MAHARASHTRA ALLOWS POOLS FOR COMPETITION SWIMMERS TO REOPEN

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

Maharashtra has allowed the reopening of swimming pools meant to train competition swimmers.

“ As per the latest government guidelines, swimming pools used for training of state-, national and international-level sportspersons and located outside containment zones can operate from November 5,’’ a PTI report dated November 4, 2020 said. “ I am very happy and I know all swimmers across the state are very happy with this decision. We have been waiting for seven months and we can’t wait to get in the pool and start training,’’ Virdhawal Khade, national record holder and among best known competition swimmers from Maharashtra, said.  He expressed gratitude to the government for its decision.

Among sports, swimming had been one of the worst hit as lockdown and pandemic totally cut off access to pools. On September 30, 2020, the central government had allowed select swimming pools – qualified as those used to train “ sportspersons” – to reopen as part of Unlock 5, effective from October 1. The final decision was to be taken by the states. In subsequent unlock guidelines at the state level, Maharashtra had continued to remain cautious and avoided reopening pools. That is what has changed now. “ The state government’s decision will certainly be a relief for elite swimmers from Maharashtra. It will help them train and perform well at competitions,’’ former national record holder in swimming, Sebastian Xavier, currently stationed in Mumbai as Senior Sports Officer, Western Railway, said. Besides swimming pools meant to train elite swimmers, yoga institutes, indoor sports facilities such as badminton halls, tennis, squash courts and indoor shooting ranges have also been allowed to function from November 5, the PTI report said. Physical distancing and sanitization must be ensured, the accompanying guidelines said.

“ This means a lot,’’ Zarir Balliwala, President, Greater Mumbai Amateur Aquatics Association (GMAAA), said about the state government’s decision to reopen pools meant to train elite swimmers. He pointed out that competition swimmers had been without access to pools for the past 6-7 months. “ It makes us hopeful that by next April we may be able to get district level competitions underway,’’ he said. However between the decision to reopen and training getting underway in a systematic fashion for elite swimmers, there could be a teething phase. This is because prior to pandemic and lockdown, competition swimmers trained at pools of their choice, some of which were privately owned facilities. There is no guarantee that pools will cater to a limited number of competition swimmers. Their maintenance cost may be unsustainable at reduced traffic. Which pools elite swimmers should go to – this has to now emerge though discussion and consensus in the swimming community.

Pune based-open water swimmer Rohan More has crossed several channels and straits worldwide; he was awarded the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award for 2017. An IT engineer, Rohan’s work hours varies in accordance with the hours of work of clients overseas. In the more relaxed and less regimented life before lockdown when pools offered various time slots to train, he could easily find a slot that suited him. He wondered if similar flexibility may be available in the new normal; he wasn’t also sure yet which pools in town may cater to elite swimmers under the new unlock guidelines. Still, the government’s decision to reopen pools meant for training competition swimmers is a promising start, he said.

Navi Mumbai-based Shubham Vanmali was among those who highlighted pretty early in the lockdown that the loss to swimmers from the closure of pools is hard to compensate. At heart it is access to water denied and water, besides being medium for swimming is also therapeutic. An accomplished open water swimmer with channel crossings to his credit, Shubham had turned to dry land exercises to stay fit. “ Such workouts, while useful cannot make up for the loss of access to water,’’ Shubham said.  After six months of no swimming, in October, Shubham gained access to a resort some distance from Khopoli that had an adjacent water body about 50-70 meters long, wherein the water was also flowing and not stagnant. He occasionally swam there. He also went to his native place – Kasa near Dahanu – and swam in rivers and lakes there. His initial moments in water were a reminder of what happened to endurance swimmer during lockdown. “ I could feel how heavy I was in the water. I was dragging so much surface area. My body was also stiff and therefore prone to injury. I swam slowly. I did stretches and exercises to rehabilitate my shoulders,’’ he said.

“ Personally I think it will be an uphill for all,’’ Zarir said of the road to fitness and peak condition that lay ahead for Maharashtra’s competition swimmers. But for now the feeling is one of relief and gratitude.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)             

ADHM TO RUN WITH NEW NORMAL MIX: ELITES-ONLY RACE + VIRTUAL

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The 2020 Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM), scheduled to be held on November 29, will be a combination of physical race and virtual running event, the organizers announced recently.  The physical race will be restricted to elite athletes.

ADHM is a World Athletics Gold Label Road Race. It is a prominent event; one that has come to feature on the bio-data of many of today’s top distance runners. Given the ongoing pandemic, the physical race of 2020 will feature high safety standards and have a bio-bubble in place. This pattern is similar to what was seen at the 2020 London Marathon, the physical version of which was run as an elites-only race. However unlike in London, where the normal course was traded for a bio-secure loop of shorter dimension (the runners repeated it several times), the elites running at ADHM will follow the race’s regular course. There will be no short loop being repeated to accumulate the distance of a half marathon, it is reliably learnt. 

“ While the Elite runners will be at the start line at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, on the 29th November, amateurs from across the globe will join them via the exclusive Airtel Delhi Half Marathon Mobile App. Participation this year will be from a convenient location, wherever you are,’’ an official statement dated October 31, 2020, available on the website of Procam International, said. According to it, the event’s elite athlete coordinator will put together a highly competitive field of elite athletes for the 2020 edition.

Registration for the event’s three race categories began on October 30.

“ Supported by Government of NCT of Delhi, the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, Ministry of External Affairs, Sports Authority of India, Athletics Federation of India, World Athletics (WA), Association of International Marathons & Distance Races (AIMS) our sponsors and partners; ADHM 2020 will once again have the best athletes from around the world, running alongside our national elite, in the heart of our capital city,’’ the statement said, adding, “ Airtel Delhi Half Marathon will follow the highest level of safety-standards, with bio-secure zones to ensure a COVID free race for the elite runners.’’

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

The statement quoted Hugh Jones, Race Director as saying, “ With sport slowly but surely resuming world-over, being able to host the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon is good news for runners.  The event has always attracted some of the world’s best athletes and we are humbled to open our gates to them once again this year. The teams have been in detailed discussions with all stakeholders to work out the best possible option for our elites. Their safety and well-being are our top priority.”

ADHM’s specialized event app will have an array of features for enhanced running experience; timing and distance tracker, inspiring audio soundscapes and much more.

Running events had ground to a halt in India following COVID-19 and the related lockdown from late March. Tracking the trend worldwide, here too, major races were postponed or cancelled. At the time of writing, the website of TCS World 10K held annually in Bengaluru was still featuring the last announced prospective date of November 22 for its 2020 edition (reference: statement to media dated May 9, 2020). Procam International organizes TCS World 10K and ADHM. It is understood that talks are continuing with regard to TCS World 10K. For now, clarity on date and format is most with reference to ADHM.  

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

AT A GLANCE / NOVEMBER 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

2020 World Athlete of the Year: nominations announced

The nominees for the 2020 World Athlete of the Year (male and female) have been announced.

According to two press releases dated November 2, 2020 and November 3, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, ten male athletes and ten female athletes have been nominated in their respective gender categories. “ The nominations reflect the remarkable range of exceptional performances that the sport has witnessed this year, despite the challenges that the global Covid-19 pandemic presented,’’ the releases said.

The nominees for the Male World Athlete of the Year are:

Donavan Brazier, USA – ran world-leading 800m times indoors (1:44.22, North American indoor record) and outdoors (1:43.15) – won all seven of his races over all distances;  Joshua Cheptegei, Uganda – broke world records at 5000m (12:35.36), 10,000m (26:11.00) and 5km on the roads (12:51) – was fourth at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships on his debut over the distance, Timothy Cheruiyot, Kenya – ran world-leading 3:28.45 over 1500m – undefeated in three 1500m races, Ryan Crouser, USA – undefeated in 10 shot put competitions – his 22.91m world-leading performance moved him to equal third on the world all-time list, Mondo Duplantis, Sweden – broke the world record in the pole vault twice (6.17m and 6.18m) and produced the highest outdoor vault of all time (6.15m) – undefeated in 16 competitions, Jacob Kiplimo, Uganda – won world half marathon title in a championship record of 58:49 – ran a world-leading 7:26.64 over 3000m, the fastest time in the world since 2007, Noah Lyles, USA – undefeated in five finals – ran a world-leading 19.76 over 200m, Daniel Stahl, Sweden – won 17 of his 19 discus competitions – threw a world-leading 71.37m, Johannes Vetter, Germany – won eight of his nine javelin competitions – threw a world-leading 97.76m, the second farthest throw in history and Karsten Warholm, Norway – ran a world-leading 46.87 in the 400m hurdles, the second fastest performance in history – undefeated in nine 400m/400m hurdles races and set world best of 33.78 in 300m hurdles.

The nominees for 2020 Female World Athlete of the Year are:

Femke Bol, Netherlands – undefeated in six 400m hurdles races – ran a world-leading 53.79 in the 400m hurdles; Letesenbet Gidey, Ethiopia – set a world record of 14:06.62 over 5000m – was second in the Monaco Diamond League over 5000m, Sifan Hassan, Netherlands – set a world record of 18,930m in the one hour run – set a European record of 29:36.67 over 10,000m, the fourth fastest performance in history, Peres Jepchirchir, Kenya – won the world half marathon title – twice broke the world half marathon record for a women-only race (1:05:34 and 1:05:16),  Faith Kipyegon, Kenya – undefeated in five races over all distances – ran world-leading performances over 800m (1:57.68) and 1000m (2:29.15), Laura Muir, Great Britain and Northern Ireland – undefeated in three 1500m races – ran a world-leading 3:57.40 over 1500m, Hellen Obiri, Kenya – undefeated in three races over 3000m and 5000m – ran a world-leading 8:22.54 over 3000m, Yulimar Rojas, Venezuela – undefeated in four triple jump competitions indoors and outdoors – broke the world indoor triple jump record with 15.43m, Elaine Thompson-Herah, Jamaica – undefeated in seven 100m races – ran world-leading 10.85 over 100m and Ababel Yeshaneh, Ethiopia – broke the world record in the half marathon with 1:04:31 – finished fifth at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships.

“ A three-way voting process will determine the finalists. The World Athletics Council and the World Athletics Family will cast their votes by email, while fans can vote online via the World Athletics’ social media platforms. Individual graphics for each nominee will be posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram this week; a ‘like’ on Facebook and Instagram or a retweet on Twitter will count as one vote. The World Athletics Council’s vote will count for 50% of the result, while the World Athletics Family’s votes and the public votes will each count for 25% of the final result. Voting for the World Athletes of the Year closes at midnight on Sunday 15 November. At the conclusion of the voting process, five men and five women finalists will be announced by World Athletics. The male and female World Athletes of the Year will be announced live at the World Athletics Awards 2020 on Saturday 5 December,’’ the first of the two press releases said. The male nominees were announced on November 2 and the female nominees, on November 3.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

A TURBULENT MIND – MY JOURNEY TO IRONMAN 70.3

This image of the book cover was downloaded from the Internet and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright violation intended.

It was sometime in 2010 that Swetha Amit got her wake-up call. A journalist and writer in Mumbai, hers hadn’t been a disciplined lifestyle. She landed up in hospital. The diagnosis: ulcerative colitis.

The year 2011 was spent recovering and getting back to a healthy existence. Swetha’s husband, Amit Sridharan was training for the half marathon of the 2012 edition of the Mumbai Marathon. She joined the training program. Alongside, she worked on recasting her diet to a healthier option and completely quit eating out. The changes complemented the gym routine she had already in place since a few years earlier. That year – 2012 – she successfully completed the half marathon at the annual Mumbai Marathon.

Her transition to a healthy lifestyle helped her immensely. The very next year, she attempted the full marathon. “ It was a gruelling experience. We had no formal training plan. We just followed the Hal Higdon training plan available on the internet. Back then, we didn’t even GPS enabled devices and such,” Swetha said. Normally in running, transitioning to the full marathon is a journey in itself. Having dived into the full marathon rather early, Swetha nevertheless continued to run half marathons and races of varying distances. Training in Mumbai was fun; there was camaraderie among runners.

In 2017, Swetha moved to the US with Amit and their daughter, Samara. Amit had enrolled for a one-year programme at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. It took some time getting used to what the US had to offer. Swetha enrolled for creative writing courses at the university. She also decided to attempt the triathlon. Her journey from arrival in the US to participating in the Ironman 70.3 (half Ironman) is narrated well in her book, A Turbulent Mind – My Journey to Ironman 70.3. The book opens with the race day of Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz (California) on September 9, 2018.

For Swetha, there were many issues to contend with before race day. Open water swimming was one of them. The book provides an overview of her trepidations, attempting open water swimming in swim clinics and at triathlons of short distances. A fall from her bicycle that nearly prevented her from participating in one of the triathlons and, later, taking a major decision to not participate in an Ironman 70.3 that she had initially registered for – feature among challenges dotting the journey. Over time, she found good training support for all the disciplines of the triathlon, in California.

Swetha Amit (Photo: courtesy Swetha)

Speaking to this blog in October 2020, Swetha said that her next step would be to work towards attempting the full Ironman, which consists of 3.86 km of swim, 180.25 km of cycling and a full marathon. “Right now, I am in the process of rebuilding my base,” she said. The lockdown caused by pandemic meant no access to pools and gyms. Swetha kept up her fitness routine at home; she was sometimes helped in this by online sessions organised by Mumbai Road Runners (MRR), an informal running group, one of the largest of its sort in Mumbai. Meanwhile, pools and gyms have re-opened in California but the process of building endurance is lengthy and will take time, Swetha said. Compounding the process has been the recent spate of wildfires in California; it restricts outdoor activity.

Shwetha’s book about her personal journey to doing a half Ironman is easy to read. It is structured well; it is also written well. It isn’t a primer on how to train for the triathlon and attempt it. That’s not the motive of the book. It works differently – it should inspire those wanting to try the triathlon. I enjoyed reading it. Hopefully, so do you. Try it.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

SEAN CONNERY (1930-2020)

Sean Connery; this image was downloaded from the Facebook page of The Untouchables and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended.

Back in 1987-1988, a film festival in Thiruvananthapuram screened the Brian De Palma classic, The Untouchables.

It was unusual. A Hollywood film was a departure from the regular fare at such festivals. Having heard of the movie from an uncle much impressed by it, my cousin and I made sure to see it.

Born in the late 1960s, I grew up with no particular interest in Sean Connery’s James Bond, the role he is widely known for. His depiction of the spy created by Ian Fleming had spanned the years from 1962 to 1971. My generation’s introduction to James Bond was through Roger Moore’s version of the spy, progressing thereafter to Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. Indeed the first Bond movie I saw was the 1974 release: Man with the Golden Gun. More years would go by before I saw Sean Connery on screen for the first time – incidentally as James Bond – in the 1983 film, Never Say Never Again. The difference between the suave Bonds then in flavor and the Bond of this film was instantly discernible. It had much to do with the persona and screen presence different actors brought to play. I could imagine what Sean Connery’s Bond from the 1960s and early 1970s may have been like. But the earlier films themselves didn’t appeal for as was the case with young people, my expectations from gadgets, stunt sequences and special effects were rooted in a newer generation and its imagination of James Bond.

The Untouchables blew such trivialities away. It’s was a timeless story of crime, corruption and the quest to bring a gangster to book; it connected across generations. The film was superbly directed and its casting seemed spot on. Robert De Niro was already a big star and his appearance as Al Capone in the film was the strongest reason movie aficionados had to see it. For Kevin Costner who played the lead role of Eliot Ness, this was the movie that made him a major league actor. Alongside the riveting story and scenes of the film (who can forget the shoot out at the railway station?), I came off remembering two characters – Sean Connery’s Jimmy Malone and Andy Garcia’s George Stone / Giuseppe Petri. To me the enduring image of Connery is his Jimmy Malone. It was a powerful, no nonsense performance that fittingly earned him an Academy Award; it made him the only actor to have portrayed Bond who bagged an Oscar too in his film career. Since then, I was lucky to see Connery in a basket of films, among them – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October, The Rock, Entrapment, Finding Forrester and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But it is Jimmy Malone that has weathered the years and survived in my mind. I recall two other roles as well. A fan of war movies, I keep revisiting the 1977 production A Bridge Too Far (directed by Richard Attenborough) which features Connery as Major General Roy Urquhart; I also recall the delight I felt in seeing him as Private Flanagan in the 1962 black and white film, The Longest Day.  

The glamor of Bond in his younger years and competent acting in his later years – this blend, which Connery came to represent, became an ideal to chase for screen personalities who followed. Sean Connery died on October 31, 2020. He was 90 years old. An actor with a distinct voice and accent, he will be remembered by many for the characters he portrayed on screen.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)      

PETER MUIR IS NEW PRESIDENT OF UIAA, AMIT CHOWDHURY ELECTED TO EXECUTIVE BOARD

Wing Commander Amit Chowdhury (Photo: courtesy Amit Chowdhury)

Peter Muir from the Alpine Club of Canada is the new president of the UIAA – International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation.

He is the fourteenth president of climbing’s apex body worldwide and the second person to occupy that position from Canada, a statement available on the website of UIAA said. The elections were held on October 24, 2020; it was the federation’s first ever online general assembly.

Amit Chowdhury of India was elected to the federation’s executive board.

The board is a top body within the organizational structure of UIAA.  “ The Board is elected for a four-year period and consists of the President, Vice-President, Secretary General, Treasurer and currently three other members. Together they carry out the decisions made by the General Assembly, control finances and support both the commissions and office staff,’’ the UIAA website said on the role of the executive board.

Chowdhury is the first Indian to be elected to the executive board. Before his election to the board this year, he was a member of UIAA’s management committee. Earlier still, Colonel H. S Chauhan (he was president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation [IMF] from 2011-2019) had served a tenure as member of the same committee. Chowdhury is a past vice president (2013-2017) and honorary secretary (2011-2013) of the IMF. Incidentally, he was also a candidate – one of three in the fray – in the October 2020 elections for the post of UIAA president.

Peter Muir will lead an executive board comprised of Lode Beckers (Belgium /elected in 2019), Zoljargal Banzragch (Mongolia /elected in 2019), Amit Chowdhury (India /elected in 2020), Mahmood Hashemi (Iran /elected in 2019), Martin Lascano (Argentina /elected in 2020) and Françoise Jaquet (Switzerland / elected in 2020).

According to the earlier mentioned UIAA statement, Muir succeeds Frits Vrijlandt, Royal Dutch Climbing and Mountaineering Club (NKBV), Netherlands as the federation’s president. “ Vrijlandt’s second and, as defined in the UIAA Articles of Association, final four-year term came to an end at this year’s General Assembly,’’ the statement explained.

While Muir was elected the federation’s new president on October 24, the other office bearers of the executive board will be decided at a meeting of October 30, Chowdhury said when contacted. Chowdhury had been serving as chair of UIAA’s safety commission since 2017. With his election to the executive board, he will be relinquishing his position at the safety commission, he said.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

PERES JEPCHIRCHIR SETS NEW WORLD RECORD IN WOMEN’S HALF MARATHON

Peres Jepchirchir (This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of World Athletics and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir set a new world in the women only half marathon, sprinting to a close finish in the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships held in Gdynia, Poland on Saturday, October 17, 2020. She clocked 1:05:16. Second place went to Melat Kejeta of Germany, who finished in 1:05:18 (a new women only European record) while Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia finished third in 1:05:19 (a personal best).

Notably all three athletes improved upon the previous world record for the category (a report on the website of World Athletics said that the top six women finished in under-66 minutes and the top nine within 67). Plus, as per the race commentary, there were several personal bests in the timings returned by the top 30 finishers. It was only in early September that Jepchirchir had broken the women-only race world record in the half marathon clocking 1:05:34 for the distance in Prague, improving upon the previous record of 1:06:11 set by Netsanet Gudeta of Ethiopia at the World Half Marathon Championships in 2018. Earlier still, at the 2016 edition of the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff, UK, she had set a then world record of 1:07:31.

In the men’s half marathon in Gdynia, Uganda got its first individual medal at the event as 19 year-old Jacob Kiplimo provided a progressively fast finish to an initially slow race, covering the distance comfortably in 58:49. It was a new championship record and a national record for Uganda. Second place went to Kenya’s Kibiwott Kandie (58:54); Ethiopia’s Amedework Walelegn (59:08) finished third. Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei (59:21), on whom the pre-race arc lights had focused, finished fourth in his maiden half marathon. According to the race report by World Athletics, the first ten runners finished within 60 minutes, a first for the event and only the second time it has ever happened.  

The women’s half marathon was a fast race, surprising given what was initially expected from the course specially designed for a half marathon amid pandemic. The event was rescheduled from its original date in March and the course – a five kilometer-loop – was adapted to ensure any potential risks are kept to a minimum. “ The course takes in some of the main roads in the city center with a slight uphill section along Swietojanska Street, then the final stretch heads back down towards the sea with the finish line located on the main city beach in Gdynia,’’ a write-up dated October 13, 2020, available on the website of World Athletics, said. It wasn’t a flat, fast course all through; the type preferred for record breaking attempts. According to the race commentators, it had seven corners including a brief but slightly sharp downhill and a U-turn. Saturday’s timings in the women’s half marathon were despite this. On the other hand, weather conditions were very good.

It was also a race fraught with incidents. Very early itself a block of 10-12 runners, mostly from East Africa, shot off to be lead pack by a significant margin. The first five kilometers went by in 15:20; it was the first hint of likely world record breaking performance. Setting the pace at this stage was Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei. By 18:00 the first of the casualties caused by the blistering pace manifested with an Ethiopian runner coming lose off the pack and trailing. At 26:00, there were three Ethiopian runners tucked comfortably into the lead pack running at the shoulders of the Kenyans setting the pace. Notwithstanding the sizable gap between the leaders and the rest, there was active running right through the ranks for there were team positions at stake. At around 28:50, at the sharp corner at the base of the slightly steep downhill, the first incident occurred in the lead pack – defending champion Netsanet Gudeta seemed to skid slightly; she fell down. She picked herself up quickly and continued running but given the pace, a significant gap had already opened up between her and the lead pack. For her, it was race lost, right there. At the 2018 edition of the event, she had won in world record time of 1:06:11.

At about 40:01, Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya began to accelerate. At 48:00, the lead runners entered the final lap. Around 50:15, the Ethiopians, who had been running efficiently at the shoulders of the Kenyans, appeared to move ahead; they formed two of the three runners (the other being Kenyan) forming the front wall of the lead pack. The strongest runner at this stage seemed to be Ababel Yeshaneh of Ethiopia. At around 54:00, amid the bunching of runners in the lead pack, Yeshaneh and Jepkosgei came too close to each other; they stumbled and went down. At 1:00:00, it was Kenya’s Jepchirchir and Yalemzerf Yehualaw of Ethiopia who were running stride for stride up front, closely followed by Kejeta of Germany. It was a tight trio with Yehualaw looking strong. At roughly 1:05:00, Jepchirchir surged past the Ethiopian runner who later suffered a minor stumble some 50 meters from the finish line costing her the second spot. The final race results played out as mentioned earlier.

Jacob Kiplimo (This image was downloaded from the Facebook page of World Athletics and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Unlike the women’s race, the men’s half marathon took time to gather pace. For much of the first half of the race, the lead pack was relatively big and separated from the rest of the runners by a series of not-so-significant gaps. The slow pace of this stage (puzzling given how fast the women had run and weather conditions continued to be good) was theorized to potentially favor a top notch track athlete like Cheptegei, who had come to the event after a couple of record breaking performances. Although this was his first appearance at a half marathon, in his training for the event, he had put in distances of up to 35 kilometers. Around 29:00 Cheptegei began to slowly pull ahead. But till 35:10, it was an unclear lead as at various points Cheptegei, Andamlak Belihu of Ethiopia, Kiplimo and South Africa’s Stephen Mokoka exchanged leads. By around 38:24, as Kandie took the lead, Cheptegei had slipped to tenth position although with bridgeable gap to the front. However at around 44:20, even as he had moved up to third place the runners in front were increasing the gap to levels where the commentators wondered whether the race was slowly slipping away from Cheptegei. The second half of the race was quite fast. By 45:24, Kiplimo had taken the lead and having settled into that slot (he lost it temporarily by a slender margin to Kandei at around 52:30), proceeded to steadily crank up the pace. Eventually, Walelegn too got past Cheptegei, producing the final results as they played out.      

The event featured ranking by team as well. “ Team results are decided by the aggregate of times recorded by the first three finishers of each team. The team with the fastest aggregate time will be judged the winner,’’ the write-up dated October 13, on the website of World Athletics, said. According to it prizes would be awarded to the top six individuals and the top six teams in both races. “ A US$50,000 bonus will be awarded to any athlete who breaks a world record,’’ the write-up said. In Gdynia, the top teams from the men’s category were Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda in that order. On the women’s side, the final pecking order was Ethiopia, Kenya and Germany. Starting August 2020, despite the impact of pandemic and lockdown on training and events, there has been a spate of new world records in distance running. Disciplines which witnessed such performances include the men’s 5000 meters and 10,000 meters, women’s 5000 meters, one hour-run for both genders and the women only half marathon,

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

LEADING ROCK CLIMBERS SPEAK UP ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

On October 8, 2020, well-known free soloist Alex Honnold highlighted the need for action on the subject of climate change in an article published in Climbing. He begins the piece by pointing out how he spent half a dozen years imagining his project to climb the massive rock face of El Capitan in Yosemite, alone and with no ropes. After prolonged contemplation, he realized that the climb wouldn’t happen unless there was concrete action from his side.    

“ I see a real parallel to climate change. It’s the apex issue facing our generation—an issue that feels too big and too complex to act on. It’s all encompassing, impacting almost every other environmental issue that we currently face. And it’s incredibly urgent, with most scientists agreeing that as a global community we only have until 2030 to make meaningful changes before the worst effects of warming are permanently baked into our future. The scope of the problem is frightening, and the sense of dread that accompanies it can easily lead to apathy. That’s why I spent six years thinking about soloing El Cap, but not doing it—it seemed entirely too scary to act. But that lack of action didn’t serve me. Ultimately, I had to overcome my fear and start making concrete steps towards my goal,’’ Honnold writes in the piece, which argues against continued extraction of fossil fuels.

According to him, “ corporate interests have essentially privatized the profits of fossil fuel extraction while socializing the cost of pollution. These barriers can make it feel as though change isn’t possible on the individual level.’’ Further even as individual actions (travel less, eat less meat, have fewer kids, and vote) matters, the pressing need is to address fossil fuel extraction. Honnold argues that decreasing the funding for dirty technologies is the best way out. To this end he suggests that everyone choose their bank carefully. Banks loan the bulk of the capital they raise and within that world, lending for fossil fuel extraction has grown significantly after the 2016 Paris Agreement (on measures to control climate change). “ Being deliberate and choosing a sustainable bank is key,’’ he writes. To read the full article please click on this link: https://www.climbing.com/news/alex-honnold-climate-change-is-urgent-we-need-to-decrease-extraction-now/

Roughly a week after Honnold’s piece appeared, on October 14, 2020, another well-known climber Tommy Caldwell, published an article on climate change and the need for urgent action. Writing in Rock and Ice, he couched his arguments in the reality of climbing in the western United States, where ongoing climate change has annually sparked huge forest fires.  “ Right now, the American West is blanketed in smoke from forest fires, a direct result of our changing climate. Fire season is now longer and more intense. In years past, I’ve been evacuated from my home in Colorado twice due to the threat of fire. As a climber, I spend a lot of time hanging off granite walls from Yosemite to the Rockies. It’s from those unique vantage points that I’ve gained perspective on what’s happening to our climate,’’ Caldwell says, adding “ I’ve seen an increase in dangerous rockfall attributed to warming temperatures and I’ve watched as wintertime climbing routes disappear completely due to snowmelt. Ouray, Colorado, one of the most famous ice-climbing spots in America, is rapidly losing ice, which could render ice climbing there a thing of the past.’’

Caldwell appeared clear that change won’t happen unless the right people are voted to power. “ My kids, who are four and seven, are in for a much tougher world. I’m trying to do everything I can to prepare them but also to minimize the harshness that could become their reality,’’ Caldwell says. To read this article in full, please click on this link: https://rockandice.com/climbing-news/tommy-caldwell-trump-is-going-to-ruin-rock-climbing/

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

GIRO D’ITALIA: A BRIEF INSIGHT

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

This is an article by invitation. Nigel Smith is currently Head Coach of Kanakia Scott Racing Development. In this piece, he provides an overview of the Giro d’Italia, one of road cycling’s three Grand Tours. Nigel is a Level 3 Cycling Coach, accredited through his National Federation, British Cycling, in the UK. He is based in Mumbai.

The 2020 edition of the Giro d’Italia is currently well underway.

The unusual global situation has created an even more unusual race.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event’s regular calendar slot of mid-May was shifted to October. This created various knock-on anomalies whereby riders who, at the beginning of the year were focussed on the ` traditional’ Grand Tour calendar of Italy (May), France (July) and Spain (September), have found themselves having to totally re-align their training to a heavily back-loaded calendar of events. Additionally, the climatic challenges faced in Italy at this time of the year are not what riders typically expect, the wind and rain atop the `mere’ 1658m stage 9 finish at Roccaraso was clear to see. Rain and autumnal leaves swirled across the road, in contrast to the melting snow we sometimes see in May.

But how important is the Giro d’Italia? Where does it rank in relation to other races? What is its difficulty in relation to other stage races? What is its history?

Let’s first establish what a ` Grand Tour’ is in cycling parlance. A Grand Tour is a three-week stage race (actually held over 23 days as there are two rest days) consisting of 21 stages over various types of road terrain. There are usually (but not exclusively) 5-6 ` high mountain’ stages, 6-7 ` intermediate’ (rolling) stages, 5-6 ` flat’ stages and a couple of individual time trials (sometimes there’s a team time trial as well).

In road cycling, there are only three Grand Tours – the eldest and most famous is the Tour de France, first held in 1903 and the most widely recognised and followed bike race in the world. Italy’s equivalent, the Giro d’Italia, is only six years younger than its French cousin, first held in 1909. The third, and youngest, Grand Tour is Spain’s Vuelta a España; a mere 85 years old.

The teams that compete in the Grand Tours will always be the same 18-19 ` World Tour’ teams. These teams make up the equivalent `Premier League’ of teams and compete at all the prestigious one day races, stage races and Grand Tours. The start list is then usually bolstered by 3-4 local pro teams from the second tier ` Pro Conti’ division.

So, what of the Giro’s importance? To the fans, it is generally a close second to the Tour de France. To the riders, it’s a Grand Tour – they covet a Maglia Rosa (` pink jersey’ awarded to the leader) almost as much as a Maillot Jaune (` yellow jersey’, awarded to the leader of the Tour de France). But if you’re a ` Grand Tour’ specialist (example: in recent times the likes of Spain’s Alberto Contador, the British-Kenyan cycling ace Chris Froome and Columbia’s Egan Bernal) then winning three week stage races is what you’re paid to do and winning all three cements your name in the history books (only six riders have achieved it).

How hard is the Giro? It’s easily as hard as its two counterparts. The Giro has recently – over the past 10 years – tried to create its own ` niche’ by incorporating brutally hard (and now iconic) mountain passes. The Stelvio, The Mortirolo, The Gavia and The Zoncolan are all now sought out and conquered by amateur enthusiasts, just as the French L’Alpe D’Huez, Tourmalet and Mt Ventoux are every year. Each Italian climb has its own unique character, whether it’s the height of the Stelvio (2758m), average gradient of the Mortirolo (12.5kms at an average of 10.4 per cent!) or the maximum gradient of the Zoncolan (20 per cent).

While France has access to two main mountain ranges – the Alps and the Pyrenees, Italy borders the Alps across its northernmost regions and has its own range – the Dolomites in the country’s uppermost north east region.

To the Italians (fans and riders alike), the Giro will always be the most important race on the calendar. Indeed, it wasn’t until the 33rd edition in 1950 that a non-Italian (the Swiss, Hugo Koblet) won. Through the 1980s, the race was big enough to satisfy the aspirations of most Italian cyclists and produced some epic home-grown battles, notably the one between Francesco Moser and Giuseppe Saronni, interspersed with non-Italians making their own history (the Frenchman Bernard Hinault won in ’80, ’82 and ’85 – one of the fabled ` six’ to have won all three grand tours).

Giro d’Italia (This 2018 photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of the event and is being used here for representation purposes. No copyright infringement intended)

The race also has its share of controversy. In 1984, local favourite Francesco Moser finally won, beating French favourite Laurent Fignon to second place but only after accusations of drafting behind team cars and being pushed up the mountains; not to mention – the race’s highest summit stage, over the Stelvio, getting mysteriously cancelled due to (non-existent) snowfall (it was later claimed that Moser would lose too much time to Fignon over the Stelvio and so the organisers concocted a reason to avoid it).

In 1987, Ireland’s Stephen Roche invoked the ire of not only the partisan ` Tifosi’ (the name given to the Italian fans) but also the majority of his own team (the Italian Carrera Team) and especially his Italian team-mate (and Tifosi favourite) Roberto Visentini, by riding off the front of the bunch and gaining time on his own team-mate. He was to hold the advantage all the way to the finish, enduring taunts, abuse, physical punches and spitting.

More recently, who can forget Chris Froome’s superb 80km attack on stage 19 of the 2018 race to propel himself into the lead, which he held onto, thus claiming his first Giro victory and seventh Grand Tour (and becoming the sixth rider to win all three Grand Tours).

Like the Tour de France, the Giro has looked to broaden its appeal and global reach by starting outside its own borders. Recently it visited Israel, Holland, the UK and Denmark to name four. However, just like the Tour de France showcases Paris in the final stage, the Giro always finishes in Milan against a backdrop of much Italian fanfare.

As the sport continues to find ways to extend its global reach and engage new audiences, we as fans can sit back and marvel at our favourite teams and some of the biggest names in the sport do battle over iconic stretches of road. It inspires us further to ride our bikes. We will always have our preferences and favourites in terms of events, but as long as I can tune into live cycling coverage for three weeks at a time, three times a year, I don’t mind where the racing comes from!

(The author, Nigel Smith, is the Head Coach of Kanakia Scott Racing Development. For more on Nigel please click on these links: https://shyamgopan.com/2018/06/16/there-is-no-reason-why-that-structure-cannot-exist-in-india/ &  https://shyamgopan.com/2018/12/22/if-a-rider-still-wants-to-be-part-of-the-team-the-door-is-open-nigel-smith-head-coach-scott-sports-india/)

AT A GLANCE / OCTOBER 2020

Illustration: Shyam G Menon

New world records ratified

The new world records set in early September by Peres Jepchirchir (Kenya), Sifan Hassan (Netherlands) and Mo Farah (UK), have been ratified, World Athletics informed in a statement dated October 12, 2020, available on their website.

“ Jepchirchir’s 1:05:34 women-only world half marathon record and the one-hour world records from Hassan (18,930m) and Mo Farah (21,330m) are now official,’’ the statement said. Jepchirchir had produced her record-breaking run on September 5, 2020 at the Prague 21.1KM, an invitational-only elite half marathon held on a 16.5-lap course in Letna Park in the Czech capital. Hassan and Farah stormed into the record books at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Brussels on September 4, the night before Jepchirchir’s race in Prague.

These records fall in the category of sterling performances reported amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that cancelled mass participation events and upset the staging schedule of competitions worldwide. The first major world record in athletics, in this context, was Joshua Cheptegei’s new mark in the 5000 meters track race for men, set on August 14, 2020. The Ugandan athlete covered the distance in 12:35:36. In October, Cheptegei rewrote the time taken for the track based-10,000 meters, when he set a new world record of 26:11:00. At the same event in Valencia, Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey set a new world record in the 5000 meters for women, completing the race in 14:06:62.

Adille Sumariwalla is AFI president for a third time, Anju Bobby George is senior vice president

Adille J. Sumariwalla was elected president of the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) for a third time at its annual general meeting, a press release dated October 31, 2020, available on the website of AFI, said.  Anju Bobby George, India’s only medalist in the World Athletics Championships, was elected as senior vice president. Ravinder Chaudhary and Madhukant Pathak were elected secretary and treasurer of the organization respectively.

In response to claims by some non-members about the legality of Sumariwalla’s nomination for his third term, AFI has clarified that he filed nomination not only as president of Maharashtra Athletics Association but also as outgoing AFI president, as allowed by AFI Constitution (Clause XXVIII.A.e) which specifies the president does not require representation either to sit in meetings or to contest election for the next tenure.

All positions in the AFI Executive Committee were elected unopposed, the release said.

According to it, Sumariwalla, who said that the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has had a cascading effect on a lot of areas in the sport, including the mental health of athletes and the earnings of the federation, has encouraged state associations to actively seek the help of their respective state governments to ensure that athletics competitions can resume sooner than later.

“ On the first day of the two-day annual general meeting, some key issues including age-fraud, doping and over-training were taken up. The house agreed that while AFI has taken many steps to curb age-fraud, state and district associations needed to be more proactive in ending the scourge of age-fraud that leaves athletes,’’ the release added.

Pocket Outdoor Media Acquires Big Stone Publishing

Outdoor enthusiasts, climbers and those into endurance sports in India would be familiar with publications like Climbing, Rock and Ice, Backpacker, Trail Runner and VeloNews. A recent acquisition in the publishing world has brought these titles under one roof.

Early October 2020, Pocket Outdoor Media (POM) announced its takeover of Big Stone Publishing (BSP). Both companies are based in the US. POM has in its fold titles like Climbing, Backpacker, Women’s Running, Triathlete, Yoga Journal, Clean Eating, VeloNews and SKI. BSP’s list of publications included Rock and Ice, Trail Runner, ASCENT, Gym Climber and Dirt.

In a related statement available on the website of POM, its CEO Robin Thurston has said, “ this acquisition significantly strengthens our ability to engage with outdoor enthusiasts across all of the seasons and sports that live at the intersection of adrenaline and adventure. By merging Rock & Ice into Climbing, we’ll be better positioned to deliver exceptional content and cover all of the sport’s disciplines—trad, sport, gym, and alpine climbing—in ways not possible before. Similarly, Trail Runner broadens our running portfolio, adding the dominant title in the sport’s fastest-growing discipline.”

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)