Month: May 2016

MEMORIAL DAY 2016

 

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery
Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Saint Louis, Mo.

On this Memorial Day weekend 2016, a time when we honor those who sacrificed so that we might run free, we take note that Memorial Day observations are in decline, with fewer than 5 per cent of Americans typically attending a parade or visiting grave sites.  There may be many reasons for this including the dying off of The Greatest Generation, the men who fought in World War II, and whose families bore the burden of their dedication.  1800 WWII vets are dying every day.

But a corollary may be the make-up of our current, all-volunteer force, which consists of less than 0.5 percent of the overall American population, compared with more than 12 percent who served during World War II.

Just 16 years ago a Gallup poll showed that two-thirds of Americans knew exactly what Memorial Day was about.  Little over a decade later a 2011 survey found that 80 per cent of Americans confessed to having “little” or only “some” knowledge of the military holiday first known as Decoration Day.  When we further make note that Americans have increasingly lost confidence in any of the three branches of the government, perhaps it is time to ask, is this the America for which those many, many thousands gave their lives to protect and preserve? (more…)

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ARE WARRIORS PAYING FOR LATE SEASON SURGE?

Westbrook forcing Curry to play D
Westbrook forcing Curry to play D

Everyone is burying the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors after their game 4 loss to the OKC Thunder the other night as the teams prep for game five tonight in Oakland.

That 118-94 defeat on Tuesday was the first time all season that the Warriors had dropped back-to-back games, and puts them one loss away from elimination in the NBA’s western conference finals after a record-setting 73-9 regular season.

According to what sports fan Toya heard on talk radio, all the Warriors are is a bunch of three-point gunners. It’s the only thing they can do. So in the playoffs OKC has been able to shut them down by clamping down hard on Steph Curry, who has been off his regular season MVP form.

I have said this before but will re-emphasize it here. The makeup and chemistry of an NBA team is very tenuous. There is only one ball, but five players.  So it all boils down to how the unity of the five translates into putting the ball where it needs to be from their point of view against the defense of their opponents. That determines the fate of the team.

Bogut slowed by injury
Bogut slowed by injury

In terms of team chemistry, the thing I see overlooked is the health of the Warrior’s starting center Andrew Bogut. The 7-foot Australian is not playing up to par against the OKC, and while the team doesn’t talk about it, Bogut  still seems slowed by an adductor strain he suffered during game five in the western conference semifinals against Portland.  He is not him, and it shows. (more…)

OLYMPICS SHOULD ADOPT PARALYMPIC MODEL

  • The Island of Dr. MoreauMan, I’m telling you, I can’t wait for gene manipulation to get here. I mean, just so we can move on to something new.  You just can’t get away from it. Track and field has become so hopelessly twisted in its Gordian knot of lost honor and mistrust that it desperately needs a new focus.  Fortunately, the whole pig-man thing is about to come snorting over the horizon leading toward track’s own version of the The Island of Doctor Moreau.
  •   You may have read that researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are partnering with a private biotechnology company to develop organs from genetically-modified pigs to help meet the demand for human transplants.   As you might imagine, it’s just a matter of time before that research gets turned toward heart valve, liver function and enhanced hoof-feet hybrids.  Next thing you know, Nike will sue for patent infringement (as Alberto will have already started a hybrid program at Portland HQ).  Imagine the fun we’ll have with that in the coming years?
  • But for now, just when we thought the issue of hyperandrogenism and Caster Semenya was behind us, the Court of Arbitration for sport (CAS) has dragged it back into the lab once again.
  • Caster Semenya making it look easy in Rabat
    Caster Semenya making it look easy in Rabat

    The strapping South African 800-meter runner cruised to a 1:56.46 win in the Rabat (Morocco) Diamond League meeting this past weekend, after tripling in the South African nationals a month ago, pulling off wins in the 400, 800, and 1500 meters all on the same day.  And, as we were told by Ross Tucker in The Science of Sport blog, the 400 and 800 were scheduled just 50 minutes apart and the second lap of the her 1:58 800 dropped at sub-60 seconds!  Jeezus, Caster!  Could you at least make it look moderately difficult?  In Rabat you were holding back so much, even off a 56-point first lap, that it was like watching the Italian kid try to be inconspicuous in the Irish schoolyard.

    Last year the CAS ruled against the IAAF in the case of Indian sprinter Dutee Chand. In that ruling the court questioned the athletic advantage of naturally high levels of testosterone in women and therefore immediately suspended the practice of “hyperandrogenism regulation” by track and field’s governing body – which had previously forced Semenya off the track to lower her T-levels if she wanted to compete in women’s races.  That ruling allowed Semenya to return to her indomitable 2009 World Championship form,  high-T and all, and has her steaming toward Rio like a runaway freight train, one that promises more wreckage for the sport, with poor Caster strapped to the cow-catcher out front.

    While the CAS ruling was only temporary, if the IAAF cannot satisfy the court as to the advantages of naturally occurring high testosterone in women in the two-year window given, and we end up with no limit to functional high-T levels, then we might as well forget about women’s racing altogether. Just have one category, human being, and let the chips fall where they may (until the whole pig-man thing shows up and has us questioning species categorization).

    So, while hyperandrogenism is not a disability in any sense, and notwithstanding the CAS ruling, the Semenya eyeball test indicates that it does create a different level of ability when it is of the functional variety (not all naturally occurring high-T is functional to performance).  This is where the Paralympic Games could be utilized as a potential model.

  • The IPC has established 10 disability categories, including physical, visual, and intellectual impairment. There are eight different types of physical impairment alone, including impaired muscle power (spinal-cord injury, spina bifida or polio); impaired passive range of movement (one or more joints is reduced in a systematic way); loss of limb or limb deficiency, leg-length difference, short stature; Hypertonia; Ataxia, and Athetosis, which is generally characterized by unbalanced, involuntary movements and a difficulty maintaining a symmetrical posture (e.g. cerebral palsychoreoathetosis).

(more…)

WHY SPORT MATTERS

 

How hard is the effort, you might wonder? This picture tells the tale. Joanie remembers the feeling well.
How hard is the effort, you might wonder?

A race has as many reasons as it has entrants.  But at the front end, at the tip of the spear, a race is a life and death struggle, a zero-sum game of kill or be killed.

Perhaps that kind of all-or-nothing construct is too much for many, too much for most.  But for the true racer it is the mind-set required to summon the physical and psychological effort that trains for, attends and finally finds release in the caldron of competition.

In Stephen Crane’s classic Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage protagonist Henry Fleming’s meditation at the end of his first day of fighting, the day he had run from battle and deserted the “tattered soldier”, is transposed against his second day’s act of bravery. But that transposition only leads Henry to delude himself into thinking that “death is for others”, and “it was a deity laying about him with the bludgeon of correction.”

As in life, so in racing does the ‘bludgeon of correction’ swing wildly about, pitiless in its indifference to any man’s hopes and goals.  Who hasn’t experienced the feeling when lightness and lift suddenly transforms into lassitude and doubt?

It is the mature racer who approaches the line with the sure knowledge that moods and feelings will careen in madly fluctuating measure. It is that same experienced loper who advises us not to get too caught up in our highs, nor sink too deeply into our lows, for such are the fancies of the flights of men, those who first give their all, then fail just as grandly in the effort.

This existential understanding as experienced through the rough-and-tumble of sport affords each of us a precious insight: that it is unwise to assume a privileged position in this world, for each new day is a battle joined, each presenting its own challenges, grace and disappointments. But so, too, is each no more than a link in a much longer chain, one that enjoins, “what you do today has little merit beyond what you did yesterday, and what you must do again tomorrow.”

Such is the athlete’s refrain, for it forms the framework out of which the fully prepared competitor emerges, regardless the final result listed.

This is why sport matters in schools, my friends, because unlike words on a page, sport truly follows that oldest of writer’s commands to “show, don’t tell”.

END

RUNNING WITH FIDO

People love to run with their dogs. And why not?  Cats just look at you like you’re out of your mind. But dogs are like having a live-in training partner who is always amenable to your schedule.  On top of which the freedom of running brings us even closer to that most loyal of friends.  

But just like it takes some time for us to into good enough shape to enjoy the effort, Fido needs time, too, to develop an affection for distance running as we do it. Man Running With DogThat’s just it, dogs don’t decide to run like we do.  We have an agenda, whether it’s training to race or getting back into shape.  But dogs are only out there to be with us, because they’re not just our best friends, we’re their bestees, too.  Just being with us is awesome!  And we can never get enough of that!

But when we first get out the door and begin to warm up at an easy jog, most breeds instantly look around thinking, “Well, what are we chasing?”, “Where is it?”, and “Why are we going so damn slow?”

Then when we just keep moving at a single gear on a direct line, Spot can get thrown even more.   

“Dude, you’re blowing right by all these great smells. What are you, nuts?”

That’s how dogs run. Pace?  What pace?  Frolic! (more…)

REMEMBERING SAMMY WANJIRU FIVE YEARS AFTER

 

Wanjiru v. Kebede, Chicago 2010
Wanjiru v. Kebede, Chicago 2010

As might be expected in any nation with a talent pool as vast as theirs, Kenyans continue to debate the makeup of their 2016 Rio Olympic Men’s & Women’s Marathon squads. They also pray that the non-compliance ruling handed down last week by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) doesn’t derail their heroes from competing in Rio this August.  Yet even amidst those attention-grabbing headlines, we are sadly reminded that it was on this day in 2011 that Kenya lost its legendary 2008 Olympic Marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru, who died tragically when he fell from the second story balcony of his home in Nyahururu during a domestic dispute.

Wanjiru was only 24 years old at the time of his death, and still had room to grow as an athlete.  The following excerpt is taken from my blog the day after Wanjiru’s death.

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“I won’t offer any speculation except to suggest that youthful fame and fortune are never simply a single-edged blade carving happiness from a rough-hewn upbringing of need and want.  Over and again we have witnessed the tragic cuts that sudden wealth and corresponding sycophancy can lay open on those ill-prepared to parry their thrusts.  Sammy Wanjiru was a passionate racer, and evidently he carried that passion into his every day dealings to a calamitous, untimely end.

What I knew of the great champion came only from the vantage point of a reporter, one fortunate enough to be up close for what was his final marathon, and one of the greatest marathon performances ever, his victory in the 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. (more…)

THE DRIP, DRIP, DRIP OF SCANDAL

WADA Independent Commission Report 2015
WADA Independent Commission Report 2015

So on the same day that WADA unanimously declares Kenya non-compliant with its anti-doping code, thereby threatening the East African running juggernaut with exclusion from this summer’s Rio Olympics (along with Russia, which was also declared non-compliant last November) we also have word that  organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic bid were alleged to have made a “seven-figure payment” to an account controlled by the son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack, who, himself,  was arrested last year by French authorities on corruption and money laundering charges, over allegations he took payments for deferring sanctions against Russian drugs cheaters.  And the beat just goes on and on and on.

Sebastion Coe Rebuilding Trust
IAAF President Sebastian Coe (Getty Images)

I don’t know, maybe Sebastian Coe is the IAAF’s last best chance.  But these latest two bombshells make you wonder if anyone involved in this filthy sport can truly be the cleansing agent needed to disinfect the body politic?

And perhaps that reflects how bad the situation really is. Looking at the entirety of the WADA Independent Commission report, along with Commission chair Dick Pound’s subsequent public support for Seb Coe as new IAAF president, the only judgement one can make is that there seems to be little appetite for the kind of wholesale reconstruction that these reports suggest is necessary.  (more…)