Review of the Week – 11th September 2017

It’s been a quiet sporting week for me (not least because I’m trying to forget Liverpool’s 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City).  I didn’t manage to catch much of the US Open tennis and also missed a lot of the cricket, although I did manage to watch a lot of La Vuelta a España – ‘sombrero’ Señor Froome (I’ve no idea whether or not this translates directly from French into Spanish).

Tennis – Stephens wins breakthrough major title following All-American semi-final

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/41216430

Sloane Stephens, who came into the US Open ranked 83rd in the world, took her maiden Grand Slam title in a 61 minute demolition of compatriot Madison Keys, who was also making her Grand Slam final bow.

Stephens won 6-3 6-0 in a near faultless performance that harked back to her teenage breakthrough at the 2013 Australian Open when she made the semi-finals and which saw her ranked within the world’s top 20. Since then, she has suffered a loss of form and a series of injuries which had curtailed her development and seen her drop to 957th in the world just six weeks ago.

The tournament had been a triumph for American women’s tennis, with a lockout of the semi-finals as Stephens, Keys and Coco Vandeweghe all had breakthrough performances, and Venus Williams continued to enjoy something of an Indian summer in her career. It is testament to Venus and Serena’s impact on American tennis that Stephens has become the first non-Williams-sister American woman to have won a Grand Slam since Jennifer Capriati in 2002.

 

Cycling – D’Hoore wins Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta, van der Breggen takes Women’s World Tour Title

http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/madrid-challenge-by-la-vuelta-2017/results/

Belgium’s Jolien D’Hoore won the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta on Sunday, edging out American Coryn Revera and Frenchwoman Roxane Fournier in a sprint finish. The Madrid Challenge was the final event in the 2017 UCI Women’s World Tour, with Anna van der Breggen taking the overall title from compatriot Annemiek van Vlouten and Poland’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma.

 

Mountain Biking – UK’s Annie Last takes silver in cross-country

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cycling/41212917

Annie Last, who earlier this year became the first British woman to win the UCI Mountain Bike Cross-Country World Cup, followed up her success with Britain’s maiden world championship medal in winning a silver behind Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff.

 

COMING UP THIS WEEK

  • Cycling: Road World Championships, Bergen – September 17th-24th
  • Triathlon: World Series Final, Rotterdam – September 14th-17th
  • Tennis: Tournoi de Quebec and Japan Open – September 11th-17th
  • Windsurfing: World Championships, Japan – September 16th-23rd
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Review of the Week – 4th September 2017

Review of the Week – 4th September 2017

KEY HEADLINES

Cricket – Western Storm triumph in the KIA Super League

https://www.ecb.co.uk/super-league

The County Cricket Ground in Hove played host to the finals day of the KIA Super League on the 1st September. The first match of the day saw Surrey Stars face off against Western Storm. The Stars had looked set for an automatic final place having won their first four matches of the group stage, but fell to a surprise loss to Loughborough Lightning in their last match. Storm, by contrast, had only secured their semi-final spot thanks to victory against bottom side Lancashire Thunder.

Stars won the toss and elected to bat first, but made a slow start and saw Tammy Beaumont fall in the fifth over, shortly followed by Lizelle Lee, leaving the Stars 18-2 after 5.4 overs. Captain Nat Sciver and Marizanna Kapp steadied the ship, adding 24 runs for the third wicket, and Kapp and Sophia Dunkley-Smith added another 21 for the fourth. When Kapp fell, Dunkley-Smith was joined by Bryony Smith, and the two guided the Stars to the final over, before both fell to stumpings by Rachel Priest off the bowling of Anya Shrubsole, before Storm’s captain Heather Knight caught Rene Farrell, leaving Shrubsole as the pick of the bowlers with 3-22 from her four overs.

Storm’s response started disastrously, as Knight, Fran Wilson, Priest and Sophie Luff all fell within the first four overs, leaving the Storm 17-4. Georgia Hennessy and Stafanie Taylor recovered the situation, adding 44 runs in just under 10 overs, before Hennessy fell to Laura March. Alice Macleod quickly followed, before Shrubsole made a quickfire 12, and Jodie Dibble joined Taylor to see the Storm over the line with seven balls remaining, and through to the final against defending KIA Super League champions Southern Vipers.

Western Storm won the toss for the final, and elected to field. Vipers’ opening batswomen Hayley Matthews and Suzie Bates started strongly, combining for 47 runs for the opening wicket, before Matthews was caught and bowled by Stafanie Taylor towards the end of the eighth over. In Taylor’s next over, she had Georgia Taylor stumped by Rachel Priest and trapped Bates lbw to leave the Vipers 63-3. The Vipers continued to score strongly, with Danielle Wyatt and Mignon du Preez adding 37 for the fourth wicket, du Preez and Arran Thompson adding 17 for the fifth, and Thompson and captain Charlotte Edwards taking the team to the end of the 20 overs, adding a further 28 runs, to set the Storm a challenging 146 for victory.

That total represented the sixth highest score of the 2017 Super League, although Storm demonstrated in the group stage that they are capable of chasing big totals, having scored 161 to win against Yorkshire Diamonds. Rachel Priest was the bedrock of that total, and performed the same role in the final, scoring 72 off 200 balls. Captain Heather Knight and Fran Wilson contributed 6 and 8 runs respectively, but Stafanie Taylor and Sophie Luff added 30 each to meet the total with two overs remaining.

 

Tennis – Sevastova saves tournament blushes at US Open, as ‘March of the Americans’ continues

http://www.usopen.org/index.html

Having (in my opinion) sold their souls by granting Maria Sharapova a wild-card entry into the main draw following her drugs ban, US Open organisers would perhaps be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief as the lady making headlines for the wrong reasons was finally dumped out of the competition by Anastasija Sevastova. No doubt Sharapova was an excellent draw, particularly in the absence of Serena Williams, but to be complicit in the resurrection of a career stalled by a drugs ban is surely not the message that should be given to youngsters watching these major competitions. Much better surely to have required her to come through qualifying, and thereby earn her place on merit.

Focussing on her draw for the crowds also seems to have been a wrong step, since the competition so far has seen a ‘March of the Americans’, with one US participant in every quarter-final. Venus Williams represents the ‘old guard’, but has been ably supported by Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Coco Vendeweghe (not to mention: Jennifer Brady, who was knocked out by top seed Karolína Plíšková in the fourth round; Sofia Kenin, who lost to Sharapova in the third round; and Shelby Rogers, who lost to Elina Svitolina in the third round).

The Americans’ chances of victory also gained a boost on Sunday, with Garbiñe Muguruza falling to Petra Kvitová in the fourth round, with Kvitová’s fairytale recovery from the infamous knife attack continuing apace. Indeed, with Muguruza’s defeat, only the 1st, 9th, 13th and 16th seeds remain out of the top 16.

 

Netball – New Zealand win 2017 Quad Series

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/netball/41139869

England, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa competed in the 2017 Quad Series, facing off in a round robin format over a week. England had a mixed tournament, losing 54-50 to Australia, defeating New Zealand 49-45, and losing to South Africa 54-51, finishing third in the table, ahead of South Africa on goal difference. New Zealand took the title, mainly thanks to a 57-47 win against Australia in the final game of the tournament.

For England, Helen Housby finished the tournament with 82 goals and a conversion rate of 86%, followed by Kadeen Corbin (53 at 78%). South Africa’s Lenize Potgieter was the top-scorer with 126 goals at 91%.

 

COMING UP THIS WEEK

  • Tennis: US Open – August 28th-September 9th
  • Cycling: Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta – September 10th
  • Mountain Biking: UCI World Championships, Cairns, Australia – September 5th-10th

 

 

Review of the Week – 28th August 2017

KEY HEADLINES

Rugby Union – Black Ferns are World Champions after second-half demolition of England

http://www.rwcwomens.com/?lang=en

New Zealand’s Black Ferns ran out 41-32 winners in the World Cup final against England. Having defeated the USA in the semi-final, the Black Ferns came into the match against the defending champions full of confidence, while England had enjoyed a dominant second half display against France, which had seemed to justify Simon Middleton’s decision to rest his first-choice XV in the final group stage match.

Although England started the final well, the Black Ferns opened the scoring with a try after an excellent cross-field kick by Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali bounced fortunately into the arms of full-back Selica Winiata, although Kendra Cocksedge subsequently missed the conversion. After England’s Emily Scarratt kicked a penalty to close the gap, New Zealand’s Sarah Goss was shown a yellow card for a spear tackle on Katy McLean, and England used their superior numbers in the scrum to force a penalty try.

England stretched their lead to twelve points after excellent work on the right wing by Lydia Thompson. Emily Scarratt added the conversion. England were working hard to thwart the Black Ferns’ prolific winger Portia Woodman, but after some strong running from her, New Zealand earned an attacking lineout, and from the set play, some powerful running saw prop Toka Natua crash over the line to pull five points back just before half-time.

Just five minutes after the break, England showed some grit to keep Subritzky-Nafatali out, but couldn’t stop Natua getting her second try, and Cocksedge finally found her kicking boots to level the scores at 17-17. Emily Scarratt kicked another penalty in off the post to restore England’s lead, but New Zealand responded immediately through Charmaine Smith, who cleverly touched the ball down against the post to score the Black Ferns’ fourth try of the match, with Cocksedge adding the conversion.

The action at this point had become end to end, and after McLean’s restart, Subritzky-Nafatali tried a cross-field kick which was intercepted by Lydia Thompson, who powered away from Woodman and dodged three tackles to score a wonderful try. Scarratt wasn’t able to convert, but England had retaken the lead 25-24, only to see Natua power through for her hat-trick try a minute later. With Cocksedge converting the try, New Zealand took the lead 31-25.

England were struggling to hold back the black tide, and after a series of substitutions, seemed to lose some of their solidity in defence. Cocksedge stretched the lead, after scoring a classic scrum-half try, sniping around the edges of the ruck, before Winiata added her second of the game after another cross-field kick from Subritzky-Nafatali.

Just twelve minutes after being in front, England found themselves down 41-25 with just ten minutes of the game remaining, and despite a try from Izzy Noel-Smith and a late yellow card for New Zealand’s Les Ketu, the second-half performance from the Black Ferns had done enough to earn them their fifth world title.

 

Cricket – KIA Super League group stage finishes, with Southern Vipers through to the final

https://www.ecb.co.uk/super-league

  • 23/08/2017 – Southern Vipers beat Lancashire Thunder by 6 wickets
  • 23/08/2017 – Surrey Stars beat Western Storm by 52 runs
  • 26/08/2017 – Southern Vipers beat Yorkshire Diamonds by 30 runs
  • 26/08/2017 – Loughborough Lightning beat Surrey Stars by 81 runs
  • 26/08/2017 – Western Storm beat Lancashire Thunder by 5 wickets

Defending champions the Southern Vipers won their final two games in the KIA Super League, and took top spot in the round robin after a surprise defeat for Surrey Stars against Loughborough Lightning. As a result, the Vipers go straight through to the final on 1st September, while the Stars must play-off against Western Storm, who secured third place in the table with a 5 wicket win over Lancashire Thunder.

 

Hockey – Netherlands win EuroHockey Championships, with England finishing third

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/hockey/41044333

Hosts the Netherlands took home the EuroHockey title after a 3-0 victory over Belgium in Amstelveen, after goals from Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel, Kelly Jonker and Ireen van den Assem. The Dutch had earlier defeated defending champions England in the semi-finals, with a 1-0 victory thanks to Marloes Keetels’s goal. England went on to win 2-0 in the third-place playoff, with goals from Hannah Martin and Alex Danson.

 

COMING UP THIS WEEK

  • Cricket: KIA Superleague – August 10th-September 1st
  • Tennis: US Open – August 28th-September 9th
  • Netball: Quad Series, Australia & New Zealand, August 26th-September 3rd
  • Cycling: Holland Ladies’ Tour – August 29th-September 1st

 

 

Review of the Week – 21st August 2017

Having managed to catch up on myself in the last few posts, I then made the cardinal sin of disappearing on holiday, so I’m now back where I started – a couple of weeks behind. Time to play catchup once again.

KEY HEADLINES

Rugby Union – England, France, New Zealand and USA through to semi-finals

http://www.rwcwomens.com/?lang=en

The final round of pool matches took play on Thursday, with the main story being hosts Ireland hoping to snatch a semi-final place by beating a strong French team. Sadly, it was not to be, with the Irish falling to a 21-5 defeat that ensured France take one of the semi-final places. They will meet England, who were already sure of their semi-final berth, but made sure they went through as top-placed from Pool B by beating the USA 47-26, with coach Simon Middleton making wholesale changes to rest his team. The pain of defeat was softened for the USA by the knowledge that they too had progressed to the semi-finals, by way of their strong performances against Italy and Spain earlier in the tournament. The USA will meet New Zealand’s Black Ferns, who rounded off an impressive group stage with a 48-5 defeat of Canada.

 

Cricket – Surrey Stars continue strong start in KIA Super League

https://www.ecb.co.uk/super-league

  • 15/08/2017 – Southern Vipers beat Loughborough Lightning by 46 runs
  • 16/08/2017 – Surrey Stars beat Lancashire Thunder by 33 runs
  • 18/08/2017 – Yorkshire Diamonds beat Lougborough Lightning by 17 runs
  • 20/08/2017 – Loughborough Lightning beat Lancashire Thunder by 50 runs
  • 20/08/2017 – Surrey Stars beat Southern Vipers by 4 runs (D/L method)
  • 20/08/2017 – Western Storm beat Yorkshire Diamonds by 10 wickets

Surrey Stars made it three wins from three after defeating Lancashire Thunder and defending champions Southern Vipers, thanks to excellent performances from captain Nat Sciver, Rene Farrell and Marizanne Kapp. The Vipers are joined by Western Storm and Yorkshire Diamonds on two wins, with the Lightning on one win and Thunder rock bottom with three defeats from their three games.

The top three teams qualify for the semi-finals, with the Stars looking well-set and a shootout between the next three for the final two spots.

 

Golf – USA comfortably retain the Solheim Cup

http://www.solheimcup.com/

The USA produced a dominant display on the first two days of the Solheim Cup, before closing out their victory in the singles matches on Sunday. Europe briefly led after the opening morning’s foursomes, but the USA swept the board in the afternoon fourballs, leaving them up 5½-2½ at the end of day one. That lead was maintained in the foursomes and extended again in the fourballs, leaving the USA 5 points clear at 10½ – 5½. The final day’s play saw ten singles matches take place, with Lexi Thompson halving with Anna Nordqvist, and Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr both taking their matches against Georgia Hall and Melissa Reid respectively. Catriona Matthew and Carolina Masson took two points for the Europeans to prolong the session, before Angel Yin halved with Karine Icher and Lizzie Salas won against Jodi Shadoff to give the USA an unassailable 14½ points.

Pick of the bunch for the USA was Cristie Kerr, who took 3½ points over the weekend, with Salas, Creamer, Thompson and Danielle Kang all taking three points. On the European side, Nordqvist was unbeaten, matching Kerr’s 3½ points, but was disappointed to throw away a four point lead on the final nine holes of her singles match against Thompson.

 

COMING UP THIS WEEK

  • Rugby Union: World Cup, Ireland – August 9th-26th
  • Cricket: KIA Superleague – August 10th-September 1st
  • Cycling: Grand Prix de Plouey-Bretagne – August 25th
  • Tennis: Connecticut Open – August 21st-27th
  • Hockey: EuroHockey Nations Championships, Netherlands – August 19th-27th
  • Badminton: BWF World Championships, Glasgow – August 21st-27th
  • Swimming: World Junior Championships, Indianapolis – August 23rd-28th
  • Netball: Quad Series, Australia & New Zealand, August 26th-September 3rd

 

Review of the Week – 14th August 2017

Part two of my ‘catchup’ weekly reviews – it’s been a bit hectic at work, and I will be on holiday next week so will probably immediately fall behind again, but I’ll just keep plodding on when I get the chance. The Premier League is back, meaning that every other sport takes a back seat for the time being, but hopefully this review will be able to highlight some of the other excellent sporting action going on around the football juggernaut.

KEY HEADLINES

Athletics – Relays give Great Britain something to cheer about

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/athletics/40919285

Before Saturday night, the World Athletics Championships in London had been something of a washout for the home team. Although Mo Farah had won gold early-on, since then it had been near-misses and disappointments: Katarina Johnson-Thompson sixth in the heptathlon, Holly Bradshaw sixth in the pole vault, Sophie Hitchon seventh in the hammer throw, Laura Muir fourth in the 1,500m, with Laura Weightman sixth behind her, Eilidh Doyle eighth in the 400m hurdles, Lorraine Ugen fifth in the long jump, Dina Asher-Smith fourth in the 200m. A week which had promised so much seemed to have fallen short for the British, but then, the relays happened. I love watching relays even when Britain aren’t involved, so watching the team win silver, gold, silver, bronze across the four relays was something special indeed. Kudos to the women’s 4x100m relay for starting it all off, although the men’s triumph in their 4x100m was obviously the pick of the bunch, even with the sorry sight of Usain Bolt pulling up in his final race.

While the coverage of the championships focussed on the retirement of Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, there was plenty of action to be had elsewhere. The championships saw many female stars justifying their ‘favourites’ tags (see Dafne Schippers, Caster Semenya, Brittney Reese, both relays), but many events saw shocks as well: Phyllis Francis pushing compatriot Allyson Felix down to third in the 400m; Sally Pearson winning a redemptive 100m Hurdles while favourite Kendra Harrison finished out of the medals in fourth; and USA’s Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs stunning the Kenyans in the 3,000m Steeplechase.

 

Rugby Union – World Cup kicks off

http://www.rwcwomens.com/?lang=en

The first two matchdays of the women’s rugby union World Cup took place on the 9th and 13th August. Defending champions England got off to the best possible start with a 56-5 win over Spain, and followed that up with another demolition, 56-13 against Italy. Results were mixed for the rest of the home nations: Hosts Ireland scraped a 19-17 win against Australia and then came through a tough examination against Japan 24-14; meanwhile Wales lost their two games, 44-12 to New Zealand in their opener and 15-0 to Canada in the second.

The competition so far has seen a number of mismatches. On top of the lopsided results above, we have seen New Zealand win 121-0 against Hong Kong; USA beat Spain 43-0; France beat Australia 48-0; Canada beat Hong Kong 98-0; France beat Japan 72-14. There is one more group stage matchday, on the 17th August, before the semi-finals on the 22nd. The organisers will be hoping for some closer results in the knockout stages, to demonstrate the sports progression.

 

Cricket – England’s World Cup-winning stars return to domestic action in Kia Super League

https://www.ecb.co.uk/super-league

From the 10th August to 1st September, six teams from across the country will be competing in the KIA Super League. The competition will see each of the six teams play Twenty20 matches in a round-robin league format, with the top three teams qualifying for the finals day on the 1st September. The teams this year are: Lancashire Thunder (captained by Danielle Hazell); Loughborough Lightning (Georgia Elwiss); defending champions Southern Vipers (Charlotte Edwards); Surrey Stars (Nat Sciver); Western Storm (Heather Knight); and Yorkshire Diamonds (Lauren Winfield).

The teams taking part in the competition include a number of overseas stars who are still in the UK following the recent World Cup, including Suzie Bates (Southern Vipers and New Zealand), Stafanie Taylor (Western Storm and the West Indies), Ellyse Perry (Loughborough Lightning and Australia) and Chamari Atapattu (Yorkshire Diamonds and Sri Lanka).

Since the kickoff, the Southern Vipers, Yorkshire Diamonds, Western Storm and Surrey Stars have each won their opening matches.

 

COMING UP THIS WEEK

  • Rugby Union: World Cup, Ireland – August 9th-26th
  • Cricket: KIA Superleague – August 10th-September 1st
  • Golf: Solheim Cup – August 18th-20th
  • Cycling: Tour of Norway – August 17th-20th
  • Tennis: Cincinatti Open – August 14th-20th

 

Review of the Week – 7th August 2017

Posts have been slightly delayed due to, amongst other things, camping holidays, general illness and work commitments.  This is the first review post to catch up on, hopefully with a second not long behind.  Then I should be back on track.

KEY HEADLINES

Football – The Netherlands triumph at Euro 2017

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/live/football/40335321

Having knocked out England in the semi-final, hosts the Netherlands went on to triumph in a hard-fought final against Denmark. It looked set to be a long game for the Dutch when Nadia Nadim converted a penalty for the Danes in the sixth minute, after Sanne Troelsgaard was tripped in the box by Kika van Es. The lead was short-lived, with the Dutch hitting back just four minutes later through Vivianne Miedema after an excellent cross from Liverpool’s Shanice van de Sanden. Lieke Martens then scored a lovely individual goal to give the home side a 2-1 lead in the 28th minute, before the Danes hit back through captain Pernille Harder, to leave the match delicately poised at 2-2 at half time. Shortly after the break, Dutch captain Sherida Spitse hit a daisy-cutter freekick under the Danish wall to restore the Netherlands’ lead, and despite plenty of effort from the Danish ladies, it was left to Miedema to confirm the victory, scoring in the 89th minute to kill off the Viking challenge.

So congratulations to the Netherlands. It was a worthy final for what has been a very entertaining tournament. My abiding memory of the competition will be the direct comparison between Portugal v England and Everton v MFK Ruzomberok. A lot is made about the gulf in quality between the men’s and women’s game, but anyone tuning in to watch these matches would quickly have realised that there was only one worth watching. Obviously one swallow does not make a summer, but perhaps that difference in quality is not quite so pronounced as some would have you believe? There are still some areas of concern for the women’s game, notably the goalkeeping, which has been fairly poor at times, and from an English perspective, Euro 2017 was a successful tournament right up to the point that it wasn’t. My main concern with the England team is that they seem to be very physical, energetic and clearly very fit, but not as technically adept as some of the other teams, like the French, Germans and Dutch. Fitness will take you a long way, but as with the men’s team, at some point you need to be able to string passes together under pressure and maintain possession. On the plus side, at least we weren’t knocked out on penalties.

 

Athletics – Thiam triumphs, Schippers circles, and Ayana demolishes rivals

https://www.iaaf.org/competitions/iaaf-world-championships/iaaf-world-championships-london-2017-5151/timetable/byday

So far, so predictable for the female stars of the athletics world. Nafissatou Thiam came into this event as a comfortable favourite for the heptathlon gold and duly delivered, albeit not quite so comfortably as some had predicted. There was disappointment for Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson, whose below-par performance in the high jump cost her too many points to be able to challenge for a medal. In the 100m sprint, USA’s Tori Bowie pipped Marie-Josée Ta Lou to gold, with Dafne Schippers looking in ominously good form in taking bronze. In the 10,000m event, Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana was head and shoulders above the rest of the field, winning by over half a minute from compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba.

 

Beach Volleyball – Ludwig/Walkenhorst take World title

http://vienna2017.fivb.com/en/news/ludwig–walkenhorst-capture-world-championship-trophy?id=71892

Olympic champions Laura Ludwig and Kira Walkehorst from Germany defeated USA’s Lauren Fendrick and April Ross in three sets to take the World Championships title in Vienna. In doing so, the Germans became the first European team to triumph in beach volleyball, with the event being dominated by Brazil and the USA in previous years.

Brazil’s top seeds Talita Antunes and Larissa Franca took home a bronze medal after defeating Canada’s Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan.

 

COMING UP THIS WEEK

  • Athletics: World Championships, London – August 4th-13th
  • Rugby Union: World Cup, Ireland – August 9th-26th
  • Cricket: KIA Superleague – August 10th-September 1st
  • Cycling: Vårgårda, Sweden – August 13th
  • Tennis: Canadian Open – August 7th-13th

Preview – World Athletics Championships

What is it?

It’s a biennial competition to work out who are the best athletes on the planet. It first took place in 1983, and the 2017 competition to be held in London will be the 16th edition. It takes place from the 4th-13th August, in the London Stadium (previously known as the Olympic Stadium, but rebranded following West Ham’s takeover).

Who are the main athletes to look out for?

  • Nafissatou Thiam (Belgium) (Heptathlon) – The UK are holding out for Katarina Johnson-Thompson to come of age (see below), but standing in her way is the formidable figure of Nafissatou Thiam, who announced herself on the world stage by winning gold at the Rio Olympics. Earlier this year, she became only the fourth woman to pass the 7,000 points mark for the heptathlon, and at only 22, has a fantastic chance to break the world record held by the USA’s Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
  • Caster Semenya (South Africa) (800m and 1,500m) – The South African will double-up at the World Championships this year, as she looks to compete in the 1,500m as well as her recognised event, the 800m. Semenya remains a world-class athlete, but will understandably continue to draw headlines for reasons other than her performances on the track, as she continues to be made an unwilling poster-girl for hyperandrogenism. Those discussions are even more likely this week in light of the new rules and regulations which were announced by the IAAF last month (look out for a future post on this, once I’ve got my own thoughts in order, and found the time to write it).

25490332424_9d617dd198_zDafne Schippers (picture courtesy of Filip Bossuyt)

  • Dafne Schippers (Netherlands) (100m and 200m) – Schippers is that relative rarity: a world-class white sprinter. Schippers started out as a heptathlete, and was very successful, particularly at junior level, before making the decision to focus on the sprint events from the 2014 season onwards. Her breakthrough came in the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, where she won a silver medal in the 100m and a gold medal in the 200m. She then backed up these performances at the Olympics, although was disappointed to finish second behind Jamaican rival Elaine Thompson. With Thompson also competing in London, Schippers will be looking to avenge that Olympic defeat, as well as defend her world title.
  • Kendra Harrison (USA) (100m Hurdles) – Another woman with scores to settle, Harrison was the standout sprint hurdler in 2016, but will forever be remembered for having missed out in the American Olympic trials, where she finished sixth, and therefore did not compete in Rio. Shortly after missing out on Olympic qualification, Harrison broke the long-standing 100m Hurdles world record, which had been in place for 28 years. Coming to the World Championships will not hold happy memories for Harrison, who was disqualified for a false start in the semi-finals in Beijing, and she will be looking for a breakthrough at a major championships to put some of her demons to bed.
  • Allyson Felix (USA) (400m) – Felix is one of the most-decorated athletes of all time, but her record is a bittersweet one, with the majority of her gold medals at Olympic level coming the way of relays. In individual events, Felix is the defending 400m world champion, but lost out in the 2016 Olympics to Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas.
  • Usain Bolt (Jamaica) (100m) – OK, so you may have spotted he’s not a woman, but I can’t let this one pass by. It will be his last ever appearance on a track, and he is arguably the greatest athlete who has ever lived, and certainly the fastest sprinter we have ever seen. Don’t miss the men’s 100m final on Saturday.

What about the British hopes?

  • Laura Muir (1,500m and 5,000m) – Muir had been flying under the radar with her quiet improvement over the past few years, right up to the point that she broke the 1,500m British record, and in doing so set the fastest time in the world during 2016. Winning over 1,500m will be difficult, but Muir will go into the championships full of confidence and ready to spring a surprise.

7712282072_944c3a9489_zKatarina Johnson-Thompson (picture courtesy of David Pilbrow)

  • Katarina Johnson-Thompson (Heptathlon) – Widely touted as the heir to the British heptathlon legacy of Denise Lewis, Kelly Sotherton and Jess Ennis-Hill, ‘KJ-T’ has struggled to align her best performances with major championships. Having finished in an impressive fourteenth place at the London Olympics, great things were expected at the 2015 World Championships, only for Johnson-Thompson to record three fouls in the long jump and finish a disappointing 28th. That was followed up with another disappointing performance in Rio, finishing sixth (although she did record a high jump that would have won gold in the individual high jump event). She has since split with her coach and moved to Montpelier, and will be hoping her change of scenery can inspire her to the upper reaches of the international circuit.
  • Holly Bradshaw (Pole Vault) – Another British hope who will aim to fly under the radar. Bradshaw has finished sixth and fifth in the last two Olympic Games, and was seventh at the World Championships in Beijing, but with none of these performances representing what she feels is a top drawer performance. She will hope that she can hook up a few of her best jumps in London, and if she can she will definitely be in the running for a medal.
  • Dina Asher-Smith (100m and 200m) – Asher-Smith’s main successes to date on the track have come as part of the British 4x100m Relay team, which won bronze medals at the 2015 World Championships and the 2016 Olympics (and will be hoping to emulate that here). Asher-Smith will also feel she has a chance to make an impact as an individual in the 200m, having finished fifth in Rio.

What is the schedule, and which are the events to look out for?

  • Friday 4th August
    • No women’s finals
  • Saturday 5th August
    • 10,000m Final
    • Heptathlon – Day One (Thiam and Johnson-Thompson)
    • Men’s 100m (Bolt)
  • Sunday 6th August
    • Marathon
    • Pole Vault (Bradshaw)
    • Heptathlon – Day Two (Thiam and Johnson-Thompson)
    • 100m (Asher-Smith)
  • Monday 7th August
    • Hammer
    • Triple jump
    • 1,500m (Muir)
  • Tuesday 8th August
    • Javelin
  • Wednesday 9th August
    • Shot put
    • 400m (Felix)
  • Thursday 10th August
    • 400m Hurdles
  • Friday 11th August
    • Long jump
    • 3,000m Steeplechase
    • 200m (Schippers and Asher-Smith)
  • Saturday 12th August
    • High jump
    • 100m Hurdles (Harrison)
    • 4x100m Relay
  • Sunday 13th August
    • 20km Race Walk
    • Discus
    • 5,000m
    • 800m (Semenya)
    • 4x400m Relay

Where can I watch it (UK only)?

BBC are showing coverage of the event.

Review of the Week – 31st July 2017

My sporting week this week has mostly been spent watching the electric atmosphere in Budapest for the Aquatics World Championships, although I did find time over the weekend to catch a bit of football, Formula 1 and cricket as well. The reappearance of Fantasy Football chat in my office also means that we have only a few short weeks before the sports news is even more dominated by the re-emergence of the Premier League.

KEY HEADLINES

Football – England exorcise French demons to progress to Euro 2017 semi-final against Dutch hosts; Germany shocked by Denmark, who will meet Austria

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/40765772 (England 1-0 France) http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/40765446 (Netherlands 2-0 Sweden) http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/40765453 (Germany 1-2 Denmark) http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/40766590 (Austria 0-0 Spain)

England’s Lionesses beat France for the first time in 43 years to progress to their second successive semi-final at a major tournament. It was a fourth win in a row at Euro 2017 for England, and, although the quarter-final was a cagier affair than the group games, the performance of the likes of Jordan Nobbs, Lucy Bronze and Jodie Taylor justified the approach taken by coach Mark Samson to rest his first choice team against Portugal. It looked an even better decision in the 75th minute when first-choice goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was forced off with an injury and replaced by Siobhan Chamberlain, who had played the full match against Portugal, and might otherwise have found her first action of the tournament to have been a very nervous 15 minutes defending a slender lead against a resilient French side. England now move on to a semi-final against the Netherlands on Thursday. The Dutch women overcame a strong Swedish side, and have also won all four of their matches so far, and will present a tough challenge for England.

The Lionesses will go into their semi-final as the newly-installed tournament favourites and highest-ranked team left in the competition, following Germany’s surprise defeat to Denmark in a rearranged fixture on Sunday lunchtime. Originally scheduled to play on Saturday evening, the match was postponed due to heavy rain, although not before a farcical wait for the referees to determine that the pitch was not suitable for play. When the game finally did kick-off, it seemed to be a decision that favoured Germany, as they took a 1-0 lead after just 3 minutes, following a goalkeeping error by Stina Lykke Pedersen. Danish forward Nadia Nadim equalised after half-time and Theresa Nielsen scored late on to snatch the win. The other quarter-final, between Spain and Austria, finished goalless, but it was Austria who triumphed in the penalty shootout, as Silvia Meseguer missed the crucial spot-kick for Spain. The Spanish side have dominated possession charts, but have now failed to score in their past three games, and failed to create enough chances here. Austria have been the surprise package of the tournament so far, and their match-up against Denmark should be an exciting game.

 

Swimming – Katinka Hosszú brings curtain down on Budapest championships with second gold; Sjöström, Ledecky and King also shine

https://www.fina.org/news/swimming-day-8-two-more-wr-final-consecration-dressel

On the final day of the swimming World Championships in Budapest, Katinka Hosszú brought delight to the home crowd, winning her second gold medal of the meet in the 400m Individual Medley. The week has seen a number of spectacular performances, not least from Sweden’s Sarah Sjöström, who won three gold medals, all in individual events, and broke the 100m Freestyle world record on the opening day. USA’s Katie Ledecky won enough to come second on the medal table on her own, with five gold medals (400m, 800m and 1500m Freestyle, 4x100m Freestyle relay and 4x200m Freestyle relay) and one silver (200m Freestyle).

 

Water Polo – USA back up Olympic victory with record fifth World title

https://www.fina.org/news/day-7-womens-water-polo-usa-rolls-spain-fifth-world-crown

The USA proved they remain the dominant force in women’s water polo with a 13-6 victory in the final against Spain. The European side did well to keep the game tight at 5-3 at half-time, but saw the Americans up the tempo in the third and fourth quarters, scoring four goals in each to stretch away. 19-year-old Madeline Musselman was named tournament MVP for the USA. In the bronze medal match, Russia won 11-9 against Canada.

 

BMX – Alise Post wins Elite Women World Championship after photo finish in Rock Hill, USA

http://www.uci.ch/bmx/news/article/corben-sharrah-and-alise-post-claim-elite-uci-bmx-world-championship-titles-rock-hill-usa/

USA’s Alise Post just held off a late surge from Australian Caroline Buchanan to claim the World Championship title. After both progressed easily through their semi-finals, it was Post who made the early move in the final, but as her stamina ran out towards the end of the race, Buchanan came storming back and was only denied on the line thanks to photographic evidence. Venezuela’s Stefany Hernandez initially looked well set to take bronze, until she was passed by Colombia’s Mariana Pajon. Earlier in the day, the UK’s Bethany Shriever won the Junior World Championship title.

 

Tennis – Jordanne Whiley reveals pregnancy, just weeks after Wimbledon triumph

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/disability-sport/40762837

Britain’s wheelchair tennis player Jordanne Whiley revealed on Saturday that she was 11 weeks pregnant as she won the wheelchair doubles title earlier this month against Wimbledon. The news came just months after Serena Williams made a similar announcement following her Australian Open win. My wife can’t understand it – she struggles to get off the sofa during her first trimester, never mind playing competitive sport!

 

WOMEN’S SPORT IN THE NEWS

A new thing here, but there has been a couple of articles that I thought were worth highlighting.

The Good: Marina Hyde – “Why can’t we celebrate women’s sport without relating it to men’s?”

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/jul/26/womens-sport-celebrate-world-cup-cricket-success-mens-sport

The Bad: The Economist – “The rise of women’s cricket”

https://www.economist.com/news/britain/21725590-world-cup-win-marks-double-victory-englands-female-athletes-4000-spectators

While it’s great to see an article about women’s cricket in The Economist, it’s also sad to see that the only player mentioned by name is Len Hutton.

 

COMING UP THIS WEEK

  • Football: UEFA European Championships, Netherlands – July 16th-August 6th
    • Denmark v Austria – July 27th 5:00pm
    • Netherlands v England – July 27th, 7:45pm
    • The Final – August 6th, 4:00pm
  • Beach Volleyball: World Championships, Vienna – July 26th-August 6th
  • Athletics: World Championships, London – August 4th-13th

Opinion – Cycling – Tour de France organisers veer off La Course with experimental format

Following disappointment in missing out to Anna van der Breggen in the 2017 Giro Rosa, not to mention the aftermath of her horror crash at the Rio Olympic road race last year, it was extremely gratifying to see Annemiek van Vlouten triumph in the 2017 edition of La Course by Le Tour de France last weekend. That she took victory with such apparent ease, despite her exertions in the Giro just 10 days earlier, shows the level that she is now operating at, and will no doubt be cause for concern for her compatriot and Giro winner van der Breggen. However, the ease of her victory also raises questions about the new format that was introduced for the first time for La Course.

That format change saw van Vlouten win a comprehensive victory in the first stage of the race, an exciting summit finish on the Col d’Izouard on the same day that the men’s race completed the same feat. Van Vlouten was then virtually transported to the Marseille velodrome along with any rivals who had finished within 5 minutes of her. They were then set off on a time trial at the same time differences that they finished on the Izouard. On paper, it could make for an interesting finish, as van Vlouten is chased down by a larger group of riders for a sprint finish in the velodrome. What transpired was that she easily held off the chase group of Lizzie Deignan, Megan Guarnier and Elise Longho Borghini, who also stayed clear of the rest of the field.

To some extent, I approve of the Tour de France organisers trying out a new format in an attempt to make their race more compelling, but it feels fairly disrespectful to use this new format for the first time at La Course, rather than trying it out and refining it at a smaller event before launching it in France. While La Course is fairly far down the pecking order of women’s bike races, the link to the Tour de France means that this event is always likely to glean more attention from the casual cycling fan, who, if they tuned in this year, won’t have been all that impressed with what they saw.

It’s clear that there is some disillusion around the format within the peloton. In the immediate aftermath of the race, Deignan was diplomatic, but also clear that more work was needed: “The format needs some work – it was good but there is definitely work to be done. I’m open minded to the concept but it needs tidying up.” Van Vlouten herself tweeted after the event: “Winning at d’Izouard was a ‘goosebumps moment’; today nice ‘bonus’ with great crowds. […] Next year stagerace @LaCoursebyTDF?”.

The challenge facing the organisers is that running a stage race has failed previously (the women’s Grande Boucle last took place in 2009, and currently La Route de France is the only major women’s stage race in France, although it did not take place in 2017, and even when it does it has the lowest UCI ranking for a stage race), due to a lack of sponsorship and organisational difficulties. It’s not a simple challenge to overcome, and indeed it feels like only with a major shake-up of the cycling calendar will a solution be found.

From my point of view, the best solution is to try to tie La Course to the men’s Tour de France, effectively ‘piggybacking’ off their extensive infrastructure and support, and hopefully increasing exposure. One suggestion has been to run La Course as a shortened version of Le Tour de France, with the women riding the stage a day ahead of the men. However, this risks additional disruption to local areas that already have to shut down for at least a day and often more while le Tour passes through. Also, while there’s no doubt the women riders are physically capable of riding the route (indeed data from van Vlouten’s climb up the Izoard suggested that she was close to the time of the leading men, although that should be put into context, since the women completed a shorter route without two earlier climbs faced by the men’s race), the length of the stages and the difference in pace between the men and women would likely mean the stages would take too long to complete to be practical. Therefore, I’d suggest a similar approach to that taken on the Izouard, where the women finish in the same place, on the same day, but ride a slightly shortened route and set off earlier, to reduce the risk of the tail-end of the women’s race being caught by the head of the men’s.

The other issue at the moment is that La Course is simply too short, and needs to be turned into a ‘proper’ stage race, ideally with a couple of mountain stages, a couple of sprint stages and a time-trial, in order to turn it into a race worthy of the best female cyclists in the world. In my view it should also incorporate the finish on the Champs-Élysées that is the traditional conclusion of the men’s race. Since the final men’s stage is traditionally ceremonial, bar the final sprint, I could even see an argument for a joint male-female group finish, although it has previously worked to have the women ride the route ahead of the men on the final day. The easiest way for this to work, in my view, is to have the women ride a week-long stage race to coincide with the final week of Le Tour (potentially with an additional stage on the men’s rest day).

However, this solution presents problems around the scheduling, since that would clash with the Giro Rosa, which this year took place during the first week of Le Tour. Leaving only a week’s rest between the finish of the Giro Rosa and the start of La Course would not be enough for the top women to be able to do both, and since the Giro is the premier competition in women’s cycling, that can only be detrimental to the quality of the field at La Course. Therefore, a compromise is needed, and my solution for that would be to move the Giro in the calendar to align more closely with the men’s Giro d’Italia, with the aim of exploiting the same synergies and harnessing the same marketing power that goes alongside the men’s race. There would no doubt be an impact on the other events in the women’s cycling calendar, but I would hope that these hurdles could be overcome, and ultimately something drastic will need to happen if the exposure of women’s cycling is to be improved.

The resistance to promotion of the women’s events tends to be centred around the historical lack of spectator interest, which negatively impacts the sponsorships generated, and therefore causes the event to lose money. However, this always seems to be a vicious circle to me: without a major event, it’s difficult to attract spectator interest (and even more difficult if the organisers choose to tamper with or us experimental formats) and therefore the situation will never improve. The argument missing from the above is the expectation that, by running a women’s event, the Tour de France organisers have a chance to attract viewers to their sport that might otherwise not be interested – young girls who are more interested in watching women race than men – rather than taking away from their existing fanbase. My proposal above is designed to hopefully increase the prestige attached to La Course, while keeping a lid on associated costs, by trying to exploit synergies with the men’s race.

One final word from me, and that is that this is a two-way street. If the organisers were to take this leap of faith, then there would need to be effort put in by the women’s teams and individual cyclists to ‘up their game’ in terms of their approach to the cycling. Whether it is respective of the whole field or not, it surprised me to hear Deignan talk after each of the days racing on this year’s La Course and reveal that she had not done a recon of either course (in Marseille, she was quoted as saying “I wish I had done a recon today – I was not expecting that climb”, and after the Col d’Izoard she said “I surprised myself for sure. I think I overestimated the climb, I had not done a recon and I didn’t find it as hard as the nightmares I had about”). The preparation that goes into the men’s race would need to be mimicked by the women’s race, otherwise they run the risk of being branded hypocrites – complaining that they are not taken seriously, but not putting in the effort themselves.

Preview – Football – Tournament of Nations

What is it?

It’s a rather clunkily-titled football tournament, currently being held in the USA. The first I heard about it was on Twitter. Apparently, this is the inaugural competition, and will see the USA, Australia, Japan and Brazil face off for the title (Champions of Nations?) between 27th July and 3rd August.

Why those teams in particular?

I’ve got no idea. I can’t seem to find any information on how they decided who took part.   It looks like it is the highest-ranked women’s teams, apart from European teams who are all busy playing Euro 2017, and Canada, who have been excluded for a reason that escapes me. Not exotic enough, maybe?

What is the format?

The four teams play each other in a round robin. Three points for a win, one point for a draw, with ties determined by goal difference, then goals scored, then head-to-head results, then FIFA Ranking.

What happened yesterday?

The first two matches were played. Brazil drew 1-1 with Japan, and the USA surprisingly lost 1-0 to Australia. Both games took place in Seattle. Goalscorers were Camila (Brazil), Yuka Momiki (Japan) and Tameka Butt (Australia).

What next?

The next games are on Sunday in San Diego, with Japan v Australia and USA v Brazil. Then the tournament is wrapped up next Thursday in Carson, with Australia v Brazil and USA v Japan.

What is the most interesting thing you have found out about the tournament?

The teams taking part in the tournament each have an interesting nickname, which might well give an insight into the mindset of each country. Brazil are nicknamed Las Canarinhas, which translates to the ‘female canaries’, in reference, I assume, to their famous yellow shirts. Australia are nicknamed The Matildas, after the popular Australian ditty ‘Waltzing Matilda’. Japan’s national team are known as Nadeshiko, which apparently means ‘the personification of the idealised Japanese woman’, but is appreciably more catchy as a nickname in Japanese. For the hosts, however, Wikipedia lists the USWNT, Team USA, The Stars and Stripes, and The Yanks as potential nicknames, all of which are (in my opinion) pretty average as nicknames go. Surely the Americans must be able to come up with something better than that?

Where can I watch it?

ESPN are showing the tournament in the USA. I can’t find any reference to anyone showing it anywhere else, so I guess I’ll end up following the results on Twitter.