Spectator sport

Five reasons to be cheerful about British sport (yes, even the cricket)

After all, it’s the women’s Ashes that really matter, right?

25 January 2014

9:00 AM

25 January 2014

9:00 AM

James Cook’s third voyage as an English captain ended in disaster, stabbed to death and disembowelled by a pack of angry Hawaiians in 1779. The latest Captain Cook’s third tour since taking charge of the national cricket team has been just as successful, with Alastair’s England given the Hawaiian treatment by Australia. But don’t despair: for the British sports fan there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Try these:

1. Our women cricketers are thumping the Aussies, and it’s the women’s Ashes that matters, right? Just remind any passing Australian of that, and last summer’s Lions tour too, if you’ve got the time. Thanks to seven wickets from Anya Shrubsole, they won the only Test of the multi-format series in Perth, a ground where the men have only won once. With six points for a Test win and two for each limited overs win, Australia have to win the rest to regain the Ashes. (If England’s men were playing with such a system they would be trailing 36-0.)

2. Getting engaged to his long-time girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki has been good for Rory McIlroy. After a wretched 2013, the Ulsterman has started the year with a second in Abu Dhabi, and he’d have won had it not been for one of those lunatic golf rulings which meant he lost a couple of strokes because his heel was on a line marking a golf cart track. But a Rory firing on all cylinders is good for golf, and Europe wants him on hot form for the Ryder Cup.

3. It’s almost Six Nations time. England have a nasty trip to the Stade de France in the first round, but might fancy their chances against Les Bleus, who could be more than usually mercurial, with the players who fancy Valérie refusing to pass to Julie’s supporters. Be interesting to see who François brings along, though I’m not sure if either of his gals is much of a rugby fan.

4. It’s still early January but Manchester United have lost four times this year, and sit seventh in the Premier League. For some reason, most of the world finds this very funny.

5. You don’t get to say this very often, but Britain could do very well at the Winter Olympics. UK sport has set an optimistic target of three to seven medals in Sochi next month, and the last time Britain won three medals in winter was in 1936. But we’re good at sliding, and Shelley Rudman could beat her silver at Turin in 2006 in the skeleton bob. Pleasingly, our excellent bobsleigh skills are honed on the training track at Bath University, a rugged mountain centre if ever there was one. Well, it is a winter spa I suppose.

Putin’s Winter Games will be epic. They are his baby, after all, with or without Sir Elton. Already they have cost more than all the past 21 Winter  Games combined and at $51 billion are more expensive even than Beijing.

What we Brits have become quite good at are new disciplines popping up in Sochi for the first time, such as slopestyle (essentially freestyle skiing or boarding with lots of tricks), and ski cross (four skiers or boarders race simultaneously against each other down the same course: it’s full of fabulous mayhem and chaos).

Watch out for freestyle skiers James Woods — known amazingly throughout skiing as ‘Woodsy’ — and Katie Summerhayes in the snowstyle. Both are from Sheffield and learnt their skills at the Sheffield Ski Village, which used to be one of the country’s best dry slope complexes. Some of Yorkshire’s most generous-spirited vandals hit it with an arson attack and burnt it down in 2012. The insurance hike meant the owners had to close. Now the place that helped to produce so much talent is a flytipping dump. There’s something awfully British about that. Though not about the determination and courage of our best Winter Olympians.

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Roger Alton is executive editor of the Times.

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