Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Can Women Compete with Men?

A reader sent me on a link to a Runner's World story. The writer is an Ultrarunner (those insanely fit people who consider 50kms as their minimum distance) and she's noticed that many of the top finishers are female.

It's an unusual sport in that the male and female runners compete directly against each other so it's easy to measure who is doing well. The article itself is short - you can read it here "Why Women Rule Ultrarunning" but it's an interesting idea. Usually the idea of men and women directly competing brings up thoughts of fairground freakshows - as in men and women boxing. But it seems there are some sports where women's physiological makeup lends itself to success.

Do you think men are better than women at some sports? Or women than men? 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sad Times at Women's Rugby World Cup for Ireland

So Ireland aren't going so well at the Women's Rugby World Cup. But these things happen. It's one of the great things about sport that there usually is another day. Not that we remember at the time but afterwards that sense of perspective kicks in ... hopefully. So yes losing 27- 0 on the first match was not a good start. I love that the coach said there were lots of positives to take away, that must have been hard to say no matter how true - the first half was good, really it was.

Photo credit Rugbymatters.net
Captain Fiona Coughlan is one of my favourite players; not just because she takes the time to write for a few newspapers and the Scrum Queens blog. It's so easy as an athlete to forget about life outside the pitch but she takes her responsibility in promoting the sport very seriously. Like all contact sports, it can be hard to convince girls and women to have a go. This is where Tag Rugby and Sevens have an advantage, so it was encouraging to read about a training camp she ran recently when the teenagers were already talking about the Rugby Sevens at the Rio Olympics. Let's look forward not back Click here on the Women's RWC site to see how your country is going!

What's your favourite sporting cliche for dealing with losses?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Will Marion Jones Overcome her History?

Benjamin Sklar for New York Times

I remember watching Jones in absolute awe when she won five gold medals at the Sydney Olympics. And then crashing into cynicism when news of the doping scandal broke and broke and broke. You'd think when she came out of prison (about two years ago) that she would have moved to Montana and hung out in the hills with her family. 

But nope. Jones hit the basketball courts in May for the Tulsa Shock and is grabbing headlines again but for all the right reasons this time.

I have to say that initially when I read the story over on Women Talk Sports, I was more than a little surprised. But having read some interviews online and thought about her choices, well, why not? She made some huge mistakes, lied to a lot of people but her medals were stripped, her good name is gone. This is her chance to show us that she really is a top-class athlete. It'll be interesting to watch how this new drama plays out.

Do you think she is right to try again or is it too late?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Guest Post on The Glowing Edge

Lisa from The Glowing Edge blog asked me to go over there and continue a chat we'd started about why you need to be smart to box.

Her blog deals mostly with her amateur boxing life, with lots of great videos and tips for training and general health. Find my guest-post Boxing and Brains here.  Enjoy. Oh, and leave her some comments .... it's how the world goes round.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Helen Skelton Kayaks the Amazon

We didn't have the BBC when I was growing up in Ireland. But somehow the whole "Here's something I made earlier" phenomenon from the children's show "Blue Peter" is just as well known over here as in the UK. So I wouldn't have been surprised to see that one of the presenters had made an Eiffel Tower from toilet rolls or re-created the Vatican in play-doh. Finding one of them kayaking down the longest river in the world for Sport Relief was more of a surprise.

Helen Skelton made it down 2,000 kms of water becoming the first woman to do so and also setting the record for the longest 24-hour paddle by a woman. All wrapped up in blister tape by the end, I wonder what she'll do with it? The video shows just how tough it was.

What do you think - are charity events like this really of benefit?


Friday, August 20, 2010

Bruising boxing book by Mischa Merz

Book image Vulgar Press
What happens when a journalist takes up boxing later in life? Six months after she started a boxercise class, 29 year old Aussie Mischa Merz saw off an attempted mugging and was inspired to move onto boxing classes. First printed ten years ago, she has republished "Bruising" with updates on her fights and recent training sessions at Gleasons in NYC.

The book is top-heavy with feminist thought and quotes from critics like Lynne Segal. But what keeps your attention is her journey from regular joan to fighter. Watching her discover what she calls "...this new world of simplicity" in training, diet and exercise, you want to tell her to think less and punch more but she finds that out for herself as she improves. Or you could say as the addiction grows. Some of the more fem-sport issues she raises include how hard it can be to balance growing in strength and muscle with looking like a woman. A relief to note that this isn't so much of an issue in western countries as it was when she started back in the '90s. Although it is puzzling she was never able to fight in her homestage of New South Wales thanks to some arcane laws relating to women's boxing. On the plus side, we have some entertaining thoughts on how hard it is for women to stop saying "Sorry" when we hit each other. Well-worth a read, even if I did skip some of the 1980's fem-thought pages.

You can read more about Merz or order the book from her website Mischa Merz

Monday, August 16, 2010

Women Boxers in Afghanistan

The build-up to the London Olympics is already well under way. One of the biggest excitements for me will bet  watching women compete in the amateur boxing section. Hard to believe they justified keeping women out of that for so long, but everything comes to those who wait.

One gym preparing for this is in Kabul, Afghanistan. A group of women who started training under an NGO-sponsored programme in 2007, just having fun and learning to get fit, are now the official Afghan Women's Boxing team. Rahmi pictured above and a team-mate will compete in the AIBA qualifiers on September 6th. There have been quite a few stories about them in the press lately, no doubt because seeing women boxing makes a better story than looking at other ways in which some Afghan women are still struggling to find their path. One BBC journalist described the gym as a visible sign of the progress he had been hoping to find, while one of the boxers said in an Irish Times interview : "Girls in Afghanistan shouldn’t be afraid of anything. Our country needs them."

Looking forward to meeting more boxers as the Olympics draw closer, like Mary Kom. 

Sadaf Rahimi, Afghan Women's Boxing Team pic Majid Saeedi

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Emily Valenine First Female Rugby Player 1887

So you have probably noticed that this blog is usually dedicated to women doing individual sports. It's not that I have anything against teams, just that some boundaries are needed or I'd never leave the computer. But with the Women's Rugby World Cup kicking off (cough) on August 20th over in London, it's time to squeeze in a few off-topic posts.

Emily Valentine, from IRB site
To begin at the beginning, Irish woman Emily Valentine was the first woman recorded playing rugby. Scrum Queens blog tracked down papers from her family which show that she played in 1887 with her school team in Enniskillen when she was ten. In a sign of the times, she makes reference to the cumbersome clothing she had to wear saying: "I loved rugby football, but seldom got a chance to do more that kick a place-kick or drop goal, but I could run in spite of petticoats and thick undergarments, I could run." And in this extract, we can see the first time Valentine got to play:

"One day I got a chance. It was just a school scratch match and they were one "man" short. I was about ten years old. I plagued them to let me play, "Oh, all right. Come on then." Off went my overcoat and hat - I always wore boys' boots anyhow, so that was all right.

I knew the rules. At last my chance came. I got the ball - I can still feel the damp leather and the smell of it, and see the tag of lacing at the opening. I grasped it and ran dodging and darting, but I was so keen to score that try that I did not pass it, perhaps when I should; I still raced on, I could see the boy coming toward me; I dodged, yes I could and breathless, with my heart pumping, my knees shaking, I ran. Yes, I had done it; one last spurt and I touched down, right on the line. I lay flat on my face for a for a moment everything went black. I scrambled up, gave a hasty rubdown to my knees.

A ragged cheer went up from the spectators. I grinned at my brothers. It was all I hoped for. I knew I couldn't kick a goal, but that didn't worry or disappoint me; what I had wanted to do I had; the desperate run, the successful dodging, and the touchdown.

On the way home, muddy and hot. "You didn't do badly, Em, but you should have..." and so on. Later on at tea my brothers grinned at me, passed me the jam politely, and kicked me under the table. My mother remarked that she hoped I hadn't felt cold watching the game. "I'm glad you won the match boys, " she said . My brother raised his cup, looked at me, and drank then winked. "Good luck, wasn't it mum?"

This is the earliest record; I'm sure there were other women playing at the time or even before. The past can be a frustrating place but it's great to see information appearing from the shadows. Do you know of any other historical firsts for women in sport?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Diana Nyad, never too old to swim?

Diana Nyad, pics from AARP
In spite of Helen Mirren's on-going popularity, there's a general perception lingering today women in their 60s are just sitting around waiting to pass on. But American swimmer Diana Nyad, 60, is spending this summer shaking a fin at all the nay-sayers.

Nyad was a renowned long-distance swimmer in the '70s holding records like swimming around Manhattan Island in 7 hours 57 mins and swimming the 102.5 miles between the Bahamas and Florida. But this summer, after a 31-year break, she's back in the water for two swims. 

In July she swam for 24 hours through Key West Florida. Sounds inspiring but it's only a warm-up for an August 103 mile swim to Cuba - for which she needed Hilary Clinton to intervene with the American government for permission as the swim was seen as positively promoting Cuba. (Can we say Groundhog Day when it comes to American foreign policy?)

Posting on her blog Nyad has this to say:

"I was experiencing what millions my age are feeling these days. Disenfranchised, no longer valued, terribly worried that my best days were behind me. Yet the business of life is to live large and you can dream at any age. To me the phrase “60 is the new 40” is not a joke. We baby boomers can put truth into those words. We are far from irrelevant at 60. 

"We’re now emotionally mature, brimming with wisdom and calm, still physically strong. This should be the prime of our lives. Training for this swim has filled me with the heartening, empowering conviction that it’s never too late to chase your dream."

As of today she hasn't set a definite date, but as she turns 61 on August 22nd, that could be it. Sadly of course the oil spill is affecting her plans as it's disrupting many other lives. You can read how she goes at her blog: Diana Nyad Extreme Dream 

So what do you think - is there a limit to how long we can keep competing or is Nyad right to keep pushing?