Tag Archives: olympics

Shortcutting… Flags

10 Aug

With any meeting of nations comes that confusion of multi-coloured stripes, circles and stars that is… the flags! Yay! What better game to play while sitting in any cafe, shop or restaurant with the Olympic bunting on show than Name That Flag! Now, with so many countries (204), learning each and every flag is no simple task. I’d say I can name about 40 without revision (not that I’d revise… That would be weird…) – most of Europe plus USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a handful of Asia, Africa and South America. I don’t know how your average, non-geography-trivia-loving person would compare, but I’m giving myself a ‘could do better’ (I’m really good at capital cities though, I swear!).

First on today’s agenda, I would like to present you with a guide for more easy flag-identification. I know you’ve been dying for one. (No seriously, please skip this paragraph unless you’re a hardcore flagophile – it’s very boring.) Starting with Europe, a good clue is the off-centre cross, which ought to point you in particular towards the Scandinavian region – see Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Three equal vertical stripes is also a safe bet for Europe (France, Italy, Ireland, Germany, Romania, Belgium, Moldova, Andorra), three equal horizontal stripes (Russia, Hungary, Austria, Estonia, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia) or two horizontal stripes (Liechtenstein, Monaco, Poland, Ukraine, San Marino). That doesn’t quite cover Europe, but it’s a good start. Themes of Africa include stars (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Morocco, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Somalia, DRC, Togo), crescent moon and star (Algeria, Mauritania, Tunisia – Northern Africa), and triangle on the left with stripes (Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, South Africa, Sudan, Zimbabwe). It turns out there are a fair few three vertical stripes here too, so maybe that ain’t such a good clue after all… The crescent moon, symbolizing Islam I believe, is also present in Asia (Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan), although apart from that there ain’t much of a trend… For Oceania, look for the Union Jack in the corner (Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Tuvalu), and for South America I’m going to say horizontal stripes with a twist – i.e. with a crest, or a lot more than three, or differing thicknesses. North America is rather un-patterned, except for a few flags that are divided into four segments in one way or another.

Whew. Okay. That’s over with. Now let’s have a bit more fun (no, don’t get too excited – I’m sticking with flags). Here are a couple of my favourites (if you don’t know them – and shame on you if you don’t – just hover over them and your questions will be answered):

And finally, just in case I haven’t quite bored you to death yet, I have one more piece of exciting trivia for you. For you will be thrilled to hear that there is one flag that is different, unique, an outsider. What is so special about this flag? It’s different on the front and back. I know! So exciting! But which flag is it? Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the flag of… Paraguay! Yayyyy! Woooo! So how exactly do the front and back differ? Well, the front has the country’s coat of arms on it, whereas the back has the Treasury Seal. Don’t believe me? Well here’s a lil pic for you to see for yourselves what the difference is:

Picture courtesy of http://www.wakkipedia.com

So there you go. Bet you’re all flagged out now. You’re probably waving the white flag of surrender  (see what I did there?). Your strength is diminishing – flagging, one might say. So I shall save semaphore for another day.

Suffice it to say, keep shortcutting,



Shortcutting… Taekwondo

9 Aug

Sorry for the recent lack of posts – my excuse is that I have been swept up in a wave of all-consuming Olympics frenzy, as you might have guessed from my last few posts, before the frenzy completely took over. But today I return to you with information on a new sport that has caught my eye, after watching Jade Jones take the gold for team GB a few hours ago. It is my belief that no activity in which a spinning kick to the head is encouraged and rewarded should go unnoticed and so I would like to draw your attention to the ancient and brutal art of taekwondo.

According to my good friend Wikipedia, the name ‘Taekwondo’ can be broken down into ‘tae’ – to strike or break with foot, ‘kwon’ – to strike or break with fist, and ‘do’ – way/ method/ path, so can be literally translated as ‘the way of the hand and the foot’. The ‘Games and Beyond’ web page for taekwondo agrees with this but offers a more accurate translation – the art of kicking and punching. Brilliant. So let’s get started.

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art, and the national sport of South Korea, hence all the Korean names for things. Matches are fought in an 8 x 8m court between two contestants. Both wear  white suits – ‘doboks’, and protective equipment – ‘hogu’ – which is either red -‘chung’ – or blue – ‘hong’. Matches are three rounds of two minutes, with one minute breaks in between (in the event of a tie a sudden-death fourth round is played). Athletes are only allowed to used closed fists to punch and parts of the foot below the ankle to kick, so no knee-ing or shin-ing. Full-force kick and punch attacks are only allowed on the part of the torso covered by the protector. Only foot techniques can be used to attack the head, and these attacks must be to the front of the head. Points are awarded when a contestant uses accepted techniques to deliver a full-force kick or punch.

Points are awarded as follows:
  • One point for a valid attack on the trunk protector.
  • Two points for a valid turning (spinning) kick to the trunk protector
  • Three points for a valid kick to the head
  • Four points for a valid turning (spinning) kick to the head

If a player is knocked out or counted out, their opponent is declared the winner.

There are two types of penalty that may be given:
  • A kyong-go warning penalty is given for misdemeanours such as falling down, grabbing, holding or pushing, turning your back on your opponent or attacking below the waist. Two kyong-go penalties lead to a one-point addition to the opponent’s score.
  • A gam-jeom penalty is given for infractions such as attacking your opponent when the round has stopped, attacking a fallen opponent or intentionally attacking your opponent’s face with the hand. One gam-jeom penalty leads to a one-point addition to the opponent’s score.

[The above information has been sourced from the Games and Beyond website]

I believe that there are other ways of doing taekwondo other than simply sparring, and taekwondo-ists can also collect belts etc. as in the more mainstream martial arts karate and judo, but this is a quick guide to the Olympic way of doing things, just so you can understand the rules. Do research further – in my opinion, it’s pretty cool!

Get ready to kick some ass (or rather, trunk and front of head)…

Keep shortcutting,


Shortcutting… The Sonnet

5 Aug

Time, I think, to take a break from the Olympics-related posts. Let us turn instead to that most fiendish of poetry forms, which is to writing what souffle is to cooking – the sonnet. (Actually I’m pretty sure there are more difficult types of poem that are less famous but meh, I’m sure there are many things harder to cook than a souffle, it’s just that us non-cooks haven’t heard of them. What I’m trying to say is that they’re notoriously difficult…) This may seem like a completely arbitrary topic for a blog post but I can assure you, it makes perfect sense to me…

The first step in the recipe for sonnets is iambic pentameter. Iambs are to do with the stresses on syllables – if we call unstressed syllables ‘dee’ and stressed syllables ‘dum’, then an iamb is a ‘dee dum’, for example ‘today’, ‘because’, ‘and then’, ‘instead’. So iambic pentameter is five of these in a row – ‘dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum’, for example ‘the other day I went to see a friend’, or ‘I pushed him off a cliff; he met his end’.

Having mastered iambic pentameter, the next stage is the rhyme scheme. A sonnet is fourteen lines long, with the rhyme scheme ‘ABAB CDCD EFEF GG’, or in other words three stanzas of four lines each where lines 1 and 3 rhyme and lines 2 and 4 rhyme, followed by a rhyming couplet.

The king of sonnets is of course Mr. William Shakespeare, so to illustrate the stress and rhyme schemes, here are a couple of his most famous ones:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

(I’m not too sure about the iambic pentameter of the first two lines – you slightly have to force yourself to stress the words as ‘dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum’: I suppose things were pronounced differently back then – but apart from that it fits the structure, and the words make sense together too!)

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare. 

(This one’s cool because he’s all ‘I’m-not-going-to-pretend-she’s-perfect-but-I-love-her’, so he’s kind of making fun of all overly-romantic poets.)

Hopefully these give you some idea of what a sonnet looks like when it’s done well. For an idea of what one looks like when it’s done badly, here’s one I’ve written about the Olympics:

The Games are here: today is London’s day,

So let’s all gather round our t.v. sets,

And when our favourites win let’s shout ‘hurray’,

And hope that we’ve made money from our bets.

We watch the rowers row and cyclists pedal

And runners run and gymnasts well-dismount.

And pray that they can win some kind of medal,

So we get higher in the medal count.

It kind of makes the nations all unite,

Because we’re all a-watching the same things,

But really we all want to win the fight,

Despite the linked-up-ness of the five rings.

But let’s pretend that we don’t give a jot

When losing – we’re all winners are we not?

(I slightly cheated with ‘pedal’ and ‘medal’ – let’s just pretend they’re only one syllable…)

Keep shortcutting,


Shortcutting… Athlete-Stalking

4 Aug

As pretty much none of my readers are British, it seems unwise to spend too long discussing Britain’s recent medal successes, but I will allow myself a quick WOOO!!!!!! Six in a day!!! Okay, now that’s out of my system, on to more pressing matters. Although I have been constantly checking the London 2012 website to keep track of what’s happening (so many events! So little time!), and how the medal count is looking, it was not till today that I discovered what a wealth of information is available on the athletes themselves. Curious about long jumper Greg Rutherford’s age, I clicked on his athlete profile thing to discover not only that he is 25, but also that his nicknames include ‘Ruthers’ and ‘Gregatron’ – how great is that! Interested by the apparently enormous height difference between heptathletes Jessica Ennis and Tatyana Chernova, I found out not only that they are 165cm and 190cm respectively, but also that Ennis has a Labrador called Myla and Chernova’s hobbies include sports (no shit), cars, shooting, horse riding and travelling. I’m telling you, this website brings stalking to a whole new level. I urge you – choose an athlete you don’t know much about, click on a few links, and soon you’ll know their birth date and place, height, weight, age, past events participated in and results, nicknames, hobbies, occupation (so far I haven’t seen any that aren’t ‘athlete’ but I live in hope!), education, family, languages spoken, club name, coach, injuries, start of sporting career, reason for taking up this sport, ambitions, training, most memorable sporting achievement, hero, most influential person in career, superstitions/ rituals, sporting philosophy/ motto, and awards. Well, maybe only the most high-profile athletes have quite such extensive profiles but even if you can’t become a complete expert on your athlete, I’m sure you’ll learn a few new things.

Before I end this post I’d just like to mention Michael Phelps, who retires today after his final race of the London 2012 Olympics. He won four gold medals at the Athens Olympics, eight in Beijing (more than any other athlete at an Olympics), and a further four this year, not to mention two silvers and two bronzes just to polish things off. Basically, he’s awesome. He (quite literally (ish)) blew everyone else out of the water, particularly at Beijing, and I’m sure the pool will feel strangely empty without him. To link this to the rest of the post, I have used his athlete profile to say a few words:

Michael Phelps has come along way since being born 27 years ago on the 30th June 1985 in Towson, USA. Having swum since the age of five, Phelps (or MP to his buddies) has followed in the path of his heroes Pablo Morales and Michael Jordan to become one of the world’s greatest athletes. Maybe upon retirement he will be able to spend more time on his hobbies: playing video games and watching television. Whatever he does next, let us hope that he always bears in mind his sports motto – the words of his coach Bob Bowman: “The solution lies within us.”

Life is a bath – some sink, some swim. (Alternative version: Life is a bath – the longer you stay in, the more wrinkly you get.)

Keep shortcutting,


Shortcutting… In Defence of the Chinese Swimmer

1 Aug

Like any good Olympics, London 2012 has already had a fair bit of gossip. One of the biggest talking points has been sixteen-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen, who took gold at both the 400 and 200m individual medleys. Many are of the belief that she has used performance-enhancing drugs: her performance in the 400m shattered the previous world record, she had a seemingly unbelievable surge of energy in the last lap, swimming faster than her male counterpart Ryan Lochte, winner of the men’s race, and China has seen some doping in the past – in June another Chinese swimmer of the same age – Li Zhesi – was found to have taken performance-enhancing drugs.

Perhaps, when viewed like this, the evidence seems somewhat incriminating. But look at it this way: Ye Shiwen has tested negative in doping tests. Yes, sometimes these tests miss things but imagine if it was an athlete from your own country? Would you assume that this incredible result was due to drugs, or would you praise such a talented young athlete? No one thought the worst when Michael Phelps broke a whole lot of records and got a whole lot of medals. All we can know for sure is that this young athlete trains incredibly hard – she says she has trained ‘two and a half hours every morning and two and a half hours each afternoon for nine years’, according to the Huffington Post, and there is little doubt as to the sacrifices she has made. It is unfair to just assume that she is cheating, out of – what? National jealousy? Because we feel China has enough medals?

I can see why people might believe that this unbelievable performance must be down to doping, but I think it’s only fair to look at the evidence – doping tests – and give her the benefit of the doubt, at least until new evidence comes to light.

My verdict? Innocent until proven guilty.

(I realize that post was all rather serious – the humour will be back soon!)

Keep shortcutting,

Shortcutting… The Medal Count

31 Jul

How to present the Olympic Games ‘Medal Count‘? It is a conundrum that must be tackled by every country separately. Because, of course, every country wants to twist it to make their own result seem as good as possible. How can such straightforward facts be twisted?, one might ask. Well, the trick lies in the ranking. For there are two ways to rank countries: by total number of medals, or total number of gold medals followed by silver followed by bronze. I think the latter is the standard way, yet I remember seeing four years ago during the Beijing Olympics that the USA ranked medal hauls by the former method: total number of medals. Putting them above China. Coincidence? I think not. I know if I was in charge, that’s what I’d do. Unfortunately, team GB is doing pretty badly in both, so any sort of twisting wouldn’t have much effect, but interestingly we rank countries with the giving-gold-the-highest-weighting method, even though if we did it the other way we’d be doing better. I reckon the powers that be have taken a gamble here and bet that, come the finals of rowing, cycling and sailing events, we’ll manage to score a few golds, enough that the gold-weighting method is more beneficial to us. It’s all part of a cunning plan. But for now, we may console ourselves with the knowledge that we are doing the best out of the countries that haven’t won any golds. An almost-famous ranking that is somehow very British. We’re good at coming fourth too.

So, is there anything else to learn from the Medal Count? While leaders China and the USA are fairly predictable, both countries having been good at everything for quite a long time now, looking just beneath these two makes for more interesting speculation. Last Olympics, we had Russia in third place, Great Britain in fourth (Woo! Almost on the podium!) , and Germany in fifth. This year, as things stand, we have France in third, South Korea in fourth, and North Korea in fifth. Then again, things are all pretty neck and neck so far. We’ve only had four days, after all. The top twenty are all within three golds of each other, which, given the number of events remaining, means that there’s everything to play for (to come third, that is). I’ll keep you updated (on my views and speculation – of course you’ll be avidly watching the rankings without my help).

But anyway, it’s not the winning that counts but the taking part, right? We’re all winners really…

Keep shortcutting,


Shortcutting… Artistic Gymnastics

30 Jul

Today, I was lucky enough to attend the thrill- and scandal-filled Mens’ Artistic Gymnastics Final at the O2 (or should I say ‘North Greenwich’ – O2 are not a London 2012 sponsor and therefore may not be mentioned in conjunction with the Olympics) Arena. Scandal-filled because after a surprise finish of GBR coming second, Ukraine coming third, and Japan, who had been coming second till the last round, not making the podium, an ‘inquiry’ was launched by the Japanese, one gymnast’s score was re-evaluated, and Japan took the silver medal after all. Obviously, the home crowd were furious at this result, but I must defend the Japanese – it wasn’t there fault. As far as I could tell, points were added up wrongly or something. It may seem a bit off to complain, but the scoring did seem a little strange. Also, until that last round, us Brits were all praying to beat the Ukrainians and take bronze so we can’t feel too cheated. Although spare a thought for the poor Ukrainians, who were unceremoniously swept off the podium.

Anyway, scandals aside, I have learnt a little about the sport. For starters, there were six different events (for women it’s slightly different – I’ll come to that later): Pommel Horse, Rings, Vault, Parallel Bars, Horizontal Bar, and Floor. Apparently scores tend to be slightly higher for Vault, so do not be fooled if a team who have vaulted seem to be doing the best. Gymnasts are awarded points for execution, out of a possible 10, and for difficulty, the score of which is limitless. I think the highest score I saw was about 16.500, and the lowest 14.00, aside from the Japanese guy who got inquired about. Essentially, they have to put in as many twists and rolls and so on as possible, and try to perform them as neatly and aligned-ly as possible. To the untrained eye it isn’t always obvious why one routine scores higher than another, but it seems to me that the better the landing, the higher the score. If they land cat-like on two feet that’s 15.500 at least. If they stumble everywhere they can expect something below 15.000. According to the little introduction show ‘The Art of Gymnastics‘, gymnasts must combine agility, grace, strength, skill and balance (or something along those lines), which, apparently, ain’t all that easy.

A little research has told me that in the womens’ version, there are only four events: Vault, Balance Beam, Floor and Uneven Bars (a personal favourite). I’m guessing the reason for this difference is to do with men being generally stronger (the Rings seem to require insane upper body strength and all the men have arms like tree trunks), whereas women are traditionally more graceful and better-balanced. Anyway, whether you watch mens’ or womens’ artistic gymnastics, it is undeniably a very beautiful sport which requires immense skill (indeed, Plato thought that all philosophers should have a mastery of gymnastics). My only slight quibble with it is the element of subjectivity, but I suppose all art is subjective (and with a fell swoop, I lose Plato’s support).

Get ready to roll!

Keep shortcutting,