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  • Olympic Reading

    Posted by simon c on 2008 August 19日 Tuesday

    Some slightly off the beaten track Olympic reading material.

    Salon’s Gary Kamiya, a fellow Japanese half-blood and a writer that I usually enjoy, with Short people got no reason to live after Usain Bolt’s crazy 9.69 100m.

    Bolt’s race was one of the freakiest events in the history not just of the Olympics but of track and field. The 6’5″ Jamaican simply redefined speed. Not only did he destroy one of the fastest fields in Olympic history and shatter his own world record, he did it with a gut stuffed full of Chicken McNuggets, with one shoe untied and while signing autographs, blowing kisses and taking a nap during the last 20 meters of the race. As the great retired Trinidadian sprinter Ato Boldon, winner of four Olympic medals, said during NBC’s broadcast, “This has never been seen before in Olympic history.”

    The Telegraph takes a look at ex-Olympic sports like cricket (which may start lobbying for its reappearance in the form of the new baseballish Twenty20 form, fittingly enough, for the 2020 Olympics), polo, motorboat racing, rugby, tug o’ war (which lasted several Olympics amazingly enough), and how baseball is gaining membership in this exclusive club of sports.

    The tug’o war is a favourite of mine, simply for the stories involved. The USA had to withdraw from the 1900 event because three of its members were involved in the men’s hammer, while Danish journalist Edgar Aaybe went along to watch a combined Sweden and Denmark team against France in the final, was asked to stand in for an athlete who fell ill and duly won gold before filing his undeniably exclusive copy.

    There’s more. The 1908 event ended in uproar when the Liverpool Police side, one of Britain’s three representatives, were accused of foul play by the USA for wearing their regulation Police boots, which had cleats and allegedly offered extra grip. The Yanks were not happy and withdrew from the competition and rejected ‘Old Bill’s offer of a rematch in bear feet. Tug o’War was finally put to bed in 1920, when GB won, leaving them as technically the reigning Olympic champions.

    Slate’s keeping track of the Olympic Sap-o-Meter of the NBC coverage, and Michael Phelps helped set a new record.

    On Sunday, it was back to moms, moms, and additional moms, with 18 mentions of motherhood on the day—more than enough to vault mom ahead of front-runner dream to become the sappiest word of the 2008 Olympics to date. Also of note: a record four mentions of tears, several relating to American gymnast Sacramone’s waterworks. A bunch of heroes, hearts, and challenges pushed Sunday over the edge, setting a record of 64 Sap Points that will be hard to beat.

    A Slate ode to weightlifting and Salon’s King Kaufman lament over US men’s basketball team, two of many events not being covered here in Japan in mainstream media because of lack of Japanese entrants.

    Beyond the aesthetic and emotional pull of lifting, I suspect what really got me hooked is the strategy, discussed in detail in this recent New York Times piece. The key point is that the weightlifters (in fact, usually their coaches) choose how much they plan to hoist. Their “bids,” so to speak, are all displayed on a giant board, like a bizarre stock market that trades in kilograms instead of dollars.

    What I mean is the American men’s basketball failure was a fascinating soap opera. It was a Rorschach test for America. In 2004, we had kind of a hangover from the patriotic orgy that followed 9/11. We were in the middle of a vicious presidential campaign season. It was just dawning on a whole lot of us that the war on terror was a phantom, that Iraq — more than a year after “Mission Accomplished” — was a quagmire.

    We Americans told online pollsters that we were rooting in large numbers for our squads to lose. We deserved to be punished, to get ours.

    The men’s basketball team, a thrown-together second- or third-team All-Star squad — remember that many top players begged off because of security concerns — struggled in pre-Olympics exhibitions and kept struggling when the tournament started. Because they were the most famous American Olympians, the most famously failing American Olympians and, not incidentally, a bunch of black men, they became the exemplars for the ugly American. Arrogant. Boorish. Bullying.

    ESPN Page 2’s Jim Caple completed the golden pass decathlon by attending 10 events on Saturday.

    And that is what I hoped to see when I cashed in my golden ticket for its full value Saturday, attending as many events at as many venues in one day as possible. My day began with Michael Phelps tying Mark Spitz and ended with Usain Bolt blowing away the world; in between I saw mystic and marvelous surprises that astonished and perplexed.

    Like, who knew Iran had a basketball team?

    And finally, a couple of Globe and Mail blog entries about hockey and the medals table, wonder if the American media are going to stick with the total medals method even after their country catches up to China in the second week with all the athletics golds (won’t they?)

    Guys, guys: it’s field hockey, not the other kind.

    Two Canadians on our field hockey team, Bindi Kullar and Sukhwinder Singh, have just been banned one match for a bit of the old ultra-violence in a game versus Great Britain.

    In an explanation that deserves a gold medal for euphemism, an official said “Singh’s stick made contact with Kirkham’s forehead, causing bruising.” As for Kullar, he apparently stickhandled an opponent’s chin.

    This method – counting gold medals, not total medals – seems to be the established model across the world, including at this website, the website for the CBC, the BBC, British newspapers and other sundry sites we checked including Die Welt of Germany, The Australian and Le Figaro of France. Even China’s arch-rival Japan seems content with the method that shows China in the lead, at least on the site for Japan Times and the Kyodo news service. The China Daily and Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post also follow this model, though that’s probably because they know what’s good for them.

    Now turn your attention to the U.S. media to see who’s on top in the medals standings. Turns out the rest of the world is dead wrong and that what counts is not gold medals, but total medals. NBC, the official Olympics broadcaster, has the U.S. on top. So does the “paper of record” New Tork Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and sports sites ESPN.com, Fox Sports and SI.com. We havent yet found one US-based site that is following the officially-sanctioned model which has China in the lead.

    Funnily enough, we did manage to find a very rare supporter of the U.S.-first method from outside the American media. Al-Jazeera’s website, we kid you not, has a medal table with the U.S. sitting proudly on top. Could a detente in the clash of civlizations be far behind?

    2 Responses to “Olympic Reading”

    1. Bolt the name says it all. I have never seen anyone stroll to a world record before. Ben Johnson’s red eyes almost popped out of his head when he got his short lived world record 20 years ago.

    2. Yeah, it’s incredible, after all these decades of sprinters in the same mould, Bolt completely destroys all preconceptions, and just to see his pure joy.

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