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Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

World of Sport

Defence! Defence! Get it on the rebound! Who’s marking number seven?

I’m sitting on a bottom-numbing wooden bench in a cavernous sports hall somewhere off the M50, watching my son’s basketball team. There are two matches going on simultaneously, and the combined noise of the crowd, whistles, hooters, bouncing balls and even the squeak of basketball boots on the shiny wooden floor, is ear-splitting. All around me there are other parents, team managers and coaches shouting encouragement at the boys and enthusiastically analysing every move and every decision by the referee.

But I just don’t get it. My own feelings are a combination of bafflement and low-level boredom, with added anxiety when my son is actually on the court.

The bafflement comes partly from having only a rudimentary knowledge of the rules of the game, but mainly from my complete failure to understand what everyone is getting so worked up about. I can manage some enthusiastic clapping when the team scores, but that’s about the height of it. I’m fairly detached from the whole business.

I always bring a book or the weekend papers for the inevitable hanging around before and between matches, but I am alone in this. Other parents spend the time in yet more dissection of team tactics, pre and post match analysis and critiques of the referee and the team coach. I know any sports fanatic reading will hate me for this, but all I can think while all this is going on is ‘Come ON, they’re eleven years old, and after all (I think we all know what’s coming next) it’s only a game’.

My ambivalence probably stems from my own childhood experience of sports. I was the quintessential non-sporty kid: skinny, uncoordinated, slow. The last one picked for the teams in gym class. Thanks to undiagnosed asthma, a wheezing mess after each enforced run round the convent grounds. I tried a few different sports – tennis, badminton and, unforgettably, camogie. I was rubbish at them all.

My inglorious camogie career came to an end on a lonely UCD pitch when I was about ten. I was representing Na Fianna and we were playing our sworn enemies, Marino, who always beat us. I was in goal, where it was felt I could do the least damage. The golden rule of goalkeeping had been drilled into me – block, block, block the ball first, and only then clear it. We were doing pretty well and I was having an unusually quiet game. Then a Marino forward took an optimistic swing from a long way out. There wasn’t much power behind the shot, and the sliotar rolled sedately towards me. No problem, I thought to myself, instantly forgetting everything I had been taught. As the ball reached me it had lost almost all momentum, so I took a wild swipe at it. And missed. It trickled on, and came to a stop about six inches over the goal line, to the delighted amazement of the Marino team.

Unsurprisingly, my teammates and coach were less than impressed with this display and expressed their displeasure fairly vocally. It was one of the most humiliating moments of my life.

These memories are what have me on edge when I watch my son play basketball. His dad’s athletic accomplishments were, if anything, even less impressive than my own, and it’s fair to say that when it comes to sporting prowess, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

Our boy is capable of scoring baskets, but is too hesitant to fight for the ball or to dribble up the court with it. He gets into good positions and relies on others to pass it to him, but he is prone to occasionally fluffing the catch. Though not actually watching through my fingers, I do worry that some day he will make an error which will be viewed by his teammates and their parents as catastrophic. I dread the potential fallout.

When he first joined the basketball club, he was very sensitive to the usual slagging and dressing room joking that went on, and there were a few tears shed after training sessions. He found it hard to identify with some of his teammates, many of whom take basketball very seriously indeed. Thanks to a sympathetic coach, he’s fitting in better now and goes to training willingly enough, but if he were to give it up tomorrow he wouldn’t miss it too much.

However, that would leave him playing no sport at all. Here in sports-mad Ireland, a boy who doesn’t play sport is almost viewed as an aberration. He has little interest in football, although he nominally ‘supports’ Liverpool so he can belong to a mini-tribe at school. We tried GAA when he was a lot younger, and I loved the inclusive, family atmosphere at our local club, where everyone got a game, regardless of ability. However, as the years went on and he watched other boys develop those incredible hurling skills, he increasingly lost heart. It became ever more difficult to persuade him to go to training so I let him give it up.

He showed no interest in taking up another sport. But, with the words of teachers and other parents ringing in my ears (“team sport is so character-building!” “they need an outlet for all that energy!”), I cast around for an alternative. Unimaginatively, I chose basketball because he’s very tall for his age.

Sometimes I feel guilty that I have railroaded him into playing sport. But nor do I want him to turn into a lardy, couch-dwelling gamer. I view it simply as a way for him to get some exercise and mix with other boys his own age from a variety of backgrounds. I don’t care about matches and the whole winning and losing thing. But I’ll be there to support him if he has a ‘Marino moment’ and to reassure him that life will, in fact, go on.

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While at the cinema last week, I nearly choked on my crisps when I saw this new ad for Reebok’s Easytone trainers. Sure, I get that the point of these trainers is to tone up legs, bums and all those other ‘trouble zones’ we’re supposed to give a rat’s arse about, so it’s understandable that the camera is going to focus on those areas.

But why does it have to feature headless women? This ad is nothing but a sea of lithe limbs – be they bare, stockinged or otherwise – doing a variety of fun-yet-sexy movements. Notwithstanding the fact that not one of the models has legs resembling anything like a typical pair of pins belonging to an average woman (no cellulite, no thread veins, no stretch marks, nothing but glowing flesh), I don’t for a minute believe that shaking and vac’ing my way around my apartment while wearing them will turn me into a sylph-like goddess.

Even with all of that aside, it is the headless woman aspect that creeps me out the most. It’s the ultimate in reducing women to their parts, in this instance turning athletes, nightclubbers and office workers into bouncing buttocks, taut calves and slinky ankles. There’s no need to even show these women’s faces (if these are indeed women rather than a woman – they are all light-skinned and all look eerily similar) when you can see their lower halves, and fixate on their arses rather than having to – god forbid – hear what they actually have to say about the product. The horror!

We have gotten off pretty lightly in Ireland however, as these are some American ads (‘make your boobs jealous!’):

We can all appreciate the aesthetic beauty of these impossibly sleek thighs, but we know the reality too. That very little of us look like that, which spoils the sexy illusion somewhat. I’d love if Reebok kept it real, if their ads featured women of all shapes and sizes, women just like us, who wear these shoes and then see their generous behinds and dimpled thighs reduced and smoothed. But perhaps both of these things are too much to ask for.

What do you think about these ads?

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Unless you’ve been living under a massive wonton, you’ll know that the Olympics start today in Beijing. I’m no Jimmy McGee, but I manage to keep up with what’s going on sport-wise, mainly thanks to reading the odd newspaper and Google. Like lots of things that a) everyone is talking about and b) are on TV I’ll probably get sucked in and find myself watching four hours of wrestling before I know it. The Olympics are a chance for obscure sports we don’t really get to see to shine (sadly no tiddly winks or truck-pulling though), but I’ll also be watching the Athletics – go Derval O’Rourke! RTE are covering a shed load of it, so you probably won’t be able to avoid it. Here’s what I’ll be keeping an eye on:

Gymnastics:

When I was eight, I had a minor fantasy about being a gymnast and would practise my “beam” moves on a three foot wall on our road. Mostly I just wanted my own leotard, which I could double up with legwarmers during my Fame phase, as well as the chance to lep around on a mat with one of those twirly ribbons. And let’s face it, at age eight, I was slightly geriatric in terms of starting out in the sport. And who knew the poor little tykes were training as much as weighlifters on crack?

Obligatory clip: Olga Korbut at the 1972 games and Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 in 1976.

Diving:

There is something almost religious about diving – all that grace, timing, symmetry and perfection. Oh and hot men too. It’s slightly addictive, but easy to pick up the terminology. Give yourself 10 minutes of viewing and you’ll know your forward triple tuck from your reverse armstand pike. Sadists will of course be tuning in in case of another Greg Louganis-style head-whacking incident.Or worse – this poor gal hits her face.

Obligatory clip: Greg Louganis hits his head at 1988 Seoul Olympics

Synchronised Swimming:

Often laughed out of the pool and given as much sporting credence as tiddly winks and darts, I have a huge soft spot for this Esther Williams meets Duncan Goodhew sport. It’s slightly silly to watch, a bit like water cheer-leading, but you have be fit as all hell to do it. Maybe it’s because I’m fascinated by the garish waterproof make-up or the perma-rictus smiles plastered on the swimmers faces – who knows?

Obligatory clip: The Russian team, who won Gold at the last Olympics, show us how it’s done.

Athletics:

Easily the most watched part of t’Olympics, there are a whole heap of Irish women competing in various categories here: Fionnuala Britton in the 3000m Steeplechase, Olive Loughnane in the 20k Walk, Róisín McGettigan in the 3,000m Steeplechase, Eileen O’Keeffe in the Hammer, Emma Davis in the Triathlon, Michelle Carey in the 400 metres Hurdles, Joanne Cuddihy in the 400 metres, Pauline Curley in the Marathon and the hugely talented Derval O’Rourke in the 100m Hurdles.

Obligatory clip: Sonia O’Sullivan montage (cue Team America music) including her Silver Medal win at the Sydney Olympics.

Boxing:

Now I’m usually not a fan of men bashing the crap out of each other, at least not since the days of ronnie-sporting Barry McGuigan, but I’m making an exception here for Darren Sutherland. A friend dragged me to see a documentary at the IFI last year called Saviours about a Dublin boxing club, and Sutherland was one of the boxers featured. He seemed like a thoroughly nice fella and was juggling training and college at the time of the documentary. Apparently he’s damn good as boxers go, so he might even bag us a medal.

Obligatory clip: Another “montaaaaage” featuring Irish boxer Michael Carruth, who won a Gold medal at 1992 Olympics.

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