Featuring yoga for wrestlers, the most avoided man in boxing, an athlete opening up about doping culture, an MMA fighter with one arm, a Reading fan in exile and a collection of maps
1) Reading Football Club is fundamental
Jacob Sundstrom is a true football fan. He had never been to Reading and did not know they played in the Championship (or indeed, that the Championship is different to the Premier League, and that English football has promotion and relegation between divisions), before he picked his team, but he is dedicated to Reading Football Club. He pays the princely sum of $7.56 a month for his subscription to BBC Berkshire, which he tunes into weekly to hear live commentary from their games.
Jacob’s Saturday morning routine, which he details here in The Classical, sounds maniacal: “Get up at 6am, make a pot of coffee, shower, and put on my Reading shirt. I may be sitting on an Ikea couch with a cup of store-brand coffee – I am, as it turns out – but it’s the little things that make the experience more authentic. Or as authentic as listening to a football game on the Internet at 7am from 5,426 miles away can be, anyway. I delay my Twitter feed a couple of minutes so I can keep up with the half-dozen Reading fans and media members I follow without exposing myself to spoilers.” That’s dedication.
2) An athlete’s view on the world of doping
When the Irish 400m runner David Gillick reflected on his 10-month training season with athletes from the US and Caribbean, he felt “as weak as a kitten”. Gillick had spent 10 months in Florida with a bunch of athletes who seemed fitter, stronger and generally better than their European counterparts, and it was demoralising.
As he made his way home to Ireland after picking up an injury at the camp, he looked back at the performances he had witnessed with a sense of awe: “They were so strong, fast and most of them able to live with an insane level of intensity in training. They had the ability to work ridiculously hard every day, Monday to Friday, and not break down. Me, an Irishman who thought he was strong, nicknamed ‘the White Ox’ by these US athletes – not a chance.”
One of the group was busted for drugs a few weeks later. Two more athletes, including Tyson Gay, the second fastest 100m sprinter in history, tested positive for drugs shortly after, and people began to ask Gillick if he had seen anything incriminating.
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As he recalls in this column for RTÉ, he had no idea his colleagues were doping: “I wasn’t offered anything and I didn’t see a thing. Drugs aren’t taken at the training track or at competitions. They are taken out of competition in the months of hard training, long before athletes grace the tartan. The ability to train at high intensity consistently, and recover so rapidly that you can get up the next day and go again is the key. Drugs don’t make you go faster overnight, they provide you with the tools to train, train and train, resulting in faster times and greater performances.”
Gillick is clearly angry about the way athletes are ruining their sport by taking drugs. He wants better testing, longer bans and more policing. Everything he says makes a lot of sense.
3) A Cuban boxer in Macau
Guillermo Rigondeaux has a problem. He was considered one of the greatest boxers to grace the amateur game when living in his native Cuba, but he wanted to test himself against the world’s best fighters so he defected from his homeland, leaving his wife and kids behind, and moved to Miami to join the professional ranks. He trained with Freddie Roach, who proclaimed him as “probably the best talent” he has ever seen, and racked up 14 professional fights and 14 convincing victories.
The problem for Rigondeaux is that no one wants to fight him. According to his manager, Gary Hyde, he is the “most avoided fighter in the world today”. In a sport littered with fighters who would rather stroll down the easy path of fame and fortune than challenge themselves against dangerous opponents, Rigondeaux is stuck.
Matthew Scott of Roads and Kingdoms travelled to Macau to watch his most recent fight, an embarrassingly one-sided first-round defeat of Sod Looknongyangtoy, a desperately poor journeyman who had no right to share a ring with Rigondeaux. In the post-fight press conference, Rigondeaux told the assembled reporters that he is willing to fight anyone: “I am ready to fight whoever wants to fight me. If you enjoyed the show and want to see me fight again, it’s up to you guys. I am open to fight anybody. I want to leave it up to you guys, to the press, to make these fighters come to me, and fight.” Let’s hope he can find a worthy opponent sooner rather than later.
4) Nick Newell wins MMA championship with one hand
“Being the one-handed fighter isn’t what defines me,” says mixed martial artist Nick Newell. “It’s just a part of who I am. It’s the part that sticks out and people want to pay attention to. But when they actually see me fight, they’ll know it’s so much more than that. I don’t feel like I have something to prove because I have one hand. I’ve already proved if you work hard, you can accomplish anything with the right drive and work ethic.”
5) The boxing photos
Neil Leifer has been taking photographs for Sports Illustrated for more than 50 years. The man has an eye for it.
Neil Leifer: The Boxing Photos: http://on.si.com/1puQMJL #Longform #SILongform
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6) The sound of sports
Thanks to Slate for bringing this fascinating podcast from 99% Invisible to our attention. This hour-long show focuses on Dennis Baxter, the man who designs the soundtrack of live sport. Baxter has worked at Wimbledon, the World Cup and even the Boat Race. He decides where microphones should be placed, which equipment should be used and generally calculates the best way for the live experience to be recreated in the ears of viewers and listeners at home. He is a man worth listening to.
7) The rise of beefcake yoga
If you’re an out-of-luck former professional wrestler who is now more familiar with six-packs of beer than stomach muscles, you need to try DDP Yoga. The “DDP” bit stands for Diamond Dallas Page, the retired WCW wrestler who is now making waves with a new workout regime that has been credited with making war veterans walk again and rehabilitating sportsmen who could no longer touch their toes.
In this feature for the New York Times magazine, Alex French reports on the fledgling success of Page’s product, paying particular attention to the remarkable story of Jake “the Snake” Roberts. The former wrestler did not cope well with retirement from WWE. He turned to pills, booze and cocaine to replace the buzz of the ring and was on his way to an early grave when when his old friend and colleague gave him a call to suggest he try DDP Yoga instead.
“I was trying to get off the phone so I could go pick up my drugs,” says Roberts. Thankfully he saw some sense and gave the fitness regime a shot. It helped kickstart a new way of life for the Snake and he was soon back to his lean and limbre best. Richards capped his recovery earlier this year when he was welcomed into the WWE hall of fame. The emotional speech he delivered at his induction ceremony had a better script than any of his fights.
8) Katie Taylor on coverage of women’s sport
Katie Taylor celebrates winning her fight against Russia’s Sofya Ochigava at the London Olympics in 2010. Photograph: Julien Behal/PA
Katie Taylor is an Irish, European, world and Olympic champion boxer. She has played football for the Republic of Ireland and is also an accomplished Gaelic footballer. She is probably Ireland’s greatest active athlete but, as she tells The Score in this interview, too few people have seen her compete. “I just won my sixth European title a few months ago and none of those fights were seen live on TV,” she says. Taylor is a role model to a generation of young sportswomen across Ireland in around the world. It’s just a pity we don’t see more of her.
9) The first 30 years are the worst
The great Harry Pearson, formerly of this parish, has a new blog. Anyone who is fond of writing that focuses on the “unsung people in rough places where the PA plays Sex on the Beach in the coal-scented February fog” will enjoy Harry’s work.
10) 25 maps that explain college football
If you have even a passing interesting in college football or maps, you will love this compendium of visual delights from Jason Kirk at SB Nation.