Category Archives: Olympic Games

Welcoming home a hero: my tribute to Kurt Angle

I couldn’t contain my excitement yesterday evening when ESPN broke the news that Kurt Angle will headline WWE’s Hall of Fame class for 2017. One of my childhood heroes, and a man who in his day made anybody’s top five, is to take his rightful place on wrestling’s most prestigious platform. Given that Angle has been absent from WWE for well over a decade now (yes, it has been that long), the induction feels long overdue.

For WWE, this year’s Amway Center ceremony will mark the first time since 2012 that an Attitude Era star will feature as the Hall of Fame’s primary attraction, and for Kurt’s fans it will be an opportunity to honour one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. Of course, in the time that Angle has been away, an entirely new, younger generation of fans has immersed itself in the product, so many viewers will (unless they are avid WWE Network enthusiasts) not be particularly familiar with his body of work. So I wanted to spend a little bit of time outlining why I think Kurt Angle isn’t just worthy of a Hall of Fame ring, but that an argument can be made that he should have his own wing come WrestleMania 33.

In-ring work

I would go as far as to say that Kurt Angle is the single greatest *wrestler* I have seen in my lifetime. I use the word ‘wrestler’ deliberately, as it can easily be confused with ‘biggest star’ or ‘best performer’. Since Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels quite easily claim those two respective titles, the burden of best wrestler falls to Kurt. This does not, of course, mean that there is a lack of competition. AJ Styles has emerged as one of the finest talents in the world, Randy Orton is exceptional between the ropes and Brock Lesnar has conquered different styles better than anyone. I consider Angle to be the best, though, for three reasons.

Firstly, he could adapt and have great matches with opponents of all sizes. Secondly, fans always seemed far more emotionally invested in his matches than with the likes of Lesnar and Orton, who on many occasions were showered with ‘boring’ chants. Thirdly, nobody matched Kurt Angle’s intensity in the ring. Classics that anybody unfamiliar with should check out include his matches with Shawn Michaels and Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, his match with Chris Benoit at the Royal Rumble (2003) and his match at SummerSlam (2001) with Steve Austin. And while you’re scouring through old content, try to find me a bad Kurt Angle match, because I’m yet to find one. It is no wonder that Wrestling Observer Newsletter awarded him ‘Most outstanding wrestler’ for three years straight, between 2001 and 2003. .

Charisma

What is less appreciated about Kurt Angle, and indeed what set him apart from other amateur wrestlers who tried to make it at professional level, was his superb comedic timing and promo ability. To just be able to wrestle clearly is not enough to make it at the top level. When Kurt Angle’s promos and comedic timing caught up with his wrestling ability just after the turn of the millennium, there wasn’t a better performer on the card. See, for instance, his backstage segments with Edge, Steve Austin and Brock Lesnar or his back-and-forths with Stephanie McMahon and The Rock, for evidence of just how funny Angle could be. Amateur wrestlers seldom excel at this aspect of professional wrestling, likely due to how completely unfamiliar they are with it. But Kurt could entertain, and he was damn good at it. I mean, the milk truck segment, anybody?

Supremely decorated 

Some months back, I wrote a blog in which I credited Kurt Angle for the greatest achievement in modern Olympic history. Winning a gold medal at the 1996 Games in Atlanta with a broken neck will forever stand the test of time, and it is symbolic of the lack of respect shown to the sport of wrestling that Angle’s win is almost never recognised by mainstream sporting commentators. I think his gold medal win showcased both mental and physical toughness, as well as his passion in doing what he loves, even at the very real risk of paralysis.

Fast a forward a few years, and just months inside his WWE run, Angle had already captured the WWE Championship. After beating The Rock at No Mercy (2000), Angle became the first Olympic gold medallist to win a world championship in professional wrestling. His list of accomplishments continued to grow, winning another five world titles, every singles championship available to him during his seven-year stint in WWE and the King of the Ring tournament. As accolades go, most do not hold a candle to Kurt Angle.

The final stop on the road to recovery

It is no secret that Kurt Angle has fought his fair share of demons. His problems with alcohol and drugs, fascinatingly recounted during his appearance on Steve Austin’s podcast, are well known. An arrest in Texas back in 2013 was the point at which I became especially worried for his life. It was his fourth alcohol-related arrest in just a couple of years, and when you look at the fate of many wrestlers who have dabbled with drugs and succumbed to the seduction of alcohol and other addictive substances, Angle only really had two options: spiral into legacy-destroying turmoil and personal hell…or fight, recover and once again stand proudly on a WWE stage, honoured and placed firmly into the annals of history. I am so proud that he chose the latter, and when he stands glossy-eyed in his tuxedo at the Amway Center podium later this year, he’ll know he deserved it. His Hall of Fame induction is symbolic, not just for the fact that it brings his career full circle, but also because it stands as a measure of his resilience and fighting spirit. He battled with a broken neck, entertaining millions, and he turned his life around after struggling with addiction.

It shall be interesting to see who inducts him in on March 31st. When I heard the news, my gut feeling was Brock Lesnar. That would seem to me the most appropriate choice, given their historic rivalry in 2003 and eerily similar career paths. But there is one thing we all know for sure: very few men are synonymous with the WWE. Even fewer are synonymous with wrestling. Kurt Angle sits in both of those elite categories. The hearts and minds of fans the world over will be grateful for him, the bar for amateur wrestlers was raised by him and the Hall of Fame wouldn’t be complete without him.

Welcome home, Kurt.


Don’t get your hopes up over Heathrow

Well, at least a decision was finally made. After years of speculation and petty arguing, the go-ahead was given to those seeking to expand Heathrow airport. A new, third runway will be added to the busiest airport in Europe, with the goal of meeting both the overwhelming demand and encouraging more commerce to the capital.

I must say I never thought it would be sanctioned. Politicians pride themselves on their ability to shift old problems onto new governments, and I thought the expansion of Heathrow would be just another example of it. Of course, there is still a long way to go. We may yet see the verdict reversed or delayed at the last minute.

The first important thing to consider in the wake of the announcement is just why we spend so much of our time deliberating on white-elephant projects of this kind. Not just with airport expansion, but with HS2 too. China have invested billions in improving and building airports in the last decade, while we spent much of that time bickering over whether Gatwick would be preferable. Maybe it’s our famous British caution or maybe it is the new found influence of environmental activists. It can’t be the cost which causes so much second guessing. We were happy to host the Olympic Games just a few years ago despite the fact that British taxpayers would spend years afterwards paying off its hefty price tag.

To nobody’s surprise, quotes for Heathrow expansion vary greatly. Transport for London say the build will cost up to £15bn, whereas the airport itself maintains that the figure is somewhere close to £1.2bn. But the financial costs do not paint the whole picture. For those living in the surrounding area facing eviction or increased pollution or noise, the expansion will not be welcome news. Britain already consistently failed to meet the European Union’s pollution and emissions targets. Perhaps, then, the vote to leave removed some of the external pressure being applied to the UK’s domestic infrastructural aspirations.

What I’d also like to know is why Gatwick wasn’t chosen instead of Heathrow. Though extending an airport in Crawley wouldn’t have been wonderful for locals there either, it would have made sense for purely commercial reasons. Gatwick is the busiest single runway airport in the world and in 2015 became the first single runway airport to handle over 40 million passengers in a single year.

‘Gatwick Obviously’ (the campaign group fighting for expansion) claims that a second runway can be built entirely with private funding and before 2025. They argue that there are fewer obstacles in the way of Gatwick expansion than there are in the way of Heathrow expansion. This is probably true, but I have doubts about their pledge for no public subsidy. It may also be worth looking at northern airports, like Birmingham or Manchester; also major cities in their own right, and assessing whether or not there is sufficient demand in these cities to justify expanding there.

In short, I’m not enthused by Heathrow expansion. The upheaval it could cause to the surrounding motorway and travel links may end up being horrendous, London is polluted enough as it is and there are other airports, like Gatwick, which are not located in London but that do deserve a look in when it comes to adding runways.

At least Zac Goldsmith, a politician I’m not particularly keen on, earned my respect when he resigned over the issue last week. His resentment at a third runway at Heathrow is understandable, and you can bet it won’t be the only tough opposition the project faces in the coming years. So don’t get your hopes up over Heathrow. This is Britain: we don’t do eccentricity.


Michael Phelps is awesome, but Kurt Angle is my Olympic hero

I was informed whilst browsing Twitter earlier this afternoon that Michael Phelps, the decorated American swimmer, is one Olympic gold medal away from breaking a 2,168 year-old record. Both Phelps and ‘Leonidas of Rhodes’ are tied on 12 golds in their respective competitions (and generations), with the former looking increasingly likely to win a 13th in Rio.

It’s an astonishing achievement to even think about. Michael Phelps is a superb athlete and Olympian, and will surely go down as one of the greatest sporting figures of all time, let alone swimmers. But it got me thinking. Would this really be the greatest achievement in modern, or indeed any, Olympic history?

Commentators are rightly heralding Phelps as the greatest Olympian of our age. He continues to break records and set the bar for swimmers the world over. It is a shame that swimming doesn’t receive the kind of attention that it perhaps should. If it did, Michael Phelps’ praises would be sung as often as he deserved.

But when Olympic season comes around, it isn’t Michael Phelps who captures my attention; it is Kurt Angle, the former amateur wrestler who became a star on the professional scene. Angle was a shining star in my childhood, and I’ll always have huge respect for him and his accomplishments.

For those unaware, Kurt Angle won gold at the 1996 Olympic Games (hosted by the United States) with a broken neck. It’s an achievement that is often forgotten by sports journalists and writers, who prefer not to cite wrestling in any meaningful analysis, but it is one that is so uniquely impressive that I felt the need to raise awareness of it during this summer’s Games.

There was a documentary on YouTube in which Kurt talks openly about his training pre-Olympics and the problems that he had been having with his neck, but, alas, I can’t seem to be able to find it. During his Olympic trials in 1996, Angle suffered a severe neck injury; two cervical vertebrae were fractured, two discs were herniated and four muscles were pulled. He spent a long time trying to find a doctor [in his words] “either stupid or smart enough” to clear him for the Olympic Games that year.

Having not ever been in a similar position myself and not knowing Kurt Angle, it is incredibly difficult to describe what it takes, both physically and mentally to compete with the weight of your country on your shoulders whilst having a broken neck. Ordinary athletes would have been ruled out for the majority of the year and many would have retired altogether.

In Atlanta in 1996, he competed in the 220lb Freestyle weight class. In his Gold Medal match, Angle beat Iran’s Abbas Jadidi. Kurt mentioned in an interview some years ago that his overriding feeling when he knew he had won Gold was not one of jubilation or excitement, but one of relief. He had been through hours of excruciating pain and personal torment in the form of his trainer’s murder and the death of his father; something I may say could not be said for many Olympians competing in Brazil this year.

A video of the match can watched below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ17NKEQ69A

Whatever your view, you cannot deny that the United States has produced and continues to produce exceptional sporting talent. Michael Phelps is perhaps the greatest performer in the history of the Olympic Games, but Kurt Angle will forever be my Olympic hero.