The Sports Minute
LEICESTER FOXES STORM TO PREMIER LEAGUE CROWN; BOXING BRACES FOR MIDDLEWEIGHT SUPERFIGHT; THE DOPE ON OLYMPIC CHEATING
By Ted Lerner
Foxes Never Quit
The sports world seems to have run out of accolades and adjectives to properly describe Leicester City’s shock English Premier League football title. Long time football fans are literally standing around dumbfounded at the Blue Foxes actually winning football’s biggest league crown. And for good reason - Leicester essentially pulled off the impossible.
To fully understand the immensity of their accomplishments, consider that prior to Leicester winning this year, only five teams had ever won the Premier League; Man United has dominated with 13 wins, Chelsea has won the title four times, Arsenal three, Man City two and the Blackburn Rovers one. The Foxes barely escaped relegation last year and were favored to be tossed out of the league this year at the beginning of the season. Leicester is also one of the lowest spending teams in the Premier League. It’s not surprising then that the bookmakers made them 5000-1 outsiders to win the title.
And yes some lucky punters actually took that bet, resulting in UK betting houses losing around $15 million. Ladbrokes alone had to pay out $4.35 million. Ouch!
The Blue Foxes Danny Drinkwater has described Leicester City's season as "madness" after the champions finished 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League, losing only 3 times all season.
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"Madness," the 26-year-old midfielder said. "If you'd said that at the start of the season everyone would be saying 'no chance'. But we've proved a hell of a lot of people wrong."
Much of the credit must go to Italian born manager Claudio Ranieri, who has rightly been rewarded by being named manager of the year by the League Managers Association. The 64-year-old becomes only the second non-British manager to win the prestigious accolade. Ranieri came in with little in the way of expectations but he proved that getting players to believe in the idea of a team, rather than being a collection of talented stars, is the key to victory. Oh yeah, and of course, there’s that important intangible, hard work.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. I’ve never known anything like it,” Leicester striker Jamie Vardy said. “We were scrapping to stay in the league last season and on Saturday we’ll be lifting the trophy. That gives you an idea of how much hard work has gone into this season from every single player and member of staff.
“It’s the biggest achievement in the history of a great club and we all feel privileged to be part of it. It’s even more special to have done it with these lads. Every minute of hard work we’ve put in on the training pitch has been worth it for this moment.”
Boxing’s Next Hope
I have been a lifelong boxing fan. I’ve taken my passion for the Sweet Science into writing for the biggest boxing magazines, and ring announcing big fights for the last three decades. But I can’t remember a time when I’ve been less interested in boxing than the last six months or so. And apparently I’m not alone.
It could be that the heavyweight division, while showing some signs of life, has, for longer than I can remember, been deader than a suicidal cat that said hello to a rampaging 18-wheeler while crossing the road. The Mayweather-Pacquiao fiasco didn’t help matters much. They fleeced the world for billions and produced an absolute dud. No wonder ordinary fans don’t seem to care anymore!
One of the main reasons for my and others lack of interest in boxing is the multitude of boxing alphabet sanctioning organizations. I have completely lost track of the amount of boxing organizations that offer belts. And every organization nowadays gives out belts the way Santa Clause hands out candy at Christmas. Everyone gets one!
Well if every boxer has a belt, then suddenly all belts become meaningless and fans simply stop caring. Nobody gives a rip that some fighter with 4 fights is now the WBO Oriental Youth super bantamweight champion. He ain’t a champion with just 4 fights. It’s that simple.
Suddenly, however, boxing has a chance to redeem itself and it can be found in one of the sport’s premier divisions; the middleweights.
On the one side there’s unbeaten 34-year-old Gennady Golovkin (35-0, 32 knockouts) wearing the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation middleweight belts. On the other side stands the sport’s new most popular fighter, Mexico’s red headed Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (47-1-1, 33 KOs), holding the World Boxing Council crown after his massive sixth-round knockout of Amir Khan in early May.
These two fighters have been on a collision course for nearly two years and the prospect of a showdown has boxing fans salivating. Triple G has been tearing through opponents but hasn’t fought anyone of Alvarez’s caliber. Alvarez has soared to the top of the Mexican boxing totem pole but some claim he’s been avoiding Triple G because he fears losing.
After he obliterated Khan with one massive right hand, it didn’t appear that Canelo feared Triple G in the least. In the post-fight interview he called Triple G out and even invited him into the ring, where he demanded that they square off soon.
Of course, while this sounds tantalizing, it’s up to the promoters to make this happen, and this is where things in boxing often go awry. We all know what happened with Mayweather and Pacquiao. The fight should have happened five years earlier than it did, when both fighters were in their prime. When it finally did happen, the resulting stinker turned off an entire generation of potential long time boxing fans. The sport is still reeling from the aftermath.
Promoters need to stop protecting their fighters and their turf and make sure that the best fight the best. This is one of the keys to success of the UFC, where owner Dana White delivers the matches that fans want to see, no ifs, ands or butts.
The promoters of Alvarez and Triple G absolutely must make this fight happen now. No interim tune up fights, no excuses.
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin is the super-fight of the moment. If it happens this year, it could be the fight that truly turns boxing around. And makes me a fan once again.
A Rio Dilemma
Like a lot of folks, I have always looked forward to the Summer Olympics. I realize that the Olympics have become WAY too commercial and have practically bankrupted the nations that have put them on. But if you can focus on the pure sporting aspect of the games, there is simply nothing in sports like it.
As the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics approach (August 5 – 21), however, some very ugly issues have been thrust into the limelight that threaten to take plenty of shine off what should be a celebration of the best of humanity.
Brazil did an amazing job of hosting the recent World Cup and I would expect nothing less from Rio this August. The country, however, is going through a major political upheaval at the moment, as the elected president is about to get impeached and has been sidelined in favor of her vice-president. Expect plenty of protests in the streets at official corruption, much of which has surely taken place around the over-priced preparation for the games.
Then there’s the dreaded Zika virus, which health authorities around the world have been warning about for months now. Brazil is ground zero for the Zika virus, which causes dengue like symptoms and has now been proven to result in newborns being born with severe life altering birth defects. With 14 million people expected to travel to Rio for the Games, Zika could spread like a raging wildfire around the globe, and with devastating consequences.
But these concerns are nothing compared to the ever-widening scandal of Olympic athletes getting caught doping, or cheating their way to the medal stand. You won’t be seeing any Russian track and field athletes at this year’s Olympics as the whole squad has been banned for using performance-enhancing drugs. Some of their weight lifters will be missing too, for the same reason.
It recently came to light that Russia has been running a state sponsored program to cheat and make sure it’s athletes win at all costs. Dozens of Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, including at least 15 medal winners, were part of a state-run doping program, meticulously planned for years to ensure dominance at the Games. Check this out; during the Sochi games, Russian anti-doping experts and members of Russia’s intelligence services, working clandestinely at night, secretly replaced their athletes urine samples with clean urine supplied months earlier. No Russian athlete was caught and Russia won the most medals at the games. In other words, the Sochi Winter Games were a complete fraud and President Vladimir Putin sanctioned the entire sham.
Of course it’s not just Russia that is blatantly cheating in sport. The use of performance enhancing drugs in sport is obviously completely out of control. Even Kenya, the bastion of long distance running, has been caught up in doping scandals recently. Yes Kenya! And you thought all along that the Kenyan runners were just freaks of nature.
Now the International Olympic Committee is fighting back. Stung by the Russian revelations, the IOC said in mid-May that in an effort to restore integrity to international competitions, it had used a new technology to be able to re-test athletes urine going all the way back to the 2008 Beijing Summer Games. Without naming names, the IOC said that by using this new procedure, it had caught 31 athletes in six sports who competed in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Those athletes, who may face a ban from competing in the Rio Olympics this summer, were among 454 whose samples from the Beijing Games were recently retested at a lab in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The IOC said it targeted athletes who were likely to compete in Rio, and is awaiting the results from the tests of another 250 samples that were taken in London during the 2012 Olympic Games. The IOC, in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code, now retains all samples for 10 years.
“The cheats know that they can never rest,” said IOC President Thomas Bach, who won a gold medal in fencing at the 1976 Olympics.
I don’t know about you, but the more I read into the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports, it’s really, really difficult to imagine that anyone is clean. I’m certain there are many athletes who never take performance-enhancing drugs, but I’m sure sometimes they don’t even know they are taking them if they have a trainer or manager handing them a special drink after a hard workout. And if athletes and their trainers know that others are taking drugs, it must be near impossible to say no to taking them as well.
I want to believe that when we are watching the Olympics this August that everyone is clean and that the testing procedures are on the up and up. But I also know that athletes and their trainers are always one or two steps ahead of the testing regimes, and that sport will never be 100% clean.
I have a feeling that for two weeks this August I will just bury my head in the sand and buy into the whole notion that this is sport at its very highest and purest form. Then I will wait for the aftermath when surely some of those who grabbed gold will be stripped and shamed when they are exposed as dirty cheats.