Friday 27 September 2013

David Cameron wants to award the wrong sort of married couple

One thing I've learnt from looking through my family history is that even when there was the so-called married for life example that David Cameron so insists on not all families fit into the model he is advocating for a tax break. Not every family is quite so clear cut as he makes out.

Indeed I don't have to go all that far back to find a family that doesn't fit into the remit of one breadwinner and one stay at home parent. My paternal grandmother was widowed with children of 14 and 9, she never remarried but went out to become the breadwinner and went without much that others took for granted. Both my paternal great grandfathers were widowed one with seven surviving children under 16, the other with two, both remarried and produced even more children.

But the fact that the prime minster wants to "send a signal" that marriage is better than any other type of relationship ignores those that have no choice:
  • Those who are widowed
  • Those whose partners are abusive and flee with the children
  • Those who are single parent families because one of the partners doesn't want that "better type" of relationship (or any relationship) when it brings them children
  •  families where even this tax break isn't enough to encourage one partner not to work as they need to make ends meet
  • families where neither parent is able to find work
It may only apply to one third of all married couples, but as I pointed out it is not necessarily the married couples with families that need such support, especially not when the caveat is that one of the parents is a stay at home parent. My own mother went back to work part time when I was 8 and my brother 6, and full time 3 years later as the family couldn't continue to maintain the Edwardian ideal of the mother staying at home.

Times have moved on and it is time that out tax code recognised that, not take a step back into the past.

See also check out the Don't Judge My Family website

1932 Winter Olympic Games: III Lake Placid

In the run up to London 2012 I did a series looking back at all the previous Olympics posting it at 5pm every Friday, I've decided to do the same in the run up to Sochi 2014 with the Winter Olympic Games. You can catch up on any you missed in the Olympiads Revisited tab.

The Winter Olympics like their Summer counterparts left Europe for the first time on their third edition and headed to the USA. Indeed if Melvil Dewey, inventor of the Dewey Decimal System for libraries, hadn't established the Placid Park Club in the area in 1895 and developed it as a winter resort as well from 1905, it may well have been the North Elba Olympic Games, but the people of the village changed the name to fit with the Country Club that Dewy had founded.

Competitors 364 (-100)
Nations 17 (-8)
Events 14 (nc)
Sports 5 (+1)

4 February to 19 February 1932 hosted by Lake Placid, NY, USA

The move from Europe did however see less nations sending teams to the Games and less athletes participating, much as has happened in the 1904 Games in St. Louis. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Yugoslavia didn't send teams from Europe, but Argentina and Mexico surely didn't have the excuse of cost, time and distance as a deterrent having travelled to Europe for the last Games.

The Games were opened by the Governor for the State of New York, where Lake Placid nestles, Franklin D. Rossevelt, in November of that year he was elected to serve his first term as President of the USA. As with the first Winter Olympics and the planned Games for 1936 and 1940 the Winter and Summer Games were to be held in the same nation.

Mass start dumbfounds the European skaters

A mass start at the Lake Placid Games
Speed skating at the time was done in two different ways, in Europe, as we still see in long course, it is two people against each other and the clock with controlled changing of lanes. Yet in the USA and Canada it was a mass start and every man (although women took part in a demonstration at these Games) for himself, much like the short track speed skating at the modern Games.

Whether or not the mass start affected events it is hard to tell but the All Around World Champion and defending 5000m Olympic Champion Ivan Ballangrud of Norway could only manage one medal, a silver in the longest event the 10,000m by only 4.5m having just passed Canadian Frank Stack towards the end. He was behind Irving Jaffe, who had been leading the 10,000m four years earlier in St. Moritz when the competition was abandoned as the ice on the lake where it was being held was melted. Jaffe had also taken Ballangrud's 5000m title.

In the shortest distance the 500m only Norway's Brent Evensen even made it through the heats to compete against an all USA or Canadian final. In the 1500m only the North American nations were represented in the final and Eversen and Ballangrud were the sole Europeans to break the USA and Canada stranglehold of representatives in the 5000m and 10,000m finals.

Indeed it was only another silver from Evensen in that 500m alongside Ballangrud's in the 10k that prevented all the medals either staying the in USA or heading just across the border to Canada. But not even Canada could stop all the gold staying in the USA.

In the 500m and 1500m Jack Shea became the first American to win two golds at the same Winter Games. He was also the the first of three generations of Olympians from his family, his son Jim took part in 1964 in cross-country skiing and Nordic combined and his grandson Jim Shea Jr was to win the gold in the men's skeleton when it became a permanent fixture in the Games in 2002.

Women speeders break unto the ice

Jean Wilson of Canada
Lake Placid was the first time women took part in anything other than figure skating at the Winter Olympics. although it was only in a demonstration capacity in the speed skating and only over three shorter distances 500m, 1000m and 1500m.

In total 10 women, five each from the USA and Canada took part in these events.

The 500m winner was the sole winner from Canada, Jean Wilson. She had actually been born in Glasgow in 1910 before her family emigrated to Canada. She also took silver in the 1500m and was leading the 1000m before a fall denied her a medal, Elizabeth Dubois who came behind her in the 500m taking that gold. However, after the Olympics she developed the auto immune disease myasthenia gravis and died on 3 September, 1933. 

The winner of the 1500m was Kit Klein of the USA, four years later at the World Championships in Sweden she was able to prove that women were capable of skating further than they had been allowed in 1932. She managed to take 10 seconds of the 3000m World Record in that event. The following day she was 36 seconds under the pre-existing World Record for 5000m only to have had Verné Lesche of Finland skate faster. However, Klein had secured the all around title, but as she was sailing back from Europe after the 1936 Games in which there was no women's speed skating she threw her skates overboard marking her retirement.

From swimming to skating

 Karl Schäfer winning the first of his Olympic titles
The winner of the men's figure skating, Karl Schäfer, was  competing in his third Olympics. He had just missed out on the medals in skating four year's before when only 18 but had gone on to Amsterdam to take part in the 200m breatstroke for which he was also a multiple Austrian champion. He missed out in the semi-finals while the Filipino swimmer, Teofilo Yldefonzo, who he had beaten in the heats went on secure his nations first Olympic medal with a bronze in the final.

Four years on having been unbeaten as European Champion since 1929 and World Champion since 1930 he was favourite to win in Lake Placid despite the three time Olympic Champion Sweden's  Gillis Grafström being in the field of twelve. Grafström was 38 to Schäfer at 22 and hadn't been tested in a major competition since his final World Championship in 1929. The younger man won both the compulsory figures and free skating with the Swede coming second in both to claim the silver medal in his fourth Olympic ice skating event, including the inclusion of figure skating at the 1920 Summer Games.

Schäfer would go on to defend his title in 1936 before retiring from competitive skating, having won the European title 8 years in a row, the Worlds 7 years and two back to back Olympic titles.

Four in a row, O Canada?
In white, the Winnipeg Hockey Club represented Canada

Yes I know this is only the third Olympic Winter Games but like Figure Skating, Ice Hockey had made an appearance in 1920. Since then the title had been the property of Canada and nobody apart from the USA had even managed to keep them within 5 goals of a difference.

As in 1920 when the Winnipeg Falcons took the first Olympic Ice Hockey gold, the Manitoba city provided the team to represent Canada, this time Winnipeg Hockey Club. In Lake Placid there were four teams entered with Germany and Poland making up the numbers with each team playing the others twice. 

The first and last Games were to be USA v Canada. In that first game Canada took the lead in the second period, but the USA scored an equalising goal in the third period of normal time. So for the first time in Olympic history Canada had failed to win in the time. It was also the first Olympic ice hockey game to go to overtime. Canada were the eventual winners with a goal in the second period of overtime.

With Canada and the USA winning all their other games it came down to the last game to determine the gold and silver. Germany had secured the bronze after beating the Poles in both their matches. Both teams scored in the first period but USA scored in the second, this was the first time that Canada had been behind in an Olympic ice hockey match in history. They did however, score in the third period to force the teams once more into overtime. Neither team could score in the two allowed periods of overtime, making this the first ice hockey match to be a tie in Olympic history. But it was enough to secure the fourth gold in a row for the Canadians.

Faster, longer, steeper

Lake Placid's first bobsleigh track
These are three words than can best sum up the Olympic Bobsleigh run that was purposefully built in Lake Placid for the 1932 Games. Studies were made by the Organising Committee of the best runs in Europe at Chamonix, St Moritz, Grindelwald, Mürren, Engelberg and Davos. They had surveyed a run with a vertical drop of 200m compared with 156m at Chamonix and 130m at St. Moritz.
In the end the Lake Placid track suited the American racers to a tee. Billy Fisk repeated his gold medal winning performance from 1928 driving in the now recognisable four-man event, while Hubert and Curtis Stevens (not related) took gold in the inaugural two-man.

However, the committee were looking ahead at single coasting events, whether toboggan or skeleton for the Olympics. In their proposal to the IOC (page 51)  they said:

"Single-sled coasting of various forms is, however, a feature on most bob-runs, and would seem to be an interesting and appropriate feature for the Olympic Winter Games. It is suggested, therefore, that if single-sled coasting be desired as a feature of the Third Olympic Winter Games, it be held on the Olympic bob-run, without restriction as to the exact form of sled. If the International Federation of Bobsleigh and Tobogganing desires a smoother, faster ice surface for the single-sled event, this can readily be provided by holding the single-sled event at the beginning of the Olympic period and re-icing the surface for the bobsleigh event to be held toward the close of the Olympic period."

In the end, apart from the return of the Games to St. Moritz and a second skeleton event on the Cresta Run there was no introduction of single-sled coasting events until the introduction of the luge in 1964 and the permanent inclusion of the skeleton from 2002. Putting the men behind the 1932 games 30 and 70 years ahead of their time.

Dogs have their day in Lake Placid

The only time dogs have taken part in the Olympics
While horses had made their sole Winter Olympic appearance in 1928 in skijoring it was the turn of dogs in 1932. Again it was only as a demonstration event that dog sledding made its appearance on the Olympic stage.

American and Canada were well know for their dog-sled racing coming out of the practical need to get around over the vast distances in the frozen north during winter. Lake Placid itself had been holding an annual race ahead of it being awarded the Games.

In the end the two top sledders of the day Canada's Emile St. Godard and USA's Norwegian-born Leonhard Seppala would be the class acts over the 40.5km (25.1 miles) course. The actual event was held over two days a fortnight before the Games commenced.

In the first run St. Godard had an advantage of just 91 seconds over Seppala both of them being some 13 minutes ahead of the rest of the field. Seppala however, lost a further 6.5 minutes on the second run when St. Godard was again the fastest.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Slaves delivering Qatar's World Cup

The fact that FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup would have been bad enough with the heat of the time of year it will be held and its human rights and LGBT offenses. But now it appears that the immigrant population that is building the infrastructure to host the event is being held in slave-like conditions.

Forty four young Napalise men died in a little over two months in June-August. They are not being paid and have their salaries retained to stop them running away. They are also not being allowed free water as their toil under the hot desert heat and are often left hungry as they work 12 hour long days. They also have their passports confiscated and not receive ID cards mean that their status officially is that of illegal immigrants, yet they are the workforce that is enabling Qatar to develop.

Will FIFA step in to this situation?

Sadly I doubt it, our world governing bodies are proving that while they are willing to talk to the talk about human endeavour and equality they are very reluctant to walk the walk when their decisions are found to have given their prestige events to someone who is not just less than perfect but so far from perfect that they should have known about the possibility in the first place of the controversy that would ensue. FIFA is probably not about to back heel the Qatar bid into someone else's net.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Banbridge Oktoberfest denied beer

Someone in Banbridge came up with the good idea of holding an Oktoberfest in Solitude Park. It would have brought people to the County Down town to sample beers and hospitality in a controlled way before the winter rolls in.

However, the puritans (AKA the Democratic and Ulster Unionist Parties) have stepped in to keep the temperance movement alive and well in the 21st Century and banned any temporary license to serve alcohol in the park for the weekend festival. Initially the DUP were against the whole event but Alliance, Sinn Féin the SDLP and two of the UUP group voted down the objections to holding the event. However, an Oktoberfest without any amber nectar defeats one of the cultural points of the festival.

DUP Councillor Junior McCrum said:

"We spent £1.5m on Solitude to turn it into a space for people to walk and enjoy the park without being subjected to verbal abuse.

"Does everything have to revolve around drink?"

Not according to  event organiser Neil Loy, who said that along with the beer tents there would be yodelling competitions, German singalongs, traditional Oompah-pah bands, a visiting performance from one of BBC's The Voice contestants and traditional German food such as bratwurst sausages from an open charcoal swing grill.

Maybe Mr McCrum should visit some places where there are temporary licensed outdoor premises, like the Christmas and Continental market in Belfast, Belfast Pride or similar. People still are able to enjoy themselves and the drinkers are disrespectful to others using the area. Indeed such events, as they often charge a premium for their alcohol are actually usually a better behaved crowd than you would see weekend in, weekend out in most of our town centres.

Earlier I'd called those unionist councillors opposed to this temporary alcohol license puritans. You'd almost expect them to stop dancing, Christmas or kids playing in parks on a Sunday. Of course there is one thing that the modern day Northern Irish puritan differs from his English forebears, unlike Cromwell et al, they don't want to get rid of the monarchy as well as jollity, enjoyment and fun.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Ed Miliband and the quest for power

So Ed Miliband's big idea should he form the next government is to freeze fuel bills for 2 years until 2017.

A grand headline grabbing pledge, but it is doable?

Remember that Labour have been telling us for the last 5 years that this current financial crisis is a global situation that had nothing to do with their slack regulation of British banks. Or not spending all the taxation revenue on vanity projects rather than dealing with excesses in public budgets or dealing with improving infrastructure, indeed shipping spiraling debts on the public sector as a result of Private Finance Initiative funding.

So unto the next big idea. Most of our energy in 2015-17 will still come from oil fired power stations. The price of oil is not set by Westminster, but by global markets. So what if there is another war in the middle east that will affect oil prices once again. How would Ed Miliband deal with keeping everyone fuel costs as they are? How would he fund a pay freeze under such circumstances.

He has promised not to renationalise the energy providers, so how is he going to enforce a cost freeze on these companies? This is a very grey area, especially as some of the fuel companies that operate in the UK are not largely let alone wholly owned within the UK. Surely the only lever he could operate over costs would be the taxes he levies on fuel, but that would reduce the amount that ends up in the Government coffers.

I'm not even going to address the fact that our energy companies are saying they will only have 2% spare capacity come 2015 and will be needing to invest in infrastructure, a question mark over where that money would come from if they are loss making as a result of Ed's bright idea.

So is this a workable idea? Or is it just pie in the sky?

Monday 23 September 2013

Bisexual visability day

Today is bisexual visability day. "Why do we need such a day/" you may ask, well too often the B is LGBT is an invisable part of the spectrum, yet I believe there are many shades of bi along that spectrum.

So have you ever wondered why you don't know more bisexuals around you? It is probably because they don't constantly have threesomes with one person of each gender but are probably in a monogamous relationship with someone either of the opposite of same gender. That is why they are not as visible as those who identify purely as straight or gay/lesbian.

That being said as I mentioned above there are various shades of bisexuality. I for example should probably identify as bi, my longest sexual relationship was with someone of the opposite gender. This occurred after I came out, lasted for over 5 years but is in a minority of one. Most of my sexual relationships/encounters have been with other men. Therefore for the sake of clarity I find it far easier to merely identify as gay, though this is only somewhere between 95% and 99.9% accurate.

The problem is that whenever someone who is bisexual and more equally homosexual and heterosexual a 3 on the Kinsey scale, their next partner could equally be of either gender. Depending how long the last relationship had been there will be people at work or socially around them who only know them as being attracted to one gender. This is something I experienced after that five year relationship, especially as I had traveled to Scotland early on in that relationship and had to establish new social circles.

Those who are more at the extremes of the Kinsey scale don't face the dilemmas that bisexuals face each time they change partner, potentially changing the sexuality of the partner as well. As well as all the usual pressures of going through the introduction of the new partner, there is all the added rigmarole of whichever way the partner swap appears to those who don't understand. Yes you can be attracted to someone merely because of who they are and not based on which sexual organs they happen to possess. Yes you can be sexually attracted and aroused by them. It is the visibility that is the issue, the world likes to think in terms of a plurality of sexual orientation, just as it likes to when it comes to gender. But neither are quite as straightforward as many would like to believe they can be. In truth there are varied shades of bi.

So there you have it for the sake of clarity on this bisexual visibility day I am stating that I am bi, though on the heavily gay end of the spectrum scoring a strong 5 on the Kinsey scale.

Friday 20 September 2013

II Olympic Winter Games: St. Moritz 1928

In the run up to London 2012 I did a series looking back at all the previous Olympics posting it at 5pm every Friday, I've decided to do the same in the run up to Sochi 2014 with the Winter Olympic Games. You can catch up on any you missed in the Olympiads Revisited tab.

In 1925, following the success of the week of winter sport in Chamonix, the International Olympic Committee decided that every four years there should be a Winter Olympic Games, entirely separate from the Summer Games. Chamonix was retrospectively called the First of these Winter Olympiads. As Amsterdam had already been selected to host the 1928 Summer Games they were given the first refusal to host what were now the Winter Games. But the lack of Alpine landscape and guaranteed cold weather meant that they turned down the offer.

Switzerland were approached and nominated three possible hosts. Davos, Engelberg and St. Moritz. At the 25th IOC congress is Lisbon, St. Moritz were chosen to the first city to host what was to be known before it took part as the Winter Olympic Games.

Competitors 464 (+206)
Nations 25 (+9)
Events 14 (-2)
Sports 4 (-2)

11 February - 19 February, 1928 hosted by St. Moritz, Switzerland

The new nations

The number of nations had increased by more 50% with these games now being an official part of the Olympic movement. The newcomers included the first Winter Olympic delegation from the Southern Hemisphere in the shape of Argentina, as well as Mexico, Estonia, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Romania.

Of the new nations only Germany managed to win a medal, although they had sent the largest delegation of competitors to the Games with 44 they only received a bronze in the five man (as it was at the time) bobsleigh. Argentina managed to finish in both 4th and 5th in the 5 man bobsleigh.

From gold to war dead

In that five man bob there was a young driver who at only sixteen was to be the youngest gold medallist in any event until 1992.

Billy Fiske was born in New York but was at school in France in 1924 when he came across the world of bob-sledding. Four years latter he was the driver of USA II who bet their compatriots in USA I by 1.5 seconds. Fiske drove his sled went fastest on the first run, but despite the other USA team going faster on the second of the two runs they were able to hang on to their lead, along with his teams mates Clifford, Grey, Geoffrey Mason, Richard Parke and Nion Tocker.

Four years later in his home Games at Lake Placid Fiske repeated his gold medal winning performance in the now four man bob, again with Grey, but alongside Eddie Eagan and Jay O'Brien.

He was invited to lead the bobsled team in 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, but he refused. Some believe that his refusal was because he didn't agree with the politics of Germany at the time. If so, that may explain why he was one of the  seven American volunteers to fly planes in the Battle of Britain. He joined No. 601 Squadron of the RAF on 12 July 1940 after completing his pilot training. On 16 August 1940 along with the rest of the squadron he scrambled from Tangmere in his Hurricane fighter, but after just 15 minutes of flying time a German gunner put a bullet through his fuel tank.

With his hands and ankles badly burnt and his aircraft damaged he headed for home, glided his aircraft over the hedgerow at the edge of the airfield and landed. Although he had to be extracted from the plane by ambulance personnel. Shortly after his fuel tank exploded. He died the following day in hospital in Chichester, and for his funeral his coffin was covered in both the Union Flag and Stars and Stripes. He received the 1939-45 Star with Battle of Britain clasp posthumously. Although he was not the first American born pilot be killed in action, he was the first who was still fully a American citizen and there is a memorial to his service in St. Paul's Cathedral what was unveiled on 4 July 1941.

Finally arrived four years late

4 years late Burmeister
Estonia's flag had flown at the start of the 1924 Games the one representative they were meant to have sent Christfried Burmeister to take part in the speed skating. He was withdrawn by the federation although as the Estonian sports officials did not tell the Olympic organisers their flag still was present at the 1924 Opening even though they did not actually take part. 

In 1928 Burmeister was joined by his fellow countryman Aleksnader Mitt in the speed skating events. Burmeister was the better placed in the shorter events 15th in the 500m and 18th in the 1000m, to Mitt's 22nd and 19th positions. But in the 5000m Mitt who was 5 years younger was better placed coming 21st three places better than Burmeister. The 10,000m didn't take place due to the ice on the outdoor lake on which the event was being held melting too much.

Mitt would return in 1936, Estonia did not send a team to the 1932 Games, which would be the last time that Estonian winter sports men would take part in a Winter Olympics under their own flag until 1992 after the break up of the USSR.

Four years older now the darling of the Games

 In 1924 an eleven year old from Kristiania, by now back to older name of Oslo, made her Olympic debut. She had been last of the eight women in the figure skating then, having to skate over to the side of the rink
 during her routine for directions from her coached. Four years on she had come of age.

Sonja Henie had won the world championships the previous year, when she was 14 the first of her unprecedented ten. It was a split decision on the scoring system of the time 3-2 over the defending Olympic and World Champion Herma Szabo of Germany. Then the three judges who placed Henie first were all Norwegian and the Austrian and German judge had placed Szabo first.

Now at fifteen there was to be no doubt the judges were from Norway, France, GB, Belgium, USA, Austria and Germany, although Szabo did not take part to defend her title. But Henie came first in both the compulsory figures and free skating and finished some distance clear of the battle of the minor medals. While she had a 200 point margin there was only 40 points separating 2nd to 5th. Fritzi Burger of Austria won silver because of better judges placings than Beatrix Loughran of the USA who had scored more points.

Henie would go on to defend her title in 1932 and 1936, Burger would have to look up to her on the top step again in four year time with a second silver.

Clean sweeps in cross-country

The Cross County skiing had two events over 18km and 50km and in both there was one country that stood on the podium, though not the same country for both. In the shorter event it was Norway and the longer discipline saw the Swedes take Gold, Silver and Bronze. In fact such was the Nordic dominence in the event that only Otto Wahl of Germany managed to break in amongst the Norwegians, Swedes and Finns in the top 10, doing so in the 50km.

Johan Grøttumsbråten
Johan Grøttumsbråten won the 18km in 1 hour, 37 minutes and 1 second a full two minutes ahead of his fellow countryman Ole Hegge. This was an improvement on his silver from four years previously, that year he also managed bronze in the 50km and Nordic Combined. He was to go on and complete a double in St Moritz winning the Nordic combined, in another Norwegian 1-2-3. In 1932 he would repeat his success in the 18km. 

In the 50km Per-Erik Hedlund finished 13 minutes 27 seconds ahead of fellow Swede Gustaf Jonsson who by comparison was a mere 16 seconds ahead of Volger Andersson. The margin of victory by Hedlund has never been beaten, nor has anyone come close to it. In these games in wore a white ski suit and a red had this was to be the uniform of Swedish Nordic skiiers until 1976, before they adopted the traditional national colours of blue and yellow.

When in St. as the Cresta runners do

The Heaton brothers
The resort of St. Moritz is famous for its Cresta Run and the daredevils who go down it head first. Indeed Billy Fiske (see above) is one of the champions whose name appears on the board in St. Moritz. So of course the skelton was to appear as an Olympic sport on the famous Cresta Run on both the occasions the Games visited St. Moritz, the other being 1948. It wasn't to become a permanent part of the Olympic calendar until 2002.

The USA were represented by two brothers Jennison and John 'Jack' Heaton, their main challenger came from GB's David Carnegie, 11th Earl of Northesk. Jennison was the older of the brothers by 4 years and had been the driver of USA I in the five-man bob which had lost out to Friske, but on the Cresta run over three runs his aggregate time was 1 second faster than his younger brother. Carnegie ended up a further 2.3 seconds back in bronze.

Jack was to appear in two further games in 1932 he was the driver of USA II in the two-man bob taking bronze and when the Games return to St. Moritz in 1948 he took part again in the skeleton and yet again took silver.

Demonstration events

Once again there was military patrol, the forerunner to the modern event of biathlon, though instead of having full Olympic status was reduced to a demonstration sport. Yet again it was exclusively for military personnel. It was won by four Norwegians who had a interesting diversity of participation in the Olympics. One of their number Ole Reistad was making his second Olympic appearance having already taken part in the Modern Pentathlon at the 1920 Summer Games, coming 14th. Reidar Ødegård was to also take the bronze medal at these Games in the 18km Cross Country skiing. Another of their team Ole Stensen would go on to take silver in the Nordic combined at the 1932 Winter Olympics.

Skijoring on the lake at St. Moritz
As well as the military patrol there was another demonstration sport at the Games that was making its sole appearance.

The sport of skijoring involves people on skis being pulled behind dogs, horses or some mechanised device. It had developed as military discipline and sport as it was used for speedy military dispatches. For the Games in St. Moritz it was held on a frozen lake with all the competitors starting en masse, without any jumps or obstacles on the course as happens now in similar events in North America. It turned a clean sweep for the host nation Switzerland. 

Top of the pile

Norway only had 25 athletes at these Game but were top of the medal table securing 15 medals in total. 6 Gold, 4 Silver and 5 Bronze. Along side Sonja Henie and Johan Grøttumsbråten's double, there were golds for Alf Andersen in ski jumping and in speed skating for Bernt Evensen 500m and Ivar Ballangrud 5000m. 
Evensen completed a full set of medals with silver in the 1500m and bronze in the 5000m. Ole Hegge and Reidar Ødegård came behind Grøttumsbråten in the 18km cross country skiing and Hans Vinjarengen and John Snersrud completed the other sweep of medals behind Grøttumsbråten in the Nordic combined. The other silver was Sigmund Rund in the ski jumping with speed skaters Ballangrud and Roald Larsen completing the haul with bronzes in the 1500m and 500m respectively.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Lembit, Brent Central and women only short lists

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Back in the real world. Well the one where I no longer am looking at how I can get called to speak in a debate at party conference I have decided to handle the three big issues that Lib Dems have been discussing since they emerged into the Glasgow sunshine (where had that been all week) inspired by Nick Clegg's words.

The first I'd heard rumours of from within the SECC was that Lembit Öpik has written that he is considering throwing his hat into the ring for Brent Central. But in an article in which he decries dissent at party conference (I was there, there was some from the floor) and a fall in membership turning up (did anyone spot Lembit himself) it seems a bit much.

But Lembit standing for Brent Central fails to address another problem within our party the lack of female MPs.Ed Davey has said that the party should revisit the issue of women only short lists after the 2015 election to resolve that issue. 

Now women only shortlists work for Labour and their A-list partially worked for the Conservatives (although anyone remember A-lististo Louise Mensch) because they have something Lib Dems don't have in abundance; safe seats. I also think Ed is a bit premature in deciding what the party does after 2015, that is the year that our leadership programme is having its first test at, simultaneously at the same time as the party is having its first test as a party of Government. 

So where does all this leave us as Lib Dems?

Well frankly to deal with Lembit considering stepping back in Westminster I'm minded to make Brent Central a women only short list, but I fear that may not be enough to stop Lembit and he will announce he is going to transition. 

Footnote: The author in no way endorses the use of women only short-lists, does all he can to encourage good women candidates to become MPs, even being a member of Liberal Democrat Women. Now does he endorse using a method to stifle local party democracy merely to blog 'troublesome' candidates. This is a satirical piece based around real issues, it appears that some readers less familiar with my style and believes have been confused.

Dear Vlad, there are Gay criminals too

Now while most of the western world are aware of the corruption and sexual offenses that Silvio Berlusconi faces it seems bizarre that Russian President Vladimir Putin should jump to such an unusual defense of his friend:

"Berlusconi is on trial because he lives with women. If he was homosexual no one would have lifted a finger."

Now I have a lesson for Mr Putin, not every gay man, or lesbian woman or anyone who is bisexual or transgender is a law abiding citizen. Believe it or not these do face persecution based on the facts of the case just as any heterosexual would do. When the laws are equal and the charges have nothing to do about the person's sexuality the LGBT community expect justice to be carried out. It may be a case of domestic violence against a same-sex partner, or a fellow clubber. Or it may be corruption charges or grooming minors into sexual activity.

Not everyone is perfect, yet the law of the land should be equal to everyone no matter what their sexuality. However, what many nations believe is that when a nation, such as Russia, makes a law that criminalises someone merely on the grounds of their sexuality or by "promoting" it that is not fair, and people will raise fingers to prevent that happening.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

The cost of the DUP's institutionalised homophobia

Most of the UK is aware of the austerity measures that are being imposed on them due to the financial issues we have faced since 2008. Cuts have been made to excessive and unnecessary spending in a whole manner of issues. Tough decisions have been made about what front line services are to be kept and front line services like education and health are afforded protection.

However, in Northern Ireland the Minister for Health has been using his limited, if protected budget, on the institutionalised homophobia. I am not mincing my words on this as I have called the way that the DUP have gone about preventing the LGBT population of Northern Ireland having the same rights as their peers in the rest of the UK is just that.

Earlier this week we heard that after the High Court in Belfast has found that excluding some would-be parents solely on their relationship status narrowed the pool of potential adopters and could not be in the best interests of children. Edwin Poots however was not happy after all the legal fees he had spent on fighting this, which came out of the Health Department's budget, and will be spending even more on Lawyers as he takes the matter of same sex couples adopting in Northern Ireland to the Supreme Court of the UK.

There is a certain irony here as the Health Minister had called for an all Island approach to adoption, and is taking it to the Supreme Court of the jurisdiction where there already is just what the High Court in Belfast have said. In all likelihood the Supreme Court will uphold the right of UK citizens to have the same rights as all the others, so will that mean more money being thrown after the £40,000 he has spent on this already.

Then yesterday the Belfast Telegraph reported that combined with the legal advise to prevent the lifting of the lifetime ban on men who have had sex with other men his total legal costs so far are £100,000.

The below are the answers received last week, costs are exclusive of VAT.

Sunday 15 September 2013

F17 Alternative Motion: Protecting Children from High Street Coffee #talknottech #ldconf

Lib Dem conference is going to be debating Protecting Children from internet pornography. However, over a coffee decided to slightly reword the motion based on something close to hand.
Conference welcomes the fact that:
A.Caffeine has the power to transform our society by empowering citizens, improving and extending
services, and enabling innovation.
B. It is vital both for our economy and our society that we teach children how to use caffeine from an
early age.
C. Liberal Democrats have a long tradition of protecting free speech and the right for adults to make
informed choices about their own caffeine habits.
However, conference believes that:
i) It is the role of government to protect those too young to make an informed choice from potentially
damaging experiences wherever possible.
ii) The long term effects on young minds of early exposure to often strong and highly-caffeinated blends is
highly damaging to impressionable young people and may significantly alter their attitudes to sleep and drink.
iii) The growing danger of children accessing high street caffeine is of increasing concern to parents,
teachers and children’s organisations.
iv) In addition to the problems posed by high street coffee shops, there are also significant concerns about other caffeine access points such as supermarkets and canned drinks that often actively target young people.
Conference notes:
a) That the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has recently found an increase in the number of cases of children sleep deprived from over consumption.
b)The increasing number of cases of children being bullied or coerced into sampling caffeine drinks by their peers.
c) That the National Association of Herbal Tea Manufacturers has found that nine out of ten parents want a default setting on coffee machines to be a single shot.
Conference therefore calls on the Government to:
1. Work with the coffee retails industry to introduce coffee filters to explicit excessive caffeine on all new caffeine-enabled coffee devices.
2.Ensure that those adults wishing to drink extra-strong caffeine material should be required to opt in to machines containing such extra strength by providing verifiable proof of age.
3. Work with Caffeine Service Providers (CSPs)  to police actively their platforms and filter out
explicit caffeine which is currently easily accessible to children.
4.Support parents to take a more active role in how their children use caffeine and to understand the
risks involved.
5.Ensure that teaching about the dangers of coffee and the distorted view of caffeine provided by
coffee shops forms part of drink education teaching.

Friday 13 September 2013

I Olympic Winter Games: Chamonix 1924

In the run up to London 2012 I did a series looking back at all the previous Olympics posting it at 5pm every Friday, I've decided to do the same in the run up to Sochi 2014 with the Winter Olympic Games. You can catch up on any you missed in the Olympiads Revisited tab.

The 1924 Summer Olympics were to he held in Paris, France. In the 1908 and 1920 Summer Games Figure skating had featured and in the 1920 Ice Hockey had also taken part. In 1921 the decision was made to have Semaine Internationale des Sports d'Hiver (International Winter Sports Week) at Chamonix as part of the Paris Games.

Although the idea of a Winter Sports Week associated with the Olympics was not a new one. It has first been put forward for 1912 as part of the Stockholm Games, but was turned down by the hosts as there already was the multi-event Nordic Games first held in Sweden in 1901, which would continue to run until 1926 with only one of the eight held outside Sweden; Norway 1903. There was meant to be a Winter Sports Week in 1916 when speed skating, figure skating, ice hockey and nordic skiing would have taken place at a German winter sports venue, but the war intervened.

Nations 16
Competitors 258
Sports 9
Events 16

25 January to 5 February, 1924 hosted in Chamonix, France

The original nations to take part in what were to become the Winter Olympics were:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Great Britain
  • Hungary
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Switzerland
  • Sweden
  • United States
  • Yugoslavia
The nine sports that were represented being bobsleigh, curling, figure skating, ice hockey, military patrol (aka biathlon), nordic skiing and speed skating. Perhaps surprisingly to us today the Alpine Skiing wasn't to feature until 1936.

First gold...

Winner of the First Winter Olympic Gold Medal
On the second day of the Games the first gold medal was awarded in the 500m speed skating.

The winner of that first gold was a native of Lake Placid a two time Winter Olympic host and the only non-Nordic medalist in the speed skating. His name was Charles Jewtraw.

However, the other medals in speed skating went to Norway or Finland. But it was the Finns that took the other 4 gold medals and one Finn took home a medal in all 5 events.

Clas Thunberg from Helsinki had come tied in third in the 500m, but took gold in the 1500m and 5000m and silver in the 10,000m. As a result of his performances in the four events he was awarded the all-round gold medal as well based on his finishing positions. He took a further two golds in the 1928 Games at 500m and 1500m.

First female Winter Olympic Gold medallist
Unlike the Summer Olympics where women first competed in 1900 (and then only in golf, tennis and croquet) the Winter Olympics had female participation from the off, although only in the figure skating. 

The first female gold medalist at the Winter Olympics was therefore in the ladies individual.  The only competitor in Chamonix who had Olympic experience was Theresa Blachard (née Weld)  from the USA who had won the bronze medal in Antwerp. However, she was to finish just out of the medals in 4th (something she had done with partner Nathaniel Niles in the pairs 4 years previously). 

The winner was Austrian skater Herma Szabo, with the first female silver and bronze medalists being Beatrix Loughran (USA) and Ethel Muckelt (GB).

However, the 11-year-old skater who came 8th and last is the one that most people remember. Her name was Sonje Henie and the Norwegian would go on to win gold at the next three Olympics.

The defending Summer Olympic Champions

There were two champions in winter sports defending their titles at these first Winter Olympics. The first to complete their competition was Gillis Grafström of Sweden in the men's figure skating. On the sixth day of the Games he entered the history books as the first champion to retain his title in the Winter Olympics.

The other champions from the 1920 Summer Games were Canada in the Ice Hockey. They soared through their group scoring 85 goals in the three games against Czechoslovakia (30), Sweden (22) and Switzerland (33) without conceding one. In the final round robin round they dropped 2 against Great Britain, but scored 19 and another against USA but scored 6, in the tightest game they faced in their defense against the only team that looked to be on a par with them.

The First Olympic Bobsleigh

Nine sleds from 5 nations took part in the inaugural Olympic bobsleigh. Two each from France, Great Britain, Italy and Switzerland with a single sled from Belgium. 

The equipment was very different from what we will see now; an open sled, the team wearing woolen jumpers and leather hats for protection. Even the run was different with snow laid up to form bends without the concrete structures and freezing pipes we know today. There was also a rolling start rather than the run.

In the end the gold was won by the Swiss team of Alfred Neveu, Eduard Scherrer, Alfred and Heinrich Schläppi, Grat Britain came second and Belgium third. The Schläppi brothers would be the co-Presidents of the first post war Winter Olympics in 1948 at St. Moritz.

Military Patrol aka Biathlon

Like the Modern Pentathlon in the Summer Games there was an event that started out purely as a military competition. Although in this case it wasn't to be the official Olympic event of Biathlon until 1960.

Six nations had sent teams of 4 to compete in the event which combined cross country skiing and shooting, Czechoslovakia, France, Finland, Italy, Poland and Switzerland. Each team consisted of one officer, one NCO and two privates, the officer would carry a pistol and not take part in the shooting, the NCO and privates would also carry backpacks with a combined weight of 24kg. The course would include between 500m and 1200m of climbing, therefore trying to replicate the conditions of a patrol out in the snow.

There was bad conditions on the course on 29 January when the event took place and the teams from Italy and Poland failed to complete the course. But the first winners were Switzerland Dennis Vaucher, Alfred Aufdenblatten and brothers Antoine and Alphonse Julen.

The fifty year long error

The Ski jumping in the first Olympics was dominated by the Nordic nations, indeed initially it was announced that Norway had won all three of the medals. 

The event took place at Le Mont and the K point of the hill at that time was at 71m. The winner was Jacob Tullin Thams, who would later win a silver medal in the 8m class for sailing at the 1936 Summer Olympics. In second was this compatriot Narve Bonna and the initial third place went to another Norwegian Thorlief Haug. 

However, in 1974 and error in the calculations in those Games realised that the bronze should have been award to the USA's jumper Anders Haugen; although as he was born in Telemark*, Norway really another Norwegian. The error had been spotted by a Norwegian sports historian Jacob Vaage at the 50th anniversary reunion of the Norwegian team. Therefore on 12 September 1974 an 86 year old Haugen was presented with that Bronze medal by Anna Maria Magnusson, Thorleif Haug's youngest daughter.

Haug who had died in 1934 probably wouldn't have been too upset, he had three gold medals from those Games in 18km and 50km Cross Country and the Nordic Combined.

In total the top five jumpers in the first ski jump contest had all been born in Norway.

Great Britain's best Winter Olympics

The GB Curling team on their way to gold
The 1924 Games are still Great Britain's best ever in the Winter Olympics. Bronzes were secured by Ethel Muckelt in the women's figure skating and the Men's Ice Hockey (there was no women's until 1998). The British four-man bob of Ralph Broome, Thomas Arnold, Alexander Richardson and Rodney Soher took silver. But it was in Curling that GB won their first winter Olympic gold medal.

The curling team father and son William and Laurence Jackson, Thomas Murray and Robin Welsh won the gold medal match. All four were members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and Welsh in 1895-6 had played four times for Scotland in Rugby Union. It was skipped by William Jackson in the final, but there were four other members of the team John Robertson-Aikman, John McLeod, William Brown and Major D.G. Astley. The last of these Major Astley played for Sweden in their silver medal play off match against France those winning a gold and silver medal in the same event. However, until 2006 the 1924 Curling event was deemed by the IOC to be only a demonstration event.

But No gold for the hosts

Since the first Summer Olympics in 1896 every host nation had taken first place, and since 1904  gold, in at least one event. However in Chamonix the French failed to follow suit. They came away with only three medals all of them bronze in the curling, pairs figure skating and military patrol. Though it could have been worse as the Curling medals were only awarded in 2006 after the event was recognised as an official part of the programme.

* Telemark is the region of Norway that gives it name to characteristic Telemark landing with one foot in front of the other that all ski-jumpers must land to receive maximum style points.

Saturday 7 September 2013

Tokyo 2020

So we are off to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

Here is the final presentation video.

They have a very compact vision for the Games with 85% of all venues being with 8km of the Olympic village located in the old harbour area of Tokyo Bay. Even the sailing will have the novelty of being close to the heart of the Olympics. With cycling taking place within the Imperial Palace Gardens and the 1964 Olympic Stadium being renovated to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup as well as the Opening and Closing ceremonies as well as Track and Field.

But it is the harbour area of Tokyo that already hosts some world class sport facilities that will see many more get developed in what is going to be a very compact Games.

And the Games of the XXXII Olympiad are awarded to...


Voting is about to get under way.

 After a tie in round one Istanbul secured 48 to 46 by Madrid to proceed to the final round against Tokyo. 

The votes have been counted and we are now just awaiting the official announcement on the hour.