All posts by Katelijne Vermeulen

Review: I, Tonya

For anyone under the age of about 40, the story of disgraced US figure skater Tonya Harding won’t necessarily be a familiar one.

But her role (unwitting or otherwise) in one of sport’s biggest-ever stories, makes for a hugely entertaining movie – albeit one that plays fast and loose with at least some of the facts involved.

In the 1990s, Harding was arguably the best figure skater in the world, having nailed the triple axel; an amazingly tough move that nobody had successfully managed prior to her.

She was, however, a controversial figure; a spiky character from a poor background in Oregon who didn’t present the feminine ideal that the US skating’s traditionalists preferred their female stars to exude.

Then in 1994, ahead of that year’s Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Harding was implicated in a vicious assault on her American rival, Nancy Kerrigan, aimed at ruining her hopes of a medal.

How much Harding knew about the attack remains open to speculation, but her husband Jeff Gillooly was at least partially involved in a bungled scheme that badly backfired and effectively ended his wife’s career.

An opening caption says the movie is “based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly”.

Because of this, it’s hard to work out who is speaking the truth, but the film takes a broadly sympathetic view of Harding. She’s a victim too, but a feisty and not always likeable one.

Abusive relationships

Harding, played by Margot Robbie, comes from family background where she endured both mental and physical abuse as a child.

Her father left when she was six and her mother, LaVona Golden, played by Alison Janney, was a strict, unloving parent obsessed with turning Tonya into the best ice skater in the world.

Harding left high school to fully focus on skating but then meets and marries Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who – according to his wife’s testimony – turned out to be even more abusive.

Rebel skater

Harding’s career goes well but she never feels the judges and the public accept her compared to the others.

‘America, they want someone to love and they want someone to hate’ – Tonya Harding

Her mother always had to make her costumes because they don’t have enough money. Harding calls herself a proper “redneck”.

After one competition, she waits for one of the judges in a parking lot and confronts him, asking why she never gets the points she deserves.

He replies: “We are looking for a wholesome American family,” but Harding doesn’t fit that image.

It really frustrates her because she is not pretty enough and her costumes and impoverished upbringing are seen as more important than her skating.

The attack

One day, Harding receives a threatening letter which plays on her mind. Jeff and his best friend Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) decide they should do the same to Kerrigan so she will be too scared to compete well.

However, Shawn – an obese fantasist who lives with his parents but claims to be Tonya’s bodyguard as well as a counter terrorism expert – decides to hire two dim-witted petty criminals to injure Kerrigan instead.

The attacker hits her just above her knee, leaving Kerrigan in agony but she onl suffered bad bruising.

Kerrigan and Harding both qualified for the 1994 Winter Games, but by then the latter’s life is unravelling as proving the guilt of Jeff, Shawn and his clueless henchmen proves to be easy work for the FBI.

Harding finishes in seventh place in Norway as Kerrigan skates to a silver medal.

Jeff and Shawn were sentenced to prison, while Harding got three-year probation, a fine of $160,000 and a life ban from skating.

At one point, she was one of the most hated people in America, but until this day she maintains she did not know about the plan to attack Kerrigan.

Oscar-nominated

The movie has a bit of everything; it’s funny and sad and way more. Robbie makes for a very believable Tonya, and her heartbreak at being banned from the one thing she’s any good up is very affecting.

Some have said the Australian is too pretty to play Harding, but she delivers a performance that both captures her inner steel and vulnerabilities.

Janney received an Oscar, a BAFTA and Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a supporting role, and really deserved all those prizes.

LaVona is a totally unsympathetic character; you really hate her but at the same time she is very ironic. The only time she is ever nice to Tonya is when using a hidden recorder to get her daughter to speak about the attack, presumably to sell the tape to the media.

Stan is less plausible as Gillooly, who doesn’t quite manage to come across as being as stupid as he’s meant to be.

During the closing credits, you get to see footage of interviews with the real Tonya, Jeff and Shawn, giving weight to the movie’s claims of veracity.

In truth, it tells a tragic story, but plays it mainly for laughs, particularly with Shawn; the real footage shows how uncannily Hauser has captured him, protesting that he is indeed a counter terrorism expert even in the face of all the evidence that he isn’t.

Video Diary: PyeongChang Winter Olympics

This years Olympic winter games were held in PyeongChang. I travelled together with my family to South Korea to be a part of this amazing experience. During my stay I made a video diary so I can show you a little bit what it looks like.

We flew from Amsterdam to Seoul and stayed there for one night. It was minus 10C degrees, but luckily we were prepared and had our hats and scarfs with us. The next day we took the high-speed train, specially made for the Olympics, to Gangneung.

This is a small town two hours away from the capital Seoul. There was a beach and lots of fish shops but for the rest there was nothing it’s very isolated from the rest of the world. The Olympic park was only 10 minutes away by taxi from our hotel. The snowboard and ski events were in the mountains of PyeongChang.

South Korea is famous for fried chicken and other delicious kinds of food. Korean people are very polite and do everything they can to make you feel at home.

Overall, it was an unforgettable experience to be at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

YouTube Preview Image

The super fans who made it to the Winter Olympics

Winter sports might not be very popular in Great Britain, but there are people who travelled from all over the world for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

I spent nine days in the host city Pyeongchang, meeting fans from around the globe who were there to cheer on their nations’ competitors in the 15 featured sports.

My first discovery was that the venues and facilities for the different events were quite a long way from each other, so people had to spend a long time travelling if they had tickets for a variety of events.

If you want to go from the Gnangneung Oval to the Phoenix Snow Park, where all the ski and snowboard event takes place, you have to get a train for 30 minutes and then a bus for another half an hour.

I found it was easier to stay close to the venue where I planned to spend the most time – the Gnangneung Oval – along with hundreds of my Dutch compatriots. Other nationalities opted to gather where their medal prospects were clustered.

North Americans

The ski and snowboard sports are very popular with American and Canadian fans, so they mostly travelled high up in the mountains to the Phoenix Snow Park.

Americans Shaun White and Chloe Kim, both gold medal winners in the halfpipe snowboarding, are very popular with big personal followings.

The American chant of  ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!’ rang out across the slopes, while some Canadian fans stood out by dressing up as beavers, their national animal.

Europeans

The Netherlands dominate the speed skating events, so the Gnangneung Oval was filled every day with people dressed in bright orange.

Every time a Dutch skater took to the ice, the ‘Oranje’ contingent turned up the volume in the arena. They even brought their own oompah band from the Netherlands, and during the break you could hear all the fans celebrating medal successes and singing their Dutch songs.

The band ‘Kleintje Pils’ played songs everybody knows – they even wore their clogs.

YouTube Preview Image

It’s not that much fun for all the other countries to watch the speed skating at the Winter Olympics because seeing the Dutch take all the medals can get a little boring…

Other nationalities

Given the fact that their nation was banned from competing as a team, it surprised me that there were a lot of Russian fans at the Games.

Then again, although the International Olympic Committee blocked competitors from representing Russia as a punishment for its widespread doping issues, around 170 Russians took part as neutrals.

Effectively, this Winter Olympics featured a large Russian team in all but name.

Don’t sit behind this Dutch fan…

Another nation whose presence stood out was North Korea.

After a prolonged period of tension between North and South, the Games gave the two sides a chance to put their differences aside and compete together.

A sizeable delegation of athletes and government officials travelled to Pyeongchang to see the ice hockey game between Switzerland and United Korea.

North Korea also brought its own cheerleaders, who became a big hit on social media. They were easily recognisable with their red outfits and carefully choreographed songs and dance routines.

It reminded me of those clips you can find on the YouTube where North Korea celebrates the birthday of Kim Jong-un with thousands of people all marching with exact precision. Their cheerleading was the same and looked like a military operation.

It all looked nice and friendly on the outside, but the girls were watched at all times by North Korean monitors.

They were not allowed to speak to anyone and, apparently, when they get home are not permitted to talk about their experiences in the South.

Putting diplomacy aside, the Winter Games is, of course, all about the sport.

The United States, Canada and the Netherlands brought the most fans with them, and there were lots of Koreans at all the events.

The Olympics is an incredible spectacle, and it was amazing to be there. Hopefully, I’ll make it to Beijing in 2022…

Fans get a taste of this summer’s hockeyfest at Jaffa Super 6s Finals

It’s shaping up to be a big summer for hockey in London.

This year’s Eurohockey Club Cup for women is being held in May at Surbiton. One month later, the Women’s World Cup is being stage at Lee Valley, the location for the London 2012 Olympic hockey tournament.

Hopes will be high among British fans that Team GB can add World Cup success to the 2014 Olympic gold in Rio.

But ahead of those two major tournaments came the Jaffa Super 6 Finals at the Copper Box Arena, a 7,500-seat indoor venue also built for the 2012 Games in Stratford.

Outdoor hockey is still on its winter break, but that doesn’t mean that the players are doing nothing.

The Jaffa Super 6s is an indoor hockey league for men and women’s teams. Each side has six players, and a game comprises of two 20-minute halves

The women’s final was between Bowton Hightown and Leicester, with the men’s showdown featuring East Grinstead and Team Bath Buccaneers.

Tickets were available for around £30, which seemed pretty pricey, but the doors opened at 9:45am and there were six games played during the day, so a fiver per match was reasonable.

The atmosphere

My first impression upon walking into the Copper Box was how quiet it was. The arena was only half full and the fans were not cheering and shouting. Only when the announcer motivated the spectators did the volume start rising.

The crowd was a mix of schoolgirls, parents with young children and, noticeably, quite a few groups of middle-aged men. Hockey is generally perceived as a female sport so it was surprising to see groups of guys in the crowd.

The players from the eight teams competing that day were casually walking around the arena, talking to family or friends.

The games

I only went for the two finals of the day and was a bit disappointed by the quality of the hockey on display.

First, the ladies final started slowly and the pave of play was not like normal indoor hockey games, with goals galore and plenty of penalty corners.

The ladies final ended in a 2-1 victory for Bowton Hightown; the scoreline tells you it wasn’t much of a spectacle.

However, thanks to their win, Bowton qualified for next season’s European indoor competition.

The men’s final was more exciting, with East Grinstead running out 4-2 winners.

The overall experience

One thing that really stood out was the sheer enthusiasm of the red-shirted volunteers. There were lots of them and they all knew what to do, creating a feeling that the event was very well organised.

They were all very excited and helpful. During the games some of them sat in the stands to watch, and it was good to see hockey lovers helping out at an event like this.

The volunteers were also advertising to sign up as a volunteer for the upcoming tournaments this summer.

But the best thing about the whole day was that there were players such Kate Richardson-Walsh, Helen Richardson-Walsh, Sam Quek and others from Team GB’s Olympic team in action.

Team GB goalkeeper Maddie Hinch was having her photo taken with kids next to the World Cup trophy. Nowadays you almost can’t imagine a sport where players who won Olympic gold can just walk around and are up for a chat, with no paparazzi or security.

They were just being ambassadors for their sport. It’s an easy way to get people interested in hockey, and so many boys and girls can now say they met their idols.

Let’s be honest, hockey is a minority sport and, and indoor hockey is even less popular. But there are so many good sides to it. Having a relaxed day out with the family. Seeing your favourite players for only £30, and you can even get to talk to them.

The Jaffa Super 6s was the perfect PR event to promote the EHCC and the World Cup. I think more people got excited for this summer.

Although the quality of the games were not that high, some of the best hockey players in the world were there, and it was a nice day out.

Q&A – Freestyle footballer Jamie Knight

Jamie Knight is one of the best freestyle footballers in the world.

 The 25-year-old is originally from Northern Ireland but came to London to pursue his dreams.

Now he has worked with several Premier League footballers and travels the world to show off his tricks.

His biggest success so far was performing at the 2017 Champions League final in Cardiff alongside The Black-Eyed Peas.

YouTube Preview Image

Elephant Sport caught up with Jamie for a chat.

How did you get into freestyle football?

I’ve never actually played football for a team. From a young age, I knew I was only interested in the skills side of football. Ronaldinho blew me away with his skills on the pitch.

When I was 16 years old, I saw a video from a guy from Holland, Tousani, on YouTube, I didn’t even know freestyle football existed. So I tried doing some tricks in my back garden just for fun. I kept practicing and got quite good. I did try playing football in a team but where I’m from, Northern Ireland, how they taught us football at school was boring, and I was put off by that.

How does it work with coaching? Does anybody in freestyle football even have a coach?

No, nobody has a coach but nowadays because the sport got bigger there a lots of YouTube tutorials which can teach you some tricks. When I began, I watched some videos, not tutorials but just people doing tricks, and I wanted to do it myself so I kept trying.

When I was younger, every day when I came home from school and did my homework and after that I wouldn’t play the PlayStation, I just went straight outside to practice.

Is it difficult to motivate yourself everyday to go practice on your own?

Maybe 99% of people would just try it once and give up if a trick does not work, or you have a bad day. But I was just obsessed from the moment I started. Watching people on YouTube always motivated me; I wanted to be like them. And coming into school the next day, I could show my friends what I could do.

You are in the top 16 of the world at the moment. How do freestyle competitions work?

Jamie Knight
Freestyle has taken Jamie all over the world

It’s similar to a break-dance competition. You have three one-on-one rounds. All the rounds are just 60 seconds long, I will get the ball for three seconds and my opponent will have the ball for 30 seconds. You get judged by difficulty, creativity, musicality, style and overall performance.

Because the sport is bigger now you have national and continental competitions, and there are three different world championships. The Red Bull World Finals is the big one.

Are you going to the Red Bull Finals in Tokyo next year?

No. I’m in the top 16 of the world right now, but I decided to stop competing for now and to just focus on myself. One hundred percent of my income comes from performing, not even sponsorships. Because freestyle football is such a young sport there is almost no money in competitions.

If I want to be in the top 16 again next year, I have to train more than three hours a day. I am 25 now so I want to prioritise my time in networking.

How did you become a professional?

I went to university in Manchester and got a degree in business, finance and economics. After that I went back to Belfast for a year and tried to figure out what to do with my life.

Then I got a job in an accountancy firm in Canary Wharf here in London. I liked working in an office and I liked my job, but I knew deep down that I had to give freestyle a go. So one day I walked into my boss’s office and said ‘I am going to bounce a football in my neck as my job’. He thought I’d completely lost the plot, but  I’ve been doing freestyle football professional now for a year and a half.

During my first month as a professional, I really set myself up. I made a website, made new contacts and then everything took off. I’ve been to 18 different countries in 18 months. But it is a competitive world, so it’s very important to focus on your portfolio and advertising yourself.

What impact has social media on your career?

Social media is very important. I see it as a fancy CV. When people ask me what I do, I just show them my Instagram page. And it is a nice way to engage with people who follow you.

The business side is important as well. Nowadays many brands want to work together with influencers. An example is a cereal company; they saw that I almost have 60,000 followers so the next thing I know is that I am eating their cereal on Carnaby Street with a ball in my neck.

What’s your most watched video on social media?

I was performing in Orlando in September and there I met the head of social media at Real Madrid. They posted a video of me on their Instagram and it got over 2.5m views. And on my own page it is a video of me on the Great Wall of China.

What are your goals?

My goal for now is just to travel a lot and do what I like. Expand my network even more, and enjoy everything I do. Sometimes when you focus on the smaller things you forget the bigger picture. So every time I go to another country, I try to embrace everything because the next thing you know I will be an accountant again.

Photos courtesy of Jamie Knight. You can follow Jamie on Instagram @jamieknightfs

Q&A with weightlifter Amber Sheppard

Amber Sheppard started out as a keen diver. When she needed to get stronger to make deeper dives she started going to the gym. A few years later, she is one of England’s most promising weightlifting talents.

She is a London Youth Games gold medallist, and in 2014 became British champion at under-18 level. Sheppard competes in the 58kg category.

The 19-year-old is a member of Crystal Palace Weightlifting Club where she trains together with senior members of the Team GB squad including Mercy Brown and Jo Calvino.

Sheppard combines her weightlifting career with taking a Sports Management degree at St Mary’s University in Twickenham.

 

How did you get into weightlifting?

I was originally a diver, I dived for 10 years. I competed for Team GB, but I needed to get stronger to do harder dives. I already knew someone who did weightlifting so I asked him if he was able to help me to get stronger. The plan for me was to do just a few sessions, but I liked it so I just kept coming back.

 How do you combine being an elite athlete and the student life?

I think I can manage it quite well. The university I go to is quite helpful, I get time off to go to competitions. Sometimes it gets hectic when you have deadlines and competitions coming up, then it is a stressful period, but I can manage it.

Do you feel that you are missing out on some things?

I am not going to lie – during my first year at university I did not miss out on anything, I went to parties almost every day! It did help me in a way – not in my training, of course, but it helped me to make friends and to get around a new place.

And now, when I do get stuck with university work, I always have people around who can help me. If I had isolated myself I think I would not have had people who could help me with my work. Now I am in my second year and I focus more on my training.

How important is it to have a good bond with your coach?

My coach, Keith Morgan, is vital. When I was back at home I was training with him six days a week, I would see him everyday. Now I’ve come to uni and he still plays an important role.

I always ring him up after training. And I train with him once a week back in Crystal Palace. He is the key in my training and getting me better.

Where are you training for now? Are you going to next year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia?

I am not going to the Commonwealths – I was out because of a hip injury for three months, and because of that I missed the qualifications. I have come back stronger. Everything is looking up now.

The English championships are coming up in January so I am training for that. It’s a big senior competition, so that is the goal for now. Training is very hard at the moment. It is only to make me stronger. Weightlifting is a sport where everything will happen on the day of the competition.

All the training does not really matter until you are on that platform. But if I am performing like I am doing now, I think I am definitely in the race for a medal.

‘Coming second at the Junior Commonwealth championships in India three years ago, that was special’

How do you feel that, after the 2016 Rio Olympics, they decided to cut the funding for British weightlifters?

This is a hard one. The athletes don’t get anything unless they have individual sponsors. It is bad but I cannot really say anything because I am not on the directors’ board.

What is you most memorable moment in your weightlifting career so far?

I’ve got a few but coming second at the Junior Commonwealth Championships in India three years ago, that was special. It was my first ‘Team England’ event.

I’d only been to competitions in Europe, so going to India was really amazing. And coming second as a junior made me very happy. I have had other memorable moments but this one really stands out because nobody expected me to come second.

And lastly, what is your ultimate goal?

My ultimate goal is definitely going to the Olympics. I also want to do more international tournaments. I want to compete with the elite in the world.

Follow Amber on Twitter @amber7sheppard 

Late goals see Spurs Ladies slump to Cup defeat against Brighton

Tottenham Ladies suffered disappointment in their latest WSL Continental Tyres Cup Group Two game as they lost 4-1 at home to League Two rivals Brighton.

In an exciting game at Cheshunt FC, the hosts started brightly, and took a deserved lead on 20 minutes when Bianca Baptiste was one on one with Brighton keeper Lucy Gillett and put the ball into the bottom left corner.

But rather than giving Spurs confidence, being in front seemed to confuse them, and Brighton soon equalised through Lucy Somes, after Spurs keeper Toni-Anne Wayne failed to hold onto a Sophie Perry free kick.

Only a few minutes after the goal, there was an almost the same situation and opportunity for Brighton, but this time Renee Hector was the one to rescue the Spurs.

She stopped the ball on the line and was able to clear it into the opposition’s half where Baptiste quickly turned defence into attack and went close to making it 2-1.

Ten minutes before half-time, Tottenham found themselves behind after some disorganisation in their own box, with Seagulls No.11 Fliss Gibbons beating keeper Wayne with a nice header.

‘Individual errors’

The second half was evenly contested, with both sides having chances, until two goals in the final six minutes of the match sealed Brighton’s win.

Brighton had clearly done plenty of work on their free kicks in training, and substitute Ini Utong, who had only been on the pitch for 10 minutes, was able to slide the ball in to make it 3-1.

In the last minute of the game, Utong struck a beautiful volley to notch her second goal, giving Wayne absolutely no chance.

Spurs manager Karen Hills was left to lament ”individual errors”. She said: “That was our problem in this match.”

She singled out her goalkeeper, adding: “It wasn’t Tori-Anne Wayne’s best match. But at the end of the day she has been one of best players for the last two seasons. Everybody can have a bad day sometimes.

‘Tough games’

‘We weren’t completely out of the race, we started well and made the opening goal, but we were just not able to pursue this.

“One of the reasons for that is we had two tough games this week, in the league against Watford Ladies where we drew 1-1, and in the Cup game where we beat Yeovil  2-1.

‘We were unfortunate today, but this outcome does not reflect how we played and who we are.

“I think we did dominate in certain areas of the pitch. And obviously going 1-0 up you would bet us to do okay considering how we played Yeovil this week.

“We are disappointed but that is football.”

Spurs’ next opponent in the Continental Cup is Chelsea away on December 6th, but for Hill and her team the focus is now on next week’s League 2 game against Doncaster. Spurs are currently fifth in the table, with the Belles in second place.

Review: Steps and Marches – hooliganism explored in fine art

What does a white tracksuit have to do with football hooliganism?

It’s a question that confronts you in Steps and Marches, an exhibition by Polish artist Marcin Dudek currently on show at London’s Edel Assanti Gallery.

The piece ‘Well Washed’ features a white-painted tracksuit, and once you know the story behind it, its connection to violence becomes clear.

The tracksuit used to belong to Dudek’s brother, who was wearing it on the day he got stabbed in the leg during a confrontation between Polish hooligans and the police.

His work here draws on his experience of conflict and crowd control as a teenage fan of KS Cracovia.

Resonance

There are plenty of books and movies about football hooligans out there, many of them lurid and sensationalist.

Dudek’s art, on the other hand, is more reflective but not lacking in resonance or impact.

Marcin Dudek, Steps and Marches, Installation View
Photography: Will Amlot. Courtesy Edel Assanti

In the first room, there are three mini-photos of hooligans fighting with the police.

According to the gallery, the ‘intimate scale of these images signify the artist’s complex relationship with a time in his own past in which he was lost in a violent crowd, narrowly escaping disaster’.

Because the images are so small, you have to stand really close to see them, creating a sense of intimacy at odds with the subject matter.

On the way to the second room, you have to go through a sculpture called ‘Recovery and Control’. It is the kind of turnstile you normally see at a football stadium.

This gate forces people to go in one by one. It creates the feeling that you are entering something more secret or special.

Dynanism

Normally when you go through those gates, there is an exciting game or a concert waiting for you.

Emerging on the other side, the walls are painted a vivid shade of orange. This aspect really grabs your attention.

Why orange? Because during the violent outbreaks at the football matches of Dudek’s youth, supporters wore their black bomber jackets inside out.

The orange was a sign to let everybody know there was danger and you had to be ready to defend yourself.

This exhibition, which is running alongside a related ‘chapter’ in Brussels, seeks to explore the dynamics of crowd behaviour ‘from order to chaos’. The fact that Dudek’s work is based on real incidents in his life makes it all the more powerful.

Steps and Marches runs until November 11 at the Edel Assanti Gallery. For more information on the artist, visit marcin-dudek.com