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Issue 481 | January 13 2017

L ife b egi n s Why there’s plenty more to come from Dina Asher-Smith, Britain’s fastest female

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Cover image and this page: Pål Hansen

“ Yo u ca n ’ t l e t a n Y t h i n g c lo u d Yo u r v i s i o n , b e cau s e t h e g u n g o e s a n d t h e n t h e r ac e i s ov e r ” p18

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love and hate Snooker great Stephen Hendry is wary of wasps but in awe of Phil Collins


dina asher-smith Sprinting ace talks Rio, doping and a London World Championships


diary Colin Wanker struggles out of bed; Laura Muir’s long-distance domination


Premier league Peering into our crystal ball for a glimpse of 2017


Flats on Friday The tough stance on high tackles is a necessary evil

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James degale Boxer opens up ahead of an epic year for the sport


tennis showdown Who will end the year on top in the titanic Murray against Djokovic rivalry?


girls on top? England’s women look to a huge year in football, rugby and cricket


steve cook Bournemouth defender on his journey to the Premier League

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drive The Aston Martin DB11: 007’s dynamically talented new motor sets a new bar in the Grand Tourer field


Fitness Expert trainer JeanClaude Vacassin outlines the key cornerstones to a successful fitness plan for the new year

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Stephen Hendry SNOOkEr LEgEND, TigEr fAN, WASp HATEr “When I Was 12 years old, I got a small toy table for Christmas. I’d never played snooker before, never even watched it on TV. It was just that a month previously, my mum and I were walking through the shops, she asked what I wanted and I didn’t know. So she said: ‘What about that?’ And pointed at this small snooker table, about a quartersize. I just said: ‘That’s good, I’ll have that thanks.’ I had no previous experience. But after a couple of weeks on it, I was making 50 breaks.”

“one oF my passIons Is cookIng. I’m a massive foodie, so I’m in my element in the kitchen... I enjoy simple stuff, such as being able to cook a steak. It’s one of my pet hates that you go to a restaurant and a trained chef can’t cook a steak how you want it. It really pisses me off! So I do take pride in the fact I can cook a steak properly.” “I’m quIte shy When I mee t Famous people. I’m not one to go and talk to them, which is quite bad because I’ve had the chance to meet lots of people. Years ago, I was on a flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh and someone told me that Phil Collins was on it. I didn’t believe them and I was talking away, when someone tapped me on the shoulder – and it was him. He shook hands with me and I didn’t even know what to say. I was just dumbstruck.”

“Break-BuIldIng Was just a natural Way I wanted to

play. There were attacking players around: Jimmy White, Alex Higgins – but nobody was doing what I did [aiming to win a frame in one visit]. Lots of people did say to me: ‘You need to play more safety. You need to stop taking on these pots all the time because you’ll get punished.’ Basically, I didn’t listen. I knew the way I wanted to play snooker.”

“I dIdn’ t enjoy sloW players because they could affect my

rhythm. Also, Peter Ebdon. I get on great with Peter now. But when he first came on the scene, he was very brash. We had a tournament in Dubai, I was due to play him in the first round and he said to the press: ‘I hope Stephen’s brought his golf clubs, because he’ll need them after I put him out.’ That sort of got under my skin a little bit. I beat him 5-0, by the way… but apart from that, I just wanted to beat everybody. It didn’t matter who it was. Whether it was the best player in the world or my own family, I just wanted to win all the time. It was just in me.”

“I love WatchIng WInners. The British thing is always to

support the underdog, but I’ve always appreciated greatness in sport. So many people win a tournament, then relax and think they’ve done it. Not many people have it in them to keep winning and winning. So I respect that – the sacrifice it takes. Everything gets pushed to the side if you want to be the best. Tiger Woods is a massive hero of mine, as is Michael Schumacher. People for whom one title isn’t enough.”

“Fears or phoBIas? Wasps. I’ve never even been stung! I just

really don’t like the look of them. The worst time of year for me is September and October. They’re everywhere and I hate it.”

Stephen Hendry will be an analyst for BBC Sport at The Masters from January 15 to 22 at Alexandra Palace. For details, see


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Quote of the week

APeritif of the week On the eve of 2017’s first Grand Slam, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray served notice that their battle over the coming year – Serb versus Sir – will be very special. Djokovic took down Murray in the final of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open after three scintillating sets.

“I struggled to get out of bed and I must admit I wasn’t really excited at the prospect of playing the side I’d got to play” Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock cynically encapsulated the waning magic of the FA Cup after his side’s 2-1 defeat to Fulham in a sleepy atmosphere. “People just have other priorities at the moment,” he added.

Number of the week Are we absolutely positive Aaron Rodgers isn’t a Jedi? tweet of the week A parody Kenny Rogers account wouldn’t normally make the cut here, but its administrator summed up the phenomenal efforts of Green Bay’s quarterback against the New York Giants – four touchdown passes, 362 yards – succinctly.

35 seconds

James Haskell’s return from seven months out was a sideshow amid high-tackle directives. He lasted just 35 seconds as a replacement for Wasps before being knocked out. Thankfully, he should be back before the Six Nations starts.

hot streAk of the week

Photo of the week

Stare it out England imports have been enjoying themselves in both the men’s and women’s Big Bash Leagues. This shot of Heather Knight, setting up for a reverse scoop with her eyes burning a hole in the ball, comes from her innings for Hobart Hurricanes against Brisbane Heat.


PA Wire/PA Images, Getty Images

Not content with smashing Liz McColgan’s 25-year-old British indoor record for the 5,000m by 14 seconds last week, with a time of 14:49.12, Laura Muir anchored Britain to mixed relay victory at the Great Edinburgh International Cross Country.

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We must support the crackdown on high tackles

Main illustration: David Lyttleton. Pen pic: Peter Strain


ooking at the bigger picture is hard. Well, it’s hard when it affects something particularly important to you, anyway. From my armchair in Bath, I can see that Tube strikes are not all about senior drivers’ displeasure with their £50k salaries, but it seems harder to maintain perspective when it hammers your daily commute. It’s much the same in sport. In fact, though we might reasonably expect sport to matter less to folk than what one might call ‘real life’, that’s manifestly not the case. Imagine what might happen in football if the FA were to decree that every Premier League side should begin each match with, say, three English players in the starting 11. Seems reasonable enough to me, but it would cause carnage in some quarters. It’s the same in rugby union. Last week, an aggressive crackdown on high tackles was formally introduced (even though referees have effectively been following them for months already), and the resultant frenzy of dissatisfaction, disillusionment, aggressive agreement and told-you-sos has been as rampant as it has been predictable.

Ask any rugby fan, or player, or parent, how important they think it is to protect the brains of players (because this is the aim of these harsher punishment tariffs for collisions with heads), and you’ll get the obvious answer. However, send off a player from their team for failing to adhere to the ‘new’ laws, and the game’s gone mad. Being totally frank, I don’t like the severity of some of the red cards issued lately for these offenders, and I have myself been guilty of telling whoever will listen that the game’s gone soft. However, I’ve had a word with myself, and am doing my best to achieve a perspective beyond the elite rugby bubble. This isn’t just about the professionals. It’s about making the game safer (and more

“This is about making the game safer for the hordes who play all over the country” 08

approachable) for the hordes who play on pitches all over the country miles from cameras and, more importantly, miles from the high-end medical treatment offered to the elite. It’s about protecting people’s brains, at least until we know for sure what a sport like rugby union might do to them in later life. For most of us, it’s still fingers crossed. Anyway, as we’ve seen, there is still licence to legally annihilate other humans in a game of rugby. Ears will continue to resemble cauliflowers, eyes will still turn black, and the odd nose will still get bent. And this is important, because perhaps rugby’s single most appealing asset is the camaraderie and teamship that comes naturally once a group of individuals has laid their respective bodies on the line for one another. Few other sports achieve this communal, instant, physical bond, so its preservation is vital. There will be some seemingly crazy decisions from referees, and concussion will not disappear. But, all the while, we must remember that the ultimate aim justifies the immediate industrial action. @davidflatman

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Well done FIFA, you’ve ruined the World Cup

Pen pic: Peter Strain. xxxxx


ixteen groups of three. Sixteen. Groups of three. Welcome to the FIFA World Cup of the Future, where Group P is an actual thing. Even by their own standards of crackpot lunacy, FIFA have outdone themselves with the latest plans to bring the greatest sport on earth’s flagship tournament into the 21st century. So, having gifted the world a trip to friendly Russia in 2018 and a holiday at the home of human rights, Qatar, in 2022, Gianni Infantino and pals have increased the invite list to 48 teams for 2026. Hell, even Scotland might qualify. The gloss on president Infantino, finished off with a healthy measure of not being Sepp Blatter, is rapidly thinning. His assertion that he wants the World Cup to be more inclusive sounds all soft and fluffy, but extend that to its end point and what do you have? A totally ‘inclusive’ World Cup at which every nation on earth – and probably a few made-up ones – features. We already have that, don’t we? It’s called ‘qualifying’. In a world of Trump and Syria, it might seem churlish to be quibbling about the

number of teams at a sporting event. And, in the grand scheme of things, awarding consecutive tournaments to countries with such desperate respective records on doping and human rights is a far greater crime. But the whole point of the World Cup is that it isn’t inclusive – it is a celebration of football at its best, an elite table at which only the very best teams earn a seat. The more chairs you cram around the table, the less enjoyable the feast becomes. You only need to look at the absolute garbage served up by the first 24-team Euros last summer to understand that less is sometimes more. On the simplest level, the expansion will severely cheapen the most treasured asset at

“You only need to look at the garbage served up by a 24-team Euros to understand that less is sometimes more” 10

FIFA’s disposal – 16 groups of three teams is frankly bonkers, not to mention sensationally fixable – but it also bears a wider significance with regards to the future of international football. Qualifying campaigns, which make up a huge proportion of the international calendar, have already grown tedious to the point of irrelevance as a result of expanded finals; as qualifying becomes easier and easier for more and more teams, that trend is only going to intensify. That spells danger for a form of the game struggling to compete with commercial giants such as the Premier and Champions Leagues. Not that any of that seems to matter to FIFA, whose own research predicts an increased revenue of £5.29bn from a 48-team tournament, and the national governing bodies with dollar signs wafting teasingly in front of their avaricious eyes. Why worry about protecting the integrity and magic of sport’s greatest single event – with apologies to the Olympics – when there’s a load more cash to be made? Football, eh? Bloody football. @tonyhodson1

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Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Eat your way to glory On July 4 every year, hundreds of Americans gather at New York’s Coney Island to exercise their constitutional right to stuff their faces with processed meat. Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest is an institution, and the jewel in the crown of Major League Eating – the governing body of the growing sport of competitive eating. Don’t scoff. Stateside, the art of overeating is taken as seriously as any sport, with TV coverage and big prize money on offer. The sport’s star (pictured above) is the surprisingly slim 32-year-old Joey ‘Jaws’ Chestnut, who won the Coney Island contest eight times in a row between 2007 and 2014 and is reported to earn around $200,000 a year from prize money and sponsorship. In 2016, Chestnut won his world title back from Matt ‘Megatoad’ Stonie by munching 70 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes (3.5 dogs short of his record). Finally, here’s a sport for the masses. If you’re hungry for some action (or want to break your

new year’s resolutions in style), most MLE contests are open to amateurs – and they take place all year in disciplines ranging from chilli con carne to shrimp cocktail, albeit mostly in the US. Find out more at In Britain, the sport has stuck closer to its amateur roots. The annual World Pie Eating Competition, which takes place around November each year in Wigan, focuses on speed over substance – competitors have to eat a large meat and potato pie as quickly as possible. Last year, Martin ‘The Pie’ Appleton-Clare savoured what he dubbed his “Usain Bolt moment” – a third title in just 45.5 seconds. If you have the appetite, it’s time to start working on your tactics (see right). There are few better places for that than Man vs Food London in Hounslow, a restaurant specialising in eating challenges (including a metre-long hot dog), and whose website ( boasts that they’ve sent 20 people directly to hospital.


Need tO kNOw WHERE All over the USA (naturally). Closer to home, you have options in Wigan, or take on a private challenge at Man vs Food in west London WHEN The big event is Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, in Coney Island, New York, on July 4 KEY TIPs The pros stretch their stomachs with water days before a contest, or pour it on to cool hot dishes. A ‘high press’ (eating as quickly as possible before your body knows you’re full) is essential

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Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

Beast mode An early feel-good sporting story of 2017 was the performance of this pure animal: 105-year-old Robert Marchand. The Frenchman smashed 14 miles in one hour at the national velodrome in Paris, setting a world record in his age category. Marchand, pictured here the day after his epic cycling display (for which we really hope he wasn’t wearing these snazzy brogues), has put his incredible longevity down to a healthy diet, no smoking at all and only a little wine. Hang on – can we just confirm this chap is actually French?

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1 7 fo r 2 01 7 FIFA are trying their best to ruin football’s World Cup, rugby union is going through a concussion-fuelled identity crisis, Usain Bolt is on the verge of a final farewell, and drugs and corruption scandals envelop more sports than we would ever fear to imagine. Yet sport continues to excite, enthrall and entertain us as much as ever, and in 2017 there is much to look forward to. The Premier League is building to a fabulous climax, an all-time great British & Irish Lions series against the All Blacks looms large, British boxing is entering a golden age, and vastly talented England women’s teams look ready to make their mark on major tournaments in football, cricket and rugby union. There is also a World Athletics Championships coming to London in the summer, and that is where we start our definitive list of 17 sporting highlights for 2017 – specifically, with an athlete who looks destined for a fast and fabulous future. k 17

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Findi ng h er feet A European champion and Olympic medallist in 2016, Dina AsherSmith says she’s still poised on the start line of her sprinting career Words Sarah Shephard Photography Pål Hansen


elf-discipline comes in many forms. For Dina Asher-Smith,

it means spending 11 months of the year shunning tasty treats, nights out and lengthy lie-ins. Instead, she sticks to a strict regime of soulless salads, evenings in front of The Great British Bake Off and painful, pre-dawn training sessions. The remaining four weeks of the year require a different kind of discipline, so Asher-Smith tells us. The 21-year-old gave herself one rule when she packed for a Caribbean holiday after last summer’s Rio Olympics: training kit stayed at home. “I did no training at all,” she says, smiling proudly. “Not even a press-up. If I started to feel like I was being a bit lazy, I told myself: ‘No! In a month’s time you will be wishing for a break, so enjoy it. Do not go to the gym. Do not pick up a sports bra. No jogging on the beach – unless it’s for an ice cream or to grab the last deckchair. No running whatsoever. Just chill time.’ “Because for the next 11 months I was going to be lying on the track thinking: ‘Do I really have to run again?’” When we speak to her, Asher-Smith is in no danger of being described as lazy. Back in training, salads and all, she’s starting 2017 by juggling her third year history studies at King’s College London with preparing for a big year on the track – culminating in a home World Championships. She arrives for our photoshoot with university books and gym kit, having already completed an early-morning weights session and a stint in the library.

“I went to try and find a book for an essay I’m writing on Latin America,” she explains. “It’s a major defining political source from the era I’m writing about, so I’ve been trying to track it down for ages. I finally found it in the depths of the library and was so happy. Then I opened it and it was in Spanish...” Laughing at herself, Asher-Smith displays the kind of resilience that is a prerequisite for any elite sportsperson. It was there for her last year, too, when she tore her hamstring in the months leading up to her first Olympic Games. “With Olympic year in general, there’s a fear among athletes that you’re going to miss it,” she says. “Obviously some people are training to be an Olympic champion, but I think secretly everyone has that underlying feeling of: ‘I just want to go. I just want to be there, be healthy and have the ability to put myself in the mix.’ “I didn’t panic because I have faith in my coach, but I did think: ‘Well, this is not the best way to prepare.’” As she talks, Asher-Smith glances down at the ring on the middle finger of her right hand. A miniature version of the Olympic rings in gold, it’s a subtle reminder to herself that last summer she achieved a long-held dream when she competed for Great Britain in Rio. It meant she could add “Olympian” to her Twitter profile, alongside “@KingsCollegeLon student”. What you won’t find there, however, are the words ‘Olympic medallist’, despite the fact Asher-Smith won bronze as part of


Team GB’s women’s 4x100m team. “I am proud, but it’s not really me to put it on there,” she explains. Asher-Smith might wrinkle her nose at the idea of shouting too loudly about her achievements, but fortunately her feet are more than capable of doing the job for her. And this year could turn out to be their noisiest yet.

When we spoke to you a year ago, you found it “surreal” to think you could be going to an Olympic Games. Were you able to take in the experience?

“Begrudgingly, I didn’t get to see Christ the Redeemer, or Sugarloaf [Mountain]. And I didn’t go to Copacabana. Everyone was saying: ‘You have so long before you compete, just go before.’ But when I get into competition mode, I’m quite serious. So I was like: ‘No, I’m here for a reason. Train, eat, sleep. That’s me.’ It’s so easy to get distracted in the Olympic village, swept up in all the food and the people. You can eat McDonald’s all day! But I just thought: ‘I’ve trained a bit too hard to get derailed by a free Big Mac.’”

You had one afterwards though, right?

“Oh yeah, after I’d finished competing. We had a great view of the McDonald’s queue from the balcony of our apartment. I remember seeing Martyn Rooney [400m] and Mark Dry [hammer] down there on separate occasions and dropping them a text message: ‘Can you just pick me up a Big Mac and fries and one of those really k

I placed in the final. I wasn’t too happy with the time, but it’s a learning curve. You have to mess up to know what you need to work on for the future. I’d rather it happened at my first Olympics than the next one, or the one after that.”

Do you remember how you felt walking out into the Olympic Stadium for the first time?

Compared to the 100m, does the 200m give you more time to process what’s happening in a race?

“Not for the 200m, but I do for the relay. I’m always more nervous for a relay than I am for an individual event. If you mess up an individual race, it’s annoying. But it’s only your hard work that’s put out. If you mess up a relay, it’s the hard work of three other people – it’s their lives and it could affect them in so many ways. You’re never going to actually know how much it means to someone because you’re not inside their head. So if you mess that up… they wouldn’t say anything, there wouldn’t be any animosity, but you know that inside, you’d feel really bad. That’s why I always get more nervous before relays, because it’s not just your life.”

How do you reflect on your performance in the 200m? Were you happy with fifth place?

“I was disappointed with myself after the semi final because I knew it hadn’t set me up well for the next round [Asher-Smith finished fourth, qualifying for the final as a fastest loser]. I didn’t set up the way I normally would in terms of the way I ran the rounds and the amount of energy I used. In the end, I didn’t mind where

“You actually get time to think in both of them, which is odd. But I always feel like time slows down when I’m running. You run through your phases and steps so much that everything moves bit by bit. If I’m in a race where it feels like a whirlwind, that means I’m not focused properly. Mentally I need to be able to slow it down and concentrate on my phases.”

There was a big shadow hanging over the Games after revelations about Russia’s doping regime emerged weeks before. Did you feel you were competing on a level playing field?

“You have to believe you are. You can’t stand there and let any doubt be in your mind about anything. Whether that’s competing on a level playing field or thinking about a pain in your leg – you have to forget about it because you’ve got a job to do. You can’t let any of this other stuff cloud your vision because the gun goes and then the race is over. It doesn’t matter what other things might be flying through your mind, you have to get rid of it because the other seven girls won’t be thinking about it.”

Who are you looking at to put things right? Who do you trust?

“As a student and a historian, I probably look at where the change came from in the first place. I know it sounds crazy, but I probably look at the journalists who revealed it and say let’s keep this investigative journalism going. But the IAAF, WADA and the IOC need to make a difference, too. Because ultimately they are the figureheads that keep us clean athletes thinking we are racing on a level playing field. That’s all we want. I want to finish where I work for – where I deserve. I joke about having a month off and working hard for 11. Well, if I work hard for 11 months, I want to finish where that got me. So you look to those big bodies to make changes, and you hope that they are working towards the best change possible. That’s just what you expect from an organisation that’s meant to protect its clean athletes.”

This has been your first experience of the post-Olympic period. How have you found it in terms of motivation?

“We’ll see. I could sit here and think: ‘Yeah, I’ve handled it well.’ But then if I don’t run fast this year, it’ll be like: ‘Yeah, maybe not.’ But I do think that for me and many British athletes, with there being a home World Championships this summer, we want to make sure this year is not only good performance-wise but full of good memories. We want to make sure London is an unforgettable championships so we can make our country proud.” k

“I a lways ge t mo re n e r vou s be fo re re lays, b ecau se i t’s n ot j u s t yo u r l i fe”


Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

good smoothies?’ Twenty minutes later, I had them. I hadn’t had a Big Mac in years. Normally, if I have a cheat day, I go for Domino’s. But that doesn’t happen very often either, sadly. Because even if you have a cheat meal, that’s a bit outrageous.”

BAck to StrAtford

World ParaAthletics Championships July 14-23 IAAF World Championships August 4-13

“ L o o k at m e phys i ca l l y, th e way I r u n a n d my te c h n iq ue. I ’m s t i l l d eve l o pi n g” What was your first session back like after a month off?

“We did sand dune training in Camber Sands, which is always difficult. They’re natural things, so the dunes change shape every year and this time they were particularly steep. John [Blackie, AsherSmith’s coach] was very amused. The athletes were not. That first day, we did a cross-country run on the beach, which after four weeks off is like [breathes hard]; then strength and conditioning, drills, change-of-direction games and the sand dunes. Then it’s an ice bath in the sea. I was grateful to get back into it and see I hadn’t lost all my fitness or ability, but it was also a sudden reminder of the pain.”

Are you planning to make the 100m more of a focus this year?

“It really depends on how training goes. We’ve got a plan, which I’m not going to divulge, but part of that plan is seeing where my strengths lie. We have target areas we want to develop and improve in my races, and in myself as an athlete. Depending on which ones go better, you


might find that suddenly my strength lies in the 100m or that the end bit of my 200m has suddenly got so much better. So we’ll just have to see how training turns out – I like keeping my options open.”

People talk about 2015 as being your ‘breakthrough year’. What stage of your career do you feel you’re at now?

“I feel like I’m still at the beginning. It might sound crazy, but if you look at me physically in terms of the way I run and technique, I’m still in my developmental phase. Forget about times and being fortunate enough to go to championships; if you put me among people who I’ve grown up with through the junior ranks, we are still very much on the same plane. “We’re still all trying to find our feet in making this transition to senior level. I’ve been fortunate enough to make it quite quickly, but in terms of technique and the strength and experience needed to get through the rounds, I’m still developing. I’m looking for my peak to come at the next two Olympics.” @sarahsportmag

Hair, makeup and styling: Sadaf Ahmad. This page: Jewel Samad/AFP/GettyImages

This summer, the stadium that hosted the London 2012 Olympics will host one of the most significant World Championships in recent athletics history. Set to mark the farewell championships of ninetime Olympic champion and 11-time world champion Usain Bolt (that missing one from Daegu must seriously wind him up), as well as the probable final track outing of Mo Farah, the onus is on London 2017 to deliver an event to remember. For Dina Asher-Smith, it’s an opportunity to make a memorable return to the track where she worked as a box-carrier during London 2012, and to improve on her fifth-place 200m finishes at the 2015 World Championships and in Rio last summer. For every athlete though, it’s a chance to stake a claim to fill the holes left by the departures of Bolt, Farah and the already retired Jessica Ennis-Hill.

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In their favour Lots. Conte has proven the most impressive manager in a hugely competitive field, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard have rediscovered the form that inspired a title win in 2014/15, and the shift to a back three has perhaps unexpectedly brought the best out of hairaway David Luiz. No European distractions will allow a clear run to the end of the season.

In their favour Another side with no European commitments, and Jurgen Klopp has the added advantage of having to welcome most of his main rivals to Anfield in the second half of the season. Numerous goals have been spread around a squad rich in attacking talent, and Philippe Coutinho (left) is back in training.

1st, 49 points

Against them Not much. Long-term injuries to either of the above key figures, or midfield dynamo N’Golo Kante, could expose a potential lack of strength in depth in key areas. But that’s clutching at straws.

2 Six becomes four Football Premier League January-May, Sky Sports & BT Sport

Chelsea’s defeat at Tottenham last week has breathed new life into the race for the Premier League title. Antonio Conte’s team remain strong favourites to lift the trophy in May, however, and it might be that the six-way battle for the four Champions League places proves a more compelling narrative as the season charges relentlessly on. So where do the newly christened Big Six stand heading into 2017?

Verdict Most likely champions. Top four is an absolute certainty.

3 Sweet 16

Football UEFA Champions League Round of 16 February-March, BT Sport Manchester City face Monaco and Leicester take on Sevilla, but the Champions League glamour tie is clear. Arsenal’s ‘reward’ for winning Group A is German champions Bayern Munich. Cue talk of a seventh successive last-16 exit for the Gunners, yet all is not lost. Having the home leg second is small beer, but a large stein of the frothy stuff for Arsenal is Bayern’s so-so form. They top the Bundesliga right now, but haven’t done for much of the season – and talk is that some

players are unhappy with the methods of genial manager Carlo Ancelotti. On top of that, stalwart stars Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Xabi Alonso are respectively now 32, 33 and 35 years old. Of course, Bayern still have a squad packed with talent led by a manager who has won this competition three times – and Arsenal need to improve on current form to compete. But this is far from the intimidating task of facing a Messi-inspired Barcelona. Game on.


2nd, 44 points

Against them Top scorer Sadio Mane’s absence on Africa Cup of Nations duty is an inconvenience, and the goalkeeping position is still cause for concern – neither Loris Karius nor Simon Mignolet convince behind a defence that still has its leaky moments. Verdict Have the potential to run Chelsea close, but the top four is a more realistic and very achievable aim.


Manchester City


Manchester United

In their favour Spurs have been nowhere near their fast-paced, incisive best for much of this season, but they are still third and have the meanest defence in the league. The post-Euros hangover has dissipated, and key players Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Harry Kane are hitting their finest form at the right time.

In their favour That City begin the new year in the top four is a bonus, given their poor run of form after a stunning start to the season. Their defence surely can’t get any worse, and with Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero back from their respective absences you would expect Pep Guardiola’s team to kick on.

In their favour Only Liverpool have scored more Premier League goals than the Arse this season, and Alexis Sanchez has arguably been the player of the season to date. The Gunners’ midfield looks to have more steel than in recent years, and this is Arsenal – they always finish in the top four, don’t they?

In their favour Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been a bigger success than even diehard United fans would have dreamed, and after an uncertain start Jose Mourinho is beginning to look like he has his team set up and playing as he would like. United are the only side in the top six to remain unbeaten in their past 10 league games.

4th, 42 points

Against them Participation in the Europa League could prove damaging. Mauricio Pochettino will have to carefully manage his team’s Thursday night activities if they are to maintain a title challenge. Tough visits to Manchester City and Liverpool could also check momentum in the coming weeks.

5th, 41 points

Against them Claudio Bravo has been a desperate replacement for Joe Hart in goal, those in front of him don’t resemble a strong unit, and key men do keep getting sent off. Will their continued Champions League campaign have an impact?

Against them Sanchez is starting to look properly wrecked, Mesut Ozil’s influence has waned after a fine start to the season, and they have thrown away significant points from winning positions. The Big Four becoming a Big Six is a real concern for their (arguably too) long-serving manager Arsene Wenger.

Verdict A team that should walk into the top four will most likely hobble there.

Verdict On present form, they are favourites to make the top four. But they may end up as one of the two clubs to miss out.

Verdict Come on, this is Arsenal. They’ll somehow manage yet another top-four finish.

4 England experiments?

Lions coach Warren Gatland intends to base his selection on performances during the Six Nations and the latter stages of the European club tournaments, so it is very early to be contemplating prospective squads. Still, this team looks pretty potent. We are also relying on a return to form and a captaincy call for Sam Warburton, who may not even lead Wales at the start of 2017. Merging four teams into one will always leave somebody seething. But what our 23 does reinforce is that, although the tour schedule is beastly even before the three Tests and preparation time is so minimal, Gatland can delve into a chasm of talent. 1. Mako Vunipola (England) 15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland) 2. Jamie George (England) 14. Jack Nowell (England) 3. Tadhg Furlong (Ireland) 13. Jonathan Joseph 4. Jonny Gray (Scotland) (England) 5. Maro Itoje (England) 12. Robbie Henshaw (Ireland) 6. Taulupe Faletau (Wales) 11. Liam Williams (Wales) 7. Sam Warburton (Wales) 10. Owen Farrell (England) 8. Billy Vunipola (England) 9. Conor Murray (Ireland)

Joe Hart Gary Cahill

Kyle Walker

Danny Rose

Jordan Henderson ©

Jack Wilshere

Adam Lallana

Verdict It’s early days, but they are the outsiders to make the top four. Might just fail.

Rugby Union British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand June-July, Sky Sports

England will qualify for the 2018 World Cup at a canter, but of more interest to fans and manager Gareth Southgate will be how his team handles devilish away friendlies in Germany (March) and France (June). Could a weakness in defence be solved by switching to a back three, as Tottenham did so effectively against Chelsea last week? Here’s how, fitness permitting, Southgate’s team could line up…

Eric Dier

Against them They are by some distance the lowest scorers in the top six, look too reliant on Ibrahimovic going forward, and even at their best look a halflevel below the teams they are chasing. More Europa League fixtures can hardly help their cause.

Lions team to 5 Our beat the All Blacks

Football England friendlies March and June, ITV

John Stones

6th, 39 points

Dele Alli Harry Kane

Replacements: 16. Rory Best (Ireland), 17. Jack McGrath (Ireland), 18. Dan Cole (England), 19. Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), 20. Sean O’Brien (Ireland), 21. Ben Youngs (England), 22. Johnny Sexton (Ireland), 23. George North (Wales) k


All images Getty Images

3rd, 42 points

6 International ambition ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup, June-July UEFA Women’s Euro 2017, July-August Women’s Rugby World Cup, August

When Team GB’s women won hockey gold at last summer’s Olympic Games, it elevated the squad and the sport to a new level of recognition. The names of longserving captain Kate Richardson-Walsh and penalty-saving hero Maddie Hinch are now known just as widely by the under-35s as those of Jane Sixsmith and Sean Kerly are among older generations. This summer, there are opportunities for three other sports to follow the hockey women’s lead.


It all starts on home soil, with the Women’s Cricket World Cup. It’s the first time the tournament has been held in England since 1993, when England defeated New Zealand in the final at Lord’s. With this year’s final also taking place at the Home of Cricket, England coach Mark Robinson is under pressure. The side hasn’t won a tournament since the 2009 World Cup, forcing Robinson to have a clear-out of his squad after last March’s World Twenty20. Captain Charlotte Edwards and established international Lydia Greenway were both eased out, leaving the new generation charged with getting England back to winning ways. Chief among them is 24-year-old all-rounder Nat Sciver (above, right). Strong with bat and ball, her role as England’s big hitter will see her take centre stage this summer as England look to prove they’re heading in the right direction.  


Next up is the Women’s Euros in the Netherlands, where England’s World Cup bronze-medallists will look to go one stage further than they did in Canada in 2015. Mark Sampson’s side are ranked third in Europe (behind Germany and France) and qualified for the tournament unbeaten, but they will face tougher tests this summer. Spain, Scotland and Portugal are their Group D opponents. Both the Scots (21 in the FIFA rankings) and Spain (14) are ranked higher than the Lionesses’ best opponents in qualifying (Belgium, 25). In Canada, Fran Kirby (above, right) was labelled “Mini Messi” by the England coach for her performances in the early stages. Injury ruled her out from the quarter finals onwards, but if she can stay fit this summer the Chelsea striker can make a serious impact.

Rugby union

Days after the Euros ends, the Women’s Rugby World Cup kicks off in Ireland, with England going in as defending champions. Since their success in 2014, the newly named Red Roses have had a change of coach (Simon Middleton replaced Gary Street), and many players shifted their attention from the 15-a-side game to sevens for last summer’s Olympic tournament. The likes of Emily Scarratt, Danielle Waterman and Natasha Hunt were part of that sevens contingent. Now back in the 15-a-side fold, they’re part of a line-up that last November put in a clinical performance against Canada at Twickenham, suggesting they are getting back to World Cup-winning form. Continue in that vein, and England should head into the tournament on the back of a Six Nations Grand Slam. Keep an eye out for hooker Amy Cokayne (right), who scored England’s second try in their impressive 39-6 win over Canada. She’s just 20, but an outstanding talent.


T hree ques t i o n s

Rory complete 8 Will the McIlslam?

7 Who holds the power in MMA?

Conor McGregor has always respected Ronda Rousey, so we doubt he did, but ‘The Notorious’ Irishman could have been forgiven for grinning through all 48 seconds of Rousey’s shock defeat to Amanda Nunes at the end of December. It left McGregor by some distance the most bankable star in the UFC, a company which was sold for $4.2bn last year. McGregor has already queried where his cut of this is, given his huge value to the UFC. Right now, the 28-year-old lightweight champ is on hiatus – perhaps even until after his girlfriend gives birth (she’s due in May). Yet he is acutely aware of his position, and will make his return on his own terms. Who he fights next is interesting, but the most fascinating tussle of 2017 might well be McGregor versus the UFC.

9 Can 2017 be a fresh start for Formula 1? With new owners for the sport, and a raft of new regulations, 2017 marks the start of a new era for Formula 1. Last year’s technical regulations have been fed through an extra-large shredder, and new rules have come in with the aim of making the cars four or five seconds faster per lap.    That could make life harder for Mercedes, who thanks to their superior engine have had things their own way for the past three seasons. But whenever there’s a shake-up, there tends to be a shuffling of the pack. We could see a resurgent Red Bull or Ferrari challenging the Silver Arrows, and maybe a performance from McLaren more in keeping with their rich history. There will be new personnel too – 27-year-old Finn Valtteri Bottas is set to


join Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, after the retirement of 2016 champion Nico Rosberg. And coming in at Williams is 18-year-old Lance Stroll, son of a Canadian billionaire. Stroll won the Formula 3 title last year, but his arrival raises the question of how the level of funding and sponsorship an individual can bring to a team has become as important as their skill behind the wheel. That situation has arisen because, while the sport itself has seen profits rise under Bernie Ecclestone, smaller teams and circuits are struggling to pay the bills – as demonstrated by Manor’s collapse into administration for the second time in three years. Some classic races are also in doubt: Germany is not on this year’s 20-race calendar, and the iconic Silverstone could yet fall too. As Daft Punk might say, this year F1 will be faster and harder, but not necessarily better or stronger. k

All pictures Getty Images

Much of the buzz around Augusta for the 2017 Masters will centre on the 20-year anniversary of the breathtaking demolition job Tiger Woods produced to win his first Major. The now 41-year-old should be back to mark the occasion – having not played a Major at all last year – but it is highly unlikely he will be winning a fifth Masters. Will Rory McIlroy be celebrating victory in the only one of the four Majors still to elude him, though? The 27-year-old didn’t have a terrible 2016, and remains world number two behind Jason Day – but he is now two full seasons without a Major win to his name and faces competition from an ever-growing number of emerging talents. The bookies have McIlroy as second favourite behind 2015 champ Jordan Spieth, but Day, Dustin Johnson and the improving Hideki Matsuyama are all major threats. If he doesn’t do it this year, it’s only going to get harder. The pressure is on.

10 Super-middle man

James DeGale on titles and tiaras as his US unification clash kicks off an epic year for British boxing “There’s a possibility I could lose this fight.” Not the kind of bullish pre-fight talk boxers usually indulge in, but James DeGale seems to be reminding himself as much as anyone else. “Badou Jack is a very good fighter; he’s underrated. He’s proven over the past couple of fights that he’s a world-class operator. He can jab, he has a strong backhand, he works the body. I need to be fully switched on.” DeGale takes on the 33-year-old Jack, who in 2015 beat DeGale’s old rival George Groves, in New York in the early hours of Sunday morning (live on Sky Sports 1). The winner will unify two world titles and gain global recognition as number one in the 168lb division. With no plans to hand his title belt to DeGale, Jack instead gifted the 30-year-old Londoner a tiara with ‘diva’ written on it at a prefight press conference. “It probably isn’t even him,” says Degale with a laugh. “It’s probably Floyd Mayweather telling him to try and get at me. But listen, that tiara should be a crown – because I’m the man, I’m the king of this division. But it was all just banter.” Mayweather is Jack’s promoter, but has praised DeGale as a boxer. “I’m still starstruck when I’m around him,” admits DeGale. “He knows me, he speaks to me – and he’s BrIT my favourite fighter. But this is part of what I’m in boxing for, to get recognition.”

Feel the buzz

An accusation levelled at DeGale is that, while the 2008 Olympic gold-medallist is a classy boxer, he can often fight down to the level of his opposition. “As Eddie Hearn says, I’m a buzz fighter – I need the big fights,” he acknowledges. “I need the titles on the line, the big arenas. Then you see the best of me.” Added to this is the criticism that the southpaw switches off, coasting through rounds, sitting on the ropes. “That won’t happen this time around. I know I can’t do that against Badou Jack, because I’ll lose. One of my weaknesses is concentration, so that’s one thing we’ve really been working on.”

DeGale has also utilised a strength and conditioning coach for the first time, and his social media feed shows a trim-looking ‘Chunky’. He even powered through an eight-mile run on Christmas day. Yet one thing that raises his passion is the danger of drugs in boxing. “I was a bit in denial about the presence of performanceenhancing drugs,” he says. “It’s unbelievable! It’s rife in our sport. We’ve got to crack down on it – and I think we are. I’ve been tested five times in the past three weeks. And, for any fight, that’s what needs to happen. There should be regular drug-testing at every single level: domestic, European, world. It has to be done, because people’s lives are at risk.” It’s a close-to-home issue for DeGale, who won a decision over Canada’s Lucian Bute in hITS his first world-title defence in 2015. Last April, Bute fought Badou Jack to a draw but failed a For 2017 post-fight drug test. Understandably, DeGale has his suspicions after Bute’s better-thanexpected performance in their bout. But right Anthony Joshua and Wladimir now, his focus is firmly on Jack. Klitschko’s Wembley superfight “I win this fight by being myself,” he says looms large for April. The pair have firmly. “Using my angles, my speed, but also a combined 71 knockouts. Also at by being super-fit. You’re really gonna see a heavyweight, David Haye takes difference on the night.” on Tony Bellew in a March grudge Win this, and DeGale can call the shots match. Belfast’s Carl Frampton on major UK fights with the likes of Callum aims to add a second win over elite Smith, Chris Eubank Junior and old foe featherweight Leo Santa Cruz in Groves. Before that, the division’s top dog Las Vegas at the end of January, wants to show he’s learned some new tricks. while another terrific rematch sees

Anthony Crolla look to reverse a loss to Jorge Linares in March.


James DeGale wears wearable training gear SIXPAD. Visit

11 Supersize us NFL in London September-October, Sky Sports

The NFL is flourishing in the UK. A record four games will be staged in London in late September and early October this year: the first two at Wembley and then back-to-back matches at Twickenham. Fans will in effect have the chance to attend an NFL game for a quarter of the 16-week regular season. Three of the teams – the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens and this year’s NFL whipping boys the Cleveland Browns – will be making their first appearances on this side of the pond. The opportunity to see the NFL’s top passer in the flesh will be a major draw when the New Orleans Saints take on

the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins boast London-born running back Jay Ajayi (pictured), who had a breakout year in 2016 as the Dolphins reached the playoffs. In the second Wembley match, the Jaguars play the Baltimore Ravens in what will be their fifth International Series game – but the first under a new head coach after Gus Bradley was fired in December. At Twickenham, the Cardinals’ hugely talented team – including running back David Johnson and (barring retirement) NFL legend Larry Fitzgerald – face divisional rivals the LA Rams. The Rams will likely be marshalled by the 2016 number-one draft pick quarterback Jared Goff, as he tries to establish himself in the pro game. Plus, even though the Cleveland Browns finished 2016 with a miserable 1-15 record, it does mean London could see the 2017 number-one draft pick in action when they take on the Minnesota Vikings.


The rugby league year in six fixtures February-October, Sky Sports & BBC

Fe b r u a r y 1 9 World Club Challenge:

Wigan Warriors v Cronulla Sharks

The Super League champions clash with their NRL counterparts it what promises to be a ferocious encounter. The Aussies have dominated this since 2012. Ap r i l 1 4 Super League:

Wigan Warriors v St Helens

Rugby league’s original and most famous derby: a Good Friday belter between two arch rivals. May 2 1/2 2

Magic Weekend

St James’ Park in Newcastle stages a full round of Super League games over two days. A real treat. Augu s t 2 6

Challenge Cup Final

The sport’s oldest competition reaches its conclusion at Wembley. League’s big day out in the capital. O cto b e r 7

Super League Grand Final

The Old Trafford season climax: eight months of sweat and toil boils down to 80 crucial minutes. O cto b e r 2 7

World Cup: Australia v England

The opening game of the tournament, and a massive test for England – they haven’t beaten the Kangaroos in more than a decade.

13 The unbeatables Horse Racing Cheltenham Festival March, ITV & Racing UK

Douvan (left) Champion Chase Age 7 Trainer Willie Mullins, Ireland Jockey Ruby Walsh Races 14 Wins 13 Earnings £501,038

Thistlecrack Gold Cup Age 9 Trainer Colin Tizzard, England Jockey Tom Scudamore Races 18 Wins 13 Earnings £623,015

Will he win? With Sprinter Sacre now retired, the two-mile chasing division is not the strongest – and the imposing Douvan is eight from eight, and never once truly challenged, over the big fences. He could, and should, win by a mile.

Will he win? Slamming a field of Grade 1 performers on only his fourth start over fences in the King George served notice of just how much talent Thistlecrack has. His task will be tougher than Douvan’s, but he has a huge engine. A worthy favourite. k


Andrew Fosker/Seconds Left Images. All other pictures Getty Images

New racing broadcaster ITV have been dealt a very decent hand for their first crack at jumps racing’s biggest week, in the form of two superstar horses that look close to unbeatable in two of the Cheltenham Festival’s championship races.



Murray v Djokovic: the battle for number one

Tennis The Grand Slams and beyond All year Only 780 points separate world number one Sir Andy Murray from the man a place below him, Novak Djokovic. By contrast, world number three Milos Raonic is 6,490 points away from the top two – the battle for top spot is a two-way one for the foreseeable, then. Djokovic won in Qatar last weekend, but the first key battleground will be the Australian Open, over the next fortnight. Murray has reached five finals in Melbourne, and in four of them he has been beaten by Djokovic. How the first Slam of 2017 plays out will be an acid test for the new top dog in men’s tennis. After Australia, attention turns to the US, where Djokovic won tournaments in Indian Wells (March) and Miami (April) last year. Murray lost his second matches at both, meaning he has fewer points to defend and could put more space between himself and the Serb. Things level out somewhat when the season moves on to clay: Murray went three rounds further in Monte Carlo, lost to Djokovic in the final in Madrid but returned the favour in the Rome decider. It was Djokovic, however, who took the Roland Garros final in four sets.   Things remain tight from June until September, with Murray outdoing Djokovic at Wimbledon and vice versa at the US Open (though the Djoker also has a Masters 1000 title to defend in Toronto). From October on, however, things get tricky for the Brit. He won 4,500 points from five tournament victories after the US Open, while Djokovic won just 1,540. If Murray is to finish the year on top, he will need to either be equally dominant in the autumn or establish quite the lead over Djokovic by the time the year’s final Slam is over.


For women’s world number 10 Johanna Konta, the next 12 months should offer plenty of opportunities to improve on her Grand Slam showings of 2016. The WTA Tour has some big names out of action for various reasons: Victoria Azarenka has had a baby, Ana Ivanovic has retired, Petra Kvitova is recovering from an horrific knife attack and Maria Sharapova is banned until April. If Konta (below) can continue improving at the same rate she has done over the past two seasons, she could capitalise and find herself playing in the latter stages of all four Slams.







3 7. 5 0

year for: 15 AJoebigRoot Cricket ICC Champions Trophy June, Sky Sports

It’s a long wait until July, when England play their first Test of 2017 (the start of a four-match series against South Africa). Who will be Test captain when that toss takes place is not a settled matter. The general feeling is that the ECB and the players are happy for Alastair Cook to continue in the job. Whether Cook feels that way after a draining run of Tests last year, which ended in England’s capitulation in India, is another matter. If Cook does stand down to focus on extending his Test career as a batsman, the shortlist of options for who takes over has one name on it. Step forward Joe Root, and raise your voices critics who worry it’s too much to be expected to combine the captaincy with the burden of being England’s key run-scorer in three formats of cricket. Whether the job comes in 2017 or in the future, this is still a huge year for Root. The ICC Champions Trophy takes place here in June, giving England a great chance to rid the monkey of never having won a major ODI tournament from their back. England have a bevy of big-hitters to pick from, but Root will be the man expected to anchor innings with his deft versatility. No pressure, Joe.



Can Cav match Eddy Merckx?

Cycling Tour de France July, ITV & Eurosport It wasn’t that long ago that all British cycling fans had to get excited about at the Tour de France was Max Sciandri (in 1995) or Chris Boardman (1994, ’97 and ’98) taking a single stage. That Mark Cavendish could conceivably match, or even surpass, the legendary Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 stage wins (see graphic, below) this summer is nothing short of astonishing. This year’s Tour begins with an individual time trial in Dusseldorf and concludes with the most prestigious of the sport’s sprint stages on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Including that final showpiece in the French capital, there are nine potential stages for sprinters to claim glory.  “It’s old-style Tour de France,” Cavendish told us. “It’s either mountains or flat. It’s quite old-school. I quite like it. It’s not going to be easy, at all. But in terms of opportunities, it’s going to be quite fruitful for the big-name riders.” Cav took four wins from only 16 stages last year. Same again, then get through the Alps, and take Merckx’ record on the Champs-Elysées? It just might be possible.  34

Eddy Merckx Mark Cavendish Bernard Hinault

The Hearn effect

Gymnastics World Cup of Gymnastics April, Sky Sports Max Whitlock’s golden exploits at the Rio Olympics showed how far British gymnastics has come in terms of performance. But the sport has moved on in other ways, too. Britain’s international success has raised the profile of gymnastics in the UK to such an extent that that the Hearn collective


30 28

(father Barry and son Eddie) have taken notice. Their Matchroom Sport company has already had a significant impact on boxing, darts and snooker, and this April they are dipping a pointed toe into the world of gymnastics. In partnership with British Gymnastics, Matchroom are hosting the World Cup of Gymnastics at London’s O2, where the best of British will take on the world’s superstars. Worth watching just to see how the Hearn effect manifests itself in a sport where mass boozing and fancy dress have yet to become part of the experience.

All pictures Getty Images


R i d i n g t h e w A v e Steve Cook tells us how Eddie Howe’s faith in unproven talent is reaping rewards at Bournemouth Words Amit Katwala


t Bournemouth, loyalty to the manager runs deep.

When central defender Steve Cook plays Football Manager, he copies Eddie Howe’s highpressing style, and instructs his virtual XIs to play the ball out from the back. But he never takes control of his own team. “I usually start unemployed,” says the 25-year-old with a grin. “I don’t like taking someone’s job, to be honest. I wouldn’t want to be Bournemouth manager and then Eddie Howe not have a job.” It probably wouldn’t take Howe too long to find another anyway – he has won plenty of admirers for guiding his team up the divisions to ninth in the Premier League. Cook, a ball-playing defender with a knack for scoring spectacular goals, is one of a

number of players who have contributed to that rise. He says the manager’s faith has helped the players grow in confidence and ability on their journey from the Football League. “It’s about getting the best out of players,” he says. “The manager has done that here – and the belief he has shown with us is massive. For young English players, it takes a lot of belief from managers to let you go and perform on the highest stage. You see it in other teams as well – you look at players who have come from the Conference: Jamie Vardy, Andre Gray, Michail Antonio – it shows that it doesn’t always happen first time around. You have to have a bit of trust and a bit of belief in players, and they can really show the ability they’ve got.”


Cook came through the youth system at Brighton, but made only made seven competitive appearances in a four-year spell largely spent on loan. He’s one of many in Bournemouth’s squad – Charlie Daniels, Adam Smith, Harry Arter – to receive a second chance after failing to break through at bigger clubs. Cook joined the Cherries in October 2011, initially on loan, and has been a regular under Howe, who returned from a frustrating spell at Burnley 18 months later for his own second bite. “An awful lot has changed,” says Cook, reflecting on five years with a once financially troubled club that was transformed from a League One side with a three-sided stadium and no training ground to an ambitious top-half Premier League organisation. “It’s crazy,


A lot of things have changed in the past five years, but Howe’s approach has stayed constant. “He’s always been thorough,” says Cook. “That’s why he’s so good. He gets the best out of everyone by not missing a thing. When he first came here he didn’t record training; now he does. There’s no settling for second best. That’s why we’re sitting ninth, because he doesn’t leave any stone unturned.” Cook – who is working on his own coaching badges – got a first-hand look at Howe’s commitment when they were neighbours. “I’ve seen how hard the manager works,” he says. “When I was up with the baby he’d be leaving at 6am, and then sitting down at night I’d see his car going down the road. His approach is obviously his life.” Few expected Bournemouth to survive their first season in the Premier League, but in the end they did so comfortably, collecting some high-profile scalps along the way. Their final league position of 16th came due to an alarming slump in the closing weeks of the season. “Naturally you take your foot of the gas,” Cook explains. “But the fixtures were hard, so that

was a factor as well. We were obviously disappointed – we ended up 16th when we could have finished 12th or 13th, so we will learn from that. Hopefully we’re in the same position come March-time, where we’re safe and able to enjoy those games. We want to finish in the top half ideally, which is a massive task because you look at the sides all around – but we definitely feel we’re capable of doing that.”


For fans, it all still feels a bit surreal, even in this second season in the top flight, but the players are just going with it. “We’re kind of riding the wave,” says Cook. “We’re enjoying everything. The pressure is not really with us.” It’s a couple of days after the astonishing 3-3 draw with Arsenal when Sport sits down with Cook at Dean Court, and the sense of disappointment surrounding that result is a good indicator of progress. “Being 3-0 up against Arsenal is unbelievable,” he says. “When Wee Man [Ryan Fraser] rolled in the third I thought it could be four or five. If we’d got the win it would have been one of the best results ever – it just shows how far we’ve come.” It also, however, highlighted Bournemouth’s defensive frailties, which have certainly made for some interesting scorelines, including the see-sawing 4-3 win over Liverpool in December in which Cook scored the equaliser (a fine control, turn and shot) and provided the assist for the winner. Those issues have been exacerbated ahead of this weekend’s visit to Hull, by Chelsea’s recall of loanee Nathan Ake and Simon Francis’ suspension. Only relegated Aston Villa conceded more goals than Howe’s team last season, but it’s something that perhaps comes with the territory for sides that play the adventurous way Bournemouth do. Howe spends numerous hours going through recordings of games and training sessions, and is quick to call out players who deviate from the game plan. “He goes through your clips quite intensely, and if you are going long and you don’t need to he will spot it,” says Cook. “You can be having a bad day on the ball and sometimes you don’t want to take risks, but ultimately we need to play football. Players who are not willing to do that have moved on.” “It’s about getting the right balance,” he continues. “We want to control games here. We’ve done that to get out of League One, the Championship, and now we’re doing it in the Premier League.”



red sunday Jose Mourinho has faced Liverpool in 24 games as manager. He’s won 11, drawn seven and lost six, facing only Barcelona on more occasions.

the weekend’s fixtures saturday

tottenham v west brom Sky SportS 1, 12.30pm burnley v southampton, 3pm hull v bournemouth, 3pm sunderland v stoke, 3pm swansea v arsenal, 3pm watford v middlesbrough, 3pm west ham v crystal palace, 3pm leicester v chelsea Bt Sport 1, 5.30pm


everton v man city Sky SportS 1, 1.30pm man utd v liverpool Sky SportS 1, 4pm

Dan Mullan/Getty Images; Michael Steele/Getty Images; John Peters/Man Utd/Getty Images

but there’s still a lot more to be done to take this club further,” he says. “The fan base is growing – and it’s had to, because the team was kind of outgrowing the club. Hopefully the young boys and girls around the town will start wearing Bournemouth shirts instead of Man Utd and Chelsea, the fan base can grow even more, and we can turn into a big club.”

7 days Our pick Of the actiOn frOm the spOrting week ahead

January 13-19

Sat >

Rugby Union Champions Cup: Round 5

Penultimate warriors Pool 4 Northampton v Castres Saturday, Sky Sports 2, 1pm

Pool 1 Racing 92 v Leicester Tigers Saturday, BT Sport 3, 7.45pm

Saints cannot progress afer a 60-13 spanking in Dublin, but coach Jim Mallinder will want to maintain momentum from a mini-resurgence in the league with another home victory.

Tigers are mathematically alive, clinging on to hopes of the last eight by the skin of their claws. They must summon a monumental effort in Paris, though. Brendon O’Connor could be crucial.

Pool 2 Wasps v Toulouse Saturday, BT Sport 2, 3.15pm

Pool 3 Scarlets v Saracens Sunday, Sky Sports 3, 1pm

Kurtley Beale (pictured above) is beginning to purr as part of Wasps’ all-star backline, and head coach Dai Young needs the Australian’s spark. Win this, a repeat of the 2004 final, and his team is through.

The champions travel without George Kruis and the Vunipola brothers – three potential Lions. If they can quell their new signing for next season, Scarlet Liam Williams, an Allianz Park quarter final is on the cards.


Pool 3 Toulon v Sale Sunday, BT Sport 2, 3.15pm Steve Diamond, Sale’s director of rugby, faces an awkward situation here. Should he save his side’s first-team regulars for the league (where Sale are third from bottom), this might get messy at the Stade Mayol. Mathieu Bastareaud (lef), back to his bruising best, has been in beast mode of late.

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Some Premiership clubs are playing for pride, others are on course for a home quarter final. It’s the second-to-last round of Champions Cup group games




Tickets subject to availability and service charges may apply | Round 10. HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series | Rugby Football Union

January 13-19

Sun >

Bubbling down under He spent the off-season training with Andy Murray. Now Kyle Edmund goes into the Australian Open ready to raise his game to the next level Tennis Australian Open Eurosport, 12am Most of us crave a bit of winter sun. But for Kyle Edmund, his time on Key Biscayne Beach in Florida in December was anything but a holiday. Witness an Instagram post from Edmund’s coach, which shows his charge and Sir Andy Murray doing shuttles on the sand; Edmund alternating between shadow drop shots and smashes, Murray focusing on his backhand. “We were pretty much doing three hours on court, then fitness afterwards,” Edmund tells Sport of his off-season. “I hadn’t really done many sand sessions, and it was tough going. The sand drains your legs, and it’s very soft, so you don’t really get any traction. But you accept that pre-season is just about pushing the body.” Edmund is becoming accustomed to that sort of company. Having reached the fourth round of the US Open last summer, exiting the tournament to Novak Djokovic, he has continued to improve. In October, he lost in the quarter finals to Murray in Beijing. The 22-year-old then won through to his first ATP semi final at the European Open in Antwerp, closing in on a place in the world's top 40. Did he expect to progress so quickly? “I had no expectation in terms of ranking,” says Edmund. “I just tried to get better; it’s nice when you do see your ranking rise because it’s an indication you are improving. This season, my hopes are similar. The year’s so long, there are

going to be ups and downs; you have to be realistic. You have to remember where you’re trying to get to. You don’t want to be standing still, or else something is going wrong.”


Edmund, ranked 45, began his year in Brisbane, where he lost to world number four Stan Wawrinka. He then went out of the Sydney International to Australian qualifier Matthew Barton. Next up is the Australian Open, where he has never won in the main draw. “Last year I lost in the first round [to Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur],” says Edmund. “Hopefully a year of experience on the tour will help, especially after some really good wins. It gives you confidence. New York showed me what winning in Grand Slam matches is like.” The tournament will also feature the return to Grand Slam tennis of Roger Federer, who dropped out of the world’s top 10 in November. “He’s just been there so long,” says Edmund. “Just because he’s been injured and hasn’t played, you realise he isn’t going to be in the top 10 forever. It’s the same with Rafa [Nadal, world number nine]. But they’re still really good for the game and you want them playing, that’s for sure.”


Of the game’s young pretenders, Edmund says world number eight Dominic Thiem, Nick Kyrgios (14) and Alexander Zverev (24) are worth keeping an eye on. But what does he make of Kyrgios – Australia’s big hope in its own Slam – and his on-court tanking? After his most recent display of a “lack of best efforts”, Kyrgios was fined for his behaviour during a defeat by Mischa Zverev at the Shanghai Masters in October. “That’s just Nick,” says Edmund. “It doesn’t surprise me when he does it. He’s always been like that. He has his own way of doing things... I obviously see him off court, and he will chat away and joke around. We get on fine.” By contrast, Edmund seems to cope with pressure just fine, crediting his Davis Cup experiences and his 2015 Tie Break Tens victory at the Royal Albert Hall. Edmund beat Murray in the final of the one-night, six-player, first-to-10 tournament intended to be the tennis answer to T20 cricket, winning $250,000. “It's a very closed atmosphere,” explains Edmund. “There’s a court and there’s a crowd around you; there’s nothing else going on. In a focused environment like that, I never felt I played as well as I could. But the Albert Hall experience helped that. And the money helped. You pay for travel, coaches. It just helped me keep on doing what I’m doing.”

Game on


Tennis Australian Open Eurosport, 12am

Sun >

The journey continues NFL Divisional Playoffs Sky Sports 2 There are four massive games in the NFL this weekend as the top seeds enter the playoffs, meaning the eight teams involved are just two wins away from Super Bowl LI. It would be a huge upset to see the Houston Texans win at the New England Patriots (Sunday 1.15am, Sky Sports 2), in what is probably the most uncompetitive game of the round – the Texans lost to the Patriots 27-0 in the regular season, and that was a Patriots team playing without the suspended Tom Brady. The rest of the divisional games look to be far more evenly matched. In the other AFC clash, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to face the Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday 6pm, Sky Sports 2). In the regular season the Steelers beat the Chiefs 43-14, but you would expect this to be much closer – although the hosts will need to contain Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who is in top form. He


ran for a Pittsburgh playoff record 167 yards against the Miami Dolphins last week. Of the teams the Dallas Cowboys might have fancied facing this weekend, the Green Bay Packers would not have been among them (Sunday 9.40pm, Sky Sports 2). The Packers are on a seven-game winning streak and quarterback Aaron Rodgers seems to be back to his imperious best. The other NFC game could prove the most interesting of the round, as the Seattle Seahawks look to contain the brilliant offense of the Atlanta Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan, who could be named this year’s MVP (Saturday, 9.35pm, Sky Sports 2). It also gives fans a chance to see Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman trying to keep Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones in check – he clocked 1,409 yards in the regular season.

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Andy Murray might have lost the battle to Novak Djokovic in Doha last weekend, but the war is only just beginning. The first Grand Slam of 2017 offers Djokovic an almost immediate opportunity to wrest the world-number-one spot back from Murray, providing he can win an unprecedented seventh Australian Open title and Murray loses before the semi finals. There are other narratives at play in Melbourne too, of course. The returns of multiple Slam winners Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are intriguing, not least because their lowered rankings (Nadal at number nine and Federer at 17) mean they could provide early heavyweight opposition to a higher-ranked opponent. In the women’s tournament, a newly engaged Serena Williams makes a return of her own, having taken time off at the end of last season to recover from shoulder and knee injuries. After losing her number-one ranking to Germany’s Angelique Kerber (who defeated Williams in last year’s Australian Open final), the American will view this as the perfect chance to prove she’s not done yet – and to move past Steffi Graf’s tally of 22 Grand Slam singles titles.

January 13-19



Darts BDO World Championship Final BT Sport 1 & Channel 4, 4pm

Warriors seek revenge NBA Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors BT Sport 1, 1am

No, not the average three-dart score at this year’s BDO tournament. Rather it’s the number of different world champions the BDO has had since the PDC split in 1994. So while the latter has the superior players, with just seven different PDC winners in 24 years compared to the BDO’s 16, the Lakeside event is clearly less predictable. That’s partly because many of the stronger champions have switched to the PDC (although some, like 2013 and 2016 champ Scott Waites, have stayed put). But at least there is a joyous unpredictability to the BDO – both in terms of who’s going to win it and where the ruddy darts will actually end up.


Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors met in both of the past two NBA Finals, winning one each, and on Christmas Day 2016 produced a thriller that went Cleveland’s way by a solitary point. This is something of a must-watch, then. Both sides lead their respective conferences (at the time of writing). Last month, the Warriors squandered a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, when the Cavaliers outscored them 29-14. But victory was only sealed in the final seconds, when Kyrie Irving scored with a ridiculous turnaround jump shot that put Cleveland ahead 109-108. Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson aferwards raged about his side’s capitulation. “I don’t care if it’s Christmas Day,” he said. “Any time you blow a 14-point lead it’ll piss you off.” Monday night’s rematch offers Thompson and co a rapid chance for retribution, but against the LeBron James-led Cavaliers it’s unlikely to come easy.


Ryding high

Skiing Alpine Skiing World Cup: Wengen Eurosport 1, 9.30am


Britain’s Dave Ryding presently sits ninth in the FIS World Cup slalom standings afer top-10 finishes in Levi, Finland (where he finished sixth) and Zagreb, Croatia (seventh). Last weekend he negotiated thick fog in Adelboden, Switzerland to finish 15th, while 22-year-old Norwegian Henrik Kristoffersen routed his rivals to win by a 1.83-second margin and draw level in the slalom standings with his great rival, Marcel Hirscher of Austria. This weekend, Wengen in Switzerland hosts the sixth round of the World Cup, with the slalom races taking place on Sunday. Ahead of the World Championships coming up in St Moritz next month, Ryding will be keen to maintain his position in the overall top 10. Elsewhere, there are suggestions that Lindsey Vonn could return to the piste at Zauchensee in Austria this weekend (Saturday, 11.30am, Eurosport 1), two months afer breaking her arm in a crash. “My resolution for 2017 is not to crash any more,” the 32-year-old American said, given serious crashes and season-ending operations have become rather routine in recent years. @sportmaguk

Football Africa Cup of Nations Eurosport 2, 4pm

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Four players who could shine at the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, which starts this weekend


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1. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

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Gabon (in Group A with Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Guinea-Bissau) Hosts Gabon are nicknamed the Brazilians, and there are parallels with Neymar in Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng, who carries the nation’s hopes on his shoulders. The prolific Borussia Dortmund striker was reportedly the subject of a record-breaking €150m bid from Chinese Super League team Shanghai SIPG, and wears the captain’s armband.

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2. Riyad Mahrez

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Algeria (in Group B with Tunisia, Senegal and Zimbabwe)

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The PFA Player of the Year’s silky skills and quick feet helped Leicester to their shock Premier League title last season – although they have since struggled, Mahrez has formed a good understanding with compatriot Islam Slimani. Both will be vital, as could be Watford’s Adlene Guedioura and Schalke 04's on-loan Tottenham midfielder Nabil Bentaleb.

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3. Wilfried Zaha

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Ivory Coast (in Group C with DR Congo, Morocco and Togo)

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The Ivory Coast’s golden generation finally came good at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015, ending a 23-year-wait for the continental title, but the squad that has travelled to Gabon has changed significantly. The freshest of the new faces is Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, who switched allegiances from England and who oscillates between virtually unplayable and maddeningly frustrating, ofen in the same passage of play.

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4. Mohamed Salah

Egypt (in Group D with Ghana, Mali and Uganda) LAUNCH OF THE YEAR

Despite their mediocre record at World Cups, Egypt are the most successful side in Africa Cup of Nations history, with seven titles. But afer three straight wins from 2006 to 2010, they failed to qualify for the following three tournaments. Forward

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Mohamed Salah provides a vital injection of pace; he failed to impress at Chelsea, but has been a steady source of goals and assists for Fiorentina and Roma in Serie A.


January 13-19

indian winter


A trio of talking points ahead of England’s three-match ODI series against India

SPin to win

Cricket India v England: 1st ODI Sky Sports 2, 8am

StokeS the fire

PaSSing the torch

Ben Stokes looks the perfect limited-overs cricketer: rapid with the ball, dazzling with the bat, and a gun fielder. So it’s curious that he really struggled to live up to his promise in his early ODIs. In keeping with England’s overall one-day form, however, he began to put that right in 2016. Stifled in the Test series by the fact he was ofen sent to bat on recovery missions, he’ll be keen to show India his true scoring prowess.

MS Dhoni making way as ODI captain to Virat Kohli seems perfectly timed with Kohli batting like a deity and improving as a skipper. But it will be interesting to see how the iconic Dhoni adjusts afer nearly a decade as ODI captain. His one-day form was distinctly patchy in 2016. Does cricket’s definitive finisher possess the reflexes and desire to push through to the 2019 World Cup (during which he’ll turn 38)?

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Snooker The Masters BBC Two & Eurosport 2, 1pm Mark Selby’s nickname ‘The Jester from Leicester’ is more about an easy rhyme than a legacy of his play. Another of his handles, ‘The Torturer’, seems more apt for a player who grinds opponents down. Whatever you call him, Selby is building a legacy as a snooker great. Victor at last year’s World Championship and last month’s UK Championship, the 33-year-old can claim the Triple Crown by winning a fourth career Masters. Selby has Mark Williams in the first round, but before then he’ll have an eye on Sunday's opener. The 2016 champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who lives up to his ‘Rocket’ nickname even at 41, begins his defence against Liang Wenbo. With the world’s best 16 players on show, this is always a tricky tournament to predict. Regardless, a match down the line between O’Sullivan and Selby, who’ve had some classic battles here, is a prospect to savour.

England’s old weakness of spin (both in terms of bowling and batting) shone through in their 4-0 Test series defeat and could be a defining factor once again in these one-day internationals. Plenty of responsibility, then, on the shoulders of Adil Rashid. The leg spinner was the top wicket-taker for England in the Tests against India, with 23, and is also the highest ranked ODI bowler in either side, sitting fifh in the ICC table. He’ll need to play a key role in negating India’s imposing batting line-up – and maybe even contribute a few runs himself – if England are to upset the odds.

Master torturer




E xt ra t i m E

D r i V E

Stirred, not shaken Aston Martin are back with the best Gt in the business – and this one isn’t just for James Bond


et’s cut to the chase. The new Aston Martin DB11 is the best GT currently available, at any price. Yes, the Porsche 911 might be quicker on the twisty stuff, but for 99 per cent of the time the DB11 will be much more satisfying to drive and live with. Power on this impressive machine comes from a brand new 5.2-litre twin-turbocharged 600bhp V12 engine. Bolt this on to a new, lighter and stronger aluminium structure, and you end up with the most powerful, most efficient and most dynamically talented DB model the company has ever made. It’s also one of the most stylish. It’s no wonder that 007 drives one.

If you find yourself cruising down to the Côte d’Azur, select GT mode. The ride is nothing short of astonishing. Even at slow speeds around town, the suspension soaks up potholes and manhole covers. You can still throw the car into a corner without fuss, but for those who prefer to enjoy the scenery it’s hard to think of a better place to be. The DB11 is quick: 0-60mph takes less than four seconds; top speed is 200mph. As for economy, there is of course the old adage that if you can afford a car like this, you can afford the fuel. But we managed 25mpg – for such a powerful car, that’s good going.

Fast and smooth

Price? The DB11 starts off at £154,900, but the car on this page is a special Launch Edition, which goes for a zesty £167,015. What do you get in terms of kit? Everything. The audio system will blow your socks off. For too long, Aston Martin has fallen behind the powerful stuff from Bentley, Ferrari, Porsche and Mercedes. But the DB11 has, for now, overtaken them all.

The driving experience is sensational. A button on the steering wheel allows you to select your preferred driving mode: GT, Sport or Sport Plus. The first of these is the softest, while Sport and Sport Plus progressively intensify the response of the engine, the eight-speed automatic gearbox and the electric power steering.

Back on top


N e e d

Price Top speed 0-60mph Economy Engine

t o

k N o w

From £154,900 200mph 3.9 seconds 25mpg (combined) 5.2 litres V12


West Ham v Crystal Palace Saturday, coverage from 2pm

Leicester v Chelsea

Saturday, coverage from 5pm

Everton v Manchester City Sunday, coverage from 1pm

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f i T n e S S

Resolution rules Expert trainer and owner of W10 Performance gym Jean-Claude Vacassin talks New Year resolutions, and launches his four-week guide to getting back on the fitness wagon


’ve been around for enough ‘New Year, New You’ cycles to have a fair idea of what’s working and what isn’t. Overall, I’m pro-January and the new start it offers people – largely because I understand that, for many of us, what’s on offer is not exactly appealing. Much of it is about the confusion that the marketing din creates. There’s so much noise and conflicting information that we don’t know what’s solid advice and what’s marketing nonsense any more. “The fact of the matter is that, fundamentally, very little has actually changed over the past decade. Sure, we’ve got new gadgets, bigger and brighter gym spaces and access to more training information, but that’s half the problem. What works isn’t necessarily sexy, so we’ve looked at various ways of repackaging things in an attempt to get more people involved. 

But core principles don’t change. I’m not trying to be the fitness grinch, but what works is very simple and, to most people, pretty unsexy. Here are five key things I know to be true, which we should all consider when making fitness resolutions.

1. There is no magic diet

The best nutritional programme is the one you buy into. Unless you’re stepping on to a bodybuilding stage, perfect is not the goal. Base your core habits around quality, fresh produce and the rest will take care of itself.

2. There is no perfect routine The best programme is the one that you enjoy and will do. A mediocre programme done with intensity will always trump a ‘perfect’ one done reluctantly.

3. One size does not fit all

Everything has worked for someone at

some point, but that does not mean it will work for you. It takes time to get it right, so be patient and focus on what works best for you and your goals.

4. Progress is not always steady

The reason people fall off the wagon is because they give up once the initial honeymoon period is over. It’s not about what changed this week; it’s about what changed over the course of several months. 

5. Movement is as important as exercise

A regular gym routine does wonders for strength, health and fitness, but in my experience those in the best physical and mental shape make time for 30 minutes of activity a day – and that includes walking.

Week one

Here we’re focusing on four key movements that will be the cornerstones of your training programme. The number of repetitions and overall training volume have been kept low, so we can focus on technique and quality movement. Warm up to a weight that you can lift for the desired number of reps, and then perform the given number of working sets. Do so within your technical maximum, not your absolute maximum, and maintain your form throughout.

Squat (3x8)

Often referred to as the ‘king of exercises’, the back squat is a huge tool in your fitness armoury.

Illustrations: Willie Ryan

» Keep your back muscles engaged by actively pulling the bar into you at the top of the movement » Brace your trunk, and maintain tension throughout the movement » Picture ripping the floor apart with your feet on the way down to maximise hip engagement » Drive hard out of the bottom position, keeping your torso angle throughout » Finish the movement by bringing your hips through and squeezing your glutes at the top k


f i t n e s s Romanian deadlift (3x8)

Romanian deadlifts are a great exercise for strengthening the posterior chain (the lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves) – a key component of a thorough strength programme. » Start the movement with a tall, upright posture and maintain that position throughout » Breathe and brace at the top of the movement before starting the lowering portion » Keeping your knees slightly bent, prepare to push your hips back as

you lower the bar down the thighs » Pause at the bottom position, before restarting the movement by driving your hips forward » Keep your grip tight and back engaged throughout, to ensure your torso remains extended and upright

Push-up (3x8)

Often overlooked in favour of other pressing movements – a mistake given the full-body challenge they present. » Keep your body tight, and torso engaged, throughout your movement » When lowering yourself down – the eccentric phase – draw your shoulder blades together » Remain parallel – your chin, chest and hips

Prone row (3x8)

A strong grip and back is crucial for injury prevention and overall performance, so row variations should be central to every training programme. » Stay as tall as you can when you set up on the bench, chest raised » Keep your core and glutes engaged throughout the movement, rather than simply leaning into the bench » While moving, row your elbows back through your ribs, actively squeezing

your shoulder blades and mid-back at the top of the exercise » Hold the active contraction for a second or two when in that top postition » Lower slowly, using the strength of your grip and biceps to keep the movement smooth


should reach the floor together » Picture pushing the floor away from you as you begin your ascent » Ensure your hips also rise by engaging your stomach muscles, pushing your tailbone upwards


A H C T E B U O Y #






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Sport Magazine 481  

In this week’s Sport: sprinting ace Dina Asher-Smith talks Rio, doping and a London World Championships | Boxer James DeGale opens up ahead...

Sport Magazine 481  

In this week’s Sport: sprinting ace Dina Asher-Smith talks Rio, doping and a London World Championships | Boxer James DeGale opens up ahead...