The secret weapon behind England’s bridge team triumph

There was dedication, heroic endurance and dazzling skill, not to mention fierce rivalry and even drugs testing…And in the end there was a victory for England, secured by a secret weapon which had apparently irritated the French.

But this was not the Olympics: it was the bridge world’s equivalent. And the secret weapon was not new technology, but a dab of lavender oil.

Last week the six members of the England women’s bridge team won gold medals for the game at the World Mind Sports Games…

Heather Dhondy, Nicola Smith, Nevena Senior, Sally Brock, Fiona Brown and Susan Stockdale

They had spent countless hours training, and admitted seeing a sports psychiatrist to reinforce their will to win.

They worked on diet and fitness to get through 13 single-set games and four two-day matches in a fortnight – although they were probably not as fit as the Indonesian team which was sent to an Army-style boot camp prior to last year’s world championship.

For the first time, however, the women have let slip what may be the secret of world domination at bridge…“We dab ourselves with drops of lavender oil before every match,” said Mrs Dhondy, of Hendon, north London. “It is supposed to calm the nerves and improve concentration – and it sometimes annoys our opponents…”

This was confirmed in June, when the English beat a strong French team on their way to winning the 2012 European Championships.

Mrs Smith, of Chelsea, south west London, said: “Although I kept it quiet, I speak French…“So I knew that one of their team was saying: ‘Something smells of toilet cleaner. It’s disgusting.’

“I don’t know for sure if it put them off, but the moment she started complaining about the smell, I knew we had the upper hand.”

Aromotherapy is an interesting medical study. I never thought of it as part of sports training – especially when Western sports are so often sponsored by trendy food and drink and deodorant companies.

I can see it coming. Perfume and cologne sponsorship for Olympic teams. Smell faster. be faster!

No respect for political conventions in endless U.S. campaign

There are few timeouts in U.S. presidential campaigns any more…A tradition of candidates keeping a low profile while opponents bask in the limelight at their party conventions has frayed in recent elections.

This year, that custom will be all but ignored as President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney compete to be heard amid the cacophony of campaign noise on Twitter, YouTube and the 24-hour news cycle.

In a phenomenon known as “convention counter-programming,” the two White House hopefuls will campaign at full speed during each other’s conventions to try to grab some of the attention from their rival…

Obama will focus much of his time next week on young voters, embarking on a two-day college tour in the critical swing states of Iowa, Colorado and Virginia.

“While Hollywood producers and advertising executives try to reinvent Mitt Romney in Tampa, President Obama and Vice President Biden will be on the road next week to lay out the clear choice between building an economy from the middle class out or the top down,” said Ben LaBolt, Obama’s campaign spokesman.

First lady Michelle Obama is appearing on “The Late Show with David Letterman” on Wednesday, the same night as vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan presents himself to the American public in his acceptance speech at the Republican event.

As aggressive as the Democrats will be next week, Romney and his team also have no intention of just letting Obama enjoy rallies and partisan speeches uncontested when the Democrats meet for their convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, from September 4 to 6.

Senior advisers to the Romney campaign say it never entered their minds that they might take time off during the Democratic convention.

I have a dozen or so movies saved on the DVR in the living room. They will substitute for any of my regular programming pre-empted by political hacks.

I’m fully confident the Democrats will try to find fourteen new ways to tell me what I already know about which side I am on – working people and America’s middle class. I’m fully confident the Republicans will try to find fourteen new ways to lie to me about protecting social security and medicare – and dribble down voodoo economics.

I plan not to listen to any of it.