Wednesday 30 May 2012

Wrestling rapped for not providing Olympic legacy

There is nothing greater for a British or Northern Irish sportsperson than to get a shot at representing their country at the Olympics games. So much so that our rugby players will have a shot at in the a Sevens event from Rio onwards and our golfers will also get a chance from 2020.

Most of our sporting bodies with representation at the London 2012 Games have been working hard to bring on that home grown talent in time for these Games and to look to the 2016 and beyond for the legacy that will be left behind. Swimming and Cycling are two prime examples of this approach.

The British Olympic Association (BOA) has come down hard on British Wrestling as a sport that seems to be doing little to leave an Olympic legacy in their sport.

British Wrestling had brought in the most 'plastic' Brits with five Ukrainian wrestlers marrying British Wrestlers in recent years, in a bit to gain that all important British passport. These ready made wrestlers from the Ukraine, Bulgaria and Russia have received funding to the tune of £3.5m in a bid to gain the three spots that BOA said they would leave open. Initially they were apparently brought in to spar with British hopefuls but soon turned into British Olympics hopefuls themselves.

There has been drug misuse by one of the Ukrainian's and Commonwealth gold medalist Myrsolav Dykun. There has been fighting within the team.

But worst of all they failed to meet the BOA qualifying criteria:

  • Top sixteen position at the 2011 FILA World Championships, or
  • Top eight position at the 2012 European Championships or the 2012 European Olympic Qualifying Tournament, or
  • Top six position at a 2012 International Olympic Qualification Tournament

So the three spots they had been given as host nation ended up being reduced to one.

Did that go to one of the British born wrestlers on the GB Elite Squad Philip Roberts from Bolton or Leon Rattigan from Bristol (who sadly finished 12th and 11th respectively in the Europeans)?

Err no.

The only place has gone to Olga Butkevych from sunny Kiev, she is still waiting for her British Passport to arrive.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Giro d'Italia Stage 21 the final

Today is the final stage of the 2012 Giro d'Italia. It will feature an individual time trial over 30km of Milan's roads.

Yesterday Joachin Rodriguez managed to take that all important 4th slot which put him 1 point ahead of Mark Cavendish in the points classification and more or less ensures that he wins the maglia rossa (red jersey). As at 30km the time trial is too long for Cav who has been known to surprise in shorter ones. The only thing that might work in the Manx mans favours is a drastic deterioration in the weather after he completes his circuit that affects all the top riders. With three 180 degree turns a slippery road might just be what is needed. Sadly the weather forecast isn't predicting anything other than sunshine. Ironically because Rodriguez is still in the magllia rosa (pink jersey) as race leader Cav will be wearing the maglia rossa into Milan.

So with Matteo Rabottini FAR in the blue jersey as king of the mountains, Rigoberto Uran SKY almost certain with a 2'28" lead over team mate Sergio Henao going to take the white jersey for best young rider, having been out in front of the race for 683km Olivier Kaisen LTB is the king of the breakaway it is down to the battle in the GC.

Rodriguez  leads Ryder Hesjedal GRM by 31 seconds with the defending champion Michele Scarponi next but at 1'51" surely with too much to make up. Hesjedal is the better time triallist of the two leaders, but as we often see when the race win is at stake a man known mainly as a climber will do whatever it takes to hang on and go beyond many people's expectation. It comes down to just over 1 second per kilometre. So if the gap in seconds at the two time checks equates to the distance traveled then this is going down to the wire. If Rodriguez keeps it well below it then he is fighting hard to take home two jerseys, but if Hesjedal is well over it then he has done enough in the mountains to secure his win.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Giro d'Italia Stage 20

Well we have had all the action over the last two days.

On stage 18 the last flat stage of the Giro no sooner had the Eurosport commentary team said that the four man breakaway were too far ahead for Mark Cavendish to even think of the intermediate sprint points that Sky went to the front and brought the gap down exceedingly fast to enable Mark to pick up the five points on the line for that contest. With 18 intermediate points he is second only to break away king Martijn Keizer VCD.

However on the line maybe Mark left it a bit too long to launch his attack as Andrea Guardini FAR launched his attack while Cav was still in the wheel of Geraint Thomas and finished just ahead of the Manx man. The loss of the three points for coming second on Thursday may proof costly to Mark Cavendish's defense of the Maglia Rossa today because of what happened yesterday in the penultimate mountain stage.

There was an attack up the road but that finally got hauled back on the last climb by Roman Kruezinger AST while behind him the main pack got reduced to just six of the GC contenders. Ivan Basso LIQ, Joachin Rodriguez KAT, Rigoberto Uran SKY, defending champion Michele Scarponi LAM, Domenico Pozzovivo COQ but the man those five all had to shake off was the best time trialist of the lot of them Ryder Hesjedal GAR.

Time and again they tried to go but the Canadian former mountain biker was always the first man unto the wheel. In the end he went off himself and only Scarponi could keep his wheel initially. Then there were two slightly behind Rodriguez and Basso, but Pozzovivo and Uran were tailed off as a third pair as all six appeared to be on their limit. But then Hesjedal puuled away from Scarponi and for a while it looked like he might catch Kruezinger up the road, but he just ran out of time to bring him back finishing 19 seconds after the Czech rider.

Down the hill Rodriguez was determined not to loss too much time or even worse his maglia rosa before they exited the mountains. He actually caught Scarponi on the line to take third place. For Cavendish fans it means that the Spaniad needs to be no better than 5th today and the jersey is almost certainly Cav's as neither man is liable to score points in the 30km time trial on Sunday.

Today's stage is key for a number of classifications.

First there is the blue jersey (king of the mountains) this will be decided today. Matteo Rabottini FAR after his amazing breakaway on Sunday still holds the lead in this on 65 points, next man is Stafano Pirazzi on 44 who may have been hoping for better today with the big riders. There are five climbs a category 2, two category 3s, a category 1 and the final climb is a Cimi Coppi (outsdie classification) to the highest finish ever in the Giro at Passo Dello Stelvio. It is 22.4km of a climb to 2757m.

The intermediate sprint comes before the category 1 climb, so the way that Mark Cavendish and Sky have been riding this tour there is just the possibility that he may be able to take the 5 points there. If he does it would put him 18 points ahead of Joaquin Rodriguez would have to finish in the top 2 if he wants to win the maglia rossa, if the points aren't taken by Cav  anywhere in the top 4 would see that jersey pass to the Spaniard.

Finally there is the GC. Rodriguez leads by 17 seconds from Hesjedal, probably thankful there were no time bonuses yesterday.  Scarponi at 1'39" and Basso at 1'45" will have to get clear from Hesjedal in order to stand a chance of winning after tomorrow's time trial. Rigoberto Uran at 3'21" is the best young rider, his team mate Sergio Henao is 9th but second young rider on 5'47" so 2'26" down on that classificatoin a contest between the two Sky riders. So the white jersey should be Skys as Gianluca Brambilla is next a further 2'31" down.

Today is tough especially that last climb. We saw the leaders on the limit today and reaching for the barriers as soon as they crossed the line. Expect more of the same today as they leave everything on the road.

Friday 25 May 2012

Donald where's yer towel mon?

My friend Caron has posted about how disappointed she was that the Alex Salmond and other white men launched a Yes to Independence campaign.

They also as she points out launched it on Towel Day.

Clearly they missed a trick, they needed someone like the guy on the left to really launch it in style today, instead of in some dingy cinema with a whole pile of men talking at us.

Although one phrase that I did hear on the news about the launch was that Salmond had come to a launch without any clear policy. Yes that is how the BBC reported it nationally. Of course wanting a referendum is one thing, but what you are going do once you have it is another think.

When the SNP started talking about it in the 1970s they wanted a republic, a new Scottish currency, but most of all they wanted their hands on North Sea oil which had been recently discovered. Now they seem to want to keep Elizabeth as Queen of Scots, keep the pound as it is far cheaper for them than having to set up a Scottish Central Bank. They also seem to not be too sure what they are wanting to happen to Scottish troops, or air bases, they appear to want to keep them all as they are, with one exception the nuclear base at Faslane.

The G8 of course are also meeting at the  discuss the small matter of some of the small nations that Alex Salmond talked about holding their own in this world. We know that Spain a somewhat bigger nation that Scotland more or less equivalent to the size of the whole UK, is in difficulties. But he seems to ignore the fact that Scotland's banks were themselves bailed out and will still be working to pay that back come 2014.

No doubt over the next 2 years we'll learn more about just how dependent this independence will be, but for now for Towel Day a little gratuitous chest nudity of what appears to be a white man seems to be in order, even if Alex has missed a trick for the ladies and gay Scotsmen there.

1980 Summer Olympics Moscow: XXII Olympiad and VI Paralympics

The two runner up cities to host the 1976 Olympics were the only two candidate cities that made presentations to the 75th IOC session in Vienna, Austria on 23 October 1973. In what was was the Cold War putting up Moscow the Soviet capital against Los Angeles the home of Hollywood.

In the end the bids were almost 2 to 1 in favour of Moscow with 39 votes to LA's 20.

Nations 80 (-12)
Competitors 5179 (-905)
Sports 21
Events 203 (+8)

19 July to 1 August, 1980 hosted by Moscow, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

and Paralympics 

Nations 42 (+10)
Competitors 1973 (+316)
Sports 12 (-1)
Events 489 (+42)

21 to 30 June, 1980 hosted by Arnhem, Netherlands

On 24th December 1979 USSR troops started to arrive in Afghanistan. They had seized military command of Kabul the capital by 28 December. But there was international outrage at this action, and the Games were less than 8 months away. The IOC decided to go ahead with Moscow hosting these Games a change of reaction to Tokyo being denied the 1940 Games before World War II broke out because of the Second Sino-Japanese War starting in 1938.

This resulted in a bigger protest than the 24 countries who boycotted Montreal in 1976 because of the New Zealand Rugby Team's tour of South Africa. Indeed the 80 nations was the smallest participation since the 1956 Games and those 65 nations that boycotted took 71% of the medals 4 years previously, the largest of these being USA, West Germany and Japan.

There were a further 15 nations who took part in the parade in the Opening Ceremony under the Olympic Flag or their Olympic Association Flag rather than their nations flag in recognition of the Olympic Truce but as an act of protest as the USSR's occupation of Afghanistan. Some of these nations had depleted numbers as some athletes refused to take part in the opening ceremony or some sports governing bodies had not sent teams as part of their national contingent. These nations were Andorra, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain and Switzerland. The Olympic Hymn was also to be used for the 27 occasions that these nations won gold, and the Olympic flag raised for their 76 medal performers.

New and New Identity

Despite more nations staying away that any previous games the magnetism of the Olympic family still managed to attract new nations to the Olympiad. This time Angola, Botswana, Laos, Nicaragua, Seychelles, Mozambique and Cyprus joined. There was also the renaming of now independent Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.

The Angolan men's medley relay team in the pool were the best placed of the competitors from the new nations. they finished 11th including the man who set the national breaststroke 100m record in the individual competition, he was known as Francisco Lopes Santos. If there were a contest for more diverse art Olympian Santos would probably pick it up.

He is known in the visual art world as Xesko for his paintings inspired by Dali (see left). To poetry lovers his is known as Elias Karipande and to fantasy and sci-fi lovers as the author Alan J. Banta.

Joining the Paralympics were two nations  Iceland and Kuwait, while South Africa were facing the first Games they were banned from because of Apartheid.

The Games of four nations 

1980 Olympic Sailing Venue
Although all the events were staged in the USSR of course that was a nation that ceased to exist within 12 years. Therefore locations were events were held during these games are now part of four separate national Olympic Committees.

With Moscow being landlocked the sailing of course had to head to the coast. In this occasion it headed to the Baltic Sea the third time that sea had hosted Olympic regattas after Stockholm and Helsinki. It was held in Tallinn now in the restored Estonia.

The football of course went to some of the great cities of USSR football including the stadium of Dynamo Kiev in what is now Ukraine and Dynama Minsk in Belarus.

Like a arrow to the top

Finland's Tomi Poikolainen had sat no higher than 4th on any of the first two days of shooting in the men's archery competition. 

On day one he had shot 536, behind USSR's Boris Isachenko on 560, Hungay's Bela Nagy 557, Giancarlo Ferrari ITA 544 and Vladimir Esheev USSR 546.

Day two saw Mark Blankarne GBR score top score of 618 (1152), Paikolainen managed 617 (1153), but staying ahead of him were Isachenko 615 (1175), Esshev 617 (1163), Nagy 605 (1162) however Ferrari with only 600 (1144) had been overhauled.

Top on day 3 was Dennis Savory of GB on 630 but he was already well down the scores the contenders were
  • Isachenko USSR 602 (1777)
  • Poikolainen Fin 623 (1776) -1
  • Nagy Hun 604 (1766) -11
  • Blankarne GB 612 (1764) -13
  • Esheev USSR  600 (1763) -14
  • Ferrari Italy 613 (1757) -20
It was all down to the final day and the closest range 30m targets.

Isachenko managed 675 (2452), Ferrari and astonishing 692 (2449), Blankarne 682 (2446) which was enough to lift him into a tie with Nagy who had shot 680. Esheev only managed  669. But it was the 18-year-old Finn who held his nerve to shoot 679 and win the Olympic title.

He was never to repeat his golden moment coming 5th in 1984, but in Barcelona he helped Finland secure the team silver medal.

Four divisions in Paralympics

The Paralympics in 1980 now devided competitors into one of four categories amputees, visually impaired, cerebral palsy and wheelchairs. There was aslo an addition of volleyball as both a sitting and standing event. Netherland's won the men's sitting and Israel the standing.

At the request of the Netherlands as host South Africa were not issued an invitation to take part in the 1980 Paralympics because of their apartheid stance. This brought the Paralympics in line with the Olympic movement who had operated such a ban since 1960.

Three time heavyweight champ

Stevenson in the white vest
László Papp Hun from 1948 to 56 had won golds at middleweight and then light middleweight. But in the ring at Moscow Cuban pugilist Teófilo Stevenson was bidding for his own piece of then unique Olympic history. He was going for a third consecutive gold in the same weight division, and it was heavyweight as well.

To have got that far he had already in 1972 beaten fancied USA boxed Duana Bobick who was a world title contender until he lost a fight to Ken Norton. In 1976 he also had beaten John Tate in a 1st Round KO, Tate had taken over former Olympic Champion Mohammed Ali's vacant WBA world heavyweight title at the end of 1979.

1980 as a result of the US led boycott was possibly his easiest gold medal in this weight division. But he was determined to fight on to the 1984 Games to prove he still has the best. In February 1984 he beat Tyrell Biggs who went on to become the Olympic Super Heavyweight champion in Los Angeles months later. Of course the Soviet Union led boycott of 1984 which Cuba followed denied him the chance of that fourth gold.

Jamaica don't run away with this medal

We all know that Jamaica are exceptional in athletics, but did you know that they have only ever won one Olympic medal outside the confines of the athletics stadium?

In 1980 they managed to show speed in something else.

At the velodrome in the men's 1000m individual time trial the 16 year old world record was smashed by gold medalist Lothar Thoms of East Germany. But all of the top six cyclists managed to break the mark as well. The surprise in third spot was David Weller of Jamaica.

Sub 15 minutes in the pool

The cheers in the Olympic pool were deafening during the 1500m men's freestyle. So much so that in the diving competition for springboard Aleksandr Portnov had a poor swim which under a protest about the noise he was allowed to retake.

The man the cheers were for was a Leningrad son of a sea captain Vladimir Salnikov. He had already become the first man to swim 800m in less than 8 minutes two years earlier. This was his second Olympics having come 5th in the 1500m freesytle in Montreal. Without USA or West German competition her would have to do something special to prove that he was the king of long distance freestyle. On 22 July he did just that.

The 15 minute mark for 1500m freestyle was equivalent to the 4 minute mile on the track, believed to be that milestone that just maybe could not be broken. Brian Goodall of the USA had been closest to it in the Montreal Olympics with 15:02.40.  However, with the home crowd cheering on as each 100m was close to or under a minute in duration the Soviet swimmer finally touched out on his 29th wall in 14:58.27, winning by more than 16 seconds in an all Soviet podium. It was a record he would lower twice more over the next 3 years but it was the record he would hold for the next eleven.

In Moscow he also won the men's 400m freestyle as well as being part of the 4x200m freestyle relay gold medal USSR team. In 1984 he could not defend his title due to the boycott. But in 1988 aged 28 he turned up in Seoul, many thought he was past it, it was two years since he had bettered his 800m world record and he was considered in decline. However, on the 25 September 1988 he almost became only the second man to swim under 15 minutes in an Olympic final when he touch out in 15:00.40. When he returned to the village that night he was greeted my a standing ovation from the other athletes.

Coe v Ovett

In this the year of the London Olympics it is impossible to mention the competition in the middle distance races. A competition between two men from the same nation one of whom is now in charge of the Games 32 years later.

Sebastian Coe was the fastest man over two laps of the track at 800m. He has set the world record of 1:42.33 the year before the Games in Oslo, only he would be able to beat that to 1:41:73 until 1997. He had also been the fastest man over 1500m until in the run up to the Games Steve Ovett took that off him at the same Oslo track, he had also been unbeaten over 1500m or the mile, including in heats, for 3 years.

The stage was set, Coe's favourite event was up first with the final of the 800m on Saturday 26 July. Coming off the last bend Ovett was on the shoulder of the Soviet athlete Nikolay Kirov and ready to strike but Coe had got boxed in down the back straight and had to slow down to get himself out of difficulty as was metres behind. When Ovett launched his kick Coe was still straining to make up ground, he made it past Kirov just before the line but his fellow Englishman was still a couple of metres ahead.

A couple of days later both men regrouped for the heats and Semis of the 1500m. Both men made the final on the Friday with ease along with a young 19-year-old from Wearside called Steve Cram. With about 2 laps to go the East German Jürgen Straub decided that the only way he would stand a chance was to up the pace. Coe followed him and Ovett kept his rival firmly in his sights. This time off the last bend it was Coe who would open up the sprint for the line, but the spirited East German wasn't going to give up so easily. What was surprising was that Ovett seemed to lack his normal finishing speed and in the end was unable to get ahead of Straub and had to settle for bronze.

Summer and Winter

In 2014 Russia will become the sixth nation to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics when the games head to Sochi on the Black Sea Coast, following on from France, USA, Italy Japan and Canada. 

Of course when Moscow held the Games in 1980 they were in the Russian Soviet Federalist Socialist Republic merely one part of the USSR. The next Games will come to Russia who were first in the Games in 1900.

See also my full list of posts about previous Olympics

Thursday 24 May 2012

Five Posts from Five Years at Five

Somehow I missed Caron coming up with the idea of posting about what she was blogging about at this time of year in each of the last 5 years. Thankfully Daddy Alex posted his list yesterday so I thought I'd play along with the meme.

Here is what I was saying on or about 24th May in:

  • 2011 It must be the time of year but I was blogging about objections to Lord's Reform on this time from Labour's Chris Bryant. I also did a pedant's check on Jim Allister's reciprocation in naming conventions for the other 26 counties of Ireland.
  • 2010 there was some disquiet amongst the Scottish Tories that they didn't seem to have anyone in charge.
  • 2009 The SNP were planning how they were trying to win the outgoing speaker's seat, Michael martin, but focusing on school closures. So I decided to point out how their concordat was delaying school building in some councils where the SNP were part of the administration.
  • 2008 I didn't actually post on 24 May 2008 but on the 26th I did do a round up post of what I would have said in a busy week. Disputes with the wording of Alex Salmond's independence referendum, Chelsea in the Champions League Final, a PM having rebels within his ranks over a key policy and looking to reign them in. Wow! What a week, didn't we just do all of that again. If so Lewis Hamilton to win in Monte Carlo at the weekend.
  • 2007 the blog was on a sabbatical so....
  • about 2006 instead. Rangers were in trouble. Can't help thinking that there is more deja vu UEFA were fining them for sectarian abuse during their Champions League run to the equivlanet of 25p per fan for the whole season's attendance. There was also mention of the Northern Ireland Secretary of State (yet more deja vu) but this was about the DUP looking at the obstacles to devolution.
I'm quite shocked to see how some of the same things I have seen in the news this week were also in the news this week in previous years!

Giro d'Italia Stage 18

With Joaquin Rodriguez winning the stage into Cortina d'Ampezzo yesterday Mark Cavendish is still in the maglia rossa (red jersey), just by one slim point over the wearer of the maglia rosa (pink jersey) there is one flat stage left and two on the mountains. So that crash caused by Ferrari may well prove vital in deciding where this jersey goes.

Today is the last flat stage before the final Time Trail into Milan on Sunday, indeed if anything it is downhill most of the way as we finish 900m further down than we start. There is just one thing that Mark has to do today to keep hold of that jersey at least for one more day, stay upright and win points. There is just 149 km of racing today from San Vito di Cadore to Vedelago. The last 5 km of straight and flat with no major bends on the run in. Sky will have to deliver Cavendish to the front at the right time, there are less printers around now, but they will need to keep him save from the number of have-a-go wannabes, who may not be used to going wheel to wheel in such a finish.

The one thing in Marks favour is that there are 29 points for the line in a flat stage opposed to 25 on a mountain. A win today would extend the lead to 30 points. It would mean that Rodriguez point opportunities are down to 25, 20, 16, 14, 12, 10 etc for the last two days in the mountains when others will want and have to take it out of him. Whether he marks his rivals or goes off after minor riders who can climb will determine the points competition.

But first Mark Cavendish has to win to make it exciting.

Summer Olympics 2020 XXXII Olympiad

I have been doing a series on the past Olympics but yesterday the International Olympic Committee announced the shortlist of candidate cities that had passed the technical audit and would be carrying on for consideration for the 2020 Games. Baku in Azerbaijan and Doha in Qatar both fell at this hurdle leaving three cities in the running.

First up is the bid from a first time national host with Istanbul. If they win it will be the first Games to straddle two continents just as the city itself does as venues are planned for both side of the Bosphorus. There would be four zones of activity around the city if they were successful. The Olympic village zone panned around the existing athletics track to the West of the City, where most of the new venues will be built. A coastal zone where an existing marina will host the sailing and a handball stadium also already exists. Down here basketball, judo and the cycling veledrome would take place as well as the triathlon and routes of the marathon and cycling road race will pass.

A Bosphorus zone featuring one of the football stadiums on the Asian side of the city near the port area where there will be the rowing lake, long distance swim, archery and beach volleyball. Rugby and weightlifting will feature just across the watery divide. The to the north there is a forest zone where BMX, Mountain biking, white water canoeing will appear along with the return of golf.

Map of Istanbul venues

There is a possible return to Spain with Madrid bidding for a return the nation 28 years on from Barcelona. Being the only inland venue the sailing will be the furthest of any of the three bids from the centre, but that is often an Olympic consideration, the events will take place at Valencia.

They plan four main clusters in two distinct batches around the city. The main Olympic park will be centered around Juan Carlos I Park to the east of the city near the airport. Here a large number of the stadia will be built or exist.

Out to the west of the city at Casa de Campo there will be two more clusters. The northern one will host golf, equestrian and modern pentathlon. While the southern one includes the veledrome, handball, beach volleyball and triathlon. There are some sports whose venues don't fit into the clusters Tennis will happen on the courts used for the Madrid Open to the south, further out is the rowing lake and marathon swim. The white water canoeing also happens down to the south of the city and the shooting at a range to the east. Judo and Taekwando happen near the city centre not far from Real Madrid's Bernabéu stadium that will host the football final.

Map of Madrid venues

Finally there is a little bit of recycling with the last bid from 1964's host city Tokyo. They plan to use some of the venues from when they were the first Asian hosts of the Games including the Olympic Stadium. Also up in what is called the heritage zone the road cycling will take place through the Imperial Palace's vast gardens.

There are plans for new Olympic Park down in the Tokyo Bay area where there are already some venues like the Ariake Tennis Park. The equestrian events will take place here in Sea Forest Park and the golf will take place down here not far from Tokyo Gate Bridge. Because of the situation of most of the venues in Tokyo Bay even the sailing marina will be in downtown Tokyo. Indeed apart from some of the other Football venues only Modern Pentathlon and shooting will be more than 8km from the Olympic village. It makes Tokyo the most compact bid and every Olympian will have a real sense of being part of the games.

Map of Tokyo venues
Next year the IOC congress will meet to award the Games of the XXXII Olympiad to one of these three cities.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Giro d'Italia Stage 17

Well I got yesterday's stage all wrong. The peleton decided to extend their rest day another 24 hours and let a group get over 12 minutes ahead of them when it was too late to haul that back. So in the end the 10 of them made their move on the final climb.

Today though is a day for the GC contenders.

It starts with a small hump, it might have been categorised in Denmark but not today. At the bottom of that descent is the first of today's two category 2 climbs, which takes up above 2000m at a relatively gentle start. Relative compared to what is to come on the other three climbs. But from them on if you aren't climbing sharply you will be descending sharply.

There are two category 1 climbs the first is the steep climb up the Passo Duran, the second the Passo Giau is followed by a 18km steep descent to the finish. So watch for the attack on the climb in the hope to get ahead and stay ahead on the way down. If there weather is wet there may well be spills on the way down as people try to get back or stay in contention on the run down into Cortina d'Ampezzo.

Blogged elsewhere: Secretary of State opposes marriage equality

"Together" for the national interest?
Maybe the Northern Ireland Secretary, Owen Paterson, has spent too much time in the presence of First Minister Peter Robinson and his DUP cohorts. Or maybe he was one of those very conservative Conservatives that David Cameron could foist upon Northern Ireland without upsetting the apple cart too much. Whatever the reason Mr. Paterson has become the first cabinet minister to speak out against the cabinet commitment to equal marriage.

In a letter to a constituent in his North Shropshire seat he wrote:

 "Having considered this matter carefully, I am afraid I have come to the decision not to support gay marriage." 

Read the full post on LGBT+ Lib Dems Northern Ireland

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Accreditation or time to move #LDConf into the 21st Century

So various Lib Dem committees say that they just have to allow police accreditation checks to let Liberal Democrat conference to go ahead. Do they have to or can we creatively think our way around this dilemma keep Lib Dem Conference liberal and move it into the 21st century.

Most of us who have working in a modern business environment know all about tele-conferencing. With Skype being readily available and used widely even images can be broadcast to delegates computers wherever they are. Most people have broadband or can gain access to someone who does fairly easily.

So do we actually need to meet in one hall to debate and vote on policy at all?

Speakers cards could be submitted electronically, and the chair and their aide may have to call speakers to stand by slightly early so that their webcam and microphone could be tested before transmission etc. All this could be chaired and managed from Great George Street and the cabinet ministers for their set pieces could either be in London or their constituencies or anywhere else for that matter. Anyone could see the feed an all speakers could speak from the luxury of their front rooms or studies. Think of the ability of those on lower incomes not having to pay for transport, food and accommodation.

Voting could be done electronically, we can already vote for our committee reps online with a unique code.
 If we allow a certain amount of time two to five minutes at a scheduled immovable time for a vote on a motion everyone should be able to vote electronically if they are an elected conference rep. You could even set up options that deal with every eventuality if amendments are accepted or rejected, so these options could all be voted for at the same time as separate votes for you, but confirmed by the system.

Some people will argue that some delegates will not be able to deal with such a change. But they could host younger or IT savvy members of the party for the period of the online conference who could set up and train them in how to use the new technologies.

The only people that would need to know anything about the identities of conference reps would be the party and probably Electoral Reform Services who would be carrying out the voting end of things.

Of course lobby groups would miss out on the chance to lobby us while they wine and feed us. But they could always use the successful conference call systems already utilised and these would not have to be in conference week but whenever they feel able to hold them. Questions could be emailed or texted or even put into Skype of MSN chat or alternatives in to the keynote speakers and the chair could then avoid the sometimes replication or irrelevant question that comes when you take questions from the floor.

Of course training would not be able to be done centrally. But the party is already starting to utilise and roll out some online training. This could also become something that is done on a regional level on specific weekends trainers could offer this to local delegates.

Sadly of course we lose the time networking the bars in the evenings, or over coffee at the conference venues or in the queues to fringe events or whatever. We'd also lose the chance to have a good old sing-a-long at Glee Club whatever our worries or disagreements to bring the conference to a conclusion. We'd miss the chance to go around the stalls in the exhibition, but think of the trees we would save and backs that wouldn't strain from all the freebies and brochures in our suitcases as we head off our separate ways after we've given the leader their standing ovation.

So yes there are some downsides from not having to hire a conference centre to hold a conference, but the business of deciding party policy doesn't have to give in to illiberal approaches to civil liberties. Indeed instead of the slim possibility of some action disrupting a unaccredited conference and costing the party a fortune we could actually save the party and delegates a lot of money year on year by not actually having to travel to one location. And think of the carbon we would be saving! Each rep would only have to offset their computer usage instead of flights, car, train or coach trips.

But we'd miss seeing our family. It is possible but it is a whole lot less sterile so don't give me the argument that this is about cost, that is b___s___ and FFAC know that.

Accreditation need not proven

When we were in opposition we had a leader who said:

"I will refuse to have an ID Card and to have my details put on the Register"

That was a principled stance. Made at a time when some were talking about bringing in compulsory ID Cards. It was a principle of civil liberties and having principles can be costly.

Look at that comment again.

Refuse to have my details put on the register.

Yet yesterday the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference Committee (FCC), announced that after seeking advice from the Federal Finance and Administration Committee (FFAC) that accreditation would take place for this Autumn's conference. This was despite and heated debate and motion passed by conference asking FCC to find alternatives to accreditation at last Autumn's conference.

FCC did 'consult' if you can call a one week deadline during the final month of a strenuous election campaign put out to readers of Liberal Democrat Voice only a consultation. Looking at comments and tweets at the time I know a lot of us went over  the arguments against accreditation once again as it appeared that we had not been listened too on the conference floor.

You see while tuition fees and the NHS can be issues we can devicive there are not issues that are inherently laid out in the preamble of our party constitution. But when it comes to fundamental freedoms that is a different matter. When the only argument being put up against us one of cost not of need. When the arguments for accreditation are rebutted as not reducing the risk but merely to met the demands of the police.

You remember the police who demanded 90 days detention without trial, but we fought them back on that and reversed things even from the 42 days they had already clawed out of Labour. Yes we can and have asked the police to give us reason to sacrifice civil liberties in the past. Some of us are still saying we need to do the same when it comes to our own door with party conference.

This argument from FCC, FFAC and Federal Executive is not proven. It is unsound, illiberal and undemocratic.

Giro d'Italia Stage 16

We are back after a rest day. Probably needed as much by commentators and fans after stage 15 and the finish.

Matteo Rabotinni (FAR) had attacked on the big category 1 climb of the day some 93 km from the end, but there was a small group between him and the peleton, but this included Damiano Cunego (LAM) who had taken the virtual lead on the road. On the final descent he had crashed on a slippery turn but got back on his bike and carried on. The peleton were closing in on Cunego and soon had defended the maglia rosa.

Eventually they captured this groupetto and there was just Rabotinni The on the final climb the gaps came down and with about 2km to go the attacks started to come from the main group. First Roman Kruezinger (AST) then Michele Scarponi (LAM). Then a group of four broke clear in the chase Joaquin Rodriguez(KAT), Scarponi, Rigoberto Uran (SKY) and Ivan Basso (LIQ).

But when Rodriguez set off on a final burst he went alone. He caught Rabotinni with about 500m to go. But the Italian wasn't going to let the Spaniard have it all his own way. He dug in got the wheel and then coming into the last bend he retook the lead he had held for over 90km and crossed the line for a spectacular win.

Today's stage from Limone sul Garda to Falzes/Pflazen is a medium mountain stage but with no categorised climbs.

Mark Cavendish has been contesting sprints when there are points available so depending on the situation up the road he may well be going for whatever is left at Ora/Auer. There are a couple of steeper kicks towards the end of the stage. The last of which is in the last 5km.

It is not impossible that Cavendish might still be with the peleton at the start of that climb. It is also not impossible that Sky will be able to get him to the top in a reasonable position. There is then a little over 2km to the finish.

 It is one of those days that there may well be a sprint finish and it will just depend what 'sprinters' are there. With more and more of them falling by the wayside including Matt Goss before the stage started on Saturday it is the sort of stage that if Cavendish in the maglia rossa (red jersey) can be with the head of the race at the top of the final kick he could stamp his authority on that competition with another strong performance.

I'm not saying that he will as that climb is steep in sections including a 12% gradient for a bit. But I do remember Cav shocking the field in the Tour de France with a sprint on after a climb to win one of his 20 stages so in the back of my mind there is an outside possibility of something like that today, as there is only one more flat stage, on Thursday, but three more high mountain stages he'll need to do something to keep the in form Joachim Rodriguez as bay in that contest.

Monday 21 May 2012

From Belshill to Belfast #GAWA

As regular readers will know I'm a big Livingston Football Club fan, indeed one of the things I find hard about being back here in Northern Ireland is not getting along to games and hearing the Drum Beat Mafia lift the Amber and Black army. Although even when I was supporting Livi at Almondvale I always smiled when I saw a St. Patrick's flag next to a player whether home or away in the match day programme Roar.

Of course the Green and White Army when they turn out for international duty at Windsor Park also have their drummers. There may even in the past have been a 4th Bangor Boys' Brigade drum performing that duty. So I was delighted today to hear that one time Livingston Captain James McPake has finally received a senior international call up, even more delighted when the Belshill born player would be turning out for the green and white army.

Now this does leave me with a slight dilemma as in the 5 seasons worth of match programmes next to his name during his 100 appearances in the SPL and 1st Division there is a Saltire. Do I get the tippex out and a red pen to replace it with St. Patrick's cross?

Now don't panic I'm not going to deface my collection, after all they are kept in files in clear pockets. Here are just three in which James featured on the cover. I'm looking forward to adding a Northern Ireland one with him on the cover to my collection of football programmes.

So I'm forward to cheering on James after all he has played for two of the clubs I could see the floodlights of from a house I've lived in (Coventry being the other).

So on behalf of the Green and White Army welcome to the squad James. Scotland haven't used him in senior internationals so their loss has been Northern Ireland's gain, I'm looking forward to seeing him in the 'right' green shirt.

Update was doing a little bit of digging about the three young players from 2004-2008 Livingston teams. Like James McPake, Graham Dorrans made his debut at senior level for Scotland against the Netherlands on 7 September 2009. The other full international from that youth team Robert Snodgrass was due to appear the following month against Japan but injury made him have to withdraw from the squad. So he ended up making his full international debut on 9 February 2011 against....

....Northern Ireland.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Giro d'Italia Stage 15

Sorry I've missed by previews of the last few stages, I've been a little bit busy in real live.

But on Friday on Stage 13 we actually had a broad straight finish for a flat stage. Matt Goss was getting the lead out towards the end and had the jump on Mark Cavendish. But when the sprint came to the left of the road Cav was boxed in, freewheeled for a couple of beats before the gap opened for him again as Matt Goss returned to the centre. He took the opportunity kicked again for the line and in the end won by a bike length. With only one flat stage remaining he leads the points competition by 31 points. Providing he can get over the Alps over the next few days he may well be adding the Maglia Rossa to the Maillot Verte and the rainbow world champs jersey inside 12 months.

Yessterday in the first of the mountain stages from Cherasco to Cervinia in the wet there was action on the climb up to Cervinia, there was a group of three up the road but then Ryder Hesjedal broke out of the group containing the contenders including Scarponi the defending champion and Rodriguez who was in the Maglia Rosa. Scarponi did try and get across but was pegged back by the rest, then Rodriguez also tried but he too fell short. At the line Hesjedal may have been 20 seconds behind Andrey Amador Bikkazakova who won the stage, but most importantly the Garmin rider was 26 sec ahead of the main group. It was enough to lift him back into pink.

Today's stage from Busto Arsizio to Lecco Piani dei Resinelli starts out fairly innocuously but then with 100km it becomes either uphill, or down. The first of these is the category 1 Valico di Valcava the only cat 1 on today's stage. But 14km of descent there is a bump that is uncategorised, before a category 3 then two category 2s including the final ascent to the finish.

With tomorrow being a rest day some of the GC contenders might be waiting to make an attack on the final 8km climb. Or someone might try their luck on the previous one which is 9km long. Somebody may well aim to leave everything out on the road today knowing that there is a day's rest tomorrow and a medium mountain day on Tuesday before the return to the high mountains on Wednesday.

Friday 18 May 2012

1976 Summer Olympics Montreal: XXI Olympiad and V Paralympics

The candidates for the 1970 69th IOC congress in Amsterdam hold the unique distinction of being the host Cities for the next series of Games without any new candidates coming forward to try their hand. Montreal, Canada who had lost out on the previous Games only came second in the first round with 25 votes behind the 28 gained by Moscow, Los Angeles the only previous host in the mix came third with 17.

When the Californian city was eliminated all but one if its votes went to Montreal giving them 41, the other didn't transfer and Moscow remained on 28.

This wasn't the first time that Montreal had bid for the Games and indeed  they were the first host city to have bid for both the summer and winter Games in the past to host a Games. As well as bidding for the previous 1972 Summer Games Montreal had been a candidate city for the 1944 Summer as well as 1932, 36 and 44 Winter Games.

Speaking of Winter Games the 1976 Olympic year also saw the first Winter Paralympics which had been held in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden earlier in the year.

Nations 92 (-29)
Competitors 6084 (-1050)
Sports 21 (NC)
Events 198 (+3)

17 July to 1 August, 1976 hosted by Montreal, Canada

and Paralympics

Nations 32 (-9)
Competitors 1657 (+653)
Sports 13 (+3)
Events 447 (+260)

3 to 11 August, 1976 hosted by Toronto, Canada

Montreal in Canada may have beaten the Moscow in the Soviet Union and Los Angeles in USA as being the non-superpower option at a time fearing a political backlash. The next two games of course were hosted by those countries as tensions did run high.

However, relatively neutral Canada was not totally immune. Twenty Eight African countries were outraged that the IOC had not banned New Zealand who had taken part in a Rugby Union tour of South Africa earlier in the year and refused to take part. Although as this protest only happened after the first day of competition Morrocco, Cameroon and Egypt had already taken part. The African Nations were joined in the protest by Iraq and Guyana, but Senegal and Ivory Coast were alone of the southern and central African nations not to take part in the Boycott.

Despite the boycott there were also new members of the Olympic family. Andorra having debuted at the Winter Games in Innsbruck earlier in the year made their Summer debut, along with Antigua and Barbuda, Cayman Islands and Papua New Guinea. None of these new nations in 1976 have yet managed Olympic success of any colour. Although two Olympians of note for these nations are Papua New Guinea's Dika Toua who in 2000 became the first women to lift a weight in Olympic competition in the 48kg category. She is also her nations most successful Olympian to date coming 6th in the 53kg class in 2004 and 8th in 2008. The other is the Cayman Islands Cydonie Mothersille who in her fourth Games in 2008 gave her nations best performance when she made the final of the women's 200m on the track. She came in 8th in that final but had won bronze in the 2001 world championships at the same distance.

In the Paralympics the new nations were  Burma, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Luxembourg and Mexico.

She was a perfect 1.00

 The limits of technology not human achievement were the story in Montreal Forum on 18 July in the women's gymnastics.

One of the favourites for all around success Nadia Comăneci came off the uneven bars in what looked like a very good performance. However, once the judges scores were in the scoreboards around the forum flashed up her competition number 073 and a score of 1.00. The crowd were initially stunned before they realised what the issue was. The maximum score that the boards were designed for was 9.95 having only three digits in the display. They had  just witnessed the first perfect 10 in Olympic competition. They weren't going to have to wait long to witness more.

The 14-year old Romanian would received 6 more perfect scores throughout the competition. Indeed on the uneven bars she was nothing but perfection. She missed out only on a medal in the vault and then missing bronze by only 0.025 marks in taking the individual all-around gold, as well as the apparatus golds for uneven bars and beam, bronze in the floor and helping Romania to silver behind the USSR in the team event. Nellie Kim (USSR) who was second in the overall almost managed a 10 in the vault for the all-around.

Five golds in ring

 The 1976 USA boxing team came away with five gold medals. However, when you hear the names of the men who won you will understand that this was one of the greatest contingent of boxers assembled under one flag at one Olympiad in history.
  • Leo Randolph the flyweight gold medalist won the WBA Super Bantamweight title with a technical knock out over in the 15th round over Ricardo Cardona in 1980. In his next fight he lost the title to a TKO in the 5th and retired from boxing.
  • Howard Davis Jr won his gold at Lightweight a week after his mother had died. Of the five medalists he alone failed to lift a professional world title. But not through lack of trying in 1980 he challenged Scotland's Jim Watt for the WBC title taking the champ the full 15 round before losing his first professional bout to a unanimous decision. He second defeat as a pro was for the same belt in 1984 to Edwin Rosario, it was the closest he came to winning the title as when he was floored with 10 seconds remaining he was leading on the cards, to lose to a split decision. He has one final attempt in 1988 but was knocked out in the first round by Buddy McGrit for the IBF light-welterweight title.
  • Sugar Ray Leonard won the light welterweight gold with unanimous decisions through all his fights. Just over three years later 30 November 1979 he won his first world title the WBC Welterweight belt, his first defense came in the venue of his Olympic success but his lost to Roberto Duran. However, in a return match he had the belt again 5 days short of the anniversary of him first winning it. He went on to lift WBC Light-Middlewight title holding two belts in different weights simultaneously. He went on to be undisputed Welterweight champion before in 1987 winning the WBC Middleweight title, then the following year the Light Heavyweight title before becoming the inaugural WBC super middleweight title.
  • Michael Spinks won the middleweight gold. He started his professional career with a 31 bout winning streak. Including in 1981 flooring the WBA light-heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa-Muhammad in the 12th before lifting the belt after a decision. In March 1983 two months after his wife was killed in a car crash he took on Dwight  Muhammad Qawi for a unification bout. Being undefeated at light-heavyweight in 1985 he challenged Larry Holmes for the IBF heavyweight title. Holmes was looking to match Rocky Marciano's 49-0 record but it was Spinks who made history becoming the first light-heavyweight champion to take a heavyweight belt. in 1987 he refused to take on the mandatory challenger and was stripped of his title and in the meantime Mike Tyson unified the world heavyweight titles. There was a clamour for the two to meet, which happened in June 1988. Tyson floored Spinks, something no other boxer had acheived, not once but twice in a first round victory. It was Spinks only professional defeat and last fight.
  • Leon Spinks the elder brother of Michael won the light heavyweight gold. In his eighth professional fight he was lined up as easy opposition for Mohammed Ali but on 15 February 1978 he became the only boxer to take a title of Ali in the ring taking the WBC and WBA heavyweight titles. He was also the first of the US gold medalists of 1976 to win a professional world title. But when he refused to defend his title against Ken Norton he was stripped of his title. Ali was lined up for the WBA defense but the older man took his title back. In 1981 he tried to wrest the WBC title off Larry Holmes, but the champion wasn't to lose that title for another 4 years to the other Spinks brother which made them the first brothers to both hold world heavyweight title.
Bizarrely the USA's bronze medalist in the heavyweight class John Tate was a third of that Olympic team that had been lined up to challenge Holmes for his world title. He had previously captured the vacant WBA title after Ali's 1979 retirement, although he lost it on his first defence. Therefore the class of 1976 was the only team of boxers to have three medalists who went on to become World Heavyweight champions.

Eastern European athletics domination

The women's athletics was dominated from behind the iron curtain. Only Annegret Richter of West Germany being the only women to take gold from outside that block in the 100m. Even that was a shock as she wasn't even the fastest women's sprinter from Dortmond, that was the eventual bronze medalist Inge Helden who had run 11.04 secs in the lead up to the Games.

In the end it had been a German 1,2,3 though West, East, West with Renate Stecher taking silver.

Of the 13 other medals in women's athletics East Germany won 9, USSR 2, Bulgaria and Poland one each. Those other golden girls:
  • 200m Bärbel Eckert GDR
  • 400m Irena Szewińska POL
  • 800m Tatyana Kazinkina URS
  • 1500m Tatyana Kazinkina URS
  • 100m hurdles Johanna Schaller GDR
  • 4x100m East Germany
  • 4x400m East Germany
  • Long jump Angela Voigt GDR 
  • High Jump Rosemarie Ackermann GDR
  • Shot Putt Ivanka Khristova BUL
  • Discus Evelin Schlaak GDR
  • Javelin Ruth Fuchs GDR
  • Pentathlon Siegrun Siegl GDR
Don't shoot I'll soon be Prime Minister

People in the UK know that the 1976 Games saw the appearance of Princess Anne in the three day event. She of course will never lead her country, meanwhile over on the shooting was a man who one day would.

Taking part in the clay pigeon shooting was a man who three years later would be elected to Japanese House of Representatives. He may have ended up tied for 41st position but 32 years later in 2008 Tarō Asō would serve almost a year as his country's Prime Minister like his maternal grandfather before him.

Let the women play ball

Women's basketball, handball and rowing joined the games.

7 foot Uļjana Semjonova USSR
towers over her Japanese
In the women's basketball there were high hopes for the USA women's team to start to dominate the tournament as their men had done until their final in Munich four years earlier. However, in the round robin tournament there was a shock when in their first game against Japan they were beaten 81-74. Their penultimate game was against the USSR who had already beaten Canada 115-51, Czechoslovakia 88-75 and Bulgaria 91-65. Unlike Munich 4 years earlier the battle of the cold war nations was never close with the USSR ending up winning 112-77. The Soviets went on to take gold with a final victory against Japan 98-75. At the next Games of course the USA didn't take part, but since 1984 they have only failed to return with gold one other time in 1992.

In Handball the USSR women again in a six team round robin went through their matches unbeaten. Their two closest games were against Hungary which was 5-5 at half time before the Soviet team ran out 12-9 winners. The Hungarians ended up in bronze medal position. The silver medalists were the only team to score double figures against the USSR being on the wrong end of a 14-11 scoreline.

Rowing also for the first time had women's events. But like so much else in 1976 this was dominated by Eastern Europeans. East Germany took gold in the single and quadruple sculls, coxed fours and eight. They only missed out in the double sculls and coxless pairs in both events to Bulgaria and in both securing the silver medal

Expansion of the Paralympics

Up until now the Paralympics had been limited to spinal injuries but in 1976 sports for the visually impaired and amputees appeared for the first time as part of the official programme.

One of these events was goalball played with a ball with bells in and tactile lines for the court so that the players can navigate around it. The first champions were Austria.

Shooting was also added to the Paralympic calendar J. Byrns of Canada winning the amputee mixed rifle gold as part not only of the expansion of sports but diversity of Paralympians.

Thank you for having us...but don't have any Gold

1976 was the first time that a host nation didn't win any gold medals at a Summer Olympic Games. Canada only won five gold and six silver medals.

Greg Joy in the High Jump may have been the closest to winning that illusive gold. At the height of 2.23m there were still four athletes in it. The USSR's Sergey Budalov failed his first attempt and passed on his other attempts at this height. The USA's world record holder jumper Dwight Stones had been clear until then but failed on all three attempts. Joy cleared the bar on his third and final attempt while Poland's Jacek Wszola added to his first attempt clearances with another one. At the next height 2.25m Wszola had his first failure, but Budalov had two more and was out meaning that Joy had the silver. His passed on his second attempt and the bar was raised to 2.27m just 4cm shy of Stones's World Record. Both men failed twice putting Joy out of the contest. Budalov was to have one final attempt at 2.29m but failed that too.

John Wood in his third Olympics picked up his only Olympic medal in the one man Canadian 500m. Coming in second (nearest to camera) he was 0.25 seconds behind the winner Aleksandr Rogov URS but was only 0.02 seconds ahead of Yugoslavia's Matija Ljubek. He had to paddle in the repechage after the heats after just failing to make the top three qualifying spots. Ironically he was ahead of Rogov in that heat when both were obviously saving energy.

In the show jumping Alwin Schockemöhle FRG had gone clear in both the competition rounds. So Michel Vaillincourt on Branch County found himself in a three way jump off for the medals with Debbie Johnsey GBR and François Mathy BEL to decide the minor medals.

He took out the first jump of the jump off, but remained clear for the rest of the round. He'd also completed in the quickest time of the three. With just the one fence down the Canadian took silver over the Belgian with 2 and the Brit with three down a refusal and time penalties missed out on a medal.

In the swimming pool Cheryl Gibson was facing an even greater near total dominance of the East German women swimmers in the pool than they had on the athletics track. The East German's won 11 of the 13 women's events, seven of them in World Record times and that included the 400m individual medley having missed out as third Candian in 5th in the 100 backstroke final. In the IM she was almost 5.5 seconds behind Ulrike Tauber.

Elsewhere in the pool it was the men's 4x100m medley relay team that failed to get within three and half seconds of the USA swimming a world record to take the final silver for the home nation. Only Graham Smith 4th in the 100m breaststroke and Clay Evans 6th in the 100m butterfly had made the individual 100m finals. Meaning that Stephen Pickell and Gary McDonald had not made an individual final so that makes the achievement all the more spectacular.

See full list of posts about past Olympics

Thursday 17 May 2012

Not a Crime for 30 Years #IDAHO in Northern Ireland #LGBT

Earlier today I  was at City Hall in Belfast and then later at St. George's Church for highlighting IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia).

This year in Northern Ireland we are celebrating 30 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland. This came into being some 15 years after the 1967 act removing the status of crime from gay men in England and Wales and 2 years after Scotland.

This was because of a five year case through the European Court of Human of Rights brought in the name of Jeff Dudgeon against the United Kingdom, and the subsequent debate on the Homosexual Offenses (Northern Ireland) Order 1982. As the keynote speaker of the day we had Jeff himself telling of the history leading up to that historic start of gay civil rights legislation coming in for Northern Ireland and he and others brought us up to speed as to where we are now.

One things of note in the 1982 debate is the language used and votes made by the Northern Irish members in the Commons. As was pointed out our local politicians have yet to bring any substantive home grown LGBT legislation into being, even civil partnerships came about because the Assembly was in suspension at the time and came to us via Westminster. We have MLAs and minister who are dragging their heels even today on the Sexual Orientation Strategy, on adoption of non-married couples because there is a L&G element as must as the heterosexual element, on the men who have sex with men blood ban, or equal marriage.

It was pointed out that while there is some progress in our political parties there is almost a built in veto in this area from one of our parties at Stormont. A lack of interest, lack of action, lack of coming to a decision that is making it hard for LGBT groups and advocates to take any stance because there is nothing to oppose except inaction.

It may be 30 years since homosexual acts were lifted from the criminal statutes here in Northern Ireland but we still have some way to go with equality. We are lagging behind the rest of the UK again because of this inaction on the part of some of our politicians. Some may table questions, but so far no home grown legislation has be brought forward in the area of LGBT issues. Even in the so called draft programme for Cohesion, Sharing and Integration what was evident was the omission of sexual orientation along with other minorities in a document that dealt only with sectarianism and racism; and then only to manage not to move away from this.

We are people. We are voters. We are Northern Irish and we can't be swept under the carpet any longer via antiquated 19th Century laws brought in when the island was united under Westminster rule. We need politicians who are able and willing to bring Northern Irish legislation into the 21st century using the facts to hand today not the preconceptions of the past that in some cases seem not to have moved on from this debate, apart from change in language.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Giro d'Italia stage 11

After Joaquin Rodriguez fast climb through the narrow streets of Assisi we have what after yesterday's medium mountain stage is a 'flat' stage with more climbs.

There is a category 3 at about half way and a category 4 11km from the finish as we head from Assisi to Montecatini Terme. However, while today is considered a flat stage it is another finish that may prove hazardous for the sprinters.

After scaing the last climb where there is a maximum gradient of 8.5% there is a downhill or flat run to the finish. However, within the last km there are sharp right, left and right again turns. The last of these being in side the final 500m once again like on Monday. Once again all the lead out trains will be trying to fight for the very head of the race round those bends delivering their sprinter in the place where he can get around that last bend without interference so that he can launch the perfect and winning acceleration off it.

My prediction is that there will be another spill in that last bend. I hope that both Matt Goss and Mark Cavendish avoid it this time and have another sprint between the two of them.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Giro d'Italia Stage 10

Yesterday's stage did turn into a sprinters stage but with that corner just before the finish causing problems.

Read into it what you will but the sprinters did seem to take two different approaches to the corner. Matt Goss appeared to slow and wanted to take a wider entrance into the corner while others were going in hot braking later in time to turn at the far crash barrier before reapplying the full pressure for the straight.

Whatever you views and I know I exchanged some via twitter with the Red Jersey wearer himself and a number of sports fans who unlike me hadn't tweeted live before the race was finished.

Today's stage is deemed to be a medium mountain stage. It is certainly lumpy on the way from Civitavecchia to Assisi today but the kick up the end is the only categorised climb. It may only be a cat 4 but it does go up very steeply all of a sudden in the final 4 km.

There is actually a double climb into Assisi although the first one does have slopes of a maximum 15% gradient leading up to 2.4km from the finish. The average gradient from 4km to there is 9.2%. This is where the field will really splinter. Unlike yesterday it will not be approaching that slope at sprinters pace because the sprinters will not be keeping up with events at the front.

There is then just over a km of descent before hitting a traffic island before the final climb at 1.2km, which goes through the city gate and a narrowing of the road and over cobbles. This may at 8.5% average gradient not be as bad as the first part of the ascent, but there has been littler recovery time between the two and so the leader to the line will have made whatever move happens on that first kick to be in a position to go for the line.

On Eurosport yesterday they were joking that a Francis or Frank or Francisco would have to be the winner in Assisi. In that case Frank Schleck (RNT) is the best placed of any of them in 9th. Francis de Greef (LTB) is more of a time trial specialist in 40th. Francis Mourey (FDJ) coming from a cyclo-cross background might fancy his chances lying in 62nd. Yesterday's winner Francisco Ventoso Alberdi (MOV) is more a sprinter. The others are Francesco Failli (FAR) and Francesco Chelli (OPQ).

Don't see a great deal of potential in fulfilling that prophecy from the Eurosport guys today, but you never know. There may be some divine inspiration from St. Francis of the ilk of the finish.

Monday 14 May 2012

Giro d'Italia Stage 9

Today's stage should end up a sprinters stage.


Today's stage should end up a late breakaway win.

There are two option as to how today finishes. First there is a kick up from just before 5 km to go. So someone who can open a big lead at that point could get away and negotiate the descent then the twist and turns into the finish.

The sprinters teams however, will be trying to maintain control of those breakaways from that final small kick up. But then there is the matter of getting their man to the front. This could be important as there is a sharp 90 degree left hand turn only 350 metres from the end. Just the spot where the sprinters are normally waiting to be released behind their final lead out. If someone goes in too fast at that point anyone could be affected by that and I could even end up like a Foinavon moment if someone near the front brings down the rest of the leaders.

Either was this stage will be worth watching for the finish.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Giro d'Italia Stage 8

As I said yesterday the Giro would not be won on the climb to Rocca de Cambio yesterday but some of the contenders did stretch their legs.

Defending champion Michele Scarponi (LAM) was one of the two who pulled away from the small remaining field on the last climb, however Paolo Tiralongo (AST) took the honours on the line.  However, the strongest ro react was Frank Schleck (RNT) was was only three seconds back for the final time bonus spot just ahead of Joaquin Rodriguez (KAT). Ryder Hesjedal (GRM) was a further 2 seconds down, Ivan Basso (LIQ) in a group of 3 4 seconds down with Christian Vandevelde (GRM) in the bigger group of 18 who were 11 seconds behind the leader.

The day's wearer of the Maglia Rosa (pink jersey) Adriano Malori (LAM) finished 11.28 down which means that Hesjedal takes the jersey and lead unto today's stage ahead of yesterday's stage winner Tiralongo at 15", Ridriguez at 17" and Vandevelde at 21".

Today we continue down the spine of Italy from Sulmona to Lago Laceno just to the east of Naples.

Similar to yesterday while it bumpy there are only two categorised climbs a cat 4 early on at Valico di Macerome before a category 2 climb of Colle Molella to 4km from the finish. So unlike yesterday which finished on the climb there could be 4km run in off that final Colle, there isn't a great deal of a descent it is mainly flatish from there to the line. If yesterday's cat 2 only led to an handful of seconds I don't foresee any opening of the gaps between the big guys unless they gain bonuses at the line. They will lie in waiting just watching each other waiting for the first high mountains next weekend.

The first Maglia Rosa of this Giro Taylor Phinney (GRM) finished again in the last group but with Dennis van Winden (RAB) but behind  the last man in GC Theo Bos (RAB). He is still almost 10 minutes ahead of Bos but currently is 189th out of 193 riders still riding.

Saturday 12 May 2012

Giro d'Italia Stage 7

Well yesterday certainly saw something rather unusual happen. The Maglia Roas (pink jersey) changed hands, that wasn't what was exceptional, but it is when you learn who it went to.

There was a break away over the undulations yesterday in the end five of that breakaway stayed clear. One Miguel Rubiano (AND) went solo on the last categorised climb and stayed away. But it was the group of four that pursued him where the interest lay. The best placed men in that group were Adriano Malori (LAM) and nine seconds behind him Michal Golas (OPQ) with time bonuses available for the first three any of the three could take the Maglia Rosa depending on the gaps and what time adjustments if any they picked up. In the end all three did pick up a time bonus. Rubiano needed either another 31 seconds of for the other two Alesandr Dyanchenko (AST) or Cesare Beneditti (APP) to take the bonues and 17 seconds more. So as it was the strange thing is the Adriano Malori ended up in pink for today's stage. Strange because in last years Tour de France in the ride into Paris he was the laterne rouge (last rider) in the race. Of course he'd already made amends for that in the Tour being the most compative rider on stage 6 last year, but now he is leading another of the grand tours.

Today's stage is another one where the sprinters will finish in a groupetto at the end of the race. Yesterday the last group 33mins 12 secs back contained world champion Mark Cavendish and the former Maglia Rosa Taylor Phinney.

There may only be two categorised climbs in the stage the first a category three and the second a category 2 but the second major climb leads the last 16 km to the finish at Rocca di Cambio. There is a possibility that this afternoon the GC contenders might stretch they legs to see what the others are like on that final climb. It is major being only a cat 2. But it may be a time to try to shake up the pack a little seeing as there are still 76 riders within 2 minutes of the lead. A little test of the legs of the peleton on that climb will probably show us who the contenders are and may show us who hasn't got the form.

Yesterday we lost Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar and Roman Feillu when the three of them climbed off their bikes and Pablo Lastras Garcia when he fell off his. Meanwhile Taylor Phinney in finishing with Cavendish has dropped from first in the race to 188th of the 194 still riding.