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