Welcome to the HUTC Blog, sharing some of our experiences as we cover  the more unusual news stories, travel to far flung places and meet the most engaging people doing extraordinary things.

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Sir Stirling Moss, tribute to a sporting legend in post-war Britain

Sir Stirling Moss was one of the most iconic figures in the history of British sport, with 212 wins from 529 races. He comes from an era when the cars were driven at ferocious speeds and surviving a race felt as much as an achievement as winning it.  He was often described as “the greatest driver never to win the World Championship”

 

Ultra-competitive, he preferred to take risks and lose stylishly than win boringly. Where possible, he preferred a British car – which did him no favours in a time when Italian and German cars were faster and more reliable.

Tribute to a legend

In racing circles, Sir Stirling will be remembered for the world championship he could have won in 1958 but didn’t – and all because he argued against the disqualification of a rival, Mike Hawthorn, from the Portuguese Grand Prix. Hawthorn went on to beat him to the title by just one point.

 

Enzo Ferrari, the founder of arguably the biggest car brand on the planet, described Moss as the greatest driver in the world. Five-time champion Juan Manuel Fangio called Moss the best of his era. He was a driver who defined the very essence of style, sophistication, but bravery too in an age where serious injury or death was a reality of participation.

 

One little known fact about Stirling’s racing career was back in 1978 when he won the very first Lawnmower Grand Prix in Sussex, England.

 

I managed to interview him on several occasions, and it always brought a smile to his face when I mentioned his association with racing lawnmowers.  Here’s a small clip from one of those interviews, this was filmed back in 1998.

 

 

 

 

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Sleddog Dryland World Championships

2019 WSA (World Sleddog Association) Dryland World Championships.

After days of heavy rain prior to the event, it was with some trepidation that I headed to the Firle Place Country Estate that was hosting this prestigious event.

According to forecasts the better day for filming looked to be the Saturday, but as usual, the weather forecast got it wrong and more rain descended on the already saturated grounds. The hundreds of dog sled teams in attendance did not seem too deterred by the wet and muddy conditions.

A variety of group classes raced from 8, 6, 4 and 2 dog teams to the solo classes with competitors on mountain bikes (Bikejor) or running behind their dog (Cani-cross). The mud made for very slippery and challenging conditions for all those competing.

The championships are highly competitive, with entrants travelling to the event from across Europe but the safety and welfare of the dogs and the drivers are paramount. Despite the kudos of a World Championship, there was no prize money and vets and animal welfare charities were in attendance to ensure that the welfare of the dogs was centre stage.

Visually, the 8 dog teams looked the most impressive with the ‘driver’ or musher, as they are often known, perched on a Rigg. It’s not easy to communicate and steer a large team; something that requires great skill.

 

Despite the unfavourable conditions many spectators squelched through the mud to enjoy the unfolding spectacle. Many also got the chance to meet the teams and their dogs and amongst the breeds represented were Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamute and Greenland dogs. Whatever the breed one thing was abundantly clear, the dogs loved to race and owners demonstrated that the love of their dogs was central to being involved in this sport.

 

 

 

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World Coal Carrying Championships wow’s crowd on hottest spring day

A busy Easter for us this year – one of the events that we covered was the rather wonderful World Coal Carrying Championships in Yorkshire. You have to love these guys don’t you?

Like so many of Britain’s quirky contests, this one was forged in the pub as a test of fitness and machismo.

Today people travel from all over the country and further afield, to race the three quarters of a mile uphill course. Men carry a 50kg sack of coal and women a 20kg sack.

It was one of the hottest days of the year so far in the UK, which made for sweltering race conditions. At stake for the King and Queen of the ‘Coal Humpers’ was a modest cash prize for the winners)

Athletes of all shapes and sizes gathered outside the starting point at the Royal Oak pub to tackle the 1,100-metre up-hill course.

Men aged over 40 took part in the men’s veterans race, followed by a women’s race and then the men’s main races, with the best time being taken across the three men’s races.

Some of the men had clearly done more training than others, but all were enthusiastic about the challenge ahead.

In the women’s event, (there were two races) Jennie Muster won the title with a time of 4 minutes 42 seconds. The women ran the same course as the men, but carrying a considerably lighter 20kg bag of coal.

There were three races in the men’s main division – Top honours went to Durham farmer Andrew Corrigan whose time was 4 minutes and 23 seconds. Despite his victory Andrew rushed off straight after the race missing the presentation, but his wife just had a baby so family commitments came first!

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Making Football Fairer – a bid for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Presidency

It was a joy working with James Peace and the talented team at CSM recently in Abu Dhabi on Mohammed Khalfan Al Romaithi’s bid for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation. Speaking at Louvre, Al Romaithi outlined his manifesto, entitled “Making Football Fairer

The man hoping to upstage current Asian Football Confederation (AFC) current President from securing a third consecutive term believes the time is ripe to bring about a change in leadership. He also relishes a fresh approach to improving the Asian football game.

Mohammad Khalfan Al-Romaithi believes his experience in sports places him in a perfect position to bid for the Presidential seat.  He hosted a lavish news conference to spearhead his campaign for Asian Football’s top job. Romaithi is challenging Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain’s ruling family, for the presidency of the Asian Football Confederation in April.

As you’d expect, money was not in short supply at the press conference nor will it be an obstacle for gaining support for his vision. He has promised a $320 million (£240 million/€285 million) “Fair Fund” for the development of football across Asia, money raised with the help of backing from the United Arab Emirates Government and new sponsors.

The vote for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Presidency takes place on 6 April, so not long to wait to see if the efforts from the press conference paid dividends.

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The last bastion of amateur sport – The Cresta Run

The last bastion of amateur sport – The Cresta Run

The last time we covered this event was back 2006 – The world was a very different place then. But I’m pleased to report that during this time things haven’t changed much.

The World famous Cresta Run is held every year in Switzerland’s glitziest town. The St Moritz Tobogganing Club is well over 125 years old and for those with suitable dosh, dash and clean underpants – it’s the ultimate adrenalin fuelled thrill.

Blue–ribbon event

The Grand National is the blue–ribbon event of the short Cresta Run Tobogganing season in St Moritz in Switzerland. The event has been described as ‘the last bastion of amateur sport’ and is the only toboggan run in the world devoted to head-first sledding.

Each year 21 brave riders make three runs down the World famous course. It has ten corners and is 0.75 miles (1.2 km) long. Riders can reach a brain-rattling speed of 80mph.

Unlike a bobsled track, which is man-made with high-banked corners the Cresta is hand-made from natural ice with no concrete or wood support. It has a 514ft drop in altitude and its banked curves, given descriptive names like ‘the horseshoe’ ‘Stream corner’ and ‘Shuttlecock.’

‘Shuttlecock’ is most notorious and feared part of the course. It’s a sweeping left-hander with relatively shallow banking. If they approach it too fast, and many do they end up coming off often damaging themselves, if not their pride.

The Run is an extreme sport that provides a thrill according to members unlike any other. Riders have reached speeds of up to 80mph.  Completely bonkers when you think that they are laying on little more than a tea tray, with leather knee and elbow pads, gloves with metal plates, helmet, chin guard and spiked boots.

Every rider who crashes at Shuttlecock automatically becomes a member of the Shuttlecock Club, and is entitled to wear a special tie for bragging rights.

All competitors taken on the challenge at their own risk and must sign a liability disclaimer before taking part.

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777 World Marathon Challenge

777 as it’s getting to be known was an astonishing logistical, physical and extreme challenge that saw 40 athletes from around the world run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days. It is without doubt one of the toughest endurance races on earth. 

 

The first marathon took us to a Russian airbase called ‘Novo’ in Antarctica, where under clear brilliant blue skies, the first leg started at half past one in the morning. The clock had started ticking as the countdown of 168 hours to run 7 marathons on 7 continents had begun.

 

After Antarctica, hitting minus 35 degrees Celsius  we headed to the heat of Cape Town where runners completed their marathon at a scorching 35degrees, then onto Perth, Dubai, Madrid and Santiago all in under six-days. The final race took place in South Beach, Miami and started around 10 pm in the evening on the Wednesday. 

 

British runner Susannah Gill crossed the finish line of the last marathon, with tears in her eyes; she ran her way into the record books after completing all 7 legs of the challenge in 24 hours, 19 minutes, nine seconds to beat the previous record by more than three hours.  She had averaged 3:28:09 for each race, amazing when you think she suffered from jet lag crossing global time zones, varying heat and running terrains and very little sleep. For the men’s race it was Michael Wardian who clocked up wins on every leg!

 

Happy to report our efforts gained extensive World-Wide media attention, great to see a good news story doing so well.

Quidditch World Cup – a venture into a surreal sport

It was my fault entirely, I asked Richard Turkowitsch the rules of Quidditch (he’s the PR person for Team Austria and one of the commentators) – I knew I had made a mistake when he hadn’t drawn breath for ten minutes. But his passion and panache for the sport was astounding. 

I had had a nightmare of a journey getting to Florence, flying Vueling (avoid them if you can) were really awful – I won’t go into details as it’s it would take far too long, but suffice to say I got to the stunning Italian city a day late.

I didn’t know much about the sport of Quidditch. I knew it was adapted from the Harry Potter novels around twelve years ago but I was impressed how many countries were taking part in this World Cup – 29-teams from as far away as Iceland, Malaysia, South Korea, Hong Kong and Vietnam to name few. The first World Cup was held in Oxford in England back in 2012, when the United States took top honours, they won again in 2014 but the Aussies caught them  off guard to snatch victory two years ago in Frankfurt. 

This year’s tournament  was the biggest in the sports short history with over 800 players registered to compete.  

For those who don’t know – it’s like a cross between rugby and dodgeball and before you ask…..they don’t fly! The broom-sticks are replaced with a plastic tube which is shoved between their legs when they are in play.  I know, I know….…it does looks odd but it is fast paced and full contact.  Two teams of seven players compete, using four balls: three ‘bludgers’ used to momentarily knock opponents out of the contest and a ‘quaffle’ which a player can put through one of six ring-shaped goals to score.

Matches, well they last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. They are finished when the golden snitch – a tennis ball stuffed in a stocking worn by an independent player – is caught by a ‘seeker’. 

The snitch comes on after 18-minutes of play.  Each goal is awarded ten points and for the team that grabs the snitch, 30 points are awarded.  There are tons of other rules which I won’t bore you with – I can always send you in the direction of Richard Turkowitsch if you want to find out more! 

Each side must satisfy the gender rule where only a maximum of four players from either sex is allowed on the field at any one time.  

In the early rounds it was favourites USA and Australia who set the early pace, in the groups stages. The games were played in sweltering temperatures of between 33-35 degrees; each game which took its toll on the players and fans alike.

The in first semi-finals, “USA” beat “Team UK” to book their passage to their fourth (4th) final in a row. Underdogs Belgium, out played Turkey to gain a place in their first ever World Cup final.

The final between the USA and Belgium produced some quality Quidditch for the crowd of over 1000 people who mostly wanted Belgium to win – everyone loves the underdog don’t they!

Team USA scored some early goals and never really looked like losing the final.  It was left to their ‘seeker’ Harry Greenhouse to claim victory by grabbing the ‘snitch’ within minutes of it coming on. The final score was 120 for the USA against 70 for Belgium.

 In a sports world full of corporate sponsorship, diving football players etc it’s rather refreshing to see a bunch of adults running around with sticks between their legs having so much fun. Who needs fantasy football? 

  Still photos courtesy of Ajantha Abey

The Royal Wedding of Meghan & Harry

We Brits are pretty good at pomp and ceremony.

Being one of 5,000 journalists and media workers that had been accredited to cover the Royal Wedding my first thought was that it was going to be one hell of a long queue at security…. I was right – it took me nearly two hours to get the four wristbands that I needed.

 

Interest from the US media was enormous, whilst in the queue I was talking to a women from NBC who was one of over 230 that had been sent over to cover the event.  The mind boggles at what they all did! Still, the local hotels and restaurants were complaining.

My role for the event was working with the Japanese broadcaster Nippon TV during their two live hits.  We had an amazing ‘live’ position as it was inside the castle grounds, which gave them a great view of proceedings and fortunately all went tickety-boo.

 

For me one of the best moments was looking at all the faces of the assembled media listening to the most Reverend Michael Curry, the Afro-American leader of the Episcopal Church in the US.  His sermon was both passionate and entertaining,  although it did last rather too long, which meant that we had to push back one of their our live hits, but no real drama.

 

Not being a huge royalist, I had mixed views before the event but whatever our thoughts of the Royal family, the broadcasting of the Wedding across the globe was a magnificent advert for UK PLC; even the sun came out for the day ensuring proceedings looked even more splendid!

North Pole Marathon 2018

The two-hour flight from Spitsbergen is pretty uncomfortable as the Antonov plane that is used does not have many luxuries. These planes were built for Arctic work; they mainly shift goods around rather than athletes and members of the press. 

The marathon operates from a drifting Russian camp base at the Geographic North Pole –it is the only race in the World that is run on the waters of the frozen Arctic Sea ice.

Camp Barneo, otherwise known as the North Pole Camp is located approximately 49 kilometres from the top of the world. As I looked at my GPS watch I can quite clearly see that we were drifting about in the Arctic Ocean – northerly winds push the floating camp towards the southeast at up to 0.5mph – a little bit scary if you sit down and think about it.

Richard Donovan, the race organiser and all-round top geezer, marks the marathon course out around the camp.  This is for safety reasons; well you wouldn’t want to get lost out here that’s for sure.

The runners this year had to complete 10 laps but they were able to retreat into a refreshment tent every lap to regain body warmth and hydrate themselves with hot drinks and snacks. Everybody needs to protect their skin against the harsh conditions. Our clothing included a full faced balaclava, goggles, gloves and mittens, long johns and several layers of thermal clothing under a ‘shell’.

 

This year, 60 athletes from over 20 Nations took part; China had a significant entry with 13 athletes vying for glory.  The race started at 10:35 Sunday evening (15th April) with a temperature of ¯30° degrees Celsius. That time of year there is 24 hours of daylight, so it was a bright sunny outlook throughout the race.

Aside from the cold, competitors had to negotiate the energy-sapping soft snow and small ice pressure ridges to complete the race. Conditions were very tough underfoot, in places many had to slow their pace to avoid slipping and injury. As the race progressed temperatures dipped further to ¯33° degrees Celsius

This year’s winner was the wonderfully named Greek runner Argyrios Papathanasopoulos, transpires he’s an emergency physician now living and working in Halifax, England.

I was thrilled for my Aussie chum Marcus Fillinger who ran the race with two husky dogs called “Blue and Duro” as they now enter the record books becoming the World’s first dogs to complete the North Pole Marathon.

 

 

 

World Winter Swimming Championships

Plunging into ice cold water to compete in a swimming race did not sound like fun, but for nearly 1500 participants the World Winter Swimming Championships was the highlight of their year.

Tallinn in Estonia was the host for this year’s championship, from the air it looked a small compact city on the coast, dusted in snow giving it a winter wonderland appearance. On the ground temperatures were around zero degrees Celsius, but the wind chill made it feel much colder.

The International Winter Swimming Association president Mariia Yrjö-Koskinen summed up the spirit of the championship “the colder the water, the warmer the welcome”. Over 35 nations took part from as far afield as Australia, Brazil, Argentina, the US, Europe and even a competitor from Mongolia, with the youngest just 10 and the oldest at 93. 

According to most of the swimmers it gives you a real legal ‘buzz’ making them feel thoroughly awake and revitalised. Many also are quick to report the therapeutic benefits of cold water swimming. Getting into effectively ice water is a shock to the system so to enjoy the sport; you must first learn to overcome this shock and continue to breathe!

Organisers in Tallinn had built the pool area adjacent to the harbour side, which measured 25 x 12 metres, with 10 lanes. There was a festival atmosphere with hot Jacuzzis and saunas where competitors could warm up after their ice cold heats. Races distances were 25 or 50 metres, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle as well as 4 x 25 metre team relays.  Spread over 5 days there was plenty of free time to visit Tallinn and the surrounding area.

The Old Town was charming, but the highlight for me was the Gala dinner venue, the Seaplane Harbour maritime museum.  Dinner beside the Lembit submarine was somewhat surreal, especially with a live band performing at the top.

However, the most enduring memory of this event was the camaraderie amongst participants. People come from across the globe for this bi- annual event as strangers and left as friends, a potent reminder of what sport is all about!

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