Month: February 2022

  • Creative kindergarten Designs Ideas ( Part 5/6 )



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  • Hamster Maze Online – Play at NewKidsGames.org


    Free games available for mobile, tablet or desktop

    Kids games need to be colorful and engaging, offer plenty of action, and should always provide some sort of goal for your child to work towards. Every game is going to offer some sort of skill or lesson to be learned that is just right for your child. Colorful cute characters your child can relate with or fun game play will keep your child coming back for more time and time again. Kids games can be a great way to take the boredom out, provide your child with a new challenge, or bring a lesson to life through the act of play. Puzzles, racing games and arcade games can teach valuable problem solving skills as well as refine concentration skills and reinforce a number of lessons from math, reading and much more.

    If you want to play other games on your mobile, tablet or desktop you can choose one of our partner sites: Speed Car Games, Car Games Online or one of the most fun sites with selected games, Fun Best Games.



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  • EPA Is Preparing to Reinstate California’s Authority to Set More Stringent Car Emissions Rules



    The Biden administration is preparing to reinstate California’s authority to set auto emissions rules that are more stringent than federal standards, taking a major step toward cutting transportation-related climate pollution and continuing to chip away at former President Trump’s environmental rollbacks.

    The waiver, granted decades ago because of California’s severe pollution problems, gave the Golden State the legal authority to surpass national fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards. But under Trump, EPA revoked California’s Clean Air Act waiver, citing a need for national uniformity.

    That decision launched the Trump administration into uncharted legal territory in its battle to weaken climate change regulations and threatened to significantly undermine state-led efforts to curb the largest source of planet-warming emissions in the country, from cars.

    Fourteen states and the District of Columbia follow California’s tougher rules, together representing over a third of the national auto market. California itself is the largest economy in the country and fifth globally.

    “The effectiveness of America’s transportation decarbonization policies and strategies is fully grounded in California’s leadership,” said Dan Sperling, a member of the California Air Resources Board.

    Shortly after his inauguration, President Biden instructed EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to consider restoring the waiver. A spokesperson for EPA said the agency is working to finalize a decision on the waiver and expects to issue the rule in the “near future.” Sources said they expected the decision to be made as early as this week.

    For its part, NHTSA moved to restore the waiver last year (Greenwire, Dec. 22, 2021). The agency said the Trump rollback “overstepped the Agency’s legal authority and established overly broad prohibitions that did not account for a variety of important State and local interests.”

    The new rule, NHTSA said, will “no longer form an improper barrier to States exploring creative solutions to address their local communities’ environmental and public health challenges.”

    Scott Hochberg, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said restoring California’s waiver begins to undo the environmental rollbacks pushed through by the Trump administration.

    “It paves the way for California to set the nation’s cleanest car rules again,” he said. “But it’s only meaningful if California actually uses its unique power to make the deep emissions cuts we need to tackle the climate emergency.”

    California has started drafting new rules to rein in transportation pollution and boost electric vehicles, which some advocates like Hochberg worry are not stringent enough to tackle climate change.

    Still, with the reinstatement of the California waiver, the state could immediately begin to enforce its Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which requires a growing percentage of all new medium- and heavy-duty trucks to be zero-emissions beginning in 2025.

    California also adopted a Heavy-Duty Omnibus rule, which boosts fuel economy for fossil fuel-powered trucks, making them up to 90 percent cleaner. The rule is considered especially important for reducing smog and other localized toxic pollutants in low-income areas and communities of color that are disproportionately located near highways and freight corridors and bear the brunt of pollution.

    EPA is expected to shortly unveil its own rule to clean up highway freight-related pollution (Climatewire, Jan. 18).

    Restoring California’s waiver is part of Biden’s broader agenda to zero out planet-warming emissions from the economy by midcentury.

    His administration issued a new fuel economy rule last year that it said will reduce carbon pollution by about 2 billion metric tons. Biden also set a target that half of all new car sales will be electric by decade’s end.

    Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.



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  • Does Drinking Red Wine Really Protect Against COVID? Let’s Look at The Data


    A study published last month in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition made headlines around the world.

    Among a number of findings concerning alcoholic drinks and COVID, it reported drinking red wine was associated with a reduction in the risk of contracting COVID.

     

    Before you start inviting people over to celebrate, it’s important to be aware there are a number of reasons to be cautious about these findings.

    This paper is a great example of why many studies addressing diet and health are unreliable and need to be interpreted carefully.

    Limitations in the way many of these studies are conducted is the reason we’re often told a food is good for us one day, only for this to be contradicted in another study.

    This whiplash in study findings is a source of continued frustration in the field of nutritional science.

    Let’s explore some of the the reasons why these studies can be misleading.

    What were some of the findings?

    There were a number of findings reported in this study.

    Probably the most captivating from a media perspective was that drinking between one to four glasses of red wine a week was associated with an approximate 10 percent reduction in the risk of getting COVID.

    Drinking five or more glasses of red wine a week was associated with a reduction in risk of 17 percent.

     

    Although drinking white wine and champagne also appeared protective, the effect was smaller than with red wine.

    In contrast, drinking beer was associated with a 7-28 percent increased risk of getting COVID.

    It was hard to identify clear patterns with some of the other findings. For example, while drinking spirits was associated with an increased risk of contracting COVID, drinking fortified wine, in small doses only, appeared protective.

    Similarly, while drinking alcohol more frequently was associated with a lower risk of getting COVID, drinking more than the UK guidelines for alcohol consumption was associated with an increased risk of contracting COVID.

    Let’s delve deeper into the findings concerning red wine to explore some of the reasons why one should be skeptical about the results of these sorts of studies.

    Correlation doesn’t equal causation

    The first and most obvious reason to be cautious when interpreting this study is correlation doesn’t equal causation.

    You hear this phrase all the time, but that’s because it’s so important to make the distinction between two variables being simply linked with each other, and one causing the other.

     

    This analysis was completed from data collected from a large longitudinal study, which is a study in which you recruit participants and track them over time to collect information about their behaviors and health.

    Although this study, the UK Biobank cohort, had an impressive number of participants, the analysis simply involved looking for associations between alcohol consumption patterns and the diagnosis of COVID.

    As this was an observational study where data was collected and analyzed from people living their lives normally, all one can say with confidence is drinking red wine was associated with a lower likelihood of having been diagnosed with COVID.

    One can’t say drinking red wine was actually the reason the risk of contracting disease in this group was lower.

    It’s entirely possible this association reflected other differences between red wine drinkers and those who developed COVID. This phenomenon is called “confounding”, and it’s very hard to completely remove the effect of confounding in observational studies to tease out what’s really going on.

    Although the researchers made attempts to statistically adjust the results to account for some obvious confounders in this study – such as age, sex, and education level – this type of adjustment isn’t perfect.

    There’s also no guarantee there weren’t other sources of confounding in the study that weren’t considered.

     

    Data on alcohol drinking is unreliable

    There are two major limitations in the data collected relating to alcohol drinking patterns in this study.

    The first is collecting information on what people eat and drink is notoriously unreliable.

    And even more of a problem is the extent of this misreporting tends to vary considerably between people, making it very difficult to correct for.

    The second major limitation was the researchers collected data on alcohol drinking patterns at the beginning of this longitudinal study and extrapolated forward many years to complete the analysis. That is, researchers looked at drinking patterns at the start of the study and assumed people had the same drinking patterns for the whole study.

    Clearly a person’s drinking patterns could change considerably over the years, so this also introduces a great deal of potential error.

    The public health significance is questionable

    Another reason to temper your response to these findings is even if we assume red wine reduces the risk of COVID infection, the key question we need to ask is whether a 10-17 percent reduction in this risk compared with non-drinkers is of any real-world significance.

    That is, how does this finding impact on our response to COVID?

    Considering the huge benefit one can gain from other measures such as wearing masks, social distancing, improved hand hygiene, and getting vaccinated, this reduction in risk (if real) is marginal, and doesn’t translate to any significant protection from COVID.

    The reality is drinking red wine solely to reduce your risk of contracting COVID isn’t something that can be recommended on the basis of this study – especially considering the other potentially detrimental effects of drinking alcohol.

    Putting it together

    Observational studies addressing aspects of our diet and health come with numerous and significant challenges.

    They’re highly susceptible to the presence of confounders and biases, which limit their reliability and make the interpretation of their findings fraught.

    So it’s really important the results from these types of studies are interpreted with a great deal of caution.

    Therefore, the message when it comes to drinking alcohol remains you shouldn’t drink because of any perceived health benefits relating to COVID or any other illness. You should drink moderately if it brings you pleasure, and be clear this is why you are drinking.

    While this isn’t the news any of us wanted to hear, this shouldn’t be a surprise, because if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.The Conversation

    Hassan Vally, Associate Professor, Deakin University.

    This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

     



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  • Human brain: We may not be able to grow new neurons after we enter adulthood


    Several recent studies have led to the suggestion that humans can grow new neurons in some parts of the brain as adults, but the idea is being questioned after a close look at RNA in brain cells



    Mind



    16 February 2022

    Conceptual illustration of neuron cells with glowing link knots. Synapse and neuron cells sending electrical chemical signals. Neuron of Interconnected neurons with electrical pulses, 3D illustration; Shutterstock ID 1155821158; purchase_order: -; job: -; client: -; other: -

    Conceptual illustration of a neuron

    Shutterstock/Rost9

    Adults may be unable to grow new neurons in the brain – contrary to previous findings.

    The question of whether adults can form new neurons, called neurogenesis, has long been a source of controversy. While researchers have discovered adult neurogenesis in mice and macaques, any evidence of this ability in humans is less clear.

    The hippocampus, which has been linked with adult neurogenesis, is vulnerable to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. This has led to arguments that adult neurogenesis may hold the key to treating …



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  • US says Russian state hackers lurked in defense contractor networks for months


    Cartoon padlock and broken glass superimposed on a Russian flag.
    Enlarge / What’s happened to Russia’s flag?

    Hackers backed by the Russian government have breached the networks of multiple US defense contractors in a sustained campaign that has revealed sensitive information about US weapons-development communications infrastructure, the federal government said on Wednesday.

    The campaign began no later than January 2020 and has continued through this month, according to a joint advisory by the FBI, National Security Agency, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. The hackers have been targeting and successfully hacking cleared defense contractors, or CDCs, which support contracts for the US Department of Defense and intelligence community.

    “Persistent access,” “significant insight”

    “During this two-year period, these actors have maintained persistent access to multiple CDC networks, in some cases for at least six months,” officials wrote in the advisory. “In instances when the actors have successfully obtained access, the FBI, NSA, and CISA have noted regular and recurring exfiltration of emails and data. For example, during a compromise in 2021, threat actors exfiltrated hundreds of documents related to the company’s products, relationships with other countries, and internal personnel and legal matters.”

    The exfiltrated documents have included unclassified CDC-proprietary and export-controlled information. This information gives the Russian government “significant insight” into US weapons-platforms development and deployment timelines, plans for communications infrastructure, and specific technologies being used by the US government and military. The documents also include unclassified emails among employees and their government customers discussing proprietary details about technological and scientific research.

    FBI, NSA, CISA

    FBI, NSA, CISA

    The advisory said:

    These continued intrusions have enabled the actors to acquire sensitive, unclassified information, as well as CDC-proprietary and export-controlled technology. The acquired information provides significant insight into U.S. weapons platforms development and deployment timelines, vehicle specifications, and plans for communications infrastructure and information technology. By acquiring proprietary internal documents and email communications, adversaries may be able to adjust their own military plans and priorities, hasten technological development efforts, inform foreign policymakers of U.S. intentions, and target potential sources for recruitment. Given the sensitivity of information widely available on unclassified CDC networks, the FBI, NSA, and CISA anticipate that Russian state-sponsored cyber actors will continue to target CDCs for U.S. defense information in the near future. These agencies encourage all CDCs to apply the recommended mitigations in this advisory, regardless of evidence of compromise.

    Spear-phishing, hacked routers, and more

    The hackers have used a variety of methods to breach their targets. The methods include harvesting network passwords through spear-phishing, data breaches, cracking techniques, and exploitation of unpatched software vulnerabilities. After gaining a toehold in a targeted network, the threat actors escalate their system rights by mapping the Active Directory and connecting to domain controllers. From there, they’re able to exfiltrate credentials for all other accounts and create new accounts.

    The hackers make use of virtual private servers to encrypt their communications and hide their identities, the advisory added. They also use “small office and home office (SOHO) devices, as operational nodes to evade detection.” In 2018, Russia was caught infecting more than 500,000 consumer routers so the devices could be used to infect the networks they were attached to, exfiltrate passwords, and manipulate traffic passing through the compromised device.

    These techniques and others appear to have succeeded.

    “In multiple instances, the threat actors maintained persistent access for at least six months,” the joint advisory stated. “Although the actors have used a variety of malware to maintain persistence, the FBI, NSA, and CISA have also observed intrusions that did not rely on malware or other persistence mechanisms. In these cases, it is likely the threat actors relied on possession of legitimate credentials for persistence, enabling them to pivot to other accounts, as needed, to maintain access to the compromised environments.”

    The advisory contains a list of technical indicators admins can use to determine if their networks have been compromised in the campaign. It goes on to urge all CDCs to investigate suspicious activity in their enterprise and cloud environments.



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  • New EU Protocol Aims to Improve Clinical Trial Transparency



    According to the EU Trials Tracker, one-fifth of clinical trials run in the European Union do not report their results, with not even a brief summary of their findings posted in a register. This means negative results are not always made public, potentially distorting evaluations of an intervention’s efficacy and slowing medical research. It’s a problem that the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament aimed to solve in 2014 when they adopted the Clinical Trials Regulation (CTR)—a new set of rules governing clinical trial applications. Now, as of January 31, the CTR is finally in effect, and researchers are hopeful it will live up to its goal of improving transparency.

    One of the key stipulations of the CTR is that it mandates reporting of study results within a year of a trial’s conclusion. The Regulation also aims to foster large, multinational collaborations by allowing applications for investigational medicinal products’ trials to be submitted through a single, central portal, regardless of the proposed trial location within the EU and the European Economic Area, rather than filed separately in each country where the trial is proposed to run. 

    “It’s unique in the world [and] gives [every trial] access to the European research environment with a population of over 400 million people now, and all the researchers, clinics, [and] hospitals who are there,” Fergus Sweeney, head of the Clinical Studies and Manufacturing Task Force at the European Medicines Agency (EMA), tells The Scientist.

    “With time and as people get used to it, it will become easy for a researcher in Paris and [one in] Berlin to join together and run a trial, whereas mostly now, they tend to be in silos within each member state,” Sweeny adds. “So it’s really a major aim to extend multinational trials, whether they are big trials, which need a lot of patients, or in rare diseases.”

    The eight-year delay between the CTR’s enactment and effective date stemmed from a need for new infrastructure, as the new regulation required a unified registry for clinical trials in the EU. Now, the new trial registration portal, called the Clinical Trials Information System (CTIS), has passed an external audit and is live, explains Sweeney, although sponsors for new trials are not obliged to use it until next year. The CTR stipulates that by the end of January 2025, all ongoing clinical trials must be transferred to the new registry. This applies to all trials of investigational medicinal products that are run in at least one member state of the EU or the European Economic Area. 

    In addition to enabling submission through the CTIS system, the regulation requires that decisions on trial applications incorporate both a review by the competent authority in each member state the trial will run in and an ethics committee opinion in each member state, Sweeney points out. “It is a single decision, and [then] the trial can then run in that member state. . . . It’s a one-stop shop for trial application.” Or, to put it into US research regulation terms, it would be like having the FDA Investigational New Drug (IND) application, Institutional Review Board (IRB) ethics approval application, and clinicaltrials.gov registration all filed and decided upon together, Sweeney says.

    It’s a one-stop shop for trial application.

    —Fergus Sweeney, European Medicines Agency

    The new rules additionally require sponsors to publish a summary of trial results and a layperson’s summary to CTIS within 12 months of completing a trial (or within six months, if the trial was carried out in children). 

    Till Bruckner, founder of TranspariMED, an advocacy campaign to improve trial reporting, says he believes the new system will increase transparency, especially with regards to trial outcomes. “The importance of the registry is that it will consistently make results of every single trial public within a year. . . [which] accelerates medical process and reduces nonpublication of trial results.” He also says he hopes the portal itself makes the reporting process smoother. “With the old system, it was really cumbersome to upload results. . . . CTIS will make reporting easier—hopefully. We will know when the first trials register there and are due to report results.”  

    See “About Half of Clinical Trials Go Unreported in EU

    The CTR further stipulates that member states must establish effective penalties for noncompliance with reporting requirements, especially when it comes to information to be made public, Sweeney says. “As soon as the sponsor posts ‘start of recruitment,’ it’s in the public register,” he notes—something that wasn’t true with the old system. Then, when the researchers report that the trial is over, its end date also becomes part of the public record, he says. “Going through the single system offers enormous advantage over [the previous trial database] EudraCT from the transparency point of view, the completeness of the transparency, and its follow-up.” 

    Nicholas DeVito, a researcher at the University of Oxford who developed and runs the EU Trials tracker that monitors the data reporting of clinical trials in the EU’s old database, tells The Scientist that he is “eager to see how the enforcement and the preparation of results evolve, and we’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on that.” While the reporting of results was not automatically tracked within the old EU trials register, such an audit system is built into CTIS, Sweeney explains. “We can track these processes: both the sponsors are alerted—‘it’s time for you to submit your results’—and the member states— ‘sponsor X didn’t submit, 12 months has passed now.’ . . . Also, the public will be able to see when results should have been posted and if they are there or not.”

    DeVito had hoped for a registry that is “a little bit more sophisticated at first glance, rivalling perhaps clinicaltrials.gov” in design and user experience. However, he says that the unified application process across the EU “will be a big help” as it establishes clear accountability and allows for easier tracking of compliance, especially for trials run in several member states, as a reporting member state will be designated and take the lead on trial application and monitoring. 

    While Brucker says that, overall, CTIS is an improvement, he points out that it only applies to trials for investigational medicinal products. “Medical devices and everything not in this category is overlooked, including trials of surgery or radiotherapy—any trial that doesn’t fit this narrow definition.” 



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  • DeepMind Has Trained an AI to Control Nuclear Fusion


    The inside of a tokamak—the doughnut-shaped vessel designed to contain a nuclear fusion reaction—presents a special kind of chaos. Hydrogen atoms are smashed together at unfathomably high temperatures, creating a whirling, roiling plasma that’s hotter than the surface of the sun. Finding smart ways to control and confine that plasma will be key to unlocking the potential of nuclear fusion, which has been mooted as the clean energy source of the future for decades. At this point, the science underlying fusion seems sound, so what remains is an engineering challenge. “We need to be able to heat this matter up and hold it together for long enough for us to take energy out of it,” says Ambrogio Fasoli, director of the Swiss Plasma Center at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

    That’s where DeepMind comes in. The artificial intelligence firm, backed by Google parent company Alphabet, has previously turned its hand to video games and protein folding, and has been working on a joint research project with the Swiss Plasma Center to develop an AI for controlling a nuclear fusion reaction.

    In stars, which are also powered by fusion, the sheer gravitational mass is enough to pull hydrogen atoms together and overcome their opposing charges. On Earth, scientists instead use powerful magnetic coils to confine the nuclear fusion reaction, nudging it into the desired position and shaping it like a potter manipulating clay on a wheel. The coils have to be carefully controlled to prevent the plasma from touching the sides of the vessel: this can damage the walls and slow down the fusion reaction. (There’s little risk of an explosion as the fusion reaction cannot survive without magnetic confinement).

    But every time researchers want to change the configuration of the plasma and try out different shapes that may yield more power or a cleaner plasma, it necessitates a huge amount of engineering and design work. Conventional systems are computer-controlled and based on models and careful simulations, but they are, Fasoli says, “complex and not always necessarily optimized.”

    DeepMind has developed an AI that can control the plasma autonomously. A paper published in the journal Nature describes how researchers from the two groups taught a deep reinforcement learning system to control the 19 magnetic coils inside TCV, the variable-configuration tokamak at the Swiss Plasma Center, which is used to carry out research that will inform the design of bigger fusion reactors in the future. “AI, and specifically reinforcement learning, is particularly well suited to the complex problems presented by controlling plasma in a tokamak,” says Martin Riedmiller, control team lead at DeepMind.

    The neural network—a type of AI setup designed to mimic the architecture of the human brain—was initially trained in a simulation. It started by observing how changing the settings on each of the 19 coils affected the shape of the plasma inside the vessel. Then it was given different shapes to try to re-create in the plasma. These included a D-shaped cross section close to what will be used inside ITER (formerly the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), the large-scale experimental tokamak under construction in France, and a snowflake configuration that could help dissipate the intense heat of the reaction more evenly around the vessel.

    DeepMind’s neural network was able to manipulate the plasma inside a fusion reactor into a number of different shapes that fusion researchers have been exploring.Illustration: DeepMind & SPC/EPFL 

    DeepMind’s AI was able to autonomously figure out how to create these shapes by manipulating the magnetic coils in the right way—both in the simulation and when the scientists ran the same experiments for real inside the TCV tokamak to validate the simulation. It represents a “significant step,” says Fasoli, one that could influence the design of future tokamaks or even speed up the path to viable fusion reactors. “It’s a very positive result,” says Yasmin Andrew, a fusion specialist at Imperial College London, who was not involved in the research. “It will be interesting to see if they can transfer the technology to a larger tokamak.”

    Fusion offered a particular challenge to DeepMind’s scientists because the process is both complex and continuous. Unlike a turn-based game like Go, which the company has famously conquered with its AlphaGo AI, the state of a plasma constantly changes. And to make things even harder, it can’t be continuously measured. It is what AI researchers call an “under–observed system.”

    “Sometimes algorithms which are good at these discrete problems struggle with such continuous problems,” says Jonas Buchli, a research scientist at DeepMind. “This was a really big step forward for our algorithm, because we could show that this is doable. And we think this is definitely a very, very complex problem to be solved. It is a different kind of complexity than what you have in games.”



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  • Racketpack Leicester badminton festival proves a hit with more to come


    A series of Racketpack festivals will take place in Leicestershire this year with the first event, held on 31st January, already proving a big success.

    The first festival, was a hit with all those involved, particularly children who took to the court in numbers, as the grassroots game in the county goes from strength to strength.

    Held at Charnwood College, Loughborough the first racketpack of 2022 was able to encourage both teachers and pupils alike to pick up a racket and play badminton.

    After a difficult 20 months due to the pandemic, many schools have not been able to play at the same level as before covid-19 hit and limited many grassroot sporting opportunities.

    But those involved were delighted to be back on a court with a ‘badminton buzz’ taking over at Charnwood.

    The aim now is to spread that enthusiasm across Leicestershire in the subsequent festivals.

    The sessions will have introduced many kids to the sport for the first time, as well as re-engaging those who haven’t played during the last two years.

    A combination of dedicated volunteers and a £500 grant from Badminton England will allow for a series of five festivals to take place, with the remainder planned in different areas across Leicestershire, running from February to October.

    The exact dates and venues of these are yet to be finalised but each will be in a different target area of the county.

    The whole programme should see around 200-250 kids take part in the festivals with the hope that 20 will transition into local junior clubs.





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  • Danish Butter Memories


    In this special contribution, Badmintonphoto photographer Yves Lacroix brings us his best memories from on location at the recent Thomas Uber Cup Finals and the Denmark Open.

    Story and photos by Yves Lacroix

    Apart from my 14-day stint at the Tokyo Olympics, I had not travelled for the international circuit for almost two years when I was asked if I would cover the upcoming Thomas Uber Cup Finals and Denmark Open.

    Twenty-three months had indeed passed since the Hong Kong Open 2019, held under very special circumstances in November of that year.

    Having already experienced the strict COVID-19 protocols for the Tokyo Olympics, I had to mentally prepare myself for the ones in place for Denmark.  Participants of the events would be required to stay in the restricted green bubble from the moment they stepped out of the plane until their departure from Denmark.

    In comparison to the daily spit test required in Tokyo, being tested for COVID only twice in a week seemed like a minor inconvenience.

    Despite attending some 110 international tournaments in my 17-odd years as a badminton photographer, the Thomas Uber Cup Finals and the All England were amongst the only ones I had never covered.  I was very excited to achieve my first Thomas Uber Cup Final milestone.  On my way over to Denmark, I also realized with horror that I hadn’t been there for almost 9 years!

    The tournament was held in Aarhus, a small town in northern Denmark with a very nice light rail system.  The schedule was a killer: 9 straight days with 7 of them beginning at 8:30AM.  Eight of the days had evening sessions that rarely finished before 11:30PM,  which meant that I had limited time for rest.  To make matters even more difficult, the access to the courts, and everywhere else in the venue, were impeded by stairs which drained everyone’s energy.  I even heard some players breathing heavily on their way up to the mixed zone.  Luckily, my partnership with fellow photographer Yohan made the workload lighter and sometimes even shorter.  Merci à lui!

    I don’t care much for nationalism – particularly in sport – but I do like the concept of team events.  I always found it extremely entertaining to see doubles players supporting a singles team-mate and vice versa or the fact that a third singles player can make the difference between a historic win or loss for his or her team.

    The readers of this text already know about the results of the event so I will narrow down my memory of the event to its most interesting items.

    I too am a sucker for underdogs and my fondest memory of the event must be of the Tahiti team.  Talk about players who came out just for the love of the game! I remember one of the Tahiti players in the Mixed Zone saying, ‘When you play against a team like China, your main goal is just to avoid a 0 score.’ That’s honesty for you! Another Tahiti player was wearing a shirt of the badminton club of my former university – les Citadins de l’Université du Québec à Montréal, which accentuated my relation to the team.

    However, in their last tie with the Netherlands, Tahiti achieved the impossible: they won a match! Despite the fact that it was played on Court 3 – the farthest away from the crowd – spectators slowly noticed that something special was going on and realized that Rémi Rossi was fighting for his life in his singles match against Robin Mesman.  The encounter ended with an explosion of pure joy from Rossi, much to the delight of the crowd and the recognition of his opponent who showed tremendous fair play.

    I was taking part in the historic moment by capturing pictures of his joy when one other member of the media stood up in front of me – for absolutely no good reason – and ruined my best picture of that incredible moment.  I was furious for hours – it often happens that photographers stand up for no reason at key moments but the fact that we never numbered more than four or five members of the media on the field of play at any given time made the incident even more infuriating – but luckily many other shots captured the essence of the event.

    I also remember vividly the friendly spirit between China and Denmark in the Uber Cup event.  Jia Yifan and Mia Blichfeldt were engaged in a hilarious battle of the megaphones, Mia shouting ‘Denmark, jia you!’ making both the crowd and the Chinese players burst in laughter.

    I like to believe that I’m usually lucky when I attend events because I’m often there when a local player wins an event, making the latter even more special.  I’ve seen Gade win in Denmark, Sung Ji Hyun and Lee Yong Dae in Korea, Taufik in Indonesia, Tony Gunawan and Howard Bach in the USA, Lin Dan in China, Lee Chong Wei in Malaysia, and so on.  However, I never thought I would witness Indonesia win the Thomas Cup.  These are the kind of events I have written about but never thought I would witness.  And it happened.  There I was – one of only six photographers accredited for the event – shooting the Indonesians celebrating their first Thomas Cup title since the 2002 edition in Guangzhou, an event which I watched – and still possess – on VHS tapes.  What a privilege!

    In Aarhus, I had the chance to finally meet Camilla Martin.  She is now acting as a journalist for TV2, but until now, I had known her mostly as a player on those same VHS tapes.  A very friendly Camilla gladly agreed to pose in front of a magnificent painting of her on the walls of the venue.  We talked about her unforgettable win at the 1999 World Championships in which she played the bravest rally I have ever seen in almost 30 years of watching badminton.  I very much enjoyed chatting with the player whom I asked for an autograph at my very first international tournament, namely the 1995 Danish Open in Odense.

    The mention of the latter event is the perfect segue for the second tournament I was asked to attend.  Not only was I to cover my first ever Thomas Uber Cup Finals but I would also be back where it first started for me, in 1995.  Like I said, my first international tournament ever was the 1995 Danish Open in Odense, which I attended as a spectator.  (Viktor Axelsen, a native of the city, was only one year old at the time.)

    I had planned a visit to Europe in October 1995 and decided to combine a visit to my dear friend Elisabeth in Liechtenstein with a trip to Denmark for the Danish Open.  I wrongly supposed that the event would take place at Brøndby and headed for København.  Arriving at my hotel, I switched on the TV and saw Camilla doing a commercial for V6 (which you can watch here).  Boy was I impressed! I’m really in a badminton country, I thought.  So, the next morning, I headed to Brøndby where I was told that the tournament was held elsewhere in Denmark.  I probably didn’t understand much because the gentleman who informed me wrote ‘Odense i Fyn’ on a piece of paper.

    With that precious piece of paper, I headed the following morning to the station and grabbed the very first train to Odense – at the time, the train had to embark on a boat to get to the island of Fyn – and spent six entire days watching world class badminton and sporadically asking players for autographs.  I remember going down on court after the finals to talk with the late Preben Søborg.  Totally starstruck I was.

    Just to emphasize how things have changed since then, I remember asking at the ticket table if someone could tape the tournament for me.  One nice young volunteer gladly agreed to and I ran to a nearby store to buy two four-hour VHS tapes.  She then rushed to her home to insert one of the tapes in her VCR to record the semi-finals which had started about 30 minutes earlier.  Nowadays, badminton fans watch live streaming in HD from day one of an event.  They surely don’t realize how lucky they are.

     

    In any case, I would have never guessed that I would be back in the same arena 26 years later shooting for a not-yet-born agency called Badmintonphoto and the BWF.  Nor would I have guessed that players I was chasing for autographs would someday be colleagues who call me by my first name.  It is a journey that I never thought I would be lucky enough to embark upon and to come around in a full circle.  I felt especially lucky to be at 2021 Denmark Open because I learned that it was the last time that the Odense Idreatshal would host the event.

    To continue with the story, we all headed for Odense after the conclusion of the Thomas Uber Cup Finals.  I barely recognized the city, apart from a few spots.  The venue completely changed, and I could barely recognize it, inside or out.  Nevertheless, the atmosphere remained the same as it was in 1995.

    There were large crowds which made for a great atmosphere.  Once again, I was lucky and witnessed another home favourite win when Viktor Axelsen defeated Momota in the final.

    During the men’s singles final, the stadium was so packed that, for the first time in over two weeks, I had problems finding a spot to shoot the match from the stands.

    Apart from the action, my attachment to the personalities of some of the players grew even more.  I was already quite fond of Kirsty Gilmour – especially after her gracious attitude following the Canada Open 2017 women’s singles final.  That woman is pure class, I thought.  Well, not only is she pure class but pure fun as well.  Rarely have I seen a player talking openly with the media instead of just answering questions.  It is extremely refreshing.

    Mia Blichfeldt is another sweetheart.  Always joking with her opponents, her bubbly personality makes me care for her wins and losses.  I was therefore heartbroken when she was in tears during an interview in the mixed zone after her early and unexpected loss in Odense.  I could have taken a picture of her pain but chose instead to respect such a personal moment.

    I must also mention that due to COVID restrictions, accreditations were given only to a handful of photographers for the two events.  This made shooting very easy and pleasant, despite the unending days in Aarhus (the Uber Cup medal ceremony ended at 1AM!).  There were also fewer TV cameras blocking our view and plenty of space between courts, so the referees didn’t have to control pesky photographers overflowing into restricted areas.  When things get back to normal, I will surely miss these unusual but pleasant conditions.

    In any case, after the event, almost everybody was heading to the French Open.  Players and yours truly had to catch the 2:15AM bus to Billelund for our respective early flights.  I always try to consider every event as if it were my last – and rightfully so.  Who would have guessed that the 2019 Hong Kong Open would be my last for almost two years?  But despite this effort, I couldn’t help wondering, while boarding my plane for Frankfurt, where my next assignment and 111th international tournament will be…

     



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