Tag Archives: Olympic Games

Mair aims to keep things fair in Olympic hockey

Andy Mair will be looking to put in a good all-round performance at the Olympics in Brazil this summer, but you won’t find him on any medals podium.

When the Games come round, our focus tends to be solely on the athletes, striving for success and enjoying the limelight at the world’s biggest sports event.

“Officials ensuring fair play and enforcing the rules in each sport have to be just as much ‘in the zone’ as the competitors”

However, there’s an whole army of other people without whose contribution Rio 2016 couldn’t possibly go ahead.

They are the referees and judges, the umpires, marshals and range of other officials who are there to make the Olympics tick as smoothly as a Swiss watch.

Kent-based Mair is an elite-level hockey umpire, and will in Brazil working with video technology to ensure that the correct calls are made out on the pitch.

In many ways, he says, the officials ensuring fair play and enforcing the rules in each sport have to be just as much ‘in the zone’ as the competitors.

Balance

“By the time you get to an Olympic Games, you get used to the rhythm of major tournaments. You learn the ups and the downs, and you get ‘up’ for your games and then you get back ‘down’ afterwards to try and relax,” he told me.

“If the technology can slow things down and highlight things that the officials couldn’t possibly see, then it’s definitely worth having”

It’s a trick that not everybody manages because they can’t always keep that balance. You can see people in a tournament, their performances start to go because they are simply running out of [mental] puff. They are not capable of sustaining the concentration levels.

“The officials tend to be spectators of things such as the opening ceremony, rather than being involved in it. But  a lot of them will get involved in a lot of things in the Athletes’ Village. You can see people trying to detach themselves and then get their levels back up for the events they are officiating in.”

Mair is part of a sport that has been rapidly developing. At London 2012 he was a video umpire, assessing referrals from the umpire on the pitch, and challenges made by teams on a call they thought were wrong. Mair watches a slow-motion replay to determine the correct decision.

Trust

The technology is, he says, much-needed in what is very fast and intense game.

“Being part of the on-pitch umpiring team has changed radically even in the time that I’ve been involved because hockey is a high-speed sport on synthetic pitch.

“We have two umpires one at each end, with equal sort of strength and value if you like. operate with each other.

“In some sports, technology has perhaps got too important and now they’re just learning to rein it back”

“In the big tournaments, you build up strong relationships with the people you’re working with, build up the trust, so you know when things get tricky you’re able to rely on each other to try and get through the problems.

“The difficulty, as I’ve said, is that hockey is a very fast sport. The ball is very small and the pitch is similar to the size of a football pitch. The ball can travel from one end to the other within a second or two.

“Being able to see what fully happens all of the time is perhaps asking too much. So if the technology can slow things down and highlight things that the officials couldn’t possibly see then it’s definitely worth having.

“In some sports, technology has perhaps got too important and now they’re just learning to rein it back – that’s all part of the learning process within all sports.”

Participation

At London 2012, tickets for the hockey – with its end-to-end action and GB’s good Olympic record – were much sought-after. The sport is popular in this country and is played at school, county, club and national league level.

But what will be its appeal at Rio 2016, in a country where hockey isn’t on the sporting agenda for many fans?

Mair said: “The Brazilians are going to have a tough time, and it was the same [for Greece] at the 2004 Athens Games. They had to go through a qualification process to get through to the tournament and they tried very hard to do that.

“Brazil do play hockey, they compete within the Pan-American set-up, but the level of their international team is much lower than what would be expected in an Olympics, so it’s possible they won’t take part.

“But hockey will be seen in the country and it will be televised. The people will want tickets to go and see it, and that will have an effect on the sport in the host nation.”

Image courtesy of englandhockey.co.uk

Iftakhar sets his sights on Rio 2016

Wrestling is arguably the lowest-profile Olympic sport in Britain, but Adil Iftakhar is hoping to put it in the spotlight at the 2016 Games in Rio.

The 21-year-old became a Team GB competitor in 2011, narrowly missing out on the London Games in 2012 due to his inexperience.

In order to compete in Olympic wrestling you must be the best in your weight category in your national team, which he wasn’t at the time.  However,he now feels he has got what it takes to make it to Brazil.

“I’m definitely looking at it, you’ve got to dream and make it a reality,” he said. “There’s certain events that I have to participate in. I’ve got to go to these tournaments, get a good placing – if possible a medal – and then from there the doors open for Rio,” he said.

On the GB wrestling team there are seven weigh-class categories with three people in each.  Iftakhar will battle against the other two in his category to reach Rio next summer.

“The two people in my category tend to be my main competitors,” he said. “I have to be better than them. Only one out of the three of us can get to Rio, but I still need to qualify by excelling in the tournaments as well.”

Self-belief

Iftakhar, who competes at 86kg, trains three days a week but just once a month with the rest of the GB Academy in Salford.

He stressed just how important training and dedication are, allied with confidence and self-belief, to achieving success in the sport.

“The training that makes you is club level,” he said. “I train in Slough once a week, and on top of that I train in London twice a week,” he said.

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Iftakhar in action

“I do my own conditioning separately with weight sessions on top. I’ve also now started to do altitude training with masks, and this has improved my performance greatly.”

Having recently turned 21, Iftakhar is now a senior and admits there are no more excuses if he doesn’t qualify.

“I’m a senior now and can’t say ‘Oh I wasn’t old enough,’ because now I am. I’m confident that I can be [good enough], 100 percent.

“You’ve got to be confident – it’s an individual sport, one versus one. You’ve got to be confident in your skills and ability because if you’re not you’ve lost half the battle. Wrestling is very mentally-oriented.”

Iftakhar is currently studying law at City University in London. Finding the right balance between training and study is tough but something he says he deals with.

It is very difficult with the work and training,” he admitted. “My frame of mind changes when I’m working, I’m calm and very relaxed, but when I’m training it’I become stressed out because I am so determined.

“The sessions are intense and repetitive, and if I don’t get it done I feel as if I’ve let myself down.

Right now I’m putting more effort into my work as wrestling won’t support me for the rest of my life compared to a sport like football,” he said.

“I still get in enough wrestling sessions and I would like to do way more, but it’s not realistic for the long term.”

Minority sport

The last GB Olympic wrestling medal winner was Noel Loban in 1984 at the Los Angeles Games. Iftakhar believes from what he has seen it will be very difficult for his country to end the 32-year drought in Rio.

“People need to understand that it is a minority sport in this country,” he said. “It hasn’t got a lot of funding and it is not supported well by the government, and therefore our chances are slim.

“If anyone does win it will be down to individual effort. If I’d gone and trained in Russia for a year that would have been done with my own resources and money.”

Iftakhar holds an outstanding record, winning 90% of his 50 tournament-based matches so far. He would like nothing more than to win a medal in Rio but knows it’s a challenge.

“My aim is to win one, obviously. I’d aim for the highest one but that’s not to say I wouldn’t be happy with a bronze,” he admitted.

“For a sport that is probably one of the most difficult in this country, and is not supported as much as others, it would be a great achievement.”

Adil Iftakhar is on Twitter @Adil Still; for more information about the sport, visit the British Wrestling website.