the Olympic Stadium and platoons of soldiers (many ludicrously disguised as Boy Scouts) was a deeply shocking experience.

"A few days before, warned that continuing civil unrest might halt the Games, the Mexican president, Diaz Ordaz, ordered 10,000 anti-Games demonstrators gathered in a square – mostly students alarmed at the economic effect on Mexico's poor – to be machine-gunned from helicopters. In addition to 287 deaths, 1,200 were wounded. The Games went ahead."

This article says that people living in areas like Hackney just don't think they are part of the games at all. He doesn't say but I would like to know how many local Londoners even have tickets, or any realistic chance of affording tickets at any events staged in the grounds later?

It's all a lot to think about for the organisers, but hopefully they can solve it in a more humane manner than Mexico did.

What do you think - will the Olympics help to bridge the gap between people or make it worse?


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Monday, August 15, 2011

Book reviews coming up

You're probably shocked to see that post title as it's been months since a book appeared on this site. Terrible but to make for it, I've two coming up. 

The first is from Irish mountain runner Moire O Sullivan - you might read her blog Running over mountains and around the world. She's written a great book on her success completing the Wicklow Round. You'll have to wait for the review to find out but can I just say 100 kilometres plus 26 mountain peaks.Tired reading it as they say.

The second is Run like a Girl from Mina Samuels and so far it's is a fascinating collection of stories from inspiring sports women in a range of sports. Great read.

Flickr agitprop
If any of you have read any great books on women in sport lately, feel free to drop me a line with a review! Always good to find out about a new author.


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Friday, August 12, 2011

Behind the scenes with soccer players

The Women's World Cup is over, but the memories remain. This inspiring short film gives us a look at the often-complex lives the stars we saw lead when off-the-pitch. I was shocked at some of the stories, you just never know what people are going through. Thanks to espnW for this.
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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why should you box?

Part II
Malissa from Girl Boxing  turned 57 in June and still makes it to two tough sessions a week at the famous Gleason’s Gym in New York City. She says the reason she keeps boxing is simple - “I like it”. 

Women in the gym
Malissa is one of the older boxers in Gleason’s but she’s far from the only woman there. Alongside her on that bag are Alicia Ashley, Belinda Laraquente, Melissa Hernandez (when she’s in New York), Jill Emory and quite a few more.

She says: “I never, ever felt marginalized due to gender and quite the opposite have had a number of trainers tell me that they love to train women because they’re attentive students who have a better work ethic.  Women also tend to walk into the gym without preconceived notions about what boxing is or is not – so they’re less resistance to learning the mechanics.” 

This is probably down to the great atmosphere you find in most boxing gyms, completely at odds with the stereotype of thugs grunting in a corner. Malissa adds: “More than anything though, boxing can be something wholly for oneself. There is also a camaraderie at a boxing gym that feels really special – and the first time some one says “Hi Champ” means it is a day to treasure.”

Why kids should do martial arts
And it’s not just boxing that brings that feeling, any martial art will give you that sense of strength and accomplishment. Malissa’s teenage daughter has learning Aikido since she was five. Now a brown belt the proud mother says she will be on her way to an adult-ranked brown belt in 18 months. Working with throws, a Jo (long thin stick) and a Bokin (Japanese wooden sword), she loves it. Malissa says: “It has given her confidence, physical prowess, community, and a place in the world that is wholly her own.  And whether she continues the practice as an adult or not, she’ll have learned what it means to commit to something over a long period of time.  Her other sports include kayaking, rock-climbing, horseback riding (three weeks a year at camp) and her new, love sailing.”  Energetic much?

And of course her daughter has been going with Malissa to  Gleason’s Gym and takes the odd boxing lesson with John “Superman” Douglas. Malissa says: “Oh, and one more thing, while Aikido may be “way of harmony” she has a straight right that almost doubled-over my 6’4”, 220+ pound, black-belt-in-karate husband after had he jokingly said, “okay, hit me in the stomach.”

Right, so Mum boxes, Dad is a black-belt and Junior is an-rounder – don't mess with this family.

TIPS for new boxers
Malissa is an evangelist for boxing, but she does warn people coming down for the first time that a gym isn’t as pretty as modern fitness centres. She says: “The hardest thing is walking through the door the first time. One can have so many conflicting feelings, fears and trepidations.”
She says a boxing gym will be missing out on lots of things “never mind things like towels or unctuous front desk attendants.” Malissa recommends having a plan before going in there.
  • Do some research to find a facility that is close enough that to commit to a particular day or time every week to go to the gym (and more often over time). 
  • Choose a trainer you feel comfortable with. 
  • Commit to putting in the time and muscles will tone-up, new muscles will appear, pounds will shed.
  • Be patient.
She explains finding the right coach is important because boxing is a very intimate sport. Saying once boxing gloves go on, you might as well be wearing huge melons, which makes it pretty hard to open a water bottle or take the sweat off!  She feels getting used to having people re-tie shoe-laces, give you a sip of water can be difficult for any woman used to doing things like that for other people.
Boxers at Gleasons Gym NYC

Malissa says: “I was very unused to accepting anyone doing anything intimate for me, never mind something as intimate as wiping dripping sweat from my face and eyes.” 


Part One of this interview is here. If you have any questions for Malissa about boxing, leave a comment!


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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

This image take down by request

Wordless Wednesday is a group of bloggers who give words a rest once a week.
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Age no limit for Girl Boxing

Malissa from Girl Boxing  turned 57 in June and still makes it to two tough sessions a week at the famous Gleason’s Gym in New York City. She says the reason she keeps boxing is simple - “I like it”.

Malissa’s site is the place to go for women’s boxing results and news. She started boxing in 1996. “Gleason’s is very supportive of women,” she says. “It was pretty much my neighbourhood gym.  Once there I fell in love with the gym and the sport and never looked back.  It’s a place that feels as comfortable as home.”

Talking about why she loves boxing, she circles back a few times to the idea of honesty. She says in boxing you have to be honest, with yourself, with your trainers and with your fellow-boxers. “In order to be successful at the practice of boxing one has to let oneself go.  Really hitting something is difficult.  It requires precision, strength and control – not to mention that it takes one’s entire body moving in harmony to punch with power.”

Training the old-school way 
Her first trainer, Johnny Grinage was “old-school”. She says: “His thought was you can only learn in the ring so why waste your time (on focus pads). Johnny’s other big thing was to avoid what he called “pitty-pat.”  To his way of thinking, if you weren’t going to hit hard you might as well go home.  Thus, training was sort of simple.  Warm-up exercises with a broom handle (25 on each side).  Three rounds of slip-rope work – Left, left, right, left hook, slip, right, left hook, right, slip – back and forth along the slip-rope over and over again.”

And of course he loved the heavy bag, up to 12 rounds she says. Ouch, but that was how they ground it out back in the day. “Johnny always had me do nothing but the left, left, left hook, slip, for the first round (“and don’t give me no pitty-pat”) followed by slews of combinations, but always going back to the L,L,R, LH, slip, R, LH, R.” Five years of that, and it’s no wonder Malissa developed strong hands.
 
Changing trainers and training
Following a two-year break for personal reasons, Malissa got back in the ring with Lennox Blackmore. Still a tough routine but more variety.
One mile run on the tread mill to warm up /Three rounds shadow boxing
Four to five rounds focus mitts with Lennox /Three rounds double-ended bag
Three rounds speed bag/ Sit-ups: 100 / Crunches: 100-200

These days, in a nod to her slightly-older years, she’s adapted that regime to:
Walk for 1-3 miles to the gym (fast)
Shadow boxing or slip rope combination: four rounds
Focus mitts with Lennox: four rounds / Double-ended bag: four rounds
Speed bag: four rounds / Situps: 25-50  / Cunches: 50 or so

Why I love boxing
Malissa reminds me of a great scene where “Send me no flowers” when she’s explaining how liberating boxing is for someone of her age. And I’m sure any boxer could relate. “There’s a nice secret to boxing that is particularly hard for women to admit – it’s great to hit things. 

“I mean it, there is a deep satisfaction to letting it all go and feeling your own power or hearing the sound of your glove hitting a heavy bag with just the right amount of torque.  Women of my age in particular were still being raised to maintain our demeanours – and the notion of showing strength and controlled violence was unheard of, never mind hitting a person. I mean think of this:  Doris Day cold-cocking Rock Hudson.”

Part 11 of this interview will follow on Thursday - her Aikido-loving daughter and lots of tips for boxers. 

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Get into that ring girl!

Get some boxing inspiration from this black'n'white promo for an English trainer. I've no idea who he is but I love the approach to getting women into boxing for fitness.

Have a great weekend!


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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Nicola Fitzgibbon on the Irish Aga Khan team?

 UPDATE: Friday - Nicola Fitzgibbon will jump today. Good luck to her and the rest of the team.

The Dublin Horse Show is on this week here - for non-horsey people this mightn't sound like a big drama. But for anyone who grew up as I did with bridles, straw and real horses-shoes about the place, this is The Week to be in Dublin.
The highlight is the world-renowned show-jumping competition the Aga Khan Cup. And for the first time since 2008, there is a chance the Irish team announced later today will have a woman rider - Nicola Fitzgibbon. This article in yesterday's paper - bizarrely illustrated with someone else! - says she's been a "rising star" since 2009 when she won three Premier Grand Prix and the over-eight in Dublin. She jumped fifth in the Irish Sports Council Classic yesterday on Puissance, great name for a horse.
The 2008 team featured Jessica Kurten, posted about her here and  here

This clip is of Fitzgibbon paired with Puissance jumping at the Grand Prix in Falsterbo, Sweden on July 15th.
                                  Good luck to her today, and hopefully tomorrow too.


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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Girls talk skiff-racing in Ireland

Skiff-racing Wicklow Regatta August 1
Messing about in boats … Yesterday I met some girls and women who do just that. But they mess about in quarter tonne wooden rowing boats, using 16-foot (4.8m) oars to get out to sea in waves which could swamp other types of rowing boat.
I was at the Wicklow Regatta in Ireland yesterday, and the sun almost remembered to shine, almost. The crews – four people – race for distances between 700m and 2,700m. I was amazed to see the U-12 crew setting out, they barely looked big enough to get in the boat but once out, they skimmed the waves.

Training
Sarah Carroll, Renee Armstrong and Heidi Keogh from the Wicklow Rowing Club chatted with me after their races. The three started racing aged 13 – 14 and now compete in the U-18s and Junior races.  I thought training must involved weights and gym-work but it seems not.

“We just go out and do the course and most people do it every day but we (u-18s) take Saturday off,” Renee said. Heidi said doing well in a race is all about the first few seconds. The boats line up in front of the pier, each cox holds a long rope thrown down from the crowd and a bull-horn sounds for the start.

“It depends on the start,” she said. “It’s about where you start from, what berth you get. And it depends on the tide where you are, the tide and the wind.” Sarah explained that’s all decided in a draw using balls pulled out of a bag, so they have no choice in where to go. “It’s all very random,” she said.

Skills you need in a skiff
Surprisingly for such a tough sport, the three said they haven’t suffered any injuries. Heidi said the hardest thing to get right is the timing. “That’s hard, getting into the water and back out of the water at the same time as the rest of the people,” she said as they all laughed. “Other than that, it’s kind of Ok. It’s not as hard as you think it’s gonna be.” Sarah added: “Yeah, you have to get the timing. If you’re not in time (together) the boat rocks.”

Racing with ‘the boys’
Most of the races are single-sex but each age division has a mixed race. Sarah said it can be easier for girls to row in those teams. “The boys are bigger. They encourage us to keep going so we can row with them.” Speaking over each other, they said the power in a boat comes from the middle so the boys take that position in a mixed team which makes it easier for them. And, with great timing, The Boys appeared from the boat-room just then and the conversation disintegrated.

Getting ready to race Skiff-racing Wicklow Regatta Aug 1
You can read more about yesterday's races here in a piece I did for the Irish Times.
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Eventer Zara Phillips Marries in Scotland

Zara Phillips marries Mike Tindall in Scotland
Weddings aren't usually big on this blog but this weekend British eventer Zara Phillips got married so I thought a little comment was in order. For anyone who doesn't know her - she is a former Eventing World Champion, BBC Sports Personality of the year in 2006, and one of the UK's Olympic hopes. Plus, although she plays this down as much as possible, she's the Queen of England's granddaughter.

Zara Phillips world champion on Toytown
Zara Phillips Badminton
Eventing is far from easy - she's broken a collarbone among other injuries - but it's the more the huge effort she makes to mostly pay her own way and avoid the celebrity-value of being born into the royal family that brings her in here. It would be so easy to sit back and let The Family take care of her, but she walks her own path.

Some friends saw her jump in Dublin at few months back at the Tattersalls International CIC where she rode really well but was forced to retire on Lord Lauries. So she's still looking out for that perfect horse to make an Olympic medal a reality. She is officially retiring Toytown this week at the Festival of British Eventing.

In the meantime, she's so committed that her honeymoon was put on hold - only two days allowed. It probably doesn't help that her now-husband plays rugby for England and has a wee competition - the World Cup - coming up soon. Training first all-round then.

In an interview here, she said: "She said: 'You go about choosing the horses you get on with. It is very much a partnership sport so you have to work on everything together to get the job done, that would be the most important way of looking for the right horse. Taking part in London would be a massive dream for me personally, the pinnacle of my career, because everyone wants to go to the Olympics in every sport, so it would be a massive honour."
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