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.

Report – Swimming & Water Polo – FINA World Championships Update

Just a few of the headlines from the FINA World Championships that are currently underway in Budapest.

Pellegrini stuns Ledecky in 200m Freestyle

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Federica Pellegrini (picture courtesy of Lis í Jákupsstovu)

Federica Pellegrini, who has won medals in the 200m Freestyle at every World Championships since 2005, made it an unlucky 13th world championship final for Katie Ledecky, the defending world and reigning Olympic champion in this event. Ledecky has won her first 12 world championship finals, but after battling Australia’s Emma McKeon in the middle lanes, was unable to cope with Pellegrini’s surge from the outside. Thankfully for Ledecky, she can console herself with her gold medals from the 400m Freestyle, 1500m Freestyle and 4x200m Freestyle relay earlier in the meet. After the event, Pellegrini announced that this would be her final appearance in the 200m Freestyle: “I was only fourth at the Olympic Games last year, so this is a great success for me. I was thinking of the medal but I never thought it would be gold! What a nice gift for the last 200m freestyle of my life.”

Hosszú brings the house down with 200m IM victory

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Katinka Hosszú of Hungary (picture courtesy of Doha Stadium Plus Qatar)

Hungary has long since been associated with enthusiasm for winter sports, and a number of swimming legends have hailed from these shores. One of the biggest names of the current generation is Katinka Hosszú, and the ‘Iron Lady’ did not disappoint the home crowd on Day 2 in the pool, storming to victory in the 200m Individual Medley, and in the process becoming the first swimmer in history to win the event three times. On the electric atmosphere that greeted her victory, Hosszú said: “I am feeling the same way that the very time I won a race. I have been training in this pool since it opened, trying to imagine the crowd. You can’t be ready for such an amazing atmosphere. It is crazy!”

Kylie Masse is first Canadian female world champion

After 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak won a stunning 100m Freestyle gold medal at the Rio Olympics last year, Canadian swimming seemed to be on an upwards trajectory. While it was Oleksiak who grabbed most of the headlines at that time, Kylie Masse was also impressing by winning a bronze medal in the 100m Backstroke. In the 12 months since then, Masse has continued her improvement, and was delighted to become the first Canadian woman to win a world title earlier this week, breaking the world record in the process.

Sjöström shows class over 100m in both Butterfly and Freestyle

Sweden’s Sarah Sjöström gave us a spectacular opening to the World Championships, when she broke the 100m Freestyle world record on the opening leg of the 4x100m Freestyle relay, finishing in 51.71. While the rest of the Swedish relay team weren’t able to provide a medal to go with the record, Sjöström made no mistake in her first individual event of the meet, winning gold in the 100m Butterfly to make it four world championships in a row that she has won the event.

USA and Spain will do battle for water polo gold

This week saw the water polo competition reach the knockout stage, with a number of exceptional performances from unexpected sources. Canada overcame hosts Hungary 6-4 in the quarter-finals, thanks to a five-goal performance from Monika Eggens, but then lost out to an impressive Spanish side in the semi-finals. Spain had overcome Greece in a penalty shoot-out in their quarter-final after drawing 10-10 in normal time. In the other quarter-finals Russia upset Olympic silver-medallists Italy 9-8, and the USA defeated Australia 7-5, with the US team then going on to win comfortably 14-9 in the semi-final. With three of four Group Stage winners losing in the quarter-finals, there is a question mark over the merits of the four-day break in competition for those teams, although the benefit of that extra rest for the US team may become apparent in the final against Spain on Saturday.

What about Adam Peaty?!

Finally, and I know it’s supposed to be a blog about women’s sport, but as a Brit I have to say “WOW!” about the performances of Adam Peaty during the swimming competition this week. The man is head and shoulders above the rest of the world in the 50m and 100m Breaststroke, and became the first man under 26 seconds for 50m Breaststroke as he broke his own world record in the 50m semi-finals. It is a bit of a novelty seeing a British sportsperson so dominant in their event, so I’ll make no bones about shouting it from the rooftops. Great to see him inspiring the next generation of talent as well, as training partner Sarah Vasey made the 100m Breaststroke final in her first World Championships (there, a reference to women’s sport!).

Preview – Swimming – FINA Swimming World Championships 2017

What is it?

As the name suggests, the FINA Swimming World Championships are a set of championships for swimmers from around the world, and it is organised by FINA, which is the international body responsible for organising international competitions for aquatic sports. The 2017 event is part of the wider World Aquatics Championships and is taking place in Budapest, Hungary. This will be the 17th edition of the event, and is the first time the event has taken place in Hungary.

What is the format this year?

There doesn’t seem to be any major difference between this schedule and recent swimming World Championships. 42 events will be held, of which 20 are for men, 20 are for women and 2 are mixed. Events either have heats, semi-finals and finals, or for longer events and relays, just heats and relays. Qualification from heat to semi to final is purely based on the quickest time, so if you win your heat or semi-final but do a slow time, you may not necessarily qualify for the final. In the event that more than one swimmer ties for the final qualification slot, those affected have to do a swim-off against each other.

Who are the historical powerhouses?

In an ‘all-time’ swimming World Championships medal table, the USA are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the world, having won 550 medals, including 236 gold. Next in the table are China, but with only 288 medals in total, and just 128 gold. Russia are next (combining their total with the USSR), with 271 medals total, but only 106 gold, and the table continues with Australia, East Germany, Germany, Hungary, Italy, France and Great Britain.

Who are the swimmers to watch out for?

10689512724_a1f86e3e18_zKatinka Hosszú of Hungary (picture courtesy of Doha Stadium Plus Qatar)

  • Katinka Hosszú (Hungary) – the self-styled ‘Iron Lady’ is the great home hope for gold medals in the pool. Hosszú is the world record holder in the 100m, 200m and 400m Individual Medley and the 100m and 200m backstroke, and won three gold medals and one silver at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
  • Katie Ledecky (USA) – Ledecky, despite being only 20 years old, seems to have been one of the world’s best swimmers for some time, and indeed has won the Swimming World Swimmer of the Year award for the past four years. She broke through at the 2012 Olympic Games in London when she defeated British hope Rebecca Adlington in the 800m Freestyle. Since then she has only got better, winning nine gold medals over the past two World Championships, and then winning four gold medals and a silver in Rio.
  • Sarah Sjöström (Sweden)Sjöström already stamped her mark on the 2017 World Championships, when on day one she smashed the 100m Freestyle world record as part of the first leg of the 4 x 100m Freestyle relay. She is also the current world record holder over 50m and 100m Butterfly and 200m Freestyle (shortcourse). Sjöström won gold in the 100m Butterfly in Rio, as well as two silvers and a bronze.
  • Simone Manuel (USA) – Manuel took gold and silver in the 100m and 50m Freestyle at Rio, widely considered to be the blue riband events of the swimming world, and so can claim to be the fastest female swimmer in the world (although Denmark’s Pernille Blume might dispute that, given that she took home gold in the 50m Freestyle).
  • Rie Kaneto (Japan) – Kaneto won gold in the 200m Breaststroke event at Rio, and was named Swimming World’s Pacific Rim Swimmer of the Year – an award which, in recent years, has been dominated by Australian swimmers.

 

 

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

  • Monday 24th July
    • 100m Butterfly
    • 200m Individual Medley – Katinka Hosszú will hope to win her first gold of the championships
  • Tuesday 25th July
    • 1500m Freestyle
    • 100m Backstroke
    • 100m Breaststroke
  • Wednesday 26th July
    • 200m Freestyle – likely to see a face-off between Katie Ledecky and Sarah Sjöström
    • 4 x 100m Medley Relay (Mixed)
  • Thursday 27th July
    • 50m Backstroke
    • 200m Butterfly
    • 4 x 200m Medley Relay
  • Friday 28th July
    • 100m Freestyle – can Sjöström break the world record twice in the same championships? Or will Simone Manuel triumph?
    • 200m Breaststroke
  • Saturday 29th July
    • 800m Freestyle – Ledecky will look to dominate this event once again
    • 200m Backstroke
    • 50m Butterfly
    • 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay (Mixed)
  • Sunday 30th July
    • 50m Freestyle
    • 50m Breaststroke
    • 400m Individual Medley – Hungarians everywhere will be hoping for a ‘golden goodbye’ to the 2017 championships, as Hosszú goes once again
    • 4 x 100m Medley Relay

Where can I watch it (UK only)?

The BBC are showing highlights every evening, and the rest of the action is on Eurosport.

Review of the Week – 24th July 2017

It all just seems to happen so quickly at the moment. No sooner does one major event finish than another one has popped up to replace it. Yesterday’s news will be wrapping tomorrow’s fish and chips, and all that.

KEY HEADLINES

Cricket – England win the World Cup

https://sportlikeagirl.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/report-cricket-england-triumph-over-india-in-world-cup-final/

England triumphed over India in a topsy-turvy World Cup final thanks to a wonderful final spell of bowling by Anya Shrubsole. India looked to be on their way to victory, before collapsing from 191-3 to 219 all out, chasing as target of 229 to win.

 

Football – England on course for the quarter-finals, but Scotland are in trouble

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/40694641

England followed up their 6-0 trouncing of Home Nations rivals Scotland with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Spain in their second group match, thanks to goals from Fran Kirby and Jodie Taylor. Although not mathematically certain to qualify, England know that they need only avoid defeat in their final group match against Portugal to top the group and qualify for the quarter-finals. By comparison, Scotland look to be heading home after slipping to their second defeat in a week, losing 2-1 to Portugal. Scotland looked like they may have a chance to claw themselves back into contention when Erin Cuthbert scored with a fine curling strike to cancel out Carolina Mendes’s opener, but Ana Leite quickly restored Portugal’s lead. Scotland must defeat Spain by two clear goals in their final game on Thursday and hope that England defeat Portgual.

 

Para-Athletics – Britain enjoys best-ever World Championships with 39 medals

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/disability-sport/40697902

Hannah Cockroft, Georgie Hermitage and Samantha Kinghorn led the way for Britain’s para-athletes at the World Championships in London. Britain won 18 gold medals in a total of 39 to finish third in the medal table, behind China and the USA. Cockroft continued her domination of the T34 class, winning the 100m, 400m and 800m events, while Hermitage won the T37 100m and 400m and Kinghorn triumphed in the T53 100m and 200m, and also took home bronze medals in the T53 400m and the T34 800m. Other notable medallists included: Sophie Hahn, who won the T38 100m and 200m titles; Kadeena Cox, who won the T38 400m; Sophie Kamlish, who won the T44 100m; Stef Reid, who won the T44 long jump; Olivia Breen, who won the T38 long jump; and Hollie Arnold, who won the F46 javelin.

 

Lacrosse – USA defeat Canada in World Cup final, while England take bronze with golden goal victory over Australia

http://www.englishlacrosse.co.uk/RWLC17/

USA finished the lacrosse World Cup tournament the way they have played throughout, with a dominant 10-5 victory over Canada in the final. The US raced to an 8-1 lead midway through the second half, before Canada came back strongly to make the final score respectable. In the bronze medal match, England scored an exciting golden goal to take the win against a strong Australia side.

 

Hockey – England take bronze as USA win World League in Johannesburg

http://www.fih.ch/events/hockey-world-league/2017-women-hockey-world-league-semi-final-rsa/news/usa-women-belgium-triumph-at-hockey-world-league-semi-finals/

From the 8th-23rd July, Johannesburg has played host to ten of the world’s best women’s hockey nations, in a tournament acting as a semi-final for the FIH World League 2016-17. The first semi-final took place in Brussels from 21st June-2nd July, and saw the Netherlands, China and South Korea qualify for the final, which will take place in Auckland from 17th-26th November. New Zealand qualify automatically as hosts, meaning that the top four from the Johannesburg semi-final would go through to the final. After a hard-fought tournament, the USA took first place after defeating Germany in a shoot-out, and England took the bronze medal match after defeating Argentina, who also qualify for the finals.

 

Swimming – World Swimming Championships start in Budapest

http://www.fina.org/event/17th-fina-world-championships

With the synchro, open water and diving competitions completed (bar the high dive which takes place 28th-30th July), and the water polo starting the knockout phase this week, attention turns to the swimming, which started on the 23rd July and runs through to the 30th July. Hosts Hungary are traditionally considered to be very enthusiastic about their aquatic sports, so a fantastic atmosphere is expected.

 

COMING UP THIS WEEK

  • Football: UEFA European Championships, Netherlands – July 16th-August 6th
    • Portugal v England – July 27th, 8:45pm
    • Scotland v Spain – July 27th, 8:45pm
  • Swimming/Aquatics: FINA World Championships, Budapest, Hungary – July 14th-30th
  • Parasport: Deaflympics, Turkey – July 18th-30th
  • Fencing: World Championships, Leipzig, Germany – July 19th-26th
  • BMX: UCI World Championships, Rock Hill, USA – July 24th-30th
  • Tennis: Swedish Open (WTA International), Båstad, Sweden – July 24th-30th
  • Tennis: Jiangxi Open (WTA International), Nanchang, China – July 24th-30th

Report – Cricket – England triumph over India in World Cup final

Hosts England triumphed in a wonderfully topsy-turvy World Cup final against India at the home of cricket. Lord’s witnessed a final that reminded me of what a wonderful game cricket is, and how quickly fortunes can change in any format of the game. Having lost to India in their opening match of the World Cup, England had gone unbeaten throughout the rest of the tournament, but looked to be heading to defeat towards the end of the final, before a wonderful spell of bowling from Anya Shrubsole tore through the Indian middle- and lower-order and took England to a nine-run victory.

After winning the toss, England chose to bat first and made a promising start, with Lauren Winfield and Tammy Beaumont sharing an opening stand of 47. But after Winfield was bowled by Rajeshwari Gayakwad, the home side lost their early momentum, and Beaumont and captain Heather Knight quickly followed Winfield back to the pavilion, leaving England under pressure at 63-3.

Sarah Taylor and Nat Sciver have been two of England’s most impressive performers throughout this tournament, and they steadied the ship with an excellent 83-run partnership to wrest back the initiative. Just as they seemed to be ready to accelerate on, and set India a daunting total, Taylor feathered a catch down the leg side off the bowling of Jhulan Goswami and was followed next ball by Fran Wilson, trapped lbw. Sciver followed a few overs later with the score at 164-6 and with England struggling to put the runs on the board during the crucial late overs of the game.

Katherine Brunt put on another crucial 32 runs alongside Jenny Gunn, before being run out by India’s young star Deepti Sharma, and Gunn and Laura Marsh then guided England through to the end of the 50 overs, putting on another 32 runs, leaving India with a below par target of 229 to win. In the Group Stage match in Derby, India had set England a total of 282 to win, and seen England fall all out for just 246, so the target seemed well within India’s reach, but then a World Cup final can do funny things to people.

England started the Indian innings fantastically, breaking through in the second over as Shrubsole caught Smriti Mandhana in front lbw. When Sciver ran out dangerous Indian captain Mithali Raj for just 17, India were wobbling at 43-2. Poonam Raut and Harmanpreet Kaur steadied the ship, and looked to have taken the match away from England in another excellent partnership, putting on 95 runs for the third wicket. Kaur eventually holed out to Tammy Beaumont off the bowling of Alex Hartley, but Veda Krishnamurthy picked up where Kaur had left off, and as the game ran into the final ten overs, India seemed to be on course for victory, to the delight of the large India-supporting sections of the Lord’s crowd.

Anya Shrubsole had obviously not read the Indian script. Her father had earlier shared an image of her as a nine-year old visiting Lord’s, and just when England needed a saviour, up she stepped, first trapping Raut lbw, then watching Hartley bowl Devi the next over, before Shrubsole had the dangerous Krishamurthy caught by Sciver, and then bowled Goswami two balls later. India had gone from 191-3 to 201-7 in the space of just over two overs, but even then, the game was not won.  England had seemed to be on the wrong side of luck on a few occasions, with dropped catches and misfields only heightening the tension on the day.

Needing just 28 runs off 30 balls, India were happy to pick up singles and inch their way towards victory. Dot balls were cheered by the crowd, but then a boundary from Deepti Sharma released some of the pressure. Having moved onto 218 runs, and now needing just 11 runs from 16 balls, Shikha Pandy was run out after an excellent throw by Shrubsole and quick work by wicketkeeper Taylor. Suddenly, India were marooned, with all of their recognised batters back in the hutch. Three dot balls later, Shrubsole was back, and with the first ball of her over she had Sharma caught by Sciver.  Two balls later Jenny Gunn, usually so reliable, dropped a dolly of a catch to reprieve Poonam Yadav, but Shrubsole was not to be denied.  She bowled another beautiful straight ball, lighting up the bails behind Gayakawad, to leave India ten runs short of victory.

What a wonderful advert this was for the women’s game, full of drama and tension, and a fitting end to a wonderful tournament. India will feel they could, indeed possibly should, have triumphed, but England will rejoice in their never-say-die attitude that has brought them to the pinnacle of the women’s game.