Tag: Usain Bolt

WOMEN RACING WOMEN. NOT SO FAST

It all used to be so simple.  Then again, it all used to be pretty screwed up, too.  But in today’s charged political climate, where folks can be as sensitive as a hemorrhoidal pole-sitter, the politics of gender and self-identification remain fraught with — what did I just read today, that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will raise their baby as “gender-fluid”? Gender-fluid?  Let’s see how that affects the Olympic schedule in 2044.

And so after a weeks worth of testimony at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland, the case against the IAAF for requiring reduced testosterone levels in so-called hyperandrogenic athletes – or women runners with “differences of sexual development” (DSD) – now awaits a decision by a three-person panel on or before March 26th. 

Caster Semenya in Doha 2016
(Andrew McClanahan/PhotoRun)

The case against the proposed IAAF ruling, brought by double Olympic 800-meter champion Caster Semenya of South Africa, is not as simple as restricting performance-enhancing drug use. In fact, in what seems a massive irony, the IAAF is looking to sanction performancerestricting drug use to reduce the testosterone levels of certain female athletes, which begs the question, why not do the same for performance-enhancing drug use, if the point is to guarantee a level playing field? And how level is level? And how fluid is fluid? And have we stepped upon that old slippery slope?

Let’s begin here. The whole purpose of a competition is to discover through the intricate calculus of talent, training, and tactics how one athlete gets to the finish line ahead of all others. It is the ineffable nature of that calculus that makes the sport intriguing. Take away the unknowable, replace it with certainty, and you’ve essentially eliminated the game.

Why don’t women just compete against men?  Because we would know the result before the start.

I went grocery shopping with the wife yesterday and she was lamenting how heavy the bags were as she handed them to me from the cart to put in the trunk.

“You’re older than I am and I work out with weights in the gym,” she said  “But you only have to use one hand to lift the bags while I have to use two. It’s not fair.”

There it is. I have testosterone coursing through my system at a level she doesn’t, and testosterone is the separating agent that distinguishes a man’s strength and power advantage over a woman’s – after boys and girls compete on an equal basis before the onset of puberty. The IAAF suggests the way to make things right in the middle distance races from 400m to 1500m is to reduce that hormonal advantage certain women have over others. Semenya and her advocates suggest otherwise. (more…)

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HEY, USAIN

Usain’s team Stromsgodset lost 1-0 

In this year, with no Olympics or World Championships on the calendar, athletics is reshuffling its deck seeking the new face-of-the-sport to replace Usain Bolt who retired last year as the world record holder in both the 100 and 200 meters.

Retirement finds the Jamaican superstar sprinter continuing his long sought dream to play pro futbol, stating in 2016 that his dream was to play for Manchester United. Last month the 31 year-old Jamaican played 20 minutes for Norwegian team Stromsgodset in a friendly against Norway U19s.

But could there be something more that Usain Bolt could do for his old sport of athletics with his outsized persona and abundant free time after his futbol itch has even scratched? (more…)

TIME TO GET UP!

People wonder where the next Steve Prefontaine is, that runner who can both race with charismatic elan while simultaneously challenging the status quo to the point where he/she draws a whole new category of fans into the game.

Pre died 42 years ago on Memorial Day weekend, and time has worked its magic, as it always does. Yes, Pre was special, but even Usain Bolt – who’s been exponentially more successful than Steve ever was – hasn’t been able to lift the sport to a realm it never reached in any previous epoch. Guess what?  Ain’t gonna happen. Know why?  Cause running isn’t that kind of sport. Wasn’t then. Isn’t now.

Once you get beyond the mile, running doesn’t pay off close scrutiny unless you are a hard-core practitioner yourself.  Distance running is a nuanced sport that builds dramatic tension, but only when the stakes are high. But since the stakes are almost never high – maybe twice  every four years, or at the Breaking2 Project  – there is no compelling drama in the intervening period unless you’re a die-hard.

The sports that are dramatic are episodic, sh*t happens every thirty seconds, like a pitch, a play, or a shot.  And those mini-dramas eventually lead to a denouement and satisfying dramatic conclusion, i.e. somebody wins the championship, like either the Penguins or Predators in the NHL Stanley Cup Finals ( Pittsburgh up 2-0), or tonight’s opening of the NBA Finals, Cavs v. Warriors.

Running comes to one conclusion each in a hundred different places after many minutes (even hours) of soporific sameness. That was a hard enough sell when the only other sports were horse racing and wife brow-beating, you know, when leisure time was a fantasy.  Today, the competition is stiffer than ever, and running’s presentation is sealed in amber.

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I was at a Target store yesterday, and a crew from the local NBC affiliate came up to me and the wife and said they were doing a story on whether schools should start later than they do. The premise being cause kids are not getting enough sleep they can’t retain what they’re being taught.

I looked it up.  The National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) shows that average start time for the 39,700 public  middle and high schools in America is 8:03 a.m.  In 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urged middle and high schools to modify start times to enable students to get adequate sleep by starting no sooner than 8:30 a.m.

How about go to bed earlier? There, now you got enough sleep.  Problem solved.

When did parents give up being in charge of their kids? I respected my parents, was afraid of them, too, with good reason, teachers, yeah, them too.  Why? There were consequences to non-compliance. That had a tendency to grab your attention. And what is government anyway but forced compliance? Do whatever you want until you get on the wrong side of the law.  Then see how it works out for you.

For a very short time I used to be a schoolteacher. Back then it was the adults (parents and teachers) in league against the kids, because we knew better. Screw up in school and you’d be in even more trouble at home. Today, it seems like the parents and kids occupy a united front against the educators, because evidently nobody knows better.

We had to go to bed at 8 o’clock when we were kids. Didn’t want to. Wanted to stay up and watch The Untouchables and Sea Hunt. But we went to bed against our will because parents looked at us. Who’s callin’ the shots here?  What lessons are really being taught?

But for some reason when every American adult of certain learning has the stunted attention span of the President of the United States, good effin’ luck with delayed gratification, discomfort, and doing stuff you don’t want to do – like going through with a deal you made with the rest of the world.

That’s why running doesn’t resonate, and never will. It’s the sporting equivalent of going to bed early to be ready for training tomorrow morning.  Think Pre ever told Bill Bowerman to move practice back so he could sleep in after staying up late?

END

ON MAKING ASSUMPTIONS, WHO’S CLEAN, WHO’S NOT

Watching Bill Burr‘s hysterical bit on the Conan O’Brien show four years ago when he dissected Oprah‘s big reveal interview with Lance Armstrong – during which the disgraced Tour de France cyclist finally copped to the drug use that everyone had suspected for years – it dawned on me, if Lance was always assumed to be guilty though he passed every drug test, why hasn’t the public made the same assumption about the biggest names in athletics?  Or maybe they have.

I’m not suggesting anything,  just wondering out loud how the public mind works.  (Really,  this is just an excuse to post  Bill Burr’s take on Oprah and Lance, which is funny and insightful at the same time, no easy task.)

So let’s look at the situation with athletics, especially in light of German ARD TV‘s recent investigation alleging the IOC covered up positive Jamaican test results from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing where the sprint juggernaut won eleven medals.

First, both cycling and athletics have been awash in performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) for years, to the gills.  And while people all around them get popped, the top guy who produces historic performances continues to sail along testing clean while whooping all the dirty boys.

That was the glory for Lance, right, how the one clean guy who had overcome cancer was able to beat all the drugged up guys. Isn’t that Usain Bolt, minus the cancer?  Or is the difference in public outlook simply a matter of personality? (more…)

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROMOTING AND DIRECTING

Interest in this Friday’s Standard Charter Dubai Marathon continues to mount, though it has little to do with competition. Instead, the focus is almost entirely centered on one man, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, whose stated goal is to break the marathon world record set in Berlin 2014 by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya at 2:02:57.  While the marathon record is almost always the object at the annual BMW Berlin Marathon, where the last six men’s records have been run, the sport rarely finds athletes willing to boldly predict their intentions with a gaudy Trump-like flourish. Not sure if it’s chicken or egg, whether the unpredictability of the marathon itself or the nature of the men and women who ply their trade in that game tend to deliver an endless series of “Only God knows” answers to “how do you think you’ll do?” questions.  (Maybe it’s just bad questions, too). 

In any case, building fan interest under such circumstances has become increasingly difficult in a more crowded sports landscape that features more and more charismatic characters with Facebook Live accounts, tattoo tapestries, and multi-million dollar prize purses.  Even when the top first prize in marathoning is Dubai’s $200,000, it doesn’t break through to the general public as having relative importance in the greater realm of pro sports.  And if you don’t have an Olympic gold medal or a World Championship on the line, what else do you have to generate interest other than money?

But fan interest, like the stock market, is an iffy proposition. Hard to read, hard to presume or presage.  Yet there are some who are better than others at gauging what might pique the public interest. 

Promotion Game
Promotion Game

“We like making fights people are interested in,” UFC president Dana White told Colin Cowherd on his Friday, Jan. 13 show in response to the public interest in a possible Floyd Mayweather v Conor McGregor match between the undefeated boxer and the current mixed martial arts fan fave. “We like putting on entertainment events, whatever.  As long as the people who buy the pay-per-view or bought the tickets are excited about what happened that night, how do you lose?”

That’s the attitude a showman has, the desire to please the paying customer. The question I have is where are those characters in the running game?  Because there is a big difference between a meet director and a meet promoter.  (more…)

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. (more…)

THE INNER SANCTUM OF PURPOSEFUL EFFORT

“War is hell” is a cliche as old as conflict itself. Yet counter-intuitive as it may seem to those who only view it from a distance, many a veteran yearns for that hell once they have returned to the heaven they thought they left back home. Not because they reveled in the danger and adrenaline of the battlefield, or discovered glory in the killing of the enemy. Rather, it was the camaraderie, the brother/sisterhood, the all-in-it-together, none-to-tease-out quality of their service they missed.

Athletics lends itself to that quality of bonding, too. You can see it in the nervous shaking out of muscles as athletes settle into their starting blocks, in the deep anxious breaths before they are called to the set position, and then in the post-race touching of hands as competitors acknowledge the realm from which they have just returned, the inner sanctum of purposeful effort. (more…)