In a multi-record breaking event, marred by controversy over the technology of the new swimsuits, the final day of the 2009 World Aquatics Championships featured a fairly typical line-up for the Men’s 4 x 100m Medley Relay. Aside from Australia replacing Canada, and Brazil in place of Italy, the event could very well have been made for the G8. A fact no less marked than that the victors had a full replacement team to the one that qualified earlier in the day. Whoever said sport and money were a bad combination?
It’s fairly rare for me to bother reviewing anything I read on here, however since I had some spare minutes and some actual opinions on some of the books I read this last month, there seemed to be enough to say to make up at least a short post. In fact it turned out to be a bit on the long side, so scroll down the relevant review if you’re really interested—being Stephen Fry’s strange debut The Liar, J.M. Coetzee’s rather aggravating Slow Man, Isabel Allende’s book for children City of Beasts, Zadie Smith’s impressive opener White Teeth and Murray Walker’s charming little autobiography Unless I’m Very Much Mistaken.
The Biathlon World Championship got underway this weekend in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and what an eventful start it’s been. The weekend began with the news that three members of the Russian team had been banned following failed drugs tests, two from the women’s and one from the men’s events, all very strong contenders. In addition, the track had to be entirely covered with artificial snow to make the event even possible, after warm weather had melted all of the natural covering, leading not only to speculation that the later men’s event would be even more difficult to undertake, but also complaints from competitors and team managers that the snow covering was unsuitable. As if the problem of snow wasn’t sufficient, the track’s location near a wind farm was indication enough of the rather difficult atmospheric conditions for shooting, but as the weekend unfolded it became clear that the adverse conditions would only play a supporting role to the actions of the competitors.
Hard to believe that Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter, has won his appeal to trial for the upcoming Beijing Olympics. The Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned a ban imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations, after the latter said his carbon fibre blades give him a mechanical advantage. Essentially the ruling rests on the fact that the IAAF did not prove sufficiently that Pistorius gains an advantage from the “Cheetah Flex-Foot” artificial limbs. Of course, Pistorius is allowed to compete in the Paralympics, and currently holds the world record in the 100m, 200m and 400m events. It would appear that he is looking for a chance to compete at a higher level, and many support his case as inspirational.
But therein lies the problem. As one Slashdot reader put it rather eloquently, “It might be inspirational to see a dyslexic child competing in a spelling bee with the aid of a spellchecker, but it’s hardly the point of the competition.” The decision is obviously a contentious one, and as someone who has no interest in the Olympics and very seldom sees an event, I would not normally have a point of view. However it seems that this decision places the Olympics in dangerous territory for the future. It may well be the case that the appendages offer Oscar Pistorius no advantage above what his normal capabilities might have been, however as no comparison is possible, that would be exceedingly difficult to prove either way. What is certain is that the decision opens the door to others in the future, who may well be afforded advantages above and beyond their natural capabilities. Athletes are made to perform within a fluid bubble of ‘natural conditions’, separated from drugs that would enhance their performance, and divorced from technologies in sportswear and sports gear that would give them that unfair edge, yet these rules exist to keep the playing field level, whilst this latest decision clearly attempts to level a different field. Mechanical advantage or no, Pistorius will have to train hard simply to qualify, and one can’t help but feel that were he already faster than the able-bodied competition his appeal would have failed. Instead this decision allows everyone to feel the cushy ‘aww’ factor of seeing someone disadvantaged compete in the Olympics, but the real result of this ruling, after Pistorius’ name is long forgotten, will be the precedent which allows athletes with mechanical replacements into the competition. There’s a future yet for the cyborg olympics.
The World Snooker Championship this year has certainly been entertaining. Newcomer Liang Wenbo’s marathon 13-12 victory over Joe Swail proved to be a tense finish after the youngster made a number of rash errors (deserved of his “Kamikaze Kid” nickname) to allow Joe Swail to creep back from 12-8. Should he win the competition he may vie with Stephen Hendry for the title of youngest player to win the title, though it seems unlikely that he will overcome his erratic and gung-ho moments in time. Hendry, however, certainly seems to have found some new form of late. He currently leads comfortably over Ryan Day in the quarter finals, and would face either Liang Wenbo or Ronnie O’Sullivan in the semis, currently level at 4 frames apiece. Nevertheless, yesterday O’Sullivan pulled out a maximum break to set the competition alight, his record ninth career maximum, and third at the Crucible.
In response, today saw maximum attempts from Stephen Hendry, ending at 112 after some tricky shots to keep the break going, Peter Ebdon, who missed the fifteenth black for a 113 break, and Ali Carter, whose first career maximum makes this the first time two have been scored in the same tournament. With six days still to go the potential is there for a third maximum in the tournament, which sponsors 888.com had originally offered odds of 200:1 – these have dwindled down to 7:4!