Archive for the ‘Athletics’ Category

Daegu v FC Seoul, Sunday March 4th 2012, 3pm

March 15, 2012

After failing to see a game at Bucheon the previous day, I was keen to belatedly start my Korean season with a match somewhere. There were a couple of options, but the most appealing was the K-League clash between Daegu and FC Seoul.

As you might have guessed, it wasn’t the teams or the quality of the football that attracted me, although it was likely to be of a better standard than that of the small kids kicking around on the Bucheon practice pitch that had been the full extent of my football the day before. No, it was the chance to see a game in Daegu’s World Cup stadium.

I’d been to watch Daegu play before, but on that occasion they had turned out in the old Civil Stadium whilst their World Cup ground was being tarted up for the 2011 World Athletics Championships. I’d watched a couple of days of that competition too, so I had actually been in the World Cup stadium. However, as good as watching Blanka Vlasic in her gym knickers is, I hadn’t actually seen a football match there.

You wouldn't believe how many visitors come here looking for Miss Vlasic. Or maybe you would.

I caught the 10.10am KTX from Seoul, arriving at Dongdaegu station just after noon. It hadn’t been the best of journeys with the woman behind yapping into her phone all journey and the bloke in front closing the blinds so that I couldn’t see out of the window. It was cold in Daegu with a sea air smell in the area around the station. As Daegu is miles from the coast I presumed that it must have come from a factory somewhere.

Daegu has some quite nice districts, but the area around the train station isn’t one of them. I looked in vain for somewhere to eat and very nearly had to resort to popping into Dunkin’ Donuts. The poster in the window brought me to my senses though.

Salty Caramella? Deviants.

If they can mess up ice-creams with salt, then I couldn’t really trust them with anything else. I gave up on lunch and just got the subway to the nearest stop for the stadium, Grand Park. On coming out of the station, there was a free shuttle coach waiting to take fans to the ground. A nice touch, I thought, particularly as it was absolutely freezing and a twenty minute walk in the wind wasn’t that appealing.

On arriving at the stadium, there was still an hour and a half to go before kick-off. I browsed the various stalls and was given free water, tissues, an orange marker pen and a couple of face packs made from soju. Luckily I didn’t mistake the later items for some sort of consumable soju gel.

Daegu Stadium.

None of the stuff that I’d been given was edible, so I paid five thousand won for a box of fried chicken. It wasn’t really any more edible than the marker pen would have been. It was colder than the surroundings and I couldn’t be entirely certain that it hadn’t been left over from the previous season. Maybe a Salty Caramella might have been worth a try after all.

Get your free stuff here.

After ditching the chicken I bought my ticket, shelling out twelve thousand won for a seat in the West Stand. Don’t know why really, as it was about eight thousand to sit in the East. It’s still only about seven quid though, which compares favourably with the fifty quid that I paid at the recent Real Betis v Getafe game. The prices at K-League games, in fact Korean sport in general, mean that very few people are priced out. You can watch baseball or basketball for around four quid, National League and Challengers League football games are generally free and last time I went to Seoul Racetrack it cost me thirty pence to get in.

No prizes for the groundsman.

There weren’t many people inside the stadium as I took my seat around the half-way line. What struck me was just how brown the pitch was. Do you remember your first ever football match? For most people, the greenness of the pitch is something that sticks in their memory. It wouldn’t though if your first game had been this one. I don’t know if the pitch had been covered up or whether frost had killed off the grass, but it looked more suitable for growing potatoes than playing football.

At quarter past two the Seoul fans made their entrance. I could hear them before I could see them as they had a few drums with them. They marched from the back of their section to their seats with flares blazing and drums, er, drumming. Small children nearby were waving at them in awe, (or possibly recognition if they were family) and the local plod quickly took up a new position that bit closer.

The flares had gone out by the time I took a photo.

The couple of hundred Daegu fans behind the other goal were pretty impressive too, keeping the support going despite the cold and the rain. I was a little surprised to see the crowd announced as twenty-one thousand. Sixteen thousand of them must have gone home as soon as they had stocked up with marker pens and soju facepacks.

Daegu fans in the rain.

I had a coffee to warm me up as I watched the Daegu team being announced on the big screen. I was pleased to see that their three Brazilians were playing. It would be just like watching the Boro in ’97 with Juninho, Emerson and Branco. Although you wouldn’t want Branco anywhere near a stadium that sold fried chicken, not if you had any ambitions of being able to find a pair of shorts to fit him.

I realised that I’d got it wrong though after the thirtieth or so player was announced. What we were getting was a run through of the entire Daegu staff, including an assortment of big bosses, goalkeeping coaches and even a couple of old biddies who snip the weeds from the nearby grass verges and take them home for soup. Only one of the Brazilians, Matheus, had made the team. I wasn’t surprised, Emerson and Branco would have been back in Brazil if it had ever been this cold in the Boro.

Those zoom lenses are handy.

After the cheerleaders had done their stuff we were given a rousing speech from the Daegu big boss. I didn’t understand much but I imagine he chose not to dwell on the brown grass, four month old cold chicken or the local tendency to confuse ice-cream with fish and chips. When he’d finished, we got a firework display which left a haze of smoke over the pitch and gave me an insight into what my life will be like when I’ve developed cataracts.

The players emerged in full-length padded coats. I, meanwhile, was sat shivering in a thin jacket regretting that I could ever have thought Spring had arrived. The latest forecast is that it will be here at the end of March, with Summer then starting two days later. Four seasons, my arse.

Even Big Jack would have struggled to collect all those coats.

Under their heavily insulated jackets, FC Seoul were in their usual AC Milan kit, whilst Daegu were in blue. Smurf blue for those of you who like a little less vagueness.  I noticed that Lee Jin Ho was wearing red gloves and reflected that he was just a white beard short of being dressed as Papa Smurf. It’s not often a mascot gets a game.

Lee Jin Ho.

Thirteen minutes in Yong Kang cracked one into the top corner to put the home side a goal up and spark wild celebrations with their bench and new Brazilian manager.


At half time I had a hot chocolate and then some ramyeon to try and warm up. A lot of people were leaving, presumably because of the cold. Seoul had a goal disallowed after fifty seven minutes before Molina finally equalised on the break just after the hour.

Second half action.

The rain got a bit heavier as the second half went on and whilst I doubt the players were too pleased, hopefully it will help the potato crop. Seoul looked the more likely of the teams to snatch a victory and went close when hitting the post ten minutes from time. That was enough for me though and not much longer after that I nipped away early. I didn’t want to risk dying of exposure due to not being able to get a taxi. Luckily one stopped straightaway and I was back at Dongdaegu station not long after the game had finished. No one else scored in my absence, with a one all draw being a reasonably fair result.

World Athletics Championships, Daegu, Sunday 4th September 2011.

September 19, 2011

After Usain Bolt’s triumph the previous night Jen and I were back on the train from Gumi to Daegu the next morning for a bit more athletics. We managed to dump our backpacks in the lockers at the subway station and with the first event not starting until just after six we had plenty of time to have a wander around the town.

First stop was the zoo. I’m always happy to have a look around these places. I don’t even bother to take a small kid nowadays and pretend it’s for their pleasure rather than mine. Daegu Zoo is free to get into, which must be great for the local families who can pop along every weekend if they fancy, but it does mean that their animal buying budget isn’t quite what it could be.

They had a decent variety of animals, it’s just that most of them looked like either the runt of their litter or else not far from death’s door. None of them seemed to be prime specimens. The badger looked faker than a ten quid Louis Vuitton handbag and the tiger may very well have been dead.

The vultures were circling.

The elephant looked to be in reasonable nick, although it did have half a tusk missing which probably affected its value. It was as if the place was populated with other zoo’s cast-offs.

It didn't look too bad from its good side.

One of the benefits of zoos being a bit strapped for cash though is that they don’t mind you feeding the animals. It saves them a few quid and makes it all a bit more interesting for the people wandering around. Everybody wins really. Apart, I suppose, from the psychotic bear that was getting Cheesy Wotsits bounced off its skull.

You can see one on the floor.

After the zoo we had a walk around a market. I quite enjoy this sort of thing too, depending I suppose on the amount of animals, dead or alive. I’m not really one for shopping but if there are a few rabbits or dogs to have a gawp at then I’m happy enough. This place had plenty of livestock, with kittens, puppies, rabbits and chickens competing for space. I’m not sure which, if any, of them were intended to be pets rather than lunch but they looked in better condition than most of the inhabitants of the zoo.

You weren't allowed to feed these ones corn-based snacks.

With a couple of hours to go before the athletics started we got the subway to Daegu Grand Park. I wanted to be there early as our section was free seating and I was keen to be as close to the sandpit for the triple jump final as possible. It took about half an hour to walk from the station to the stadium and once there we were quickly inside.

Daegu Stadium

We were able to sneak across a few blocks from our section near to the start of the run up to somewhere much closer to where the jumpers would be landing. I did feel a little guilty initially but after seeing the way that so many of the Koreans behaved I soon put it out of my mind. The event was a sell-out officially. That doesn’t mean much over here where attendances are often announced in excess of the stadium capacity despite the place being no more than half-full. This time though it was probably correct. However, so many of the people coming in seemed to be saving seats for non-existent friends or using them to balance their bags or food on. The stewards were trying to get people to shift along, but were pretty much being ignored. The problem was compounded by a lot of athletes and coaches who had  ‘access all areas’ passes trying to find somewhere to sit. I was pleased that we had got there early or else we’d have been stood at the back.

There was still more than an hour to go before the first event.

The events started off with the women’s hammer throw. We were at the wrong end of the stadium for this one but quite handily placed to see some of the better throws land. Next we got the women’s 4x100m relay semi-finals where the Chinese team managed to get disqualified for a false-start. How rubbish must that have been for the runners on the later legs? If they hadn’t ran in the individual event then their Championship will have consisted of limbering up on the track and then being told to clear off without even getting to run.

The triple jump got underway and Phillip Idowu made a good start, leading through the first three rounds. There were a lot of coaches sat near us and it was amusing to watch them being ignored by their athletes when they were trying to give them a bollocking. Every now and then one of the jumpers would make the mistake of catching his coaches eye and he’d have to come over and be reminded of how to leap into a sandpit.

"Just jump further Sonny"

Next up we got Mo Farah in the 5000m. We’d watched him just miss out on gold a week earlier on the taxi driver’s sat nav coming back from the airport. This time though he went one better with a well-paced run that saw him drop to the back of the pack early on and then take it on in the last couple of laps.

It was an exceptionally slow race, the winning time of 13:23 being forty-six seconds off the world record of 12:37. Not that it matters in a championship race. I was amazed when I saw that world record time, by the way. One of the best athletic events that I’ve been to was the Bislett Games in Olso in 1985. We travelled up on the train from somewhere in Italy mainly to watch Steve Cram try to break the world mile record. He did, making the forty-eight hour journey and the subsequent night sleeping rough more than worthwhile. As a bit of a bonus we also saw Said Aouita lower the 5,000m mark to a fraction over thirteen minutes. The current record of 12:37 shows just how much athletes have improved at that distance over the last quarter of a century.

Even better, he did his lap of honour with our MFC union jack.

In round four of the triple jump, Idowu’s luck ran out as a lifetime best from the American, Christian Taylor, relegated him to second place. He improved upon his own mark with another consistent leap but it wasn’t enough and he had to settle for silver.

We needed to get away to catch our train and so would have to miss the closing relays. That meant that our final event was the women’s 800m. There has been a fair bit of controversy over some of the South African athletes competing at these games, specifically Oscar Pistorius and Caster Semenya. Whilst Pistorius would on the face of it seem to be disadvantaged in the 400m by being short of a couple of  legs, the fact that his carbon fibre replacements don’t get tired like legs do and uniquely allow him to accelerate in the closing stages when everyone else is slowing down makes me a little uneasy.

Likewise, Semenya running in the women’s races also seems a bit unfair. I appreciate that she’s grown her hair to try to look more feminine, but she’d have been better off  getting rid of the biceps and the bulge in the front of her shorts. If she is going to compete in the women’s races I think the IAAF should insist that she runs with her arms by her sides, palm facing downwards. It’s the only way to dispel the doubts.

Anyway, it looked like her mind wandered as she hit the home straight, perhaps because she was thinking ahead as to what she was going to cook her fella for his tea and she was overtaken by the Russian girl

Savinova takes the gold.

That was it for us and we headed out to find the area around the stadium crowded by people waiting for the closing fireworks. After the chaos of the previous evening we were able to hop into a taxi straightaway and were at Dongdaegu station in sufficient time to watch the relays on the telly before catching our train back to Seoul.

In a country that often gets a bit of flak for its organisation of sporting events, I thought the Championships went very well on the days that we were there. The place was full, the beer was free and we had minimal hassle. Just like it should be.

World Athletics Championships, Daegu, Saturday 3rd September 2011.

September 18, 2011

I like watching athletics meetings as there always seems to be something going on. It’s usually organised so that the races have very little time between them and the field events tend to fill in any gaps that do occur. When my son was small we would often nip up to Gateshead Stadium, usually to watch one of his heroes, Linford Christie. We tend not to bother these days, partly because I’m not in the UK very often, but mainly because Linford must be about sixty these days and is probably supplementing his diet with Werthers Originals rather than anabolic steroids.

When I saw that the World Athletics Championships were coming to Daegu I thought that it might be difficult to get to see it. Fortunately they didn’t follow the shambolic approach opted by London for the Olympic tickets where the system encouraged people to apply for thousands of pounds worth of tickets in a lottery, resulting in some people getting, well, thousands of pounds worth of tickets whilst the majority failed to get any.

Seb Coe is the figurehead for London 2012 and so I’ll blame him for it. I used to like him as a runner. Not as much as Ovett obviously, but he did have a burst of acceleration similar to that of Ekbalco or Dancing Brave and a running style where his feet barely seemed to touch the track. I remember listening to his 800m Moscow defeat on a radio whilst sat at the top of some hill in the Lake District and then making sure that a few days later we got down to Keswick town centre in time to watch him take the 1500m gold on the tellies in the Rediffusion shop window.

Cheer up Seb, if you roll about enough on a judo mat with Billy Hague you might get a peerage.

Afterwards in his new role as a Tory politician, I never really had any time for him. I love the story about him being refused entry to a hospitality lounge at a Chelsea game though. I suspect it might be made up but I’ll tell it anyway. Apparently he was told that although his name appeared on the guest list he would have to walk around to the ticket office on the other side of the ground to collect a pass. When he kicked up a fuss and pointed out “But I’m Seb Coe, surely you must recognise me?“ the bloke that he was dealing with replied “Well, it shouldn’t take you long to get there then, should it?”

Luckily Lord Coe and his team weren’t heading up the Daegu ticketing operation and so a few months earlier I’d simply logged on to the World Athletics website and bought tickets for each of the last two days. The Saturday tickets were fifty quid each and I chose seats on the bend of the 200m so that we would hopefully get a decent view of Usain Bolt pulling away from the field. For the Sunday we got twenty-odd quid tickets next to the sand pit in the hope of seeing Philip Idowu take triple-jump gold. It couldn’t have been easier, select your seats, pay by credit card and collect the tickets from a box office near the main entrance. Hopefully without being then directed to the other side of the stadium as it would take me considerably longer than a former Olympic athlete.

Jen and I were staying in nearby Gumi and we’d hiked up a big hill in the Geumosan Provincial Park that morning. It’s only half an hour away by train though and despite me falling asleep, waking up in a panic and getting us off the train at Daegu rather than Dongdaegu, our taxi still got to the stadium in plenty of time.

It was fairly busy, but with half a dozen ticket offices we had our tickets in a few minutes. We were also given wristbands because it turned out that the fifty quid tickets we had for that day also entitled us to free food and drink. Nice. After a cursory search, we were inside and soon into the hospitality tent. I couldn’t fault it at all, plenty of food and a couple of fridges full of free beer. My sort of event really.

That's very kind of you.

The stadium itself was pretty impressive too. A lot of the third tier seats had been blanked off to allow the installation of a third big screen and to give the media more camera positions. We were in the bottom tier, but the slope was good enough to give us a decent view. We were at the end where the women’s high jump final was taking place and with all due respect to the male javelin throwers at the other end, we were at the right end of the arena.

Most of the high jumpers could have been catwalk models, although because of the nature of the event they tend not to wear much in the way of  haute couture. Gradually most of them were eliminated until we were down to a battle for the gold between Anna Chicherova and Blanka Vlašić. I usually just root for the best looking one, but in this event I was spoilt for choice. Eventually they both failed to clear 2.05m and the Russian took the gold on the countback.

Blanka Vlašić

After watching the Kenyans dominate the men’s 1500m it was time for the women’s 100m hurdles where Tiffany Porter came fourth for Great Britain. She used to run for America but competition for places is a bit stronger over there so now she runs for us. She demonstrated how quickly she has adapted to the ways of her new country though by clipping the final hurdle and graciously allowing someone else to take home a medal instead.

In between all that we had a couple of exhibition wheelchair races, included I suspect so that South Korea could have some athletes taking part on a finals day. It backfired in the first race though, the women’s 800m. The Korean competitor was so far behind the rest of the field, you’d think she was weighed down with her shopping. She managed to avoid being lapped but by the time she had completed her race to sympathetic applause the rest of the competitors were showered, changed and down the pub.

With two Koreans in the men’s 400m race I hoped that the shorter distance would provide less opportunity for embarrassment. I needn’t have worried though as Yung Byung Hoon and Jung Dong Ho took silver and bronze respectively.

After the Men's 400m wheelchair race.

The highlight of the evening was kept back as the final event. Usain Bolt had ballsed up the 100m final a week earlier by jumping the gun and tonight was his chance to make up for it in the 200m final. I couldn’t really see another mishap as he’s that much better than the opposition in the longer sprint that he has time to wait for the gun, have a look around, re-tie his shoelaces and still get to the finishing line first.

And after putting on a bit of a pre-race show for the crowd, that’s what he did. Possibly even with a double knot in the laces to play it safe. By the time he reached us at the bend the race was won and he accelerated away up the home straight.

It's all over now.

His lap of honour must have taken ten minutes to complete, a bit of a contrast to the 19.4 seconds that he’d needed in the 200m. He seemed a popular fella and I don’t think the crowd could have enjoyed it any more had he actually been Korean.

I think he enjoyed himself.

One downside was getting away afterwards. As we’d arrived by taxi we weren’t familiar with the way to the subway and the shuttle buses seemed badly organised. The police were preventing taxis from picking people up so we had a long walk before we could eventually get one to stop. Fortunately he was as good at his job as Usain Bolt is at his and after some manic driving we were at the station in time to catch the train back to Gumi.