We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Thursday, February 20. 2014
In college basketball, this was best exemplified by the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson NCAA Final in 1979. The NBA had Bill Russell and the Celtics in the 50's and 60's. When a reboot began with Bird and Johnson, Michael Jordan joined them and created an era of his own. Football experienced a similar revitalization with the arrival of the West Coast Offense and Joe Montana. Baseball has gone through multiple reboots recently, though few have had a positive spin. Steroids and strikes have had bigger impacts on the face of baseball than the arrival of a dominant player or a new method of playing the game. Sabermetrics have been a net positive, and even my interest in the sport has grown over the last 15 years because of the new math which opens a window onto what real productivity is in the sport.
I haven't watched much of the Olympics, but I've been fascinated with Ted Ligety for some time. In a sport which is usually decided by hundredths of a second, Ligety crashes down slalom courses with seeming abandon and winning by what can only be called massive margins. His dominance is of the type rarely seen in any sport, let alone skiing.
Ligety is one of those people who has reinvented his sport. I did a limited amount of downhill racing in my youth, and I remember the coach telling us the point was to find the fall line and make the course as short and fast as possible. For years, that was the formula for reaching a victorious finish, often by slim margins of a second. Giant Slalom, in particular, was usually a visual of tight turns around the gates and keeping as close to a straight downhill line as you could accomplish.
Ligety, on the other hand, takes wider turns and gets as parallel to the ground as he can. This approach has turned the US team into a powerhouse. Ligety creates power on short portions of the course where others coast briefly, and as a result he is able to smash the competition by moving rapidly, and effectively, from turn to turn. Long ago, someone told me Beckham was a geometry genius because he could figure out how to get a ball from Point A into a goal around the wall. I doubt he understood much about geometry at all, but he certainly understood how to make a ball do what he wanted it to do. Ligety, by the same measure, is a physics genius. He's determined how to turn portions of his run from potential to kinetic energy and power himself faster than others are able.
Most of the Olympics has been a bore, outside of hockey and Ligety.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
Another corrupted institution. Used to be only the bad guys sent professional athletes to the games. Now, it seems to be mostly professionals. Unfortunate.
The original intent of the Olympics, the original Olympics, was to foster the competitive spirit by having the best athletes compete. The concept of the professional was relatively unknown.
So while I do lament the loss of what was once a more innocent time, I also recognize that all we are doing now is sending the very best athletes, regardless of the term 'professional' or 'amateur'. I don't think the term 'amateur' confers any kind of moral quality to competition - particularly when there were so many nations who were actually sending professionals.
That said, even if you want amateurs competing, you've really still got that in most of the Alpine events. The only difference today is that these guys can get rich doing endorsements. Professional skiers were never on a par, monetarily, as were other major athletes.
In some ways, the addition of professionals should reduce corruption. In fact, it has, depending on how you look at it. Certainly there are no more nations saying their professionals are truly amateur, even when we all know the truth. More importantly, the endorsement game is now very widespread, something which has raised the caliber of performance.
The reason I haven't watched much this year is simply because it's been very boring.
To be sure, the nature and purpose of the games has changed rather dramatically over the years. As you say, the modern goal was to bring together the young athletes from around the earth to compete in the games. To compete however, not just or even primarily to produce a winner, but to foster the idea of friendly and fair and clean competition between and among the various peoples of different countries through the common language of sport.
As the slogan of the games states: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
Perhaps I am being too much of a purist about a thing that has always been far from perfect, susceptible to politics and ripe for larceny, cheating and profiteering. However, I cannot abandon the idea that real amateurs should be the ones out there demonstrating the ideals of sportsmanship. If such a thing is worth doing at all. The professionals already suck up most of the oxygen in the media and they already earn plenty of loot. Further, the use of professionals sends a different message. Winning at all costs is now the theme sent around the globe. Winning at all costs is not a message of peaceful competition. But it is easy to understand and the terrorists and extremists know it well. Finally, amateurs provide a more entertaining and exciting show. Who doesn't remember the thrill of the 1980 American hockey team? These games have been described as boring. Sure they are, all the professionals are known quantities and everyone already knows who is going to win. How can it not be boring? Cheers.
I actually like the fact we include professionals now. Professionals make the game, any game, more interesting. It is their passion.
For example, the NBA lost it's primary audience when the players became highly-paid crybabies in the mid to late 90's. You can still see most of them loafing up and down the court in most games, only turning it on for the final 5 minutes. This may produce winners, but the fans lose.
I don't see this taking place in most other sports. Generally, many sports which are professional have heavily involved and concerned participants. They train all year round and their performance shows it.
Being professional actually reduces corruption - depending on your point of view, of course. If you're referring to steroids, etc - well, I would point out many amateurs have been caught using PEDs long before professionals were allowed in the Olympics. If you're referring to money, being professional actually reduces the corruption. Why take payouts when you've already got money and now it's about ego?
That isn't to say corruption won't still exist. Pete Rose, after all, still gambled. But I'd say this kind of thing is less a problem than if they were amateurs, needed money, and were willing to take risks to get what they need.
Corruption along the lines of steroid use is a result of the win-at-all-costs culture which is primarily a US phenomenon, but is spreading widely and rapidly around the globe. However, it was MUCH MUCH WORSE when the competition was Eastern Bloc versus the West. We know they were all doped up!
Win-at-all-costs is not a professional imperative, however, it is a totalitarian instinct. Think about the professionals you know and admire. Peyton Manning, for example, is someone I place very highly in the ranks of great athletes in their sport. He will do anything to win. But he is a gracious loser, and unfortunately for him has many instances to prove this.
That is where you learn the quality of your ability to take part, when you lose. I attended a Syracuse/Nebraska football game in 1985. Syracuse upset the #1 Cornhuskers, and Syracuse was not ranked (they were awful, to be honest). After the game, I was walking with a Nebraska player and he was very nice and gracious. But he looked at me and said "You guys don't win much and your fans show it. They are pretty nasty." I agreed, and in that moment realized that while losing is not much fun, it is character building. His follow-up spoke boatloads to me. He replied "You guys need to learn how to win well."
Over the years, we did.
Winning well is not something we currently pride ourselves on here in the US, though. We have promoted the brash, offensive, trash-talking, aggressive athlete for years.
You have a point. There are certainly different ways to look at the games. There are the political issues that always crop up, the financial issues, the doping and whether you enjoy watching professionals or amateurs. Whatever noble intention might have motivated the sponsors of the modern games, it will not be an unsullied event. Perhaps it would be better for me to think of the games from the perspective of the athletes, who are there for the great sex. Or as a spectator, admiring the beautiful Canadian rock sliders do whatever it is they are doing so loudly while they slide along on the ice. Yes, the Olympics are great, wouldn't change a thing.
I'm as cynical as they come, but I think you just broke the bank.
I didn't say they shouldn't change - I did say they bore me.
You laid out all the 'issues' of the Olympics pretty well. There are far too many of them to say they are corrupt. Fact is, anything which involves ego and competition will always have a level of corruption. The question isn't whether it's corrupt - the question is how that corruption is monitored and the rules enforced.
Lately, the Olympics has gotten better at some of this. But it's an arms race. One side starts winning, the other either ups the ante or finds a way around the winning policies.
If we choose to simply write things off every time we find something we don't like, there will be little in life to enjoy.
I would point to the NBA, or even college basketball. I don't watch the NBA, but I love college ball. I used to love the NBA. But now it's just boring as a bunch of whiny millionaires run up and down the court and thump their chests and complain about how little they make. College ball, on the other hand, has massive levels of corruption, but at its heart it's still about school pride. So there's a degree of real competition still taking place. If the NBA could find ways to return to its old competitive styles, I might return. But it is awful now.
In baseball, I took a leave of absence for at least 15 years. Steroids, strikes, and a host of other issues left me cold. In the recent 7 years, I've returned and have begun to enjoy it again as they have dealt with their issues to a large degree.
This is what the Olympics needs to do. Deal with its issues. But in dealing with them - the question becomes how and who gets to determine the method?
If you simply say "we must only allow in amateurs", well, then how do you define amateur? Do they get to do endorsements? How will they make the money they need to train and survive?
If the sex they are having bothers you, how will you plan on stopping it?
If the commercialism is over the top, what's your plan for dealing with it?
These are all very subjective things and, ultimately, dealing with each and every one of them will destroy the games.
It's unlikely they will ever embody the true spirit they were meant to - at least not to the spectators and politicians. But to the athletes, knowing several of them as I do, I can tell you many do take the spirit of the Games seriously.
But you always will have the money issue rearing its ugly head. Ego does things when you reach certain pinnacles of achievement. You become 'worth' something. And if the system doesn't reward you for what you feel you are 'worth', you begin to attack the system. When you attack it, others are likely to join you because they feel they are 'worth' something more than they are.
For this reason, I'm OK with professionals. I think the problem is the politicians and the corruption in the IOC. So much money is wrapped up in this stuff now, you see idiots like Obama spending a fortune to get Games to their city, and spending a fortune to visit the selection committee to make their case.
When they fail, as Obama did, it is indicative of just how screwed up the system is, and how misguided idiots like him are by believing their celebrity brings some kind of value to the decision.
I don't blame the athletes. Most of them just want to do what they do and get in the spotlight. Others, who aren't likely to win anything, just want to compete and hope to have their story told.
As for being overly cynical about the Games (or any sport or interest category), I'm past that. I'm closer to being passively cynical. There was a period of time where I questioned everything, complained about the problems in everything I followed, and was generally sullen about how 'bad things were'. Then I realized it's impossible to enjoy anything in life if I kept looking for the bad stuff and bitching about it.
One man's trash is another man's treasure is my motto. I may not love curling - but apparently some people do. Good for them.
I don't enjoy the lifestyle stories, but some people do. Good for them.
Let me watch a guy or girl rocket down a slope at breakneck speed, hitting their turns precisely. Let me watch people on ice pass a hard rubber rock and put it in a net. Let me enjoy the spectacle of wonderfully performed triple axel. I'll ignore most of the other stuff and let people who find my interests boring complain about how the sports have ruined the Olympics.
I found this one particularly boring, though, because there just wasn't anything intriguing going on in any sport except hockey and skiing. The figure skating became interesting, however, for what is likely to be all the wrong reasons. A judge who was suspended for trying to fix an event 16 years ago. A judge who was married to the head of the Russian skating organization. An American who didn't fall and performed an uninspired program finishing 7th behind others who fell but were active and energetic. Yes, politics will always be with us.
No, I was really pretty much agreeing with you. In my feeble stab at humor, I failed to disarm the sardonic component. My apologies. I can gladly say I wholeheartedly agree with your last comment in each particular and tone. You convinced me. So, I'm not going to worry about it. Those cute girls on ice look even better now. Thank you.
Wast that ever REALLY what the games were, as opposed to some idyllic mission statement? I don't believe it has been true in my cognizant lifetime and I ain't no whippersnapper. The Olympics of my youth were the west vs. the commies with nationalistic sub competitions. The athletes may have felt differently, I wouldn't know, but I can't recall the public expecting to see some virtuous competition among amateurs.
Yep, there has always been a political aspect to the games.
As one who attempts skiing pretty much every chance I get, I have to say I admire all of them greatly. Especially the current crop of quite pretty young ladies.
Ligety is doing something the others can't do at the moment. As some famous golfer once said of Jack Nicholas, "he is playing a game with which I am unfamiliar". No doubt he is a powerful guy but what he is doing seems, or looks to me at least, to be a technical advance of some form. For a long time now the alpine events have been advancing due to increasingly large and more powerful skiers. Ligety is something else.
I don't begrudge the whole "professional" thing. If the sport is popular the top performers are pretty much professionals anymore. If they aren't working as actual players (hockey) product pitchmen they are government employees. Few of them do much of anything else.
The more obscure sports, I suppose, have amateurs.
One thing that does somewhat bother me, however, is that the athletes never seem to move on and make room for new blood anymore. Some of these people are in their 4th or 5th Olympics. I'd prefer to see more yutes. But, I guess, given that we are aging population there will be older athletes.
A huge portion of them train in the US (off topic).
Re "boring", I think that is more a matter of NBC's crappy coverage than the events themselves. There was a men's cross-country ski relay where, after 40 or 50 km or whatever the total was, 4 guys from 4 different countries were coming to the finish line separated by no more than 5 ski lengths. They had been slugging it out up hill and over dale for hours. What did NBC show of the race on "prime time"? The American guy who couldn't stay on his feet and got shouldered away when he jumped back onto the track and nearly took down somebody else.
It is sports competition. I don't care about their families, their trials and tribulations. I just want to see the competition.
And a number of the events are just plain fun. The ski and board cross racing is fun to watch as is the short track skate racing. And I like the x-country contests. I just cannot fathom being that fit. And heck, what former kid can't enjoy some sled racing (skeleton). They can keep the boblsed stuff.
When do the synchronized ice fishing events start?
Would you be willing to call him an applied physics genius??
Since "gut instinct" is actually just inarticulated knowledge, it could be said that this guy simply has a lot going on in his gut. Ligety thinks kinetically, not with words, but on some level he understands physics very well indeed.
I'm not sure I understand what it means for him to "create power" on turns. Are we talking about eliminating friction between the ski and the snow? Or minimizing air resistance? The only downhill force in operation here is gravity, right?
I'm not sure 'create power' is the absolutely best term for what he does, but let's try to put it in context.
When he turns, he leans and gets low, flexing his legs and edging. This allows him to transfer muscle energy to his skis as he pushes off. So in a sense, he's using more than just gravity to create power - he's using his internal power.
In addition, his turns being wider and longer than the average slalom skier, he has taken a portion of the term where others just coast briefly as they shift weight, and turned it into a highly efficient transferal of energy.
I'm not sure if this is precisely correct, an engineer or physicist may quibble with how I worded the explanation, but basically the answer is NO - gravity is the primary force, but there are other forces which can be applied throughout the process of the run.
Gravity is not the only downhill force at work. If it were you would not see the skiers skating out of the starting gate. They'd simply drop down the fall line and wait for gravity to build their speed. As most any skier can attest, you can use power provided by your legs to go faster. In fact, sometimes your legs will provide your only input (see "traverse" and "why doesn't this lift drop us off another 30 ft up the mountain so we don't have to skate uphill to get that that trail").
Muscle power and body angle are huge factors in controlling and maximizing performance when skiing. And handling those things on the fly, sometimes literally, is a matter of power and skill. You don't turn fastest and/or most precisely due to gravity or wind - that comes from power and body angle (and good skis with proper tuning). From my limited experience and from watching some of the races this particular bit of alpine racing was particularly difficult due to the radically different "snow" (actually, ice) conditions throughout the course.
But yes, it is largely a struggle to maximize what gravity can provide and minimize the negative effects of wind if it is a significant factor - sometimes it is behind you, sometimes not.
Just something I noted while watching ski jumping vs. downhill racing.
I was watching the ski jumping and they were talkign about how the jumpers on the "normal" (i.e, smaller) hill would reach speeds around 50-54ish MPH for launch and then would fly 95 - 100ish meters downhill.
I always considered ski jumpers to be madmen but then I heard announcers mention that the downhillers were cresting a particular "jump point" at 80ish MPH and flying 60-70 meters it seemed much crazier than ski jumping. Not that I plan to try either of those types of jumping.