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Jumat, 24 Juli 2015

THE CLIMB THAT LEFT ME FROZEN WITH FEAR


There are thousands of industrial chimneys in the Czech Republic, with many dating back to the late 19th Century - most are no longer used and a group of enthusiasts spend their weekends climbing the structures. Alastair Lawson joined them in Zelezny Brod, but soon regretted it.
I am 40m (130ft) up a 120-year-old chimney in the north-east of the Czech Republic and I am having a minor panic attack. My legs feel like lead weights as I look down on the tiny figures on the ground below me.
"Are you coming up or going down?" asks my guide, Martin Vystejn, as I cling for dear life on to the ladder.

The fear gripping me is so overpowering that my inclination is to do neither and remain suspended in mid-air about two-thirds of the way up the 52m (170ft) disused industrial chimney.

The other climbers seem unruffled by my agony and continue nonchalantly to make their ascent, neatly bypassing me on the ladder as I scuttle downwards.
So how did I end up in this predicament?
few weeks ago, I read a Czech media report about the activities of the Union of Czech Chimney Climbers, a club set up mostly to climb, but also to survey and lobby for the preservation of the country's 5,000 to 6,000 industrial chimneys.
They invited me to join them as they scaled two disused textile factory chimneys located alongside each other in Zelezny Brod, north-east of Prague.
Every weekend and bank holiday the climbers meet at the base of a different chimney. They are men and women from all walks of life, including graphic designers, shopkeepers, accountants and students. The one thing they have in common is a passion - verging on an obsession - for being high up above the ground.

The age range is equally diverse - from teenagers to a 76-year-old former track-and-field athlete who whizzed up the ladder at high speed, making me feel even more inadequate.

Kamis, 23 Juli 2015

FORMULA 1: JENSON BUTTON COULD REPLACE WILLIAMS' VALTTERI BOTTAS

Jenson Button has emerged as a potential target for Williams next season if they lose Valtteri Bottas.
Bottas, on whom Williams have a contractual hold, is Ferrari's number one option should they decide not to retain Kimi Raikkonen alongside Sebastian Vettel.
Sources close to the deal say Ferrari and Williams have discussed Bottas's transfer but have no agreement yet.
Williams view Button as a leading candidate should Bottas leave.
Should the 2009 world champion join Williams in 2016, it would bring his career full circle.
He made his F1 debut for Williams in 2000 before moving on to Benetton/Renault, BAR - which became Honda and then Brawn - and finally McLaren in a career in which he has won 15 grands prix.
McLaren have not yet decided who they will pick to drive alongside Fernando Alonso in 2016.
The team have a contractual option to retain Button, which means that the 2009 world champion cannot join another team unless McLaren decide not to keep him - or fail to decide until after whatever date is set in the contract as the team's deadline to do so.
Their other options are their Danish reserve driver Kevin Magnussen, who raced for McLaren alongside Button in 2014, and the Belgian rising star Stoffel Vandoorne, who is leading the GP2 championship. McLaren have contracts with both men.
Williams said they could not comment on driver contracts and Button said he had not yet considered his future.
"I've had a lot of questions thrown at me about what I am doing next year but I have not thought about anything, seriously," the 35-year-old said.
"I just have to get my head down and concentrate on improving the car and then in a couple of months we will sit down and talk about next year."
Bottas, on whom Williams have an option for the next two seasons, said he "did not know" whether he would be at Williams next season.
"Nothing is confirmed," the Finn said. "We have to wait and see. As a driver, you want to know as soon as possible but sometimes you have to wait."
Although Ferrari have pursued various options, sources close to the team say they have decided to put off a decision on Raikkonen's future until later in the summer.
Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne said last month that Raikkonen's "future is in his own hands" amid concerns at the team that he is not performing well enough compared to team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

Rabu, 22 Juli 2015

WHY CAN'T MEN BE OLYMPIC SYNCHRONISED SWIMMERS?


At the World Aquatics Championships, which begin this weekend in Russia, men will be competing in synchronised swimming for the first time. Men were a part of the sport at its inception, but until now they have always been barred from competing at the highest level. Will the door to the Olympics open next?
There is nothing in the world that can prevent 25 July 2015 from being the best day in Bill May's life. "It's something that I have dreamed of my entire life," he says, "to step out on that deck with the world's best."
Many already count May as one of the world's great synchronised swimmers. Next weekend, 11 years after he retired, he will get his chance to prove it. Whether or not he ends up winning his event, the chance to compete in the US team at the World Championships in the Russian city of Kazan is the delayed culmination of a career that has brought triumph and frustration in equal measure.
May made his big splash in 1998, when he and his partner Kristina Lum won the duet event at the US National Championships, then took silver at the Goodwill Games. He was named USA Synchro's athlete of the year in 1998 and 1999, and he went on to win 14 national events as well as titles in France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.
But he was prevented from performing at the World Championships or the Olympics because it was seen at the highest level as a sport for women. May's coach Chris Carver said: "Let me tell you this - he not only would have made the team, he would have been among the very top of the competitors on the US team."

Selasa, 21 Juli 2015

WHEN THE US PRESIDENT TRAVELS, THE WORLD STANDS STILL


US President Barack Obama pines for the moment when he can leave the security bubble. After 24 hours inside it, I can see why.
Mr Obama and his daughter Sasha, 14, walk across a tarmac in New York on Friday. He taps her shoulder and points towards Manhattan, showing her the world, or at least his version of it.
What a place.
They fly on Air Force One to one of New York's airports - and minutes later arrive by helicopter in Manhattan.
Streets are blocked off, and their motorcade glides to the Upper East Side. They run red lights - at least 26 over the weekend. Along the way people cheer. At one point a woman in a flowery sundress holds up a handmade sign: "FREE HUGS".
It's a New York fantasy, one of the perks of Mr Obama's job. He travels in a security zone, a "bubble" as it's known - a tightly managed network of aircrafts, vehicles and communication that lets him move easily around the world.
The bubble provides safety, but it's confining. In a recent briefing he sounded wistful about an upcoming trip to Kenya, his father's homeland. He made it clear he'd rather go without security restrictions.
"I'll be honest with you, visiting Kenya as a private citizen is probably more meaningful to me than visiting as president," Mr Obama said. "Because I can actually get outside of a hotel room or a conference centre."
He still has 18 months left in the bubble, though. For that reason it's worth looking at the experience - and considering what it means in terms of his worldview.
The presidential bubble is thick - and pricey. Mr Obama rides in the motorcade in a limousine known as the Beast, which is designed to withstand bullets and chemical attacks.
Mr Obama flies on a Boeing 747 jet that costs $180,000 (£116,000) per hour to operate - and can be refuelled in the middle of a flight. Electronic equipment on board is designed to withstand all kinds of duress, including force from an electromagnetic pulse, according to White House officials.
On the aircraft Mr Obama has a suite with its own bathroom, as well as an office and a conference room. He has access to classified material, and he can communicate with military officials if the US is under attack or is facing another kind of emergency.

Senin, 20 Juli 2015

FELIPE MASSA: DRIVERS WILL FOCUS ON JOB WHEN RACING AT HUNGARIAN GP


Felipe Massa says drivers will race as hard as ever at this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix, despite the death of "great friend" Jules Bianchi.
The Frenchman, 25, died on Friday from severe head injuries suffered in last year's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
"I don't think anything changes. When you close your visor, you want to be the best," said the Williams driver.
"I had my accident and when I pass that place I don't remember it.
"I don't ever think 'I have a mother or father or son or wife'. You just think about your job."
Bianchi had been in a coma since crashing his Marussia into a recovery vehicle at last October's rain-hit race.
Massa, who says he expects to stay with Williams in 2016, is "not completely against" closed cockpits in Formula 1 "if it's best for everyone and doesn't change the aspect" of the sport.
The 34-year-old, who attended Bianchi's funeral in Nice on Tuesday, said he would "have Jules on my mind all the time" when he is not racing in Hungary.
He added: "It was so difficult to be there in church. It was so sad but I am sure he is in a good place now and looking here at all of us."

Minggu, 19 Juli 2015

DAVID COULTHARD COLUMN: F1 WILL NEVER ELIMINATE ITS INHERENT DANGER

Formula 1 is no stranger to tragedy, and the death of Jules Bianchi from injuries sustained in a crash in last October's Japanese Grand Prix is a reminder that danger is never far away, however distant it might appear.
Over the last two decades, F1 had become accustomed to seeing drivers walk away or emerge uninjured from very big accidents, such as Robert Kubica's barrel roll in Canada in 2007 or Mark Webber's somersault in Valencia in 2010.
That is testament to the work done to improve safety following the terrible events of the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, at which Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger were killed in two separate accidents and three other serious incidents provided a wake-up call for everyone involved.
The lessons of that weekend in Imola have never been lost on those in positions of influence in F1.
Any incident such as that inevitably leads to a period of introspection, and further changes have been made as a result of Bianchi's tragic loss.

Sabtu, 18 Juli 2015

WHY MY OWN FATHER WOULD HAVE LET IS KILL ME

The group that calls itself Islamic State (IS or Isis) has a special punishment for gay people - it kills them by throwing them off high buildings. Taim, a 24-year-old medical student, tells the story of how he only escaped this fate by fleeing from Iraq to Lebanon.
In our society, being gay means death. When Isis kills gays, most people are happy because they think we're sick.
I first realised I was gay when I was about 13 or 14. I too thought homosexuality was a sickness and I just wanted to feel normal. During my first year of college, I started having therapy for it. My therapist told me to tell friends that I was going through a "difficult phase" and to ask for their support.
I'm of Muslim background but my ex-boyfriend was from a Christian background and I had a bunch of Christian friends, whom I used to hang out with. In 2013 I got into a fight with a fellow student, Omar - who later joined Isis - about hanging out with Christians. A friend of mine told him to go easy on me because I was going through a hard time, having treatment for being gay. That's how people knew. I think my friend's intention was noble but what happened as a result ruined my life.