Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Searching for Jack Lovelock, and a flat white

One of the delights of undertaking sports research is finding a treasure trove of information from an unexpected source.

For any historian, the LA84 Foundation Sports library in the West Adams district of Los Angeles is a must visit.

When the internet was in its infancy and I was undertaking some research on Jack Lovelock for what would become Conquerors of Time, I came across a reference to the LA84 Foundation Library. Upon making contact with them it was clear that when the opportunity arose they needed to be included in any research trips to the United States.

That chance occurred in 2003 when setting aside four days in Los Angeles to utilise the library's resources. Basing myself in a motel in Santa Monica, I was a short taxi ride away from the museum. But before getting there, there was an unexpected, but most welcome, surprise.

The trip had been a round-the-world effort firstly to visit Galatas on Crete to do some research on the World War Two bayonet charge by two companies of New Zealand's 23 Battalion, and others, to reclaim the small village, just outside of Canea, that was the subject of my book Galatas 1941: Courage in Vain. From Crete it was to New York to stay with Prof. Roger Robinson and his wife Kathrine Switzer, while also visiting the families of milers Bill Bonthron (Princeton) and Luigi Beccali (Long Island) for research on the Lovelock book.

So successful were those contacts that by the time Los Angeles was reached it would be fair to say the brain, and the suitcase, was overloaded with excitement with the information that had been gained.

Alas, one of the disappointments of time away from home was that coffee a la Australasia, and Coffee Culture in Christchurch, where we were living at the time, especially, had been a noticeable absence during the trip. Sustenance was to be closer at hand than was appreciated when checking into said Santa Monica motel. The manager said if I needed some breakfast in the morning there was a little café out the front that was bound to suit.

So walking into the cafe to start my day next morning, I said to the woman behind the counter: "This may sound a little strange, but do you do flat whites here?" She responded, "You're from Australia or New Zealand!"

"New Zealand," I replied.

She then said: "We had an Australian barista stay here a couple of months ago and she showed us how to make flat whites, would you like one?"

Would I what? It arrived and when completed she said: "How was that?" And I said: "May I have another please? It's been a long time between flat whites."

Suitably fortified I made my way to West Adams to the LA Foundation Sports Library which was a site to behold. If this was how proceeds from the 1984 Olympics should be spent then all power to Peter Ueberroth and friends.

Faced with such an impressive array of sports books and magazines, including complete sets of the late, lamented World Sports, Sports Illustrated and a near complete series of The Amateur Athlete, the USOC official journal, it was fair to say pig and muck would be a fair description of my reaction.

The Track and Field section of the library was prolific and with only four days there was a lot of ground to be covered. The chosen method was to get a library ladder – the books were on the top shelf – and work my way through the indexes of the books most obviously related to my subject.

It was when nearing the end of that process that a true gem emerged, the story of Artur Takac, titled 60 Olympic Years. Takac had been Yugoslavia's delegate to the IOC for many years and it turned out that he had been a handy middle-distance prospect in his youth.

He raced with Lovelock in an event in Zagreb in 1935. Aged 17 at the time, Takac was taken under Lovelock's wing and was given a coaching session on the hoof, as it were, during the race. Too young to be included in the Yugolavia team for the 1936 Olympics, Takac was sent to the Olympic Youth Camp staged in association with the Games.

There, he ran into Lovelock who invited him to a training session before the 1500m. After watching him do his workout, Takac timed Lovelock through several 300m repeats and saw just how fast he was going. He asked him why he specifically ran 300m sprints?

Lovelock merely said: "Silence my boy. Just keep watching and you will see in the final all will be decided in the last 300 metres. But it has to be a surprise."

This was gold, literally and figuratively, because it confirmed that Lovelock's plan to sprint from 300m out was no fluke. And it destroyed the myth that Lovelock had arrived at this tactic very late in the piece.

On that find alone, the trip to the library had been worthwhile. But it yielded much more. It is a fantastic place for any sports historian and it was my experience that the staff became very involved in what I was seeking and could not have been more helpful.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

That election result

It is fascinating living through an era of such stunning contrasts in humanity. It is amazing to witness the pace of change, much of it driven by technology, and it is dispiriting to realise that in a time where information has never been so freely accessible, so many have no comprehension that for every action there is a reaction.

Political scientists will have a field day with the outcome of the 2016 American election for years to come. The result does raise a multitude of questions, most of them for Americans to answer.

But from a distance, there are some that I cannot relate to the progress of the human condition - if I may call it that.

What on earth compelled those who claimed they were dissatisfied with  government in their country to hand power to those who were most responsible for that dissatisfaction?

Forgetting, for the moment, all about the qualities or lack thereof, of the Democratic candidate, what was the particular appeal of the representative of the Republican Party, whose belief in the divine right to rule is unbounded, when it was the Republican Party that was obstructionist in the extreme during two terms of the Democratic incumbent?

If there was a reason for a dislocation between the populace and the Government, it surely lay in those who showed no desire to advance the cause of the United States because to contribute to the country's advance would have given credit to a Democrat President.

Throughout his two terms that President has been a hamstrung by the bleeding of the nation's finances to a war that should never have been started in 2003 by his Republican predecessor and his advisers. Every time the Republican candidate, and now President-elect, blamed his Democratic opponent for allowing ISIS to begin he distorted the fact that none of the unrest in the Middle East would have started had it not been for that sideshow in Iraq perpetrated by George W. Bush.

Had Bush pre-occupied himself with sorting out his issues in Afghanistan the problems in that part of the world may have been sorted long ago.

But back on the home front, if the United States' infrastructure was in such bad shape as the Republican nominee claimed, why did the Republicans not work with the Democratic President to give many of those who felt disenfranchised jobs in the rebuilding of the infrastructure? Because the credit would go to a Democrat. It is a shame that being an American of whatever political background is not enough to contribute to the nation's advance.

It is also interesting to ask about the role of the news media in all of this. At Republican rallies, the depth of feeling against the media was stirred up by the candidate and his supporters vomited forth at every opportunity.

Yet, every significant newspaper in the United States came out and backed the Democratic candidate, some who had never done that before. That was their level of concern.

But as the political scientists do their analysis, those people left in the decision-making ranks of newspapers, and it should be acknowledged that much of the intellectual gravitas provided by journalists of experience has been weeded out of the occupation, need to answer the question of where they went so wrong? They need to identify why dealing up trivialities and social gossip as news, instead of informing their readers of the issues of the day, contributed to this outcome.

If the election of the Republican candidate is an indictment of the state of American politics, then the state of the American media is an even greater source of concern. It has been rendered redundant in the face of public opinion, along with all the polling companies who so often contribute to the outcome by further muddying the waters. If you were constantly hearing your candidate was an 84 percent chance to win, would you have the same motivation to get out and vote?

The United States is a fascinating country. Its geography is inspiring on the grand scale. Its people are generous to a fault and their ability to react to worldwide threats has been witnessed time and again for the greater good of the planet. Is there to be a four-year pause in that attitude? Will the country regain its perspective? Will the Republican Party, while having regained the power they coveted, actually look to remedy their approach that has been so divisive? Will the Democratic Party understand that it needs to have a much greater vision, that it needs to move out of the middle ground and to appeal to what should be a natural constituency?

Given the nature of the popular vote, the Republican President-elect cannot claim a large mandate. It would be no surprise if protest on a grand scale once again becomes part of the American political scene.

We can only wonder what the future beholds.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Vale DJ Cameron

Like most sports journalists of the era I benefited from being in DJ Cameron's company. From the vast array of stories of characters and news situations he had been in to the background information provided over a meal, preceded generally by a liberal sampling of the 'wine of the region', and then consummated with the real deal over a meal. That was of course after all the 'tap, tap, ding' had been done and dusted. For one whose start in the media was in the far south, the stories he could tell about people who were out of the orbit of southerners in the games we covered, DJ was generally able to provide a kernel or two of suitably relevant information.

Our paths first crossed when he ventured south with Auckland's regional rugby teams as occurred regularly in the early days of the national provincial championship. He generally arrived with Auckland but could also appear at times with Bay of Plenty or Counties. If there was a training session in Bluff, and that always happened when international teams were in town, Don only had to be asked once if he wanted a lift to the greatest opportunity to indulge in oyster eating that was very likely. Then when visits were reciprocated, a ride to training was always accompanied by a subtle interrogation about what might be expected from these rugby boys from the south. Not that it ever really mattered because they have only ever managed to win once in Auckland and that was well before my time.

But it was when we were both covering cricket that we most came into contact with each other, me for the Evening Post, and joined generally by Peter Bidwell from The Dominion and either John Coffey or Geoff Longley from The Press and NZPA operators Dave Leggat, Sri Krishnamurthi and other sundry characters. They were good days at a time when New Zealand was generally performing well in the latter days of the Hadlee era and with Martin Crowe still in the ascendant. The staging of the World Cup in New Zealand and Australia in 1992 was an especially memorable time with New Zealand playing so positively.

It was always good to watch DJ's moral dudgeon unleashed, especially memorable was the occasion at the Basin Reserve on the occasion it was revealed Chris Cairns had been out rather late at a local drinking establishment. When seeking comment from the relatively new chief executive of New Zealand Cricket, we of the assembled media were dismissed form the late Christopher Doig's presence with what could best be described as an operatic flourish in the grand manner of the opera singer that he was. But DJ, who like most of us enjoyed an excellent working relationship with Doig, chased after him and told him that the matter was going to have to be addressed and some suitable situation was resolved. There was also the occasion in Napier when wicketkeeper Ian Smith took issue with New Zealand's method of dismissal against a rising star in the game Sachin Tendulkar. A very public lunchtime spat saw DJ give as good as he got.

Don liked a bit of a singalong and in the right circumstances, and in the right place, and Christchurch's Jolly Poacher, opposite the Casino, was exactly that, the sing-alongs could get quite advanced. It was just over the road from where we usually stayed at the Copthorne on Durham Street, and at the hour at which we finished the road could generally be negotiated with some ease. Fortunately, the other clientele never seemed to mind because we never got into any strife and if there was a prospect of that DJ always seemed to have a suitable calming influence.

There were times when his reactions to change caught him out. The day we of the cricket media were flown to Christchurch for the unveiling of the future shape of New Zealand Cricket in the wake of the Hood Report was one particular occasion. The former, and out-dated, workings of the board of New Zealand Cricket needed to be replaced, but that had worked quite well for DJ over the years in terms of contacts and suitable behind the scenes information, and it was possible to detect in his questioning at that conference that the world he knew was slipping away. But he wasn't going to let it go easily.

It did represent the end of an era and when rugby went professional later that same year the die was cast and access to players and officials that had been a way of life for generations of journalists became significantly reduced. There were still the odd disclosures but they became just that, odd and few and far between. But there's no doubt as time has gone on, he had the best of it.


DJ was a wonderful servant of the New Zealand Herald, a great travelling companion and a damned good bloke. Vale Don Cameron.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Eight gold medals for New Zealand, says Sports Illustrated

Eight gold meals, eight silver and three bronze are to be New Zealand's lot at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero if Sports Illustrated's quadrennial pick for medals is to be believed.

Significantly among those from New Zealand, the American sports magazine doesn't believe shot putter Valerie Adams will be able to defend her title from London in 2012 with China's Gong Lijiao rated the gold medal prospect.

Also Lydia Ko is not tipped for gold in women's golf which is making a reappearance after last being played in 1900. Canada's Brooke Henderson is rated ahead of the world No.1.

New Zealand has the favouritism for the men's rugby sevens with Fiji picked to take the silver medal and South Africa the bronze.

Australia's women are tipped to win the women's sevens ahead of New Zealand.

In rowing, where New Zealand has been the dominant team in recent years at World Cup and World championship level, there are only two gold medal tips, They are Mahe Drysdale in the single sculls, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray in the men's pair without cox.

Kayaker Lisa Carrington is picked to win gold in both the women's 200m and 500m singles while in cycling the New Zealand men's sprint team is picked to win gold while in the women's events Linda Villumsen is Sports Illustrated's prospect for gold in the time trial.

Sports Illustrated's predictions for New Zealanders at Rio Olympics:

Canoeing

200m Kayak Singles, Lisa Carrington, gold
500m Kayak singles, Lisa Carrington, gold

Cycling

Men's

Keirin, Eddie Dawkins, silver
Team Sprint, New Zealand, gold
Team pursuit, New Zealand, bronze

Women's

Time trial, Linda Villumsen, gold

Golf

Women's, Lydia Ko, silver

Rowing

Men's

Single sculls, Mahe Drysdale, gold
Double sculls, Chris Harris and Robbie Manson, silver
Pair without cox, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, gold
Lightweight four without cox, New Zealand, silver

Women's

Single sculls, Emma Twigg, silver
Double sculls, Eve Macfarlane and Zoe Stevenson, bronze
Pair without cox, Rebecca Scown and Genevieve Behrent, bronze
Women's eight, New Zealand, silver

Rugby Sevens

Men's
New Zealand, gold

Women's
New Zealand, silver

Sailing

Men's
49er skiff, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, gold

Track and field

Women's
Shot put, Valerie Adams, silver




Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bennie Osler runs into Mark Nicholls on muddy Newlands

Part Two: In which outstanding Springboks five-eighths Bennie Osler completes his description of the 1928 tour of South Africa by the All Blacks.


 When the All Blacks were in the final stages of their 1928 tour of South Africa they faced Western Province in their third last game, in Cape Town. Heavy rain overnight had the ground awash at 1pm on the day of the game.


Bennie Osler recalled the game on a tape recording that was transcribed and published in The South African Sportsman in January 1967.

"Newlands was a sea of mud and the correct tactics were obvious – the forwards must control the proceedings. We knew that we could out-scrum the All Blacks, who were still persisting with their 2-3-2 formation with one forward having a roving commission.

"Our captain Phil Mostert, decided that he would choose scrums to lineouts whenever he could and that I would use the boot to keep the All Blacks on their heels."

Osler recalled that the tactics 'worked like a charm'. However, while the All Blacks three-quarters were knocked over when they got any ball it wasn't the fault of any problems inside them.

"Bill Dalley, the All Black scrum-half, was a shining exception. He was simply great and I doubt if I ever saw a finer exhibition of scrum-half play behind a beaten pack," Osler said.

"It was mainly due to him – and a bad blunder by Jock van Niekerk – that the All Blacks had a 3-nil lead at half-time. Jock tried to stop Robilliard with a high tackle which the All Black wing shook off with ease and the next moment Dalley was up to take the pass and score."

In the second half the All Blacks lost centre Syd Carleton to injury which reduced the effectiveness of Ron Stewart who had to move to the three-quarters.

The All Blacks defence was stout however. Osler was able to level the scores with a penalty goal and then when wing P.K. Morkel unleashed a sidestep to score a try.

Several times Osler looked for a dropped goal only to find the All Blacks keen to deny him.

"We were seeing so much of the ball though that my chance had to come, and it did. I was going to try the blindside of the scrum when I noticed the entire defence swinging across to cut me off. I turned quickly on my left instead and ran a few yards infield.

"The posts were right in my sights and I even had time to aim deliberately before letting fly with my right boot. The sodden ball did not lift too easily but it somehow spun over the crossbar for four points," he said.

Soon after the final whistle blew on the All Blacks' fifth tour loss 3-10.

Hopes were high that the Springboks would do likewise in the deciding fourth Test.

But as Osler recounted the Springboks went into the Test 'just a little too confident and too complacently sure of ourselves'.

"Our mental attitude to the last test certainly played a big part in our defeat, but it was certainly not the only reason for the hiding we got. Oh no, that would be very unfair to the All Blacks' great performance that day.

"They staged one of the most glorious fight-backs in the history of rugby in that final test and deserved every bit of credit for winning," he said.

Osler noted it was the only Test in which Mark Nicholls, the vice-captain and veteran five-eighths, played.

"Why this player was so consistently overlooked throughout the tour I will never know, but we Springboks were certainly grateful that Mark did not get more opportunities against us.

"He gave such a masterful display that wet and miserable day at Newlands that I must rate him the finest fly-half I ever played against – on that one solitary performance.

"It was virtually a repeat performance of the first test of the series with the one important difference that this time the All Blacks wielded the whip. Their forwards came to light with a glorious performance and Nicholls dominated the match with his boot."

While the Springboks scored a first half try to J.C. van der Westhuizen, converted by Osler, Nicholls kicked two penalty goals to give New Zealand the half-time lead 6-5.

"In the second half the Springboks were hammered into the ground. The All Blacks held us even in the scrums and controlled the lineouts and the loose with some of the most fiery determined play I ever saw from any pack of forwards.

"Their dribbling rushes were difficult to stop and from one of them Swain got a try and then, to really rub it in, Mark Nicholls put over a beautiful drop goal to make the final score 13-5 – and we were very fortunate that the margin was not bigger."