Rob Wood

Rob's Sports, Fitness & Science Blog

50 Years Ago In Sport

June 23rd, 2016 · Major Events, Sport

The year 1966 is a very significant one for me as it is the year I was born. A lot has changed in the world of sports since then, when I think about the sports I followed growing up and the athletes who have come and gone.

In most parts, sport in 1966 was played without the hype and celebrity mania of today’s elite sport. One exception of the day was Muhammad Ali, who only passed away very recently. Ali was at the peak of his career in 1966, both in his boxing and public life. He defended his title five times, though shortly after he was in the midst of controversy for refusing to be inducted into the armed forces to fight in the Vietnam War. Up until that time he was the undefeated and undisputed heavyweight champion, however he would not fight again until 1970.

Boxer Muhammad Ali

Boxer Muhammad Ali was at the peak of his career

One of the major events of the year was the FIFA World Cup tournament, one that will particularly live on in the memories of the English fans. In a hotly contested final, the host country England won their first and only World Cup title by defeating West Germany 4-2 after extra time. As time ran out, the sealer was struck to the famous words by BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over. It is now!”

The English were also involved in the Commonwealth Games (then called the British Commonwealth Games) which were held in Kingston, Jamaica. The Asian Games were in Bangkok, Thailand and the Central American and Caribbean Games held in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The year saw the emergence of a young American women’s tennis star Billie Jean King who won her first grand slam title. It was the start of a career that would finish with a total of 12 grand slam titles. Margaret Court won the Australian Open for the seventh straight time, a feat that has not been achieved by any other man or women. Both of these women would years later be famously involved in the battle of the sexes matches against Bobby Riggs.

Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus successfully defended his Masters Tournament title, which was also his third win at the event. He also won The Open Championship for the first time in his career and his sixth major title. With these wins be became the fourth player to win all four major professional championships. Considering his lifetime achievements in which he would win 18 majors, the last one in 1986, this was just the beginning for The Golden Bear.

Jack Brabham won the F1 driver’s championship for the third and last time, one of 10 drivers who have achieved this feat in the history of the event. He is the only driver to win a championship in a car of his own team.

This is just a sample of the highlights from 1966. On our sports timeline you can read more details of the sporting results from 1966.

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Rio Medal Predictions Change Over Time

May 18th, 2016 · Olympic Games

Wouldn’t it be great to know the results before the Olympic Games start? For the London Olympics in 2012 I made a prediction for the final medal tally. It was mostly based on my own guesswork, and surprisingly was not too far wrong in the end. For the Rio Games, I predict that the USA will again win the most medals, a pretty safe bet, but not based on any specialist knowledge or special formula. However, I prefer to rely on those a little more knowledgeable to predict the results.

There are plenty of people making predictions about the upcoming Rio Olympics. There are two main categories of medal count predictions. One way to predict the final medal tally is from scholars using economics and a range of factors to base their predictions. The other is to use actual competition results leading up to the Olympics to predict the specific winners of each event. After the London Games, I compared some of these predictions to the final medal count, and predictions using both of these methods were quite accurate.

It seems more logical to base the predictions on actual sports results, and we would assume that the most recent results would be the best indicators. The company Gracenote (was Infostrada) sports regularly update their predictions based on sporting results from around the world. The graphs below show how their predictions have changed over the last year for the top three countries. While the predictions of the actual number of medals has varied, the order has not changed – the USA is predicted to win both the most medals and most golds.

predicted gold

The most recent medal predictions, made with 100 days to go, show the USA pulling away from China and Russia on the table above. A factor that has not been considered is that Russian athletes may still be banned from attending the Games, which would put a large dent in their medal count.

predicted total

I will continue to monitor the changes in these predictions leading up to the Games, and afterwards I will again compare these predictions to the actual results. So far I am feeling pretty confident about my prediction of the USA leading the medal count, it will be a big upset if they don’t.

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10 Great Olympians You Probably Have Never Heard Of

May 12th, 2016 · Olympic Games

With the Olympics just on the horizon, we’ll be hearing and talking a lot about some current great Olympic athletes such as Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, and even past greats such as Jesse Owens, Nadia Comaneci and Mark Spitz. These popular names are only a small sample of great athletes who have graced the Olympic stage since the inaugural Games over 100 years ago. Listed below are 10 Olympians who I believe have had amazing Olympic careers and deserve greater recognition for their achievements. Have you heard of any of these athletes?

Elisabeta Lipă

Elisabeta Lipă is a former Romanian rowing athlete who had a spectacular Olympic career. She is currently the most accomplished rower in the history of the Olympics with five gold medals, two silver medals and one bronze medal. She competed in six straight Olympics from 1984 to 2004 and won a gold medal in every Olympics except 1988 where she picked up a silver and bronze.

Carl Schuhmann

Carl Schuhmann was a multi-sport German athlete who contested in the Olympics and won medals in Gymnastics and Wrestling. He was the most successful athlete in the inaugural modern Olympics held in 1896. He won three gold medals in gymnastics and one gold medal in wrestling. He also contested in weightlifting and finished fourth.

Ray Ewry is one of the most successful athletes of all-time in the Olympics. He won eight individual gold medals in track and field events.

Ray Ewry

Ray Ewry is one of the most successful athletes of all-time in the Olympics. The American won a total of eight individual gold medals in track and field events which stood as a record for 100 years until it was broken by compatriot Michael Phelps in 2008. His record still holds good for the most individual gold medals won by any athlete in track and field.

Birgit Fischer

Birgit Fischer is a former canoe athlete who holds the distinct record of being the youngest and the oldest athlete ever to win a canoeing gold medal. The German has won a record eight gold medals and four silver medals in a career that spanned seven Olympic Games from 1980 to 2004.

Larisa Latynina

Larisa Latynina is an ex-Soviet Union gymnast who contested in three Olympics from 1956 to 1964. She has won a total of 18 medals, 14 individual and four team. Her 14 individual medals still stand as the record for the most number of individual medals any athlete has ever won in the Olympics. Her 18 total medals stood as a record for 48 years before it was surpassed in 2012 (by Phelps).

Aladar Gerevich

Aladár Gerevich was a Hungarian fencing athlete who had an extremely successful outing at the Olympics. Regarded as the greatest fencer of all-time, Aladár contested seven games from 1932 to 1960 and won seven gold medals, one silver medal and two bronze medals. The 28 year span between his first and last gold medal remained as the longest successful Olympic run be anyone until it was tied in 2012.

Edoardo Mangiarotti

Edoardo Mangiarotti was a fencer who has had the most success in the history of Olympic fencing. The Italian participated in the Games from 1936 – 1960 and won six gold, five silver and two bronze medals. His total of 13 medals to this date remains as the highest number of medals won by any athlete in fencing.

Reiner Klimke

Reiner Klimke was an equestrian athlete from Germany who contested in Olympic dressage competition. He still holds the record for the most number of Olympic appearances by any equestrian athlete at six. In his Olympic span between 1960-1988, he won six gold medals, one in each of his appearances, and two bronze medals.

Gert Fredriksson

Gert Fredriksson was a Swedish canoe athlete who to date is one of the most successful men in the history of Olympic canoeing, and the highest individual medal winner from Sweden. Gert won a total of six gold medals, one silver and one bronze in four Olympics from 1948 to 1960.

Sawao Kato

Sawao Kato is a former Japanese gymnast who is one of the most successful athletes in the history of the Olympics. He contested in three Olympics between 1968 and 1976 and won 12 total medals, which includes eight gold medals, one of the few athletes to have won eight or more gold medals at the Olympics.

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Is Bridge A Sport?

March 8th, 2016 · Sport

Bridge is a trick-taking card game. I had never even considered that it was a sport, until I came across the World Bridge Federation listed as an international sports federation and even more surprisingly it was also an IOC Recognised International Sports Federation. Endorsed by the International Olympic Committee? Maybe it really is a sport.

Bridge is a “mind sport”, though just because it includes the word sport in its title, it doesn’t mean it is automatically defined as a sport. Based on the commonly accepted definition of what is a sport, a sport requires physical skill and exertion, and bridge does not involve any physical activity other than sitting on a chair and moving cards around.

photo by Michal Zacharzewski / http://www.freeimages.com

playing cards is not very taxing

I’m not the only one to question if bridge is a sport. The English Bridge Union, urged on by the recognition by the IOC, challenged a decision by Sport England not to recognise bridge as a sport, and therefore not give them access to funding. It took a high court judge to tell them how it is. Bridge players, of which there are millions around the world, enjoy your game of cards, but don’t think you are playing sport.

Sorry the IOC, bridge is not going to make it to my list of all sports from around the world. The closest it will get is on my list of questionable sports.

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The (Almost) Complete List of Sports

February 24th, 2016 · Sport

The list of all sports from around the world is a project I have been working on for quite a while. I have now listed and described over 700 sports. Once I started this project I realized that to cover every sport in the world was an impossible goal. I am confident that every major competitive sport has been covered, but there are many more minor and regional sports that I have either chosen not to include or I have not come across them as yet. If “your sport” is not listed, let me know.

As I progressed through my list, I regularly had to refer to my definition of what is a sport, and subsequently a list of questionable sports was also made. The definition I used was that it was to be a human activity involving physical skill and exertion, governed by a set of rules or customs, and undertaken competitively and capable of achieving a result. Having said that, I still included a couple of these questionable sports on the list just to be thorough. For example, e-gaming is on the list despite failing to be a physical human activity, but is included as many people still class it as a sport. I similarly included the new sport of drone racing, it seems so sporty. Activities are not left off just because a motor or an animal does most of the work. Horse racing sports are on the list as they require a human rider with skill and fitness, but other animal races such as dog (greyhound) racing is not. You may not agree with all of them being there, there is definitely a grey area about what constitutes a sport.

This list will continue to evolve. There are new sports being created every day. There is a place of visitors to this site to add their newly created sports. In order to make the main sports list, there needs to be rules drawn up, a controlling body established and organized competitions held. Most will not get that far, but all sports have to start somewhere. Other sports are fading in popularity, and may need to move to my list of ancient and extinct sports. The ancient Olympic’s sport of Pankration is making a comeback in the guise of MMA. Pankration was like a combination of boxing and wrestling, the combatants were allowed to punch and kick, though biting and gouging an opponent’s eyes, nose, or mouth with fingernails was not allowed. Sound familiar?

One thing I did learn from creating this list is that there are many very similar sports created independently around the world, and also many variations of some sports. There are many sports that have been created using just a racket and ball. The world’s most popular sport, Association football (soccer), has numerous spin-off sports, with games played on ice, sand, and in swamps, while riding unicycles, bicycles, rollerskates, wheelchairs and motorcycles (though not all at once!). Combine a couple of sports, or change the surface, ball or way of moving, and another sport is born. This list is definitely not complete.

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25 Years Ago in Sport

December 7th, 2015 · Major Events, Sport

We have previously looked back at 50 years ago in sport. As the year is coming to an end, it is time to look back at sport just 25 years ago – 1990 – long enough for the sporting scenery to have a different look, but still alive in many of our memories.

It was a year many records tumbled and many legends were made. But this can overshadow the fact that 1990 was a year where major changes in sports were made. It was the year where at a Yankee Stadium rally, Nelson Mandela donned a NY Yankee baseball cap and proclaimed “I am a Yankee!”

Also in this year Buster Douglas defeated Mike Tyson by a knockout in round 10 to win the world’s unified Heavyweight title, in what many consider boxing’s biggest upset ever. He then later agreed to defend his title against Evander Holyfield for $24 million where he was dethroned by Holyfield in a third-round knockout in Las Vegas.

Poster from the FIFA World Cup in 1990

Poster from the FIFA World Cup in 1990

West Germany beat Argentina 1-0 for football’s 14th World Cup in Italy in 1990. The US open tennis championships crowned their youngest ever champion when 19 year old Pete Sampras who was ranked No. 81 only a year before beat Andre Agassi to win the title.

Nick Faldo won the golf masters (his second win) and went on to win the British Open and became the second man since Tom Watson in 1982 to achieve this feat.

Jari Kurri set a record for scoring in a Stanley Cup Finals game, registering three goals and two assists in game 2 against the Boston Bruins, on the way to victory for the Edmonton Oilers, winning their fifth Stanley Cup in seven years.

1990 was a year where many future legends of the game were born. Players like German world cup winner Toni Kroos (football/soccer) who scored a hat trick against Brazil in the semifinal of the 2014 soccer world cup. Former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki (tennis) was also born in 1990. The woman who has taken world cricket by storm, Australian Ellyse Perry was also born in 1990. Other notable people born were Mario Balotelli (football/soccer), John Tavares (ice hockey), and Tao Li (swimming).

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Fitness Testing at Scienceworks Melbourne

October 29th, 2015 · Fitness Testing

I recently took my family to Scienceworks interactive museum of science and technology in Melbourne. The kids are huge fans of Scitech, a similar place in our home town Perth, so we knew it would be an exciting day out. One of the biggest attractions at Scienceworks was the Sportsworks display.

sportsworks at scienceworks

Sportsworks has a lot of cool interactive displays related to sports, but I was most interested in the fitness testing section, which allows the visitor to test and measure themselves and learn about their own abilities.

The Sportsworks fitness assessment is a self-guided activity, including a recording booklet which directs you through each of the tests. It starts, as all good testing protocols should, with the standard anthropometric measurements. You measure your own height and weight, though there is no guarantee of the accuracy of the scales (or any other measurement device in the display). Even if they are calibrated regularly, the constant high use means it probably won’t stay that way for long.

Fitness testing at ScienceWorks in Melbourne Australia

The simple measure of arm span was measured against a marked wall. I always like to compare arm span to height to determine proportion.

Fitness testing at ScienceWorks in Melbourne Australia

Proportion is also assessed with a hand span test, and comparing your hand size to that of an Australian champion rower.

Fitness testing at ScienceWorks in Melbourne Australia

The sit and reach test was used to test flexibility. There was no instruction to take off your shoes, which is not good for unsuspecting women in their high heels!

Fitness testing at ScienceWorks in Melbourne Australia

The balance test involved a type of wobbleboard (sorry no picture). You placed both feet on a board like a see-saw, and you tried to keep balanced without the ends touching the ground. It seemed too sensitive for most people, so scores were pretty low.

The reaction time test required you to press a stop button as soon as possible after another button lit up. It took several turns to determine the best score.

Fitness testing at ScienceWorks in Melbourne Australia

Explosive power was measured with the vertical jump test. Jumping off the plate and not having to touch a height, lead to a few different techniques. Again it was the best of three attempts.

Fitness testing at ScienceWorks in Melbourne Australia

Aerobic fitness (“heart fitness”) was measured with a step test. This one was a bit too complex for most people to complete correctly. After taking your resting heart rate, you were required to step up and down on a step (different sizes for adults and children), and then take your heart rate a minute after stopping by gripping on a sensor bar.

Fitness testing at ScienceWorks in Melbourne Australia

Upper body strength was measured with a pull test on some strain gauge. It really was not a true upper body strength test, as this technique utilises back and leg strength too.

Fitness testing at ScienceWorks in Melbourne Australia

The hand/eye coordination test was by far the most fun. You had to push each button on a grid as it lit up. We had to help our kids as they could not even reach the higher buttons – it was so tempting to help them at other times too!

Fitness testing at ScienceWorks in Melbourne Australia

Peripheral vision was tested too with the set-up shown below. You had to look straight ahead, then indicate at which point you don’t see the light as it moved out of your range of vision.

Fitness testing at ScienceWorks in Melbourne Australia

Hand grip strength was measured using a dynamometer. There was no instruction to adjust the handle to the size of your hand, an important thing to do for hand grip testing.

Fitness testing at ScienceWorks in Melbourne Australia

And finally there was a sprint speed test, which was not officially part of the fitness testing. You line up at the starting line of a 10 metre track, and then race against images of sprinter Cathy Freeman that light up along the wall next to you. Your time is posted above the track.

cathy freeman sportsworks at scienceworks

As with all fitness testing assessments, the test numbers on their own are not meaningful – the analysis and interpretation of the results are more important. After all the tests are completed, you can enter your sporting interests and key results, and a personalised report is printed for you with a summary of your results including a list of sports that you may be best suited to.

So overall it was a bit of fun, motivating for some people, and definitely a great introduction to sport science.

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The Future of Rugby?

October 14th, 2015 · Major Events, Rugby Union, Technology

The 2015 Rugby World Cup which is currently in progress has embraced technology with the use of the Hawk-Eye system to help the referee adjudicate decisions, as well as assist with player safety by identifying possible concussion instances and behind play incidents (see more about technology in sports). Is this a step towards the possible futuristic rugby player imagined by the team at bwin in their Alternative Guide to the 2015 Rugby World Cup. They came up with the following possible innovations that we may or may not see in Rugby World Cup competitions of the future. Some food for thought.

Rugby players of the futureRugby players of the futureRugby players of the future Rugby players of the future Rugby players of the future Rugby players of the future Rugby players of the future
Rugby players of the future Rugby players of the future

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50 Years Ago in Sport

July 24th, 2015 · Major Events, Sport

50 years ago the sporting scenery was very different. Some well-known athletes were making their mark, but were not the celebrities that athletes are today. There were many legends in the making while others were reaching the twilight of their career.

It was a year where the famous “phantom punch” was dealt by Muhammad Ali who retained the world heavyweight title he had won as Cassius Clay. The rematch against Sonny Liston in May never went beyond the first round and Liston was knocked-out by a phantom punch that nobody saw in one minute and 44 seconds.

Purdue vs. SMU Program Cover (1965)

Purdue vs. SMU Program Cover (1965)

Also Jack Nicklaus shot a Masters record 271 (17 under par) to win the Golf Masters by nine strokes, his second win at that time. In other golf news, Gary Player became the third man after Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen to win the four major championships when he triumphed in the US Open at Bellerive, Missouri.

West Ham became the second British club to win a European Trophy when they beat Bayern Munich, 2 – 0 at Wembley in the European Cup-Winners Cup whereas Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time defeating Leeds United 2-1.

Also in 1965 the Amateur Swimming Union of Australia stunned the nation with its decision to ban Olympic champion and 1964 Australian of the Year Dawn Fraser from all amateur competition for ten years.

In cricket, Australian opener Doug Walters made his maiden Test ton in his first Test appearance, and went on to make 155 runs. Baseballer Willie Mays hit over 50 home runs in 1965, repeating what he had done 10 years earlier. Marking the start of an era for the New York Jets, they signed quarterback Joe Namath. The US ABC TV network paid an unprecedented $32 million for a four-year contract with the NCAA to broadcast football games on Saturday afternoons.

In major events, the All-Africa Games, otherwise known as the “African Olympics” was first held in Congo.

1965 was the year where many great sport personalities were born

1965 was also a year where great athletes like Craig Biggio, considered being one of the best all-around position players in MLB club history was born.  Mario Lemieux, a former NHL superstar acknowledged to be one of the greatest players of all time was also one of the most notable athletes to be born in 1965. Also cricketers Steve Waugh,  Sanjay Manjrekar and Maninder Singh were born in this year. Other notable athletes born in 1965 include Lennox Lewis (Boxing), Rubén Sierra (Baseball), Scottie Pippen (basketball), Matt Biondi (Swimming).

The Freddie Mills death saga and other notable deaths

The world light heavyweight champion from 1948 to 1950 Freddie Mills’ death saga is known to all in the boxing fraternity.  Freddie Mills died from gunshot wounds in mysterious circumstances in Soho, London. It was officially described as suicide but others attempted to give Mills’ death a more sinister ring and suggested he was the victim of a gangland ‘hit’.  English cricketer of South African origin Wally Hammond and College basketball legend Wayne Estes also died in the year 1965. Other notable deaths included that of Earl Webb (baseball), Tich Freeman (cricket), and Almos Alonzo Stagg (football).

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The World’s Fittest Sport is Ironman Triathlon

July 17th, 2015 · Fitness, Fitness Testing, Sport

Here at Topend Sports we have been through a long process to determine the World’s Fittest Sport. We used a head-to-head competition format to compare sports (similar to the ESPN World’s Greatest Athlete competition which compared athletes). Starting from an initial list of 32 sports from around the world, each sport went head to head in an online vote, until only one sport was left. After many rounds of voting (it started two years ago), the most physically demanding sport was found to be ironman triathlon!

ironman triathlon - the fittest sport

In the final, ironman triathlon beat MMA, with swimming and water polo taking up the next two places. You can see all the results here. This was not scientific research – there was no actual measure of fitness, the results are just based on the opinion of this website’s visitors. There will be bias of course, as fans and participants of a particular sport will be more inclined to vote for their sport or a sport they are familiar with, and a geographical bias as the majority of this site’s visitors come from USA, England and Australia. Despite these limitations, it was an interesting exercise nonetheless.

Although there is no doubting the extreme physical demands of ironman triathlon, the results were still unexpected. In ironman triathlon, the extreme physical demands are almost exclusively aerobic. I personally put boxing at the top of the list for its all-round fitness requirements. Previous votes and analyses have found the most demanding sports to be boxing, squash and gymnastics, and actual testing has found alpine skiing to be the fittest. So there is no consensus.

Is ironman triathlon really the world’s most physically demanding sport? To reinforce the results, we have listed all 32 of the sports in a single poll, where you can again cast your vote for “Which Sport Is The Most Physically Demanding?

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