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I think you may have some problems finding many matches to this picture:


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...ours are gorgeous, too.



Above: Novella Calligaris, the tiny sprite who demolished a number of chemically enhanced East German giantesses in Belgrade in 1973 to win an unforgettable world championship gold in the murderous 800 metre freestyle, at the time the toughest speciality in the games.
Below: Federica Pellegrini, the supermodel type who has just done the impossible by winning for the second time world championship golds in both the 400 and the 200 metres in Shanghai. Nobody had ever done that before, and it does not seem likely that anyone will again any time soon, unless of course Federica herself has a go next time.

Glory

Jun. 12th, 2011 10:00 pm
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As I write, I am watching the spectacular struggle for second place in the grand prix of canada between Michael Schumacher, Jensen Button and Mark Webber. WEbber and Button have the faster cars, but Schumacher is a genius and his recoveries have been incredible. It is some of the greatest racing, the greatest moments in any sports, I have ever seen.

edited in: Jensen Button won splendidly, taking the lead at the very last mimute. Schumacher only came fourth, but gave a performance that showed that with a better machine he'd have been back to his old ways. This is the best Formula One race I've seen in years.
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Italy just beat France at Rugby by one point, thanks to a magnificent scrum pack, unbreakable courage that kept going even when nine points down with twenty-five minutes to go, exemplary fitness, and sustained teamwork. But above all, everything else was driven by courage and character and courage and courage and courage. Some other Italian sportspeople could learn a thing or two from our Rugby underdogs and wooden-spoon specialists.
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We were nowhere in the Beijing Olympics. We stank at the Wotld Athletics Championships. And now, in one of our traditional areas of strength - winter sports - we are doing nothing but collecting fourth places. I am fast going from disappointed to furious. The day that Great Britain, who have never been any good at winter games, are ahead of us in the medals table, is a day of national humiliation. And given what we have seen in the last few years, I am absolutely dreading the Italian performance at the coming World Cup.
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If Il Corriere della Sera is not making things up, the astonishing scandal of Nelson Piquet's false accident is only the top of the iceberg of what really happened in Formula One over the last twelve months. Behind the cut is my translation of a truly staggering report that appeared today on the site of Italy's main newspaper
Read more... )
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Yesterday, Britain had one of its golden sporting days of all time. The World Athletics Championships closed with two more silver medals - with Britain winning many more than had been expected, and that in spite of the fact that the great Paula Radcliffe had not been able to take part - and, which tasted much sweeter in British mouths, the Australians were comprehensively beaten at cricket. Americans and other non-cricketing countries will not understand this, but "the Ashes" (as victory in an England-Australia cricket series is called, from an old and unimportant joke) is probably the greatest rivalry in all sports, and certainly of immense importance to Britain. In recent years, except for the epic Flintoff victory of a few years ago (on which I blogged at the time), England have been habitually pounded by the Australians. This time the shoe was very much on the other foot, and while the great Freddie Flintoff was clearly at the end of his physical form, he nevertheless managed one of the great moments of the triumph, a splendid throw from across the field that ran out the Australian captain, Ponting, just as Ponting looked like rescuing his side. It was, in short, the kind of victory of which people will be speaking in years (well, perhaps not in Australia).

So what is it that leaves me astounded and dumbfounded?

This. In any country, anywhere, under any circumstances, the local political leaders would have rushed to congratulate the heroes of athletics and cricket; both out of real pleasure in a great moment of national self-assertion and shared public happiness, and out of the instinctive desire to rub on some of the stardust of sporting triumph. (As a more than usually cynical Italian PM, Spadolini, said at the time of Italy's World Cup triumph of 1982, what matters is whether you are seen to have luck.) Even if you are not a fan, indeed even if sports bore you, it is simply political commonsense to be seen to share in the joy of the commons; and the Queen, this time, was the first to do so.

So where were her Prime Minister and his government?

Nowhere.

I have rarely seen such a devastating demonstration of Gordon Brown's, and of his party's, complete and utter lack of contact or empathy with the people they are supposed to represent.
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The 200 metre world record is the most awesome object in athletics. In thirty years, it has only been broken three times. In 1978, I think, Pietro Mennea broke it in Mexico City. It then stood until 1996 and the Atlanta Olympics, when Michael Johnson broke it with one of the most awesome runs I ever saw. And Johnson's record has stood until now - when the Bolt from the blue tore into it in spite of a headwind that would particularly have hampered his tall and upright frame. And again, as in Atlanta 1996... a performance that nobody who saw it will ever forget.

And the crowd all rose and sang Happy Birthday to him. Because, as it happens, his birthday is tomorrow! What a way to celebrate.

Usain Bolt

Aug. 18th, 2008 03:41 am
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There's something wrong here. Who let in the superhero? 8-)
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The loud American complaints about Chinese cheating in the Olympics would sound better if the US athletics establshment had not been a sink of doped iniquity for decades, leading to horrors such as the "flo-jo" so-called world record, which is still on the books, and finally to the disgrace and humiliation of Marion Jones and her contemporaries. This will leave on any other nation the usual impression that Americans really think that their cheating is nobler than other people's cheating. And what about the time it took to make steroids illegal in baseball?
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And I hope I'm not shallow or obsessed. I can and do admire women of all shapes and sizes. Greatness and goodness are greatness and goodness under whatever shell. But when it turns out that the great swimming champion, world record breaker, gold and silver Olympic medallist, natural star with the crowd in the palm of her hald, full holder of that mysterious quality that you are either born with or not, that I call the "look-at-me", in short, that our Federica Pellegrini, is, on top of all these things, also a natural blonde and a complete babe....

Federica Pellegrini

...well, I'm hardly going to complain about it, am I?
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But I might as well. The Olympics have some kind of quarter-century murderous tyranny drive. 1936, Berlin. 1968, Mexico City (with hundreds of students slaughtered on the main square for extra entertainment). 1980, Moscow. 2008, Beijing. And the Seoul Olympics were awarded before the military tyranny in South Korea was overthrown. And the 1972 Munich Olympics were stained by the blood of Jewish athletes and should have been abandoned. I was ten at the time and I was furious that they continued, and I haven't changed my mind since; only I did not realize then that this massacre of Jews took place within a few miles of Dachau concentration camp. The fact alone that Jews were once again butchered in Germany ought to have raised ugly echoes everywhere; the fact that this was only one Olympic after the Massacre Olympics of Mexico City made it even worse. But I am afraid that the Olympic movement and shame are two altogether separate and alien concepts.

I love sports. And other games have had their shameful moments - the World Cup was held in Fascist Italy in 1934, in Mexico City in 1970 two years after the Massacre Olympics, and in Jorge "20,000 desaparecidos" Videla's Argentina in 1978. But the Olympics seem especially reckless with their supposed moral authority.
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Some sports have, above and beyond the matter of winning or losing, certain and special kinds of achievement which can be quite unique; never, perhaps, to be held even by confirmed champions, and yet accessible, with a little bit of luck, to any player. They are lifetime achievements, whom the player is allowed - indeed, expected - to dine out on and bore his/her friends silly for the rest of his/her life: my hole-in-one, the hundred-pound salmon I landed, the time I took a world champion ten rounds and lost on points.

Not all sports have such achievements, which is why I am explaining the point. Now in baseball (and softball, which is its female version), the special achievement is the home run: to strike the ball so high and so hard that, by the time the opponents have recovered it, you have had the time to touch all three bases and score a full point (a run). If you are feeling particularly showy, you can do it at a canter or a walk, just to underline your confidence. Every child who knows baseball dreams of a home run.

A day or two ago, the Central Washington University ("Wildcats") softball team was playing Western Oregon University in Ellensburg, Wash., for a local league. The Wildcats were one game behind their opponents, with a chance to reach the playoffs. Western won the first game 8-1, extending its winning streak to 10 games. The Wildcats desperately needed the second game.

Western Oregon's 5-foot-2-inch right fielder came up to bat with two runners on base in the second inning. Sara Tucholsky's game was off to a rough start. A group of about eight guys sitting behind the right field fence had been heckling her. She tried to concentrate and ignore them. She took strike one. And then the senior did something she had never done before -- even in batting practice: shesmashed the next pitch over the center field fence for an apparent home run. With two players already on base, that was worth three points and an almost certain victory - not to mention shattering the Wildcats' hopes.

She started running. As she was about to touch first base, she looked up to watch the ball clear the fence and missed touching it with her foot (as the rules require). Six feet past the bag, she stopped abruptly to return and touch it. But something gave in her right knee, and she collapsed.

"I was in a lot of pain," she told the local newspaper. "Our first-base coach was telling me I had to crawl back to first base. 'I can't touch you,' she said, 'or you'll be out. I can't help you.' "

Tucholsky, to the horror of teammates and spectators, crawled through the dirt and the pain back to first.

Western coach Pam Knox rushed onto the field and talked to the umpires near the pitcher's mound. The umpires said Knox could place a substitute runner at first. Tucholsky would be credited with a single and two RBIs (points scored by others on her hit), but her home run would be erased.

At that point, Mallory Holtman stepped in. Mallory Holtman is the Wildcat's star player, and as a rule opponents are not happy when they see her. However, what she had to say stopped their breath: could they, the Wildcats, the opponents, help Tucholsky complete her home run?

The umpires scratched their heads and decided that they could think of no rule against it. And so began one of the most beautiful scenes in the history of sports. Mallory Holtman, the Wilcats' star, made a chairlift together with teammate Liz Wallace, picked up Tucholsky, and resumed the home-run walk, pausing at each base to allow Tucholsky to touch the bag with her uninjured leg.
the home run
"We started laughing when we touched second base," Holtman said. "I said, 'I wonder what this must look like to other people.' "

Holtman got her answer when they arrived at home plate. She looked up and saw the entire Western Oregon team in tears.

"My whole team was crying," Tucholsky said. "Everybody in the stands was crying. My coach was crying. It touched a lot of people."

Even the hecklers in right field quieted for a half-inning before resuming their tirade at the outfielder who replaced Tucholsky.

Western Oregon won 4-2, putting an end to Central Washington's playoff hopes. But as far as any one of us who values certain things is concerned, Central Washington had won a lot more than playoffs. And I hope that any time any of us feel cynical or angry at the human race, we can stop and remember two girls carrying another, in a different colour uniform, so that she could be certified the score she had deserved.

Incredible

Sep. 18th, 2006 12:40 pm
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Italy has occasionally produced some very good tennis players, but since the early seventies there seemed to be nobody coming through worth a damn. In the last few years, however, the female half of the sport has been doing quite well - but never enough for anyone to expect what just happened. The Italian women's team has just won the Federation Cup - supposedly the female version of the Davis Cup - by beating the Belgians. Get it? The Belgians. As in Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne.

EDIT: according to reports, both Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne had to retire due to injuries, but this only proves that the Italian team was fitter. Let alone that, on the way up, they knocked out a French team led by Amelie Mauresmo, the super-strong current World no.1. An astonishing performance however you look at it. And even more surprising is that three out of the four Italian players come from south of Rome - not an area that used to produce a lot of female stars. And there is another record to be added: the manager Corrado Barazzutti was part of the male team that won the Davis Cup in 1976. He is apparently only the second person to win a Davis or Fed Cup both as a player and as a manager, following on the Frenchman Guy Forget.
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Joe Louis. Cassius Clay/Mohammed Ali.
Jesse Owens. Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Michael Johnson.
Haile Gebreselassie.
The Abbagnale brothers. Nedo Nadi.
Jacques Anquetil. Eddy Merckx. Lance Armstrong.
Mark Spitz.
Juan Manuel Fangio. Giacomo Agostini. Michael Schumacher.
Dr. W.G.Grace. Sir Donald Bradman.
Sir Steven Redgrave. Dame Tammi Gray-Thompson.
Suzanne Lenglen. Martina Navratilova.
Sergey Bubka. Emil Zatopek.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento "Pele'". Garrincha. Maradona.
"Babe" Ruth. Joe Di Maggio.

And Paula Radcliffe.

NOW will that miserable gang of national poisoners and all-purpose liars, dedicated to the destruction of public personalities and to the pursuit of people for money, the British so-called journalistic profession, finally stop carping and realize that they have, in Britain, now, one of the greatest sportswomen of all time, a giant in her sport, and, at that, a woman who incarnates everything that is charming, lovable and just plain good about the English nation?
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I am enough of a sports fan to feel what it must mean to many Americans that the big mighty monopolistic capitalistic side (the Yankees) has been overhauled by the long-time hopefuls (Red Sox) and are within a game of going down to what for them is abject defeat (i.e. failing to make it to the finals). And certainly I carry enough detestation for the local equivalents of the Yankees (Manchester United, Arsenal, Milan, Juventus) to have every sympathy for the surprisingly large number of Bostonians on my f-list. But what I want to know is: is this going to sabotage the elections? Are all Yankee and Red Sox fans suddenly going to lose interest in a matter of mere politicians, when baseball history is being made? (Apparently, in the historic Italian elections of April 1948, civil war was narrowly averted when the legendary cyclist Fausto Coppi won a stage of the Giro d'Italia race in spectacular style, thus distracting all the angry Communist and anti-Communist supporters...)

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