Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I hope you forl orff yoor hoorse

From the Grauniad:

Zara Phillips' gold-medal winning performance at the equestrian world championships has seen the former wild child hailed as a sporting hero - just like her mother was, 35 years ago. But is she really a major talent, or just a toff with lots of cash and a great horse? Stephen Moss reports

It may be something to do with the BBC's desperate search for a sports personality of the year, but we seem to be witnessing some startling sporting transformations of late. First David Walliams goes from fleshy, decadent comedian to courageous swimmer in the course of one remarkable Channel crossing; then Monty Panesar changes, virtually overnight, from bearded joker to world-class spinner; and now Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne and 11th in line to the throne, has been alchemised from party-loving royal to equestrian superstar by adding the three-day event world championship to the European championship she won last year.

Admittedly, there are still a few doubters. "Oh, you're not doing another piece about Zara Phillips," one of the Guardian's sports staff said to me yesterday. "Eventing is not even a sport; it's like sheep dog trials." Phillips is a toff who has done well in an outrageously expensive and exclusive pseudo-sport run by and for toffs, is the subtext...

(and indeed, the text - Ed)

...At the heart of this is the fact that Britain has an odd relationship with equestrianism: we are very good at it, but it gets grudging coverage in the media. Phillips, who is 25, might be the start of a rise in profile for the sport, or she might be such a one-off that she will continue to be presented almost independently of it - a model in a hard hat.

Yet eventing is compelling. It combines three phases: dressage, a sort of equine ballet in which, through a series of precise movements, the rider has to demonstrate a perfect union with the horse; the TV-friendly cross-country - on a course about as long as the Grand National but even more difficult and dangerous to ride because the fences are solid and grouped in fiendish combinations - and, finally, show jumping, in which, again, control is the key.

I find it very hard to think of something as a ‘sport’ if it is marked on aesthetic merit by judges.


Susan's Husband said...

The three types of sport:

1) Direct competition against other humans (football, tennis, rugby).

2) Direct competition against other humans' performance (golf, timed events)

3) Non-sports, e.g. competition against other humans' opinions of other humans' performance.

Brit said...

Good theory, at which I will throw boxing.

If there is no knockout, does it fall between 1 and 3?

Oroborous said...

Zara Phillips must be good at something, even if it's not being a "sporting" hero. Could even the greatest horse ever deliver multiple championships to a lousy rider ?

It's somewhat like NASCAR in America. While driving in races is a brutal and grueling endurance event, what with the heat, noise, vibration, and need for hours of intense focus while jockeying at high speeds with other vehicles mere inches apart, if we assume that all of the drivers are competent, having won coveted spots as drivers for racing teams, then the relative performance of the cars themselves would seem to be the key deciding factor.

And yet, the same names keep coming up as top-ten finishers, so there must be some kind of talent or skill at driving that provides a winning edge.


Good point. Yes. But hey, everyone makes money on the re-matches between fighters whose last bout was controversial.

Brit said...

I wouldn't call heavyweight championship boxing a sport these days: first Don King, and then the career of Mike Tyson, have together turned it into a circus that makes WWF wrestling look sensible by comparison.

I would call amateur boxing sport (eg. Olympic boxing), even though knockouts are rare and bouts are nearly always marked by judges, with frequently controversial results. In fact, you could make an argument that proper boxing is the ultimate, purest form of sport.

Oroborous said...

Let us remember that the judges are there to make the sport less bloody; matches used to continue until one fighter could no longer contest, with ringside imbibing of alcohol and tea to aid endurance.

Matches sometimes lasted over a hundred rounds, in the 19th century.

Brit said...

Now that was sport.