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Seven of the best comebacks in sports history

February 14, 2017 in News & Features

Trailing Atlanta by 25 points in the third quarter you could have been forgiven for switching off the TV as a New England Patriots fan watching the 2017 Super Bowl.

However, lead by 39-year-old Tom Brady, the Patriots launched a stunning comeback, described as the best in Super Bowl history, with Brady becoming the first quarter-back to win five Super Bowl rings.

With a great comeback always comes the turning point; Julian Edelman’s phenomenal catch for a first down, under pressure from three Atlanta players, with two minutes left on the clock proved to be exactly that, allowing James White to level the game on a two-yard run.

After that Super Bowl thriller, here are seven more of the best comebacks in sport, some you may of heard of, others maybe not.

 

Lasse Viren – 10,000m – 1972 Olympic Games, Munich

On the 12th lap, Finish runner Lasse Viren was tripped by Emiel Puttemans sending him sprawling to the surface, with Moroccan runner Mohamed Gammoudi also getting caught up in the aftermath.

Gammoudi was down and out, picking up an injury in the fall. Viren however, was straight back to his feet with a 20m deficit to make up and 12 and a half laps to go.

That might not sound like too much, but in an endurance race making up gaps that size is one of the toughest tasks. Not only do you need to have enough energy to get to the end of the race, you need to find the speed to catch up to the rest of the pack.

Incredibly, it only took at matter of seconds for Viren to find himself back in contention, with the crowd cheering him on as he recovered back to the leading pack.

Viren then produced an unprecedented last 600m to take the gold medal in a world record time – one which still stands as the fastest ever 10,000m at the Olympiastadion in Munich.

 

England – 1981 Ashes, Third Test – Headingley

With Australia up 1-0 after two Tests, the 1981 Ashes headed to Headingley, where Australia looked set to take a 2-0 series lead.

In a match where England were forced to follow one after the first innings, a victory was so unlikely that England had odds of 500-1 to win.

However, Ian Botham, who just resigned as captain due to poor performances, had other ideas, producing a total of 149 runs, giving England a small lead of 129, forcing the Australians to bat once again.

A lead which you would have expected the Australians to claw back, yet an inspired bowling display the following day from Bob Willis, saw him take eight wickets for 43 runs, as Australia fell for just 111 runs. Suitably fired up, England went on to win the series 3-1.

In what was described as Botham’s Test, it was only the second time in history a team won a test match after being forced to follow on.

 

Nick Faldo – 1996 US Masters – Augusta

Norman and FaldoHaving lead the first three rounds at the 60th US Masters, Greg Norman went into the fourth and final day with a six-shot lead over Britain’s Nick Faldo.

Norman and Faldo were paired together for the closing round, and after seven holes Australian Norman, despite have his lead reduced to four shots, still looked on course for victory.

While Faldo continued a flawless day, Norman who had never won the Masters in 14 attempts, completely collapsed over the next 11 holes, and twice found the water for double bogeys.

Faldo’s score of 67 was the best that day, while Norman’s 78 was one of the worst. It was one of the most astounding comebacks and collapses in golfing history, handing Faldo his third Masters title.

In a great show of sportsmanship, afterwards Faldo and Norman embraced, the Englishman almost seemed more upset for Norman than the Australian himself did.

Faldo told the press afterwards: “I honestly, genuinely feel sorry for him. He’s had a real rough ride today.”

 

Manchester United – 1995/96 Premier League 

In a glittering managerial career that spanned over 39 years, Sir Alex Ferguson was certainly no stranger to a comeback, a trait that defined the teams he managed.

The one that sticks in the memory are the 1999 Champions League Final where injury-time goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær completed a famous treble for United.

Their comeback to win the 1996 Premier League though is one that is overlooked. With Newcastle United 12 points ahead in January, no-one would have bet on on Fergie’s team winning the title.

Going into the season with a young squad and little spending, a 3-1 loss on the opening day to Aston Villa, saw BBC pundit Alan Hansen famously say: “You never win anything with kids.”

Newcastle, meanwhile, had a storming start after a big-spending summer. However a run of fives losses in seven games after January, while United went on a near-perfect run spurred on by the return of Eric Cantona from an eight-month suspension, saw Fergie’s men overhaul them in the title race.

This as well as Ferguson’s mind games prompted a famous quote, or rant, from Magpies manager Kevin Keegan live on Sky Sports, as United went on to win the title by four points.

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Houston Rockets vs San Antonio Spurs – NBA, 2004

Perhaps one of the best one-man comebacks in history, with Houston Rockets 10 points down against San Antonio Spurs in the final quarter, Rockets swingman Tracy McGrady score 13 points in 33 seconds to secure a 81-80 win for the Rockets.

McGrady scored four consecutive three-pointers – one was part of a four-point play – his last one coming 1.7 seconds before the end to secure the victory.

Liverpool, UEFA Champions League Final – Istanbul, 2005

Keeper Jerzy Dudek was the hero as Liverpool fought back from 0-3 deficit at half-time to shock the giants of AC Milan, winning the Champions League on penalties in one of the most famous comebacks European Football.

Struggling in the league at the time, the Merseyside outfit produced a number of shocks against European giants, including Juventus and Chelsea, on their way to lifting the club’s fifth Champions League trophy.

Most expected an AC victory, and by the interval Milan fans were already celebrating victory, after Paolo Maldini and a double from Hernan Crespo sent them into half-time with 3-0 lead.

However, a Liverpool team with Steven Gerrard leading them could never be written off, and it was their captain fantastic who headed them back into the game.

Vladimir Smicer was an unlikely hero, really putting pressure on AC after his long-range attempt was fumbled by Dida to bring Liverpool right back into the game, before the outstanding comeback was completed when Xabi Alonso pounced on the rebound from his own penalty which had been saved by Dida.

The Italian side was totally stunned by the comeback, having completely dominated the first half, and despite golden chances to win it, Dudek produced an incredible double save from the shellshocked Andriy Shevchenko to send the game to penalties.

Liverpool’s Polish keeper then replicated Bruce Grobbelaar’s famous “spaghetti legs” to put off Milan’s usually reliable penalty takers and bring the trophy back to Merseyside.

 

Team Oracle USA – America’s Cup 2013

America's Cup 2013The 34th America’s Cup saw challengers Team Emirates New Zealand take an 8-1 lead, just one point away from victory.

That was before the defenders Team Oracle USA brought in British sailor and five-time Olympic medalist Sir Ben Ainsley as a tactician for race six.

Despite this Oracle fell 0-6 behind after eight races, due to penalties they had imposed on the, and by the twelfth race New Zealand just needed one more victory as they led 8-1.

However, with Ainslie’s presence now being felt, Team Oracle were flawless and they won the next eight races to stage an extraordinary comeback to defend the trophy.

The gruelling competition was the longest-running America’s Cup series in history.

‘People will realise that it’s a badass sport!’

December 19, 2016 in News & Features

Competitive cheerleading has been granted provisional status as an Olympic sport by the International Olympic Committee, paving the way for it to be introduced as a demonstration event before potentially becoming part of the Summer Games programme.

But should ‘cheer’ be seen as a sport at all, and does it really warrant Olympic inclusion?

Oliver Norgrove sat down with Alison Dominguez, president of the University of the Arts London’s cheerleading squad, The Royals, to discuss its Olympic potential, stereotypes and the hidden intensity behind a much-misunderstood pursuit.

…on the Olympics

ON: So as you know, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has given cheerleading provisional recognition as a sport. How did you react to this?

AD: I thought it was awesome. Aside from the fact that cheer is so physically and mentally hard, you have to deal with everybody else telling you that it’s not a sport, that it’s just for girls, and all this stuff which isn’t true.

The football boys in our school always give us trouble and they’re like ‘Why don’t you guys play a real sport?’ and I say ‘You guys wouldn’t last 10 minutes in practice’ – it’s really hard, and to finally get that recognition internationally was so good.

UAL's cheerleading squad The Royals

UAL’s cheerleading squad The Royals

ON: Do you feel the provisional status should go further?

AD: Absolutely. Cheer is not what it was 50 years ago. It’s not about dancing around and shouting ‘Go team!’ It’s physically demanding. I think it’s just as hard as any other recognised sport, per se.

ON: Do you think that cheerleading lacks the respect it deserves, and will the IOC’s decision change that?

AD: I hope so. I think yes and no. Some people will stick to their stereotypical opinions, as it’s one of the most stereotyped sports in the world. When I tell people I’m a cheerleader they’re like ‘Oh, like in the American movies?’. I’m like: ‘Not really no.’ But I think it will.

ON: If cheerleading does become an Olympic sport, how do you think public perception will change?

AD: The Olympics is one of the most watched television events. When the top cheerleaders showcase their skills to the world, people will be like: ‘Oh, that’s what cheerleading is!’

They’ll realise it’s not just jumping around and that it’s really difficult. I mean, we [The Royals] only do level 2, but when you get up to level 6 with the best of the best, it’s crazy stuff. It’s like three-tier pyramids, triple back flips in the air, and they just make it look effortless and they smile the whole time!

It’s really entertaining too, so I think people will realise that it’s not just really difficult, but really cool too.

ON: Are you confident that cheerleading will make it to the Olympics?

AD: I am, yeah. Maybe not this time around, but definitely in the future.

…on the physical demands of cheerleading

ON: Can you give us an idea of the physical demands that are involved in cheerleading?

AD: I would say that the hardest thing we do is tumbling and stunting. Tumbling is the floor stuff you do in gymnastics, handsprings, that kind of thing, backhand springs and that’s difficult in and of itself, especially if you didn’t grow up doing gymnastics.

“Cheerleading isn’t for everybody, I know that, just like football or rugby aren’t for everybody, but what’s the worst that can happen? You watch it and you don’t like it”

It’s really difficult to train a 20-year-old body to do a backhand spring, rather than a 12-year-old body because they just kind of throw themselves. The stunting, which is my favourite bit, is designed so you can throw a person in the air and make it look effortless and pretty, and it’s so difficult.

A typical stunt consists of two bases which hold the majority of the weight of the flyer, and a back which secures the stunt – they stand at the back to make sure no one falls. So the three of you at the bottom are holding up a girl who isn’t that much lighter than you and you’re making it look really effortless.

That’s really hard because she flies on like one leg and you pull shapes, that’s where the flexibility comes in.

ON: It sounds like a cross between dance and gymnastics

AD: Very much so. There actually is a section of a cheer team where you do dance. It’s not your typical dance, it’s very much hard motions. I always tell my girls that if you’re hitting your motions and it doesn’t hurt then you’re doing it wrong. Your muscles should always be really tight.

I really work my flyers to death because if you have a good flyer then they can get themselves up in the air, then it’s just up to the base to keep them there.

If you have a lazy flyer who relies on the fact that they’re light, it’s so much more work on the bases. I have a lot of flyers that weigh like 43kg, but then I have flyers who weight 50kg – who I prefer flying because they do so much more work, as they’re stronger.

…on her personal experiences 

ON: Can I ask you about your current participation in the sport of cheerleading?

AD: Right now I am the president of our university’s cheerleading squad, The Royals. I coach us once a week, we have another external coach once a week also, and I’ve been on the team for two years. I do tumbling outside of cheer with some of the girls just to improve, too.

ON: Which do you prefer, the coaching or the taking part?

“Competitive cheer has developed into this super-demanding sport where you don’t focus just on the appearance aspect”

AD: I prefer taking part. I really do like coaching a lot, but I am here to be on the team and enjoy participating.

ON: I imagine that both are deceptively hard?

AD: Very much so. I definitely didn’t anticipate coaching being as much work as it is – and it’s hard when you’re the president as well. If you don’t plan for practice then it isn’t happening, if you don’t pay for competitions then you’re not going, if you don’t nag all the girls to do X, Y, Z then it’s not going to happen.

ON: Why and when did you take it up? What makes you continue?

AD: I grew up overseas and bounced from sport to sport. I didn’t commit to one thing because I was moving every two years.

I did rugby for a bit, gymnastics for a bit, football for a bit, and then I moved to the States for my freshman year of high school, and for the first time ever cheerleading was an option. I kind of fancied it because of the whole stereotypical, high school movie stuff.

So I made the team and just sort of fell in love with the physicality of the sport. It is so challenging both physically and mentally and being a part of a team that’s so much better than yourself is just so rewarding. It was just one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

…on stigma and public understanding

ON: If it’s so difficult, why have cheerleading’s legitimacy and its merits been ignored or mocked?

AD: It’s a lot to do with what cheer used to be. It was predominantly a way for high school girls to get on the field and cheer on the boys.

There’s nothing wrong with people who want to do that, but competitive cheer is not that anymore, it has developed into this super-demanding sport where you don’t focus just on the appearance aspect of it.

ON: How is cheerleading changing?

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The Royals in action

AD: I think it’s beginning to be taken a lot more seriously by people. A lot of money is going into it, so people are looking for the best stunters, the best tumblers and for athletes that are really strong who can make teams better and better.

What you have is an industry that is taking all these athletes and teaching them how to stunt and cheer dance. All of this is being put together to create some really crazy routines.

ON: If you could make the public understand one thing about cheerleading, what would it be?

AD: There’s so much, but I really just want people to understand that if you think gymnastics is a sport, if you think dance is a sport then why do you not think cheer is a sport? Competitive cheer, anyway.

ON: What are the obstacles that cheerleading needs to overcome in order to engage with a more mainstream audience and enhance its profile?

AD: I think it’s a bit of funding and a bit of public image. In America, cheer is a huge industry and a lot of money goes into it. If the Olympics wanted teams then America would have it, but a lot of other countries have to catch up.

It’s still really up-and-coming so there’s obviously the money problem, and there’s also the problem of convincing people to give you the money because it’s a cool sport and people should take it seriously.

…on the future

ON: What are your own future cheer or coaching ambitions?

AD: I want to do all-star cheer after university. London has really good programmes and I would love to coach my own team one day. Coaching at the Olympics would be really cool.

ON: Are you hopeful for the future of cheerleading?

AD: I am. I think once people understanding the sport, see what it’s about and understand the athletes in the sport, they will understand that it’s a badass sport and its worthy of people’s time.

Cheerleading isn’t for everybody, I know that, just like football or rugby aren’t for everybody, but what’s the worst that can happen? You watch it and you don’t like it.

For more information, visit the British Cheerleading Association website, or the International Cheer Union site. Images courtesy of UAL’s Royals cheerleading squad.

‘There’s more to beach volleyball than tight clothing’

December 6, 2016 in Multimedia, UAL Sport

This edition of ES TV sees reporter Daniel Racheter interview University of the Arts London’s women’s volleyball player Francisca L. Dias.

Francesca discusses her experience of beach volleyball and the stereotypes surrounding it

She also explains that although British volleyball faces uncertainty at international level, with its funding drastically cut, the spirit and competitiveness in the university game is high – although UAL’s recent results haven’t been great…

 Produced and edited by Daniel Racheter and Shan Gambling

Watch the full interview here:

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Is race a credible factor for sporting success?

November 9, 2016 in Sport

When Mo Farah won double gold at the Olympics in the summer, the bluntest among us would have determined that his Somalian heritage was the key to his triumph rather than his British training.

Why? Because over time most sport fanatics have grasped as (Rodriguez, 2016) points out that “it’s no coincidence when you watch the Olympics or any other high profile track meet, the starting line is dominated by black people.”

The supremacy of black athletes has been acknowledged by a plethora of historians for decades, with some believing that biological advantages are responsible.

(Malina, 1986) advocates that “mechanically speaking, a black athlete with legs identical to those of a white athlete would have a lighter, shorter and trimmer mass to propel. This implies a greater power-to-total-weight ratio at any given size. Such a ratio would be advantageous in events in which the body is propelled-the sprints and jumps.”

Yet, the idea of superior biological factors, is dismissed abruptly in many quarters, especially by (Adesioye, 2016) who argues that, “the science behind such theories is highly questionable and, for the most part, unsubstantiated.”

However, the evidence suggests otherwise, as 494 out of the 500 best 100 metre sprint times are held by black athletes and 24 out of the 25 best 10,000 metre times are held by athletes of African descent, which rather strengthens the argument of (Malina, 1986) but also (Entine, 2016) who proffers that “the evidence of black superiority in athletics is persuasive and decisively confirmed on the playing field. Elite athletes who trace most or all of their ancestry to Africa are by and large better than the competition.”

This is further reinforced by the fact that not a single white athlete has made the eight man 100m sprint final since 1980 – when Briton Allan Wells achieved a gold medal.

Definitively, the results convey that the performance gap in favour of black athletes compared to their counterparts, comes in a sport – running – where gifted talent, rather than facilities/training, is paramount and the barometer of success, which decisively diminishes the credibility of (Adesioye, 2016) argument and fortifies the view that race and genetics play a significant role in sporting success.

Therefore, society’s distorted doctrine of political correctness should be defied, in order to comprehend this genuine evidence for a relationship between race and sport, because as (Entice, 2016) points out “stereotypes are like a mythical herd of elephants in the living room: everyone hopes that if we refuse to acknowledge their existence, maybe, just maybe, they will go away.”

In other words, perhaps we should finally acknowledge and embrace racial differences in sport rather than fear them.

 

 

Adesioye, L. (2016). Lola Adesioye: The lack of black swimmers at the Olympics doesn’t mean race determines athletic prowess. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/aug/25/race.olympics2008 [Accessed 8 Nov. 2016].

Entine, J. (2016). Taboo. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/e/entine-taboo.html [Accessed 8 Nov. 2016].

Malina, Robert M. (1986). Genetics of motor development and performance. In R. M. Malina and C. Bouchard (Eds.). Sport and Human Kinetics, Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL. pps 23 – 58.

Rodriguez, D. (2016). Why are black people generally more muscular/athletic?. [online] Quora. Available at: https://www.quora.com/Why-are-black-people-generally-more-muscular-athletic [Accessed 8 Nov. 2016].

 

Hodge aiming to get back in the fast lane

November 3, 2016 in Interviews

There are some interviews when you really have to strain to get some reluctant sporting character to say anything even vaguely interesting or unanticipated.

Marcel Hodge, with his easy-going attitude and willingness to talk, is very different.

The Ascot-born athlete has overcome Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Asperger’s Syndrome to make his mark in the T20 (learning disabilities) category of track and field.

“I was never really fond of team sports, I couldn’t play football to save my life, so running was just an easy decision for me”

However, the 24-year-old’s career has been stop-start so far, ranging from becoming the fastest T20 sprinter of all time in the UK over 100m and 60m to defeat by female athlete Louise Bloor in a 200m indoor race in Manchester in 2016.

But first, back to the beginning, and Hodge’s decision – or rather his mum’s – that he should take up running as at eight-year-old at Slough Junior Athletics Club

“In all honesty, in the beginning it was just a way for my mum to get me out of the house,” he admits. “I have ADHD, so I was hyperactive as a child, running around everywhere and swinging on the chandeliers – not literally…

“But at the same time, I loved sitting around watching Cartoon Network and Fox Kids while eating snacks. I knew I was always quick but I was useless at every other sport.

“I was never really fond of team sports, I couldn’t play football to save my life, so running was just an easy decision for me.”

“Not really represented Great Britain” 

Hodge speaks with great maturity as he reflects on being classified as a T20 athlete in 2012, opening the door for him to compete for Great Britain’s learning disability athletics team due to his promising times.

“Ha ha, well, I won’t say my times were amazing,” he laughs. “I for one was not impressed. I think people knew I was capable of much faster times. Running the 100m in 11.1 seconds and running 22.6 in the 200m in 2012, is nothing to brag about.

“It’s sort of controversial. Ever since I was 15 years old, I wanted to compete at international mainstream level [non-disability] such as the World Juniors and the European Junior Championships.

“I felt you get more respect and appreciation, hitting those sort of levels. It made me feel okay but not Tony-the-Tiger great.”

Then there was the cost factor, with learning disability athletes effectively expected to pay their own way.

“The whole squad had to fund themselves,” he explains.

“It was about £80 for my kit and about £500 to compete at the INAS World indoor championships in Manchester and in the same year, I competed at the INAS European Uutdoor Athletics Championships in Gavle, Sweden.

“We had to fork out a £250 deposit plus £850 on top of that, so that’s £1,100 in total we had to pay to represent our country.

It might as well have been called a Thomas Cook all-inclusive holiday package to Sweden! Utter joke. It’s the same every competition.

“So I feel that personally, I haven’t properly represented Great Britain as in simple terms: if you can’t afford it, you can’t be on the team. And that’s not fair on anyone.”

Disappointments 

Hodge has, however, continued to strive to be the best in his sport, but he’s still smarting over his loss to Louise Bloor over 200m in March.

It came in an open competition where runners were seeded by time, and Team GB’s Bloor was looking for a fast run as she chased qualification for the World Indoor Championships.

“Getting beaten by her was hard,” Hodge recalls. “She wasn’t just any girl, though. She’s competed at World and Olympic level and is coached by Tony Minichiello, Jessica Ennis-Hill’s coach.

“I’m not making excuses, but running an indoor 200m is very different to running an outdoor 200m. The last time I ran an indoor 200m was back in 2012 and I’d had no practice at running an indoor since then.

“I also had a cold, but honestly I was just slow. I was still in my winter phase with no proper speed work in me.

“I thought I would break the world T20 200m indoor record of 22.17 seconds, which isn’t that quick by mainstream standards, or even destroy my old indoor 200m personal best of 23.09. Instead I got 23.86. I felt humiliated and embarrassed.”

Paralympics 

For any aspiring athlete with a disability, the main objective is to compete in the Paralympics.

But after missing out on going to Rio this summer, Hodge insists he is focused on competing at future Games.

“I was training fine for the Paralympics but the 400m was not my natural event,” insists the sprinter.

“Everyone said I would be good at 400m, but boy were they wrong”

“I only took it up so I could go to Rio for my category as they haven’t yet added  in the 100m and 200m. I did try long jump but I couldn’t jump to save my life, and I don’t compete in long distances, so my last and only choice was to do the 400m.

“I didn’t like the event from day one. I couldn’t even jog 400m when I started athletics. My mum had to run with me and she was pregnant at the time!

“People at British Athletics were telling me to take it up because of my 200m times, and they said I could make the top four in the T20 world rankings if I did a full 400m winter training programme.

“I was naive enough to believe them. Everyone said I would be good at 400m, but boy were they wrong. Despite that knockback, I want to compete in five Paralympics and I believe I can still be 40-plus years old and still hold my own as long as I stay on top of everything.”

Team GB won 64 Paralympic gold medals in Rio, their highest total since 1988, however Hodge was disappointed by the lack of support from the general public and the TV coverage.

“One thing I despise is adverts. Why put the Olympics on the BBC where it’s uninterrupted coverage and the Paralympics on Channel 4? It’s unfair. Paralympic stars do not get the same coverage as able athletes because they have a disability, it’s as simple as that.”

Ambassadorial work 

The highs and lows Hodge has experienced make him ideal as an ambassador for the UK Sports Association’s My Sport, My Voice project, and he says it’s important to give opportunities to young athletes with learning disabilities.

“I want to make a difference,” he says.

“Learning disability athletes don’t get half the recognition as other disabled athletes and it’s my duty to change that.

“The governing bodies are doing a lot right now. However, it’s about adding more events to our category for the 2020 Paralympics, so athletes such as myself have the chance to show what we can produce.”

Hodge’s career has not progressed in the way he’d hoped, but he is optimistic about the future.

“To be honest, I just want to be competitive again,” he says.

“I want to go back to the level I know that I was capable of, when I was 18-years-old. I may aim to break the T20 60m world record which currently stands at 7.01 in 2017, or I hope to become the world outdoor champion over the 100m and 200m, if I can afford it and if we have a team.

“I want to continue to progress and put my name into T20 sprinting history because at the end of the day I aspire to be myself, I am my own inspiration.

“Learning about yourself is limitless, there is always something new you discover about yourself.”

Getting hooked on table tennis

October 26, 2016 in Participation

Glued to my sofa on a drab Tuesday night, having earlier consumed a kebab, I wasn’t necessarily in the market to try out a new sport.

However, my table tennis fanatic friend Junaid worked hard to convince me to come and give his game a try at a local sports club in Slough, Berkshire.

Despite my initial lack of eagerness, once we arrived I had a funny feeling in my stomach. At first I thought it might be something to do with that kebab, but it wasn’t.

It was more an adrenaline rush and a feeling of nervousness mixed with enthusiasm.

Being competitive by nature, I was filled with tension because I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of experienced players, but in hindsight that tension ensured I was motivated to have fun and try something new.

Popularity 

Having become an Olympic sport since 1988, table tennis has been in the limelight for many years.

Its origins go back to the 1880s as game-makers tried to emulate the popularity of lawn tennis by developing indoor versions.

“As I got to grips with the sport, I wanted a doubles match with another pairing. My competitive nature was taking over…”

The sport is simple. It is played by two players (singles) or four players (doubles) on a 2.7m x 1.5m table.

They repeatedly hit a 40mm-diameter ball made of celluloid and plastic over and around the net by using rackets (also known as bats) made out of wood that are covered by pimpled rubber.

The object is to score 11 points before your opponent.

In a game where each player has two serves, they hit the ball back and forth and must only allow a ball played towards them to bounce once on their side of table, and the opponent must return it so it bounces on the opposite side.

If the score becomes tied at 10 points each, the first player or pair to gain a two point lead will be victorious. In addition, a match will consist of winning the best of any odd number of games such as: 3, 5 or 7.

Serve it up 

As I prepared myself in the changing rooms, the noise inside the hall was pretty deafening. You could hear balls being rhythmically knocked back and forth and the anguished cries of those  struggling with the pace.

There was certainly a competitive feel to the atmosphere, even though – like me – not all the people present were seasoned table tennis hitters.

Finding a spot and table wasn’t hard due to the impressive facilities at the club.

My friend eased me in at first but as I got to grips with the sport, I wanted a doubles match with another pairing. My competitive nature was taking over…

Junaid found an experienced partnership who were no doubt feeling smug about their prospects of victory, but I warmed up thoroughly, determined to not to be embarrassed in my first competitive table tennis game.

Surprising myself 

It was time for the showdown. At the back of my mind, I was thinking of when Mike Tyson the huge favourite, lost to Buster Douglas and it just gave me the confidence to surprise the other pair.

“After believing in my own abilities, I managed to give them a scare so next time hopefully I can hand them a defeat”

I served first but my nerves got the better of me and it went straight into the net, but Junaid was quick to push me on and said ‘Continue doing that, it will pay off, trust me.’

As I got into the flow, I started to put my stamp on the game and alongside Junaid, we caused our opponents plenty of problems.

They were on the backfoot for most of the contest as our youthful energy paid dividends. My confidence grew and I unleashed a destructive hit that startled the opposition. I was here to play.

However, experienced eventually told and they rallied to earn a 3-2 victory.

But afterwards they came over and said ‘We didn’t think you had it in you, that was a good workout. You better be here next week – we will certainly have a rematch.’

Those words gave me so much encouragement. At first, I thought I would be a disaster and there was no hope, but after believing in my own abilities, I managed to give them a scare so next time hopefully I can hand them a defeat.

Try it! 

Football is my main sporting passion, but table tennis was tremendous fun. Despite it being a challenging sport to master at first, it’s one people of all ages and abilities can enjoy and it also gives you a really good workout.

There will almost certainly be a club in your area that welcomes newcomers, and if you are feeling spontaneous you could even try it at home!

Just watch out for your mum’s best dinner service if you do decide to give it a go on your dining table.

By deciding to give up my sofa for a strenuous cardiovascular work out, I not only improved my endurance levels but I enjoyed doing something different and I would recommend everyone to give the sport a try.

To find out where you can give table tennis a go, visit the Table Tennis England website.

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