Left field

The Reuters global sports blog

from Photographers' Blog:

Finding Funtik

By Will Webster

Who could have foreseen what the late Paul the Octopus started when he began picking the winning teams at the 2010 World Cup? Presumably he could have, he was clairvoyant. But he may have struggled to predict the psychic circus that has appeared in the last week before the opening of the EURO2012 championship:  Fred the ferret, an elephant called Chitta and Kiev’s very own Funtik the pig.

Animals predicting the outcomes of sporting events are all part of various big competitions now, Sonny Wool the sheep had a good run during the rugby world cup in 2011, so it’s easy to take it all with a pinch of salt (we’ll talk about local eating habits later.) However, using animals to predict the future goes back to biblical times, doves landing on the arc gave Noah a hint of better times.
Sitting in Moscow, my first view of Funtik was Gleb’s picture of a rabid and vaguely scary looking beast. Fred the Ferret from Kharkiv has a much more furry and cheeky appeal, so why did Kiev go for a pig? 

I talked to Reuters photographer in Kiev Anatolii Stepanov who has spent the last couple of days getting to know Funtik.

Anatolii’s first impression started at the back, he remarked how well equipped Funtik is in the reproductive area. Whilst this might seem an odd observation, there is a reason. As visiting fans are now probably coming to realize, Ukraine, and other regions in this part of the world, really enjoy their “salo”, basically a lump of pork fat, on black bread, usually accompanied by some strong alcohol. The production of good salo is a highly esteemed skill. One prerequisite is that the animal be castrated; those lucky fully intact pigs don't make such good eating. It’s good to know that Funtik will not be so quickly dealt with if he starts getting it wrong.

Safe there, but is he really a soothsayer?  “He goes for the food nearest to him” Anatolii noted, which may mean he will come unstuck at some point if his handler doesn’t get the bowls of puffed sweet corn in the right position. Day one gave Funtik a clean sheet, he successfully snaffled the food offered to him from the Russia bowl first, predicting his Slavic neighbours' 4-1 victory. Intriguingly he took food from both bowls with Polish and Greek flags, signifying the forthcoming equal result. That’s something that Paul the Octopus couldn’t do.

The name Funtik by the way relates to a measure of weight, the funt, the same as the UK pound. And if you were to find yourself having a conversation with him don't forget that Ukrainian pigs don't oink-oink, they khru-khru.

from Photographers' Blog:

The Cuban gazelle

By Desmond Boylan

A mixture of gazelle and human is the impression Dayron gave me when he took off from where I was standing on the training grounds and jumped the first hurdle. He became tiny in the lens very fast, and when he was running towards me there wasn't much time to shoot until he filled the frame.

Dayron Robles is the main sporting figure of the moment in Cuba. In his specialty event of the men's 110m hurdles, he won gold at the Beijing Olympics and is the current world record-holder.

Who will win Euro 2012? It is anyone’s guess

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The bookmakers might say Spain again and people who think they are in the know might say Germany, but really no one is sure who will triumph in the finals in Ukraine and Poland.

Netherlands reached the World Cup final but with Germany in their group, could they become a cropper early doors? France are on a good run but have they got the firepower and defensive stability needed?

from Photographers' Blog:

Dream of gold

By Swoan Parker

Gold in Haiti should no longer be just a dream. Even before prospective mining begins in the country's northern hills, the realization of it all could be little more than one month away. Without investing millions and weighing only 52 kg (114 pounds), 21-year-old Linouse Desravines, the country’s only judoka to qualify for the London 2012 Olympics, is all it might take for Haiti to acquire gold.

Being a fan of the martial arts with secret fantasies of being a Ninja when I was a young child, I wanted to meet the country’s only athlete who is also female and would represent them in judo.  I made a few calls and was put in touch with coaches Ulrick Louis-Charles and Andres Ramos Franco, both former Olympians at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Louis-Charles returned to the Games more recently as coach in Beijing.

The late-night fate of Europe’s NBA fans

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By Phil O’Connor Being a fan of any team is usually a thankless task. But following the fortunes of an NBA team from Europe – especially at this time of the year – is bordering on masochism. I fell for the charms of the world’s best basketball league back in the eighties, when Magic Johnson and his “Showtime” Lakers and Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics were the two top teams it had. The duels between Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Robert “the Chief” Parrish, the scoring and rebounding of James Worthy and Kevin McHale, the deep threat of Danny Ainge – not to mention Bird and Johnson – hooked me for life on the game. The advent of Michael Jordan, Karl Malone and Clyde Drexler only added to it, and the Dream Team at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 completed the NBA’s takeover of world basketball consciousness. It might seem odd that a teenager from a non-basketball nation like Ireland would fall for its charms, but given Boston’s large Irish community and the fact that there was a good likelihood I’d wind up emigrating there, it wasn’t so strange after all. I was also the tallest kid in the class all through school, which meant that if I was going to be good at any sport, I’d have a head start in basketball. Long before the internet, games and scores were followed under the covers in our Dublin home, thanks to the late-night broadcasts on the US Armed Forces Radio station. I’d often fall asleep waiting on the sports report or whatever game was on to finish. Back then, Bird was my hero, and not just for his shooting ability; his passing was breathtaking, and anyone who has ever played any ball-sport will recognise his outstanding ability and vision. I might never have become a resident of “Southie”, and I may have flirted with the greatness of His Airness when Jordan was at his peak, but the Celtics have always been my team. Nowadays it’s easier to keep up with their progress than ever before, but the advent of games streamed live on the internet has been both a pleasure and a chore. As summer begins in Europe, it means a lot of very late nights as the Celtics do battle with the Miami Heat for supremacy in the Eastern Conference. As a sports reporter, I don’t have a normal working life; a lot of what we cover takes place at night or at weekends, so our working days start later than most. Unfortunately, my children have yet to show an understanding of why I have to stay up until dawn watching Rajon Rondo play out of his skin, scoring 44 points and still losing game 2 in the conference final. They still get me up at 7 am, even if I’ve only just gone to bed. Days are spent in a state of mental exhaustion, and by the time I’ve recovered from one all-nighter, it’s tip-off time again. Next week I head for the European soccer championship in Kiev, Ukraine, which will only complicate my basketball fix. Hopefully I’ll have a few more sleepless nights this summer as the Celtics beat the Heat and go all the way to another championship.

from Photographers' Blog:

Russia’s hooligans

By Maxim Shemetov

Photographing a soccer match for the first time, I realized that shooting the fans can be more interesting than covering the game itself.

We all keep up with the destinies of football clubs and the careers of soccer players. There are many parts to soccer life, however, that rarely appear on TV and on the front pages of newspapers. It's the life of people absorbed by the game - those inspiring exciting games, TV translations, as well as the construction of new stadiums.

All is not well between the sticks in Denmark

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Phil O’Connor

Perhaps understandably, nowhere in his writings are his views on international football recorded. 

 But recent events echo the words of William Shakespeare in Hamlet - all is not well in the state of Denmark. Especially between the posts.

“Luuuke” golf beginning to win over fans

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Luke Donald’s complete dominance of Wentworth’s brutal West Course has led the world to sit up and take notice, while his chanting fans have also made their mark.

Not that people were not aware of Donald before, just that his latest victory and the fashion in which he won Europe´s PGA have raised his profile in his native England and made him the golfer to beat again.

from Photographers' Blog:

At home with Hercules

By Peter Andrews

When asked which Polish athlete has a chance at the London Olympics I immediately thought of the shot put champion Tomasz Majewski.

For those who have never seen Tomasz in real life, it can be a bit intimidating. I have always considered myself tall at 192cm (6 feet, 3 inches), but when I first met Tomasz I suddenly felt very small. With a height of 2.4 meters (7 feet 10 inches) and weighing 140 kg (308 pounds), Tomasz is overpowering. He reminded me of Hercules with his long dark hair up in a pony tail. He also has a nice warm smile he puts on easily, so being around him is relaxed and easy right from the first handshake.

Drogba´s departure a blow for Africa

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By Mark Gleeson

Celebrations down London´s King’s Road would have been matched for fervour and passion by those in Abidjan on Saturday night as Didier Drogba delivered for Chelsea.

The pride of an African striking the decisive blow on one of world football’s biggest stages has been reflected across the continent in the post UEFA Champions League final coverage.

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