BACK TO PACING AS USUAL

Running fast behind pacers is a thoughtless act. You know what’s coming — in fact, it’s been negotiated — and you can either do it or you can’t. But there is no thought required as there is in a pure racing format like the Olympic Games.

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Matthew Centrowitz and Nick Willis celebrate Olympic glory

One of the many highlights of the Rio Games was Matthew Centrowitz’s stirring front-running win in the men’s 1500 meter final. Yet, historic as it was — first American to take that title since 1908– there are some who question the standard of that gold medal run, because the 3:50 winning time was the slowest in the Olympic 1500 since 1932.

Not withstanding the Olympic motto, “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, such time-based considerations miss the entire point of the endeavor, and help define what’s missing in the staging and presentation of the sport in general. Continue reading

OLYMPICS: OUR COMMON BOND

The divisions in this world are profound and long standing. And the hope to surmount them, whether through politics or force of arms, is quixotic at best given both historical precedence and human nature. Yet that very hope is what makes the Olympics unique, notwithstanding its own human frailties and organizational disappointments.

On its fields of play we are witness to a society of strivers quilted of many colors sewn together with a common thread, the quest for excellence and an originating creed espousing the importance of being over winning.

Though it is a patchwork that is in constant need of mending, it has survived for more than a century building on a frame of inclusion, which is no mean feat in itself. Continue reading

YOU GOTTA BELIEVE!

Sport, like life, is a series of self-fulfilling prophecies, for what you think you can do sets the stage for the reenactment of the belief in performance. As such, championships are first won in the mind before coming to life via blood, breath, and bone.

It’s not like 2016 Olympic Women’s Marathon champion Jemima Sumgong of Kenya hadn’t been a winner before. In fact, she began her marathon career with the win at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Las Vegas in 2006 (2:35:22). But though she also took victories in Castellon, Spain in 2011 and again in Rotterdam 2013, her Abbott World Marathon Majors record was that of a solid contender, but not a champion. Not until the spring of this year did she mark herself as a medal favorite for Rio when she stood atop the podium at the Virgin London Marathon, the de facto Olympic prelim. Continue reading

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC?

So far in this first week of the 2016 Rio Olympics they’ve raised the red, white and blue of the American flag more than any other. But by the end of the Games it may well be that the red flag of WHAT!??! could flutter most high and most often.

It’s getting harder and harder trying to keep track of the Olympic eye rolls. The minute you try to wrap your head around one thing another one pops up to replace it. Just when the focus was on the Kenyan official attempting to peddle advanced warnings on drug testing, we learn he got a row mate on the flight back to Nairobi when another Kenyan coach got booted for taking a random drug test under the name of 800 meter man Ferguson Rotich.

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But that was all off the field, along with the dirty green water in the Olympic diving pool. Now we’ve got Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia smashing the women’s world record in the 10,000 meters by 14 seconds (29:17.45) on day one in the Olympic stadium without as much as a furrowed brow or reliance on a turtle-based concoction of any sort.

The 10,000 world record, we recall, was set in 1993 by the Chinese runner Wang Junxia, a member of Coach Ma Junren’s Army who claimed his runners were fueled by turtle blood and caterpillar fungus until Wang later copped to being doped.

John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful asked in the bright summer of 1965, “Do You Believe in Magic?” Well, actually I did then, but I don’t now. And how could you? Continue reading

OLYMPICS REFLECTING LARGER FISSURES

“Let’s get to the root cause, and fix it.”

This is both the message and plea we are hearing from far and wide, whether in talking about the drug and corruption issues splitting the Olympic movement, or in dealing with the civil strife and terrorist strikes rumbling through this fateful U.S. presidential season.

While issues like performance-enhancing drugs and the corruption of officials overseeing sport are deeply troubling in their own sphere, they are only cracks along the larger, more serious fault lines unsettling the world’s political stability. Today, it seems as if the bonds of civil union have fully given way to the economic and political forces of anger and impersonal retribution. Continue reading

RIO, OH MIO!

It’s still early, but the world is beginning to descend into Rio for these much maligned 2016 Olympic Games.  Soon the athletes and competition will come to the fore, but there is so much more than sport making news leading in.  In fact, people aren’t talking about sport as much as they are about court.

Now we see that an ad hoc division of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has already set up in Rio to deal with any potential drug violations and appeals as the Games go on, and even impose temporary sanctions if needed. Talk about your fast-track! Get ‘em up, get ‘em out, just like a good starter. Then there’s the whole Russian athlete banishment issue after the IOC punted responsibility for determining who can compete and who can’t back to the individual sports’ federations just two weeks before the opening ceremonies.

I’m telling you, these Rio Olympics are already about as messy as Guanabara Bay, which some water-based eventers will have to compete in or on – and those ain’t Baby Ruth candy bars floating around in there, either.  But still, they ought to try to make some lemonade out of all these lemons, don’t you think – though, best check where the water comes from first.

Judge Judy

Judge Judy

Point is, if this CAS court thing is going to be that big a deal, why not capitalize? The IOC ought to go out and get Judge Judy and make a show out of it. She’d generate good ratings, we know that.  Sure, she’d be costly, but the IOC would make money, too. And isn’t that their modern Olympic ideal?

I don’t know, maybe we’re looking at this whole Rio Olympic drug kerfuffle all wrong.  Forget about banning athletes. Those two and four-year bans have proven useless, anyway.  They just give people a little break for training.  But since we already have a hot mess in Rio, why not use it to its best advantage?

Here’s a plan.  Rather than keeping folks out, make sure that all past offenders and suspected drug cheats of the world – plus all the corrupt officials who voted to put the games into that petri dish in the first place – are ushered into Rio with wide smiles and open arms.  But then once they get down there, no mosquito netting, no deet protection, no condoms, no ground transportation, no air-conditioning. And make sure they bathe in that rancid bay and generally let them enjoy the hospitality of their choice for 17 whole days.   Continue reading

NO BAN, NO JUSTICE

Leaking pipes, electrical problems and stopped up toilets found at the Rio Olympic athletes village by early arriving Aussies seem a perfect metaphor for the state of the Olympic movement in the summer of 2016. Today, just two weeks before the Games are scheduled to begin, the International Olympic Committee took the cowards way out in dealing with the Russian state-supported doping scandal by deciding not to issue a blanket ban on the entire Russian Olympic team.

“We had to balance the collective responsibility and the individual justice to which every human being and athlete is entitled to,” said IOC President Thomas Bach.

The IOC pronouncement was made despite a Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling last week upholding the IAAF ban on the Russian track and field team, which the IOC said they would use as a guideline in their larger decision. 

Thus, rather than proof of a state-supported doping program across a wide spectrum of both winter and summer Olympic sports leading to serious consequences, the IOC went all wobbly in their moment of crisis management. Instead of issuing a ban themselves, the IOC said it will leave the decision up to the individual sports federations, while at the same time placing a thumb on the scales by declaring the “presumption of innocence” cannot be applied to Russian athletes in any of the 28 Summer Olympics sports.

This muddled, middle-ground decision seems intended specifically to assuage Russian President Vladimir Putin who had intimated repercussions if a total ban was handed down.  It also calms the IOC’s international sponsors for whom scandal is the ultimate deal breaker. By pushing the responsibility down to the individual sports’ federations, the IOC is using Pilate’s sink to wash its hands of any political responsibility and potential retribution.   Continue reading