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Nike and the Breaking2 gimmick

Friday, 16 December, 2016 0 Comments

If you’re interested in running, the news of the year was the announcement on Monday that Nike plans to “enable” a sub two-hour marathon time. Breaking2 is what it calls the project. Sarah Barker of Deadspin isn’t buying, however. It’s a gimmick, she says:

“They’ve identified East African talent upon whom they’re going to thickly apply advanced science, including nutrition, hydration, and shoes (strong retail potential amongst sub six-hour marathoners!), and set them loose on a cool, windless, sea level course with speedy pacers galore.”

And she’s not done: “This isn’t Roger Bannister and John Landy competing to break the four-minute mile; that record was within reach, and attained on a normal track during a relatively normal meet. Nike entering the race only confirms what we already knew: it’s about ego and the tremendous things money can buy, rather than athletic competition.”

Barker’s bottom line: “With details lacking and IAAF standards out the window, a downhill, wind-aided course, genetic manipulation, spring-loaded shoes and other such time-saving factors have been posited to get the job done.”

For Ross Tucker at the Science of Sport, those “spring-loaded shoes” could be decisive and he cites the athletic achievements of Oscar Pistorius to make his case: “Let’s say we could make a shoe with a stiffer material, or a spring, so that less energy is lost on compression of the material and the runner gets more return (remember, for instance, that carbon fiber blades lost only 8% of their energy compared to the able-bodied limb losing 54% of its energy — this illustrates the concept that drives a reduction in the O2/physiological cost).”

In other words, says Tucker, springs in the shoes, “which reduce the physiological cost of running by around 4%, could be enough to help a runner go from a 2:04 to a sub-2 hour marathon.” So, if you’re willing to set aside the rules, and belief in credibility and physiology, a sub-two-hour marathon will happen next year. Nike has the money and it’s persuaded three high profile runners — Eluid Kipchoge, Lelisa Desisa and Zersenay Tadese — to miss out on the Spring marathons next year to give the barrier a shot. They’ll have a spring in their step, no doubt.

Nike runners


A cheery Spectator and a glum Prospect

Monday, 22 August, 2016 0 Comments

At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Great Britain won 15 medals, including a solitary gold. Team GB finished 36th in the medal table that year. This year, Great Britain finished second in the table, ahead of China, with 67 medals, 27 of which were gold. The greatest credit for this achievement is due to the athletes, but Sir John Major, whose Conservative government set up the National Lottery in 1994, is central to their success. The Lottery started funding athletes in 1997, the so they could train full-time and, by 2004, Team GB’s medal tally had doubled to 30, doubling again at London in 2012.

Andrew Marr credits John Major in his Spectator diary entry written in sunny Dubrovnik amid crowds of contented Croats and tourists. “Team GB is a near-perfect post-Brexit idea” says Marr, inspired by it all and hoping for happy days:

“Imagine a Britain which had seriously invested for the long term, focusing only on industries and technologies where we were likely to be world-class; and where ‘company’ was used in the old sense of being a tight, committed team of friends and allies working together for a goal many years in the future. It would be a Britain shorn of short-term political lurches in funding and direction, whose corporate leaders had a lively sense of how much they owed to their teams and didn’t treat themselves as Medici princelings.”

Prospect But all that is gold does not glisten. Well, not for the “remoaners”, anyway. With a most unfortunate sense of timing, Prospect depicts Team GB stuck on a self-imposed, starting line in its race for a place in the world. Jay Elwes, Deputy Editor of Prospect, argues: “…there is a strong case that Britain’s new settlement with the EU should be put to a further vote. As the economic threat posed by Brexit grows ever more apparent, so the need for parliamentary intervention will increase. Britain needs a new plan — in the end, a decision by the Commons not to proceed with Brexit might turn out to be the best plan of all.”

After a summer of gold for spectators, disgruntled remoaners are hoping for the prospect of a winter of discontent and an un-Brexit.


The day Jim Hogan ran the marathon in Tokyo

Sunday, 21 August, 2016 0 Comments

The men’s marathon event at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was run on 21 October 1964. A total of 68 athletes started, 58 finished and the gold medal was won in a time of 2 hours and 12 minutes by Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia. One of the starters who did not finish was Jim Hogan from Croom, County Limerick, in Ireland. With the silver medal seemingly within his grasp, dehydration forced Hogan to abandon the race with just five kilometres remaining. His agony can be witnessed at the 5:30 mark in this clip.

After the Tokyo Games, Jim Hogan became disillusioned with the Irish athletics hierarchy, which he called “the blazer-wearing brigade”, and he decided to compete for Great Britain instead. He recorded the biggest victory of his career when he won the marathon for Great Britain at the 1966 European Championships. Later in life, he returned to Limerick and trained horses with success for local point-to-point races. Jim Hogan died on 10 January 2015 and is buried in Knocklong Graveyard.


Running man

Saturday, 20 August, 2016 0 Comments

Rio today: The men’s 1,500 metres Olympics final. It’s one of the classics of the track and field repertory and the greats over this distance include Hicham El Guerrouj, Bernard Lagat, Silas Kiplagat, Fermín Cacho, Steve Ovett, Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram.

“At any rate, that’s how I started running. Thirty three — that’s how old I was then. Still young enough, though no longer a young man. The age that Jesus Christ died. The age that Scott Fitzgerald started to go downhill. That age may be a kind of crossroads in life. That was the age when I began my life as a runner, and it was my belated, but real, starting point as a novelist.” — Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Running man shoes


The triumph of Usain Bolt foreseen

Friday, 19 August, 2016 0 Comments

American artist Jacob Lawrence was one of a number of illustrators invited to design posters for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. He created this image to celebrate the involvement of black athletes in the Olympics, as track and field is an area in which they have excelled. This had a particular historical significance for Lawrence because Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where Hitler had planned to demonstrate the superiority of German “Aryan” athletes.

Munich Olympics poster


The Swimmer swims

Saturday, 13 August, 2016 0 Comments

It’s early to be contemplating life after Rio, but there’s just a week to go and our thoughts will soon turn to Tokyo, site of the 2020 Olympics, and the only Asian city to host the games twice. The first time was 1964 and highlights of the Games of the XVIII Olympiad included Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser winning the 100 metres freestyle for the third time in a row, Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila winning his second Olympic marathon, New Zealand’s Peter Snell winning gold in the 800 metres and 1500 metres, and the US men’s swimming team winning all but three gold medals in the pool.

“The Swimmer” is a famous short story by John Cheever, which was published in The New Yorker in the summer of 1964. It begins with Neddy Merrill sitting by a friend’s pool on a sunny day. Suddenly, he decides to go home by swimming across all the pools in the neighbourhood, which he names “The Lucinda River” in honour of his wife. He starts off energetically, but his journey takes on a dark and surreal tone. Snippet:

“He took off a sweater that was hung over his shoulders and dove in. He had an inexplicable contempt for men who did not hurl themselves into pools. He swam a choppy crawl, breathing either with every stroke or every fourth stroke and counting somewhere well in the back of his mind the one-two one-two of a flutter kick. It was not a serviceable stroke for long distances but the domestication of swimming had saddled the sport with some customs and in his part of the world a crawl was customary. To be embraced and sustained by the light green water was less a pleasure, it seemed, than the resumption of a natural condition, and he would have liked to swim without trunks, but this was not possible, considering his project. He hoisted himself up on the far curb — he never used the ladder — and started across the lawn.

When Lucinda asked where he was going he said he was going to swim home. The only maps and charts he had to go by were remembered or imaginary but these were clear enough. First there were the Grahams, the Hammers, the Lears, the Howlands, and the Crosscups. He would cross Ditmar Street to the Bunkers and come, after a short portage, to the Levys, the Welchers, and the public pool in Lancaster. Then there were the Hallorans, the Sachses, the Biswangers, Shirley Adams, the Gilmartins, and the Clydes. The day was lovely, and that he lived in a world so generously supplied with water seemed like a clemency, a beneficence. His heart was high and he ran across the grass. Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew that he would find friends all along the way; friends would line the banks of the Lucinda River.”

You can download a PDF (89.3KB) of “The Swimmer” here.

The pool


@WPOlympicsbot

Saturday, 6 August, 2016 0 Comments

The Washington Post will use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to report on and from the Rio Olympic Games. Its “Heliograf” technology will automatically generate short multi-sentence updates, offer a daily schedule of events, update results, calculate medal tallies and send alerts 15 minutes before the start of a final event. These updates will appear in the paper’s blog and on Twitter.

“Automated storytelling has the potential to transform The Post’s coverage. More stories, powered by data and machine learning, will lead to a dramatically more personal and customized news experience,” Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at the Washington Post, told Recode.

Heliograf will also play a role in the paper’s coverage of the November US elections, where it will generate stories for some 500 races. Heliograf is part of a suite of AI tools at the core of Arc, the Washington Post publishing platform.

PS: The world’s first website went online 25 years ago today. Created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, it was a basic text page with hyperlinked words that connected to other pages. Berners-Lee used the launch to promote his plan for the service, which would come to affect so many aspects of life and business in the 21st century. From hyperlinks to AI bots filing reports on the Olympic Games, it’s been an extraordinary 25 years.


Post of the Year

Monday, 21 December, 2015 0 Comments

On 10 November, BBC Sport reported: “Eleven-time Flat racing champion jockey Pat Eddery has died at the age of 63. Eddery, who rode more than 4,600 winners and won 14 British classics in a 36-year career, is regarded as one of the greatest jockeys of all time.”

The report went on to note: “Ireland-born Eddery, who retired in 2003 and was awarded an OBE in 2005, had been suffering from ill health.” That “ill health”, while a statement of fact, was also a term of discretion. Out of respect for the dead and, perhaps, for the sensitivities of an industry that has a special sponsorship culture, there was no further elaboration.

The world didn’t have to wait long for an explanation, however, and when it came it was especially moving because of its honesty. “Filled with grief this morning that my dad Pat Eddery is no longer here,” wrote Natasha Eddery, and she named the culprit: alcohol. She hadn’t seen her father in five years, she confessed in her Instagram post:

“…we stayed in touch and spoke on the phone, I never missed a birthday etc and not a day went by when I didn’t think about him. The last time I saw him face to face was when I brought him home from rehab and he drank straight away. I turned to him and said ‘dad if you choose to drink over health and family, I can’t be part of that life for you.’ Sadly his addiction was too strong and he couldn’t overcome it.”

Pat Eddery

Pat Eddery came from a country with a long history of alcohol abuse and it was not his fault that he couldn’t free himself from this destructive legacy. It was his good fortune to be part of a business that helped make him a winner; it was his misfortune that the same business fosters a fatal attraction. Natasha Eddery receives the Rainy Day Post of the Year award for declaring her love of her father and for naming the disease that destroyed him.

Tomorrow, here, the Object of the Year.


Fore!

Friday, 26 September, 2014 0 Comments

The 40th Ryder Cup golf tournament starts today at the Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire in Scotland. What gives it a special edge is that the US will want to make amends for its defeat two years ago, when the home side led 10-6 going into the singles before Europe’s historic final-day fightback. It is expected that President Obama, an avid golfer, will take time out from his very full schedule to catch some of the games on TV. “Does President Obama play too much golf?” is what Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank asked earlier this year. Intro:

On June 14, Sunni rebels threatened Baghdad after seizing much of Iraq — and President Obama fearlessly played a round at the Sunnylands Golf Course in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

The next day, the militants posted pictures of their mass execution of Shiite members of Iraq’s security forces — and Obama boldly teed off again, at Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s Rancho Mirage estate.

This reminds one of the life and times of a different president as described by the late Christopher Hitchens: “The President is also captured in a well-worn TV news clip, making a boilerplate response to a question on terrorism and then asking the reporters to watch his drive. Well, that’s what you get if you catch the President on a golf course. If Eisenhower had done this, as he often did, it would have been presented as calm statesmanship. If Clinton had done it, as he often did, it would have shown his charm.” Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Left.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


Suarez: The chomp

Tuesday, 24 June, 2014 0 Comments


David Moyes and the brutal game

Tuesday, 22 April, 2014 0 Comments

When football analysts reach for the cliché, which is frequently, “the beautiful game” is the one that’s especially prone to being abused. In the hands and mouths of the scribes and commentators, the grime of the modern entertainment is washed away by the application of the magical term. Watching the slow motion, public demotion of David Moyes, the Manchester United manager, however, it’s obvious that new clichés are needed.