London beckons


A round-up of today's other stories in brief

London’s a-twitter

Brian Gregan @BrianGregan89

45.91 season opener ! Months of training missed ! Things can only get better ! #guesswhosback

AthleticsOnTrack @Athletics_Track

Semenya named to South Africa’s initial Olympic squad

irishguidedogs @irishguidedogs

Congratulations @Annalise_Murphy on taking bronze in Weymouth, All paws are crossed for you at the Olympics

Darren O’Neill @DarrenONeil

Busy day- gym in irish institute of sport- cooking in @wagamamaireland -medical checks in santry- training in @IABABOXING gym

Michael Phelps @MichaelPhelps

Feel like my #randomness for drug testing is like the randomness at the security lines at airports . . . 6 times in three weeks?? Really? #fina #usada #wada

Track and Field News @tandfn

Do you know how many men have broken 4:00 in the mile? It’s now 1,252!


BEST COACH EVER Sports digest — European coaching award for Chris Jones

David Monti @d9monti

The Flora Women’s Mini Marathon 10K (Dublin, 04-Jun) had 38,866 official finishers, once again the world’s largest all-women’s road race.

Telegraph Olympics @Telegraph2012

London 2012 Olympics: Opening ceremony to start with anarchic pastoral vision of GB’s green and pleasant

Sports focus - eventing

Sometimes described as the “triathlon” of equestrian sport, eventing consists of three separate phases – dressage, cross country and show jumping. Traditionally held over three days, in London it’s staged over four days, in both the individual and team events.

Not only are the equestrian events unique in the Olympics in that they’re the only ones that involve animals, and the only event in which men and women compete entirely on equal terms and against each other, but the cross country eventing is unquestionably the most dangerous too.

The 1960 team eventing gold was won by Australia only after Bill Roycroft insisted on leaving his hospital bed to compete in the show jumping, having suffered concussion and a broken collarbone after falling during the cross country event. London’s cross country eventing promises to be spectacularly exciting, the tough course in Greenwich Park containing 45 jumps, which each rider is expected to clear at near break-neck speed while avoiding jumping errors and time penalties. In this event the wearing of helmets is mandatory.

The London Spectator – Beach Volleyball at Horse Guards Parade

Competition dates: Sat, July 28th – Thurs, August 9th.

24 teams, each made up of two athletes, to compete in both the men’s and women’s tournaments.

Ever since making its debut in the Atlanta Games in 1996, beach volleyball has become a real favourite for the Olympic spectator – and no prizes for guessing why. Who doesn’t enjoy a bit of frolicking around with a ball in a pit of sand?

Those who also reckon it’s the sexiest Olympic sport might be disappointed to know that for London the women will now have the option to wear shorts and sleeved tops instead of bikinis, after the International Volleyball Federation decided participants should have the option to cover up more.

That shouldn’t take away from the spectator demand, especially given London has also created a unique beach volleyball stadium at Horse Guards Parade, just steps from Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace, and nor far either from the Prime Minister’s doorstep.

Dating back to 1745, the parade ground takes its name from the soldiers who have provided protection for the monarch since the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Horse Guards Parade still hosts the Trooping of the Colour event that takes place on the Queen’s official birthday each year.

Turning it into a beach volleyball venue has involved bringing in 5,000 tonnes of sand from a quarry in Godstone, Surrey, and the building of temporary stands that will seat around 15,000 spectators – a capacity similar to Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

It’s a simple game to follow too, as object of the game is to land the ball in the opposition’s half of the court.

After the serve, each team is allowed three touches of the ball before it must cross over the net to the opposition. The Americans and Brazilians have dominated the medal count since its Olympic introduction, but there was that famous home victory for Australia’s Natalie Cook and Kerri Pottharst in Sydney 2000, who beat Adriana Behar and Shelda Bede of Brazil 12-11 12-10.

The venue’s brilliantly central location means the venue is around a 10 minute walk from several Underground stops – including Charing Cross, Embankment, Piccadilly Circus and St James’s Park.

Documentary captures rocky road to qualification

We’re very nearly at the stage now where that last little window of opportunity to qualify for London is closed shut – which for those who have made through can only be a reminder of how exciting it is, and for those who missed out, well, there’s always Rio.

It’s easy to forget that for many Irish athletes, London hasn’t been just a year-long quest, but a lifetime one. Few people except the athletes themselves understand the effort that goes into Olympic qualification, although there is a considerable insight to be gained from the new six-part documentary series London Calling, which begins on RTÉ One next Tuesday night.

Instead of simply jumping on the bandwagon, the programme makers have spent over two years putting this series together. I met the director, Darragh Bambrick, at the European Indoor Championships in Paris in March of 2011, by which stage he’d little funding but a strong determination to capture the highs and lows that athletes endured on the road to London, to both the Olympics and Paralympics, and the inevitable disappointment that some of them must face.

It’s not only a day in the life series either, as the documentary also captures their key qualifying events, and other such important moments as weddings, injuries, defeats, and near bankruptcy.

The featured athletes are: race walker Robert Heffernan, and his 400m runner wife Marian; Orla Barry, who has overcame the loss of both legs as a child to aim for gold in the Paralympic discus; Camilla Speirs, the bright young star of Irish eventing; Ciaran O Lionaird, our breakthrough 1,500m runner; Paralympics 800m champion Michael McKillop; gymnast Kieran Behan; emerging 400m runner Brian Gregan; triathlon qualifier Aileen Morrison; marathon runner Mark Kenneally; walker Jamie Costin; Catherine Walsh, already a five-time Paralympian; and boxer Kenny Egan, silver medallist in Beijing.

In many cases their stories are told against the backdrop of economic hardship, as they struggle to finance their dream of representing the nation, the pressure this brings, while trying all the while to stay focused on the end result.

I’ve had a sneak preview of episode one, which features the Heffernans, and also Kenneally, and which brilliantly portrays not just the challenges they endure but the impact on their personal and private lives, and with that cuts to the heart of what Olympic qualification really is all about. London Calling starts next Tuesday at 10.35pm on RTÉ One.