So Sochi’s nearly here, and I am so very excited about it (although the UK advert for it is absolutely terrible. The rhymes sound like they were written by a 5 year old). First things first, The Jamaican bobsleigh team has scraped through qualification for the first time since 2002. The Cool Runners are back at the Olympics after getting the very last qualifying spot. They were 39th at the end of the qualifying period, with 30 teams qualifying, but 9 sleds were deemed ineligible due to their nations reaching the maximum number of entries, so Winston Watts and Marvin Dixon crept in by the skin of their teeth. They could write a film about it or something.

So what else should you watch when we finally get to Sochi? Curling, obviously, gets my vote, as does ice hockey. For those familiar with football, you’ll see all the same things, but 5 times faster. Watching a team break out on the counterattack is spectacular, and just as incredible is the effort the defence put in to get in the way, literally as often as figuratively.

Slopestyle snowboarding is new to the Olympics this year, and it is AWESOME. If you’ve ever played one of the SSX games, that’s basically what it is. Competitors go down a mountain doing flips and tricks, grinding rails and pulling some sweet air, and are judged on the style and difficulty of their run by a panel. Here’s a video, or you could grab the Xbox and do a couple of runs down Snowdream. http://mpora.com/videos/AAdfkie57t2d

Short track speed skating is great to watch, and there’s British interest in the form of Elise Christie. You can also follow Lizzy Yarnold and Shelley Rudman in the skeleton, though you’ll spend most of your time wondering why anyone sane would do that. All in all, ice is what’s hot right now.


Jacques Kallis – the greatest cricketer to retire this year

So Jacques Kallis has announced his retirement from Test and first-class cricket. In him, South Africa loses a fantastic player, no-one can argue that. But I might just get some opposition when I say that he was even better than Sachin Tendulkar.

Numbers, first. I love a good stat, and these two have some of the best. Kallis leads in terms of average (55.12 vs 53.78), though the Little Master’s figures have been dragged down by a career that went on too long – at the end of 2011, he averaged 56.00. Sachin has 51 Test hundreds to Kallis’ 44, but the differences here mean very little. I am happy to concede that, point for point, Tendulkar was the better batsman. But Kallis was so much more.

First, and most obvious, is his bowling. 292 wickets at 32.53 is not to be sniffed at, and places him above a good many strike bowlers, not least Lasith Malinga. But more than that, its hard to overstate just how many options having a genuine all-rounder gives you. A 4-man pace attack gives your two strike bowlers the freedom to go all-out, a 20-over assault of blistering pace from both ends. And lo and behold, Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn are number 1 and 2 in the ICC Test Rankings.

And while the numbers may favour Tendulkar’s batting, the true value of each innings is harder to measure. Kallis’ grit is legendary – in just his 7th test, an epic against Australia, his 279-ball 101 on the last day saved the match – and while his strike-rate of 46.08 gives fuel to those who say he scores too slowly, he has always got the job done in a batting line-up whose primary function is to set a target which the bowlers will render immaterial. In contrast, Tendulkar had a reputation for batting with flair and poise in a team focused around its batting – an essential and wonderful talent, certainly, but on the rare occasions when the Indian line-up found its backs to the wall, it seemed to be Dravid who came up with the crucial innings.

There’s room for debate, certainly. When you try to compare two players of such calibre, there will always be factors that mere mortals like us cannot hope to comprehend. Whatever your own view on the matter, Test cricket has lost two incredible players in as many months. I wish them both all the best.

Awkwardly-drawn comparison time!

One of my team-mates on my 6-a-side football team was saying recently that 6-a-side is to 11-a-side what pool is to snooker. He’s never played snooker, and he more or less just said it because he knew that snooker was quite like pool, only different, but he may have stumbled on something there. When you watch top-level pool players, in 8-ball, 9-ball, blackball or any of the other variations, the thing you notice is the huge difference between attack and defence. If a player sees an opportunity to clear up in one visit, he’ll take it, and the frame’s over in a minute. If there’s no easy clearance, he won’t even try the first pot – it’s better to leave more of your balls on the table, because that makes it harder for your opponent. 6-a-side football is kind of the same. If you commit 4 or 5 men to an attack, you’ll very often get a good scoring opportunity. The trade-off is that you’re vulnerable on the counter, and so there’s always a choice between committing 3 men, playing a passing game and hoping to grind out a chance, or throwing everything into the attack, with the risk that entails. Like in pool, the ability to choose the right moment to attack is crucial, and when you make the choice, you have to commit to it, or risk being punished.

The coolest sport

Team USA working hard on a draw for two (maybe?)

So, what should that key first post be about? I’m a Tottenham Hotspur supporter, so I’ll need a bit of therapy before I’m ready to talk about that. I’m also an English cricket fan, and I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to talk about that. So some other sport that everyone around the world knows and loves… I know – curling!

I got into curling a few months ago, having seen it at a few Winter Olympics and thought it looked pretty fun. It seemed like lawn bowls on ice, and I loved the whole sweeping thing. But now that I know the difference between a hack and a raise, it turns out there’s so much more to it. In bowls, you’re basically just trying to get as close to the jack as you can. Every now and then someone will play a drive, but it’s more of a random element. Curling is a gritty tactical battle played out over 160 turns. With every rock thrown, the curler needs to consider how the opponents could use it, how they themselves might use it later, whether they’ll leave a double or bury the shooter. There are a myriad of different angles and possibilities to consider, and if you understand what’s going on within the first few ends you watch, you’re doing better than me. So when Sochi 2014 wends its way onto your TV screens, check out the curling. It’s epic.