Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Great Sport, A Boring League

At The Daily Hurt, we focus mainly on the basketball world, but with the Olympics over and the NBA season still a good two months away, we're going to cast an eye over some of the other sports and leagues around the world, some of which have already started their 2008-09 season.

Today, we're going to have a look at football.

Depending on where you were brought up, football is soccer or soccer is soccer. Get it ? Whatever you call it, I'm talking about the sport David Beckham plays. For the purposes of this blog, we'll refer to it as football.

Football truly is the only "World" game. From Africa to Asia to Europe and the America's, no other sport unites the entire planet like it.

One of the most popular football leagues in the world is England's Premier League.

It's easy to see why. You only need to mention "Manchester United" to almost anyone to evoke either an angry snarl or a pumped fist. You either love 'em or hate 'em.

That's the way it usually happens when one team wins all the time. Long periods of dominance leads to jealousy but also boredom, especially when the team dominating has resources and tools which other teams have no access to.

And when it comes to success, Man Utd is in a class of its own.

Since English football adapted the "Premier League" in 1992, Man U have won the title 10 times in 16 seasons. That's a lot of winning and an enviable record. Only three other teams (Arsenal, Chelsea & Blackburn) have won the league, one of them (Blackburn in '95) only once.

The "Premier League" should be renamed the "Elitist League".

It rewards the rich teams, while the poorer ones have to feed off scraps. The richer teams also have no interest in levelling out the playing field either. And, as there is no salary cap, the gulf between the teams will only become greater.

Just as Man U have few challengers on the pitch, they have just as few off it, financially. Chelsea has a billionaire Russian owner and Liverpool do alright, but apart from that, it's really only Arsenal and Newcastle that has what could be considered 'wealth'.

Let's look at Chelsea for example. Prior to 2003 when Roman Abramovich brought his roubles to West London, they were already considered a team reasonably well off. They weren't in Man U's class, but they weren't pauper's either.

Abramovich has pumped more than half-a-billion quid into the team and they have since won the premiership twice and been runners up twice in five years. In other words, you can buy success if you're rich enough. If not, tough.

What's the point of that ? What hope do the teams who have to make do on the more traditional means of income such as gate receipts and shirt sales have to compete ?

The competition for the title is dead boring, yet whenever Man U win it, they talk about how great an achievement it has been.

It's sad because throughout the premiership season, there is always some spectacular goals and games, that is without question. But the problem is, that no matter how exciting these games are, most of the teams are playing for survival, without any realistic hope of winning the actual title.

Just ask fans of Middlesborough, Tottenham or Aston Villa. The most passionate will no doubt delude themselves into thinking that their time will come, but it won't. Ever. An FA Cup is the best they can aim for.

The only hope they have is that a billionaire somewhere in the world will decide to pump their money into one of these clubs. But, if any billionaire felt investing into one of those teams was a good investment, then they wouldn't be a billionaire in the first place, if you catch my drift.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Farewell Beijing, Hello London

So that's it. Beijing bids adieu to the world. When everyone wakes from a fantastic 16 days in China and rubs their eyes, the focus of the next Summer Olympic Games will be on London. In between, there is the Winter version of the games being held in Vancouver in 2010.

Beijing and China put on an impressive show for all the world to see. As always, there will be some memorable, magical moments that will be remembered for a long, long time.

Michael Phelps' 8 gold medals is a record that I doubt will ever be beaten. It was a remarkable feat. He was the story of the games.

Yet, as good as Phelps was in the pool, Usain Bolt's performance on the running track gave this blogger the games greatest individual moments. Three events, three gold's and three WR's to boot. But it wasn't just what he achieved, it was how he did it all.
  • To start with, in the 100m, when he had time to do cartwheel's before crossing the line, it could have been perceived to be a show of arrogance by him, but it wasn't. He was just that much better than the rest of the field. And he wasn't running against donkey's either, Usain was just in a class of his own.

  • For the 200, like a true showman, he had the world salivating with expectation, waiting to see what he was going to do. And the hardest thing in sport to do, is to live UP to expectation, but Bolt did just that. Everyone knew that nobody else could possibly win the race, it was just a matter of how much Bolt was going to shave off the old record.

  • Just for good measure, Usain combined with his Jamaican countrymen to add a new WR in collecting his third gold in the 4X100. Running third, Bolt's momentum carried him so far that he actually crossed the finish line before the Dutch team had even finished. Bolt lit up the track at these games and he is a Superstar.

The USA is back as the world's best basketball nation. This 2008 'redemption team' did what they had to do by winning the gold medal and went through the tournament undefeated, but the days of the original 'Dream Team' are unlikely to return. Basketball is getting stronger and stronger around the world and China especially are the nation that is most likely to develop and improve over the next 20 years or so.

So, the world now waits to see what London has to offer. It will be a tough ask for them to able to produce an Olympic Games that comes close to Beijing's. Notoriously bad at planning and organizing things (see Wembley Stadium, or 2006 World Cup bid) the biggest challenge that London's Olympic committee faces, is to avoid the political infighting and bickering that is so often the problem with them.

On top of that, the British government has a tendency to spend far too much money on these things (Wembley was upwards of 700million quid and two years late!). They have set a budget of about 9.3 billion pounds already, which is already almost three times the original 3.4b set back in 2005 when London was announced as host of the games. So, they were only 6b off their original estimate then, one wonders how much the final bill will be.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rogge's Comments Tarnish IOC, Not Bolt

The 2008 Beijing Olympic games have lived up to their hype. There has been amazing feats achieved by equally as amazing athletes. World Records have been set and smashed. They have been the show case event the world expects to see.

Beijing and China have put on such a show, that the Olympic delegates from London must be secretly worried that they know it will be a tough act for them to follow in four years time.

One of the main reasons which has made these games so enjoyable has been the relatively few major controversies. Sure, there has been the usual few drug cheats, a few questionable judging decisions in the diving, gymnastics and boxing & then there is also a large question mark hanging over the Chinese gymnasts who are clearly nowhere near the 16 years of age required to compete.

Nevertheless, none of these issues have knocked the accomplishments of the athletes from the front pages of the news.

IOC president Jacques Rogge must have been starting to feel abit sorry for himself. He and his pampered delegates weren't getting enough attention from the media all the while Phelps, Bolt et al hogged the limelight.

When Usain Bolt broke - smashed - the World Record in the men's 100m on Saturday night, he showed us two things. Firstly, that he is a superstar runner, possibly the finest sprinter we've ever seen. Secondly, that by not finishing the race at full-speed, he is a young man with still some lessons to learn in how to be a complete professional sportsman.

He is young, he will learn. He's already shown himself to be as quick a learner as he is a runner when he galloped to a second Gold medal and another World Record in the mens 200m on Thursday. This time there was no let up when he was the only one in sight of the finish line.

His pre-finish celebration and subsequent post-race delight in the 100m disappointed Rogge. "That's not the way we perceive being a champion," Rogge said. Let's take a moment to remember that Bolt is a 21-year-old who just set an almost untouchable World Record in one of the Olympics most prestigious events, yet Rogge didn't seem to think his celebration was justified.

What did Rogge expect from Usain ? A quiet nod of acknowledgement to the crowd and that's it ?
The men's 100 metre's is one event that every Olympic fan looks forward too. If you win this race, you inherit the title of "fastest man on earth". Bolt can go one better too and also add the word "ever" to his tag.

Bolt's record might never be bettered. He is his only real threat to his crown at the moment.

Back to Rogge. "I would love him to show more respect for his competitors". Bolt might have had time to shake hands with the other runners if they finished anywhere near him. By the time Bolt had crossed the line, they were only distant specs in his rear-view mirror.

How dare Bolt turn the Olympic Games into such a spectacle ? This is not what they are all about, no. The true spirit of the Olympics is about five-star hotels, limousine's and expensive restaurants, especially for Rogge and co.

Rogge did finally at least acknowledge that Bolt is a fine athlete. "(he is) a great athlete, of course".

Hopefully in London in 2012, Bolt will set the pulses of sports fans racing again as he sets about defending his 100m crown. With any luck, by then, Rogge will be as distant a memory as Usain's challengers were here in Beijing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Thunder Bolt As Usain Roars To 200m Record

Usain Bolt once again left the field in his dust and also set a new World Record in winning the men's 200m final.

Bolt captured his second Gold Medal of the Olympic Games and in doing so also slashed .02 off Michael Johnson's record for this event set in Atlanta in 1996. The new mark is now 19.30.

Bolt leapt out of the blocks and after only a few of his gigantic paces, it was clear he was only racing against the clock, as the lightning fast track again proved to be a dream surface for his perfectly suited running technique.

Prior to the race, Bolt promised not to repeat his skylarking finish as he had in the 100m final where he slowed down when he knew he was home. And he was true to his word here, as there was no show-boating, no thumping of the chest, just an honest, teeth-gritted effort from maybe the finest sprinter ever.

As he rounded the bend in Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium, Bolt charged down the straight and across the finish line, with no other runner in sight. He looked about 1,000 lengths clear by then !
The 21-year-old Jamaican has one last race to compete in for these Olympics and that is the mens 4X100m which is on Thursday. Based on what he's shown so far, he must be considered a good chance to add a third Gold to his haul by then.

Bolt celebrated this 200m victory in similar style to his 100m win. There were kisses tossed out to the adoring crowd, but once again the biggest smooch was saved for the track which has proved to be a perfect platform for him.

For those interested in the minor placings, which seem pointless when you consider how much this race was about Bolt and nobody else, American's Shawn Crawford and Walter Dix came in second and third. There was even a few protests and challenges for the minor placings which is like squabbling over yesterday's newspaper. The judges should have just asked them, 'does it really matter fellas ?'

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Great Haul Of China

On home soil, China continues to set the pace in the Gold Medal race. The USA leads the overall tally with 67 total medals but China has a staggering 37 Gold's with 14 silver and bronze.

It's not a huge surprise to see China leading the way, but it's quite extraordinary that they 'only' have 14 of each of the minor placings. An interesting stat that I caught on Saturday whilst watching the 'ladies' weight-lifting(no, I don't love sport that much, but I was channel surfing when I heard it) is that apparently China has one-million female weight lifters ! If that's true, I can only imagine how many basketballer's, football players and other, better known sports players they must have. In 20 years time, they might just be favourite to win everything !

Great Britain is currently in third place with 12 Gold Medals and 27 overall, followed by Australia who has 11 Gold's, but 33 overall medals.

Next in fifth place is Germany(9 Gold, 22 overall), followed by South Korea(8, 22), Japan(8,20) and the Russian Federation(7,32).

Michael Phelps completed his perfect Olympics on Saturday when he picked up his 8th Gold Medal. This achievement by Phelps is staggering and will be nigh on impossible to even match, let alone beat. At only 23, Phelps could still add to his bucket of Gold in London in 2012.

Ominous signs from the USA on the basketball court. In what was billed as the 'acid test' when they took on reigning World Champions Spain on Saturday, the redeem team handed out a 119-82 thumping. Once again it was a suffocating defense from the American's and Spain had no answer - emphasized by the USA forcing Spain into 28 turnovers ! On form, it's hard to see any team taking the Gold from the USA here.

The Jamaican women backed up country-men Usain Bolt's incredible 100m on Saturday when they went 1,2 & 3 in the ladies race. Shelly-Ann Fraser crossed the line in 10.78 with a dead heat at 10.98 between Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart. Jamaica comes across as a country of laid-back party people, but man, can they RUN ! Speaking of Bolt, he's an absolute certainty to win the 200m on Wednesday night and waltzed into his semi-final in 20.29 seconds. As with the 100m heats, he took his foot off the gas - which is fine - but let's just hope he guns it the whole way and sets an amazing record that he's truly capable of. I'm tipping he could run this in sub 19 seconds. As explosive as his 100m run was, he robbed us - and himself - of something even more impressive than his 9.69 run.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Usain-ity ! Bolt-ing Jamaican Shatters 100m Record In A Stroll !

WOW ! What can you say ? There are simply not enough superlatives to describe Usain Bolt's performance in the 100m Mens Final !

He absolutely destroyed the field. So far in front he was that over the last 15m he slowed - noticeably - yet still obliterated his own World Record.

Bolt stolled across the finish line 9.69 seconds after the starters gun popped and probably would have run 9.50 or better if he had actually ran the race through. Simply amazing.

If there was anything that could steal Michael Phelps' thunder (lightning?) at these games, it was this run by Bolt. Sure, Phelps is going to be the overall story of these games, but Bolt has given us Beijing's biggest individual highlight. WOW WOW WOW !

In the primest of prime-times, Bolt elevated the race to its deserved platform as the final event of the evening. The last event on the middle Saturday night should always be the most prestigious, the one everyone wants to see, the one everyone hopes for an astonoshing moment to be able to talk about forever.

The near 100,000 spectators in Beijing's birds nest stadium took home an Olympic memory more special than most tonight, though one has to wonder how long it will be before Bolt lowers the mark he set here and makes a mockery of this incredible run ?

So magical was this, that it is almost irrelevant as to who picked up the Silver and Bronze medals. It may aswell have been me. It wasn't but the two plodders were Richard Thompson (9.89) of Trinidad and Tobago followed by Walter Dix (9.91) of the USA.

For any spectator who endured the countless other events leading up to this one won't be disappointed to have stuck it out. I just hope that nobody in the crowd decided to nip off early to try to beat the traffic home. This wasn't man landing on the moon tonight - No, it was much, much bigger !

There hadn't been a World Record run at this event in an Olympic Games since Donovan Bailey ran 9.84 at Atlanta in '96.

On the grandest of all stages though, Bolt returned the initials WR next to the numbers 9.69 and now everything feels right again. This is one event that should always have its top speed run at an Olympic meet.

Never before has the winner of this race been so laughably ahead that he has actually had time to begin his celebration 15 metres out. When he knew he was home, he spread his arms out as if to say 'how easy is this ?'.

And then there are two scary side notes to add to tonight. Firstly, this isn't supposed to Bolt's pet event. His preferred event is the 200m and on tonight's evidence when he runs that on Wednesday night, he will shatter the current record of 19.32, set by Michael Johnson also in Atlanta.

Secondly, Bolt has a reputation for being a bit of a party boy, someone who still needs to work on his preparation and professionalism. So, technically he's run 9.69 and still has to knuckle down and get serious about his running !

When the other competitors were being introduced tonight, Bolt seemed oblivious to the stage he was on, almost bored at having to wait so long for his race to begin.

The other runners though, Asafa Powell in particular, looked tense and nervous - the way most people would be with eyes of the world upon them, moments before the biggest event of their lives.

Bolt started out as he always does, hunched over before opening up and unwrapping a perfect running machine.

His long-ranging, leaping paces go against the traditional style often seen from sprinters.

The image of nuggety, muscly men, with tight, compactly built bodies right now seems as old fashioned as VCR's. Instead, Bolt is long and lanky and runs like a Gazelle and his legs barely touch the running tracks' surface.

Bolt's annihilation of the field over shadowed the fact that America's Tyson Gay had failed to even make the final. That and Bolt's fellow countrymen, Asafa Powell who fell apart in the final and never threatened before eventually finishing in fifth place.

After the race, Bolt celebrated like a happy kid. Kisses were being sent into the crowd while his opponents were still sorting out the minor placings.

Bolt found his family and friends in the crowd who were wiping away tears. There was a group hug before Bolt nonchalontley draped himself proudly in the Jamaican flag, took his shoes off - saving a special kiss for them - and began doing what he does best - Enjoying himself !

Usain Bolt is from a country that never needs much of a reason to throw a party and now he has given Jamaica a legitimate excuse to celebrate. If he parties anything like the way he sprints, then it will be one helluva bash !

Friday, August 15, 2008

Usain To Bolt Past Asafa & Tyson

Week one in Beijing has been full of inspiring moments and outstanding achievements. Many records have been smashed and while there has been a stack of medals handed out already, week two see's the climax of many of the team events. It also starts the serious stuff in the track & field. The stage gets set beautifully on Saturday night (22.30 Beijing time) by having the Men's 100m final which is always one of the most anticipated events, and this year is no different.
  • Let's start by saying that this is race might aswell only be run by Usain Bolt of Jamaica, Tyson Gay from the USA and Asafa Powell, also from Jamaica. Bolt currently holds the World Record at 9.72 seconds and after watching his first heat yesterday, I'm tipping him to be the Olympic Champion here aswell. Powell & Gay also made it through to the semi's easily but Bolt was about 3 lengths clear of the field after only about 20m and was pulling up from about 40m out and still crossed the line under 10 seconds at 9.92. It's amazing that an event that barely lasts 10 seconds can generate so much interest and excitement but it can and does. For anyone looking for an outsider to maybe spoil the party and claim the bronze, I'd go for another Jamaican, Michael Frater. Some betting agency's might give you odds for the first place finisher outside of Bolt, Gay and Powell. Whatever happens, let's just hope that the race is clean.
  • Ho-hum and Michael Phelps collected his sixth Gold Medal last night in the Men's 200m individual medley. If Phelps does go 8-8 which he is almost certainly going to, and sets new world records in each event too, it will be an achievement that will go down as one of the most significant & defining sporting moments ever. Those of us lucky enough to understand what it means will be able to tell our grandkids about it one day, sort of like a JFK getting shot moment.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Rice Fries Beijing's Water

For Australia's newest swimming sensation, Stephanie Rice, her debut Olympic Games ended as they begun with yet another Gold Medal, this time in the women's 4X200m relay.
  • This win by Rice and her swim mates is great for her, great for her country and great for this blogger as it allows him to post yet another gratuitous photo of her under the guise of her achievement's in the pool !

  • The USA has just defeated Greece in the Men's basketball. In fact, Team USA thumped them 92-69. Greece was the last team to defeat the American's at the World Championship's two-years ago, so while it's still at the round-robin stage, the USA will feel as though they're on the right track towards redemption.

  • Tennis isn't the most glorious of Olympic sports, but Roger Federer's rough '08 continues as he was defeated by James Blake in straight sets. There's something missing from big Rog these days, I think it's just a lack of motivation after dominating the world for the best part of 5 years.

  • There has been a few controversies in the last few days in relation to some dubious judging decisions. In boxing and gymnastics especially, there have been some tense moments and last night things in the Men's Greco-Roman wrestling came to a head when a Swedish wrestler felt his performance was worth more than his bronze medal. Ara Abrahamian tore his medal from his neck, threw it on to the podium and stormed off !

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Beijing Continues To Deliver

Beijing's athlete's set about smashing records and turning in historic performances at the 29th Olympiad, but where are all the crowds ?
  • USA Swimmer, Michael Phelps continues to turn the Olympic Games into his own personal swim meet. Last night, Phelps added another two Gold Medals to his personal tally to make it five for these Games and 11 in total for his career. He is now the winningest Gold Medalist ever and here's the scary part, he's not done yet. He has another 3-races left to compete in and only one of those is a team event (4X100m) so it's a pretty good bet that he's going to pick up an astonishing 8 Gold Medals. He is of course an absolute certainty to win the award for athlete of these games.
  • Spain got a scare on the basketball court when they needed overtime to defeat host nation China. Spain's ball handling in the 2nd & 3rd period's was ordinary but in the end, China weren't able to land a knock-out blow. Spain's impressive 17-year-old Ricky Rubio, played a lot of big minutes down the stretch and his maturity defied his tender young years.
  • As the saying goes, 'Timing is Everything' and yesterday we saw Russia take on Georgia in the women's beach volleyball. While their countries began a war over the weekend, it would have made for a tense atmosphere on the er, beach. I still think beach volleyball doesn't belong in the Olympics anyway.
  • It shouldn't surprise us, but as always, corporate sponsors who spend millions of dollars at these events get first choice for the prime seats but often they fail to turn up or turn up late and deny 'real' fans the opportunity to attend, leaving empty seats at some of the biggest events. The organizers don't seem to be particularly interested in appeasing the pay-less fans either as the corporate dollars always make the bottom line read better and sadly, that is of far more importance to them at the end of the day.
  • Australia's new golden girl, Stephanie Rice added a second Gold to her tally in the women's 200m individual medley. She edged out Zimbabwean Kirsty Coventry who collected her third Silver Medal. Normally, three Silver medals would be a wonderful achievement but you sense that Coventry is getting frustrated at constantly falling just short of the top prize.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Beijing Lives Up To Early Hype

The first three days of the Beijing Olympics have produced some amazing results and achievements already. Let's take a look at some of the notable moments.

Australia's Spicy Rice

Stephanie Rice, the 20-year-old sizzler from Australia won her countries' first Gold Medal in the women's 400m Individual Medley. In Australia, she gets as much press for her looks as she does for her achievements so it's refreshing to see that she's as good in the pool as she is out of it and not just an Anna Kournikova of swimming.

Phelps on course

The USA's Michael Phelps is going for an Olympic record of 8 Gold Medals at these games, and so far he is on course. Not all his events are individual ones, so it will make it tough for him as he has to rely on his team mates to help. But, so far so good, he is 2-2 and one of those Gold's came in the men's 4X100 freestyle in which France was probably favourite. One of the French swimmers, Alain Bernard even foolishly gave the USA more motivation by saying that the French were going to 'smash' the Americans.

Kobe, Lebron begin the redemption for the USA

After a nervous start from both teams, the USA handed a 31-point, 101-70 thumping to host nation China on the basketball court. The Chinese started out red-hot from 3-point land at one stage being 7-9. The USA on the other hand were ice-cold from the same area, but made up for it by scoring a high percentage of 2-point field goals. As expected, China's ball-handling was their biggest problem as the USA applied a lot of full-court pressure defense which caused many turnovers for China. China got a minor scare when Yao Ming appeared to injure his lower leg in the the second half and he briefly left the game but was able to return shortly after. Lithuania scored the first upset of the tournament when they edged Argentina, 79-75.

Age a concern for China's female gymnasts

To be eligible to compete at the Olympic Games, female gymnast's must be at least 16 years old during the calender year that the games are taking place. Over the weekend, I observed many of the fantastically talented and gifted girls from both the USA and China. However, there is no way that some of those Chinese girls are anywhere near 16-years-old. They looked barely 13 or 14. Perhaps I'm wrong but I doubt it. I know gymnasts are often young, but really, there should be tighter checks made by Gymnastics governing body to make sure that these girls are in fact old enough to compete. Taking nothing away from the girls though as they were simply fantastic both the Chinese girls and the ones from the USA.

Dubya at his finest

I think it's great when world leaders attend big sporting events and get involved like any other fan. At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Australia's then Prime Minister John Howard was crowd surfing with an inflatable Kangaroo at one point which probably won him a few more years in office ! But, if anyone can goof things up and look foolish, it's Georgie boy. Here is a snap of him celebrating a USA win in the pool - proudly holding up the famous stars and stripes - the wrong way ! Also, on a TV interview with NBC's Bob Costas, Costas asked Bush about some of the problems in the USA today to which Bush replied that 'the USA doesn't have any problems'. No further comment is needed on that !

Check back later in the day for more news from Beijing.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Men's Olympic Basketball Preview

In the old days, the USA only had to turn up to win on the basketball court but how quickly things change. For the first time since NBA players were allowed to compete, the USA enters the Olympic Games not as defending champions, but as challengers.
Will they be able to return to the top of the pecking order ? Or are the other countries now widening the international gap ?
Let’s have a look and see.

Group A
Croatia, Iran, Lithuania, Argentina, Russia, Australia

It will be tough for defending Olympic champions Argentina to repeat their Athens triumph in 2004. Juan ‘Pepe’ Sanchez is no longer with the team and depending on who you talk to, their best player, Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili is carrying an injured ankle into this tournament. In NBA-ers Luis Scola, Carlos Delfino(until last season at least) and Andreas Nocioni, they still have plenty of top quality talent and but this year Bronze is probably their best hope for a medal. Prediction: Fourth

Australia’s pre-tournament warm up games were impressive. After defeating host nation China, they lost to Argentina after leading by 19 points at one stage and got closer to beating the USA than anyone else before losing by 11. They are an experienced team with an experienced coach though any thought of a medal is unlikely. A top 6 finish is certainly within reach. Prediction: Seventh

The name JR Holden doesn’t immediately conjure up images of the stereotypical Russian basketball player, but the USA born star is now a fully-fledged Russian. Well passport holder anyway. The Utah Jazz’s Andrei Kirilenko’s long, gangly arms allow him to cover more territory than most on the defensive end, but his offensive game still needs work, but he is this team’s leader. The Russians are always well organized and rely on solid tactics and if anyone is going to gatecrash this party, it’s them. Prediction: Fifth

Like the ‘Russian’, JR Holden, basketball isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when Iran is mentioned. Nevertheless, they’ve qualified for Beijing so they have done something right. So little is known about the Iranians that it’s hard to see them getting beyond the group stage. They have one player who should stand out, the 7’5” Jaber Rouzbahani but that’s about the only thing we’re going to remember about them.
Prediction: Won’t progress past the group stage

Lithuania continues to produce solid NBA players and once again brings an experienced, well organized squad to Beijing. Sharp and disciplined they play the International game as well any and should be still here deep into the second week. Linas Kleiza is coming off his best NBA season with the Denver Nuggets and will no doubt play a big role here. Sarunas Jasikevicius wasn’t quite able to adapt to the NBA game but has been a star in Europe for many years, where the Olympic game is a closer resemblance than the NBA style. Prediction: Sixth

Croatia only qualified for these games when they defeated Germany in July. Surprisingly, it is Croatia’s first Olympics since Atlanta in 1996 and of course they were the first finalists against the original Dream Team in 1992. The Croats play with a lot of emotion which can be a good or bad thing, depending on the situation. Big man Marko Banic is a banger and will give it all he’s got down low and there will be a lot of eyes on new Toronto Raptors guard Roko Ukic, who joins up with the Raptors after this tournament. Croatia is capable of being awesome or awful. Prediction: Ninth

Group B
China, Germany, Greece, USA, Spain, Angola

Having home-country advantage will make China a tough match-up for all the other teams. For a long while, Yao Ming has carried the basketball expectations of the world’s most populous nation on his shoulders alone, but here he has the impressive yet still developing New Jersey Nets big man, Yi Jianlian to at least take some of the pressure off. China’s biggest area of concern is at the guard spot where it is felt they will be vulnerable. Basketball is improving in China quicker than any other country, but it’s not their time just yet. Prediction: Eighth

After defeating the USA in the semi-finals of the World Championships two years ago, Greece left itself with no gas in the tank for the final and was soundly beaten by Spain. Greece’s offensive game doesn’t always look organized but is based around lightening quick passing and teamwork. It might appear to sometimes be nothing more than a flurry of 3-point shots, but it’s effective. Their defeat of the USA included scoring on 13-consecutive possessions after half-time in which enabled them to build a margin the USA couldn’t overcome. Prediction: Bronze

Angola won’t be amongst the medals in Beijing but they remain the strongest team from the improving Africa region. None of their players are household names but it will be interesting to how they perform and if they are able to cause a murmur along the way. Prediction: Won’t make it past the group stage

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki will have LA Clippers center Chris Kaman in his corner as the German’s make their unlikely challenge for a medal. However, if Germany’s football team is any sort of measuring stick, then we know that what Germany lacks in talent, they will make up for in organization and tactics. Don’t expect to see them embarrassed, but don’t expect them on the dais at any stage either.
Prediction: Won’t make it past the group stage

Spanish sports fans have never had it so good. Right now, they own soccer’s Euro crown, the Tour de France and Wimbledon and are still basketball’s only actual World Champions. Coincidence? Well, maybe to some extent but the Spanish take their sports seriously and with good reason. They are darn good at it. Spain’s NBA representatives such as Pau Gasol, Jose Calderon are the epitome of what team work is all about. They share the ball and trust each other and have total confidence in themselves and their team mates. Two years ago at the World Championships, they lost tournament MVP Gasol for the final and still went out and thumped Greece. If anything, they’ve improved since then. Prediction: Gold

Everyone knows who the Dream Team is. But, since the bar was raised to such extraordinary heights in 1992, the USA hasn’t been able to produce another squad with the same fearful aura. The coach back then was Chuck Daly and the team was so good that Daly didn’t even call a timeout once while he was in Barcelona!
In 2002, the USA were brought back to earth with a thud on their home court at the World Championships when they finished 6th and since then have been rebuilding.
This current crop of players is the best they’ve produced for a long time as they strive to regain their top billing as basketball’s best. Offensively, there are few concerns but it’s at the defensive end where eyebrows have been raised in their warm up games. Plucky Australia in particular got a lot of easy baskets in the paint.
In Kobe Bryant, the USA have a leader who desperately wants to prove that he is a ‘team’ guy and after a disappointing end to his season at the Lakers, he wants to finish his MVP year with a Gold Medal. Unfortunately for Kobe, he’ll be the bridesmaid for the second time in a matter of months. Prediction: Silver

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Countdown Begins

So, one more sleep until the official start of Beijing 2008, but some events have already begun. No medals decided yet, but the ladies soccer has kicked off already with Canada edging Argentina 2-1. Not sure if that the game was a sell-out or not, but I doubt it.
  • The Australian basketball team gave the USA Redemption Team their first real test in the warm up games. Australia's league - the NBL is falling apart but the National squad proved to be a tougher match-up for the USA than many would have expected. Australia moved the ball very well on offense and got a lot of easy baskets, or wide-open looks. Offensively, the USA have plenty of options but defensively they weren't convincing. In the end, the USA overpowered Australia and it was no surprise that New Orleans Hornets superstar Chris Paul who took control and gave the win to the USA 87-76.
  • Australia will still struggle to get amongst the medals in this tournament but, based on this performance and an earlier game where they lost by 5 to Argentina after leading by 19 at one stage, they could play the spoiler role and take out one of the big four - USA, Greece, Spain or Argentina.
  • Argentina was my early tip to win the Gold Medal, but with injuries to Manu Ginobili and Pepe Sanchez, Bronze might be their best hope now. Ginobili has said he's ok, but he had some ankle issues at the end of the last NBA season and various sources are saying that he isn't 100% fit.
  • For those who fancy a wager, I'm going with Spain for Gold, the USA for Silver and then Argentina to meet Greece in the Bronze medal match up. Russia is the dark horse for a medal. Even with the vocal home-town support, I don't see China getting a medal.
  • The smog and air conditions in Beijing continue to get a lot of press. The Chinese organizers are saying that the air quality is ok, but they're hardly going to say it's not. From the images I've seen on TV, it looks pretty ugly in the city, but it's going to be the same for everyone, so the athletes are just going to have to deal with it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Poms Go Nuts Over KP

The Daily Hurt takes a quick look at events in the Cricket world today.
  • After losing a test series for the first time since South Africa were re-admitted to the World Cricket stage in 1992, England's captain Michael Vaughan resigned. The high point of Vaughan's captaincy was obviously the 2005 Ashes triumph. Vaughan was an OK captain but Freddie Flintoff was the main reason behind England's defeat of Australia for the first time in 18 years. As a batsmen, Vaughan was pretty decent and he'll now hope that he can regain that touch without the burden of leading his team.
  • England continue to live off that historic 2-1 series victory over Australia from 3 years ago. The Poms certainly deserved to win that series and it was probably the best Test series ever in Cricket's history, but since then, England have rapidly returned to a mid-range team since. Injuries have played their part, but more so, once England scaled the heights on defeating Australia, they lost their focus and weren't able to use the win to dominate the Cricket world.
  • England have appointed South African born Kevin Pietersen as their new captain. Fair enough, after Andrew Flintoff struggled when he was given the job on an interim basis a couple of years ago, the Poms really didn't have many other options. Andrew Strauss isn't good enough. Ian Bell ? Bell can bat when he's facing rubbish but he's not a captain's backside.
  • If KP can keep control of his ego, yet captain his side with the same aggression with which he bats, then atleast England might be in with a chance more often than not. As long as Flintoff is fit, then England are a chance in every test, but big Freddie struggles with his weight and the occasional night on the fizz.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The World Descends On Beijing

After a quick break in the UK, The Daily Hurt returns today. This is predominantly an NBA blog site, but during the season's summer break, we're going to have a look at a few other stories in the world of sport.
  • This Summer's biggest event kicks off on Friday night when Beijing hosts the Olympic Games. This will be an historic event as the eyes of the world will finally get a glimpse of what goes on behind closed doors in the strictly controlled communist state. The build up to these games has attracted more controversy than any games previously due to some of China's political issues, but that aside, the games themselves should be as exciting as ever. Football's World Cup is still considered as the biggest individual spectacle in the world, but the Olympic Games has the ability to unite the world more than any other sporting event.
  • As always, there will be athletes who will be caught cheating by way of using drugs at some stage and stripped of their achievement and/or medal. For so many athletes, the Olympics represents the pinnacle of their sporting careers and their lives and these games might be the only shot they get at global recognition for a lifetime of sacrifice and commitment and they will therefore stop at nothing to try to win a Gold medal.
  • The Olympic Games is so good for seeing athletes and sports that don't get the same TV and newspaper coverage as other higher profile sports. Some of the best sportsmen and women in the world don't play in sports that receive millions and millions of dollars in sponsorship and TV revenue, so it's great for them to finally get the exposure and a chance to show how talented they are. Don't get me wrong, many of the athletes competing in Beijing still make a fortune out of their sport and live a life that normal 9-5 workers can only dream of, but few outside of the basketball world earn Kobe Bryant type money.
  • Basketball aside, it's events like Swimming and Cycling, Rowing, as well as Gymnastics and even Weightlifting that this blogger particularly enjoys. There should be no place in the Olympics for Beach Volleyball or Tennis. As mentioned earlier, football already has the World Cup so there is no need for it to have a competition during the Olympics.
  • The track and field events are always great to watch and really symbolize what the Olympic Games is all about. Events like the discuss and shotput almost seem out of date now, but they represent the games in their purest form.
  • There is always one or two images from each games that really stand out and last forever. Not always for the right reason, but something always happens and sports fans recall and remember a moment or incident fondly. In my time, it's been Carl Lewis winning 4 Gold Medals in LA in '84, then I didn't think there could be a bigger moment in the Seoul games of '88 when Ben Johnson won the race of the century, but the news headline the next day when he was caught doping was simply this day, it still seems shocking. In '92 it was Barcelona and the USA gave us the first installment of the 'Dream Team'. It was made up of the most awesome players in the world and it's unlikely that the USA or any country will ever field a team as strong as that one. For '96(Atlanta) see the next bullet below, Cathy Freeman's inspired 200m in front of her home fans in Sydney in 2000 was great to see and then Kelly Holmes double in the 800m and 1500m in Athens was a fairytale for the 34 year from Great Britain. There has of course been many, many other achievements just as special as these, but they are some that have stuck out in my memory.
  • The Atlanta games of '96 I recall well as they were purchased by Atlanta's bid committee after it looked like Melbourne were poised to win them. Former IOC chief Juan Antonio Samaranch always enjoyed being pampered as if he was one of the athlete's competing and in return, he looked favorably upon those cities who would spoon feed him and pander to his every (costly) whim. If he was still in charge today, he would probably put the games on Ebay rather than have countries and cities actually go through all that bother of submitting an application.