THE THREE FINALISTS
Many thanks who all those students who entered the David Welch Awards 2018 and congratulations to the winners: Jacob Whitehead, Nick Friend and Charlotte Harpur. See their entries below. The competition will be open again on January 2, 2019, so you have plenty of time to think about your intro.
JACOB WHITEHEAD, 19
University of Durham
By rising in the dark to ascend the Dawn Wall, on June 3rd Alex Honnold not only risked his life, but embarked on climbing history. The 900m granite monolith of El Capitan in Yosemite has long been a mecca for rock climbers, and the attraction was no different for 32-year-old Californian Honnold, who set out to solo the longest, hardest free climb in the world.
He slipped quickly into nothing more specialist than nylon three-quarter length trousers, his favourite red t-shirt and pair of custom-fitted climbing shoes, bolted down a customary breakfast of blueberries and oats, then began the morning commute as the clock hit 5am.
Free soloing, climbing without any ropes for protection, is innately intimidating. Suspended above the abyss purely through the strength of fingertips, the only way to escape is up. Yet Honnold was calm, keen to preserve a sense of normality during a morning which, if successful would be momentous. After all, he was ready. Considered a climbing phenomenon since his rope-free ascents of Yosemite’s Half Dome and Utah’s Moonlight Buttress, he’d cemented his position as the planet’s leading free soloist with an ascent of Mexico’s El Sendero Luminoso, a world first, in little more than three hours.
But El Capitan’s Dawn Wall was different, too difficult surely. Honnold had already abandoned one attempt the previous November, and it was over twice the length anything free soloed before. He laid his hands on the rockface at 5.32am and celebrated, dazed, on the summit at 9.28am, breaking the glass ceiling by climbing the granite wall.
The most relieved man on the mountain? Long-time friend and videographer Jimmy Chin, recording the venture for National Geographic’s feature length documentary film, due to be released in 2018. His cameramen, rappelling from the summit on winches, had struggled to even keep pace with the climber on the last 300m of the wall, as he raced up in three hours and fifty-six minutes.
To execute under that pressure, at that speed, requires obsession. Honnold typically commits the entire route to memory, effectively performing a gymnastics routine hundreds of metres above the Yosemite forest. Abnormal physical strength has slowly been built up, he is capable of two finger pull-ups, practiced for over an hour every other day to improve grip strength. Even his brain is suited to climbing, the threat response centre, the amygdala, does not respond when looking at threatening images compared to a test subject. Is he unafraid of death? “No”, he told GQ Magazine, “I’ve just accepted I’m going to die at some point.”
This stoic attitude is why he’s the only man in the world willing to tackle the Dawn Wall’s boulder problem, the crux of the climb, without ropes. Two-thirds up the wall, requiring a full-body weight transfer between two non-footholds by utilising a mid-chest level karate kick, Honnold nailed the hardest section of the climb. He had to.
Standing celebratory at El Capitan’s summit, the weary climber only had one idea what he wanted to do next. Not a trip to the alps for snowy, technical climbs. Not a return to the sport climbing world where he first honed his craft in a Sacramento gym. But back to his van, to attach his pull-up bar to the roof rack, and practice his two finger pull-ups. For of course, today was not a rest day.
Two-Wheeled Revolutions: What Women’s Cycling in Afghanistan Can Teach Us
Everybody remembers learning to ride a bike. Right? For most it’s a park, with stabilisers, parents ready to catch you, a sepia-toned memory to reminisce over after looking at the baby photos. I was slightly different, pushed down a large hill so I didn’t have to worry about pedalling. Hadn’t been taught how to use the brakes yet. Unorthodox but it worked. People learn in different ways.
For some it’s on a busy highway in forty-degree heat. Cars swerve past inches away. Abuse is shouted as you ride. ‘Shame.’ ‘Bitch.’ ‘Slut.’ Maybe a motorcyclist will push you over, breaking your hand. Such was the literal experience of the Afghan Women’s Cycling team.
In Afghanistan, riding a bike can destroy a girl’s future. There exists a simple misconception that a bicycle seat threatens their hymen and consequently, their marriageability and family honour. The women’s team was ground breaking, not just for competing internationally, but demonstrating to young girls, and more importantly their fathers, that cycling is not taboo. As team founder Shannon Galpin states, ‘These girls are sparking a revolution.’
The opposition they experienced was unprecedented for any sporting team. When the girls started there weren’t enough bikes. They rode without their family’s blessing. Even those meant to help could be cruel; team-member Frozan Masooli told the National Geographic that ‘when the head of the cycling federation [first] saw me, he told me that I was fat, that I couldn’t ride a bike’. Yet they overcame, first racing in New Delhi in 2013, rebuffing the naysayers after a last place finish to springboard towards the Asian Cycling Championships in 2014. A nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize even followed. Most importantly, girls could lean out their front door, and watch a female peloton ride the streets of Kabul.
The team prevailed over a lack of equipment, religious anathema and downright misogyny. But there was one challenge that proved the exception, a ubiquitous problem in modern sport. Corruption.
Their coach Abdul Sediq Seddiqi, former head of the Afghan Cycling Federation, was accused by Galpin in The New York Times of misappropriating the donations of her NGO Mountain2Mountain. In 2015, charged with taking the squad to the South Asian Championships, he allegedly used the $10,000 fund to go sightseeing in New Delhi. Soon after, rumours began to emerge that he had sold some of the 55 carbon-fibre bikes donated to the team, worth more than $100,000. In response to the missing donations, Mountain2Mountain withdrew their funding in August 2016, whilst almost simultaneously two riders fled Charles De Gaulle airport to claim asylum. The entire team were deemed a flight risk, leaving them with an uncertain future, unable to compete internationally.
The Afghan Women’s Cycling Team teach us a valuable lesson. Corruption always has a victim, almost always the most powerless in the sporting world. The siphoning of funds at the top of federations has a trickle-down effect on those powerless at the bottom. The cyclists were vulnerable, because they were poor, because they were from a developing nation, because they were women.
All too often corruption is ignored, pushed off the headlines by the latest transfer rumours, team news and controversial decisions. It’s not just governing bodies responsible, we as consumers are all too culpable, content watching the trophy events go ahead, our Olympic Summer untainted by IOC bribery, our World Cup wall-chart completed despite FIFA scandal.
With IOC funding, it’s entirely possible Afghanistan’s female cycling team could compete in the Olympics. But local corruption stops that. Prevents gender norms being upset in Afghanistan. Withholds from girls the freedom to ride bikes.
Top 10 Sad Sporting Goodbyes
An indelible image in sport is that of the retiring star, borne off on their teammates shoulders, a tired arm raising a trophy to the sky, the final laurels placed upon their head. Yet is there not something equally touching about the inverse, a legend limping away, their failure hidden by the wrong-coloured ticker-tape, the camera’s lens on a new age?
10- Kurt Warner
The meteoric rise of Kurt Warner from a Hy-Vee shelf-stacker to quarterbacking St Louis’ ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ to a championship is as close to an embodiment of the American Dream as sport is likely to reach. Yet his career ended tragically, rebounding from a last-second Super Bowl loss, he was injured by a dirty block in a playoff game against the ironically named Saints, who it was later revealed placed a bounty on Warner’s health.
9- Mark Cueto
At the time retiring as the Premiership’s all-time leading try-scorer, Cueto decided to award himself a solo walk-off to take the applause of the adoring Sale Sharks fans. The trouble was it followed a cynical deliberate knock-on in the 70th minute, via referee Wayne Barnes’ yellow card.
8- Ara Abrahamian
Whilst it’s difficult to attribute legendary status to any Greco-Roman wrestler, Ara Abrahamian’s goodbye to the sport was certainly dismaying. Disgusted at a controversial decision in the 2008 Olympics he threw his bronze medal to the floor during the ceremony and walked-out, immediately retiring and then promptly unretiring to great personal fanfare- it mattered little, he received a lifetime Olympic ban anyway.
7- Phil Taylor
Considering in my family winning three games of Monopoly in a row represents unfair dominance (I’m over it Dad!), it is remarkable darts survived Stoke’s own Phil Taylor’s sixteen world titles. Yet in what was seemingly his triumphant seventeenth on New Year’s Day The Power was demolished 7-2 by debutant Rob Cross, an epoch-ending moment akin to Taylor’s own victory over Eric Bristow in 1990.
6- Steven Gerrard
Every child born after Euro 96 has at some point, when a ball bobbled towards them some distance from goal, inwardly screamed GERRARRRRDD before toe-punting it over the bar. Some legacy indeed, one greater than the reality of his goodbye, as the previous year’s title-losing slip preceded a consolation goal in a 6-1 away loss to Stoke. ‘Still,’ a Kopite will remind you, ‘Remember Istanbul.’
5- Diego Maradona
For a player equally capable of beguiling skill and bewildering action, it seemed predestined Maradona’s career would end in one of the two. A player who’d always imitated the matador ended as the bull, a manic, taut, ephedrine-fuelled farewell goal against Greece preceding his ejection from the 1994 World Cup after a failed drugs test.
4- Sugar Ray Leonard
One of the saddest images in sport is the former champ reduced to a pale imitation of themselves, their last vestiges drained, vulnerable. Boxing is the cruellest exposé of this, an aged and drawn Sugar Ray Leonard’s dissection at the hands of the flashy Hector Camacho in the splendour of Caesar’s Palace was surely the most unwelcome heralding of a new champion.
3- Usain Bolt
Where the lights shine brightest, so does Bolt’s star rise highest. This held true until the final championships of a glittering career, where cast as clean sprinting’s champion he lost to convicted doper Justin Gatlin, stumbling to a bronze medal. At least he made it to the finish, in the 4×100 final Bolt pulled up injured in the home straight, yet no-one noticed, the world’s eyes too transfixed on the battle between the USA and GB for gold, the legend’s final strides only captured through the corner of a long lens shot.
2- Sir Donald Bradman
In a sport built on statistics Don Bradman transcends them, a giant of the sport whose importance to Australian cricket matched that of water to the Australian Swimming Team. It only adds to his legend that his final innings duck left him stranded on an average of 99.94, forever occupying his own slice of sporting immortality.
1- Zinedine Zidane
A ballerina who said adieu as a brawler; all too often had Zizou risen to the occasion, two goals to win France their first World Cup, *that* volley at Hampden Park to win the Champions League. Yet his career would end in disgrace, a rash headbutt on Matterazzi replacing what we dreamed of, a shuffle, a shot, a second World Cup for France.
NICK FRIEND, 23
St. Mary’s University, Twickenham.
Cross 7 – 2 Taylor: The Power given the ultimate shock on the night that darts welcomed the world
Every sport has its watershed moment – the apprentice defeating the master, the dawn of a new era, the final curtain falling on a career of unfathomable magnitude. And on Monday night, darts had its moment – the Power extinguished one last time in front of beer-filled delirium, baying for one last darting hurrah.
It was not to be but, at the same time, it was to be. It was a changing of the guard like no other. On his last night as a professional sportsman, Phil Taylor, on the verge of a 17th World Championship title, became mere collateral damage. Not only did he lose, but he lost in a way he had never lost before. The last remaining embers of a staggering career were burnt out, and yet there was nothing funereal about it. His conqueror, simply, was that good.
It was perhaps fitting that Rob Cross should announce himself as a world champion on the new year’s first day. After all, since 1990 darts has lived in Taylor’s world. Cross changed all that from the moment he located double 18 to win the first leg of the final. He wouldn’t miss a single dart at his favourite checkout all night.
And yet, this was meant to be Taylor’s night. It had to be. Beyond the sentiment of the occasion, this is Taylor’s stage. Cross, a mere novice, only took up the sport full-time in February. It became a fight of two fairytales – both with their roots in electricity; a legend whose right arm is inked in his iconic nickname up against a 27-year-old former electrician.
As Cross continued his assault on trebles up and down the board, Taylor appeared weary. Even the famed tattoo seemed to fade as Cross dismantled the Power.
But then, Taylor hit six perfect darts, then seven, then the eighth thudded into the treble 19. Only double 12 remained for the most historic of nine-darters.
The ninth missed by a whisker. And that, really, was that. Cross swooped to win the leg. Extraordinary sport. And as it all unfolded, the world was watching. Michael Owen tweeted, Stephen Fry tweeted, everyone tweeted because everyone was engrossed.
It wasn’t Test cricket engrossing them, nor was it El Clasico. It was the uncovered scalp of Rob Cross.
Darts will always have its critics, but this was a night that confounded all those who were prepared to listen to the clamour.
Cross wasn’t done yet though. After snatching Taylor’s nine-dart leg from under his nose, the effortless machine chugged along majestically. He averaged 111 in the sixth set – higher than Taylor’s 110.94 overall level in the 2009 final. There was a 167 finish, a 153 and a final 140 to seal the deal and the trophy.
It was sport in its purest form. Taylor won just ten legs in nine sets. It made for fascinating viewing – Taylor’s anguish, his contrived laughter – he appeared almost deranged at times as his life’s work came to a final halt at the hands of Cross’ ruthless efficiency.
If he had been a boxer, the towel would have been hurled into the ring long before the final bell sounded. But this is the stirring appeal of darts as a sport. There is no white hankie, no draw, no appeal for clemency to Barry Hearn. The proverbial punches kept coming, and the camera remained squarely on Taylor’s forlorn visage, soaked in the confused sweat of a great champion reaching his end.
This wasn’t just about a 7-2 scoreline; this was about grace, tension, drama and one of the biggest shocks in sporting history. The new kid on the block is the world champion.
Lizzie Simmonds: “It’s seen as a weakness to talk about mental health”
“Actually, what is the emphasis on here? Should we be developing well-rounded, successful, athletes who give it all for their country and then are functional and happy in later life, or are we purely looking at numbers on a medal table?”
As Lizzie Simmonds questions the predicament facing British sport, she speaks with the qualified wisdom of a swimmer whose desire to carry on has been tested in recent years.
A two-time Olympian, Simmonds was a Commonwealth Games silver medallist as a 19-year-old in 2010 and a European champion in the same year. The Edinburgh-based swimmer was, however, overlooked for the Rio Olympics despite coming out on top at the British trials – a decision Simmonds puts down to her age.
“I took a big knock from missing out on the Olympics in 2016,” she admits. “But I think it’s ended up being a positive for me. It’s given me a sense of perspective on the sport.”
It is this renewed understanding of sport’s significance that Simmonds credits with her return to the pool and her upturn in form since. Having been first thrust into the limelight of international swimming aged just 14 – albeit at a time before the successes of Becky Adlington and, latterly, Adam Peaty had increased the expectation on British swimmers – Simmonds had grown up in an environment obsessed with performance. Indeed, Adlington’s two gold medals at Beijing 2008 were Britain’s first since 1988 – three years before Simmonds was even born.
“I think, in a weird way, it takes having a bit of a knock to get back,” she says of her Rio rejection.
“When you’re successful at a very young age, like I was, the development of your personal identity can be inextricable from your sporting identity. It results in young athletes often basing their entire self-worth on their sporting successes.
“Only after performing poorly, or being knocked down, do you realise the complex fragility of that identity construction.
“It’s only then that you recognise that you have to separate your personal identity from what the stopwatch or scoreboard says. It’s one of the reasons why we sometimes see Olympic medallists, and athletes who’ve been incredibly successful, retire and then fall off a cliff, metaphorically speaking.
“There’s this huge identity loss afterwards when you separate the two and people can feel worthless because they’re not succeeding at something in the same way as they were when they were competing. It’s also difficult because athletes often sacrifice a lot for their sporting career – at the end, when the support stops, they can be left with very little guidance and direction.”
She highlights the similar struggle faced by members of the armed forces after completing their duty, devoid of their regimented routine and sense of being that dominates their very existence.
However, for Simmonds, the void created by retirement may be linked to a secondary aspect of a wider problem within sport.
“I think one of the other issues in sport is that of mental health. One way or another, there is a huge stigma that it’s a weakness,” she explains.
“It’s seen as a weakness to talk about it, for an athlete to admit that they’re not all right. It’s a weakness to accept – even though you might have won some medals or been training really well – that things aren’t okay in your head.
“We go to training every day to work on our physical weaknesses and to make them better. We’re in the middle of a world where weakness is not really viewed as acceptable.
“We find it hard to admit that we’ve lost that control, that we’re not coping.”
This is an edited version of a longer piece I wrote for the Sports Gazette, the website that we run as part of our Masters course at St Mary’s University. I have included a link to the full version if it is of any interest!
Looking past the Eagle: 10 Winter Olympians whose remarkable stories you would never believe
30 years ago, the Jamaican bobsleigh team competed at the Calgary Olympics. Their story inspired the cult film, Cool Runnings. They were joined by Eddie the Eagle who still holds the British ski-jumping record.
Before Calgary, just five tropical nations had sent teams to the Winer Games. Since then, 33 unlikely countries have joined them.
With the Pyeongchang Games around the corner, we look at ten improbable Winter Olympians whose names you will never have heard.
10. Dow Travers (Cayman Islands)
Travers became the Cayman Islands’ first Winter Olympian in 2010, finishing 69th in the giant slalom event. However, his talents go well beyond the snow. He represents the Caribbean island’s rugby union team and sevens team.
9. Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong (Ghana)
A story as remarkable for what didn’t happen as what did. Having never seen snow until he was 30, Nkrumah-Acheampong missed the 2006 Turin Games because his flight to the qualifiers was cancelled.
Four years later, the slalom-skier achieved his dream, becoming the first Ghanaian to reach the Winter Olympics.
8. Iginia Boccalandro (Venezuela)
The ex-volleyball player made the unusual career move from court to luge due to knee trouble.
However, a serious crash on her first run at the 2002 Games brought the presence of tropical nation athletes into question, with suggestions that a lack of ability was overshadowing their diversity.
7. Isaac Menyoli (Kenya)
Menyoli was the first Kenyan to compete at the Games when he made it to Salt Lake City in 2002.
Despite coming last in the 10km cross-country race, he announced that he had fulfilled his aim – by using his international platform to make the people of his hometown, Buea, aware of AIDS.
6. Erroll Fraser (British Virgin Islands)
Fraser’s appearance at the 1984 Sarajevo Games created history. He was the only black Olympic speed skater of the twentieth century.
He finished 40th, all this four years before Calgary had made the tropical nations ‘cool’.
5. Werner Hoeger (Venezuela)
Hoeger, a professor and writer of 62 academic books, took up the luge shortly before turning 45.
He was the Games’ oldest competitor in 2006, while he and his son Christopher are the only father-son duo to compete at the same Winter Olympics.
4. Philip Boit (Kenya)
The first Kenyan to reach the Winter Games, he had never encountered snow until taking part in a Nike-sponsored project in Finland. In 1998, he took Kenya’s single place at the Nagano Games.
He finished 92nd in the 10km race, so far behind the winner, Bjørn Dæhlie, that the medal ceremony had to be delayed until Boit had crossed the finishing line.
3. Anne Abernathy (US Virgin Islands)
Abernathy has had quite a life. She beat non-Hodgkins lymphoma in the lead-up to the 1988 Calgary Games, before suffering severe brain injuries in a crash during a 2001 World Cup event.
Astonishingly, she recovered in time to compete at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. Aged 64, she is now a professional archer.
2. Bruno Banani (Tonga)
Banani was born Fuahea Semi, before changing his name as part of an endorsement deal with German underwear company, Bruno Banani.
A computer science student at the time, he became Tonga’s first Winter Olympian when he qualified for the luge event in Sochi. He finished 32nd out of 39.
1. Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg (Mexico)
Born in Mexico City to a family who reigned over the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany until the 19th century, the six-time Olympic alpine skier founded the Mexican Ski Federation in 1981, before co-producing Shirley Bassey’s 1987 single “The Rhythm Divine”.
The Prince has never medalled at the Olympics, although became the second oldest Winter Olympian ever with his appearance at Sochi, aged 55.
CHARLOTTE HARPUR, 23,
University of Birmingham
The 13:55 at Kempton
Seven fences from home and Bryony Frost asks for the perfect stride from Black Corton to keep their chances alive in the Grade 1 Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park. Fountains Windfall matches Black Corton’s pace and pushes out in front down the back straight.
Approaching the fourth last fence, Fountains Windfall chips in a short stride, pecks on landing, goes to ground and propels Aidan Coleman out of the saddle. Meanwhile, one and a half lengths behind, Black Corton takes a stride out, brushing through the hurdle, forcing Frost to lengthen her reins so that the horse can stretch over the fence. Upon landing, Black Corton swerves to the right in order to avoid the faller, momentarily unbalancing his jockey who skillfully manages to gather up her reins and regain her balance.
With Fountains Windfall out of the race, Frost, in the red cap, is now leading the field, closely followed by Elegant Escape and West Approach. She sits quietly, allowing the horse a slight breather on the home bend whilst Tom O’Brien and Tom Scudamore desperately drive on to close the gap. Three fences out and now Frost starts asking a little more of Black Corton, pushing with her hands and nudging him on every stride. Two fences out and she encourages him with the whip asking him to step up again. He responds. She hits a super stride at the final fence and despite a good leap from Elegant Escape, Frost extends her lead, widening the gap between her and second place. She crosses the line with a comfortable margin, giving her her first Grade 1 success, becoming only the second female in Britain to ride a Grade 1 winner over hurdles.
As Frost pulls up, her head goes down, almost in disbelief. She leans over, gently patting Black Corton’s shoulder, sits back in the saddle, takes her gum shield out, lifts her goggles up and, with a tear in her eye, smiles. Welcomed by a rapturous applause from the crowd, she points her finger down to Black Corton as if telling the spectators to congratulate him, not her. Such a self-deprecating gesture shows the tight bond between horse and rider.
Frost cannot use her strength against a 500kg animal who has a mind of its own travelling 35mph. Instead, she concentrates on their combined balance and rhythm. That horse tried his heart out for Frost. Every time she wanted more of him, he delivered, again and again. Commenting on the race, Frost said “I believe in him, he believes in me….he’s my best friend”. Her understanding of what makes this horse tick marks her as a highly promising jockey for the future.[I spoke to female pupils aged 12-16 who attend a non-selective Academy and play sport outside of school].
‘The rush of being in the ring makes me feel at home’
My ears pricked at this comment uttered by a female teenager who has grown up in a low socio-economic background in Northamptonshire. Her dad wanted her to be able to defend herself walking the dodgy streets so he took her to the local boxing club. A couple of years later she chooses to jog to training three school nights a week in preparation for her next national league boxing match. When asked how boxing makes her feel, she said, “I feel great, it is a huge stress-relief.” Boxing has given this sportswoman a form of escapism from an area riddled with drug and gang related issues.
When I questioned other young female football players from the same school how they felt playing a male dominated sport, they were quick to argue that it is no longer a male dominated sport. I sensed a certain empowerment emanating from these students and was impressed by their determination to stand up for themselves.
Yet, these students are a minority among their peers. Women’s sport is not visible, nor accessible, in or outside of the classroom. Sport England’s new strategy ‘Towards an Active Nation’, launched in May 2016, states that it will “support the provision of high-quality, insight-based training to coaches and teachers who work with children outside as well as within the curriculum.” I do not see this support and neither do the pupils.
The female students interviewed complained that in comparison to male pupils their success is not as frequently celebrated, there are fewer types of sport to choose from in lessons, there are not any regular female after-school clubs, they are pushed out from playing football by the boys at lunchtime and even told to be more like their male counterparts. Despite these barriers, these students continue to belong to a sports club outside of school.
“Which sporting heroes have inspired you?” I asked. They did not name a single one, neither male nor female. Instead, they identified their family to be the most important factor influencing their participation in sport. They thanked grandad, dad or a big brother for introducing them to a club and acknowledged their male coaches for giving them lifts to and from training and providing constant guidance. Not one pupil mentioned an influential female figure.
This is what worries me. If there is a lack of young females participating in sport in schools, there will be a lack of professional female athletes and a lack of female coaches who are the leading lights for the up and coming generation. The majority of girls in deprived areas do not have the support of their parents and so they need other role models to highlight the benefits of sport on a daily basis. What better place to do so than in school?
County Sports Partnerships need to improve communication with schools in the local area. Small measures could be put in place in schools: increase advertising of female sports clubs, raise the profile of girls’ sporting success, encourage families to be more supportive, target friendship groups to promote involvement and train more females to teach PE and advocate women in sport. I will be keeping a close eye on Sport England’s results, released in early 2019, from the new survey ‘Active lives: children and young people’ but I fear not enough is being done today. Every girl should have the opportunity to experience the rush of adrenaline and feel at home on the sports field.
SPORTING TOP 10: Origins of Sporting Phrases
I have selected a variety of phrases from across the sporting sphere and researched their etymology. There is still much debate about the roots of some of these expressions but I have chosen what I believe to be the most valid theories.
Why do we say nil-nil for a match which ended zero-zero? For it would be harsh to the ear to hear the latter. Nil comes from the Latin word ‘nihil’ meaning nothing which makes sense considering no goals are scored in a nil-nil game. The majority of football supporters up and down the country may not have got a language GCSE but unbeknown to them, they speak Latin every weekend! Fantastic!
2) A duck
It is hugely embarrassing to receive a duck, not to mention a golden duck, when playing cricket. Anybody not aware of the sporting connotations would understandably be confused. A duck in cricket is when a batsman scores zero. The terminology is said to come from the resemblance of a duck’s egg to the shape of the number zero.
3) L’oeuf and love
If you are perplexed by the way we score tennis, you are not alone. Instead of saying zero, we say love, logical, is it not? Let’s unscramble this conundrum. As we have established, the number zero on a scoreboard is said to look like the shape of an egg,l’oeuf in French. Repeated enough times, the word l’oeuf was eventually corrupted into sounding like love.
4) I won hands down
I first though this expression had something to do with card hands but in fact it stems from equestrianism. When pushing for the finishing line, a jockey’s hands move forward in order to urge the horse to take a longer stride. If the jockey is leading by such a large margin he/she may lower the hands and relax indicating the horse to slow down. This is most evidently highlighted when a jockey has mistaken the winning post!
5) It is going down to the wire
What wire? In horseracing, a wire used to be placed above the finish line to help judges decide on the winner. The wire represents an end point hence we may only find out the result until the dying seconds. It really is going down to the wire when horses are racing neck and neck and the victor may only win by a nose.
Today, this word is often used in tennis when a player is unable to start the match and gifts the win to the opponent. Its origin also lies in horseracing. If there was only one horse entered into a race the horse would have to at least walk over the finish line to claim victory. Should we make tennis players walk over the net to the other side of the court to prove their fitness?
7) From the horse’s mouth
Since when can horses speak English? They cannot but a vet’s examination of a horse’s teeth is a reliable measure of the horse’s age and therefore its value. One can obtain a lot of information about a horse directly from its mouth without needing to consult other sources.
8) Birdies, eagles and albatrosses
I expected that such colourful terms used for a scoring system would have an equally inventive explanation. However, I was disappointed when I found out the rationale behind the choice of words. Birdie allegedly comes from the US slang ‘bird’ indicating anything particularly good. Rather predictably, golfers continued the avian theme and consequently named two shots under par, an eagle, and three shots under par, an albatross, owing to its rarity.
Although we often hear the term in football or hockey, this phrase originates from the sport of cricket. In 1858 the bowler H.H Stephenson took three wickets in a row. In acknowledgement of his achievement, the fans held a collection and presented him with a hat. Hence the term hat-trick.
10) Knuckle down
In order to be successful at any sport, you need to knuckle down. Interestingly, this phrase comes from the game of marbles. The most effective technique to shoot a marble is to hold it in the crook of your index finger, forcing your knuckle down to the ground and then flick it with your thumb. Such a shot requires concentration, diligence and skill.