BBC BLOGS - Tom Fordyce

Archives for October 2010

Alternative Commonwealth medal ceremony

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Tom Fordyce | 17:16 UK time, Thursday, 14 October 2010

After 11 days of competition in 17 different sports by 71 nations, the 19th Commonwealth Games has come to an end.

A total of 272 gold medals have been dished out - that's a lot of precious metal. But as a way of reminding ourselves of what Delhi was all about, why don't we dish out a few more?

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A long shot at glory

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Tom Fordyce | 11:56 UK time, Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The big story at the start of these Commonwealths was all about the athletes who didn't want to come to Delhi. So, as the Games draw to an end, I thought I'd track down a couple who couldn't have done more to get here.

Meet Carlos and Rico Yon, two shooters from St Helena. If you're wondering where St Helena is, you're not alone. It is one of the most isolated islands in the world, a droplet of cartographer's ink in the vast empty spaces of the southern Atlantic Ocean.

The nearest large land mass is 1200 miles away, the nearest inhabited island the volcanic bump of Ascension, 810 miles to the north-west. The next nearest neighbours - all 300 of them - are on Tristan da Cunha, 1510 miles to the south.

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Pleasure in athletics success can't mask gap in class

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Tom Fordyce | 18:47 UK time, Tuesday, 12 October 2010

If it started with a whimper, against a background of last-minute track repairs and with the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium dreadfully empty, it finished with a barely believable noise as 60,000 screaming Indians roared their 4x400m women to an utterly unexpected gold.

It was a wonderful way for the seven days of athletics at the 2010 Commonwealth Games to finish. But what of the action that came before?

We knew before coming to Delhi that many big names would not be joining us. There would be no Usain, no Asafa, no Rudisha and no Ennis.

The optimists hoped that others would emerge to fill that star-sized vacuum. A few did. Athlete of the championships was surely Uganda's Moses Kipsiro, winner of a fine 5,000m and 10,000m distance double against the odds and might of Kenya; Amantle Monsho's 400m gold was both Botswana's first ever Commonwealth gold and also a Games record.

Look beyond those two, and the gap between what we saw and what would be considered world class began to gape.

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Almost the Ashes

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Tom Fordyce | 12:49 UK time, Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Eight days into the Commonwealth Games, a favourite old subplot has popped up: England v Australia.

If Sunday was all about Sushil Kumar and Indian dominance of wrestling, shooting and weightlifting, the days that followed had the oldest rivalry of the Games set squarely as its centrepiece.

On Monday morning, the semi-final of the women's hockey; in the afternoon, the key group-stage clash between the respective rugby sevens outfits.

Sandwiched in between, a spicy little surprise: the semi-finals of the women's pairs lawn bowls. The aperitif? Netball semi-final, first thing Tuesday.

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How Greene is my valley

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Tom Fordyce | 09:15 UK time, Monday, 11 October 2010

When you hear Tom Jones's Delilah blasting out over a stadium PA in the middle of a sweltering Delhi evening, you know something must be going right for Wales.

It was. When Dai Greene stormed to 400m hurdles gold, compatriot Rhys Williams behind him in third, with Christian Malcolm favourite for the 200m, Brett Morse tipped for at least a bronze in the discus and two men in the final of the 800m, it looked as if we were set for a night to match the glory days of Jackson, Thomas and Baulch.

That the team ended the sticky night with just a bronze for Malcolm to add to the hurdlers' tally may have caused the heavily-hungover Welshman sitting on my left to rest his forehead despairingly on the chair in front, but it should do little to diminish the magnitude of Greene's season-sealing achievement.

Until Sunday, it hadn't been a vintage Commonwealth Games for Wales - a week in, and still not a single gold medal.

For European champion Greene, tired after a long, globe-trotting season and towing the tag of favourite, it was almost as if an 11th hurdle had been placed in his path.

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England seek special Delhi blend

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Tom Fordyce | 06:09 UK time, Sunday, 10 October 2010

Beetroot juice, suits made of tin-foil and alcohol hand-rub. If it sounds like an unlikely recipe for sporting success, it's one that will be put to the test in Delhi over the next few days.

England's rugby sevens team, led by record-breaking Ben Gollings and coached by the meticulously maverick Ben Ryan, begin their medal quest on Monday. And if their path to the podium involves a few unusual detours, so be it.

"We're always looking to try out different things, because potentially they could be the difference between winning a medal or not," says Gollings, the highest points-scorer in World Series Sevens tournament by a huge margin.

"Sevens is a crazy sport. With the 15-a-side game you generally have a week between matches to recover. We don't. We play multiple games over two days, and yet you need to be performing at your best at the end of the second day."

So. Those methods in full. The tin-foil tracksuits?

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Discovering India's wrestling roots

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Tom Fordyce | 06:06 UK time, Saturday, 9 October 2010

It is just after dawn inside a walled compound in Old Delhi. To one side is a shed-sized temple to the Hindu god Hanuman, surrounded by shady jamun trees; beyond that the sandy banks of the grey-green greasy Yamuna river. In the middle, inside a squat concrete bunker, a group of stocky, sweating Indians are throwing each other around like rag dolls.

This is the Chandgi Ram wrestling club, the Delhi equivalent to the Thomas a Beckett boxing gym on London's Old Kent Road or Detroit's Kronk gym, a legendary production line that has produced some of the country's most decorated fighters.

I've left the spruced-up stadiums and endless security checkpoints behind to find the roots and reasons behind something that's been intriguing me all week: India's love of the grapple game.

Forget the hockey, or the tennis, certainly the athletics and even the shooting. The most popular sport at these Commonwealths so far has been wrestling; the most eagerly-anticipated appearance that of pugilistic pin-up boy and world champion Sushil Kumar on Sunday, seven days after he handed the Queen's baton to Prince Charles at the opening ceremony.

Tom Fordyce gets to grips with wrestling

Even with the wooden shutters pulled back, the main room is steaming. In the middle of it all, forearms like hawsers and ears as mangled as a prop-forward's, is Jagdish Kaliraman - five-time Indian champion, proud proprietor and central figure in one of India's key wrestling dynasties.

"My father was a legendary figure in the world of wrestling," he tells me, keeping an eye on his charges are they back-flip and handspring around the yellow, foam-padded floor. "He went to Olympic Games, won lots of international competitions and then founded this club. He used to say, 'God has sent me for one purpose: wrestling.'"

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Golden Greene seeks happy endings

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Tom Fordyce | 07:00 UK time, Friday, 8 October 2010

When Dai Greene settles on his blocks for the 400m hurdles heats here in Delhi on Saturday, his thoughts might be thousands of miles away in Melbourne.

While the Welshman starts these Commonwealths as newly-crowned European champion and favourite for gold, his miserable experiences at the last Games four years ago will be inspiring him here.

"I was selected as the fifth or sixth man for the 4x400m relay team," he explains. "Six of us became five, and then four, and then three, until I was informed on the morning of the first heats that I wouldn't be running because we no longer had a team.

"I was devastated - I'd been over there for a month, tapering down, and it would have been the biggest competition of my career to date. We even had a chance of a medal.

"They are very bad memories, and I'm here in Delhi to make amends."

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How golden are these medals?

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Tom Fordyce | 16:30 UK time, Thursday, 7 October 2010

Jamaica's Lerone Clarke was all clenched fists as he dipped on the line to snatch Commonwealth 100m gold. England's Mark Lewis-Francis was all whoops and hollers and flapped St George's flags as he celebrated silver.

The reaction elsewhere may have been a little more muted. Even as the two men climbed onto the podium to collect their medals an hour or so later, to the sceptics and doubters the ghosts of 11 other sprinters were almost visible alongside them.

Those 11 were the fastest men in the Commonwealth this year, none of whom were here in Delhi. It wasn't just the big names, Usain Bolt and reigning champion Asafa Powell, but the next rung down - Nesta Carter, Daniel Bailey, Yohan Blake - and the rung below that, featuring Mario Forsythe and Steve Mullings. In total, just 11 of the Commonwealth's 30 top sprinters began the 100m heats on Wednesday night.

All of which might have raised an uncomfortable yet unavoidable question for those watching in the stadium and beyond: does this title really count for anything?

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Fonua determined to make a splash for Tonga

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Tom Fordyce | 20:38 UK time, Wednesday, 6 October 2010

It might be that you've loved every minute of these Commonwealth Games. If so, good on you. If you haven't, and you've been wondering whether any of it really matters much, listen to the tale of Amini Fonua.

Fonua, 19 years old, is here representing Tonga in the 50m backstroke, 100m backstroke, 100m breaststroke and 50m breaststroke. That's the least remarkable thing about him.

Tonga has never before had a swimmer at the Commonwealth Games. You might find that surprising for an island race. Then you discover that there isn't a single public swimming pool anywhere in the country.

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False starts and big questions

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Tom Fordyce | 05:25 UK time, Wednesday, 6 October 2010

As the track and field gets under way here in Delhi, here's an interesting and timely question for you: why have so few British Asians ever represented Britain in athletics?

The numbers - or lack of - are startling: over two million people of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage in the UK, the biggest minority group in the country by far, and yet the number who have worn a British vest can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

It sounds ridiculous, but take a look through the record books. There's marathon runner Richard Nerukar, whose father was Indian; 400m hurdler Gowry Retchakan (born in London, moved to Sri Lanka aged four, came back aged 18 and ran at the 1992 Olympics); and (this will surprise some) there is Sebastian Coe, the Olympic 1500m gold medallist in 1980 and 1984 and now chairman of London 2012. His grandmother was Indian.

And that is almost it. While British athletics draws its stars from a rich and diverse ethnic pool (Christine Ohuruogu and Phillips Idowu with Nigerian heritage, Mo Farah - Somali, Jess Ennis - mixed race) there isn't a single athlete of South Asian descent in the England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland squads in Delhi.

So what is happening, or what is not happening?

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Delhi delights - now for the hard bit

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Tom Fordyce | 17:59 UK time, Sunday, 3 October 2010

Commonwealth Games, Delhi.

As celebrations go, the atmosphere was delightful, verging on delirious. Over almost three humid hours in the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium a Commonwealth Games that at several points over the past two years had looked perilously close to being stillborn finally sprang to kicking, caterwauling life.

There was pomp, there was partying, there was national pride by the bucketful. Flags fluttered. Horns were honked, tablas tapped. A 100m-high tree sprouted into the sky. The infield filled with thousands of sweaty, strangely-suited athletes from Ghana to Guernsey, Scotland to Samoa.

If you wanted to be dazzled dizzy by it all, it was all there for you. Bollywood film directors hundreds of miles to the south-west would have watched this spectacular, looked at their own forthcoming epics and suddenly felt rather overshadowed.

And if you wanted to look past the frenzied fun and fireworks? On the night that was supposed to see giddy celebration replace shoddy preparation, only occasionally did the troubled build-up to these games come creeping through the cracks.

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