Monday, December 24, 2012

RTE Sportsperson goes to Katie Taylor

RTE Sports Personality of the Year
Katie Taylor was named RTE Sports Person of the Year last night. More than well-deserved.

Taylor has not only put herself on the map but has single-handedly changed Irish people’s attitudes to boxing. The manager at one of the equipment shops I go to in Dublin said he’s never seen anything like it,  never seen the gloves fly out the door like this even back when Barry McGuigan was winning. Video and interviews from last night are here on the RTE site.

So a happy ending to a year that wasn’t very happy for a lot of people. And on that note am taking a break from blogging for the holidays.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas! See you in the 2013.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

From New York to Chiang Mai thanks to Muay Thai

One of the first things Sylvie Von Duuglas-Ittu learned when she moved to Thailand was taking a long nap after training is probably not a good idea. Too much sleeping means no eating means weight loss. And at 47 kg, that’s not so smart, the American fighter says.

MuayThai 2.0

If you follow women’s Muay Thai online, you might have come across one of Von Duuglas-Ittu’s YouTube videos or maybe you follow her on Facebook. Part of a new generation of fighters, Von Duuglas-Ittu says her online work is as much part of her career as what she does in the ring.

‘What I’m doing now is such an opportunity, I wanted to share it with as many people as possible and give to other women in the world,’ she says, speaking from her apartment in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

Her YouYube channel has been viewed more than one million times and her Facebook page reached 1,000 likes this week. So while many mainstream sports publications are still working out that women fight, the internet is showing the way.

Von Duuglas-Ittu started her adventure in Thailand through her website 8 Limbs Us, gathering sponsorship and attention with the eye-catching design. But what really caught my attention is that she and her husband have moved to Thailand for ‘at least’ a year.

A Year to Fight

Many fighters save up to spend four or maybe six weeks training but the commitment involved in throwing away jobs and homes smacks of something else. Dedication and maybe a little madness.

She says they went on a shorter trip first from their New York base, but just knew they had to go back again. Seven months into the adventure, she has no regrets.

“I lived about 60 miles outside of the city, so I would commute about an hour to get to training. I was training maybe four hours a week instead of seven hours a day,” she says.

Her first trainer at home was Master K, a former Thai fighter who lives in New York. But even with his training, she had a lot to learn when she arrived in Thailand.

“He trains very detailed things that help you learn, no-body can tell you how to do the kick with your hip but he explains how you use your hip for power.

“But he wasn’t making me do heavy repetitions on the bag, he doesn’t hold pads so it was actually incredibly different from Thai training here,’ she says.

Von Duuglas-Ittu’s husband works online and at the moment she focuses just on training, a luxury she says.

“The training out here feels good, it’s not ‘I’m going to go to training now’; it’s a way of life. It’s what you do.”
A Stitch in Time

But just in case you’re thinking Von Duuglas-Ittu is just a key-board warrior, her most recent fight earned her seven stitches. She wrote on her blog: “As my adrenaline wore off the pain of the stitches became more pronounced, but you just sit through it. 

“There’s no help in making noise or wincing about it – “take the fight out of your face,” as it goes.”

And yes, she’s uploaded a video of the stitches going in ringside, watch it here on her page

One of the most exciting things about women’s fighting in Thailand now is how many women are on the circuit. Von Duuglas-Ittu has had four fights already this month - ten years ago that would have taken months to build up. Her fight record is now 15-5-2.

“A lot of the girls I fight now are doing MuayThai as part of their school-work, it’s on their sports or PE work. They have soccer and MuayThai,” she says.

And when I asked if the couple are really going home at the end of the year, she just laughed. Make of that what you will. 

I'll be posting more from this interview next week, but in the meantime pop over to 8 Limbs Us for some great posts from Von Duuuglas-Ittu herself. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Sylvie von Duuglus Ittu

Sylvie von Duuglas -Ittu is an American fighter training MuayThai in Thailand - come back tomorrow for her interview.

Other Wordless Wednesday bloggers hanging out here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

BBC brings us the raw emotion behind sport

Jessica Ennis - Olympic heptathlete champion and runner-up BBC SPOTY
Cyclist Bradley Wiggins won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year last night with Olympic heptathlete Jessica Ennis in second place in an emotional celebration of all that's good in sport.

There were tears, laughter and so many, many memories. And as Martina Navratilova said the great success of women athletes in 2012 gives other women 'the possibility to dream'. From the joy of paralympic swimmer Ellis Simmonds to the sheer grit of rower Katherine Grainger, we saw how women could be portrayed in a different world. 

But for me the most inspiring story took place far from the medal ceremonies. Martine Wright lost both her legs in the London bombings in July 2007 but competed in the Paralympics on the sitting volleyball team. She said how lucky she was to have this opportunity, and even that she was on the train to create that chance. Almost unbearably moving. The Beeb recognised her bravery with the Helen Rollason award. 

If you didn't get a chance to watch it all  - and there was three hours of mayhem  - the BBC report is here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Deirdre Gogarty talks boxing, world titles and books

Meeting world champion boxer Deirdre Gogarty when she visited Ireland in October was a real pleasure. They say never meet your heroes but sometimes it's turns out just fine.

I posted the newspaper article I wrote on her here, and finally getting around to uploading the radio interview today. Enjoy!
Deirdre Gogarty’s book ‘My Call to the Ring’ is available online from

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Memories of the Paralympics London2012

The glory and excitement of the Paralympics seems far away now but the Irish stars recaptured some of the magic at the first Irish Paralympic Awards in Dublin this week.

Gold medallist Bethany Firth won gold in the S14 100m backstroke at just 16 years of age and took home the Outstanding Female Performance. 

Anne Ebbs, former secretary general of the Paralympic Council of Ireland was given the highest recognition the movement can offer when she received The Paralympic Order. 

So many memories from a fantastic fortnight of sport and emotion. It's hard to pick favourites really. You could also make a case for cyclist Catherine Walsh or young equestrian Helen KearneySwimmer Ellen Keane is another athlete we will definitely see again, hopefully in Rio 2016. 

In all the Irish team - men and women - came home with eight gold, three silver and five bronze medals.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

BBC Sport discovers women have personalities

BBC nominees for Sports Personality of the Year 2012
That's a great picture to share especially in light of last year's sexist line-up which didn't even include one woman. 

This year voters can chose from Jessica Ennis, heptathlete/ Nicola Adams, boxer/ Ellie Simmonds, swimmer/ Sarah Storey, cyclist/ Katherine Grainger, rower

Curiously this year's batch were selected using a different method - last year's was done by sports editors from various British newspapers. It bothers me that they had to dump the media who should be more aware than anyone of the talent out there to make a representative list. 

The Beeb posted earlier on how divisive last year's panel was, so this year's is broader. 

*Barbara Slater,  Director of BBC Sport (Chair) /*The BBC’s Head of TV Sport (Philip Bernie)/*The Executive Editor of BBC Sports Personality of the Year (Carl Doran)./*A representative from BBC Radio 5 Live - this year, Eleanor Oldroyd./*Three national newspaper sports editors (to be rotated annually) - this year, Mike Dunn (The Sun), Lee Clayton (Daily Mail) and Matthew Hancock (Observer)/*Three former nominees (to be appointed annually) - this year, Sir Steve Redgrave, Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson and Denise Lewis OBE/*A pan-sports broadcaster/journalist - this year, Sue Mott and *Baroness Sue Campbell, Chair of UK Sport.

At least now when the public vote takes place on the overall winner, there is a fair chance of a woman winning if she deserves it. 

For a look at the Irish equivalent, the RTE Sports Person of the Year, pop over to Action81 and this post 'From Derval to Katie and how we ought to use surnames'. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Photographer Camilla Stoddart in World Open final

Camilla Stoddart, a sports/action photographer whose work often features on this blog, is a finalist in the 2012 World Open Of Photography. Some incredible shots from everyone in this contest, but the Scotswoman's shots always speak to me. Follow the links below to her entries, they're non-downloadable so can't put them here.

My favourite is this MTB shot taken at St Bathans in New Zealand. It shows Kiwi Kelly McGarry on what looks like a vertical slope down into an old gold mine.

But this shot of Mitch Coll base-jumping - flying really - is also hard to stop looking at. I've been reading a lot about Base Jumping lately, could be time for another documentary I think. Fascinates me how they just don't seem to be afraid at all.

The World Open winners will be announced on November 30th.  

This shot from Camilla Stoddart's blog. 

Stoddart's website with more great shots like this one is here.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Dame Kelly Holmes in the abstract

What do you make of this?

Thanks to Maria for sending this, she said: '(sending you ) a data visualisation about Dame Kelly Holmes we have just released. In conjunction with Planet K2, London studio Accept & Proceed took Dame Kelly Holmes’ 800m and 1500m races in Athens 2004 and turned them into a piece of artwork as part of the Art of Performance series.

There are more examples including Paula Radcliffe's 2003 London Marathon here. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Surfer Easkey Britton in Iran

I had lots of fun working on a piece about Irish surfer Easkey Britton this week, one of the most inspiring sports women around really. This video was shot when she travelled to Iran on a surfing trip. Yes, Iran. 
Easkey Britton surf en Iran- from marion poizeau on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

When women's magazines make you fat

When I lived in Sydney my favourite sports mag was 'Women's Health'.  So when I moved back to Ireland, it was sorely missed.

The buzz when I saw a new UK edition launched recently was mighty as they say in Ireland, only mighty ... until I opened it.

Models so thin they clearly have never worked out in their lives, no muscle defintiion, stories about sex lives and chocolate with a singer on the cover. Oh, and a banner across the top proclaiming: ' 7-day gym pass for every reader'. Well, that's alright then.

Aside from telling me I perhaps should have stayed in Sydney, the mag just disappointed me so much. Is this really what Irish and British women want from a sports magazine? I mean, 'Women's Running' is nothing like this - it's great. But is only about running, ahem obviously.

I was really looking forward to WH - the Aussie edition is brimming over with nutrition advice - not diet, nutrition - training tips, gear and equipment advice, new sports you might not have heard about before and it made me feel healthy just reading it.

Then this morning I hear that the Irish government is thinking about introducing a Sugar Tax to force people to stop eating crap. Our obesity levels are the 4th highest in Europe.

Is there a connection I ask myself? Oh yes there is - get out do sport, real sport not just wearing an expensive tracksuit in your high heels and you won't be obese.

Too simplistic a message? Sorry. (I'm not really) 


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

World Champion boxer Deirdre Gogarty visits Ireland

The walls of St Saviour’s Boxing Gym in Dublin are covered with photos of tough-looking men, gloved-up and ready to fight. But next to Muhammed Ali, there’s a photo of Deirdre Gogarty with a World Title belt around her waist. 

World Champion 1997 Irish Boxer Deirdre Gogarty (this pic from 1994)

Deirdre Gogarty won that belt in 1997 after ten years of training in Ireland and America. Women’s boxing was illegal in Ireland then so she’d moved to Louisiana

“I started in Saviour’s really, I was young then and thought no-one in the world could beat me. It was an instinct in me to fight, it was just something I had to do,” she says, standing next to the ring.

Now a boxing coach and graphic artist in Louisiana, I met her in October when she came to Ireland to launch her autobiography. She also made time for a training session with Olympic champion Katie Taylor. 

Gogarty and Taylor go back a long way. When Gogarty won her Women’s International Federation of Boxing title in New Orleans, 11-year-old Taylor wrote to her.

“I kept a letter she sent congratulating me on wining the world title. And at the bottom she said maybe one they will let us box at the Olympics,” Gogarty says.

“It is brilliant to see her now. I’m living a little bit through her, I would have wanted everything she did and it’s just great she has the chance now.”

But she says thinking any amateur boxer can make an easy transition to professional fighting is a mistake. Gogarty herself went straight into the pro game but she says for anyone with a choice that would be “madness”.

Aside from the obvious differences of no head-gear and smaller gloves, the Drogheda woman says the fights are tougher.

“You are paid so you are expected to handle a lot more punishment and fouls. You get fouled more – head-butts, low blows and kidney punches. You are more prone to getting cut too. But in amateur the emphasis is on safety,” she says.

And you’re alone, she says, there is no support like the High Performance Team gives to amateur boxers in Ireland. She refers to professional boxing promoters as “sharks”. In contrast amateur boxers compete in highly-regulated tournaments. 

One of Gogarty’s most famous fights was on the undercard for Mike Tyson Vs Frank Bruno in 1996. Her opponent’s battered face put women’s boxing on the map for millions of viewers. 

But she hopes people will realise the huge differences between professional and amateur scenes.
She says: “Boxing is tough at any level. But everyone should absolutely try amateur boxing. Knowing you are fighting and being able to prepare for that is a life experience that will stand to you.”

Gogarty hopes the so-called ‘Katie Taylor” effect will bring girls into boxing gyms. But she’s unsure how many could ever compete at Olympic level.

“There are not very many people, boys or girls, who go into competition. It takes a special person to climb into that ring. It takes a lot of courage. This is not a sport for everybody,” she says.

(and in Easons if you're in Ireland!) 

A version of this story first appeared in the Irish Independent's FIT magazine. 


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Surfer Justine Dupont and Aileen's Wave in Ireland

On Sunday Frenchwoman Justine Dupont joined the tiny number of people who've surfed Aileens Wave in the west of Ireland. It crashes in under the Cliffs of Moher climbing up to 12 metres on its way as you can see in the video below.

A note with the video says: "The swell came courtesy of Hurricane Rafael, a fast moving system which shot a powerful beam of condensed swell in an arc around the Atlantic basin. The 21-year-old World Tour surfer travelled with the Billabong Adventure Division from her home in Lacanau, France to surf the big-wave spot.

In the over-subscribed and unquantifiable "best ever" category, this barrel has got to rank up there in pure heft with any tube ridden by a female surfer in Europe.

"That was an amazing day of surfing," Dupont said afterwards. "It was more than a session, it was a mission. From getting smashed paddling out to surfing that perfect beautiful wave, it was a day I’ll never forget."


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Armageddon Muay Thai fight night in Dublin

PICTURE: thanks to Ces the Day

Tonight is the night. If you're in Dublin, you need to be at the Red Cow Convention Centre for the Armageddon Fights!

Along with some fab men's fights including an Irish and European title we have Ferial 'Felix' Ameeroedien and Kelly Creegan taking on opponents from Holland and Wales.

Listen below for some thoughts on how the night will go:

This was made for Dublin radio station NearFm for the Sports Local Live programme.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Caley Reece defends world title and retires

It's all over for one of the best MuayThai fighters around  - last night Caley Reece of Riddler's Gy,m in Perth defended her world title and retired.

Reece with a record of 38 wins from 43 fights is one of the women redefining what women's boxing means. It's not enough anymore to just fight, you have to be good, really good. And that has been so exciting to watch.

I'm sad she's retired (yes, cause it makes me feel old now when I think of all the people I trained with and know most of them are gone now along with my lazy ass) but she's going to be a great trainer. And I'm sure we will see many more women coming out of Western Australia inspired by her.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Great women's sports blogs you need to read

When you start blogging people tell you it will take over your free-time. What I didn't expect was how compelling reading other people's blogs would be. So it's that time again - sharing the Blog Karma with some of my favourite reads.

MuayThai on the Brain 

This is a new blog but already showing great promise. Melissa Ray is the blogger, you've read interviews with her on my blog, most recently when she retired from her Muay Thai career. As the Englishwoman says on the blog she has four World Titles from 41 fights and a Phd in neuroscience. So if anyone is ready to write posts on the addictive nature of boxing and explain it all to the layperson, Ray is the one.

Spikes and Heels 

These posts cover Gravity Yoga, shoe reviews and anything in-between connected to running. Tagged as 'the fitness site for badass women' the bloggers are looking to smash that idea of sport as just being to lose weight. So yes, I love it. Take a look at the 'Street Athlete' section for some serious inspiration from runners, Capoeira teachers and martial artists.

Coven Magazine

Ok, this  isn't a blog but it's a great read. Interviews with climbers and skaters, practical tips on hydration, sports festival previews - this British mag has a lot to offer. And lots of gear reviews from women who have really hit the trails or climbed that mountain. Only click on this if you have lots of time to spare!

Girls, Girls, Girls at Red Bull

I've given this company's print magazine - Red Bulletin - lots of comment for their lack of female athletes or respectful coverage of same. But the online version is doing much better lately - regular slots on action stars from skating, BMX and motocross.

The Pugilista

I found this blog while reading another favourite - The Glowing Edge. Blogger L.A. is a coach with the American boxing team and owns an MMA gym in Colorado. From product reviews to reasons why women should fight, the blog ranges over all the combat sports. And of course interviews with people like Julie Kitchen. I was excited to see this morning that she is also writing a book.

If you see any other good blogs or mags on women's sport, let me know!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

San shou, no messing allowed for Laura O'Neill

The first time Irishwoman Laura O Neill fought in Chinese Kickboxing wasn’t just her first fight, it was the first time anyone from her gym had fought. Coming from a pure martial arts background into the sport also known as San Shou wasn't easy but she’s happy she stuck with it. 

san shou martial arts dublin laura o neill
Laura O' Neill in action. PICTURE: Ces the Day

The former Red Cross volunteer laughs now as she remembers feeling bad for hitting her opponent.

“Initially I didn’t want to fight, I felt it went against my nature – why get in a ring and let someone thump me,” she says, sitting on colourful mats at The Martial Arts Academy in south Dublin.

O’ Neill explains Chinese Kickboxing or San Shou originated in 1960s China. Following the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, many feared martial arts secrets would be lost. She says a number of experts – known as Masters – came together and created a new art from the best of what they knew. 

Punch-bags dangle from the ceiling above her waiting for the pulley to be activated but what catches the eye are the padded walls around the mats.

Fights traditionally take place on raised platform called Lei Tai with points awarded for dumping your opponent one metre down onto the ground. While there isn’t one of these at the gym, the speed of the wrestling moves would make bare walls too dangerous says O’ Neill.

She does mention one World Championship held on a Lei Tai in the middle of a lake in China so when you lost, you also had to swim to shore.

O’ Neill’s own fight career began when coach Paul Moran decided to shift the gym’s ethos from a pure martial arts focus to a fighting gym. So in spite of having studied Kung Fu since she was a child, everything changed for her five years ago.

“When you studying a martial art, you have no way of knowing whether what you’re doing is effective or not. The only way to test it is in a pressurized situation where you can’t just walk off and get yourself together,” she says.

That first fight was a rude awakening. Ruefully O’ Neill says her ‘tough as nails’ opponent taught her mental attitude is as important as physical fitness, and she now sees it as the beginning of a long journey.

Fighting and competing in Chinese Kickboxing

Fights usually last two rounds of two minutes each. If the score-cards mark a draw after that, then one more round is added on.

Points are awarded for clean shots which show impact. As O’ Neill puts it: “her head must flip back from the punch’. A punch scores one point, a kick above the waist two, a clean throw is also two and a sacrifice throw – where you touch the mat yourself to get into position – scores one.

She says everyone’s aim is to get in there, win in less than two rounds, preferably by KO or TKO, and walk out. Game over.

They compete wearing an open-face headguard, chest-pads, a groin-box –women too – shin-pads and 10oz gloves.

Watching the training a comparison with MMA comes to mind, without the going-to-ground element. And without the chokes or arm holds so the movement never stops.
O’ Neill and Moran both say you can pick out elements of many Chinese-influenced styles.

Moran says it’s no surprise to him to see a woman in the class as one of the first San Shou teachers in Ireland was American Carol Stephenson in the 1980s. She had trained under founder Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming who still teaches international seminars.

Moving out of earshot as O’Neill warms up, he says: “It’s probably unusual for a new guy who comes in but if we don’t treat her like a guy we get our asses kicked.”

Demonstrating a few swift moves, he says the real name for the martial art is Chinese Kickboxing. “It gives you the punching, the kicking and the wrestling techniques. It’s a complete stand-up style.”

san shou martial arts dublin laura o neill
Laura O' Neill and myself, focused interview! PICTURE: Ces the Day
Being the only woman

In a busy gym, O’Neill is the only woman. The 64.8kgs fighter says she’s had four fights in five years because she just can’t get opponents – estimating there are about ten women competing in Ireland altogether.

“It is a tough sport, it is easier to fight under Tae-Kwan-Do or kick-boxing rules. They are more controlled I think. We don’t stop when you score, we only stop for blood so it is more physically demanding,” she explains.

But the advantage of having so few women, as in other combat sports, is training is often tougher than any fight O’Neill says.

“I get thumped so hard by the guys here that in the ring I’ve never been caught too badly. I respect the women I fight but I’m lucky with the training. There are some times I’d like female company, it’s a big dressing room in there,” she says, pointing off to the back of the gym.

Another challenge is some of the older Masters, like Master Yang, the founder and head of O’Neill’s fighting style, don’t approve of female fighters
But Moran says this is changing, says about 30 per cent of the junior fighters around Ireland are women.

Should you try Chinese Kickboxing?

O’Neill doesn’t hesitate to recommend the sport to women, saying it’s a great short-cut to self-defence.

“You can pay crazy prices in a gym but you don’t get the work-out you get in a session here. When I try to score I need my legs, my back, everything has to move in tandem,” she says.

Standing at a kick-bag, she does a quick demo of her favourite technique. In one swift move, her leg flies up towards the top of the bag – heel first, thuds into the leather and returns back to fighting stance.

This is Chinese Kickboxing, not Kung-Fu Panda.

For more information go to Yangs Martial Arts Association Deansgrange on Facebook.       And for more great fighting shots -  Ces the Day Photography

This interview first appeared in the recent issue of Irish Fighter. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Taking a short break


I'm going to Uganda for two weeks for work, so I'm going to take a short break from blogging here. 

I'll keep an eye out for any interesting sports stories when I'm there, could be interesting.

And hoping to keep an eye on the Paralympics while I'm gone, such an exciting Games this year. 

Talk to you again in a few weeks,


(not my passport btw!)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Helmets ready, it's BMX time

BMX cycling Ireland
Pic credit: Stephen Kane
The slopes on a BMX track don't look too steep until you stand on top of one. Maybe that's why most riders are in their teens and early twenties - no fear.

Thirteen year old Katie O'Neill certainly doesn't show any fear tearing round the track in Rathoath, Co Meath. Well-padded in her red and black suit, long hair tucked away inside her helmet, all she cares about is getting up some speed. 

"It's a good sport, gets you out on the bike. It gets your blood running and your heart racing," she told me when I called by to see what they do.

Standing around with her mates, she doesn't seem tough enough to be out there. But the give-away is that she's even here. 

We're in a field out in the countryside, no glam changing rooms here just a few shipping containers. A man walks past us spraying weeds to keep the track clear.

Former racer Eamonn Wyer walks me around the track, stops to point Katie out to me.

"The woman who's leading their National Series Alison Murphy is 40, been racing for years. Katie's in second place behind her", he says. 

Katie grins when I ask her about this, shrugs her shoulders as if to say it's-no-big-deal. Her only comment is: " It's good, yeah, it's good". 

So this is how it works - you get suited-up, put on the helmet and then line-up on top of a steep slope on your bike, all in a line. Wyer says the good riders hit 50km/hr before they get to the end of the slope, he's not kidding. 

'The girls don't have a full gate yet,' O Neill explains, leaning on her bike. "There is usually five or six of at the gate, there is a lot of elbows. The first time I came was in November, now I race all the time." 

She admits to a few injuries but says her colourful outfit usually takes the brunt. Spilling over the handlebars sounds painful all the same, and she says she took home a sore head and grazed shoulders from one track-meet. 

I was out there around Olympics time, so all the talk was of Shanaze Reade, the UK rider with her Irish background. 

"I like her. In the last Olympics she crashed but she kept at it. She didn't give up. I've met her, she's really friendly,' says O'Neill. 

And that apparently is all it takes. That, and maybe a touch of madness.

More info on BMX here: Ratoath BMX /   Or on Facebook BMX Ireland

pic credit; Stephen Kane


Monday, August 13, 2012

Crying, laughing and talking about Katie Taylor on radio

A few hours after Katie Taylor won gold at the Olympics, I was talking on an Irish radio station about what this means for women's boxing. And yes, there were a few tears but mostly laughter.

We talked on 'Fionn Davenport After Dark' on Newstalk. The interview starts at 07.58 of Part One.

Or if you're short of time, follow the link below - you can fast forward through the original to the start at 07.58.

Talking Katie Taylor on Newstalk

If you have any other interviews or article coming out of the Olympics, do share! It's been so great seeing so many fit and healthy women around for the last while, was gutted to see the models back in action at the Closing Ceremony, gloomy reality strikes. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Olympic Archery, not just for the boys

Being an archer in Ireland can be frustrating as arrows don’t like the rain. Máire Hackett says damp ground pulls the arrows down and can make outdoor shooting difficult.

Picture Credit: The Irish Times
 Hackett took up archery a year ago and already has a target in her garden. “I have three boys and a few dogs,” she says. “I lock them away when I’m shooting. The dogs, not the boys.”
One son worries she might be arrested for having a lethal weapon in the house. But she admits her male friends struggle more with her new hobby than the women do. Training with the Wicklow Archery Club twice a week, Hackett says she has no interest in killing anything, that shooting with her Recurve bow is just a sport.

But it’s one the slightly-built 49-year-old takes seriously.
Sitting outside a cafe, she jumps up mid-sentence and demonstrates how to maintain “form”. One fist under her chin, the other arm stretched rigidly ahead of her, she plants her hips in a move familiar to anyone who’s seen Robin Hood in action. “There’s a lot of physics involved in getting it right. But I love the sound of the bow. I love the sound of hitting the target,” she says.
Hackett says archers are a close community, maybe because there are so few of them. But she hasn’t held an Olympic party in spite of her excitement.

“It would be the sort of thing you’d pause and watch slowly,” she says. “It wouldn’t be a group thing with a few drinks. It’s a serious business, you have to concentrate.”

This is part of a series of interviews: 'The Minority Sports Report' I did for today's Irish Times


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Watching Mary Kom and Katie Taylor at the Olympics

When 83-year-old Barbara Buttrick took the microphone in the Excel Centre yesterday, the world tilted just a little. She told us how she’d fought about one thousand exhibition bouts against men in 1940s England because there weren’t any women fighters.
And when she reminded us the Daily Mirror apologized for what they’d written about her 60 years ago, we got the first sign this would be a noisy afternoon at London2012.

Mixed in with those screaming fans, were so many boxers. I talked to women with Golden Gloves experience, women who’d trained through injuries, women who could hardly talk for emotion. Finally, the Olympic stage was theirs.

And then it was 5-time World Champion Mary Kom’s. It was simply incredible to finally see her fight live. She’s even stronger in person than you might think, and so, so comfortable inside the ropes. Maroua Rahali (Tunisia) tried her best but the third round score of six points to one says it all.

For me it was Katie Taylor and Natasha Jonas’ fight that really showed women’s boxing deserves to be in the Olympics. The floor shook under thousands of feet, the air split into roars of ‘Katie, Katie’ or “Team GB’ and dozens of Irish tricolours danced on the energy in the arena.

The decibel level hit 113.07, the highest of any event so far with just 10,000 people around the ring.

Jonas (GB) brought her A-game, all the fans and all the glitz but somehow, she couldn’t bring the power.

The speed, the tactics, the strength and the pure joy of winning. That was Taylor yesterday.

It was magnificent, probably one of the most exciting fights I’ve ever been at. And, yes, there were tears, hugging of strangers and an overwhelming sense that just for that moment, for that one tiny moment, all was right in the world.


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Which sport is your London buzz?

How great is it to see so many women sports start in the papers, on the radio and on TV? Imagine if it was like this all the time .... *sighs* I'm sure a whole new generation of girls will be inspired by the women they are seeing at the Olympics now.

Not just to do with sports either - when you hear the stories of people like Afghani boxer Sadaf Rahimi you realise just how symbolic sport is of everything women need to achieve. If you can get your hands on TIME magazine's Olympic issue, she told them: "I'm tired of the world seeing Afghan women as victims. I want to deliver a message to the world through my fighting that Afghan girls are not victims".

How could you not be inspired by the UK's Jessica Ennis last night? Incredible athlete. 

Closer to home, it's really exciting seeing Irishwomen like Joanne Cuddihy (400m), Camilla Speirs (eventer) and Annalise Murphy (sailing) doing so well. (re sailing btw - I had no idea their event lasts for days, so intense.)

And of course Ireland's Katie Taylor. I'm in Londom for the fights on Monday  - will see Taylor take on either Queen Underwood (USA) or Natasha Jones (UK). Either would make a great fight for her - afraid any idea of objectivity will head out the window for the day. Looking forward to seeing Sofya Ochigava (Rus) too.

Which events have been keeping you glued to the screen? 


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Can you help "With this Ring" boxing film?

This weekend women's amateur boxing finally gets its dues - and there is something you can do to help spread the story of these pioneers. 

As I wrote here, it's been 108 years since boxing made its debut as a demonstration sport at the St Louis Games but the women have finally arrived. Canadian film-makers Ameesha Joshi and Anna Sarkissian have followed three Indian fighters since 2006, charting their attempts first to fight and then to make London2012.

Mary Kom pic IBN LIve
You will may recognise one of them - Mary Kom, with her five World Titles at 46kgs. But the other two are no laggards either, Chhoto Loura has two bronze medals (world) at 50kgs and Sarita Devi is a five-time Asian champion at 51kgs.

It's been a difficult journey as the Olympic categories didn't really fit with their natural fighting weights - Kom comes to London in the 51kgs category. And Devi boxed at 60gs at the World Championships in May in a qualifying attempt which ultimately failed.

And no less difficult for the film-makers. We've been in touch since I first posted about them in July 2010, Ameesha sent me the latest on their funding efforts yesterday:

"Our story ends at the Olympics where Mary Kom will be competing and could be the first Indian woman ever to win a gold medal.  So it's exciting times.  Co-director/Cinematographer Anna Sarkissian is in Liverpool at the moment with Mary Kom for her final days of training.

We launched an online campaign to help raise money to pay for post-production so we can get this completed and out there.

We have 22 more days to raise $17,500 and could use all the help we could get.  Our fundraising campaign is hosted by Indiegogo, the crowdfunding site.

We are also huge fans of Katie Taylor, have had the pleasure of watching her compete since 2006. After seeing her at the Worlds in Qinhuangdao, I think they should just give her the gold, she was light years ahead of her competition! "

I love the Katie Taylor mention, very gracious of you Ameesha! So if you're gutted not to be in London and want to see more women's boxing on the screen, go to Indiegogo  It's worth a look even just for the sponsor-package titles.

Why have they done this?
Ameesha Joshi: "India has some of the best women boxers in the world. They have risen to the top from very humble circumstances. Although I grew up in Canada, my parents emigrated from India and I'm aware of the cultural expectations and could imagine some of the criticism these woman would've faced. We knew we had found some extraordinary trailblazers.”

Anna Sarkissian: "They are so unique, and yet unassuming. For a long time, they didn’t really understand why we were interested in filming them. Despite a few perks, they live tough lives, and train in difficult conditions to pursue a sport that many might consider laughable. I have profound respect for the amount of discipline, physical and mental strength that boxing requires and am in awe of their dedication.”

They can be contacted directly through their website: With This Ring


Monday, July 30, 2012

Liz Kavanagh does 12 marathons in 12 months for 2012

Marathon Liz Kavanagh Kilkenny Rome Belfast running

Liz Kavanagh might never win a marathon but the 56-year-old with 27 marathons on three continents behind her says getting over the line is the goal. And this year she is hitting that tape 12 times, seven down and five to go. 

She trains in the grounds of Kilkenny Castle, one lap is five km, then press repeat. Kavanagh jogs here and mixes jogging with walking for the races.

Watching her stride through the grounds quickly disabuses you of the thought walking is somehow easier. Colourful trainers hit the ground quickly, arms swing and she’s full steam ahead.

“It’s 26 miles whether you are walking or running. I’d be jogging for about the first half, then walking and jogging. This is my passion, I’m competing against myself so I’m not against anyone,” Kavanagh says.

She jokes she has no ambition to beat Paula Radcliffe and mentions how grateful she is not to have arthritis quite a few times as she talks.

“I have had problems at the end of a race. My feet get very sore. I don’t know if it is arthritis or what, I don’t really want to know what it’s about,” she says. “I don’t want to be told to finish running.”

New York

And while she no longer trains with a club, Kavanagh has enough regular marathons on her list to have made a kind of running family. She first went to New York for the 1999 race and has been back nine times fundraising for the Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.

She says “it’s a great buzz” getting advice from the likes of Eamon Coughlan when the fund-raising  compete.

“And one year when I was about six miles in, I heard that Paula Radcliffe has just won the women’s race, it’s brilliant knowing you are on the same route as someone like that,” Kavanagh says, dismissing any suggestion she herself might be an inspiration to anyone.

Dublin is another favourite route with six clocked up already, and one more planned as part of her 12 marathons in 12 months for 2012 campaign.

Choosing the races for this year was difficult. Kavanagh says she didn’t want to spend a lot of money on long flights – joking she doesn’t have it anyhow – and also wanted to run close to home for her family and friends.

Sitting inside for coffee, she perches lightly on the edge of the sofa and talks excitedly about the possibilities, the events she could have picked.

12 in 12 in 12

Finding a marathon to run in January and February was difficult Kavanagh says, as her budget meant running mostly in Europe.

So like many Irish people in January, she headed for the Canary Islands. But unlike most people, she ran two laps of Las Palmas with 472 other marathoners.

She says with a grin she hadn’t gone there to win, but finishing with a police escort for the final lap hadn’t been on the plan either.

“I finished it and I was last. I got more cheering than the winners, and I wasn’t even mortified,” she says.

Marathon Liz Kavanagh Kilkenny Rome Belfast running

In February she sensibly stayed indoors, and convinced her local leisure centre at the Kilkenny Hotel to set up two treadmills. One for her, and one for anyone who wanted to join in.

Kavanagh’s 82-year-old father was one. She did leave a toe-nail behind after over five hours on the treadmill, just like “a real athlete” she says.


The March marathon in Rome started off well, when she joined with the five and half hour pacer and setting off in a chatty group of runners. Maybe too chatty, she says ruefully, showing off a raised bump on her upper lip.

Turns out multi-tasking – running, talking and sight-seeing – doesn’t always work. She took a tumble at the Circo Massimo and finished the race with blood and tissue all over her face. But she did finish, leaving 131 runners trailing behind her … out of 12,679.

April was London and a jog with a 101 year-old-man, Fauja Singh, who has been described as the oldest marathon runner ever.

“He started running when he was 85, and he’s only a small man too. It’s clearly better than sitting on the couch and getting obese,” she says.

She managed to overtake him.

Finishing in just under six hours, her Facebook page lists runners who passed her including rhinos, a Big Ben and a jar of marmite.


May’s marathon in Belfast doesn’t get quite the same glowing review.

“That was horrible, it didn’t stop raining the whole marathon. I didn’t enjoy it one bit,” she says, shuddering just a little. And that is all she has to say about six hours of misery.

A month later Kavanagh packed her bra and headed for The Moonwalk in Edinburgh – walking marathon distance under starter’s orders at midnight with everyone wearing pink Breast-Cancer-awareness bras. Boys too.

“They give you a bra and T-shirt but then the heavens opened up. So everyone got a cape too, I had the cape and a hat. People were just going hell-for-leather through the streets with people coming out from the pubs to cheer us on,” she says.

She subconsciously rubs her arms as she remembers hitting 4am and being tired, really tired and cold with only clouds for company.
Marathon Liz Kavanagh Kilkenny Rome Belfast running

UltraMarathon South Africa

Perhaps knowing she had done something much harder kept her going. In 2006 Kavanagh and a few friends ran The Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. That’s a small matter of 56 kms (35 miles) around Haut Bay and a few hills in Capetown.

“It was beautiful, and I was able to look around, I was going that slowly. It was really good. I enjoyed that one, no rain there,” she says.

“I was last into the stadium, it was a great buzz. The others were waiting on the track, holding the Irish flag for me. I crossed the line wrapped in the flag. That was the month I turned 50,” she says.

She tells the story like it’s no big deal, like anyone could do it except, of course, they don’t.

Finishing her coffee, she talks again about the buzz of planning marathons. You might think doing 12 this year would dampen her enthusiasm.

But as she lights up talking about the North Pole race, you know she’ll be wearing a groove in the castle gardens for some time yet. 

This piece originally appeared in the Irish Independent's FitMag.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

History of women at the Olympics

"Women haven’t always been welcome at the Olympics, for reasons of decorum, menstruation and the real fear of them turning into men – but times have changed .... "

That is the start of a story I have out today in The Irish Times, follow the link below to the piece. Worth reading to see how far we have come but how much more we still have to do. And they have included some great shots of sportswomen struggling away in full corset, long skirts and boaters.

"Football is quite unsuitable for females" and other adventures ... 

(and yes in spite of my cynicism, I LOVED the opening ceremony, watched it with my housemates, four nationalities between a gang of us and all so emotional to see 'our' teams. brilliantly played Danny Boyle.)


Friday, July 20, 2012

Making space for women in Australian Rugby

The Australian Rugby Union now has a woman on board. In an exciting move Ann Sherry moved yesterday from the Australian Sports Commission to the rugby board.

One small step. The SMH quoted chairman Michael Hawker saying: ""The first female director of the Australian Rugby Union (has been appointed) and it shows we're trying to move the governance of the organisation."

And The Australian quoted Sherry pointing out how overdue this decision is. "It's always a very strong signal of change in organisations that have not had women involved before," she said. "It just flags that rugby is fit for the 21st century. I'm really pleased to have the chance to be the person who cracks that change.

"It's a great signal to the women who love and follow rugby as well that it's not closed to them."

This clip is from a Canadian rugby match (would you believe I couldn't find an interesting clip from Australia? Hmm, long way to go ...)


Monday, July 16, 2012

Katie Taylor's final Olympic preparations

The Olympic countdown continues with just 11 days to go before the Oopening Ceremony in London.

We're not expecting too many medals in Ireland, but boxer Katie Taylor is packing a lot of hope into her suitcases. She's battening down the hatches and getting rid of annoyances like pesky journos, click on the poster below to go Newstalk's website for her final pre-Olympics interview.

Best quote: "The wildcards, they gave them out the right girls I think. I'm delighted for those girls because I want to be boxing the best in the competition."

When you get there - Katie Taylor's last interview before the Olympic Games - turn the volume RIGHT UP as Taylor is very softy-spoken.


Friday, July 13, 2012

It's Pure Magic kiting over the waves

Every now and then I get to mix work with sport. I have a piece in this week's FIT magazine about kite-surfing, and spoke to Catherine Etienne, one of the few female riders in Ireland. That's Etienne in the pic below, with her part of the article underneath that again. 

And this is what I learned from her: 

On Dollymount Strand in Dublin, Frenchwoman Catherine Etienne explains the kite has to be at 12’clock on that semi-circle shape when you start. The kite hangs there – parked as Roche says – and only picks up power when you drop it down. Into the ‘power zone’, obviously.

The next lesson is just called ‘body-dragging’. Etienne says the key to having fun here is keeping warm.

“There are different thickness of wetsuit but generally people wear the 5mm all year round and in the winter add a neoprene vest underneath. In the summer the water can be quite warm so when it’s eight degrees like now, you don’t feel the cold as much as you think in the water,” she says.

Eight degrees – yes, welcome to an Irish summer. But she says the wind always blows and that’s what counts.

Etienne came to Ireland on Erasmus six years ago but fell in love with the winds on Dollymount and never left.

“It’s probably not the image of the Caribbean but it’s actually the perfect spot. Flat water, shallow water, good wind all year round and a very good community,’ she says, in the Pure Magic shop which doubles up as a meeting-place for Dublin’s riders and wanna-be riders.

One of the sports unwritten commandments is talking to other riders to find out about wind currents or water hazards. This gives a real communal feel to the sport says Etienne.

The third lesson is when you get introduced to the board. And this is where it gets fun.

Yes, lots of fun but lots of hard work too. Holding the kite upright requires solid core-strength, instructors tell you to relax your shoulders so the power comes from your core.

Your legs are working as hard as on a surf-board to stay balanced while your arms are at full-stretch against the wind. But don’t rush to the gym to load up on weights as Mother Nature expects high levels of flexibility.

And like most sports, the more you do the more you will build up the physical skills you need. Swimming is pretty important for beginners as you do spend a lot of time rescuing the kite and starting over … and over and over.