Barkley Marathons, Zes Daagse Gent, and Andy Murray

Barkley Marathons

A few months ago, while listening to the Futility Closet podcast, I was introduced to the Barkley Marathons.

[This is an event] that every year draws 40 people to Tennessee’s Frozen Head State Park in an attempt to finish a 60,000-vertical-foot course in under 60 hours. Ask anyone who has tried it, and you’ll get one answer: It’s the most brutal race on earth. Only 14 hardy souls have completed the full distance since the race started in 1986, including two runners at this year’s edition in April. And every time someone does, the course is tweaked.

Each year, from the start point of a yellow gate in Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, 40 entrants attempt to complete five 20-mile* loops – two clockwise, two anti-clockwise, with the fifth being run alternatively clockwise or anti-clockwise depending on which order you start.

Aside from its incredible difficulty, what makes it more intriguing is the creator and the entry process. Each year, the entry costs the price of the postage of your application ($1.60), and to even get to the start line, you must complete a test, bring a car licence plate from your home country, and provide Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell with whichever piece of clothing his wardrobe currently demands.

If any of this piques your interest, I’d recommend the documentary currently on (UK) Netflick, The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young, which records the history of the race, and the 2012 event.

*Competitors say each loop is more like 26 miles.

Six Days of Ghent / Zes Daagse Gent

I’m just back from a trip to Belgium and, in particular, the city of Ghent.

Ghent is home to the 96-year old Six Days of Ghent, a cycle race held annually in the Kuipke velodrome over a six-day period.

Aside from being located in one of the most beautifully antiquated arenas you’re likely to visit, and being a great race to watch, it is also – it being Belgium – a beer-fuelled extravaganza.

That middle section that you see in the video is full of drunk cycling fans, cheering on their favourite rider – for this event, that was almost certainly Iljo Keisse, the young Belgian rider, who is now my new hero. Who wouldn’t fall for someone who cycled around the track on his own, playing air-guitar to the famous Belgian pop tune, Ça Plane Pour Moi?

The British pairing of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish were this year’s winners, bringing to a close the 13-year history of the pair cycling together.

Andy Murray
What is there left to say about the young Scotsman, now ranked as the number 1 tennis player in the World?

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The very fact that a Scot is the best in the World at anything is enough to make my heart sing, but when you recall that he had to live through the Dunblane Massacre, then you realise that this is a man who has seen both the very worst and best of what this World has to offer.

And this is without even mentioning that his older brother is also currently the number 1 tennis doubles player (with his partner Bruno Soares).

Here is is, talking to Sue Barker about the incident just a few years ago.

Is the World Cup finished?

A photograph showing Brazilian residents watching the opening match of the FIFA World Cup
Brazilian residents watch the opening match of the FIFA World Cup between Brazil and Croatia in Porto Seguro, Brazil, June 12. (Matthias Schrader/Associated Press)

I don’t mean that in an, “are we there yet?” sense. I mean, is this the last ever World Cup? Well, no, but in a recent issue of the New Statesman, Jason Cowley comments that

allegations of Fifa corruption have tarnished the image of the beautiful game. Can anything be done, or will Brazil 2014 be remembered as the last authentic World Cup?

Commenters will of course suggest that the arena of super-marketing in which these events now reside has meant that an authentic World Cup died a long time ago, but Cowley goes on to relate football then, versus football now, to a post- and pre-digital age.

… football can create a sense of unity and fellow feeling of a kind that has all but disappeared from daily life in an era of zero-hour contracts, virtual friendships, declining newspaper sales and multi-channeltelevision: something we can all share in and talk about. This sense of togetherness, of an enlarged and enraptured imaginary community, feels never more palpable than during a World Cup summer, when it can sometimes seem as if every second person you meet is preoccupied by the football.

And this he suggests, is over.

However the World Cup itself will never end, because, as he says, “it is a well-oiled engine of cash generation”,

but at what ultimate cost, especially when, as in the case of Qatar, the country has no football culture to speak of and impoverished migrant workers are dying needlessly there as they labour in the horrific heat to build Fifa’s air-conditioned stadiums in the desert?

I’ve certainly enjoyed this World Cup, so far, but I can’t see my interest being quite the same in a Russian- (2018) or Qatari- (2022) hosted event.

The full article, The last World Cup: after Brazil 2014, is the tournament finished?, can be found on the New Statesman website, and is worth taking a look at.