Monthly Archives: August 2008

The Mayor, Jester of London

Watching the newly elected Mayor of London  Boris Johnson, at the Olympics was amusing. It was obvious that no-one told him what to do, when to do it or how to do it. The optimist in me thinks this was just a normal guy thrust into extraordinary circumstances who was as befuddled as I would have been in front of 90+ thousand people and 1 billion people on TV. The cynic in me wants to observe that for a country that spent so much time choreographing everything, you would think they would take the time to walk the Mayor of London through the ceremony, you would think they would tell him to button up his suit, you would think they gave him a comb… But they didn’t. Was it all done to make the Mayor of London, and the City of London look ridiculous as compared to Beijing?

But I am an optimist so I’ll assume he was just thrust into extraordinary circumstances without his own handlers giving him sound advice.

So here’s what it looked like.

He arrived on stage looking haggard and bedraggled. His hair was poorly done. His suit looked ill-fitting. Couldn’t a tailor in London have given him a proper suit?

He walks onto a stage with over 1 billion people watching, with his suit open looking confused about what he should be doing.

London mayor Boris Johnson, left, and the President of the IOC ...

He then stands on stage, and his first reaction is to put his hands in his pockets … only to see that everyone else has their hands by their side … so he pulls them out.

He than stands wondering what is going to happen next.

Then we watch the Mayor of Beijing majestically wave the flag and pass it on with two hands to the president of the IOC, who then in turn passes it to the Mayor of London, who has never waved a flag in his life. The flag is twisted around the flag-pole so we have this anxious moment where we wonder if The Mayor of London is going to drop the flag but thankfully we avoid that embarrassment. Finally the Mayor of London hands the flag over with one-hand relieved to be done with this ceremony…

For a country that understood pomp and style seeing the Mayor of London be so confused with such a simple ceremony was just plain funny.

Criticism of Project 119

First let me congratulate the Chinese people on throwing a fantastic party, and for winning 51 gold medals. Truly an outstanding performance!

Now, let me offer my condolences to every athlete who had aspirations to any of the 119 gold medals that the Chinese government has targeted. Now it’s obvious some of the gold’s are in high-profile events, but some are not so high profile. And I am really talking about the less high-profile sports. Where people with few resources who had talent could compete on the global stage.

It’s almost comically unfair. You have obscure sports, that by the nature of their obscurity, have marginal amounts of money, are labors of love, and don’t immediately attract the best athletes.

These sports exist on the fringes of the Olympics. Some people care about them passionately, but for the rest of us, they don’t exist. And in many ways, I believe those sports represent the best part of the Olympics.

Unfortunately, the Chinese government has decided that they want those medals. And the Chinese government will apply the full power of their resources to get as many of those medals as they can.

And you have to believe that although it will take time, they will win those medals. China has the people, the money and the determination to win those medals. And that the amateurs, who did this as  a labor of love, who could aspire to a medal will be consigned to even more obscurity. Yes talent counts for something, but so does training, preparation and coaching.

So I feel sad, because on the fringes of the Olympics were sports where the true amateur spirit of the Olympics lived, free from the over-the-top professionalism and over-the-top-jingoism and now China’s Project 119 will make those sports just as professional and jingoistic as the rest of the Olympics…

Cynthia Potter Redux

How could I have missed this beautiful exchange:

Robinson, commenting about the imposing look of a Russian diver who had shaved his head: "I feel like I’ve seen this guy in a James Bond movie."

Potter: "I think I’ve seen him in some other kinds of movies."

Robinson, stunned into awkward silence: "  …  "

Potter, as replay of the Russian’s dive rolls: "Those other movies were about violence, not anything else."

Maybe this woman is a credit to her profession, and maybe diving fans love her, but oh-my-God, she needs some help with her color commentary ….

No, it is Bolt’s Olympics

I just finished reading Ann Killion’s article in the SJ Mercury News. 

She asked the same question I was asking and arrived at a different conclusion, that Usain Lightning Bolt was the real star of the Olympics.

And I must agree with her.

Usain won the prestige event, the 100m race. That is the event that has 90,000 people in the stadium and a billion world wide holding their breath to see who will win. I know I’ll be talking about Bolt with my cousins in Greece. I know they won’t care about what Phelps did or did not do.

Phelps is undoubtedly the greater champion, but Bolt, by virtue of coming later, by virtue of winning the biggest races in the grandest of style is the star of these Olympics.

And perhaps the problem is that Bolt’s victory is surreal but understandable. I mean he ran fast and he won three gold medals, and we understand that. But Phelps, well Phelps won the moral equivalent of the 100m, 200m, 400m, 110m hurdles, 4x100m, 4x400m, 4x400m hurdles, and the long jump. That’s incomprehensible.  You just say it and want to go: no, can’t be done…

So yes Phelps is the champion, but Bolt is the star.

In defence of Jenn Stuczynki’s coach


ESPN – ESPN The Magazine

Proving, once again that journalists and television and ratings and the blogosphere make for an unholy alliance, I present the interview with Jenn in ESPN magazine. As a reminder to myself and the rest of us watching live events on television, that the truth is always more interesting that the story we think we saw…

The original tale, blogged by yours truly, was the following

After Stuczynski missed her final attempt at 4.90 meters, the camera followed her to Suhr’s spot in the stands. NBC captured the following remarks from a surly sounding Suhr, who was talking to her while text-messaging:

"(It’s) the same old same old. You’re losing take-off at the big heights. What are you gonna do. You gotta learn to keep take-off. You got9you got caught at that meat grinder. I did not—and I told 10 people—I did not want to be caught in a meat grinder between 65 and 80. You had to, though.You weren’t on, you know, your warm-up didn’t go well, you were 55, you got caught up in that meat grinder. What are you gonna do. What are you gonna do. You didn’t have the legs. Her legs are fresh. Hey, it’s a silver medal.
Not bad for someone who’s been pole vaulting for four years."

As Stuczynski turned around, she had a hollow, downcast look, as if she’d been upbraided.

So folks like myself were stunned. He had just ripped her to shreds…

But there is, as always, more to the story:

What they didn’t see, she said, was what prompted Suhr’s monologue. "I went over and I asked, What did I do wrong?" Stuczynski said. "And he said what he said, and it’s the truth. And I didn’t have a mike, and they didn’t hear it and they didn’t play it."

Moreover, she says, Suhr was texting his 13-year-old son in the States to inform him of the silver medal.

So what about the cold "meat-grinder" remarks? "When I started the meet, I was off, so I had to come in earlier, so I could get in a rhythm," she says.

Those early jumps came in a part of the meet where the most competitors are jumping from 4.70 to 4.85. "It’s the part of the meet that takes the longest, and we call it the meat grinder because it wears you out because you have to jump so many times. Because I was off, I had to jump those heights to ensure a silver medal."

But what about her reaction? Stuczynski explained that she’d had problems on takeoff at her previous meet in London. She suspected she’d repeated the same mistakes, and when Suhr confirmed it, she says, "I was discouraged with myself. It bothered me that I didn’t jump to my potential. It wasn’t anything he said. But people took that, and all of a sudden he’s a bad coach, and I need to find another coach."

And the downcast glare? "There were all these things on the ground that I didn’t want to trip over," she says, including the railway for NBC’s moving trackside camera.

Finally Jenn, defends her coach:

Stuczynski says Suhr did only what she expects him to do. "What he said to me is nothing that made me sad," she says. "I’m a 26-year-old professional athlete. I ask him to be fair coach. I don’t ask him to be a cheerleader. I want you to tell me when I jump good, and I want you to tell me when I jump bad` I think a lot of people don’t understand that this is my job. This is what I do for a living, and I have to be good at it, and I have to get better at it. And we celebrated it. But at that moment, I wanted to know why I didn’t make that bar."

When the Internet storm erupted, Stuczynski felt powerless, and a little hopeless. She says Suhr has received countless angry emails from people who think they’re protecting her. Meanwhile, her family and her coach’s family have heard comments about whether the coach went too far, and wondering why Stuczynski is putting up with a guy who couldn’t even say congratulations.

But she, her coach and her parents went out to dinner after the competition and celebrated. "And people don’t hear the things he says leading up to the meet, or the texts he sent me all week saying, We can do this, you know? That’s what’s so frustrating."

The quote, out of context, is still one of the funniest things I have ever seen, but in context is just a private conversation between two people.

The moral of the story, don’t let a camera catch you while  you are having a private conversation.

Usain “Lightning” Bolt

Jamaica's world record-setting double Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt, seen here, will look to complete a golden treble Friday in the men's 4x100-meter relay at the Bejing Games(AFP/Adrian Dennis)P

Poor Usain Ligthning Bolt, if it wasn’t for Michael Phelps, this would be his Olympics.Three shattered world records, three gold medals, and an obvious unparalleled expression of joy with victory.

The 100m sprint was the greatest 9.7 seconds in sports.

With 20 meters to go in the 100m, Usain chose to start celebrating his victory… and the world stopped and wondered why? And he answered, quite plainly, he didn’t care about the record, he just wanted to win. And of course the world said he was show-boating, but maybe, just maybe for him winning the race was the point, not setting some record.

And maybe he was as surprised as the rest of us with his victory. And maybe if we found ourselves 10m ahead of our competition in the greatest race on the planet, we too would want to celebrate our victory…

It was an insane sprint, an awesome sprint, an unbelievable sprint.

And in the 200m where apparently the record was more important,Usain didn’t let up until he cross the line, breaking an age old record by Michael Johnson.

And in the 4x100m, he was so determined to win and break the world record that he chased asafa powel around the track.

But Mr. Bolt, Phelps was there first, so your accomplishment is Phelpsian instead of Mr. Phelps’ accomplishment being Boltian …

If all else fails

So one of the more interesting(?) aspects of the Chines diving program is the monumental focus the Chinese diving program has.

The diver’s childhood is sacrificed on the altar of potential Olympic gold.

In America, that level of dedication is viewed with a certain dose of healthy doubt about whether the trade off is worthwhile.

But the reality is that the focus, the training and the dedication of the Chinese was creating a two tier diving ranking: The Chinese and everyone else.

The US team confronted with an inability to win anything in the last few Olympics has decided if you can not beat them join them.

So now we too have a sports academy where children go to try and be Olympic champions. Sacrificing their childhoods on the altar of a diving championship.

The children are home schooled, the parents are uprooted, everything is done in the name of victory.

And I don’t blame the American athletes. This is what it takes to win now that the Chinese have raised the bar in terms of training.

I just wish that an authoritarian state that had no concern for the lives of it’s citizens was not forcing the rest of us to be as heartless…

Worst Pep-talk to a surprise silver medalist ever

So the American pole vaulter, Jenn Stuczynski, has just won the silver medal. She runs to her coach to get his reaction.

He looks up, irritated because he was using his blackberry, and says:

The same old, same old your losing takeoff at the big heights

what are you going to do. you gotta learn to keep takeoff.

You got caught in that meat grinder, I told ten people, I did not want to get caught in that meat grinder

Between 65-80. You had to, though.  You weren’t on.

What are you going to do? What are you going to do? You didn’t have the legs, her legs are fresh

Hey it’s a silver medal, not bad for someone who has been pole vaulting for 4 years.

Looks at her, shrugs and goes back to using his blackberry

Announcer says:

Am I missing something Dwight, didn’t she just win a silver medal beaten only by the current world record holder? Where was the joy…

The tone of it was accusatory. Not appropriate.