Tag: featured

Anthony Joshua retains world heavyweight titles after knockout win against Povetkin

Anthony Joshua resumed his incredible knockout run after a stunning seventh round victory against Alexander Povetkin at Wembley. Povetkin, who has lost just once in 35 fights against Wladimir Klitschko, looked as if he could defeat Joshua with some impressive combinations in the earlier rounds. Joshua weathered the storm though, and gradually grew into the match as his opponent tired.

Half way through the seventh round Joshua landed a brutal right hook that dazed his opponent enough to land a heavy follow up with his left. Povetkin was now staggering and unable to hold his guard. More combinations rocked the Russian before a left and right hook send him crashing to the floor.

After falling over twice trying to get up, Povetkin rose to his feet as the count reached nine. However it would have been foolish to think this was now over. Joshua himself had been in this position against Klitschko but fought back to win, keeping focused was pivotal to see out this bout. He said before the fight that he feared losing to that “one punch”, Povetkin was a fighter who had the ability to turn a fight with just that.

It took less than ten seconds from the restart though for referee Steve Gray to intervene. Povetkin slumped into the ropes after a powerful left hook before ultimately tumbling to the floor again. Joshua had done what Klitschko could not manage five years prior, a win by TKO against the mighty Russian.

After the fight Joshua said: “Povetkin is a very tough challenger, he proved that with good left hooks and counter punches. I came in here to have fun, and give it my best. I knew he was strong to the head but weak to the body. I was just mixing it up.”

“It could have been seven, maybe nine, maybe 12 rounds to get him out of there, but the ultimate aim was to be victorious.”

The victory for Joshua comes less than a day after the WBC champion Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury sealed the deal for their fight on 1st December. The next fight for the Englishman comes on 13th April back at Wembley, with the opponent yet to be decided.

“I’ve carried the burden of the heavyweight division for some years now,” Joshua said. “It was all about me fighting Wilder, fighting Fury, fighting Klitschko, fighting Dillian, fighting Povetkin. That’s all they were interested in, me fighting them all.

“I will always knock them down, one by one, but people have to be patient. I’m happy Wilder and Fury are fighting and good luck to both of them. I have no interest in who wins. I’ll fight both of them.”

Who he fights will have to be decided before the pair clash in LA later this year. “I don’t want to wait until December for him to win the fight, have his rest and then start negotiating because I’ll start training for the fight in early January,” Joshua said. “I want to get the fight pencilled in as soon as possible, this side of Christmas so I know what I’m doing next year.”

European golf champion murdered in Iowa

Collin Daniel Richards has been charged with murder only hours after rising Spanish golfer Celia Barquín Arozamena was found dead on a golf course in Iowa, USA. Aged just 22, Barquín won the European Ladies Amateur Championship in Slovakia this July after shooting a course-record 63.

She was found by police at the Coldwater Golf Links in Ames after golfers discovered an unattended golf bag on the course early Monday morning and alerted authorities. A police report determined that Barquín had died following an assault.

Originally from Spain, she came to the United States to study Civil Engineering and became a rising talent in the amateur golf world. Her university, Iowa State had named her Female Athlete of the Year and said the following about her passing: “Celia had an infectious smile, a bubbly personality and anyone fortunate enough to know her was blessed. Our Cyclone (team nickname) family mourns the tragic loss of Celia, a spectacular student-athlete and ISU ambassador.”

Her victory in the European Championship allowed her the opportunity to break into professional golf with invitations to the British and US Opens next year. Nacho Gervás, a technical director for the Spanish Golf Federation, said to El País newspaper: “She was a player who was heading for the very top, without a doubt.”

Barquín was part of the Spanish team that achieved a second and third place finish in the European Amateur Team Championships in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Ranked number 69 nationally by magazine Golfweek, she also became the second women’s golfer in Iowa State history to earn a medal at a conference tournament when she claimed the 2018 Big 12 Championship in April.

ISU’s head women’s golf coach Christie Martens said Barquín was “loved by all her teammates and friends” and was an “outstanding representative of our school.”

“We will never forget her competitive drive to be the best and her passion for life.”

World marathon record shattered in Berlin

Kenyan athlete Eluid Kipchoge took an incredible 78 seconds off the previous marathon record, held by fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto and also set during the Berlin Marathon back in 2014. 78 seconds is the largest margin of difference in a new marathon record since 1967, when Derek Clayton broke it by 2 minutes and 24 seconds. Kipchoge adds this record to his gold medal won at the Rio Olympics and a third London Marathon win earlier this year.

“I lack words to describe this day. I am really grateful, happy to smash the world record” said Kipchoge. “It was hard. I ran my own race, I trusted my trainers, my programme, and my coach. That’s what pushed me in the last kilometres.” From the start of the race it was clear that the victory would be his, the only remaining question being how fast could be run.

His astounding time of 2 hr 01 min 39 sec is still far from his personal best. In 2017 he was the centre of a controversial attempt to break the two-hour mark for a marathon by Nike as part of their Breaking2 project. The time was not officially recognised due to there being 30 elite athletes rotating to keep up the pace. At 2 hr 00 min 25 sec, it showed that while the two hour barrier may not be attainable yet, the world record certainly is.

Kipchoge’s time is certainly an amazing breakthrough in the marathon, however the 33-year-old Kenyan has been in a league of his own for many years now. Victory in Berlin made it 10 victories out of 11 starts with this this ninth straight. A streak that has not been seen in the modern era. The only accolade he was missing was the world record.

His last two visits to Berlin showed that all he needed was the right conditions. In 2015, he won with a time of 2 hours and 4 minutes dead. This time is especially impressive considering he ran most of the race with the insoles of his shoes flapping with every step. Then in 2017, he ran 2 hours 3 minutes and 32 seconds in the wet. Finally, in his third trip to Berlin, the weather was perfect. This was his chance to break the record, a chance that he took full advantage of.

US Open: Serena Williams’ claim of sexism devalues the real claims of female athletes

Serena Williams has suffered many times throughout her career from racist and sexist remarks. The American tennis player, who has won 23 singles Grand Slams, has arguably had the greatest impact on the female game alongside others such as Billie Jean King. However her recent remarks about sexism after being sanctioned during the US Open Final were incredibly damaging for her credibility and women’s tennis as a whole.

Williams was ultimately fined $17,000 for three separate violations during the final which she lost to Noami Osaka. The first violation came after the umpire Carlos Ramos judged a gesture from Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou to be coaching. Coaching within the context of a Grand Slam refers to the player’s coach giving information through words or hand gestures during the warm up or the game itself. This is prohibited and if the umpire notices this the player will be penalised.

It is up to the umpires judgement what qualifies as coaching and Ramos decided a hand gesture was enough to have potentially given Williams an unfair advantage. This is something she denies, telling the umpire during the game she would “never cheat to win and would rather lose”. Mouratoglou came out and said in an interview that he “was coaching but I don’t think she looked at me. Everybody does it.”

This argument doesn’t hold up to even the lightest scrutiny. The umpire has to do his best to try and monitor as much as possible and it often seems that coaching slips through the cracks and goes unseen. It is clearly against the rules, no matter how inconsistently people are reprimanded for it. Earlier in the Open tournament Nick Krygios was also accused of coaching. Mohamed Lahyani, the umpire in that game, handled the rule break differently and went to go talk to Krygios.

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The second code violation came in the second set with the score at 3-2. This time it was for racquet abuse leading to her being docked a point. Williams became incredibly angry at the penalty saying to Ramos: “You owe me an apology, I have never cheated in my life.” The game continued briefly but at the changeover, with the score 4-3 to Osaka, she added: “You will never ever ever be on another court of mine as long as you live.”

Ramos, an umpire with a reputation for not being intimidated by players, has taken charge of finals at all Grand Slams, as well as the Olympic Games. Both of the decisions he made were by the letter of the law. Whether or not the rules, specifically the one on coaching, should be changed to reflect how the modern game is played is a separate, equally necessary, discussion. Naturally the crowd in New York sided with Williams, and the atmosphere grew increasingly toxic as the game progressed.

Her remarks led to Ramos dishing out a third code violation, penalising her a game. Now Osaka was just one game away from victory at 5-3 up. Boos echoed around the stadium and Williams refused to continue, demanding to talk to the tournament referee. Eventually she finished the match and Osaka became the first Japanese player to win a Grand Slam at just 20 years of age.

Osaka’s special moment, beating her idol for a Grand Slam, was ruined by the disgraceful actions of the fans. They continued to boo and berate her during the ceremony. Rather than enjoying the moment she apologised for winning and covered her eyes to hide her tears. Williams, in her runners-up speech, told the crowd to respect Osaka for her achievement. A move that showed Williams’ great sportsmanship that was partially hidden by anger and frustration.

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Were Ramos’ actions sexist? Objectively, looking at the three calls, there is nothing to suggest that these were anything other than the right decisions. If the umpire notices coaching, it is a violation. The two subsequent violations were incredibly clear, and if Ramos did not act upon them, there would have been a large backlash about him favouring Williams.

British number four Liam Broady said about the incident: “I think incredibly strong from the umpire to not be intimidated by a GOAT of the game and hand out the game penalty. You shouldn’t talk to anybody in this way whether they’re an umpire or person on the street.”

At last year’s US Open Italian player Fabio Fognini was fined $96,000 for verbal abuse he hurled at a female umpire. While this was far worse than Williams, it shows that this is an issue that is taken seriously, regardless of gender.

Williams making this a sexism issue, when it is clear to anyone familiar with the rules of the game that the umpire did nothing wrong, takes the light away from actual gender issues in the sport. A recent example of which is Alizé Cornet getting a violation for adjusting her top after accidentally putting it on back to front, while the male players can take their tops off without issue, a decision the US Open since condemned.

As an incredible role model for young women, Williams needs to be careful about directing her energy to the places where it can bring about the biggest positive change. Women’s tennis has come an awful long way with her in it, but it is events like these that cause small bumps on the tough road to sporting equality.

Alastair Cook steps away from international cricket after a record-breaking career

Alastair Cook finished his 12 year batting career with a century in the fifth Test against India at The Oval.  His 147 helped guide England to a 4-1 series win in the final match of the Summer.

In an interview with Sky Sports he said “the timing is right”. “I started noticing things in my game and preparations were missing. That edge isn’t there.”

Cook got his first start as part of the England side that toured India in early 2006. The team suffered heavily from stomach complaints, an issue that almost always dogs the team in India. That didn’t stop Cook however as he scored a promising 60 in the first innings and followed it up with a fantastic 104* in the second.

The centuries came thick and fast and in December 2012, again against India, he became England’s record centurion in Kolkata. Lighting up Eden Gardens he reached 190 in 377 balls before ultimately being run out by Kohli.

Three years and many standing ovations later it was time for another major record to be broken, this time surpassing Graham Gooch as England’s record Test runs batsman.

For his farewell Test this week, the crowd at The Oval gave him an ovation every opportunity they could. He began day four on 46, quickly reaching his half-century early on in the morning session. With every over that passed the fans grew more tense, anticipating the opportunity of a final century.

His stint at the crease wasn’t just plain sailing. On 72 India appealed for a catch at silly point but, to the relief of almost everyone in the ground, he was found not out. On he powered, and soon he reached 96. The crowd rose to their feet, only Jadeja could stop Cook now.

The delivery came, Cook leaned back and cut the ball through point for a comfortable single. The ball rolled out to Jaspit Bumrah, a player whose had a great Test series. A momentary lapse in concentration saw him throw well beyond the stumps, rolling all the way for a boundary. Play was paused for several minutes as The Oval marked the occasion.

When he finally fell for 147, every Indian fielder on the pitch came to shake his hand and, for one final time, the crowd acknowledged Cook. An extraordinary career for an extraordinary cricketer.

The incredible numbers of Cook’s career:

  • Matches:  161
  • Innings:  291
  • Runs: 12,472
  • 50s:  57
  • 100s:  33
  • Highest Score:  294
  • Average:  45.35

The UEFA Nations League Explained

The World Cup may be over but this week saw the start of a new chapter in international footballing competition: the UEFA Nations League. But what actually is it? How does it work? And does it even make sense?

The Nations League is a brand new European competition. The idea, UEFA says, is that adding a new trophy and route for qualifying to the Euros will make international breaks a bit less tedious and the quality higher. The competition will be played every 2 years and will replace some existing friendlies. Although others sadly remain.

The 55 UEFA teams are split into four divisions: A (12 teams), B (12 teams), C (15 teams), and D (16 teams). This is done based on their coefficient. For those who don’t know what the coefficients are, every other year in November, UEFA releases their rankings (coefficients) for their comprising countries based upon their performances in friendlies as well as the last major tournament, if the team was present. Still following?

Each of those four divisions is then further split into four groups of either three or four teams depending on division size. So we have A1-4, B1-4 etc etc. Now to the actual games. Each team will play the others in their group twice, once at home, and once away. These games will be played in September, October, and November 2018. After all those games have been played, those that top their group in divisions B, C, and D will be promoted to the next division up, while those that finish bottom of their groups in divisions A, B, and C will be relegated to the division below.

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That is the end of phase one of the competition, and will be for most nations, the end of the journey for another two years. In June 2019 though, phase two begins. The four teams that topped their group in division A will go the UEFA Nations League Finals. Rather than a round robin style competition to decide the winner, the teams will be drawn into two semi-finals. The winners of each game will progress to the final, and those that lose will play in the third place playoff. Finally, whoever wins the final will be crowned the winners of the inaugural UEFA Nations League.

But wait, there’s more. The Nations League will also allow for another passage of entry into Euro 2020 besides the traditional qualifiers. The 16 group winners will go to the playoffs to play for the final four Euro places. Those teams will be divided into groups by division, so the division one group winners play each other and so on. Again, rather than a round robin this will be done as drawn as two semi-finals then a final. The teams that emerge victorious will gain a place in Euro 2020. It’s getting a bit confusing now isn’t it?

I can hear your questions now, ‘but James, what if the team that wins their group has already qualified for the Euro’s via the traditional route?’. Well, in that case, the next highest ranked team in the division, not the group, will get a place. You read that right, a team in a different group will get the place over a team in that same group if they are ranked higher.

‘But James, what happens if all 12 teams in division A qualify via the traditional route? Where do those four places in the playoffs go?’. A great question, and one where the answer isn’t clear. The emerging consensus is that the four best ranked teams in division B who didn’t win their group would get places, making it eight teams out of 12 in division B getting places in the playoffs.

It would seem then, that division B is the best place to be in terms of probability for making the Euros through the playoffs. The chances of this scenario are very unlikely though, as there is inevitably at least one major team that suffers a pitiful qualifying campaign and crashes out. Italy and the Netherlands are the obvious examples from the last World Cup.

UEFA’s hopes though, are that if a major footballing nation fails to qualify through the traditional route they can have a second chance in the playoffs if they top their group, or if they don’t top their group but the team that does win their group has already qualified and if all the higher ranked teams in their division have already qualified or received a place in the playoff from being the next highest ranked team after a team that finished top of their group had already qualified in the traditional qualifying so that they are next in line for a place.

If you’ve read all that and you’re still confused, join the club.

The Big Lebowski at 20: The tale of a rug

The Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski turns 20 this month, but the cult classic wasn’t always as popular as it is now, garnering mixed reviews in 1998. A film that begins with a mistaken identity quickly becomes a complex, interwoven web of storylines that the protagonist Jeffery Lebowski, or The Dude as he prefers to be known, wants no part of yet finds impossible to escape. The reason for that is simple, his rug. First soiled then stolen, it not only tied the room together, but it also tied the narrative together.

And yet, what is going on in the front of the scene is often irrelevant. The kidnapping plot which we, the audience, feel should take centre stage is never fulfilled because of The Dude’s lack of ambition or motivation to pursue it. He would much rather go bowling with his friends Walter or Donnie and so the plot must come to him, but after each advancement of the story, each bit of new information that comes to light, The Dude continues his life as if nothing happened.

This is because he simply doesn’t care. He lives in a simple house, with no job, no goals and most importantly to him, no stress. However when his rug is stolen from him he is thrust into a complicated story that doesn’t really need him at all. Once he goes to find the real Jeffery Lebowski and takes one of his rugs in return, that should be the end of The Dude’s involvement in the film. His journey is complete and the ending is satisfactory, but nothing is ever that easy.

The rug’s role in the film is a MacGuffin. A plot device in the form of object or goal that our protagonist pursues with little narrative explanation. You see them often in crime or spy films. James Bond is always after some object, that if in the wrong hands would spell disaster. More often than not the audience doesn’t care about the object itself, but for the action it catalyses. The Dude wouldn’t go find Jeffery Lebowski if his rug wasn’t stolen, just like Bond wouldn’t fence with Madonna in Die Another Day if it wasn’t for the Icarus Satellite. Well, maybe he might.

“It just seemed interesting to us to thrust that character into the most confusing situations possible. The person it would seem on the face of it least equipped to deal with it. That’s sort of the conceit of the movie.” Ethan Coen is saying here that it’s not the situations themselves which hold value to the audience but how The Dude reacts to them, how he copes with this influx of stress that tries to steer his life off course.

Joel Coen said in that same interview how the film was loosely based on the works of American writer Raymond Chandler. Episodic in nature, Chandler’s detective novels follow the protagonist as he interacts with lots of characters on his way to solving the case. The Big Lebowski’s main narrative is very similar to this, although it has a staccato rhythm from jumping between fast-paced investigation and the relaxed everyday life of The Dude.

Coming back to the rug, it’s importance to The Dude stems from what the rug itself represents, it’s stability and comfort in his life. Without that presence, he finds it difficult to relax, to be The Dude. While we see him go bowling with Walter and Donnie several times we never actually see him bowl. The closest he comes is in his imagination laying on the floor of his house listening to a tape of the Venice Beach League Bowling Playoffs from 1987, shortly before his second rug gets stolen.

“This is when we figured if things are becoming a little bit uncomplicated of unclear it doesn’t really matter. This is similar to Chandler in that the plot is secondary to the other things that are going on. If people are getting confused it’s not necessarily going to get in the way of them enjoying the movie.”

It is ironic that The Big Lebowski, a film whose protagonist works so actively to leave behind no legacy, has one of the biggest in cinema. From an annual festival to a religion, there is surprisingly large following of fanatical fans, those who simply wish to abide by the same carefree lifestyle as The Dude.