During the medals ceremony for the 200 meter race the 1968 Olympics, gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos, both standing shoeless on the podium, each raised one black-gloved fist in the air during the playing of the US national anthem as a gesture in support of the fight of better treatment of African Americans in the US. It was an historic moment immortalized in photos like the one above.
Norman was a white man from Australia, a country that had strict apartheid laws, almost as strict as South Africa. There was tension and protests in the streets of Australia following heavy restrictions on non-white immigration and discriminatory laws against aboriginal people, some of which consisted of forced adoptions of native children to white families.
The two Americans had asked Norman if he believed in human rights. Norman said he did. They asked him if he believed in God, and he, who had been in the Salvation Army, said he believed strongly in God. "We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat, and he said "I'll stand with you" -- remembers John Carlos -- "I expected to see fear in Norman's eyes, but instead we saw love."
Update: In 2011, Democracy Now! interviewed Carlos about the salute and the aftermath. He was joined by sportwriter Dave Zirin and the pair told a story about why Norman didn't want to be represented alongside Carlos and Smith with a statue on the San Jose State campus:
DAVE ZIRIN: OK, just checking. Well, they made the decision to make this amazing work of art, these statues on campus. And they were just going to have Tommie Smith and John Carlos, with a blank space where Peter Norman stood. And when John heard about that, he said, "Oh, no, no. I don't want to be a part of this. And I don't even want this statue if Peter Norman's not going to be on it." And the people at San Jose State said, "Well, Peter said he didn't want to be on it." And John said, "OK, let's go to the president's office and get him on the phone." So they called Peter Norman from the president's office at San Jose State, and sure enough, they got Peter on the phone. I believe Peter said-what did he say? "Blimey, John"? What did he say?
JOHN CARLOS: Yeah, "Blimey, John. You're calling me with these blimey questions here?" And I said to him, I said, "Pete, I have a concern, man. What's this about you don't want to have your statue there? What, are you backing away from me? Are you ashamed of us?" And he laughed, and he said, "No, John." He said-you know, the deep thing is, he said, "Man, I didn't do what you guys did." He said, "But I was there in heart and soul to support what you did. I feel it's only fair that you guys go on and have your statues built there, and I would like to have a blank spot there and have a commemorative plaque stating that I was in that spot. But anyone that comes thereafter from around the world and going to San Jose State that support the movement, what you guys had in '68, they could stand in my spot and take the picture." And I think that's the largest thing any man would ever do. And as I said, I don't think that my co-partner, my co-heart, Tommie Smith, would have done what Peter Norman done in that regards. He was just a tremendous individual.
In the 100m dash at this year's Olympics, Andre De Grasse finished third behind Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin with a time of 9.91 seconds. Jesse Owens, running on a cinder track with heavier, stiffer leather shoes, won the gold at the 1936 Olympics with a time of 10.3 seconds. CBC took De Grasse to a dirt track, gave him a replica pair of Owens' shoes, and timed him. I won't give away the result, but Owens looks pretty good in comparison. As David Epstein said in his TED talk, perhaps technology is responsible for much of the improvement of athletic achievement:
Consider that Usain Bolt started by propelling himself out of blocks down a specially fabricated carpet designed to allow him to travel as fast as humanly possible. Jesse Owens, on the other hand, ran on cinders, the ash from burnt wood, and that soft surface stole far more energy from his legs as he ran. Rather than blocks, Jesse Owens had a gardening trowel that he had to use to dig holes in the cinders to start from. Biomechanical analysis of the speed of Owens' joints shows that had been running on the same surface as Bolt, he wouldn't have been 14 feet behind, he would have been within one stride.
In De Grasse's defense, he was running on dirt, not cinders and didn't have much of a chance to train on the surface or with the shoes. But still.
After the race, track and field aficionados questioned her tactics. The BBC's David Ornstein said it appeared that Semenya "had more left in the tank." His story quoted BBC commentator Kelly Holmes, who won this event in the 2004 Olympics, suggesting that Semenya hadn't made her best effort: "She looked very strong, she didn't look like she went up a gear, she wasn't grimacing at all. I don't know if her head was in it, when she crossed the line she didn't look affected." Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden tweeted that Semenya "seemed oddly disengaged most of race and not tired at end."
I watched the race and Semenya's finish was odd...she made her move super-late and was moving at a tremendous pace when she crossed the line. Had she worked her way up to the front before the final turn, she may have beaten the field by several lengths.
Perhaps there is nothing to her performance other than that she runs a more even pace than her rivals.
A comparison between her semi-final and this race is interesting in this regard. In that semi, she went through 400m in just over 58 seconds, 600m in about 1:28 and then closed the final 200m in 29.5s, looking like she had something in reserve.
Tonight, she went through 400m in 57.69s, then through 600m in about 1:27.1, and then closed in a touch over 30 seconds. My point is, her performance in the final was slightly faster at every stage than the semi, until she closed slower over the final 200m. To finish SLOWER than she did in the semi implies that she has little reserve and that she is closer to the limit than she looks. She wasn't actually that fast over the final 200m, it's just that everyone else was very slow!
A week later the three-day decathlon competition began in a pouring rain. Thorpe opened the event by splashing down the track in the 100-meter dash in 11.2 seconds-a time not equaled at the Olympics until 1948.
On the second day, Thorpe's shoes were missing. Warner hastily put together a mismatched pair in time for the high jump, which Thorpe won. Later that afternoon came one of his favorite events, the 110-meter hurdles. Thorpe blistered the track in 15.6 seconds, again quicker than Bob Mathias would run it in '48.
On the final day of competition, Thorpe placed third and fourth in the events in which he was most inexperienced, the pole vault and javelin. Then came the very last event, the 1,500-meter run. The metric mile was a leg-burning monster that came after nine other events over two days. And he was still in mismatched shoes.
Thorpe left cinders in the faces of his competitors. He ran it in 4 minutes 40.1 seconds. Faster than anyone in 1948. Faster than anyone in 1952. Faster than anyone in 1960 -- when he would have beaten Rafer Johnson by nine seconds. No Olympic decathlete, in fact, could beat Thorpe's time until 1972. As Neely Tucker of the Washington Post pointed out, even today's reigning gold medalist in the decathlon, Bryan Clay, would beat Thorpe by only a second.
Update: I misstated what the Smithsonian article actually said about Thorpe's official status according to the IOC. Here's what the article says:
It's commonly believed that Thorpe at last received Olympic justice in October of 1982 when the IOC bowed to years of public pressure and delivered two replica medals to his family, announcing, "The name of James Thorpe will be added to the list of athletes who were crowned Olympic champions at the 1912 Games." What's less commonly known is that the IOC appended this small, mean sentence: "However, the official report for these Games will not be modified."
In other words, the IOC refused even to acknowledge Thorpe's results in the 15 events he competed in. To this day the Olympic record does not mention them. The IOC also refused to demote Wieslander and the other runners-up from their elevated medal status. Wieslander's results stand as the official winning tally. Thorpe was merely a co-champion, with no numerical evidence of his overwhelming superiority. This is no small thing. It made Thorpe an asterisk, not a champion. It was lip service, not restitution.
Thorpe's family got his medals and is listed on the Olypmic web site. But as the article says, it does nothing to recognize just how dominant Thorpe was in the decathalon and pentathalon. In the decathalon, Thorpe led from the second event on and beat his nearest competitor Hugo Wieslander by almost 700 points. (For his part, Wieslander refused to accept the gold medal retroactively awarded to him because of Thorpe's disqualification.) His victory in the pentathlon was even more lopsided...in an event where fewer points are better, the second-place competitor earned three times as many points as Thorpe. (thx, gary)
Nate Jones was disappointed about how women's Olympic beach volleyball has been photographed at the Olympics so he decided to show us what other sports look like through the lens of women's Olympic beach volleyball photographer's lens. The results are hilarious.
The International Olympic Committee does not keep records on the number of pregnant athletes, but a search of news reports suggests that only three other pregnant women have competed in the Olympics, all of them in the Winter Games. And Nur Suryani looks likely to set the record for the most heavily pregnant competitor in Olympic history.
Shooting may be less strenuous on a pregnant body than many other sports, but it is also a sport in which fortunes can hinge on fractions of millimeters, with breathing, balance and concentration considered paramount.
Nur Suryani has a solution when she steps onto the rifle range in London: "I will talk to her, say, 'Mum is going to shoot just for a while. Can you just be calm?"'
It was precisely a year ago that the Japanese women's soccer team won the World Cup, beating the United States in the final and giving a boost to the spirits of a nation that had been battered by an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear disaster.
But when they flew to Europe on Sunday along with the men's team, the women were in coach seats while the men were up in business class. The Japanese Football Association said the teams had left Tokyo together on the same Japan Airlines flight.
"I guess it should have been the other way around," Homare Sawa, the leading player on the women's team, told Japanese reporters this week. "Even just in terms of age, we are senior."
And don't even get started on Saudi Arabia and many other Middle Eastern countries. Recent "progress" aside, these countries are still sickeningly misogynistic regarding athletics.
Jesse Owens' medal-winning exploits against the Aryan backdrop of the 1936 Olympics are well known, but I had never heard the story of his friendship with his German rival in the long jump. Owens explained in a 1960 Reader's Digest piece:
Walking a few yards from the pit, I kicked disgustedly at the dirt. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to look into the friendly blue eyes of the tall German broad jumper. He had easily qualified for the finals on his first attempt. He offered me a firm handshake.
"Jesse Owens, I'm Luz Long. I don't think we've met." He spoke English well, though with a German twist to it.
"Glad to meet you," I said. Then, trying to hide my nervousness, I added, "How are you?"
"I'm fine. The question is: How are you?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Something must be eating you," he said-proud the way foreigners are when they've mastered a bit of American slang. "You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed."
"Believe me, I know it," I told him -- and it felt good to say that to someone.
Chuck started Michael and Magic every game and then rotated the other three. Pippen would start one game, Mullin would start the next. Robinson and Ewing would alternate; Malone and Barkley would alternate. He was a master at managing. But in the second game against Croatia, there was never any doubt: He was putting Pippen on Toni Kukoc [who had just been drafted by the Bulls and had been offered a contract for more money than his future teammate]. Pippen and Jordan were tired of hearing about how great Kukoc was, because they were winning NBA championships.
You ever watch a lion or a leopard or a cheetah pouncing on their prey? We had to get Michael and Scottie out of the locker room, because they was damn near pulling straws to see who guarded him. Kukoc had no idea.
No actual duels were fought, alas. Rather, contestants shot at a dummy dressed in a frock coat. Shooting events tend to be rather dull to watch, but they would have a chance with creative thinking like this.
The Olympic Games used to include competitions in painting, sculpture, literature, architecture, and music.
From 1912 to 1948 rules of the art competition varied, but the core of the rules remained the same. All of the entered works had to be inspired by sport, and had to be original (that is, not be published before the competition). Like in the athletic events at the Olympics, gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded to the highest ranked artists, although not all medals were awarded in each competition. On a few occasions, in fact, no medals were presented at all.
This was the second modern running of the marathon; the first was a pre-Olympic qualifying race held a month before. In the Olympic race, seventeen competitors started the race and only about half finished. The winning time was just under three hours and the third place finisher was disqualified for covering "part of the course by carriage". I would also not be surprised if the three fellows in the photo above stopped off for a coffee and some painting along the way.
His forecast model predicts a country's Olympic performance using per-capita income (the economic output per person), the nation's population, its political structure, its climate and the home-field advantage for hosting the Games or living nearby. "It's just pure economics," Johnson says. "I know nothing about the athletes. And even if I did, I didn't include it."
For the upcoming 2010 games in Vancouver, Johnson predicts that Canada, the US, Norway, Austria, and Sweden will end up with the most medals. (thx, brandon)
Participants compete in teams of three, and try to throw a ball that has bells embedded in it, into the opponents' goal. They must use the sound of the bell to judge the position and movement of the ball. Games consist of two 10 minute halves. Blindfolds allow partially sighted players to compete on an equal footing with blind players.
Some physicists have worked out what Usain Bolt's time in the 100 meters in Beijing would have been if he hadn't started celebrating before the finish line: 9.55 seconds. The original paper is here. I tried doing this the day after the race but even the HD footage wasn't good enough to see the tick marks on the track and I didn't want to mess around with all the angles. (via justin blanton)
James Powderly, New Yorker and founder of the Graffiti Research Lab, was one of several Americans detained in China earlier this month for attempting to display protest messages related to Tibet during the Olympics. After 6 days in custody, he was released and sent back to the US. He's given a few interviews about his experience, all really interesting. From The Brooklyn Paper:
After more than a day of continuous questioning, cops drove the artists and activists - who assumed they were headed to the airport for deportation- to a Beijing jail, where they were stripped, photographed, screened, separated from each other, and placed in cells with other prisoners. Powderly joined 11 other prisoners in a cell with only eight beds, no potable water, and bright lights that illuminated the tiny room 24-hours a day to keep the detainees from sleeping.
Would you say the interrogations were torture? Well, I think probably, a lot of people might disagree, even some of my other detainees might feel like what they received wasn't torture. And relative to what someone might receive on a daily basis at a place like Gitmo it certainly is not particularly harsh. It's kind of like being a little bit pregnant, we were a little bit tortured. We were strapped into chairs in uncomfortable positions, we were put into cages with blood on the floor and told we would never live, we were sleep deprived the entire time. There was an interrogation every night and they kept us up all day. They never turned the lights off in the cells. We were fed food that was inedible, we were not given potable water. Any time you threaten and take the numbers of family members and take down home addresses, there's an element of mental torture there. There's physical torture in the form of us having to sit in uncomfortable positions all day long and spending the night strapped to a metal chair inside of a cage. We all have cuts and bruises from that, and some of my peers were beaten up a little bit.
Powderly also stated that before he left, $2000 was extracted from his bank account by the Chinese as a fee for his plane ticket to the US. I know James a bit from Eyebeam, and for whatever stupid reason, when I first read about his detention, it never occurred to me that the detained Americans would be interrogated...I thought the Chinese would just hold them until the Olympics were over and send them home. To be interrogated to the point of mistreatment...well, glad you're home, James.
Kristin Armstrong, the Olympic gold medalist in the women's individual time trial in road cycling, took a GPS unit along with her when she previewed the road course in Beijing in December 2007. When she got home to Idaho, she d/led the data, put it into Google Earth, and found a similar local loop on which to train.
This capability along with having the elevation profile proved invaluable in my preparation for my Gold Medal race.
Update: Caveat to the links above: all the photos above are lifted from elsewhere. You may prefer the collection at Big Picture instead. I've got mixed feelings about sites that take photos from other sites without proper attribution. On one hand, the photographers are not getting their due credit and payment for those photos but on the other, the act of collecting and curating adds something new to the work and results in something worthwhile. I wish there were a way for sites to make groups of photos like these without the hefty licensing expenses...the photographers get more of their photos out there and we get all sorts of neat views through the lenses of the photographers and talented curators. (thx, josh)
My Olympics-themed New Yorker cartoon idea: Two men walk down the hallway of an office. One of the men, just laid off, carries a box with his things in it and says to the other man, "Don't worry, I'll work my way back through the repechage."
One of the best ways to watch the Olympics is to chase down all the references made by NBC's commentators on YouTube and watch them in addition to (or instead of) the regular telecast. Here are some of the ones I've found.
Olga Korbut's uneven parallel bars routine from the 1972 Olympics (above). Love that dismount! The skills done on the bars today are so much more athletic but Korbut's routine was a magical flowing performance. At the rate the women today are going, the uneven parallel bars will soon be replaced by the high bar used in the men's competitions...they barely use the bottom bar anymore.
My recollection of the men's 4x100m relay at the 1984 Olympics involves the US team trailing after three legs when Carl Lewis (still my favorite Olympian) seizes the baton from Calvin Smith and thunders down the last 100 meters, singlehandedly winning the race and smashing the world record. The reality was somewhat different. The American team was way ahead when Lewis got the baton but it still is amazing to watch him pull away from the rest of the field like that. Bolt-like, innit?
A similar pulling away occurred in 1996 by Michael Johnson in the 200 meters. No one even came close to threatening his world record for 12 years until the emergence of Usain Bolt.
In 1988, Greg Louganis hit his head on the board on his third-to-last dive in the preliminaries of the men's springboard. He returned to qualify for the next round and eventually won the gold medal in the event.
Speaking of tear-inducing performances, Kerri Strug hobbled up to the vault runway on a bum ankle and hit a 9.712 on her final vault in the team competition at the 1996 Games, landing more or less perfectly on one foot, clinching a victory for the US team. Or so the story goes. As with all mythology, the truth is present but not entirely adhered to. As it turned out, the US team had enough of a lead on the Russian team that Strug's last vault was unnecessary. But it hardly dimishes the moment for Strug. At the time, she thought she had to do the vault for the medal and she went out there and stuck it.
Getting a photograph of Phelps from above is priceless -- so it's all worth the hassle. Here he is winning gold in the 200 meter individual medley. This was shot with a 400mm 2.8 handheld--oh yeah, hand holding a 12 pound lens ain't easy. Luckily it was strapped to me -- and I to the catwalk with oodles of safety cables. We weren't allowed to being extra CF Cards or even a paper start list, which is pretty extreme if you ask me. We were patted down before we went up by the photo escorts, and we all tried to get things in -- even our credentials were left behind. While extreme, I agree with one of the photo escorts who said that if even one sheet of paper floated harmlessly down from the catwalk. it would be game over for everyone -- no more catwalk access.
You can keep up with Laforet's Olympic output at his blog. (thx, stacy)
In twenty-five years of teaching, I'd never seen a student with less energy, interest, or charisma. It was almost like he was catatonic. But then, when called upon in class, he was able, at an early age, to take a fresh, cogent thought that a classmate had made moments before and restate it as if it were his own. I knew then that he had the raw skills to become a truly great middle-management-meeting Olympian.
Eyeballing the chart would suggest that the cutting edge of human achievement in the 200m is anything sub-19.7. A 19.59 at Beijing would be phenomenal. Then you scroll down -- way down -- and you hit Johnson's 19.32.
Johnson has stated that he's fully prepared for Usain Bolt to break his record.
Cavic seems like an interesting guy and is handling the close loss well. He wrote an entry on his blog entitled "Success!!!"
On winning a SILVER medal: I am completely happy, and still in complete disbelief that I was able to achieve this feat! I'm not joking... It's a tough loss, but I'm on cloud nine. I congratulated Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman. I'm just glad the race was fun to watch for everyone. It was a pleasure for me, really.
Cavic came to Beijing with the goal of winning the bronze in this event; he called his silver "the greatest moment of my life". I also liked this account of his pre-race routine:
Hall said he could tell before the race that Cavic was in the right frame of mind to challenge Phelps, when he adopted the same prerace routine as Phelps by putting one foot on the starting block and turning to face in his rival's direction.
"Most guys are trembling when they have to step up to Michael Phelps," Hall said. "But he did not fear him, and it showed."
Cavic said he was not "staring him down" before the race.
"Both of us had metallic goggles, so I couldn't see his eyes, and he couldn't see mine," Cavic said. "Maybe he was able to see the reflection of himself, and he was like, Hey, I look pretty good. I saw myself in his reflection and was like, I'm keeping this under control."
OMEGA touch pads and starting blocks are part of an integrated timing system capable of recording times to the nearest 1/1000th of a second. However, because it is not possible to build swimming pools in which each lane is guaranteed to be precisely the same length, Olympic and World Records are still recorded to the nearest 1/100th of a second.
A rare positive review from Speak Up of the new London 2012 that everyone else in the world seems to hate. "I believe, despite any ensuing boo's, that this is some of the most innovative and daring identity work we have seen in this new millennium, and the lack of cheesy and imagination-impairing gradients gives me hope that identity work can still be resurrected on a larger scale."