Tag Archives: Usain Bolt

Duty calls in the paintball combat zone

For members of the current gaming generation, the closest to ‘Call of Duty’ that most of us will ever get involves going paintballing.

So after endless nights of honing our combat skills as console warriors, that’s exactly what me and a group of friends signed up to do at the suitably-named Delta Force.

None of us were really up for rolling around in the mud on a cold, wet afternoon, but after a conference call led to arguments over who was the best at first-person shoot-em-ups, suddenly everyone was fired up and ready to literally give it their best shot.

Delta Force has 33 venues nationwide, and its Upminster facility in east London is regarded as one of the best, offering seven game zones which boast a jet aeroplane, four double-decker buses, armoured vehicles, forts and ‘jungle’ environments.

Established in Surrey 20 years ago, the company hosts 500,000 players annually and employs over 1,000 staff to make sure your day out is fun but safe.

Celebrities who have enjoyed the Delta Force and are pictured in its hall of fame include Lewis Hamilton, John Terry, Usain Bolt and Gordon Ramsey.

Safety briefing

The day started early as we had to be on site by 7am in order to get kitted up briefed for the day ahead.

Upon arrival, we were issued with jump suits and helmets as part of our protective gear. Underneath my jump suit, I’d taken matters into my own usain_bolthands and came wearing extra padding to reduce the pain of being shot.

Safety is taken seriously and the briefing to took almost half an hour, and then it was time to enter the field.

The marshals’s are very big on safety, once you exit the ‘safe zone’ to pick up your gun, your protective helmet can’t come off until you return your gun and re-enter the safe zone.

Not even when you have been shot and are out of the game – if you are found to have removed or lifted your helmet you will find it quickly slammed down over your face by a marshal and you are then on a final warning before you have to be removed.

All safety equipment is included in the adult entry price of £9.99, and the only thing you pay extra for are your paintballs.

These always seem to run out, no matter how many you buy, and the more you purchase the more you have to carry with you on the battlefield with the risk of losing them.

To avoid disappointment, at the beginning of every battle, I bought 100 for £7.99.

After picking up our guns, we had the option of getting our eye in on the shooting range, but as experienced Call of Duty players, we decided to save our bullets for when it really mattered.

Bait

The first zone was called ‘Jet Hijack’, and as the attacking team we had to storm an aircraft and free hostages from the ‘terrorists’ holding them captive.

Staying low and getting close to the plane was key, but because it was in the centre of a open field, its defenders had a clean shot at us.

“Shooting someone especially when it’s a friend is a great feeling and gives you plenty to boast about afterwards”

That’s where our gaming experience kicked in, and half of us acted as bait to draw their fire while the rest of the team played the role of assassins taking out the enemy one by one until the hostages were in safe hands.

Ambushing the plane to save the hostages meant I got shot and was out until the next time, and being shot by a paintball is one of the most painful things I have experienced.

Although I was wearing a protective mask, I was some how shot on my lip through the mask and had to raise my hand (surrender) to alert everyone that I had been hit and was out.

Once you surrender, people aren’ t meant to shoot you but some of the opposition see it as the perfect opportunity to test their long-range shooting and hit you for fun.

Being hit in the face is pretty painful, but most people tell me that being shot on your hand is the worst place to be hit because of the lack of fat.

In comparison, shooting someone especially when it’s a friend is a great feeling and gives you plenty to boast about afterwards.

Ceasefire

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Each game has its own objectives for the defending and attacking teams, and each team faces obstacles in trying to achieve their objectives, but ‘Jet Hijack’ was my personal favourite.

Six battles and countless hits, misses and minor bruises later, the day had ended and out of the 10 teams taking part we finished a respectable fourth.

Playing against experienced players and older groups of lads showed us that we need to play Call of Duty a lot more often to be able to mix it with the hardcore paintballers.

We were up against groups of friends who take paintballing very serious to the point where they bring their own guns, grenades and armour.

Recreating real-life combat situations is clearly very different, and a lot more demanding, than sitting on your sofa in front of the TV screen.

But I would recommend paintballing to everyone – the thrill of shooting your first round is like no other.

To find out where you can experience paintballing at Delta Force, visit their website.

Review – I Am Bolt

Feature length documentary ‘I Am Bolt’ culminates with Jamaica’s spring king winning an unprecented ‘triple triple’ of golds at 100m, 200m and 4x100m at three successive Olympics in Rio, but winds things back to where it all began in rural Trelawny 30 years ago.

“For his height, they say Usain shouldn’t be running so fast, for where he’s from, they are saying he shouldn’t be who he is,” says manager and best friend Nugent Walker, referring to the fact that Bolt grew up poor.

Directors Benjamin Tuner and Gabe Turner capture the humble roots of the world’s fastest man, with contributions from his parents Wellesley and Jennifer, and clips of a young Bolt, his face bearing the mischievous  grin now familiar to billions of people around the world.

They trace Bolt’s journey from when he burst onto the athletics scene as a skinny young boy, through to him beating his chest as he crossed the line at in the 100m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, onto London 2012 and finally to Brazil this summer.

Along the way there are flashbacks to key events such as the World Junior Championships for U20s in 2002, at Kingston’s national stadium, where Bolt, aged, 15, won the 200m in front of his hard-to-please home crowd. Bolt still regards it as his best moment ever.

Inspirational

If  you are able to make the Jamaican crowd chant your name at 15, you know you have real potential – and the film shows how Bolt has realised that youthful promise.

The film-makers have no doubt created an inspirational documentary, one which captures the hard work behind Bolt’s seemingly carefree attitude, but it’s not perfect.

“His success hasn’t come as easily as his laid-back persona sometimes suggests”

In a sporting context, questions are left unanswered, such as the drugs scandal that looms over athletics, and the problems Jamaica has had in this regard.

The issue of doping does come up, but it’s at the expense of the former American drug cheat, and once Olympic and world champion Justin Gatlin, stumbling over his words, and angrily responding to a journalist’s probing question on his doping history.

With exclusive access to Bolt, his team and those closest to him, the film-makers missed an opportunity to address the shortcomings in Jamaica’s drug-testing regime.

This could directly impact on Bolt if relay team-mate Nesta Carter alleged use of a banned stimulant at the Beijing Olympics is proved and the 4x100m squad are stripped of their gold medals because of it.

Lifestyle

“Work for what you want” – Bolt is captured reminiscing about his father’s message to him as a young boy, and it’s advice he has respected and adhered to.

Training hard twice a day under the tough auspices of long-time coach Glen Mills, altering his lifestyle and diet – all in hope of being regarding as the greatest athlete ever – Bolt is truly shown as his father’s son. His success hasn’t come as easily as his laid-back persona sometimes suggests.

The film also shows Bolt using his rivals’ words as motivation, such as an interview Gatlin gave to TMZ.

“What makes me strive is the fact that they talk all the time,” Bolt says. “When you talk and tell me what you’re going to do, all it makes me want to do is work harder, big up to yourself, Justin Gatlin.”

And yet, it’s often overlooked that Bolt has often not been at his best going into major championships, and Rio was a case in point.

‘Gigantic task’

With his season and training regime disrupted by injury in the build-up to the 2016 Games, the film reveals Bolt to be plagued by doubts and sometimes struggling to find the motivation needed to succeed at the Olympics once again.

He is shown seeking advice from friends including four-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson and Australia’s 200m Commonwealth champion John Steffensen.

“The documentary ends with Bolt joining some exalted company in a humble setting that takes the audience back to his origins”

If was as if  Bolt felt that there was nothing left prove. As coach Mills puts it: “He’s faced with a gigantic task, it will be like starting all over again.”

Ultimately, it wasn’t his coach or friends, but arch-rival Gatlin who finally awoke the sleeping beast.

The world gets a rare glimpse of Bolt looking frustrated and annoyed as his medical exception from the Jamaican trials has members of Team USA, including Gatlin and Mike Rodgers, making insinuations and casting aspersions.

Famously relaxed by nature, and as an athlete with a completely clean drugs-testing record, he uses their disrespect to ignite the fire within ahead of Rio.

Saviour 

It’s clear from that scene onwards that Bolt finally has all the motivation he needs to defend his own – and his sport’s – reputation, and cement his unbeaten Olympic legacy in Brazil.

A medium close-up shows him to be visually angry over the negative spin of the Americans. He shakes his head, stares into the camera and says: “It’s not going to be the same.”

In that moment the audience can see that the man viewed by many as the saviour of athletics – with all its corruption and drug issues – is ready to show the world how a race should be won. It’s safe to say that Gatlin and Rodgers had no idea what they had done…

Job done in Rio, and retirement now beckons for Bolt after the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London next summer.

But, as the documentary shows, he has already joined some exalted company in a ceremony in a humble setting that again takes the audience back to his origins.

The sprinter sees his portrait join those of Jamaican national icons Nanny the Maroon and Marcus Garvey on the wall at his old school, William Knibb Hill Memorial High.

It captures the love, appreciation and esteem that Jamaicans hold for their finest-ever athlete – one for whom ‘I Am Bolt’ delivers a fitting visual portrait.

For more information about ‘I Am Bolt’ visit the film’s website.

St Mary’s on track for more success as Worlds head to London

The clock is ticking and the race is on to qualify for the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London.

Next summer, elite competitors from all over world will descend on the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, reviving memories of the 2012 Games.

But can the magic of that hugely successful event – and the medal haul they generated for Team GB – be recreated five years on?

With London at its multicultural and vibrant best for the Olympics and Paralympics, the achievements and record-breaking moments of 2012 still feel fresh in the mind.

As does the joyous spectacle and bouncing energy, the pride and joy that filled the Olympic Stadium – compared to the rows of empty seats and lack of atmosphere at the Rio 2016 Games.

From the athletes to the fervent crowds and army of ever-helpful ‘Games Makers’, London showed how the Olympics should be, and for the world to see.

Great show

At St Mary’s University’s Endurance Performance and Coaching Centre (EPACC) in south-west London, staff are confident that the 2017 IAAF and IPC World Athletics Championships can match will have a similar feel-good factor.

“Seeing the likes of Farah and Bolt training here just gives them so much inspiration”

“It was fantastic, I have never seen a crowd like London,” said Rowan Axe, an assistant at EPACC. “I don’t think you will ever beat what we had, the home support was just fantastic.

 “London in particular, it’s so multicultural, they just get behind everyone, whether they be a British or American or whatever, the crowd is behind them.

“And for athletes, competing in front of their home crowd provides inspiration. Next summer is going to be brilliant – London always put on a great show.”

St. Mary’s has played an important role in the achievements of British athletics, with the likes of Mo Farah and Jo Pavey among its success stories in recent years.

Endurance

“For distance it’s right up there,” said Axe. “I think we produced around 40% of the endurance squad selected to represent Team GB for the Rio Olympics.

“That’s a testimony to the Centre, and looking ahead to the Worlds in 2017, I think there will be a similar number of EPACC-supported athletes competing for Britain.

“Andy Vernon in 5k and 10k, you might have Adele Tracey for the 800m, the list can go on. I think the Centre is helping to produce the great endurance athletes that we need. The continued support from the London Marathon is crucial to enhancing those athletes to get to that next level.”

As well as helping to hone British talent, EPACC’s reputation for sporting excellence has also seen it play host to some of the world’s greatest athletes.

Like Farah, Jamaica’s nine-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt  has occasionally trained at the EPACC in preparation for major events such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Ambassador

“It’s a huge benefit to both British athletics and endurance running if it inspires student athletes to try and get to that level. If they can see those calibre of athletes  it inspires them to push themselves,” Axe said.

“A lot of these students are still very young and have a long way to go. But seeing the likes of Farah and Bolt training here just gives them so much inspiration.

“We need to get the profile of athletics out there a bit more, but hopefully it will continue to grow, and we will get more people watching it”

“It’s great that Farah is a huge ambassador for our university. A lot of these students look up to him, and it definitely gives them a lot of fuel to achieve some success.”

According to Axe, the EPACC has played a big role in the Somali-born runner’s feats, which this summer included defending his London 2012 5,000m and 10,000m titles in Rio.

“Farah used the Centre to his advantage, he progressed year on year, looking to take that extra step, and that is ultimately what to took him to the Nike project in America.

“But without the support that he had from the Centre, he might not be the athlete he is today. It definitely helped his career.”

Right direction

However, even Farah’s success and with the 2017 Worlds on the horizon, Axe believes British endurance running still needs plenty of nurturing and support.

“In the UK, you go to some of our track meets around the country and there will be very little media coverage, there won’t be any big-name sponsors, it lacks a bit of that environment.

“I think they we need to get the profile of athletics out there a bit more, but hopefully it will continue to grow, and we will get more people watching it.

 “It’s definitely going in the right direction, it is getting there.”

Medals for Team GB at next summer’s eagerly-awaited athletics extravaganza in Stratford can only help that process.

Tales of what might have been for Pickering

It’s not very often that one athlete earn the chance to represent their nation at two Olympic sports. Craig Pickering came very close to doing so.

Now 29 and living in Australia, the former Team GB sprint star nearly made it to the 2014 Winter Games as part of Britain’s bobsleigh squad.

Injury prevented him from making the trip to Sochi, however, and such setbacks are a recurring theme in a sporting career that could have – but didn’t quite – hit the heights.

Crawley-born Pickering burst onto the athletics scene at the age of 18 with victory in a race in which he beat Sydney Olympics 4x100m relay gold medallist Darren Campbell.

Looking back, he’s not too sure whether that win really deserved the hype it generated around him.

“When I beat Darren, he was coming to the end of his career,” Pickering told me. “Three other people beat him in that race, so it wasn’t only me. I think it was made into more of a big deal than the performance warranted.”

Sacrifices

His sprinting memories start 13 years prior to the ‘breakthrough’ race in 2005 that his sprint memories start.

“Sprinting was probably the first sport I did, but more as a play-based activity. I have strong memories aged five of winning my first sports day by a long way, and also beating kids a few years older than me. But I never pursued athletics outside of sports day, really. One of the problems was that I genuinely didn’t know how to.”

“I was by no means a serious athlete aged 14 or 15, even though I was winning national championships”

Dreaming of becoming a professional footballer, Pickering’s then-PE teacher Adam Izzard pointed him towards rugby. However, success in athletics seemed more likely for the 16-year-old, and as the chances of succeeding became more realistic, other sports were sacrificed.

However it took Pickering a while to realise his potential. “I was by no means a serious athlete aged 14 or 15, even though I was winning national championships.

“I think the turning point for me came in 2003, I was 16; I came third in the World Under-18 Championships, and I thought that if I took it seriously, I might be able to get somewhere with my sprinting.”

Transition

Two years after this realisation, he found himself crossing the line ahead of Campbell. By now, Pickering had goals in his mind. Everything was geared up for the 18-year-old to burst onto the global scene, but a great 2005 was followed by an anti-climactic 2006.

“It was my first year at university with a new coach, and a big transition period,” he explained. “It’s important in athletics to take it each year at a time.”

So 2006 rolled into 2007, and Pickering won the 60m at the European Indoor Trials and UK Championships in February.

“My goal for 2007 was to get myself back to a decent level. I did not expect to run so fast over 60m, that was a shock, but once I had it wasn’t that surprising that I had a bit more success over the 100m that year.”

Blunder

By the time the Beijing Olympics came around in 2008, Pickering and the rest of the GB men’s sprint relay squad were seen as certainties for a medal.

But history repeated itself as, yet again, a bad year followed a good one for Pickering. In the 4x100m final, his illegal baton exchange Marlon Devonish led to Great Britain being disqualified.

“It was an important opportunity missed. I should have an Olympic medal, but I don’t and that’s my fault”

It was a blunder that Craig takes full responsibility for. “It wasn’t ideal, but mistakes happen and the important thing is to learn from them. From then my relay performances were much better.

“After Beijing my focus was on 2009, then 2010, then 2011 – 2012 was a long way away at that point. It’s only now that I think that the relay was an important opportunity missed. I should have an Olympic medal, but I don’t and that’s my fault.”

Surgery

The years following 2008 were all geared towards London 2012 for Pickering, but early in Olympic year came the devastating news that he was to miss the Games on home soil.

“I had to have back surgery,” he explained. “I knew for about seven months before the Olympics that I’d have to, so it wasn’t a last minute disappointment or anything, but I would have liked more than anything to have competed in London.”

“I’d rather my big injuries had not happened in 2012 and 2014, but 2011 and 2013 instead, but that’s the way it goes sadly”

The bad news didn’t stop there. Due to not being able to compete in London, Pickering dropped out of UK Athletics’ lottery funding system, meaning at 21 he he had to find another source of income.

Luckily (for once), a new one wasn’t hard to locate as his talent was seen to be potentially useful in another Olympic event, the bobsleigh.

“Bobsleigh offered me a trial, I was quite good, and they took me on board. From that point, I was focused on qualifying for Sochi in 2014.”

Bad timing

However, as the Winter Games approached, Pickering picked up another injury, ruling him out of yet another major event. He’s now philosophical about these setbacks.

“Genetically, I am at risk of suffering from a lower back injury – I had my first one aged 14. Then the daily training and competing takes it out of you too.

“The timing of it all is unlucky – I’d rather my big injuries had not happened in 2012 and 2014, but 2011 and 2013 instead, but that’s the way it goes sadly.”

Since moving to Australia, Pickering has found himself becoming more detached from the GB athletics scene.

Offering his services as a coach online and being head of sport science at DNAFit, he is hoping his current job will lead him to secure a more hands-on coaching role.

Rumours

An avid user of Twitter, Pickering is vocal on eradicating drugs within athletics. With world governing body the IAAF currently mired in a corruption scandal involving the alleged covering up of positive tests, it’s a topic that is high on the agenda.

“Rumours will never stop,” he said. “Things that have happened in the past will taint athletics pretty much forever, and there is a belief in the general public that pretty much every athlete is on drugs.”

“If Ujah and Dasaolu can stay injury-free I would expect them to have really solid careers, and potentially challenge for 100m medals in the future”

At least, says Pickering, the sport has Usain Bolt to counter the negative news. With Rio 2016 possibly signalling the end of the Jamaican sprint king’s career, Pickering believes that as much as his retirement would be a sad day, it will also help the sport progress as a whole.

“After he retires, the sport will just move on an unearth new stars and big names. I doubt any will have the same impact as Bolt, however. He is a one-in-a-million athlete that only comes around every 100 years or so.”

Amongst the up-and-coming stars of sprinting, Pickering thinks highly of GB hopefuls Chijindu Ujah and James Dasaolu.

“If they can both stay injury free I would expect them to have really solid careers, and potentially challenge for 100m medals in the future. Adam Gemili too is a big hope.”