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StrangeSights: Blinken rockin’ in Ukraine; Michael Schumacher’s watches; and, miniature poodle’s big win

DAVID ADAMS provides a round-up of some stories on the odder side of life…

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken performs “Rockin’ in the Free World” with members of The 1999 band at the Barman Dictat bar as he visits Kyiv, Ukraine, on 14th May, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Yurii Kovalenko

• US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday picked up a red guitar at a basement bar in Kyiv with a message for Ukraine – that the US and much of the world was fighting not just for Ukraine but for the free world. Blinken, who while in Kyiv this week has pledged unwavering US support as Russia has intensified attacks in Ukraine, joined band 19.99 on stage at Barman Dictat in the capital city. They played Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World, a rock anthem released in 1989 just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. “Your soldiers, your citizens – particularly in the northeast, in Kharkiv – are suffering tremendously. But they need to know, you need to know, the United States is with you, so much of the world is with you and they’re fighting not just for a free Ukraine, but for the free world. And the free world is with you, too,” Blinken said before playing the song. Blinken watched most of 19.99’s set before the lead singer introduced him as a “great friend of Ukraine”. He then joined them on stage to play the song with the chorus “keep on rockin’ in the free world”. The song was first performed during an era when the Soviet Union was reeling from protests. Ultimately the USSR broke up and numerous nations, including Ukraine, gained independence. Dmitry Temnyi, frontman of 19.99, said he was impressed by Blinken’s guitar skills. “He played well,” he said. The band was followed by a group of Ukrainian veterans who played wearing military fatigues, Cultural Forces of Ukraine. It was founded in 2022 to boost Ukrainian morale after Russia’s invasion, and has both a civilian and military branch. – SIMON LEWIS, Kyiv, Ukraine/Reuters


Former Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher’s FP Journe Vagabondage 1 watch is displayed ahead of an auction, during a Christie’s media preview in Geneva, Switzerland, on 9th May, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Pierre Albouy/File photo

• Watches belonging to Formula 1 great Michael Schumacher sold for around four million Swiss francs ($US4.41 million) at auction house Christie’s in Geneva on Tuesday. The eight watches, including timepieces by Rolex, FP Journe and Audemars Piguet, were put up for sale by the family of Schumacher, who has not been seen in public since suffering a severe head injury in a fall while skiing off-piste in 2013. A custom made FP Journe watch with an engraved message given to Schumacher as a Christmas present by his Ferrari team principal Jean Todt sold for 1.5 million Swiss francs. It was estimated to reach up to two million francs. A second customised watch, a Royal Oak by Audemars Piguet, was sold for 415,800 Swiss francs, beating its 150,000 to 250,000 francs estimate. “Collectors were so happy to discover these timepieces filled with history,” said Christie’s Head of Watches in Europe, Remi Guillemin. The lots linked to 55-year-old seven-times world champion Schumacher are part of a broader collection owned by the family. Originally scheduled for Monday, the sale was delayed at short notice after Christie’s suffered a cyber attack. – CECILE MANTOVANI, Zurich, Switzerland/Reuters.


Sage, a miniature poodle from Houston, Texas, wins the Best in Show Group during the 148th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, in New York City, New York, US, on 14th May, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz

A sprightly miniature poodle named Sage was crowned “Best in Show” on Tuesday at the 148th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, winning the grand prize in the most prestigious competition among pure-bred canines in the United States. Sage, the finalist representing 21 breeds classified as non-sporting dogs, triumphed over more than 2,500 top-ranked dogs competing in the two-day contest, held at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the Queens borough of New York City. Sage, a four-year-old black-coloured female groomed in the fine, fluffy topiary style traditional for poodles, competed head to head against the winners in six other groups – terriers, hounds, herding dogs, working dogs, sporting dogs and toy dogs. She was the first female to win the top prize at Westminster since 2020, according to commentators on the Fox Sports channel, which broadcast the event live. And she became the fourth miniature poodle to claim the top prize in the 148-year history of the contest, with the trophy previously going to her breed in 1943, 1959 and 2002, according to kennel club records. The larger “standard” poodle breed has been declared Best in Show five times, most recently in 2020, and the smaller “toy” poodle breed has won twice. The poodle originated as a hunting dog in Germany and is now recognised as the national dog of France. Sage’s handler, Kaz Hosaka, cried tears of joy and carried his prized poodle in his arms around floor of the auditorium to cheers of the crowd as he celebrated what he said was his 45th year participating at the Westminster dog show and the last of his career. The Westminster dog show bills itself as the second-oldest US sporting event, behind only the Kentucky Derby thoroughbred horse race. This year’s competition drew a field of contenders representing 200 breeds from all 50 U.S. states and 12 other countries. Mercedes, a female four-year-old German shepherd, was named runner-up for the overall contest, after first winning the top prize in the herding dog group. Along with Sage and Mercedes, the two other finalists chosen on Monday were Comet the Shih Tzu, representing the toy group, and Louis, the Afghan hound leading the hound group. Rounding out the finalists were three group winners chosen on Tuesday – Micah the black cocker spaniel, representing sporting dogs; Monty, the giant schnauzer, leading the working dogs; and Frankie, a coloured bull terrier from the terrier group. –  EDUARDO MUNOZ and STEVE GORMAN, New York, US/Reuters.



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