HAPPY TUESDAY

The tree has been recycled, the ornaments put away.  Alabama ended the college football bowl season with an exclamation point while CBS announcer Brent Musburger has re-rolled his tongue into his mouth. And so at long last the holiday season is behind us, and the routines of everyday life have returned.

For some, gift-giving and receiving were the high points of the season past, while for many others it was the family get-togethers.  At the same time there is always an element of going-along-to-get-along about our holidays, an aspect of “well, I’ve got to do this, so let’s get on with it” as we trudge through the malls and sift through the internet offers. Not that the gifts don’t have meaning, it’s just there is an expectation to it all.

It’s the same around birthdays, anniversaries, or any other gift-giving times.  This is something I’m expected to do – we all are.  On reflection, I much prefer my late-father’s approach. (more…)

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WHEN SHOULD AN ATHLETE SAY NO?

A HOBBLED RG3
A HOBBLED RG3

Interesting that the discussion coming out of yesterday’s NFC Wildcard game between the Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks (24-14, Seattle) revolves around ‘Skins rookie QB Robert Griffin III’s decision to start, and then stay in the game after it became apparent to anyone with working optic nerves that he wasn’t the same RG3 who so captivated the NFL and the nation’s capital this season with his combination of lightning foot speed and accurate throwing arm.

Last year’s Heisman Trophy winner out of Baylor University didn’t even need to get hit to illustrate – quite painfully in the first quarter – that his injured right knee was not only not healed, but instead fully compromised, thereby robbing him of the very skill-set that made him such a potent threat.  Well, it was apparent to everyone, it seems, except Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan.

“Robert said to me, ‘Coach, there’s a difference between injuries and being hurt. I can guarantee I’m hurting right now, give me a chance to win this football game, because I guarantee I’m not injured.’,” Shanahan told Yahoo Sports. “That was enough for me.”

Regardless of where you come down on the “He shouldn’t have been playing or kept playing” continuum, what is also quite apparent is the vast difference in mentality between a team sport like football, where there is something beyond the self to play for – as muddled as that sometimes gets – and the sport of athletics which has reduced itself to the individual athlete representing nothing but him or herself. (more…)

NFL ANNOUNCER JUMPS TO TRACK REFERENCE

So I was watching yesterday’s Green Bay vs. Minnesota NFC Wild-Card game on NBC. In the second quarter, when the game was still close, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers connected with his third-year tight end Tom Crabtree on a delayed screen pass near the right sideline.  On the play Crabtree leapt over the first would-be Viking tackler who came in low to avoid contact with the 6’4”, 245 pound bruiser.  The play netted 10 yards, and elicited the following exchange between broadcasters Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels.

Al Michaels & Cris Collinsworth
Al Michaels & Cris Collinsworth

“Now we haven’t seen anybody flipped yet in that type of situation,” began the former wide-receiver Collinsworth, “but it’s a dangerous move to try for Crabtree.”

“He wants to be Edwin Moses or Renaldo Nehemiah,” chuckled Michaels.

The Packers went on to an easy 24-10 win to advance in this year’s NFL Playoffs.

But I sat there thinking, ‘I know Al Michaels is a track fan. In fact, he was the lead ABC track announcer for the 1984 Olympics. But is this the state of track and field in 2013, that even after an Olympic year when the USA totalled 29 medals we have to go back thirty years to make a track reference that the public will understand?’

Michaels didn’t toss around the names of current intermediate and high hurdle Olympic kings like Felix Sanchez or Aries Merritt. Can you imagine? And this is after Merritt had one of the greatest high hurdle seasons in history, culminating with his astonishing 12.80 world record, and New York-born, USC-educated Dominican Sanchez won his second Olympic gold medal to go along with two World Championships golds.  In other words, neither man was an unknown in the world of track & field (athletics).

Now if Al or Cris would have tossed out Usain Bolt’s name when Viking’s star running back Adrian Peterson carried the ball, that would’ve made sense, since Peterson has deluded himself into thinking he could beat Bolt in a sprint.  But think in terms of track’s penetration into the general sporting consciousness when the only names from track that spring to mind for a mainstream network commentator come from the 1980s.

Should it matter?

END

BECAUSE WE RACED TOGETHER

Two For the Road

Because we raced together, in climes both bright and gray,

Often finding pleasure, embracing pain that way,

We never thought it curious, as the distance fell hard afoot,

Why words were so superfluous, in telling a truth that put,

Meaning to that effort, or cause to announce as such,

The act was all we needed, any more would’ve been too much.

*

For it was all there in the motion, simple, stripped, and bare,

“Do this,” we thought, in tandem, “and the rest we could forebear.”

For the mantra of our breathing, the rhythm within our pace,

Gave lyric enough in cadence, to ruddy out our face,

And the simplicity of our purpose, the goal almost epicene,

To surmount the lower regions, in a regression toward the mean,

*

Left us free of outside agency, neither sinners nor of saints,

We’d entered through the looking glass, beyond our form’s constraints,

Where exertion in kind for distance, brought horizons to our eyes,

Like the couple in the garden, ‘fore the serpent sold his lies.

When all was still before us, and the skies so clear and clean,

That simple hope and virtue, could each, and both, be seen.

*

And yearning held its promise, that as youth we still regard,

As possible in the offing, that with age we tend discard.

Still toward them we rushed in union, eliciting in half-uttered sighs,

The concord in our choices, the redemption in these miles.

Hoping to render in effort, some measure that lent control,

As if ancient act or runic curse, could offset the relentless toll,

*

Of that staggering destination, that time that we all decry,

Whitman’s “wholesome relief, repose, content”, the tender by and by.

When all would come to rest, at last, mortal coil free,

When the heavens welcome us home again, stardust, you and me.

Thus no counterfeit joy deceived us, we knew there was a price to pay,

Yet with value in the recompense, we settled our debt each day.

*

Often with an interest earned, when our breathing so aligned,

Heartbeats overlapping, yours, and theirs, and mine.

Oh, these journeys are rarely filled, my friends, o’er land or on the road,

With paths without encumbrances, that giants once bestrode.

Where vision is often clouded, as blood is shunted through,

To solipsistic purposes, which blind or obscure what’s true.

*

But there’s no shame is in thus exposing, the limits we each revealed,

There were larger forces working, that helped let down our shields.

And reward and consolation, though appearing, at times, at odds,

Emerged in the final counting, but whimsies of the gods.

Yes, there are other ways of exploring, of seeing that ‘mortally intolerable truth’,

That while age may bear some wisdom, our capacity’s in our youth.

*

Thus, what I know is that along that border, where time and miles convened,

We’d discovered a leveling universe, that allowed us both to glean,

That because we raced together, in climes both bright and gray,

We’d cut a path that made us laugh, as we held the ole reaper at bay.

 End

SHOULD THE MARATHON CONTINUE AS A MEDAL SPORT?

Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich shocked himself, his nation, and the marathon world with his gold medal run at this year’s London Games.  His win over the superstar Kenyan team — two of whom, Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang, took home the minor medals  — and the inexperienced Ethiopian squad — all three of whom dropped out — made Uganda the 17th nation to have produced an Olympic Men’s Marathon champion since the Marathon was first introduced at inaugural modern Games in Athens 1896.

Though trained in Kenya, and from the larger Kalenjin community of nilotic ethnic speakers residing in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania — thus Stephen shares the Kiprotich surname with Kenya’s bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich — the surprising Ugandan victory also continued Kenya’s own Olympic Marathon frustrations.

While Ethiopia leads all nations with four Olympic Men’s Marathon titles, to date, only the late Sammy Wanjiru has mined gold for Kenya, that in Beijing 2008.  Notwithstanding the anomalous Kenyan Olympic performances again manifest in London, the nation’s overall dominance of the sport paced on unabated.

In 2011 Kenyan runners commanded the marathon like never before, notching the top 20 official times of the year, taking the top two spots at the World Championships, while representing 65 of the fastest 100 performances.  Now, as we complete the 2012 calendar we can see that their traditional East African rivals from Ethiopia returned fire these past 12 months, placing seven in the year’s top 10 performances — though Kenyans Geoffrey Mutai and Dennis Kimetto held down the top two places (2:04:15 & 2:04:16) from their pas-des-deux in Berlin.

A deeper dive into the 2012 marathon stats shows that the two East African juggernauts combined for 89% of the year’s fastest marathons, Kenya with 58, Ethiopia with 31.  In comparison the fastest American of the year, Dathan Ritzenhein, languished back in 69th position off his 2:07:47, ninth-place finish in Chicago in October, yet still making him the fourth fastest American in history.  Meb Keflezighi’s Olympic Trials victory in Houston in January, a PR of 2:09:08, pushed him to # 128 for the year, while Ryan Hall’s 2:09:30 in Houston nestled him back into 154th position world-wide. The top non-African born runner on the list was Poland’s Henryk Szost in position 59 off his 2:07:39 second-place finish in Otsu, Japan in March.

According to the IOC, a sport or discipline may be included in the Olympic program if the IOC determines that “it is widely practiced around the world, that is, the number of countries and continents that regularly compete in a given sport is the indicator of the sport’s prevalence”.  With millions of marathon finishers across the globe, there is no doubt the marathon is widely practiced.  What is in doubt is whether that practice is at all competitive anymore.

Therefore, with tongue ever so gently in cheek, I wonder whether the marathon deserves its inclusion on the Olympic calendar in ensuing years, or should it be consigned to the non-medal “Demonstration” category, notwithstanding the Kenyan futility.  After all, the Olympics has a long history of adding and subtracting sports. (more…)

NEWTOWN’S SANDY HOOK

*****

E Pluribus Unum

*****

Fear and folly in tandem come,

And in their sway we have often run,

From what’s true today to yesterday’s vision,

Though that which was is no more the mission.

*

So how long do we stand,

Blind,

As the evidence mounts?

How long do we sit,

Still,

Before the body counts?

*

Sowing and reaping the violence prone,

X-box, vampires, a society grown,

Increasingly assorted, beyond scope of a center,

No common cause, each citizen dissenter.

*

Yet innocence once ours,

at least so we believed,

E pluribus unum,

at birth thus conceived.

*

(more…)

HUNG UP ON TIME – 2012 Honolulu Marathon

Aerial View of Hawaii Kai
Aerial View of Hawaii Kai

Yesterday’s 40th Honolulu Marathon was a breath of fresh air.  In fact, it was many, many breaths of fresh trade-wind-blown air as times for the 26.2 mile loop course out to Hawaii Kai over Diamond Head and back was severely slowed by the strong trade winds blowing out along Kalanianaole Highway from miles 11-16. In the end, any chance for an event record (2:11:12, 2004) was swept away as this marathon turned into what has been lost in the sport in recent years, a pure foot-race rather than a paced time-trial.

While speculation was rife all week whether Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang, the Olympic bronze medallist and second fastest man in history, could better Jimmy Muindi’s long-standing mark, it came down to whether Kipsang could put away his Ethiopian rival Markos Geneti, the Los Angeles Marathon record holder and 2:04 man from Dubai 2012.

Though overall time ceased to be the issue, it required a full-blooded 4:39 partially upgrade 23rd mile for Kipsang to dispatch Geneti, though the winning time of 2:12:31 was only the ninth-fastest time in Honolulu Marathon history, and a full 8:49 slower than Kipsang’s 2:03:42 PR from Frankfurt 2011.  So, are we to look at his win in Honolulu as a failure?  He did run the fastest second half in Honolulu history, 65:31.

The point here is the sport has become so hung up on time that we have all but eliminated personality-driven competition from the minds of a constantly dwindling fan base.  We even refer to our race fields as filled with Kenyans or Ethiopians, as if there were no distinctions among these men and women of neighboring cultures.

It has been a sad, tiresome, and in the final analysis debilitating focus which has allowed the sport to be subsumed by  the increasing emphasis on charity fund-raising.  Odd, too, because it was competition and personalities which first elevated road racing to public attention via the Frank Shorter versus Bill Rodgers rivalry. (more…)