Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Versatile Rosolova

I first learned about Denisa Rosolova while watching last year's European Indoor Championships. It was remarkable how a former champion heptathlete and world class long jumper shifted to the quarter mile and strike gold! I admired her athletic talent and versatility. More importantly, Rosolova has the audacity to try something unorthodox. For this, she has reaped dividends.

Rosolova competing at the 2011 Bislett Games. (Photo from Chell Hill)
I was in for another surprise while watching the European Athletics Championships. Rosolova competed in the 400m hurdles, repeatedly setting new personal bests. The Czech star eventually wound up third in the final, finishing behind Russia's Irina Daydova (53.77s) and Ukraine's Anna Yaroshchuk Ханна Ярощук (54.24s). Remarkably, this was Rosolova's sixth or seventh outing in her new event, according to an EAA interview.

Back in the olden days, quarter milers usually dabbled in the intermediate hurdlers with good results, considering the fact that the two events are practically sister events. Those with good 400m flat times could succeed in the low hurdles, despite technical flaws in hurdling. True enough, talented intermediate hurdlers like Angelo Taylor, Bershawn Jackson, and Natalya Antyukh have successfully won medals in the flat one-lap sprint and the long relays.

What makes Rosolova stand out is her circuitous journey from heptathlete, long jumper, quarter miler and intermediate hurdler. Not many athletes in this day and age of specialization can emulate Rosolova.

Denisa's major championship curriculum vitae is impressive, having won World Junior long jump title, European Indoor Championship gold, and now - the European Championship intermediate hurdles bronze.

Denisa Rosolova, indeed, is one Superb Senora!

Track Beauty of the Week: Dafne Schippers

Dafne Schippers is this week's Track Beauty!

Schippers started out as an excellent heptathlete in her junior and youth days, but has since ventured to the sprints. The Dutch athlete won the World Junior title in Moncton back in 2010, scoring 5,967 points. A year later, she topped the European Junior Championships in Tallinn, amassing a total of 6,153 points.
Photo from Erik van Leeuwen
The 2011 season was a revelation in terms of her flat out sprinting speed. Dafne particularly excelled at the half-lap sprint. Schippers has demonstrated repeatedly that she could hold her own against more seasoned opponents. She made it as far as the 60m dash semifinals at the European Indoor Championships in Paris.

At the Daegu World Championships, the young Schippers ran a lifetime best of 22.69s in the 200m dash heats - a major achievement considering her relative youthfulness and multi-events background. Dafne exited the competition at the semifinals. With her sterling performance in Daegu, Schippers shaved off 1.01s off her then personal best to set a new Dutch national record.

Dafne has not turned her back to heptathlon just yet. In fact, her points tally in the grueling seven-event discipline has shown marked improvement the past few years. To date, she has a personal best of 6,370 points in the heptathlon, set in Gotzis last May 2012.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Maria Kirilenko Мари́я Кириле́нко (RUS, Tennis)

Maria Kirilenko Мари́я Кириле́нко is part of the formidable array of Russian tennis players. Kirilenko turned professional in 2001. Since then, she has collected around $4.8 million in prize money, on top of her modelling and endorsements. 

Kirilenko at the 2009 U.S. Open. (Photo from Charlie Cowin)
With her tennis talent and good looks, Maria has the potential to follow the footsteps of the other, more illustrious Maria in the circuit.

To date, she has triumphed in five WTA tournaments and three ITF competitions. The right-handed Kirilenko reached her highest ever ranking of No. 15 at the WTA tour last May. She is currently the World No. 19. Maria won her first WTA crown in 2002, a year after turning pro. 

Her best ever finish in a Grand Slam tournament was the Australian Open quarter finals in 2010. She dueled against good friend Maria Sharapova in the second round and won 7–6(4), 3–6, 6–4. Kirelenko has also reached the fourth rounds of the French Open (2010 and 2011) and U.S Open (2011), and the third round in Wimbledon (2010, 2011, 2012).

Francesca Piccinini (ITA, Volleyball)

The Italian national volleyball team came to the Philippines in the late 1990's to compete in the FIVB World Grand Prix Volleyball players Maurizia Cacciatori and Francesca Piccinini stood out for their good looks and mean talent. Perhaps the visits by those high caliber teams did much to sow the seeds of popularity of Philippine women's volleyball.


Piccinini is a spiker for Italian club team Volley Bergamo, Francesca won Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors at the 2009-2010 season of the Indesit Champions League, the same year her team won the championship trophy.

She competed in three editions of the Olympic Games (Sydney, Athens, and Beijing). Piccinini was part of the Italian team that bagged World Championship gold in Germany back in 2002. 

Throughout her long international career, Francesca has won a total of two European Championship gold medals, a gold at the World Grand Cup Champions League, a gold at the FIVB World Cup.

Godspeed, Gabrielle Anderson!

The U.S. Track & Field Olympic Trials is a cutthroat event. Only the top three athletes per event, provided they had met the required Olympic "A" standard, will be sent to quadrennial event. There are no exceptions, whether the athlete is a budding collegiate talent or an established Olympic champion.

Middle distance runner Gabrielle Anderson stands out among the rest because she is a two-time cancer survivor. The University of Minnesota graduate has recovered fully from her battles with the Big "C," consistently running faster times the past two years.

Anderson has a personal best of 4:06.46 in the 1500m run, ranking her among the top middle distance athletes in Eugene.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Yaroslava Shvedova Яросла́ва Шве́дова (KAZ, Tennis)

The display of raw emotion punctuates the pursuit of sport. I admire athletes who do not shirk away from their emotions, and instead display what they are feeling in a bluntly, honest way. Yaroslava Shvedova Яросла́ва Шве́дова is one of those athletes.

Shvedova at the Citi Open Tennis tournament. (Photo from Keith Allison)
After an injury-plagued 2011 season, the Russian-born Kazakh barged into the quarter-finals of the French Open. When she defeated Carla Suárez Navarro in the third round, Shvedova shed tears of joy. In a post-match WTA interview, she explained her reaction: "It has been so tough to come back after losing everything. I was so happy to achieve the same results as I did in my peak in 2010. I cried because it has been very hard work, but this makes all the hard work worthwhile."

The Kazakh went on to beat defending champion Li Na, but faltered against Petro Kvitova in the quarterfinals. 

Since turning professional in 2002, Shvedova has won one WTA and three ITF titles. In 2010, her ranking rose to as high as 29th, but fell after she succumbed to injury. She is currently ranked 65th overall, after her quarterfinals run in Roland Garros.


Liu Xuan 刘璇 (CHN, Gymnastics)

Liu Xuan 刘璇 is a retired Chinese gymnast. She now pursues a career in film and television.


Her curriculum vitae as a gymnast is impressive, to say the least. She had won a total of four Asian Games gold medals, on top of a lone silver medal. Liu reaped top honors at the balance beam at the 1998 Sabae World Cup, in addition to a bronze at the uneven bars. In her three appearances at the World Championships (1995, 1996, and 1997), Liu collected two bronzes and a silver.

Her reached the pinnacle of her career at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where she topped the balance beam. Liu was also part of Chinese team that won bronze at the team event. The IOC nullified the performance of the Chinese team due to a failed doping test by one of the members.


Tiina Lillak: Finnish Javelin Legend

When I was watching the javelin qualification rounds of the Helsinki European Championships, I noticed a prominent banner. Written in bold letters were the words: “Finland the Javelin Country.” Indeed, the javelin throw is a national past time in the Nordic countries. Of the sixty-nine medals awarded in the event since 1896, a staggering thirty-two medals had been won by troika of Sweden, Norway, and Finland. In fact, Finland had swept the medals twice in Olympic history.

Tiina Lillak circa 1983. (Photo from Jos Hendrix)
The Euro Sport announcers then went on to talk about a certain Tiina Lillak, and how she snatched the inaugural World Championships gold on her final throw – in front of thousands of ecstatic Finns.

Angelique Kerber (GER, Tennis)

Angelique Kerber is a top-ranked, German tennis player. The 24-year old turned professional in 2003, and has won 2 WTA and 11 ITF titles. 

Kerber at the 2011 U.S. Open. (Photo from robbiesaurus)
She is currently ranked 8th in the world, the highest in her career. In Grand Slam tournaments, Kerber has performed best on the hard court and clay, having reached as far as the quarterfinals at the French Open and the semifinals at the U.S. Open.

She barged into the top 100 the same year she turned pro. It took some time, however, for Kerber to hoist a WTA crown. In 2010, she battled Mariana Duque Mariño at the 2010 Copa Sony Ericsson Colsanitas, but faltered in straight sets. 

The German's robust global ranking is a sign that she is nearing the peak of her game. True enough, she has proved her mettle, notching victories over 2011 French Open Champion Li Na, former top-ranked player Jelena Jankovic, and Caroline Wozniacki. Angelique finally triumphed at a WTA tour event this year. Despite being seeded ninth, Kerber took out the experienced Marion Bartoli in a three-set nail-biter. 


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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Godspeed, Darya!

According to Darya Klishina's (Дарья Клишина) Facebook page, Darya has been training in the Russian resort town of Sochi. Her status updates seem upbeat and positive. Judging from the training clip below, it seems as if Darya has shrugged off the ill-effects of the injury she sustained last year. 

The Olympic long jump competition will be tough, considering the fact that five women have jumped beyond seven meters outdoors this year. Darya, according to the IAAF statistics, apparently has not made her outdoor debut yet. Is she hiding her cards right up until the last possible moment? 

Darya en route to fourth place finish at the Istanbul World Indoors. (Photo from Erik van Leeuwen)
As the London Olympic Games near, the prospect of a nail-biting long jump grows more exciting with each passing day. 

Godspeed, Darya!

Christina McHale (USA, Tennis)

The young Christina McHale could be the United States' next big tennis star.

Christina McHale at a USTA event. (Photo from Charlie Cowins)
McHale is ranked 32nd in the WTA list, but has claimed the scalps of several illustrious names since turning professional in 2009. Christina had beated former World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki twice, the most recent coming in Eastbourne this year. She had also triumphed against Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2011 Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova, Daniela Hantuchová, and Marion Bartoli.

To date, she has won just one ITF title in the singles and three in the doubles. She has yet to hoist a WTA crown. The 20-year old represented the United States at the Pan-American Games last year, taking home silver and bronze medals in the doubles and singles, respectively. In Grand Slam tournaments, the New Jersey-born right hander has taken part in three (US Open, Wimbledon, and the French Open). Her best finish was a third round appearance at SW19 last year. 

With her strong showing against Wozniacki, McHale might just spring a surprise in 2012.


Additional Link:
WTA Profile

Vamos, Leryn Franco!

It's not easy juggling an athletics and a modelling career. Leryn Franco, the Paraguayan javelin throw record holder, is a veteran of numerous international championships. Leryn has considerable major championship experience, having competed at the 2003 World Championships in Paris and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Read: Leryn Franco answers the 10-for-10 quiz

Leryn Franco is not just another pretty face. Franco is dominant in South American circles.

Read: "Track Beauty of the Week - Leryn Franco"

Leryn on fashion model-mode. (Photo from Tetsumo's Flickr/Wikimedia)
On top of her impressive modelling repertoire, Franco has won medals at the South American Championships - from the Youth, Junior, U23, and Senior levels. In the run-up prior to the London Olympics, the Paraguayan star set a new national record (57.77m), en route to winning silver at the Ibero-American Championships in Venezuela.

Leryn's Wikipedia profile

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nike "Voices" Advertisement

I don't get it how people of the past could discriminate against women playing sports. Our society has grown meteorically from the days when women were not allowed in track events longer than 800m. Nowadays, female sports stars are just as big as their male counterparts. Case in point are the Grand Slam tennis tournaments, where the women's prizes have been upgraded to the same level as the men's event. 

I just love the new Nike "Voices" advertisement. It features pioneers of women's sports like Joan Benoit Samuelson, Lisa Leslie, Diana Tauresi, and Marlen Esparaza "directly addressing the viewer about their own experiences with gender discrimination." Leslie and Tauresi are established basketball stars, while Esparaza is an amateur boxer. Benoit-Samuelson won the first ever women's Olympic marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

As a sportsman myself I find sportswomen naturally attractive. There is something inherently beautiful seeing a female sprint hurdler skim over those ten flights of hurdles with grace, or watching a female tennis star trade ground strokes with an equally fierce competitor.

Our world today is not perfect. There are still places in the world where women are treated as second-class citizens, with their basic rights trampled. Although there are still sports which prohibit the Olympic participation of the fairer sex, those disciplines remain the minority.

Dalma Rushdi Malhas (SAU, Equestrian)

In Saudi Arabia, "women cannot drive, marry, leave the country, go to school or open bank accounts without permission from a male guardian." Saudi Arabia, in fact, prohibits women from taking part in sports. It is certainly groundbreaking for such a conservative country to have a female representative to the Olympics.

Dalma in action. (Photo from Sky News)
Dalma Rushdi Malhas is world-class equestrienne. She originally held Palestinian citizenship, but has obtained a Saudi Arabian passport. The American-born Malhas, according to recent news articles, was pitted to be Saudi Arabia's first female Olympian. However, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) came out with a statement saying that the 20-year, in fact, has not qualified for the London Games. 

Malhas's mother was herself a renowned equestrienne.Dalma was exposed to horses at an early age. It wasn't surprising for the young Dalma to follow the same path. Malhas made history in 2010, when she competed - and won bronze - at the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. 

Regardless of whether she competes in London or not, Dalma Rushdi Malhas is a beacon for women's rights, not just in Saudi Arabia, but to the rest of the world.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Zheng Jie 鄭潔 (CHN, Tennis)

Zheng Jie 鄭潔, together with Li Na 李娜, are the pioneers of women's professional tennis in China. Zheng is a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist. 

Zheng at the 2010 U.S. Open. (Photo from Robbie Mendelson)
As an unseeded entry in 2008, Zheng made it as far as the last four in Wimbledon, becoming the first wild card to achieve the feat in the Ladies' Competition. En route to her breakout performance, Zheng had beaten 2006 French Open Champion Ana Ivanovic and the talented Nicole Vaidisova. She eventually crashed out of the competition, losing to Serena Williams. 

At the 2010 Australian Open, the mouth-watering prospect of an all-Chinese final was in the books, as both Zheng and Li Na made it as far as the semifinals. Zheng and Li, however, lost against Justin Henin and Serena Williams, respectively.

Zheng is currently ranked 27th in the world. Her highest ever placing was 15th back in 2009. To date, the Chinese tennis player has amassed 341 singles victories, 4 WTA titles, and 4 ITF crowns.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Track Beauty of the Week: Gesa Felicitas Krause

Gesa Felicitas Krause is this week's track beauty!

Krause is the other half of Germany's women's steeplechase duo. The young German had a breakout year in 2011. After finishing fourth at the World Junior Championships in Moncton, Krause won the European Junior 3,000m steeplechase title in Ostrava. 

Krause clearing the water jump. (Photo from Matthias Reiß / Andreas Grieß/Wikimedia)
The best was yet to come for German distance runner. 

A month after her heroics in Ostrava, Krause flew to faraway Daegu to compete at the World Championships. She did not disappoint. Krause ran a sensational 9:32.74 at the final, finishing in a respectable ninth place - a new European junior record.

Gesa has excellent hurdling technique. Even if the endurance takes precedence over form in the steeplechase races, good hurdlers have a distinct advantage over mediocre ones, especially in close fought contests.

With the London Olympics just around the corner, the German has clocked a season's best of 9:33.10. A podium finish at the Olympics might seem far fetched, considering the circumstances. The upcoming European Championships in Helsinki late this June could provide the venue for the 19-year old's major championship breakthrough. 

Krause, the fifth fastest European in her event, is certainly capable of landing a spot in the coveted podium in Helsinki.


Additional Links:
All-Athletics Profile

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Track Beauty of the Week: Kristi Castlin

Kristi Castlin is this week's track beauty!

Castlin was poised to make an impact at the 2012 World Indoor Championships in Istanbul. She ran the world's fastest time, a personal best of 7.84sA, en route to winning the tough U.S. Indoor Championships in Albuquerque. The faulty acoustics of the Istanbul stadium, unfortunately, cost her a probable World indoor medal.
Photo from Hokies Sports
Like many other athletes in qualifying, Castlin mistakenly thought that there was a false start, thanks to the echoing retort of the starting gun. The American was disqualified as the rest of the athletes in her heat went on with the race. But then again, the outdoor season holds the bigger prize. Kristi has recovered from her Istanbul experience completely.

At the Bislett Games in Oslo, a Diamond League meeting, Castlin ran a lifetime best of 12.56s, as she finished in a strong second place behind 2011 World Champion Sally Pearson (12.49s). The stylish American took the scalps of her more illustrious compatriots, Lolo Jones (12.75s) and Danielle Carruthers (12.76).

Castlin's hurdling technique is wonderful to watch. Female sprint hurdlers tend to get away with glaring technical flaws because the hurdles in the 100m race are signficantly lower compared to the 110m. I like Kristi's lean as she skims over the barriers. She brings her lead knee closer to her chest than most of her competitors, resulting into a more stable center of gravity throughout the race. Her arm action is picture perfect - snappy, graceful, and compact.

Kristi looks good on and off the track. She has great fashion sense and stands out among the other athletes (she describes herself as "an ostentatious 100m hurdler" in her Twitter account). More importantly, Castlin has the tools - blistering speed and graceful hurdling - to become a legitimate contender in elite women's sprint hurdling.

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Track Beauty of the Week: Nikoleta Kyriakopoulou Νικολέτα Κυριακοπούλου (Nikolia Kyriakopou)

Kyriakopoulou is the Greek pole vault record holder at 4.71m. She set her national mark at the London Grand Prix last year. Prior to her breakout 2011 season, the pole vaulter only had a personal best of 4.55m. In 2011, she qualified for the finals of the European Indoor Championships and the World Championships.

Nikoleta preparing to start her run-up. (Photo from
 She placed 9th (4.35m) at the European Indoors, a major improvement from her performance at the European outdoor champs in 2010, where she failed to advance from the qualifying stages.

 In Daegu last August, Kyriakopoulou exited the competition with a best clearance of 4.65m, six centimeters off the Greek national record she set early in the month.

The Greek had a respectable junior career, placing sixth (4.00m) in the pole vault final at the 2004 World Junior Championships in Grosseto.

Nikoleta has shown the world last year that she is capable of the big jumps. She is relatively young at 26-years of age. Kyriakopoulou might not make an immediate impact at the London Olympics, but she is defnitely amongst the elite European female vaulters this year. To date, her 4.50m SB outdoors is the sixth-best by a European athlete. With the European Championships weeks away, Nikoleta looks all set for a fruitful campaign.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cheryl Miller (USA, Basketball)

I must admit that, save for the basketball movie "Annie O.", I hardly know anything about women's basketball. I grew up devouring Philippines' number one sporting passion, but I hardly paid attention to the women's game. While watching a documentary about Reggie Miller, I came across the achievements of his famous sister, Cheryl.
 Photo from Slam Online

Cheryl was a game changer for women's basketball. In high school, Miller posted averages of 32.8 points and 15.0 rebounds. She was the female embodiment of a Wilt Chamberlain, as she scored a staggering 105 points as a high school senior. The 6'2 tall Cheryl attended the University of Southern California, leading her school to two NCAA championships, on top of her numerous individual accolades.

After college, she was even drafted into a men's professional basketball team. Injury, however, cut short her competitive days. Miller had won gold medals with the United States Women's national basketball team, helping her country to first place finishes at the 1986 Goodwill Games and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Track Beauty of the Week: Lauren Boden

Lauren Boden is this week's track beauty!
In the post-Jana Pittman years, Boden is Australia's best bet in the women's 400m hurdles. Lauren is a six-time Australian champion, a title which she first won back in 2005 as a teenager. That same year, Boden went on to compete at the World Youth Championships in Marrakech, where she won silver (58.30s), on top of her 10th (5.98m) place in the long jump. Boden ran a bit better at the World Junior Championships in Beijing the next year (58.05s), but crashed out at the semifinals.
Boden at the Daegu World Championships. (Photo from Zimbio/Getty Images Europe/Chris McGrath)

The one-lap hurdles specialist has a personal best of 55.25s from 2010. Boden is a 6.40m long jumper at her best, a mark she had set in Bangkok at the 2007 World University Games. According to her IAAF stat sheet, Lauren had competed in both the 400m hurdles and the long jump up until 2007, when she decided to focus on the former.

 The Australian is a two-time Commonwealth Games veteran, making her debut in 2006 at the Melbourne Games. Boden was part of the Australian 4x400m quartet that won Commonwealth Games silver in Delhi back in 2010. At the Daegu World Championships, her first major international, Boden ran a lifetime best of 55.78s in the preliminary round, but failed to advance to the final.

Lauren, who trains with 2000 Sydney Olympian Matt Beckenham, secured an early ticket to the London Olympics last February. She bettered the Olympic "A" standard of 55.50s by five-hundredths of a second, en route to her victory at the Sydney Track Classic.

Boden might be be two seconds slower than the more illustrious - and controversial - Pittman-Rawlinson, but her improvement has been gradual. Boden would have to run the race of her life in London, for her to break into the magic eight. For an athlete as focused and motivated as Lauren, the conditions are ripe for success.

Athletics Australia
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