The “Choke” doesn’t exist

The Olympic and Paralympic season is great. There is more sport than I know what to do with and I get to fall in love with the magic of one of the things I love most in the world all over again.

With this comes problems. Everybody is an expert. I don’t mind the fact that we all pretend to know things that we don’t know Olympic-Ringsabout the sports we watch, I’ve done that multiple times. The problem I have is that everybody is an expert on what it takes to be an Olympian or Paralympian and how that if an athlete doesn’t perform on the day then it must be a “choke”.

Get off your high horse before you injure yourself.

I know what you’re probably thinking, “But how could you know, you were never an Olympian or Paralympian”.

Darn right I wasn’t, and I’m lucky if more than a few days go by where I don’t think about it. There aren’t any certainties in life, but had things progressed as they were I probably would have gone to Beijing and certainly made the trip to London.

So yes, I do know what it takes to that level. By the time that I finished school in 2005 I was in the pool for close to 20 hours a week with another 5 hours spent in the gym or doing other work out of the pool. I got lucky. My parents never complained about the 5am wakeup or the money that they spent so that I could chase a dream. In fact they worked just as hard as I did for it and probably deserved more credit for the success that I had than I did.

I didn’t suffer an injury, there was no reason I couldn’t keep swimming. I made the decision I made, and living with it isn’t the easiest thing to do, but you can’t change the past, so I deal with it however I can.

It’s not easy to represent your country, but it looks easy because you are at the top of your game when you’re doing it. Failing when you’re at the top of your game isn’t a choke, it’s nothing more than a simple act of human failure, which we all have on a daily basis. I’ve lost count of the number of times in the last few weeks that I’ve seen references to Steven Bradbury, or “Doing a Bradbury”. But that’s probably because the people making the point don’t think he deserved it.

  • 12 years at an international level.
  • Almost losing his life after have a skate go through his leg.
  • A broken neck 18 months before Salt Lake City.

Yeah, nothing at all there screams deserving. He made his race plan, he executed it, and as he once said, his reason for taking the Gold Medal wasn’t for the 90 seconds in that race, it was for the 12 years before it.

Chumpy Pullin was favourite heading into the snowboard cross last night, in fact he would have been certain in his mind that today was the day he was going to reach the ultimate goal for any athlete. But things didn’t work out, that’s life, not a choke.

He doesn’t need people saying he choked, how he feels about it is worse than anyone else can make him feel. Trust me, I’ve been there.

It’s 2004 and the last qualifying event before the trials for the Athens games. Having already qualified for trials there was one more event I wanted to add to my schedule. This particular event was one that I had been targeting for years, even though it had always been just out of reach. Everything was set. All I needed to do was swim within about half a second of my best time and I’d be swimming that event in Sydney in two months time, I was ready and nothing could stop me.

The time to beat was 48.10 … The time I swam was 48.11. Never has something that I wanted so badly felt so far away. .01 of a second can be made up anywhere, and I know that I should have done better, but in that time I did all I could, and I walked away knowing that fact.

That race ended up being my first Open-Age medal at a State swim meet, something which I’m awfully proud of and something that I still smile about today.

So why can’t it leave me? The first Grandparent of mine to pass away passed away eight days before that swim. Death is something none of us can control, and at the age of 16 I don’t think I was in any capacity to level out in my mind, as they had planned to be there watching that day. The two events were and forever will be connected, and now I see it is one of the best thing that has ever happened to me, because it shows that no matter what happens, you can find strength in it.

I didn’t choke that day, I just didn’t achieve what I had in mind, that’s life.

So, next time you think an athlete chokes, stop and think. Nothing is ever what it seems, particularly in the world that so few people get to experience.


Why we need to give Ian Thorpe space

It has been widely reported over the last week, that Ian Thorpe isn’t in a good place. Naturally a select portion of the media in this country see an Olympian “falling from grace” as they describe it and pounce on the opportunity to report. Here’s why I feel for Thorpe and we need to let him take the required steps back to full health.

A lifetime ago I used to swim. Of course it wasn’t literally a lifetime ago, but it has just ticked over seven years since I last raced competitively and that’s what it feels like. I was fortunate in my swimming career (I still am fortunate, but for the purpose of this post I’ll keep the fortune focused on swimming). My parents made sure I could travel to meets anywhere, they drove me to the poolThorpekick and 5.30am and picked me up at 6pm the same night, often without going home from work beforehand. They had longer days than I did with a mortgage to pay and kids to feed and educate, while my two focuses in life were swimming and completing school- often in that order.

Swimming taught me a lot. It taught me what drive can do, it taught me how growing up around people who are now World Record holders can change you as a person and it taught me that anything is possible. But there is one thing that I learnt from swimming that people don’t tell you before you walk in for your first training session as a kid. Swimming is lonely. You don’t train by yourself, in fact you form a great bond with the group that you train with. You might race by yourself, but you are always going to be part of a team. The thing about spending 20-30 hours a week in a pool is that you have a lot of time to think. You focus on the mechanics, you focus on everything that you need to be doing in the pool, but there will come a point where your mind starts to wander. School, friends, sports teams you supported, social life – anything was good to think about because you needed to find a way to pass the time.

What we are seeing with Thorpe now is a result of that process. For the better part of a decade he was in the pool or gym for the majority of time when he wasn’t sleeping. Add to that the fact that the national spotlight shone on him whenever the time came for Australia to compete at home or overseas and you can see why he has fallen to the depths that he has. It’s easy enough to say that athletes need to adjust when they return to being a “normal” member of society, but I find it strange the amount of people commenting on that who have never been in that situation before.

Many who know me don’t know that I used to swim. That in itself is a fair sign that swimming is something you can only see elements of from me. I could have been a Paralympian had a made a few different decisions in my life, but I didn’t and on the days when I think about it for a few seconds too long, I regret how things turned out, even though that might mean that I wouldn’t have everything I have today.

At the end of the day the inside of the mind is a place we can never see, so let’s just all hope that Thorpe can get the help that he needs so we can see him return to being the vibrant person we saw on pool deck.

Rich Hill a bright spot for Boston

Rich Hill signed a Minor League deal with the Red Sox over the weekend. At first I didn’t think it was a great move, but he could prove an asset to the Red Sox down the stretch in 2014.

Rich Hill’s career numbers in the Majors aren’t great. The guy is 24-22 in nine seasons with a 4.74 ERA.

But here’s what I do like. He’s spent time in Boston. During 2010 and 2011 he made 15 appearances with a 1-0 record in that time.indexrichhill One of the biggest offseason talking points (and rightfully so), has been with regards to where the pitching is going to come from down the stretch. There were all too many occasions last year where the likes of Workman and Tazawa were unable to get the job done, and if we are honest, we were lucky to come out World Champions after some of their efforts at the tail end of the season.

He didn’t post a winning record with the Indians last year, but he did have a strikeout to walk ratio of 1.75/1 across 63 games in the 2013 season. If he can replicate these numbers it will fall slightly below the team average from 2013, but as we saw on many occasions the breaking of a slump last series came from the success of another man on the roster.

The Minor League deal promises that we aren’t going to chew up a lot of money on the guy, and when rosters expand in September, he is the kind of guy we are going to want. The experience he has and the form that he hopefully gets back to in the second half of the season are something that may be vital as we push towards being the first team to repeat this century.

The Great Escape – version 2014

A month ago I thought Sam Allardyce needed to be sacked because he was sending West Ham towards doom. Now I think Sam Allardyce needs to be sacked because he’s leading us to safety.

The last month has had a fair few low moments. The 6-0 drubbing at Man City which followed a 5-0 shamble at Notts Forest were the low points of the month. Since then we have won away at Cardiff and beaten Swansea at home, two crucial results given their respective standings.

I’m not 100% certain that we are going to get out of this, but there is a Tevez-like feeling marking the return of England SamAllardyceThinkinginternational Andy Carroll . He set up Noble for the second at Cardiff, as well as setting up both goals at home on Saturday. From watching the replays of the goals it is easy to seeing that he is quickly returning to the form that he was in this time last year when a full-time move was first being discussed. The return of Nolan from suspension (for now) has aided this process as the two seem to play the same style of daring football, providing they are on the field at the same time.

So why sack Allardyce? Last week after the draw against Chelsea I was full of praise for the attitude he showed towards his counterpart when the tactics he used to get us what could be a vital point, were questioned. The problem with Allardyce is that he has a history of doing very little in the Premier League besides surviving, with the exception of one UEFA Cup appearance with Bolton he has never achieved anything more than the occasional mid-table finish.

I remember the first time in my life that we went down (2002-03) and thinking that Bolton wouldn’t be far behind us because of the style they played. Unfortunately it is all too common for teams that he manages to scrape by, and to be completely honest I don’t want to see us turn into a club who are happy to finish 17th every year, which lets face it, I’ll be ecstatic with this season.

Remember growing up when you were told about “The West Ham way”, the style of football that had us pushing for Europe and producing the next wave of English internationals? That’s what I want to see again. Bobby Moore didn’t sit in Cassetari’s moving salt and pepper shakers for us to be a club who accepted mediocre. Moore than a football club, isn’t a gimmick, it’s what we are.

We are the emotions of the 2006 FA Cup Final, the disbelief when we were two goals to the good, the running around my house at 1am as Paul Konchesky’s “shot” gave us the lead going into the final third of the game, we are that feeling you got when Stevie G scored one of the greatest goals of all-time and mostly, we are the tears that flowed when Anton Ferdinand missed his penalty.

We have a history to uphold. Eight managers between 1902 and 2001 is something that we are all proud of. That pride comes from knowing that no other club did anything like that in the same 100 year span.

Football in the East End is about the West Ham way, so let’s return to our roots, something Sam Allardyce can NEVER help us do.

Come On You Irons!

Why Australian sport can’t match the Superbowl

So the Superbowl is over for another year. For American Football fans that means 6 months while they look out the window and wait for preseason to start. In the meantime though, I believe it’s time for both Australian’s and the Australian media to think about why the Superbowl (and American sports in general) is something which will never be matched here.

Sport is great. Australian sport is great. North American sport is great. But they are different. From the way they are covered to the passions that you see coming from the fans. The similarities for mine start and finish with the fact that one team is trying to beat the other.petecarrolcelebrate

The biggest difference between sport in the two continents is the way that sport is covered, and how that coverage can bring a city together to support their team. The perfect example of this is Melbourne newspaper The Age. The Age have a great AFL coverage, but that coverage is split amongst the following teams – Western Bulldogs, Essendon, North Melbourne, Melbourne, Carlton, Collingwood, Richmond, St Kilda and Hawthorn. Regardless of how good the coverage is, the paper has nine teams to cover. How is that coverage meant to unite a city? Pure and simple, It can’t. I think that part of the problem the Australian media face in covering sport, the national competitions that we are running are far too condensed. Take the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as an example of one of many organisations in North America who have the job of covering one team. When the Pittsburgh Pirates run out at the start of April, one thing is for sure – the Post-Gazette will let people know that it’s time to raise the Jolly Roger as the Pirates hunt for their first World Championship since 1979.

When you have a media who are charged with the role of devoting everything that have towards one team in one sport, the results you get are a city who live and die by the performance of their team. You get a city who are united for a single cause, a city that when you are there you can’t help but be sucked into the vortex that is a one-team town in professional sport.

Yes, there are American cities with two teams, but often the lines in the sand are drawn from which side of the city you are born on (Chicago with the Cubs and White Sox is the best example of this).

This is something I had the opportunity to discuss with a good friend of mine, Myles Harris on the most recent episode of Chatter Up on Hewitt Sports Network.

Myles and I have very different sporting backgrounds, but as you can hear in our discussion, this is one of many points that we agree on, and I think it’s certainly something we’ll both discuss at length in the future.

Both Seattle and Denver were at a standstill today, but where is that in the AFL? Even when Fremantle were playing Hawthorn in the 2013 decider, neither Melbourne or Perth came to a standstill, why? Because there are other teams in that city, and fans of those teams would give anything to see their rivals lose.

So how does this relate to the Superbowl? I’m not going to use the halftime show from this year as my landmark, because even though Bruno Mars is a good artist, he isn’t my cup of tea. In 2009 the Superbowl entertainment was Bruce Springsteen. In 2011 the AFL managed to recruit an out of shape, out of date and well off-key Meatloaf. Meatloaf VS Springsteen? Hardly a battle for the ages. Sure, you can say that money is the reason that the AFL couldn’t get someone like Springsteen in their wildest dreams, but that isn’t it. Sure, you can say that the AFL is a sport played in one country, but so is the NFL.

It’s about how you sell your product. Despite what Eddie McGuire says, they’re aren’t legions of 18-year-old males in America who are dreaming of playing for Collingwood. There are however at last count 28 Australian’s playing NCAA Football in Division One. You know what comes after that if you’re talented enough? The NFL.

I’ve been an AFL fan since I could walk, but the AFL are deluded¬† the way they currently act in the public eye. The product is safe, and as a result of that, it’s getting stale.

When I say safe, I don’t mean that’s it’s in a position to be around in 10 years. Of course it is. Safe in the sense means that they aren’t willing to try anything to get new fans, to grow the game globally, and to market themselves into a position the NFL has managed to do.

Yes, I’m a Melbourne fan, and I in one way or another watch my team every week. I long for the day that we win a title, I have had nothing but pain as a Melbourne supporter, but even a Grand Final victory isn’t going to cloud what I can so clearly see.

The NFL have done such a solid job that there are countless people in Australia who only watch the Superbowl. I know Australian’s who don’t watch Grand Final day, some of whom can be added to that list when their own is playing.

Why is this? The NFL and their clubs make fans feel wanted. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, content that is driven from the organisation rather than the local media. Why is this model working? Because people aren’t willing to sit around and wait for content. Everyone want’s something yesterday, and that’s what isn’t happening in Australian sport.

North American finds a happy medium to ensure they cover all bases. Australia ensures that very few fans are left feeling like they belong.

Just do something AFL. Make the clubs the main source of media. Get the passion going. Make something happen, because at the current rate, they are going to get left behind, because everyday it’s getting easier to watch sport from somewhere else in the world. With our foreign loves making it easier than ever to connect with what they are doing, that is where the passion that many once had for you is going abroad.