My Queensland State of Origin team for 2020.

My Queensland State of Origin team for 2020, including the players who are currently available (not injured) and those who will play in the grand final for Melbourne and Penrith.

Fullback – Valentine Holmes

Wings – Corey Allan, A J Brimson

Centres – Dane Gagai, Kurt Capewell

Five Eighth – Cameron Munster

Halfback – Daly Cherry-Evans

Lock- Josh McGuire

Backrow – Felise Kaufusi, Jaydn Su’A

Props – Josh Papalii, Christian Welch

Hooker – Jake Friend

Interchange

Ben Hunt

Patrick Carrigan

Moeaki Fotuaika

Jai Arrow

Josh Kerr

Image: http://www.rebelsport.com.au

My NSW State of Origin team, 2020.

My NSW State of Origin team for 2020, including the players who are currently available (not injured) and those who will play in the grand final between Melbourne and Penrith.

Fullback – James Tedesco

Wings – Josh Addo-Carr, David Nofoaluma

Centres – Tom Trbojevic, Jack Wighton

Five-Eighth- Luke Keary

Halfback – Nathan Cleary

Props – Junior Paulo, Payne Haas

Hooker – Damien Cook

Backrow – Boyd Cordner (c), Angus Crichton

Lock – Cameron Murrary

Interchange

David Klemmer

Regan Campbell-Gillard

Tyson Frizell

Ryan Papenhuyzen

Wade Graham

Image: http://www.rebelsport.com.au

Alvin and Calvin vs. Carl and Carlos.

Alvin and Calvin Harrison and Carl Ernest and Carlos Ernesto Morgan have a lot in common. Both sets of twins are identical and both attended college in the United States. Both favour sprints and all four men represented their country in Athletics.

So, who would win a head to head competition between the families?

Firstly, we would have to decide on an event. We would have to choose neutral sporting territory.

While both sets of twins excelled in sprinting, Alvin and Calvin specialised in the 400m while Carl and Carlos enjoyed success over 100 and 200 metres, as well as long jump and triple jump.

Should we throw in a jumping contest? The Harrison boys only competed on the track, but I bet they are handy jumpers.

Perhaps a race over 300 metres?

What about the age difference?

The Harrison brothers were born on January 20, 1974, and the Morgan siblings on August 25, 1986, so some concessions may have to be made for the gap in ages.

We must then choose a venue.

The Harrisons hail from Orlando, Florida USA, while the Morgans were born and raised in Georgetown on the Cayman Islands. The Harrison siblings attended North Salinas High School in California and Hartnell College (Calvin), while the Morgan boys left home for Lindsey Wilson College, then Middle Tennessee State University, both in the USA.

The Cayman Islands seems to be the best site for an Athletic showdown. Why, because the Cayman Islands are much more beautiful than Orlando.

Having chosen the event and the venue, we can now examine historical records to compile a form guide for the competition.

Alvin and Calvin became the first twins to win a gold medal together in the same relay team when they combined with Michael Johnson and Antonio Pettigrew in the 4 x 400m relay at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Alvin ran the first leg and Calvin the third, both of them wearing state of the art bodysuits.

Alvin won individual silver in the 400m behind Johnson in Sydney, and also won gold in the relay at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. During his first relay gold medal victory, Alvin ran a strong second leg to ensure victory for a depleted US team.

Unfortunately, the brothers’ history making feat was annulled in 2008 when Pettigrew confessed to using performance enhancing drugs, and the quartet lost their medals. Calvin himself failed a drug test at the 2003 US Championship and was suspended from Athletics for two years.

Alvin also embroiled himself in drug-related controversy. He served a four year suspension due to circumstantial evidence of using a banned substance. He attempted a comeback in 2008, this time competing for the Dominican Republic, the birth country of his wife.

Under the new flag, he ran the 400m heats at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics and placed fourth with his new countrymen in the 4 x 400m relay at the 2010 IAAF World Indoor Championships.

Carl and Carlos combined in the 4 x 100m relay at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games where the Cayman Islands team was disqualified. In long jump qualifying heats, Carl jumped 7.46, and Carlos…7.47. They entered the same event in Glasgow four years later. Carl finished 10th in the long jump in the Pan American Games 2011.

Head to Head

Another method for measuring comparative excellence is to compare personal bests.

 CarlCarlosAlvinCalvin
100m10.7710.8910.5210.69
200m21.4921.9720.4120.57
400m48.5949.0944.0944.64
Long jump8.027.87  
Triple jump15.9614.68  
300m  32.00 

Since Alvin hung up his spikes, he has led high performance programs across various sports in the Dominican Republic and the United States.

Calvin, meanwhile, ended up homeless in 2009. He lost his life savings fighting his athletic suspension and insisting the substance he took was not on the banned substance list. He had secured work as a personal trainer after retiring from competition, but lost this work and struggled to support his wife and four kids. While his family sought shelter in a refuge, Calvin wandered the streets at night.

Alvin and Calvin co-authored a book called Go to Your Destiny, recounting their experience with homelessness before their Olympic victories.

Carl and Carlos both studied Health, Fitness and Wellness and continue to work in this field.

The biggest question which remains unanswered is, does Carlos Ernesto speak Spanish?

Images: http://www.gettyimages.com.au, http://www.goblueraiders.com, http://www.avhstalon.org, http://www.tower.com.ky

Nigga, why did you lose?

“Nigga, why did you lose?”

The athlete stared in disbelief.

His hulking, dark-skinned frame slumped on the barriers separating the journalists from the media. Muscles bulged from every limb under his USA team kit and sweat dripped from his face, down his neck and over the sinews and protruding veins of his finely-tuned physique.

Did he just say that, read the expression on his face. The sprinter glanced from right to left to scan the reaction on the faces of other media in attendance and confirm what he had just heard.

Maybe he’d misheard. Maybe the physical and emotional exhaustion of an Olympic semi-final had caught up with him. Maybe the disappointment of failing to qualify for a final that he was good enough to win, and the realisation that years and years of training and sacrifice had amounted to nothing, caused him to misinterpret the question from the Chinese journalist.

But no. He had not misunderstood the question. The American (whose name I don’t remember) would leave the Beijing Olympic Games with bad memories, and this would be one of them.

The local reporter hadn’t meant to use the N word. He hadn’t intended to question a black athlete by using the word which has accompanied years of racism, oppression and discrimination throughout the world, especially in the country whose flag sat emblazoned on the athlete’s singlet.

The N word he had used was “NaGe” or “nage”. This Chinese word translates as ‘that one’ into English, and is used to connect sentences or phrases, or to fill a pause in conversation in everyday Chinese communication. It serves the same function as ‘um’ or ‘like’ in English. It is used a million times a day by Chinese speakers and has absolutely no racial or offensive meaning in English, because it has no meaning in English.

Unfortunately, when it is pronounced in connected speech, it sounds exactly like the N word, and that is what the athlete heard from the reporter. It was simply a very unfortunate example of a word being lost in translation.

It's hard to be subtle in a second language.

The second mistake the reporter made was asking a blunt and direct question to a visibly upset Olympian.

The meaning of the question was appropriate, the wording was not. The journalist was tasked with gauging the athlete’s response to his poor performance. The reporter was supposed to find out how and why the athlete performed below his usual standard and thus failed to qualify for the final.

The reporter could have asked:

“Tell us what happened out there”

“You would have expected a better result, can you explain what happened?”

“Obviously that’s not what you hoped for, is there a reason for your performance?”

Maybe the athlete was ill or carrying an undisclosed injury into the race. Maybe he was excessively nervous or had over trained in the days leading up to the event. We might have found out why, but not by using the words the local reporter used.

To be fair to the local journalist, he was not actually a journalist. By his own admission, he also didn’t know much about sport, let alone Athletics, which is the most prominent sport at multi-sport events such as the Olympic Games. The local reporter was a university lecturer, in a subject far removed from sport (Engineering from memory) and had somehow landed the role of mixed zone reporter in the Bird’s Nest.

After the incident, I tried to explain to my colleague how that word is problematic, but a lifelong habit is hard to break in a day, and he was not the most receptive of the local staff.

I couldn’t help thinking, how can a country of more than one billion people not find a handful of reporters who understand sport, understand the media and have a firm grasp of English or other languages?

Other reporters eventually leapt in and steered the interview towards an explanation for the unexpected performance, then the athlete slumped off to the changerooms to commiserate.

What did the athlete say in response to the unfortunate question?

Nothing

Image: Chau Cedric

Dad, how could you?

The try line opened up in front of me. I was just 10 metres from glory and my first ever try in rugby league, plus a chance to send my team into the final of the Sydney Metropolitan U/6 round robin tournament.

I fixed my eyes on the prize and tucked the ball under my right arm. I gritted my teeth and charged for the try line when I saw a shape emerge from my left. It grew in size as it approached with zest and I knew it was aiming to cut me down. Through pure instinct I stuck out my left arm and produced a fend which belied my size and strength and sent the opposing halfback tumbling to the ground.

The elusive prize was still within my grasp and with growing confidence and eagerness I tore towards the opposition line as fast as my skinny little legs could carry me. I was nearing the line and the white chalk shone more brightly against the scuffed green grass and stud-marked mud. I was adamant that nothing would stop me from claiming the four points and the resultant hero status.

My eyes bulged with excitement until I felt another presence looming up on me. This one approached from behind on my right and I knew it had to be the opposing team’s speedster who had scored two of their tries with his blistering pace. Through intuition alone I anticipated his lunging tackle and stepped deftly off my left foot to leave him grasping at air. The try was still on.

No more than five metres separated me from victory and I lowered my head and charged towards the intersection of the try line and the touch line, as I knew this was the only way to evade the approaching cover defence. 4, 3, 2 metres and I had to keep charging and commit to the corner. The ball was cradled firmly within my arm and I made my final push. Smothered by two opposing players I crashed into the corner and was trampled into the mud, legs buckled under the two tacklers and arm outstretched to plant the ball over the try line with downward pressure. I had face planted and eaten dust and mud and grass and chalk and I knew I would be sore all over for days. I didn’t care. I was elated. I had scored the winning try which would propel my team into the grand final and a chance for metropolitan glory at the tender age of 5, when winning any game felt like winning a world cup.

I heard a muffle of screams and whoops and claps and groans as both teams reacted to my victorious lunge. I felt my team mates simultaneously jump on me and drag me off the ground and all pain subsided in a rush of joy and adrenaline.

On the way up from the ground, it happened.

I caught a glimpse of the linesman.

I knew I was close to the corner. That was deliberate. That was my only chance to score. I knew I had made it. I was sure I had landed within the field of play. I was pretty certain I had made it. I was confident. Surely it was a try.

Or was it?

As I regained my feet and was revelling in the adulation of my teammates and supporters, I saw it. Through flailing arms and back slaps and high fives I saw the flag. The linesman’s flag left his side and slowly, in a painstaking, slow motion arc, rose from the his hip up to his chest, beyond his chest, to his shoulder. Up, up it went. Up, up higher. Not Up, Up Cronulla, but up, up above his head until it was a mere extension if his outstretched arm.

The try had been disallowed. In the commotion, we had not heard the final whistle. We had lost. Elation turned to despair. The knock-out comp had knocked us out. It was all over.

I looked despairingly at the linesman.

How could you Dad?

Image:www.backyardfootyposts.com.au

Sammy Wanjiru and the marathon mystery.

Sammy Wanjiru achieved one of the most remarkable feats in Olympic marathon history, but what followed is a story of mystery and tragedy.

The Kenyan set a new Olympic games record of 2:06.32 when he won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games ahead of Jaouad Gharib of Morocco and Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia.

An Olympic record is a remarkable achievement in any circumstances, but Wanjiru’s is all the more impressive. Beijing was extremely hot and humid on the morning of the race and even the spectators in the main stadium and on the roadside were drenched in sweat. The heat and humidity combined with Beijing’s famous air pollution to make conditions some of the least favourable for a marathon runner. Despite this, Wanjiru attacked from the gun, and ran the first five kilometres in 14:52.

Legend has it that when the newly-crowned champion was asked about how the conditions affected his tactics and performance, he said that because of the heat he wanted to finish the race sooner so he just ran faster.

The comment illustrates something of the Kenyan mentality towards distance running. Ultimately, they believe that the key to success is hard work. The key to success is working harder in training than you do in a race. The key to success is working harder than any of your training partners, or anyone else on the track or the trails around Iten in the Rift Valley. This philosophy works because most of the other athletes running around Iten have enough raw talent to be the best in the world.

Wanjiru’s compatriots and training partners are also motivated by something other than patriotism, the Olympic ideals and the quest for personal excellence. They are motivated by money.

Most rural Kenyans, especially those from the running heartland of the Rift Valley, have very few opportunities to make enough money to live a comfortable life, free of the endless, monotonous physical labour which defines the life of most Iten locals. Running is their chance to make serious money.

It may surprise many people, even keen fans of Athletics, to know that Wanjiru won the first ever Olympic marathon gold medal for his country. Kenyans are famed for their long-distance victories, but have actually had more success in middle-distance events, or on the lucrative international road-running circuit.

Wanjiru and his neighbours grew up seeing successful distance runners making money. Champions bought nice houses for themselves and their families, wore good clothes and drove modern cars. They looked after their families and sent their children to good schools. Wanjiru and his peers grew up desiring this success.

Unfortunately, Wanjiru was one of the successful Kenyan runners who suffered from sudden fame and wealth and died in mysterious circumstances.

Wanjiru died after falling from the balcony of his home in Nyahuru 2011. The great champion, who still holds the world junior record for 10,000m, who won the London and Chicago marathons and set three world records for the half marathon, was dead before his 26th birthday.

The tragedy of a rare talent lost for ever is matched only by the mystery of his death. It was never established if Wanjiru was pushed, fell or jumped from the balcony.

The official police investigation and court proceedings failed to prove conclusively how Wanjiru died.

One theory suggests that his first of three wives, Triza Njeri, found him in bed with another woman and locked the couple in the bedroom. When she apparently ran outside Wanjiru jumped from the balcony, causing his death.

Another theory suggests that Wanjiru was murdered by a group of men working alongside Njeri. Wanjiru’s mother, Hannah told a court that she believes her son was murdered. During this investigation, a former pathologist claimed that the champion jumped from the balcony or was pushed, that he landed on his legs but was then struck by a blunt object.

What is known is that Wanjiru had been drinking at the time of his death. He had battled alcohol addiction throughout most of his short adult life, even while he was winning major international races and breaking records. This surely is testament to his talent and the amazing toughness of a fierce competitor whose finishing time in the stifling heat of Beijing is still the Olympic record.

A look back at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The world’s best athletes should be competing for the ultimate prize in world sport right now, but will instead have to wait another twelve months to test themselves against sport’s elite at Tokyo2020 (2021).

For fans whose sporting body clocks tell us that we should be glued to the screen, or shouting ourselves hoarse at a stadium, we can attempt to fill that void ever so slightly with a look back at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

National pride

Sport evokes a depth of patriotism matched only by war, and this is on clear display at an Olympiad. For Chinese citizens, their pride overflowed as they hosted their first ever truly international sporting event. Everyday Chinese citizens went out of their way to be helpful to foreigners, regardless of the language barrier. The roar of the crowd, in perfect unison inside the stadiums, was deafening and at times frightening. The hosts wore their patriotism on their sleeves, their faces…

International visitors also proudly displayed their national colours, at the stadiums, on public transport, in the streets, restaurants, bars, hotels…everywhere.

National pride consumes the athletes in ways that only a national representative can understand. Unrivalled emotions are experienced when athletes enter the stadium for the opening ceremony, in national uniform, alongside teammates united behind their national flag. For flag bearers, the honour compares only to the victories which earned them this right.

In Beijing, a funny thing happened during the opening ceremony. Something that caught many international spectators by surprise. Nations entered the stadium in the order of the spelling of their name in Chinese, not in English or French.

One thing didn’t change, though. When the host nation entered the stadium, the crowd erupted.

World class stadia

China delivered some of the world’s most impressive sporting facilities. The Bird’s Nest, which hosted the Athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies, and the Water Cube which hosted the swimming and aquatic events, are some of the best-known sporting facilities in the world.

An army of volunteers

China has one advantage over the rest of the world: An enormous population. They used this population to good effect at the games. The opening and closing ceremony performers were apparently armed forces members, accustomed to following directions and repeating actions again and again until performed with military precision. Day after day they filled the bowels of the Bird’s Nest waiting to rehearse their section of the elaborate ceremony.

The practice paid off. The opening and closing ceremonies were some of the most impressive in history, and a triumph of theatre and spectacle.

But is it sport?

No. And there are many sports purists who believe the theatrics of the opening and closing ceremonies are out of control as each host city tries to outdo its predecessor. They argue that the budget for the ceremonies alone plunge taxpayers into debt and the performances become so grand they threaten to overshadow the true stars of an Olympics, the athletes. The ceremonies in Beijing certainly supported this theory.

What about Tokyo?

What will the ceremonies look like in Tokyo? Assuming the games go ahead at some point in the future, can the government of Japan justify elaborate and expensive ceremonies after Japan has suffered the economic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Mystery and secrecy

The Chinese government and the organising committee went to great lengths to guard a state secret during the 2008 Olympics. Not its actions in Dafur, not its actions in Taiwan or Tibet. A secret more guarded than its policies in Xinjiang and the South China Sea. The secret it would not reveal is the most precious secret at any Olympiad: Who would light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony.

In the days preceeding the ceremony, rumours spread throughout the media village and the entire city as to who would light the flame, and how. Pundits suggested all manner of techniques, drawing on the oldest and strongest stereotypes of the host country. The slightest movement on the roof of the Bird’s Nest sparked yet more speculation and theories.

Eventually, the world watched gymnast Li Ning suspended on a wire like a hero in a martial arts movie run a slow motion lap around the rim of the stadium before lighting the cauldron.

The party’s over.

Once the opening ceremony is finished, the work begins. The serious business of sport takes place and athletes do what what they have trained to do every day for years and years. Of course, the stadium had to be returned to a sporting arena after the ceremonial extravaganza.

Sporting superstars

Every fan has their favourite moment, favourite athlete or favourite team from every Olympics. Australian fans lucky enough to be in Sydney in 2000 will recall Cathy Freeman’s victory in the 400m on the Athletics track. Fijians still beam with pride at the memory of their first ever Olympic medal, gold in the men’s Rugby 7s in Rio.

Chinese fans were robbed of a Cathy Freeman moment when their national hero and pre-race favourite, Liu Xiang, withdrew from the 110m hurdle event with a knee injury in 2008. I was in the stadium when it happened and the grief and disappointment among the Chinese people was palpable. Liu reached down to touch his knee before setting himself on the starting blocks, something he wouldn’t normally do. He then raised his hand and walked off the track. He was out. He couldn’t compete. He couldn’t win gold in front of his adoring home fans. Some locals screamed, all stared in disbelief at the big screen. Men and women cried, and every second journalist in the stadium rushed to find him and get that quote. Alas, for Liu it wasn’t meant to be.

International superstars grace every Olympics, in many different sports. In Beijing, one of the most famous faces on the planet, Lionel Messi, took gold in the men’s football with his Argentinian teammates, including fellow star Juan Riquelme.

One World, One Dream

One World One Dream, One Country Two Systems, China talks a lot about unity. It is interesting to note that since the 2008 Olympic Games, China has sought to create one world – under its control. Its policies and actions in Tibet, Xinjiang, the South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong indicate China’s desire to exert control over its region and the rest of the world. Just as interesting is that despite this, Beijing is scheduled to host another of the IOCs major events, the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Until the world’s best athletes meet again in Tokyo, or elsewhere, at some point in the future, we leave you with these memories of the 2008 games. What was your favourite moment in Beijing?

Matshediso Bakang Ebudilwe is fulfilling a dream.

baks6

Each stroke of the pedals brings mountain biker Matshediso Bakang Ebudilwe closer to realising her dream.

Her ultimate goal is to manage a professional women’s cycling team, and the determined cyclist from Botswana has already taken the first steps to achieving that dream. Baks, as she is known to her friends, became the first Motswana (citizen of Botswana) to represent the African country at a UCI world championship event, when she battled the hills in the u23 category in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in 2018.

“That was like a dream come true,” explains the pint-sized rider.

“I was so happy and I felt like a hero. That was the best thing that I have ever done for this mother land.”

baks1

The next goal is to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in the Mountain Bike Cross Country event, where she hopes to join some of her team mates from The Sufferfest African Dream Team.

“African Dream Team is the only UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) registered team in Africa. It is an MTB team for African riders from Lesotho and Botswana, although I’m the only rider from Botswana.”

Ebudilwe is hoping to draw motivation and advice from her team mates, including Phetetso Monese, who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

The establishment of The Sufferfest African Dream Team is the major reason that Ebudilwe switched from road cycling, where she won multiple national titles, to mountain biking.

“The scholarship for the African Dream Team was available only for mountain biking, so I decided to try for the scholarship because I didn’t want to miss that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

This opportunity sees Ebudilwe divide her time between southern Africa, where the team trains on the hills and altitude of Lesotho and South Africa, and Switzerland, where she is based during the European racing season.

Switzerland is a long way from the village of Mahalapye in the north of Botswana, where the self-confessed tomboy grew up.

“I grew up with my brother and cousins as the only girl, playing with the boys and everything they did. I did my primary and secondary school in Mahalapye, where I played soccer and I was the team captain.”

“I moved to the great city of Gaborone for senior school, and I got involved in cycling when I was doing my final year. I wanted to try a new sport, then I thought cycling is not so popular, so let me go for it.”

baks5

A background in road cycling explains where Ebudilwe’s strengths lie as a mountain biker.

“Since I started cycling with a road bike, I’m better on flatter trails, where I can just put the hammer down and go without any obstacles to do. I think I am better at endurance, definitely not climbing, because I’m from a very flat country and low altitude.”

That said, she is certainly enjoying her adopted sport.

“MTB is fun, it gives me freedom. I go anywhere I want. It’s also challenging mentally on some of the obstacles.”

Ebudilwe’s ascension to the world championships began on African soil, where she competed in the African Youth Games, the African Road Championships and the African MTB Championships. It is also where she joined fellow Dream Team rider Likeleli Masitise for a very credible 3rd place in the Elite Women’s category of ‘Lesotho Sky’, a six-stage cross country race through the high-altitude trails of the land-locked African nation.

While Ebudilwe is the first Motswana to challenge herself against the sport’s best at the world championships, she doesn’t expect to be the last.

“My federation is trying to make the MTB sport grow. They took 7 guys to the African Championships in Namibia this year, so they’re really trying.”

She also credits the federation, as well as her support network, with her rise to the elite level of the sport.

“There are lots of people who contribute a lot to my cycling career. My local club Tsela riders, my team African Dream Team, my federation, my parents and friends, they support me left, right and centre.”

The 22-year-old revealed that she was chubby when she was 17/18, and that her dedication to training helped her to lose weight and develop the endurance of an elite cyclist.

“I train hard, I build my power in wattbikes and I try to push myself, even if it’s painful. I want to go to the Olympics next year.”

The time spent sweating in the lab is also taking Ebudilwe closer to her ultimate dream.

“I want to get a degree in sports management. Having a lady’s team is one of my dreams, and I also want to have my own beautiful family one day and own a laboratory for sports tests.”

Baks describes herself as a quiet person,

“…but that depends on where I am and who I am with. At school I was the funniest.”

It’s no surprise then, when she reveals;

“Above all, I want to live a happy life.”

Images: supplied

 

 

How do you stop Lionel Messi?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How do you stop Lionel Messi?

Many footballers, fans and coaches throughout the world would love to know that. The Argentinian superstar is still scoring goals and winning games for Barcelona and Argentina and he remains one of the best footballers on the planet.

Thus, how do you curtail his whippet-like speed?

How do you halt those magical feet?

How do you stall the champion and detain him, hold him stationary for more than a split second?

You might try the following method.

Herd him into a narrow space.

In this case, the broadcast area of the mixed zone at the Beijing Olympics, where Messi had helped Argentina to beat Nigeria and take the gold medal.

Smile.

Thrust a microphone at him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ask, politely, in Spanish, if he has time to answer a few questions.

Steps two to four will prove more successful if said microphone is held by Mexican television presenter, and former Miss Universe contestant, Marisol Gonzalez.

Messi is sure to stop, smile, and linger a while.

That is how you stop the great Lionel Messi.

 

Is it right for girls to fight?

muaythaigirls

I saw teenage girls fighting Muay Thai recently in Bangkok, and I’m still not sure how I should feel about it.

The fight featured girls as young as 14 battling for glory in front of a healthy crowd of tourists at the end of the Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives spectacular at Asiatique: The Riverfront in Bangkok.

The promise of authentic Muay Thai fights had lured many visitors who lacked the desire or means to attend a local Muay Thai event full of predominantly testosterone and alcohol charged men betting their life savings on their chosen warrior.

The tourist friendly show, in contrast, features real fighters throwing real kicks and punches, and spilling real blood, in the comfort of an air conditioned theatre complete with plush chairs, cup holders and popcorn.

My comfort was jolted when I saw the two girls emerge for the female fight. They were tiny. Both were short, slim, fit, athletes who looked more like junior marathon runners than fighters.

They’re going to fight?

Surely they’re too young, too small, too slim. They’ll snap in half.

While the girls performed the customary pre-fight ritual, I wondered how much they must weigh, and where they would be placed in boxing categories; featherweight, bantamweight, flyweight…?

Then my questions were answered. Look  ‘Supergirl’ Jaroonsak weighed in at just 48kg. The 15-yr-old would be classified as Mini Flyweight, and her opponent was actually shorter and younger than her.

The next shock arrived with the sound of the opening bell. The girls charged at each other, bouncing, kicking, clinching, kneeing and punching with the energy and freedom of a schoolyard brawl, which any school teacher would feel compelled to break up. The fights continued under the watchful eye of the referee and the young fighters’ natural athleticism, impressive flexibility and sharp skill created two very entertaining contests.

The pint-sized warriors didn’t hold back. The punches were real, the kicks were real and often well placed. The pain was real and so was the blood.

The fight didn’t last the distance, unfortunately. While ‘Supergirl’ lived up to her nickname, the fight came to a premature end when her opponent had to retire hurt. She was stopped not by the barrage of kicks to the leg or torso, not by the punches to the face or the elbows to her crown. Nor did she succumb to Jaroonsak’s  lethal knee strikes. No, she was stopped by a sprained ankle; the same injury she could easily sustain running cross-country or playing tennis or netball.

This incident reminded me that this fight was simply competitive sport for the girls, the officials, the coaches and even the families of the girls, who clapped their daughter upon victory or consoled her in defeat.

It was certainly a sport to Supergirl’s infant brother, who lapped the ring imitating his sister’s kicks and punches with great enthusiasm.

So, while one young girl limped out of the ring with an ice pack around her ankle, I began to think.

Why am I uncomfortable with girl’s fighting?

Would I feel the same way if the fighters had been 14-15-yr-old boys? Am I simply being sexist and conservative?

The girls appear to be fighting by choice and the hours of training had certainly kept them healthy. They demonstrated a high skill level and a genuine respect for the sport and its history, which had been outlined in the preceding stage show.

Is the sport as brutal as it looks?

Is my reaction the product of the safe, sanitised Western society in which I was brought up?

Would my opinion change if I stepped into the ring with them? They’d probably snap me in half.

Are the girls fighting for fun or for a future career?

According to a Thai friend with whom I spoke a few days after the fight, top Muay Thai fighters can earn very good money in Thailand, a country with limited economic opportunities.

Regardless of my doubts, one thing is certain. I don’t remember the names, ages or weight of any of the male fighters from that night, but I certainly remember ‘Supergirl’.

Image: http://www.fightland.vice.com