OMG OMG OMG! Théo Sanson recently slacklined across a gap spanning nearly a third of a mile in Utah, which might just be a world record. This is gorgeously filmed; you really get a sense of the scale of the gap Sanson crossed and how high in the air he was. My palms are absolutely drenched after watching that. (via colossal)
kottke.org posts about sports
The most terrifying ski crash ever Nov 13 2015
Watch as skier Ian McIntosh hits an unexpected trench on one of his first turns down an extremely steep mountain and tumbles 1600 feet in less than a minute. Actually, don't just watch...put your headphones on and listen: McIntosh was mic'd up while falling and you can hear the whole thing. (via devour)
Kaleidoscope Nov 12 2015
Red Bull spared no expense in shooting this video with BMX rider Kriss Kyle...I've never seen a BMX course quite like this one. (thx, nick)
Ahhhh! Dan Barry of The NY Times went all olde tymey in his recap of game four of the NLCS between the Cubs and Mets, sorry, Metropolitans.
The Metropolitans -- also known as the "Mets" -- sent six safely across the plate before the third inning, mostly as a result of the derring-do of their Bunyanesque first-sacker, Lucas Duda. The mighty Californian smote a home run and a double to tally five of those six runs before the Cubs seemed to comprehend that a game concerning their possible erasure from the 2015 field was well underway.
The ignominious rout of the valiant but overmatched hometown squad turned the deafening cheers of the Chicago multitudes into plaintive keens, for now their agonizing wait for another championship -- the last in 1908, during the presidency of the rough-riding Theodore Roosevelt -- must continue.
I say! Capital stuff, old chap.
A recent Saturday night in NYC Oct 19 2015
Of the many possibilities, I'd like to point out just three interesting things.
1. Times Square! And not just that, but the whole of central Midtown is now lit up like a Christmas tree from 34th Street to Central Park.
2. The bright spot of light in the upper right corner of the image above is Citi Field. The photo must have been taken during Game 1 of the NLCS between the Mets and the Cubs. The Mets won that game 4-2. #LGM!
3. You'll notice that the streetlights in much of the city are orange. But in the bottom right corner, in Brooklyn, you can see the future. NYC is currently replacing all of the orange-glowing sodium vapor streetlights with blue-glowing LED lights that are longer lasting and more energy efficient. But they are also brighter and some are already complaining about the harsh blue light.
The new LEDs may be environmentally sensitive, but they are also optically harsh.
"The old lights made everybody look bad," said Christopher Stoddard, an architect, who lives at the corner of Fuller Place. "But these are so cold and blue, it's like 'Night of the Living Dead' out there."
"We're all for saving energy," his wife, Aida Stoddard, also an architect, said, "but the city can do so much better."
A few blocks away, Rose Gallitelli taped up black garbage bags on her bedroom windows so that she could sleep. "They're the heavy-duty kind," she said.
Update: Photographer Pari Dukovic has a shot of one of the old sodium vapor street lamps in the New Yorker this week.
Chris Wondolowski is a striker for the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS. Here's how he goes about his job of putting the ball in the net. Unsurprisingly, 99% of being a striker involves not kicking a football.
A major part of my job is to lie (sorry, Mom). I have to use deception to manipulate two, sometimes three, defenders guarding me. It's a 90-minute game of chess. If I know we don't have the ball in a threatening spot, I'll often sacrifice my positioning for a little while so I can soften up the defenders for later. I want to build up their confidence and make them think they're all over me. For example, I always know the exact spot I want to end up when a play is building in the middle of the field. And if I see that my teammate is running down the wing with the ball, I know he's maybe eight seconds away from crossing the ball into the box. I can't simply run to my spot right away. I need to use about 7.5 seconds before the potential pass comes to confuse the defenders. I need to make them believe that I'm going anywhere else but that spot.
Wondo is also one of a number of athletes who uses visualization before games to prepare himself for success.
Long before the game starts, whether I'm at home at Avaya Stadium or on the road, I'm already on the field starting my work. But I'm not warming up or kicking a ball around; I'm imagining how the whole game will play out in my head. I walk the entire field listening to music, from one goal area to the other. I'm visualizing where the other 21 men could be, how the ball might come to me, and how I can get it past the defenders and the goalie. I might also picture the ball arcing through the air from a corner kick, then me jumping up, making contact with my head and the ball going into the top corner, splashing against the netting before settling in the grass. (It's the little details that make it real.) No matter what, in my head, I'm envisioning myself scoring. Every time, the ball lands perfectly in the back of the net.
The bicycle gymnast Sep 01 2015
Nicole Frýbortová can do things on a bicycle that will make your eyes pop out of your head, including a no-hands, one-foot, backwards wheelie.
Concussion Aug 31 2015
Concussion, starring Will Smith, is about Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered the link between football and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and will be out in December.
The movie is based on the 2009 GQ article, Game Brain.
Let's say you run a multibillion-dollar football league. And let's say the scientific community -- starting with one young pathologist in Pittsburgh and growing into a chorus of neuroscientists across the country -- comes to you and says concussions are making your players crazy, crazy enough to kill themselves, and here, in these slices of brain tissue, is the proof. Do you join these scientists and try to solve the problem, or do you use your power to discredit them?
Saw someone on Twitter saying that maybe this will be football's The Insider. Let's hope it moves the needle.
Update: From the NY Times, Sony Altered 'Concussion' Film to Prevent N.F.L. Protests, Emails Show.
In dozens of studio emails unearthed by hackers, Sony executives; the director, Peter Landesman; and representatives of Mr. Smith discussed how to avoid antagonizing the N.F.L. by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league.
"Will is not anti football (nor is the movie) and isn't planning to be a spokesman for what football should be or shouldn't be but rather is an actor taking on an exciting challenge," Dwight Caines, the president of domestic marketing at Sony Pictures, wrote in an email on Aug. 6, 2014, to three top studio executives about how to position the movie. "We'll develop messaging with the help of N.F.L. consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet's nest."
Are your palms dry? Do you wish they were soaked with sweat right now? Then you should definitely watch Spencer Seabrooke walk on a slack line across a 210-foot gap almost 1000 feet in the air without any ropes or safety harnesses.
I mean, Jesus. (via devour)
Dolphins surfing Aug 12 2015
As if you needed more proof that dolphins are cool: they enjoy surfing.
Highlights from Michael Jordan's rookie year Aug 04 2015
The best way to get me to click on something is to label it "Michael Jordan Rookie Year Highlights".
What a time capsule. (via devour)
Current footballers on olde timey trading cards Jul 15 2015
If you want to see what Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar might have looked like if they played in the 1950s/60s, Paladar Negro photoshopped some Barcelona & Real Madrid players onto old timey trading cards.
They previously did a similar project with Argentinian players...this one of Angel Di Maria is amazing:
Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso recently tried his luck at a go-kart track in the UK. Starting from last position, he worked his way up to first in less than three laps.
That's neat, but I'm more interested in the person in the lead kart, who presumably hasn't won two F1 championships and hasn't been racing karts since age 3, who holds Alonso off for an entire lap before being passed. Nice work, mate! (via digg)
Tennis serve in slow motion Jul 01 2015
At 6000 fps, you can see just how much the racquet flattens a tennis ball on the serve.
Letters to your younger self Jul 01 2015
Tennis great Pete Sampras recently wrote a letter to his 16-year-old self.
There's more to being a pro than just playing tennis. The more successful you are, the more people will want out of you. It won't always be something you'll want to do, and it won't always be fun. The pressure will be as exhausting as anything you'll ever do on the tennis court. But as a tennis champion, you have that responsibility. You play tennis because you love the game, not because you love the limelight, so get ready. Think about getting some media training. It'll go a long way. Luckily, you'll be out of the game before these things called Twitter and Facebook come around. Be thankful for that. One day you'll understand what I mean.
Oh, and put the newspaper down. Don't read what people are saying about you. No good can come of it. And if you do hear or read something negative about yourself, don't sweat it. Let your racket do the talking.
There's nothing that distinguishes Sampras' letter from others of the format, but it got me wondering if these letters from successful people to their younger selves would have the hoped-for impact. It seems to me that success requires struggle, failure, and a bit of stupidity...or if you want to be nice about it, a beginner's mind. Skipping even some of that might take some of the edge off. Perhaps Sampras should write another letter to his 15-year-old self urging him to ignore any subsequent correspondence.
Eating your blood type Jun 19 2015
While reading this otherwise excellent article written by US soccer player Christie Rampone, I discovered a type of diet I'd never heard of before, the blood type diet (italics mine).
Age and parenting make me think about longevity. I definitely believe one big reason for my longevity has to do with the dietary and fitness changes I made after being diagnosed with auto-immune conditions after giving birth to my youngest daughter Reece in 2011. For example, I've gone gluten-free and have started to eat to my blood-type. Also, a friend introduced me to a natural ingredient called EpiCor to help strengthen my immune system. I have taken EpiCor daily for the past three years and it has become a beneficial part of my daily routine of rest, recovery, working out, eating healthy, and being in airports and hotels more than my own house.
From Wikipedia, an overview of the diet:
The underlying theory of blood type diets is that people with different blood types digest lectins differently, and that if people eat food that is not compatible with their blood type, they will experience many health problems. On the other hand, if a person eats food that is compatible, they will be healthier.
That theory is, in turn, based on an assumption that each blood type represents a different evolutionary heritage. "Based on the 'Blood-Type' diet theory, group O is considered the ancestral blood group in humans so their optimal diet should resemble the high animal protein diets typical of the hunter-gatherer era. In contrast, those with group A should thrive on a vegetarian diet as this blood group was believed to have evolved when humans settled down into agrarian societies. Following the same rationale, individuals with blood group B are considered to benefit from consumption of dairy products because this blood group was believed to originate in nomadic tribes. Finally, individuals with an AB blood group are believed to benefit from a diet that is intermediate to those proposed for group A and group B."
As you might have already guessed, there is no evidence that eating your blood type is beneficial nor do the claims of differing lectin digestion have scientific merit. Homeopathic nonsense.
Tyler Cowen writes about Steph Curry, the current dominance of the three-point shot, and how the reality of new technology lags in relation to its promise.
What took so long? At first the shot was thought to be a cheesy gimmick. Players had to master the longer shot, preferably from their earliest training. Coaches had to figure out three-point strategies, which include rethinking the fast break and different methods of floor spacing and passing; players had to learn those techniques too. The NBA had to change its rules to encourage more three-pointers (e.g., allowing zone defenses, discouraging isolation plays). General managers had to realize that Rick Pitino, though perhaps a bad NBA coach, was not a total fool, and that the Phoenix Suns were not a fluke.
This longer article on the rise of the three-pointer in the NBA by Tom Haberstroh provides further context to Cowen's thoughts.
Fading at the finish Jun 16 2015
Sam Peterman is a sophomore in high school near Buffalo who runs track. She also has a condition called neurocardiogenic syncope (NCS) that causes her to faint after every race she runs, right into the waiting arms of her father soon after she crosses the finish line.
Dr. Blair Grubb, a professor at the University of Toledo who has studied syncope extensively, characterized NCS in a 2005 article in The New England Journal of Medicine as the autonomic nervous system's failure to keep blood pressure high enough to maintain consciousness.
Physical activity, he said, pools blood in the lower half of the body, reducing blood flow to the heart. In response, the heart pumps more vigorously. In people with NCS, the brain misreads that as high blood pressure and tries to lower the pressure, which leads to decreased blood flow to the brain and, thus, fainting.
Peterman often does not remember the ends of races -- she blacked out the last 60 meters of a recent race -- which has prompted her father to wonder why she faints after races and not during. See also No pain, possible gain. (via @atul_gawande)
Get with The Program Jun 11 2015
The Program is an upcoming film about the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity). It's based on David Walsh's book, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong.
Messi's Copa del Rey golazo Jun 01 2015
This goal by Lionel Messi in the Copa del Rey final over the weekend is just out of this world.
1. He takes on three defenders at once and beats them all by himself, even though they had him pinned against the sideline.
2. There is only a brief moment during his run that the ball is more than a foot and a half away from his feet. The combination of his fierce pace and that delicate delicate touch is unstoppable.
3. The ball never gets away from him because by the time that he kicks it, he has already moved to receive it. This is most evident on his final touch, right before he tucks it inside the near post...he's already moved to the left to receive the pass before he taps it to himself.
4. How did he find the space between the keeper and the near post for that?
Update: ESPN Sport Science breaks down Messi's goal by the numbers...how fast he accelerated, touches/sec, and the angle at which he shot at goal.
Football commentary cheat sheets May 15 2015
Nick Barnes is a football commentator for BBC Radio Newcastle. For each match he does, Barnes dedicates two pages in his notebook for pre-match notes, lineups, player stats, match stats, and dozens of other little tidbits.
Wonderful folk infographics. NBC commentator Arlo White also shared his pre-match notes. Both men say they barely use the notes during the match...by the time the notes are done, they know the stuff. (via @dens)
Every David Beckham hairstyle May 01 2015
4K dreamtime Apr 22 2015
Technically, what you're looking at here is a video shot in 4K resolution (basically 2x regular HD) and at 1000 frames/sec by a Phantom Flex 4K camera which retails for $100,000+. Skateboarders ollie. Dirt bikes spray dirt. Gymnasts contort. Make this as fullscreen as possible and just sit back and enjoy.
My favorite bits were of the gymnasts. In super slow motion, you can see how aerial flips are all about getting your head down as quickly as possible, then snapping your legs around as your head stays almost completely motionless -- like a chicken's! Mesmerizing.
Freeline skate tricks Apr 20 2015
I'd never heard of freeline skates before...they're like little skateboards, one for each foot. This video shows how they're used for tricks and such:
That looks hard, much more difficult than skateboarding or inline skates. But maybe not, once you get the hang of it? Can't beat the portability though...they'd slip right into a small bag when you're not using them. (via @matiasfrndz)
Mad River Glen's famed single chair Apr 16 2015
You don't have a lot of opportunity in life these days to have 10 or 12 minutes alone. Some people think when they come here and they ride the chair, it's a lonely ride. I never really thought of it that way.
I haven't checked for sure, but Mad River might be the only ski area in the world with a chairlift that has its own beer.
The beautiful thinking game Apr 02 2015
Judging by interviews, neither Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi seems like the smartest tool in the shed, but they both possess a keen mind for football as Simon Kuper explains. Messi, who appears to listlessly sandbag his way through the early part of matches, is actually using the time to size up his opponent:
It was a puzzling sight. The little man was wandering around, apparently ignoring the ball. The official explained: "In the first few minutes he just walks across the field. He is looking at each opponent, where the guy positions himself, and how their defense fits together. Only after doing that does he start to play."
"Part of my preparation," he told the writer David Winner for ESPN The Magazine in 2012, "is I go and ask the kit man what colour we're wearing, if it's red top, white shorts, white socks or black socks. Then I lie in bed the night before the game and visualize myself scoring goals or doing well. You're trying to put yourself in that moment and trying to prepare yourself, to have a 'memory' before the game. I don't know if you'd call it visualizing or dreaming but I've always done it, my whole life."
A footballer's exceptional visual memory was on display recently when FC Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez was quizzed about 5 particular goals he's scored out of 57 total across almost 500 matches for his club:
He gets them all correct, even what the scores were when they happened, the final scores, who else scored in each match, and even the team's position in La Liga.
A quick P.S. for Messi. On Feb 16, 2015, Zito Madu wrote an article titled Is Lionel Messi even good anymore?
Plainly put, Messi is a shadow of his former self. He's much more cynical, more selfish and power-hungry. How else can the departure of Martino and friction with Enrique be explained? It's a power play by a man who feels his powers waning. Consider: after Barcelona's 5-0 victory against Levante, Messi had only managed 37 goals and 18 assists in all competitions. A far cry from the player who once scored 82 goals in one season.
At 27 years old, we might be witnessing the twilight of Messi's career. It's a shame for a player who seemed to be on a tear just a few years ago.
It was a weirdly cynical take that contained a kernel of truth. A little over a month later on Mar 23, Jeff Himmelman wrote a piece called Lionel Messi Is Back On His Game.
But in the new year, Messi has finally started to look like himself again; he has been on fire, racking up hat tricks and leading the league in scoring. His legs and his extraordinary bursts of energy -- the engine of his game -- are back, and a move to the right flank from the congested middle has freed him to do what he does best: making slashing runs at defenders with speed, creating space and chances.
On the evidence of the last week, it has become possible to wonder whether Messi might actually be better than ever. The best reason to think so was the first half of Barcelona's game against Manchester City on Wednesday, in the round of 16 of the Champions League European club championships. From the start, Messi spun passes into tight spaces and flew up and down the field with a boyish abandon that was nowhere to be found last year.
In that Man City game, Messi nutmegged both Milner and Fernandinho:
In a recent study released by CIES Football Observatory, Messi was judged to be the best forward in the world over the first three months of 2015. Ronaldo? 29th place. Eep.
The "impossible" science of free diving Mar 26 2015
This article on the science of free diving is fascinating. Boyle's Law predicted that the human body couldn't survive depths past 100 feet -- after which, the lungs would rupture -- but millions of years of evolution has equipped the human body with all sorts of tricks to survive at depths of over 900 feet.
Lundgren, among others, demonstrated how these phenomena might counteract Boyle's law. He recruited volunteer firemen from a fire brigade in the Swedish city of Malmo, submerged them up to the neck in water, and used a heart catheter to measure the increase in blood circulation in the chest. Lundgren discovered the body was able to counteract the increased outside water pressure by reinforcing vessels in the walls of the lungs with more blood, in much the same way we increase tire pressure by adding more volume of oxygen to the inside of a tire.
Boyle's Law had not been overturned. Scientists simply hadn't taken into account the effect this counterforce could exert to allow survival underwater. "A lot of blood, much more than was usually thought, can be transferred from the blood circulation out in the tissues into the blood vessels of the lung," Lundgren said, placing that amount at about half a gallon. The extra, densely packed blood can act as a bulwark, exerting a counterforce against the increased pressure pushing inward by the water.
Mike Tyson's crowdsourcing his best knockouts Mar 23 2015
Martin Scorsese is reportedly set to direct a biopic on Mike Tyson with Jamie Foxx in the title role. Tyson has compiled a video of each of his 44 knockouts and wants his fans' help in choosing his top 10 for Foxx to study.
The top 10 from this video are definite contenders.
The making of NHL '94 Mar 23 2015
Blake Harris, the author of Console Wars, has written a piece on how NHL '94 came to be. For those unaware, NHL '94 is one of the greatest sports video games ever created. This is the sort of attention to detail that made it so great:
For example, it could emulate the ambience of a game day NHL arena by including the proper organ music. The problem, though, was that each team's organist played different songs. 'That's not a problem, actually,' explained Dieter Ruehle, the organist for the San Jose Sharks (and previously for the Los Angeles Kings), 'I can do that.' True to his word, Ruehle provided EA with organ music for every team; and he didn't just provide all of their songs, but also noted which music was blasted during power plays, which tunes were used to celebrate goals, and all the other inside info needed to make each arena feel like home. Ruehle was so diligent about getting it right and capturing that home crowd essence, that during a recording session at EA's sound studio he asked:
'The woman who plays the organ for the Washington Capitals has arthritis; would you like me to play the songs how they are meant to be played, or the way that she plays them because of her condition?'
'Definitely the way she plays it!' Brook answered, after a laugh.
I think I might have to bust out the Genesis this week. Anyone wanna come over?
Fire? What fire? Football! Mar 12 2015
Ok, this is one of the strangest photos I've ever seen. In the background, there's a building on fire and in the foreground, there's a football game going on like there's not a building on fire right there. From their photographic recap of 1965, In Focus has the story:
Spectators divide their attention as the Mount Hermon High School football team in Massachusetts hosts Deerfield Academy during a structure fire in the Mount Hermon science building on November 24, 1965. The science building was destroyed, and Mount Hermon lost the football game, ending a two-year-long winning streak.
Update: The photo above reminded some readers of this photo, taken by Joel Sternfeld in 1978.
You'll notice the fireman buying a pumpkin while the house behind him burns, although there's a bit more to the story than that.
In 1996, a building burned outside the stadium during the LSU/Auburn game:
Update: Sarah Lyall of the NY Times goes long on the Mount Hermon photo, which was very much real and celebrated when it was initially published.
Even at the time, when the photograph was reprinted around the world, people thought it was too weird to be real. "My colleagues maintain it is a real picture, but I believe it is of the April fool type," wrote Phil F. Brogan, an editor at The Bulletin newspaper in Bend, Ore. ("I can assure you that the picture was not faked," replied Arthur H. Kiendl Jr., the headmaster of Mount Hermon, the Massachusetts prep school where the game took place.)
In fact, the photograph, of Mount Hermon's game against Deerfield Academy on Nov. 20, 1965, was an instant classic. Though the photographer, Robert Van Fleet, never received much in the way of money for it, it was named the Associated Press sports photograph of the year. It was featured on the back page of Life magazine. It was reproduced in dozens of newspapers and magazines across the United States, including The New York Times, often accompanied by supposedly amusing captions about Rome burning, the teams' "red-hot rivalry" and the like.
Long wave is looooooong Mar 09 2015
Koa Smith rides in the barrel of a wave for almost 30 seconds...it just goes on and on and on.
This video is a bit misleading. The ride is shown twice but the first time through it's slowed down so it lasts more than a minute. The full-speed replay starts at 2:01 and is still impressive. (via digg)
Messi scores 64 goals at once Feb 26 2015
Here are 64 goals scored by FC Barcelona legend Lionel Messi, presented simultaneously in one frame.
Fusion's Cara Rose DeFabio has dubbed this type of video The Superfuse.
Errol Morris' short films for ESPN Feb 25 2015
Director Errol Morris has directed six short films for ESPN collective titled "It's Not Crazy, It's Sports." The films will air on March 1 and then be released online during the following week. The trailer:
The films' subjects include Mr. Met, streakers, sports memorabilia fanatics, an electric football league, and Michael Jordan's stolen jersey. I'll post the films here as they're released online. Morris previously did a film for ESPN about the sports-themed funerals of die-hard fans.
Update: Grantland has posted the first short film in the series about an electric football league that's been running in a NY basement for over 30 years.
Update: All of the Morris' shorts have now been posted on Grantland. Go. Watch.
Beautiful hand painted ski trail maps Feb 06 2015
If you've ever noticed most ski trail maps look kinda the same, the reason is many of them have been painted by a single individual: James Niehues.
Each view is hand painted by brush and airbrush using opaque watercolor to capture the detail and variations of nature's beauty. In many instances, distortions are necessary to bring everything into a single view. The trick is to do this without the viewer realizing that anything has been altered from the actual perspective.
Here's a selection of his work:
Ocean Gravity Feb 05 2015
Free diver Guillaume Néry looks like an astronaut floating around in space in this underwater video.
The allure of the NFL Feb 02 2015
Back in September at the beginning of the NFL season, I wrote a post called I'm quitting football.
I've been a steadfast fan of NFL football for the past 15 years. Most weekends I'd catch at least two or three games on TV. Professional football lays bare all of the human achievement + battle with self + physical intelligence + teamwork stuff I love thinking about in a particularly compelling way. But for a few years now, the cons have been piling up in my conscience: the response to head injuries, the league's nonprofit status, the homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the reliance on drugs (PEDs and otherwise). And the final straw: the awful terrible inhuman way the league treats violence against women.
It's overwhelming. Enough is enough. I dropped my cable subscription a few months ago and was considering getting it again to watch the NFL, but I won't be doing that. Pro football, I love you, but we can't see each other anymore. And it's definitely you, not me. Call me when you grow up.
So how did I do? I ended up watching four games this season: a random Sunday night game in week 15 or 16, the Pats/Ravens playoff, the Pats/Colts playoff, and the Super Bowl. I've been watching and rooting for the Patriots for the past, what, 14 or 15 years now. And more to the point, I've been following the Brady/Belichick storyline for almost that long and once it became clear the Pats had a great shot at winning it all, not watching the final acts was just not going to happen, NFL bullshit or not. It would be like putting down one of the best 1200-page books you've ever read with two chapters to go and just saying, yeah, I'm not going to read the end of that. And that game last night...I felt *incredible* when Butler intercepted that pass. Life is full of many greater, more fulfilling, and more genuine moments, but there's no feeling quite like the one when you realize your team has won, especially when that victory has been snatched, semi-literally, from the jaws of near-certain defeat.
But that's ultimately weak sauce. I don't feel justified about watching just because I really enjoyed it. I made a commitment to myself and didn't honor it. I believe the NFL is still a terrible organization and isn't worth supporting with my attention. For whatever it's worth, I'm going back to not watching next year, and I hope I fare better.
Update: Bill Simmons, in an epic recap of the final 12 minutes of the Super Bowl, echoes what I was getting at above.
When you've been rooting for the same people for 15 years, at some point the stakes become greater. You want that last exclamation-point title. (Just ask Spurs fans.) You want to feel like you rooted for a dynasty, or something close to it, instead of just "a team that won a couple of times." You want to say that you rooted for the best coach ever and the best quarterback ever, and you want to be constantly amazed that they showed up to save your sad-sack franchise at the exact same time.
Climbing the Dawn Wall Jan 21 2015
Last week, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free ascent of The Dawn Wall on Yosemite's El Capitan. It's been called the most difficult climb ever completed. The NY Times has some good coverage of the climb, including an interactive feature/map of the wall and a 3.4 gigapixel zoomable photograph of the climb in progress. Here's a 3-minute video of Caldwell navigating Pitch 15, one of the most difficult sections of the climb:
"The crux holds of pitch 15 are some of the smallest and sharpest holds I have ever attempted to hold onto," Tommy wrote on his Facebook page. Four unique camera angles reveal those minuscule holds and the 1,300 feet of exposure under Tommy's precarious foot placements. While multiple pitches of extremely difficult climbing remained above, the completion of pitch 15 was considered the last major hurdle to the eventual success of this seven-year project.
It gets intense around 1:30. Jesus, my palms are sweating right now. I feel like I'm gonna pass out! (via @sippey)
Update: I totally didn't notice but several people pointed this out on Twitter: Caldwell only has 4 fingers on his left hand. He cut off his index finger with a table saw, got it reattached, and then removed again so it wouldn't hinder his climbing.1
And as if completing the most difficult climb in the world with only 9 fingers and discarding a finger to pursue a passion isn't quite enough for one life, Caldwell and some friends were captured by rebels while climbing in Kyrgyzstan. Caldwell helped save the group by pushing one of their captors over a cliff.
All the scheming comes to nothing, until at one point three of the rebels go away leaving a lone man in charge of the captives as they climb a steep ridge. Then, near the top ...
Tommy Caldwell: Our captor sees that the hillside is easing off and he starts to run ahead. He has been really scared this whole time on this cliff because he's not a climber. So I asked Beth if she thinks I should do this.
Beth Rodden: And at that point I just thought that this was our best opportunity.
Tommy Caldwell: So I ran up behind him and grabbed him by his gun strap and pulled him over the edge. We were probably about 2,000 feet (610 meters) above the river, but it's a cliff that is pretty sheer. We saw him fall 20 feet (6 meters), bounce off this ledge, and then fall basically into the black abyss below. I totally panicked. I broke down. I couldn't believe I'd just done that, because it's something that I never morally thought I could do and I never wanted to do. And Beth came up and, you know, gave me a lot of comfort as well as Jason and John.
Beth Rodden: I told him he'd just saved our lives and now we had this opportunity to run and hopefully find the Kyrgyz Army.
Reading that story makes my palms sweat almost as much as watching the video. Jesus.
Little known fact: there's a photo of Caldwell's severed finger next to the definition of "dedication" in the dictionary.↩
A fun run down the mountain Jan 20 2015
People ask me why I ski.1 A: Because sometimes it's as insanely fun as this guy makes it look.
He. Skis. THROUGH THE MOUNTAIN. Also, if you can, pause it right after he jumps off the lift platform...the kid on the lift with his dad is like ( ﾟoﾟ).
No one has ever asked me this. No one ever asks people questions like this. "People ask me..." is a phrase writers use to create a sense of an ongoing story. It's better than "This is a cool video"...you can only use that one so many times. ↩
The skiing line of the year Dec 09 2014
This is the craziest thing I've ever seen anyone do on skis: Cody Townsend skiing down a super steep face in a space between two rock walls no wider than a supermarket aisle. Powder Magazine called it "The Line of the Year".
They forgot to put "Batshit Crazy" before the word "Line". (via devour)
Diving champion of the world Dec 02 2014
This dive, by Leeds United midfielder Adryan in match against Derby County, might be the worst dive of all time.
He's flopping around like Sonny Corleone getting shot up at the toll booth in The Godfather. Hilarious.
Preparation and the greatest NFL catch ever Nov 24 2014
As a player, how do you prepare yourself for making the greatest catch in history? It would be easy to dismiss this catch as a lucky fluke...one-handed, fighting off a defender, just gets it by his fingertips. But here's the thing: Beckham practices exactly this catch:
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Preparation, kids. Preparation.
Aside from the occasional highlight, I still have not watched a single minute of NFL football this year. It's not been easy, particularly on Sunday nights, where all I want to do most of the time is flip on the game and veg out with a Collinsworth/Michaels soundtrack. ↩
Foxcatcher Nov 17 2014
Currently on the to-do list: watch every single movie produced by Annapurna Pictures, a production and distribution company founded by Megan Ellison, who is Oracle founder Larry Ellison's daughter. Look at this list of directors they're working with: Kathryn Bigelow, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, David O. Russell, Richard Linklater.
25 awesome photos of Muhammad Ali Oct 31 2014
From the Guardian's photo editor, an annotated list of the 25 best photographs of Muhammad Ali. My favorite is by Neil Leifer:
Slow motion surfing Oct 31 2014
You know what's pretty? Big waves and surfing in slow motion. Take a break and relax at 1000 fps with this mesmerizing video.
The Hans Zimmer soundtrack only adds to the effect. (via ★interesting)
Time to think about it Oct 22 2014
From Grantland's 30 for 30 Shorts series, a short film on former major league catcher Mackey Sasser and how he lost the ability to throw the ball back to the pitcher.
[I took the video out because someone at ESPN/Grantland is idiot enough to think that, by default, videos embedded on 3rd-party sites should autoplay. Really? REALLY!? Go here to watch instead.]
I remember Sasser (I had his rookie card) but had kinda stopped paying attention to baseball by the time his throwing problem started; I had no idea it was so bad. The video of him trying to throw is painful to watch. According to the therapists we see working with Sasser in the video, unresolved mental trauma (say, from childhood) builds up and leaves the person unable to resolve something as seemingly trivial as a small problem throwing a ball back to the pitcher. I've read and written a lot about this sort of thing over the years.
Swimming with icebergs Oct 21 2014
Watch as Stig Severinsen, aka The Man Who Doesn't Breathe, swims underwater amongst icebergs. Beautiful.
Severinsen is currently the world's record holder for the longest time holding a breath at 22 minutes. 22! I barely breathed myself while watching this video of his record breaking attempt. (via devour)
What will it take to run a 2 hour marathon? Oct 15 2014
I am not a runner so I didn't think I would find this exploration into the conditions under which a 2-hour marathon could occur that interesting. I was incorrect.
Between 1990 (the first year in which data was available) and 2011, the average male marathoner ranked in the top 100 that year shrank by 1.3 inches and 7.5 pounds. Smaller runners have less weight to haul around, yes. But they're also better at heat dissipation; thanks to greater skin surface area relative to their weight, they can sustain higher speeds (and thus, greater internal heat production) without overheating and having to slow down. Despite our sub-two runner's short frame, he'll also have disproportionately long legs that help him cover ground and unusually slender calves that require less energy to swing than heavier limbs.
Runners shed heat through their skin, so bigger runners should have an advantage, right? Indeed, a 6' 3" marathoner can dissipate 32 percent more heat than a 5' 3" athlete with the same BMI. But heat generation rises faster in bigger runners because mass increases quicker than skin area. So at the same effort, the 6' 3" guy ends up producing 42 percent more heat than his shorter peer-and overheating sooner.
The piece includes a favorite old chestnut of mine, man vs. horse:
Horses are still much quicker at distance, but humans are still improving.
Soccer match abandoned over drone antics Oct 14 2014
A Euro 2016 qualifying match between Albania and Serbia was abandoned today after a drone flying a banner with a map of Kosovo and the Albanian flag on it hovered over the pitch.
Tensions increased further when the flag was snared by Serbia's Stefan Mitrovic, who then pulled on the strings connecting it to the drone. He was immediately confronted by Albanian players, and a shoving match ensued.
The match was abandoned after a lengthy delay. At the recommendation of UEFA, no Albanian fans were allowed into the stadium for the match in Belgrade due to tensions between the two nations. Kosovo, where the population includes both ethnic Serbs and Albanians, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, a declaration that the Serbians dispute. Nick Ames wrote a soccer-centric take on the tensions between the two nations.
It comes down, really, to Kosovo -- and that is a phrase that can be applied as shorthand for Serbian-Albanian relations as a whole. As Tim Judah writes in his seminal history, The Serbs: "So poisoned is the whole subject of Kosovo that when Albanian or Serbian academics come to discuss its history, especially its modern history, all pretence of impartiality is lost."
Kosovo, situated to the south of Serbia and the north-east of Albania, declared independence in 2008 having previously been part of Serbia. The Serbs still regard it as their own, but it is recognised by 56 percent of UN member states and its ethnic makeup is, depending on which side you refer to, overwhelmingly Albanian. (It's worth noting that figures vary wildly.)
The emotional significance goes as far back as 1389, when the Serbs were defeated by the Ottoman army in the Battle of Kosovo, which took place near its modern-day capital, Pristina. It has been much-mythologised in Serbian history. Far more recently, memories of the 1998-99 Kosovo War -- an appallingly brutal fight for the territory from which it has not really recovered -- still run deep.
FYI: the YouTube embed above was recorded off of a TV...if you're in the US, the ESPN story has better video.
What the ball boy saw Oct 14 2014
When he was 17, Eric Kester was a ball boy for the Chicago Bears and saw all the stuff you don't hear about on TV or even on blogs.
I lay awake at night wondering how many lives were irreparably damaged by my most handy ball boy tool: smelling salts. On game days my pockets were always full of these tiny ammonia stimulants that, when sniffed, can trick a brain into a state of alertness. After almost every crowd-pleasing hit, a player would stagger off the field, steady himself the best he could, sometimes vomit a little, and tilt his head to the sky. Then, with eyes squeezed shut in pain, he'd scream "Eric!" and I'd dash over and say, "It's O.K., I'm right here, got just what you need."
And from Vice, the story of former NFL running back Gerald Willhite:
Memory loss is just one of the problems that plague Gerald Willhite, 55. Frustration, depression, headaches, body pain, swollen joints, and a disassociative identity disorder are other reminders of his seven-season (1982-88) career with the Denver Broncos, during which he said he sustained at least eight concussions.
"I think we were misled," Willhite said from Sacramento. "We knew what we signed up for, but we didn't know the magnitude of what was waiting for us later."
When Willhite read about the symptoms of some former players who were taking legal action against the NFL, he thought "Crap, I got the same issues." He decided to join the lawsuit that claimed the league had withheld information about brain injuries and concussions. He feels that the $765 million settlement, announced last summer and earmarked for the more than 4,000 players in the lawsuit, is like a "Band-Aid put on a gash."
OMG Bob Burnquist Oct 14 2014
I've posted quite a few skateboarding videos here over the years and they all have their share of amazing tricks, but the shit Bob Burnquist pulls on his massive backyard MegaRamp in this video is crazy/incredible. My mouth dropped open at least four times while watching. I rewatched the trick at 2:50 about 10 times and still can't believe it's not from a video game. (via @bryce)
Teeny tiny Federer Oct 10 2014
Possible captions for this photo: Honey, I Shrunk the Federer. Federer just drank some of Alice's Drink Me potion. Pocket Roger. Yao Ming is a very large man.
Club Soccer 101 Oct 09 2014
As I've written before, after the World Cup in 2010, I wanted to keep watching soccer but didn't quite know how club soccer worked or anything about the various teams. I wish I'd had this book then: Club Soccer 101. It's a guide to 101 of the most well-known teams from leagues all over the world.
The book covers the history of European powerhouses like Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, and Real Madrid; historic South American clubs like Boca Juniors, Corinthians, Penarol, and Santos; and rising clubs from Africa, Asia, and America, including such leading MLS clubs as LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, and Seattle Sounders. Writing with the passion and panache of a deeply knowledgeable and opinionated fan, Luke Dempsey explains what makes each club distinctive: their origins, fans, and style of play; their greatest (and most heartbreaking) seasons and historic victories and defeats; and their most famous players -- from Pelé, Eusébio, and Maradona to Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, and Ronaldo.
Messi, ten years on Oct 09 2014
Lionel Messi made his debut for FC Barcelona 10 years ago. At Grantland, Brian Phillips assesses his career thus far.
The irony of that goal against Getafe, in retrospect, is that he's not the next Maradona; he's nothing like Maradona. Maradona was all energy, right on the surface; watching Messi is like watching someone run in a dream. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, Maradona jumped up to challenge you; if you took the field against him, he wanted to humiliate you, to taunt you. Messi plays like he doesn't know you're there. His imagination is so perfectly fused with his technique that his assumptions can obliterate you before his skill does.
He has always seemed oddly nonthreatening for someone with a legitimate claim to being the best soccer player in history. He seems nice, and maybe he is. (He goes on trial for tax evasion soon; it is impossible to believe he defrauded authorities on purpose, because it is impossible to believe that he manages his finances at all.) On the pitch, though, this is deceptive. It's an artifact of his indifference to your attention. He doesn't notice whether or not you notice. His greatness is nonthreatening because it is so elusive, even though its elusiveness is what makes it a threat.
Messi is only 27, holds or is within striking distance of all sorts of all-time records, and I'm already sad about his career ending. This is big talk, perhaps nonsense, but Messi might be better at soccer than Michael Jordan was at basketball. I dunno, I was bummed when Jordan retired (well, the first two times anyway), but with Messi, thinking about his retirement, it seems to me like soccer will lose something special that it will never ever see again.
The physics of doing an ollie on a skateboard Oct 08 2014
This is fun...Aatish Bhatia maps out the forces and motions involved in doing an ollie on a skateboard.
It's a neat piece of science art, and it also tells us something interesting. The arrows show us that the force on the skateboard is constantly changing, both in magnitude as well as in direction. Now the force of gravity obviously isn't changing, so the reason that these force arrows are shrinking and growing and tumbling around is that the skater is changing how their feet pushes and pulls against the board. By applying a variable force that changes both in strength and direction, they're steering the board.
Surrealist free diving video Oct 06 2014
Is this the first surrealist free diving video? I wasn't sure and then Superman showed up.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux Oct 02 2014
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux is not really a story about Greg Maddux. Or sports. It's about Jeremy Collins' friend Jason Kenney, demons, self-control, determination, friendship, competitiveness, and loss.
Jason kept a picture of Maddux above his desk in our dorm room at Young Harris College in the north Georgia mountains. A beautiful athlete, the best on campus, Jason played only intramurals and spent serious time at his desk. A physics workhorse and calculus whiz, he kept Maddux's image at eye-level.
Shuffling and pardoning down the aisle to our seats, Jason stopped and squeezed my shoulder. "Look," he said.
Maddux strode toward home, hurling the ball through the night.
It's 2014. I'm thirty-seven. My wife and daughter are both asleep. I'm a thousand miles from the stadium-turned-parking-lot. On YouTube, Kenny Lofton of the American League Champion Cleveland Indians looks at the first pitch for a ball. Inside, low. I don't remember the call. I remember all of us standing, holding our breath. Then I remember light. Thousands of lights. Waves of tiny diamonds. The whole stadium flashing and Jason, who would die five months later on the side of a south Georgia highway, leaning into my ear and whispering, "Maddux."
Great, great story. As Tom Junod remarked on Twitter, "Every once in a while, a writer throws everything he's got into a story. This is one of those stories."
Jeter swings, baby! Sep 15 2014
Love this New York Times visualization of how many times Derek Jeter has swung a bat during his career. This is like Powers of Ten, but with Derek Jeter bat swings.
Incredible no-look backheel Sep 15 2014
This goal by AC Milan's Jeremy Menez against Parma over the weekend is just beyond:
No-look backheel. Jeebus.
I'm quitting football. Sep 09 2014
Life-long NFL football fan Steve Almond recently wrote a book called Against Football in which he details why he is no longer watching the game he loves. Ian Crouch talked with Almond for the New Yorker.
Any other year, Steve Almond would have seen the play. But, after forty years of fandom, he's quit the N.F.L. In his new book, "Against Football," Almond is plain about what he considers the various moral hazards of the game: "I happen to believe that our allegiance to football legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia."
This part resonated most with me:
Even a casual N.F.L. fan can recognize that this is a particularly opportune time for a Raiders fan to stop watching football. The team is terrible. I asked Almond about that. "If the Raiders were really good, I might not have written the book," he said. "How fucked up is that? It's true, I love them. I see those colors, and it's me." For Almond, his struggle to confront his own hypocrisy is exactly the point: proof of football's insidiousness, of its ominous power.
"Football somehow hits that Doritos bliss point," he told me. "It's got the intellectual allure of all these contingencies and all this strategy, but at the same time it is so powerfully connecting us to the intuitive joys of childhood, that elemental stuff: Can you make a miracle? Can you see the stuff that nobody else sees? And most of us can't, but we love to see it. And I don't blame people for wanting to see it. I love it, and I'm going to miss it."
I've been a steadfast fan of NFL football for the past 15 years. Most weekends I'd catch at least two or three games on TV. Professional football lays bare all of the human achievement + battle with self + physical intelligence + teamwork stuff I love thinking about in a particularly compelling way. But for a few years now, the cons have been piling up in my conscience: the response to head injuries, the league's nonprofit status, the homophobia, and turning a blind eye to the reliance on drugs (PEDs and otherwise). And the final straw: the awful terrible inhuman way the league treats violence against women.
It's overwhelming. Enough is enough. I dropped my cable subscription a few months ago and was considering getting it again to watch the NFL, but I won't be doing that. Pro football, I love you, but we can't see each other anymore. And it's definitely you, not me. Call me when you grow up.
Update: Chuck Klosterman recently tackled (*groan*) this issue in the NY Times Magazine: Is It Wrong to Watch Football?
My (admittedly unoriginal) suspicion is that the reason we keep having this discussion over the ethics of football is almost entirely a product of the sport's sheer popularity. The issue of concussions in football is debated exhaustively, despite the fact that boxing -- where the goal is to hit your opponent in the face as hard as possible -- still exists. But people care less about boxing, so they worry less about the ethics of boxing. Football is the most popular game in the United States and generates the most revenue, so we feel obligated to worry about what it means to love it. Well, here's what it means: We love something that's dangerous. And I can live with that.
Ta-Nehisi Coates quit watching back in 2012 after Junior Seau died.
I'm not here to dictate other people's morality. I'm certainly not here to call for banning of the risky activities of consenting adults. And my moral calculus is my own. Surely it is a man's right to endanger his body, and just as it is my right to decline to watch. The actions of everyone in between are not my consideration.
Slow-mo skateboard tricks Sep 03 2014
It turns out that this close-up video of slow motion skateboard tricks is all I've ever wanted out of life.
I had no idea that's what they were doing down there. It's a symphony of footwork!
Bad British NASCAR commentary Aug 27 2014
Now for the bumper view! Wow, the easiest way to work out what on Earth is going on. Oh, the car's giving the one in front a little sniff. Ah, they're a bit like dogs, aren't they? Petrol dogs.
Michael Jordan vs Kobe Bryant Aug 06 2014
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant played against each other in only eight NBA games, but none of the games took place with both players in their prime. Their first few meetings, dominated by Jordan, happened during Kobe's first and second NBA seasons, when he was an impulsive and unpolished teen. Their final meetings, dominated by Bryant, found an out-of-retirement Jordan on the hapless Washington Wizards, pushing 40 years old.
But more than any other two marquee players in NBA, Jordan and Kobe have played with very similar styles. Like almost identically similar, as this video clearly shows:
The first 15 seconds of the video is a fantastic piece of editing, stitching together similar moves made by each player into seamless single plays. And dang...even the tongue wagging thing is the same. How many hours of Jordan highlight reels did Kobe watch growing up? And practicing moves in the gym?
As an aside, and I can't believe I'm saying such a ridiculous thing in public, but I can do a pretty good MJ turnaround fadeaway. I mean, for a 6-foot-tall 40-year-old white guy who doesn't get a lot of exercise and has never had much of a vertical leap. I learned it from watching Jordan highlights on SportsCenter and practicing it for hundreds of hours in my driveway against my taller next-door neighbor. I played basketball twice in the past month for the first time in years. Any skills I may have once had are almost completely gone...so many airballs and I couldn't even make a free throw for crying out loud. Except for that turnaround. That muscle memory is still intact; the shots were falling and the whole thing felt really smooth and natural. I think I'll still be shooting that shot effectively into my 70s. (via devour)
I give this feature my full endorsement Aug 01 2014
Erik Malinowski takes a baseball commercial that used to air late nights on ESPN in the '90s and '00s, and uses it to trace the effect of technology on sports.
"He was the first guy I ever knew who used video as a training device in baseball," says Shawn Pender, a former minor-league player who would appear in several of Emanski's instructional videos. "There just wasn't anyone else who was doing what he did."
It's also something of a detective story, since its subject Tom Emanski has virtually fallen off the face of the earth:
Fred McGriff is surely correct that nearly two decades of video sales -- first through TV and radio and now solely through the internet -- made Emanski a very wealthy man, but this perception has led to some rather outlandish internet rumors.
According to one, the Internal Revenue Service investigated Emanski in 2003 for unpaid taxes and, in doing so, somehow disclosed his estimated net worth at around $75 million. There's no public record of such an investigation ever having taken place or been disclosed, and an IRS spokesman for the Florida office would say only that the agency is "not permitted to discuss a particular or specific taxpayer's tax matter or their taxes based on federal disclosure regulations and federal law."
Yesterday, I was looking for a GIF of two people missing a high-five (as one does) and the top hits I got back were all of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
I thought, "the three-time Super Bowl winner and one of his wide receivers trying to high-five and missing each other's hands? That's pretty funny!" Oh no. What is funnier still is Brady trying to high-five one or more of his teammates and the other players totally ignoring him. What's even funnier than that? This has happened over and over again.
Against the Ravens:
Against the Saints:
And against the Steelers. (These are all just from last season, and all Patriots wins, by the way):
Nobody likes a pity five.
NFL Films even made a "Give Brady a high-five" video, which led to this spoof PSA:
If Glenn Burke and the 1977 Dodgers show us the original spirit of the high-five, Tom Brady and the 2013 Patriots show us that the high-five evangelist's work is never done.
A short history of the high five Jul 24 2014
For the latest installment of Grantland's 30 for 30 short documentary series, a story on the genesis of the high five and what happened to one of its inventors. This video is chock full of amazing vintage footage of awkward high fives. [Weird aside: The sound on this video is only coming out of the left channel. Is that a subtle homage to the one-handed gesture or a sound mixing boner?]
LeBron James has a photographic memory Jul 23 2014
The evidence has mounted to such an extent that Brian Windhorst of ESPN has written an article about LeBron James' fantastic memory.
So what does it mean? What it seems to suggest -- at least the part of it that James will discuss -- is that if you give up the baseline to James on a drive in November 2011 and he's playing against you in March 2013, the Heat small forward will remember it. It means that if you tried to change your pick-and-roll coverage in the middle of the fourth quarter of the 2008 playoffs, he'll be ready for you to try it again in 2014, even if you're coaching a different team. It also means that if you had a good game the last time you played against Milwaukee because James got you a few good looks in the first quarter, the next time you play the Bucks you can count on James looking for you early in the game. Because, you know, the memory never forgets.
"I can usually remember plays in situations a couple of years back -- quite a few years back sometimes," James says. "I'm able to calibrate them throughout a game to the situation I'm in, to know who has it going on our team, what position to put him in.
"I'm lucky to have a photographic memory," he will add, "and to have learned how to work with it."
Which sounds great, right? Except that thinking's best friend is often overthinking.
Consider what you know of the 2011 NBA Finals. And now consider it, instead, like this: In what will likely be remembered as the low point of his career, James is miserable for several games against the Dallas Mavericks -- including a vitally important Game 4 collapse when he somehow scores just eight points in 46 minutes. At times during that game it appears as if James is in a trance.
"What is he thinking?" the basketball world wonders.
James -- with two titles and counting, and four straight trips to the Finals -- can admit today what he's thinking in 2011: He's thinking of everything. Everything good, and everything bad. In 2011, he isn't just playing against the Mavs; he's also battling the demons of a year earlier, when he failed in a series against the Boston Celtics as the pressure of the moment beat him down. It's Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, and it is, to this point, perhaps the most incomprehensible game of James' career. His performance is so lockjawed, so devoid of rhythm, the world crafts its own narrative, buying into unfounded and ridiculous rumors because they seem more plausible than his performance.
I've probably said this a million times, but my favorite aspect of sports is the mental game, each athlete's battle with her/himself: from Shaq's dreamful attraction to Allen Iverson's visualization in lieu of practice to better living through self deception to Roger Federer's conservation of concentration to free diver Natalia Molchanova's attention deconcentration to deliberate practice to relaxed concentration. James taming his tide of memories fits right in.
The World Cup is over. Now what? Jul 19 2014
If you enjoyed the World Cup but don't know how to proceed into the seemingly impenetrable world of soccer, with its overlapping leagues, cups, and tournaments, this guide from Grantland is for you.
Just because the World Cup is over doesn't mean soccer stops. Soccer never stops; that's one of its biggest appeals. There are so many different teams, leagues, club competitions, and international tournaments that, if you want to, you can always find someone to cheer for or some team to root against. It can also be a bit daunting to wade into without any experience. Luckily, you have me, your Russian Premier League-watching, tactics board-chalking, Opta Stats-devouring Gandalf, to help you tailor your soccer-watching habits. And now I will answer some completely made-up questions to guide you along your soccer path.
This was basically my situation after the 2010 World Cup, a soccer fan with nowhere to direct his fandom. What I did was:
1. Picked a player I enjoyed watching (Messi) and started following his club team (FC Barcelona) and, to a somewhat lesser degree, the league that team played in (La Liga). I know a lot more cities in Spain than I used to.
2. Watched as many Champions League matches as I could every year, again more or less following Barcelona.
3. Got into UEFA European Championship, which is basically the World Cup but just for Europe. It's held every four years on a two-year stagger from the WC and the next one is in 2016 in France, which, I'm realizing just now, I should try to attend.
I also watched a few Premier League matches here and there...it's a great league with good competition. What I didn't do is follow any MLS or the USMNT, although after this WC, I might give the Gold Cup and Copa America tournaments some more attention. And qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup start in mid-2015...soccer never ends.
Somehow I lived in WI for the first 17 years of my life, was a Brewers fan for many of those years, and never realized the old Brewers logo contained the letters "m" and "b" hidden in the ball and glove.
Wow. If your mind is blowing right now too, there's a Facebook group we can join together: Best Day of My Life: When I Realized the Brewers Logo Was a Ball and Glove AND the Letters M and B. (via kathryn yu)
ps. If you've somehow missed the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo, here you go. Best kind of natural high there is.
Lionel Messi is impossible Jul 03 2014
An open-and-shut case from FiveThirtyEight: Lionel Messi is far and away the best player in football. Ronaldo is the only player who is close and he's not even all that close.
By now I've studied nearly every aspect of Messi's game, down to a touch-by-touch level: his shooting and scoring production; where he shoots from; how often he sets up his own shots; what kind of kicks he uses to make those shots; his ability to take on defenders; how accurate his passes are; the kind of passes he makes; how often he creates scoring chances; how often those chances lead to goals; even how his defensive playmaking compares to other high-volume shooters.
And that's just the stuff that made it into this article. I arrived at a conclusion that I wasn't really expecting or prepared for: Lionel Messi is impossible.
It's not possible to shoot more efficiently from outside the penalty area than many players shoot inside it. It's not possible to lead the world in weak-kick goals and long-range goals. It's not possible to score on unassisted plays as well as the best players in the world score on assisted ones. It's not possible to lead the world's forwards both in taking on defenders and in dishing the ball to others. And it's certainly not possible to do most of these things by insanely wide margins.
But Messi does all of this and more.
The piece is chock-full of evidential graphs of how much of an outlier Messi is among his talented peers:
One of my favorite things that I've written about sports is how Lionel Messi rarely dives, which allows him to keep the advantage he has over the defense.
Moneyball 2.0 Jul 01 2014
After Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball in 2003 about the Oakland A's, their general manager Billy Beane, and his then-unorthodox and supposedly superior managerial strategy, a curious thing happened: the A's didn't do that well. They went to the playoffs only twice between 2003 and 2011 and finished under .500 four times. Teams like the Red Sox, who adopted Beane's strategies with the punch of a much larger payroll, did much better during those years.
But Beane hung in there and has figured out how to beat the big boys again, with two first place in 2012 & 2013 and the best record in the majors this year so far. Will Leitch explains how.
First, don't spend a lot on a little; spend a little on a lot.
The emotional through-line of Moneyball is Beane learning from his experience as a failed prospect and applying it to today's game. The idea: Scouts were wrong about him, and therefore they'll be wrong about tons of guys. Only trust the numbers.
That was an oversimplification, but distrusting the ability of human beings to predict the future has been the centerpiece of the A's current run. This time, though, the A's aren't just doubting the scouts; they're also skeptical that statistical analysis can reliably predict the future (or that their analysis could reliably predict it better than their competitors). Instead, Beane and his front office have bought in bulk: They've brought in as many guys as possible and seen who performed. They weren't looking for something that no one else saw: They amassed bodies, pitted them against one another, were open to anything, and just looked to see who emerged. Roger Ebert once wrote that the muse visits during the act of creation, rather than before. The A's have made it a philosophy to just try out as many people as possible -- cheap, interchangeable ones -- and pluck out the best.
Eleven great books about soccer Jun 26 2014
There haven't been many good books written about soccer, but here are eleven of them worth your time. Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization looks especially interesting.
A groundbreaking work -- named one of the five most influential sports books of the decade by Sports Illustrated -- How Soccer Explains the World is a unique and brilliantly illuminating look at soccer, the world's most popular sport, as a lens through which to view the pressing issues of our age, from the clash of civilizations to the global economy.
Foer is one of the contributors, alongside authors Aleksandar Hemon and Karl Ove Knausgaard, to the New Republic's excellent World Cup coverage.
Soccer: 55 vs. 2 Jun 25 2014
Watch as two players from the Japanese national soccer team try to score against 55 kids.
The kids had two opportunities to stop the pro players, once with 33 players and the second time with 55 players. This didn't turn out how I expected, given how a similar stunt involving fencing ended.
This was posted on Marginal Revolution a few days ago and garnered several interesting comments about how much better professional athletes are than us regular folk. Here are a few:
Rugby: I played against an international player once. Watching him play, I'd seen a chap who ran in straight lines, a strong tackler with a weak kick. Playing against him revealed him to be skillful, agile and possessed of a howitzer kick.
Back in the 1980s a friend was watching a pickup basketball game in Boston and reported what happened when a player from the Celtics showed up. He was so much faster, more athletic, and more agile than the other players that it seemed like he was playing a different sport. The player turned out to be Scott Wedman, who by that time was old and slow by NBA standards, and mainly hung around the 3-point line to shoot outside shots after the defense had collapsed on Bird, McHale, et al. But compared to non-NBA players, he was Michael Jordan (or LeBron James).
My U-19 team (we were very good by local standards) had a practice with the New Zealand All Blacks, who were on some sort of tour. It was like they were from a different planet. I stood no chance of containing, or conversely getting past, the smallest of them under almost any circumstance.
Back in the olden thymes I was a pretty good baseball player. Early in my high school career I got the chance to catch a AAA pitcher. I went into thinking I would have no trouble. The first pitch was on top of me so fast I was knocked off balance. It took a bunch of pass balls before I got used to how to handle his breaking stuff.
The result in the video might also shed some light on the question of choosing to fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses.
Extreme caving Jun 24 2014
Burkhard Bilger writes for the New Yorker about extreme cavers and their effort to explore what may be the deepest cave in the world.
When the call to base camp was over, Gala hiked to the edge of the pool with his partner, the British cave diver Phil Short, and they put on their scuba rebreathers, masks, and fins. They'd spent the past two days on a platform suspended above another sump, rebuilding their gear. Many of the parts had been cracked or contaminated on the way down, so the two men took their time, cleaning each piece and cannibalizing components from an extra kit, knowing that they'd soon have no time to spare. The water here was between fifty and sixty degrees -- cold enough to chill you within minutes -- and Gala had no idea where the pool would lead. It might offer swift passage to the next shaft or lead into an endless, mud-dimmed labyrinth.
The rebreathers were good for four hours underwater, longer in a pinch. They removed carbon dioxide from a diver's breath by passing it through cannisters of soda lime, then recirculating it back to the mouthpiece with a fresh puff of oxygen. Gala and Short were expert at managing dive time, but in the background another clock was always ticking. The team had arrived in February, three months before the rainy season. It was only mid-March now, but the weather wasn't always predictable. In 2009, a flash flood had trapped two of Gala's teammates in these tunnels for five days, unsure if the water would ever recede.
Gala had seen traces of its passage on the way down: old ropes shredded to fibre, phone lines stripped of insulation. When the heavy rain began to fall, it would flood this cave completely, trickling down from all over the mountain, gathering in ever-widening branches, dislodging boulders and carving new tunnels till it poured from the mountain into the Santo Domingo River. "You don't want to be there when that happens," Stone said. "There is no rescue, period." To climb straight back to the surface, without stopping to rig ropes and phone wire, would take them four days. It took three days to get back from the moon.
Bilger writes about this sort of thing so well...glad I didn't miss this one.
The view from the peloton Jun 23 2014
This is intense: video from one of the riders during the sprint finish of stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse.
I don't know how all of those riders are working that hard so close together without constantly crashing into each other. The number of "I've got my bike slightly in front of your bike now move the hell over" moves shown in the video reminded me of how NYC taxi drivers negotiate the streets of Manhattan. (via @polarben)
Football and Peace Jun 23 2014
For a Visa commercial, Errol Morris gathers a number of Nobel Peace Prize winners and nominees (including Lech Walesa) to talk about how important it is for their countries to beat the crap out of the other countries in the World Cup.
Two quotes in the video caught my ear:
Sport is a continuation of war by other means.
Look, football isn't life or death. It's much more important than that.
The first is a riff on Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz's aphorism "War is the continuation of Politik by other means". Clausewitz also devised the concept of "the fog of war", which Morris used for the title of a film. The second is a paraphrase of a quote by legendary football coach Bill Shankly:
Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.
World Cup balls, 1930-2014 Jun 13 2014
The NY Times has an interactive look at the balls used in the World Cup from 1930 onward. Here's the ball from 1930:
Look at those laces! Just like the ol' American handegg.
Nasty dunk by sophomore Kwe'Shaun Parker Jun 09 2014
Kwe'Shaun Parker is a 6'2" high-school sophomore and recently threw down one of the sickest dunks of the year:
Dang! I mean, DANG! Here's Parker last year as a freshman doing some equally amazing stuff:
How to nerd out about soccer Jun 09 2014
From Grantland's Mike Goodman, a guide to nerding out about soccer, using the language already spoken by American sports nerds.
What exactly is a good shot in soccer? The nascent field of soccer analytics is hard at work trying to figure that out. It won't surprise anybody to learn that closer is better, and using your feet is much, much better than using your head. So, much like getting into the lane is of paramount importance in basketball, getting the ball at your feet in front of the goal is just about the best thing you can do in soccer. Getting to the byline (baseline) in the corner of the penalty areas (like where Maicon was in the above video) is a hot destination. That's where you can cut the ball back for a teammate to have one of those coveted close shots. Hey, look at that - it's like basketball again: Get to the goal or get to the corners.
Bad British hockey commentary Jun 09 2014
Anthony Richardson is back, offering his British commentary on American sports. This time it's hockey:
Mary Poppins, look how small the goals are, the size of a matchbox guarded by an overzealous beekeeper.
Sex and soccer Jun 06 2014
For the World Cup, the managers of Mexico, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Spain, Germany, and Chile have all banned players from having sex for the duration of the tournament. France and Brazil's players have to slow down, too:
Usually normal sex is done in balanced way, but there are certain forms, certain ways and others who do acrobatics. We will put limits and survey the players.
-- Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari
Intriguing but creepy! (What does "survey" mean?)
Athletics and abstinence have gone together for seemingly forever, but scientific studies suggest that sex as such doesn't impair athletic performance.
The bigger worry might be the cultural connection between sex and sports, particularly soccer in Brazil: Adidas withdrew two purportedly World Cup-themed T-shirts with the slogans "Looking To Score" (with a woman in a bikini and a soccer ball for the O in "Score") and "I Normal Sex, No Acrobatics" via @webbmedia)
Landing her first 540 May 28 2014
Nine-year old Sabre Norris started skating three years ago because she couldn't have a bike. Here she lands her first 540 after 74 straight failed attempts.
My favorite trick is a 540. I watched Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins do it on the internet, and I just had to do it. That was my 75th attempt of the day. Every time I tried one and didn't land it I put a rock on the table. It ended up being my 75th rock. I was frothing. I did some 720s too. Not proper. I called it 540 to revert to splat. I didn't cry though. My goal is to do 100 of them before this Saturday. I'm up to 75. I still can't ride a bike, but I can do a 540.
Richard Sherman and the value of preparation May 09 2014
Richard Sherman is a football player for the Seatt...hey, HEY!, you nerds that were about to wander off because I'm talking about sportsball, come on back here. Like I was saying, Sherman plays cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, who won the Super Bowl last year. The thing is, whatever it is you do, Richard Sherman is way better at his job than you are at yours. And he's able to explain how he does what he does, which, if you've ever been to a technology conference or read more than a thing or two linked from Hacker News, you know is even more rare.
Sherman is, by his own admission, not particularly athletically gifted in comparison to some others in the NFL, but he's one of the top 5 cornerbacks in the game because he studies and prepares like a mofo. In this video, he explains how he approaches preparing for games and shares some of the techniques he uses to gain an advantage over opposing quarterbacks and receivers.
Sherman is obviously really intelligent, but his experience demonstrates once again the value of preparation, hard work, and the diligent application of deliberate practice.
All for one and one for all May 01 2014
A Japanese TV show took three expert fencers and pitted them against 50 amateurs.
I honestly didn't think this would be that interesting and expected the Musketeers to easily get taken out right away or, if they survived more than 30 seconds, to handily finish off the rest of the crowd...nothing in between. But it's fascinating what happens. The crowd, being a crowd, does not initially do what it should, which is rush the experts and take them out right away with little regard for individual survival. But pretty much every person fights for themselves. And instead of getting easier for the Musketeers near the end, it gets more difficult. The few remaining crowd members start working together more effectively. The survival of the fittest effect kicks in. The remaining experts get sloppy, tired, and perhaps a little overconfident. The ending was a genuine shock. (via digg)
Barry Sanders, GOAT Apr 28 2014
A nice appreciation of Barry Sanders by Andrew Sharp at Grantland.
"Barry Sanders is my new idol," Bo Jackson said after a Raiders-Lions game in 1990. "I love the way the guy runs. When I grow up, I want to be just like him."
The Raiders won that game, and the Lions were 4-9 at the time, but it didn't even matter.
All anyone could talk about afterward was the "little water bug" who "might rewrite history."
This wasn't necessarily a metaphor for Barry's entire Lions career -- he was on more playoff teams than people remember -- but it definitely covers about half the years he spent in Detroit. Even when the Lions were awful, Barry would still have a few plays every game that would keep people gawking afterward.
Bo Jackson had a similar effect on people, which is part of what makes that old quote so cool. The Bo Jackson combination of speed and power is something we'd never seen before and haven't seen since. He was a cult hero then, and the legend has only grown over the years.
I've always been an atypical sports fan. I grew up in Wisconsin rooting for the Packers & Brewers but switched to being a Vikings & Cubs fan sometime in high school. But despite following the Vikings at the time, my favorite player in the NFL was Barry Sanders. For my money, Sanders was pure symphonic excellence in motion, the best running back (and perhaps player) the NFL had ever seen and maybe will ever see. I wonder if one of the reasons why I like Lionel Messi so much is because he reminds me of Sanders; in stature, in strength, in quickness, in skill. Compare and contrast some of their finest runs:
Baseball fandom map of the United States Apr 24 2014
From the NY Times' new site, The Upshot, a bunch of maps showing the borders of baseball team fandom, with close-ups of various dividing lines: the Munson-Nixon Line, The Molitor Line, The Reagan-Nixon Line, and the Morgan-Ripken Line.
The NYC and Bay Area maps are so sad...the Mets and A's get no love. (via @atotalmonet)
GoPro, circa the 1960s Apr 14 2014
Back in the olden days, you just tied your cameraman right to the car:
Looks almost as goofy as Google Glass. Legendary F1 driver Jackie Stewart wore this stills-only proto-GoPro at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1966 (though not during the actual race):
Stewart ended up winning that race. I believe Stewart is also the model for this contraption, which looks like a film camera counterbalanced with a battery pack?
That couldn't have been comfortable. For some reason, neither of Stewart's helmet cams are recognized by Wikipedia as being the first documented helmet cam, which is instead attributed to a motorcycle race in 1986:
Update: Not even a bulky taped-up helmet camera can keep Steve McQueen from looking cool:
Well, he just barely looks cool. McQueen wore the helmet during the filming of 1971's Le Mans. While researching this, I came across another film featuring McQueen that used helmet cams to get footage: 1971s On Any Sunday, a documentary about motorcycle racing. (via @jackshafer)
Mercedes is dominating F1 so far this year Apr 09 2014
Coming into this season, Formula One made a lot of rule changes: new engines, better turbo systems, two different power sources (fuel & electrical), fixed-ratio gearboxes, etc. The cars had to be redesigned from top to bottom. Whenever a situation like this occurs, there's an opportunity for technical innovation (rather than the gradual improvements that tend to occur when the environment remains mostly unchanged). This year, the Mercedes team built their engines to get more out of the new turbo system than the other teams.
What Mercedes' boffins have done, according to Sky Sports F1 technical guru Mark Hughes, is split the turbo in half, mounting the exhaust turbine at the rear of the engine and the intake turbine at the front. A shaft running through the V of the V6 engine connects the two halves, keeping the hot exhaust gases driving the turbo from heating the cool air it's drawing into the engine.
Aside from getting cooler air into the engine and extracting more power (maybe as much as 50 horsepower), this setup also allows Mercedes to keep drivetrain components closer to the center of the car. It also allowed the team to use a smaller intercooler, which cools off the heated air before going into the engine, compared to the rest of the cars.
And the result so far? Utter Mercedes domination. Out of the three races this year, the two drivers for the Mercedes team (Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg) have three first-place finishes and two second-place finishes (Hamilton had to retire with engine issues in the first race). Mercedes was certainly competitive last year, finishing second, but Red Bull-Renault easily beat them in the points race and one of their drivers finished 1st in 13 out of 19 races. More relevant to the discussion here is how easily these races are being won by Mercedes. In each of the three races, a member of the Mercedes team qualified in pole position, recorded the fastest lap, and beat the other teams' drivers by more than 24 seconds in each case. To put that last stat in perspective, last year the winning team beat the second place team by more than 20 seconds in only three races, with the margin typically in the 3-10 second range.
Update: I said earlier that one of the changes was "no refueling during races" which has been the case for a few years now (hence the 2-second pit stop). Also, this video is a great explanation of how Mercedes turbo is designed and how it helps make their car go faster:
Update: The 2014 Formula One season is over and the Mercedes team sustained their advantage throughout. If anything, their advantage increased over the course of the season. Just take a look at the driver's standings; in only one race (out of 19) did a Mercedes driver fail to finish in the top two slots. And when they won, it was usually by large margins. In the 2014 Brazilian Grand Prix for example, the two Mercedes drivers finished within 1.5 seconds of each other with the 3rd place driver finishing almost 40 seconds later. The Mercedes team finished with 701 points overall, nearly 300 points more than the second place finishers and almost equalling the number of points of the 2nd and 3rd place teams combined. Whatever the team's technical advantage was, it was too much for the other teams to deal with.
The scourge of coffee Mar 20 2014
Khoi Vinh tells us how he really feels about coffee.
In the West, and particularly in urban centers of the United States, we've turned coffee into not just a daily habit, but a totem of conspicuous consumption. They are "rituals of self-congratulation" (a choice phrase I believe I read from Sam Sifton, but which I can't seem to source) wherein we continually obsess over certain coffee purveyors or certain methods of brewing coffee - each new one more complex, more Rube Goldbergian and more comically self-involved than the previous brewing fad.
I don't drink coffee either (don't even like the smell), but as someone who regularly indulges in other addictions and "rituals of self-congratulation", I don't take issue with other people's enjoyment of coffee...as long as I'm out of earshot when the "perfect grinder for pulling a great shot" discussion starts.
Coffee, like almost everything else these days, is a sport. Everyone has a favorite team (or coffee making method or political affiliation or design style or TV drama or rapper or comic book), discusses techniques and relives great moments with other likeminded fans, and argues with fans of other teams. The proliferation and diversification of media over the past 35 years created thousands of new sports and billions of new teams. These people turned hard-to-find nail polish into a sport. These people support Apple in their battle against Microsoft and Samsung. This guy scouts fashion phenoms on city streets. Finding the best bowl of ramen in NYC is a sport. Design is a sport. Even hating sports is a sport; people compete for the funniest "what time is the sportsball match today? har har people who like sports are dumb jocks" joke on Twitter. Let people have their sports, I say. Liking coffee can't be any worse than liking the Yankees, can it?
The shoe master Mar 18 2014
That is a bespoke running shoe made by a small company started by Hitoshi Mimura, who is considered one of the top shoe designers in the world. Mimura had great success at Asics, outfitting Olympic gold medal runners with shoes lighter, grippier, and more breathable than those worn by competitors, but now he has struck out on his own.
"I take 13 measurements of the foot, each foot has to be measured separately," explains the sensei of shoemaking. "I only trust hand-measuring. Currently, each shoe takes about three weeks to make, mainly due to determining which materials to use." Preparation is also key. "For a world championships or Olympics I check the course once or twice. I went to Beijing three times."
A NY Times feature on Mimura written before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing emphasized the designer's reliance on rice husks in the soles for grippiness. Mimura takes his job and his responsibility to the runners very seriously:
Surreptitiously, Mimura made soles of two slightly different thicknesses, to compensate for the fact that Takahashi's left leg was eight millimeters -- about a third of an inch -- longer than her right leg. She had tried a pair of the uneven soles before the Sydney Olympics, but felt uncomfortable.
Still, Mimura felt Takahashi needed such shoes to win and to avoid a recurrence of pain caused by the disparity in her legs. Without Takahashi's knowledge, Mimura gave her the uneven soles, then wrote a letter of resignation, in case she failed to win gold.
"I decided to take full responsibility because I made this pair against her wishes," Mimura said of the letter. "I didn't have to hand it over. It's still in my desk."
That is belief in yourself and in your craft. Many people believe in "giving people not what they want but what they need" but how many of them will put their livelihood on the line for it?
2014 Winter Paralympics Mar 10 2014
The competition runs through March 16th. The best way to watch in the US is on NBC Sports Network...they're showing 52 hours of programming from the Games over the next two weeks.
Mini golf perfect game Mar 05 2014
Superb short documentary from Grantland about a perfect 18-hole game of mini golf:
No pain, possible gain Mar 04 2014
Three years ago, Kayla Montgomery was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Faced with the prospect of being confined to a wheelchair someday, Montgomery, one of the slower runners on her high school cross country team, told her coach she was short on time and wanted to run faster. Now she's one of the fastest runners in the country and perhaps the MS has something to do with it.
Kayla Montgomery, 18, was found to have multiple sclerosis three years ago. Defying most logic, she has gone on to become one of the fastest young distance runners in the country -- one who cannot stay on her feet after crossing the finish line.
Because M.S. blocks nerve signals from Montgomery's legs to her brain, particularly as her body temperature increases, she can move at steady speeds that cause other runners pain she cannot sense, creating the peculiar circumstance in which the symptoms of a disease might confer an athletic advantage.
But intense exercise can also trigger weakness and instability; as Montgomery goes numb in races, she can continue moving forward as if on autopilot, but any disruption, like stopping, makes her lose control.
"When I finish, it feels like there's nothing underneath me," Montgomery said. "I start out feeling normal and then my legs gradually go numb. I've trained myself to think about other things while I race, to get through. But when I break the motion, I can't control them and I fall."
Researchers, however, have long noted a link between neurological disorders and athletic potential. In the late 1800's, the pioneering French doctor Philippe Tissie observed that phobias and epilepsy could be beneficial for athletic training. A few decades later, the German surgeon August Bier measured the spontaneous long jump of a mentally disturbed patient, noting that it compared favorably to the existing world record. These types of exertions seemed to defy the notion of built-in muscular limits and, Bier noted, were made possible by "powerful mental stimuli and the simultaneous elimination of inhibitions."
Questions about the muscle-centered model came up again in 1989 when Canadian researchers published the results of an experiment called Operation Everest II, in which athletes did heavy exercise in altitude chambers. The athletes reached exhaustion despite the fact that their lactic-acid concentrations remained comfortably low. Fatigue, it seemed, might be caused by something else.
In 1999, three physiologists from the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa took the next step. They worked a group of cyclists to exhaustion during a 62-mile laboratory ride and measured, via electrodes, the percentage of leg muscles they were using at the fatigue limit. If standard theories were true, they reasoned, the body should recruit more muscle fibers as it approached exhaustion -- a natural compensation for tired, weakening muscles.
Instead, the researchers observed the opposite result. As the riders approached complete fatigue, the percentage of active muscle fibers decreased, until they were using only about 30 percent. Even as the athletes felt they were giving their all, the reality was that more of their muscles were at rest. Was the brain purposely holding back the body?
"It was as if the brain was playing a trick on the body, to save it," says Timothy Noakes, head of the Cape Town group. "Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. In fatigue, it only feels like we're going to die. The actual physiological risks that fatigue represents are essentially trivial."
Update: While still in middle school, thirteen-year-old Amaris Tyynismaa is putting up some of the best distance running times in the country against high school competition. And she does it in spite of, or perhaps, because of battling with Tourette syndrome since she was a little girl.
Some athletes with TS attribute near-magical powers to their condition. Tim Howard, the goalkeeper of last year's U.S. World Cup soccer team, says that TS has given him vision and reflexes that other players simply don't have. Famed physician Oliver Sacks once wrote about a ping-pong player whose abnormal quickness and ability to knock back unreturnable shots, he believed, had to be connected to TS. One reason is that people with Tourette's also tend to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Amaris included). They need to repeat behaviors-whether it's preventing balls from going into the net or running improbably long distances-until they do it just right. "I'm not saying it's a good thing to have," Sacks told a reporter last year, "but if one has Tourette's, there are advantages." New research out of the University of Nottingham shows that the brains of TS patients are physically different from everyone else's, transformed by years of operating under much greater than normal resistance and better at controlling the body.
Neurologists at the Tourette Syndrome Association aren't quite ready to embrace a connection between TS and superior athleticism. They are more comfortable saying that people with TS often see their symptoms subside when they're playing sports or otherwise engaged in something that focuses their attention away from the urge to tic.
Soccer quieted the noise in Amaris' head. After taking up the game, she began to tic less off the field. She did better in school. She talked more. Actually, she talked a lot, like she does now. In her last game in England, she scored three goals and the other kids lifted her up on their shoulders and carried her around. She would have had a major problem with that just months before-too many germs-but she loved it.
The way of the sword Mar 03 2014
From The Avant/Garde Diaries comes a brief lesson in Japanese sword fighting from master kendo sensei Shozo Kato.
Western beauty is radiance, majesty, grandness and broadness. In comparison, eastern beauty is desolateness. Humility. Hidden beauty.
David Attenborough narrates curling Feb 19 2014
BBC Radio 1 recorded David Attenborough doing nature-style commentary for curling, but the YouTube video isn't available in the US, but luckily there's a copy on LiveLeak:
For the curious, here are the rules of and other assorted information about curling.
Running from the knowledge Feb 17 2014
Every year, a bunch of folks play a game called Last Man, in which the participants attempt to be the last person to find out the result of the Super Bowl. TLDR did an entertaining podcast on this year's contestants.
Update: The New Yorker recently ran a piece on the Last Man game.
Most of the runners, however, found themselves waking up each day in a cold sweat. "I feel like I'm being sequestered for the stupidest jury trial in modern history," one competitor said. "It's gotten to the point where three things may end me: recklessness, homesickness, or sheer boredom."
Sports Illustrated: "No girls allowed!" Feb 14 2014
Writer Mary Beth Williams tweeted the following this morning:
No actively competitive female sports figures on SI cover since Olympic gymnast team. July 2012.
Intrigued, I went back through Sports Illustrated's cover archive and counted the number of covers featuring active female athletes. I only needed one hand:
2012: 1 (US Women's Gymnastics Team)
2011: 1 (Hope Solo)
2010: 3! (Serena Williams, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso & Vonn)
Pathetic. And ESPN the Magazine isn't any better...most of the female athletes on their covers over the past five years are naked. Well, except for this one of the incredibly talented skier Lindsey Vonn with her face photoshopped onto Sharon Stone's body in the leg uncrossing scene from Basic Instinct.
As Williams notes on Twitter, Sports Illustrated "could show women as more than bikinis. As athletes." and "I want my daughters to read sports magazines & see themselves represented, not Barbie." Seems like we need a Title IX for sports magazines.
Update: Vonn's face was not photoshopped onto Stone's body. Which is...better, I guess? Maybe?
NYC snowboarding Feb 14 2014
This is fucking great and crazy...when the snow hit NYC yesterday, Casey Neistat grabbed his snowboard and went snowboarding behind a Jeep in the East Village.
Vintage snowboarding footage from 1977 Feb 13 2014
From 1977, a video of someone snowboarding on one of the first commercially made boards:
I'm not completely sure who the rider is (probably Dimitrije Milovich), but the board is a Winterstick. A company who owns the Winterstick trademark still makes a version of the split-tail board you see in the video.
From what I can tell, Winterstick was the first modern snowboard company but was quickly eclipsed by rivals Sims and Burton, with Burton emerging in the 1990s as the growing sport's 800 lb gorilla.
Photos of the first 12 Winter Olympics Feb 13 2014
Following the film footage of the 1932 Winter Olympics (ice skating on stilts! Keystone Cops ski jumping!), here's a collection of photos from In Focus of the first 12 Winter Games, from 1924 to 1976.
Footage from the 1932 Winter Olympics Feb 12 2014
Here's a bit of film footage from the third-ever Winter Olympics, held in Lake Placid, NY in 1932. The ski jumping segment is amazing and terrifying.
Here's how those Games compare to the modern day Olympics.
F1 pit stop ballet Feb 11 2014
Watch Ferrari's F1 pit crew do a pit stop in a bit over two seconds:
I wish this were in slow motion because I've watched this three times now and I still cannot understand how it's done. My favorite part is how calm they all are about it. Here's a longer video that shows the process over and over from several points of view, including from a GoPro mounted on the chest of the wheelgun man:
Watch for the guy on the front jack pirouetting out of the way. I would love to read a long piece on how F1 pit crews train and practice. There are tantalizing bits in shorter articles, like this one from Autosport.com:
With three people per wheel, two jack operators, and a handful of mechanics fulfilling other functions, each pit crew comprises nearly 20 people.
Each is trained for a specific role and teams take their preparation as seriously as drivers', managing crewmen's fitness and diet.
They are drilled incessantly at both the factory and during race weekends, with hundreds of pitstop practices until the process is instinctive.
Although problems such as faulty guns are rehearsed, everyone focuses on their own job -- in a two-second pitstop, there is no time to see what everyone else is doing. By the time an error has been alerted, the car has often already pulled away, as was the case at the Nurburgring.
And this one from the AP:
Teams now spend huge sums to design their own equipment and improve the fitness of their teams who also work as mechanics. McLaren is working with the English Institute of Sport to hone their 24-member team's technique while Williams has partnered with Olympic champion Michael Johnson's Performance Center to work on everything from diet to eye-hand coordination to core strength.
Training has also been ramped up. Most teams have rigs to practice on in the factory and pit stops are practiced as many as 70 times over a typical race weekend. Each stop is timed and videotaped for later review.
"When you had to go from 3.5 seconds down to a lower number, then you really need to be very specific and accurate on how you train because everything needs to be very synchronized to achieve that level of fast time and consistency," said Williams' chief race engineer Xevi Pujolar, whose team had its fastest pit stop this season in Spain after making changes to its crew but still is almost a second behind the top teams.
"There still a lot of room for improvement and we are working hard to catch up to these guys that do close to two seconds," Pujolar said. "If you look at video of pit crew and how they move during pit stop, everything is so well coordinated. To achieve this level of coordination on every pits stop requires a lot of training."
As well as this series about pit stops by Williams on YouTube. (via digg)
BMX riding as conceptual art Feb 07 2014
A few months ago, the site featured the BMX tricks of Tim Knoll, which were some of the most unusual tricks I'd seen. (That semi trailer limbo!) Tate Roskelley's tricks are even weirder, so much so that they seem more like an artistic statement on tricks than tricks themselves:
I think the "artist's statement" on YouTube is spot on:
Tate's got just about the most original perspective on BMX you can imagine. I think years ago when Jim C said "I just want to see what's possible", Tate took his words at face value. His riding is less about making a statement and more about asking questions. What is a bike trick? What is a street spot? The answers aren't always pretty (I'm sure he isn't going to start riding around with his stem bolts loose full time) but they're always interesting and Tate is always having fun.
Diego Maradona's Goal of the Century Feb 06 2014
For Howler Magazine, Sam Markham writes about Diego Maradona's second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, aka Probably The Best Goal of All Time. Markham focuses on how a pair of radio commentators -- one English, the other from South America -- called the goal.
Morales's ecstatic commentary of Maradona's second goal is itself iconic in Argentina, and his lyrical expression "Barrilete cosmico!" (Cosmic kite!) is now shorthand in Argentina and much of South America for Maradona. His narration is a frenzied mix of poetry, yelling, and sobbing that ends with a prayer: "Thank you, God, for football, for Maradona, for these tears, for this-Argentina 2, England 0."
Even if you don't care about soccer, you should give this a listen...the dude absolutely loses his shit:
An alternate view of the spectacular goal has recently been found. Oh, and my favorite weird thing about this goal: Lionel Messi is considered by many to be Maradona's heir (both are small, Argentinian, and otherworldly talented) and in 2007, at the age of 19, he scored this goal against Getafe:
As you can see in the side-by-side comparison, it's extremely similar to Maradona's goal. Even the commentator loses it in a similar manner.
The Manhattan Winter Olympics Feb 05 2014
I love this sort of thing: visualizations of Olympic venues plopped into Manhattan to provide a sense of scale. My favorite is the bobsled run in Times Square:
My son and I were just talking about this and when he asked me, I had no idea how big the track actually was. Can't wait to show him this when I get home tonight.
In other news, the news media has arrived in Sochi and the town doesn't seem to be ready for the Games. Oopsie!
Breaking Madden Jan 31 2014
Jon Bois attempted to create the most lopsided game ever in Madden NFL on his Xbox. He beefed up the players on one team (7'0", 440 lbs, good at everything) and put a bunch of scrubs on the other team (5'0", 160 lbs, bad at everything). He started playing and was on pace to score more than 1500 points when...
With just under two minutes left in the first quarter, I was winning 366 to zero. I realized that I was on pace to score 1,500 points in a single game. I had never conceived of such a high score. I'd never even heard anyone talk idly about such a thing. There was absolutely nothing the Broncos could do to slow down my pace. I could score just as surely as someone can point and click. It was great. I wanted to ruin Madden in a way I never had before, and I was doing it.
And then it happened. Before I tell you what happened next, I want to lay out a couple of things: first, I made no actual hacks to this game. I didn't have some special jailbroken Xbox, nor a special copy of Madden, nor anything like that. I bought my Xbox at Target and bought my copy of Madden off Amazon, and that's that. Second, I stake whatever journalistic integrity I have upon the statement that I didn't Photoshop any of this, and that it happened just as I say it did.
This is LOL funny in several places...particularly the GIFs. (via @delfuego)
The decline of snowboarding Jan 29 2014
I wasn't aware of this: snowboarding numbers are down across the board...revenue from snowboarders is down, snowboard visits to resorts are down, sales of gear is down, the number of first-timers under 14 years-old is down, etc.
Each February I experience the unrestrained joy of attending the ski and snowboard trade show in Denver. Here's what I see when I walk the snowboard section: Underage snowboarders puking in the corridors after one too many keg stands-at 10 a.m. And overseeing all this fabricated youthfulness? Fifty-year-old white dudes in flat-brim caps, tight jeans, and designer flannel. Chuckleheads. Leveraging snowboarding's rebel cred, they modeled its image on skateboarding and aimed it almost entirely at teenagers.
That worked great for a while. Then snowboarding went mainstream-the X Games, Mountain Dew ads, Shaun White-and, inevitably, it lost a bit of its mojo. The first generation of riders got real jobs and started having kids, and snowboarding's image never matured to accommodate them.
As snowboarding went narrow, skiing went big. Today's skiers can choose to carve turns, launch off the slopestyle jumps, hammer bumps, navigate steeps, tour the backcountry, rip bottomless pow, race in a beer league, or just go skiing like a vacationer from Chicago or Boca Friggin' Raton. It's cool; there's a place for you and a group of likeminded folks who would love to have you. Cooler still if you're a lifelong enthusiast? Dabble in all the above. Skiing isn't golf; there's always some new adventure waiting for you.
But industrialized snowboarding hates diversity.
The 2013 NFL season in 160 seconds Jan 28 2014
If you haven't been watching the NFL at all this season but are planning on tuning into the Super Bowl, this video by ESPN will prepare you by recapping the entire season in under three minutes.
Skate or nap! Jan 28 2014
Kahlei Stone-Kelly is two. He's still in diapers. And he's a way better skateboarder than you are:
Oh, and barefoot! YouTube is very emasculating sometimes. (via @DavidGrann)
More hilarious bad lip reading of NFL players Jan 24 2014
The first installment was a classic, but this second video of NFL players and coaches overdubbed with alternate dialogue is pretty great as well.
Hoop Dreams is 20 years old Jan 15 2014
Hoop Dreams is a tremendous documentary that will be re-screened at Sundance this year, two decades after its initial release. Here's an oral history of the making of the film.
Basketball fanatics Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert originally set out to make Hoop Dreams as a half-hour doc for PBS that would focus on the culture surrounding streetball. But as quickly as they got on the blacktop, they left it. The dreams of their subjects, Arthur Agee and William Gates, were too grand for just the playground, and instantly, the filmmakers were immersed in the young men's lives, showcasing both the good and bad.
Twenty years after the film premiered at Sundance and was awarded the festival's Audience Award, it's grown into an iconic work. Its snub in the Best Documentary category at the 67th Academy Awards in 1995 led to changes in the voting process. NBA players treat the movie as their own life story. It's been added to the Library Of Congress' National Film Registry. And when looking back on the film's 15th anniversary, Roger Ebert declared it "the great American documentary."
The green Flying Tomato Jan 14 2014
Video of Shaun White snowboarding at age 10:
A view from a ski jump Jan 13 2014
Ride along with Anders Jacobsen as he takes flight off the end of a ski jump in Lillehammer, Norway.
Very nice, but this fourth grader's first time on a bigger ramp is by far my favorite ski jump video of all time.
On the intelligence of football players Jan 10 2014
Michael Lewis made the case in The Blind Side that football players are the smartest in sports because the game is complex and moves fast. For the New Yorker, Nicholas Dawidoff takes a look at what makes a football player smart.
The Redskins' London Fletcher is undersized and thirty-eight years old, but he's been able to play for so long because he is a defensive Peyton Manning: seeing the game so lucidly, yelling out the offensive play about to unfold, changing alignments before the snap, organizing the field in real time. Similarly, Lavonte David, who has been with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two years, is just two hundred and thirty-four pounds -- ten to fifteen pounds lighter than most at his position -- the Wonderlic scores out on the Internet for him are not especially high, and, like all players, he makes the occasional boneheaded play. But he possesses dedicated study habits and a football clairvoyance that, come Sunday, finds him ignoring the blocking flow only at the one moment during a game when the offense runs the ball away from it.
The Hall of Fame Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Alan Page weighed two hundred and forty-five pounds, the dimension of a modern fullback. Even so, Page was terrifying. His forty-yard-dash time wasn't anything special, either, but he says that he could run down faster opponents because he always had sense where he was in relation to the blur of bodies around him-he could "understand the situation." Page is now an Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court. "Being a football player requires you to take your emotional self to places that most people shouldn't go," he said. "You wouldn't want to get to know the person who was in my head on a football field. I likely see some of these people in my current job -- those who can't control that person -- and they do not very nice things."
I asked him, "You could control that person on a field?"
"Most of the time," Page said.
The safety, standing at the rear of the defense, must compensate for the mistakes of others; football intelligence matters more at this position than any other on the defense. At five-eight, a hundred and eighty-eight pounds, the Bills safety Jim Leonhard, a nine-year veteran, is among the smallest and also the slowest starting defensive backs in the game. And yet, watching him on film, he appears to teleport to the ball. Leonhard's name seems to enter any conversation about football intelligence; he knows every teammate's responsibilities in every call, and understands the game as twenty-two intersecting vectors. "He'd walk off the bus and you'd think he was the equipment manager," Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "He's still in the league because he's the quarterback of the defense."
The best and worst NFL announcers Dec 30 2013
Aaron Gordon of Sports on Earth watched 32 NFL games to determine the best and worst NFL announcers.
In general, there are three types of announcer comments: good, neutral and bad. Good statements offer some type of insight into the game. This is inherently subjective, since different people know different things. Neutral statements constitute the bulk of their utterances: neither offensive nor insightful. As a result, I decided to measure the bad statements.
I divided announcers' verbal infractions into six categories that are not simply pet peeves, but likely to be annoyances for a majority of NFL viewers.
Happy to see Chris Collinsworth near the top of the heap...he's my favorite and, while a bit goofy sometimes, offers the best post-Madden analysis in the game. Siragusa and Gruden are like nails on the chalkboard, surprised they didn't rank much worse.
The case for Dennis Rodman Dec 19 2013
At Skeptical Sports, Benjamin Morris (who was just hired at FiveThirtyEight) has an extensive series of posts about Dennis Rodman. The conclusion he arrives at after many graphs and a dozen different posts is that Dennis Rodman was probably way better at whatever it was that Dennis Rodman did than any other NBA player was at what they did over the past 25 years.
While there may be room for reasonable disagreement about his character, his sportsmanship, or how and whether to honor his accomplishments, my research and analysis has led me to believe -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- that Rodman is one of the most undervalued players in NBA history.
I admit to not reading the whole series, but the ramifications of Rodman being "the best 3rd-best player" in the history of the NBA by a wide margin laid out in the finale was fascinating:
"Well, it's not like he's as valuable as Michael Jordan, but he's the best 3rd-best player by a wider margin than Jordan was the best 1st-best player."
"So you're saying he was better than Michael Jordan."
"No, I'm not saying that. Michael Jordan was clearly better."
"OK, take a team with Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman on it. Which would hurt them more, replacing Michael Jordan with the next-best primary scoring option in NBA history, or replacing Rodman with the next-best defender/rebounder in NBA history?"
"I'm not sure, but probably Rodman."
"So you're saying a team should dump Michael Jordan before it should dump Dennis Rodman?"
"Well, I don't know for sure, I'm not sure exactly how valuable other defender-rebounders are, but regardless, it would be weird to base the whole argument on who happens to be the 2nd-best player. I mean, what if there were two Michael Jordan's, would that make him the least valuable starter on an All-Time team?"
"Well OK, how common are primary scoring options that are in Jordan's league value-wise?"
"There are none, I'm pretty sure he has the most value."
"I dunno, there are probably between 0 and 2 in the league at any given time."
"And how common are defender/rebounder/dirty workers that are in Rodman's league value-wise?"
"There are none."
"There are none. Ballpark."
"So, basically, if a team had Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman on it, and they could replace either with some random player 'in the ballpark' of the next-best player for their role, they should dump Jordan before they dump Rodman?"
"Maybe. Um. Yeah, probably."
"And I assume that this holds for anyone other than Jordan?"
"So say you're head-to-head with me and we're drafting NBA All-Time teams, you win the toss, you have first pick, who do you take?"
"I don't know, good question."
"No, it's an easy question. The answer is: YOU TAKE RODMAN. You just said so."
"Wait, I didn't say that."
"O.K., fine, I get the first pick. I'll take Rodman. . . Because YOU JUST TOLD ME TO."
"I don't know, I'd have to think about it. It's possible."
"So there you go, Dennis Rodman is the single most valuable player in NBA History. There's your argument."
The discussion of Rodman's worth reminds me a bit of Rickey Henderson, another unconventional player and a favorite of my pal David, who is always saying Henderson doesn't get the credit he deserves as one of the best players of all time. (via @pieratt)
Trench run in a wingsuit Dec 18 2013
As if wingsuit flying wasn't insane enough, here's a guy in a wingsuit flying down a trench in Chamonix, like he's Luke trying to blow up the Death Star.
I don't even. (via devour)
The best bike trick of 2013 Dec 18 2013
Ethen Godfrey Roberts pulled off a trick called a Superman double backflip the other day and it is a thing to behold:
Sploid says the trick "seems to murder the laws of physics" but if you can close your mouth long enough to stop drooling (this took me several views, BTW), the law of conservation of angular momentum is responsible for the optical illusion that makes the trick look so cool. The trick begins with a tight backwards flip, which happens quickly because all of the weight (human + bike) is distributed close to the center of gravity. By opening his body up in the middle part of the flip, Roberts slows down the rotation, just like a figure skater, diver, or ballerina would by throwing out their arms or legs. And then he gathers himself back onto the bike, which spins quickly again because the weight is all back close to the center. Boom, physics.
The best golf shot of 2013 Dec 18 2013
Backed up against a fence with no room to swing in a recent tournament, Matt Wheatcroft hit a shot straight out of Happy Gilmore, more miniature golf than golf.
What the puck did Dec 13 2013
Goalies in the NHL didn't used to wear masks...they didn't become common until the 60s. For an article in 1966, Life magazine had a professional make-up artist recreate the injuries and more than 400 stitches that goalie Terry Sawchuk accumulated during his 16-year NHL career.
Sawchuk has sustained other injuries not shown here: a slashed eyeball requiring three stitches, a 70% loss of function in his right arm because 60 bone chips were removed from his elbow, and a permanent "sway-back" caused by continual bent-over posture.