Archive for the ‘Olympics’ Category

Amateur hour

August 26, 2008

olympic-rings.pngShould the Olympics be restricted to amateurs?

Today’s column discusses some of the difficulties surrounding this pro-am debate, which has been going on for eons — or, at least, decades.

If the games were so restricted, we’d have missed out on some of the most amazing performances that Beijing had to offer.

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The most glaring example: Swimmer Michael Phelps. He’s been a professional swimmer since age 16. He isn’t employed by a team or paid with prize winnings. Instead, he earns his living — and a lot more besides — through corporate sponsorships and by endorsing products for advertisers eager to bask in and perhaps profit off of his reflected glory.

Phelps has been a millionaire since age 18 and, while he attended the University of Michigan, couldn’t compete on their swim team because of his professional status.

After the Athens Olympics, where he earned six gold medals and two bronzes, Phelps upped his endorsement earning power to $5 mil a year.

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Now, eight more gold medals later and with superstar status that’s been trumpeted to the world, he’s figured to earn at least $30 million a year.

And he’s just 23. Sure, you may be over his extreme coronation as Mega Super Wowee Zowee Olympian Of All Time, but would you really block this professional athlete from competing in the London games in 2012?

I’ll post a few of Phelps pre-Beijing ads on the jump page, in case you want to check ’em out. Just click on the link below.

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Torch song 30

August 10, 2008

I’m going to let y’all enjoy the current games. But first here’s a rundown of the Olympic moments I’ve posted:

A look at bits of past opening ceremonies.

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Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia and Elana Meyer of South Africa display the true Olympic spirit in 1992. —>

williams.jpg<—Percy Williams, the surprising winner of the 100m and 200m fujimoto1.jpgdashes in 1928

Shun Fujimoto, the Japanese gymnast who continued competing in 1976 even after breaking his kneecap —>

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<— Dick Fosbury, father of the Flop and winner of the high jump in 1968

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Larry Lemieux puts sportsmanship and humanity above his chance at a medal in his sailing race in 1988 —>

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<—South Korea’s boxing team suffers a self-inflected black eye in 1988

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Steve Redgrave of the U.K. bags a gold medal in rowing in 2000 — his fifth in five different Olympics —>

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<— Diving great Greg Louganis of the U.S. hits his head on the board during competition in 1988 — then goes on to win

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A story of weight-lifting at the 1980 games —>

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<— U.S. gymnast Keri Strug behaves magnificently under pressure — and in pain — at the 1996 games in Atlanta

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Takeichi Nishi of Japan wins gold in equestrian jumping in 1932 — but that’s not the whole of his story —>

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<— Discus hurler supreme Al Oerter of the U.S. wins and wins and wins again (and again)

cathy-freeman.jpgAussie sprinter Cathy Freeman stares down — and runs down — the pressure in 2000 —>

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<— The real Chariots of Fire guys at the 1928 games

spitz11.jpgMark Spitz swims into the history books in 1972 —>

Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner topples Goliath in 2000

nadia-1.jpg<— Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci introduces the world to perfection in 1976dave-wottle.jpg

I still can’t believe Dave Wottle won this race in 1972 —>

In 1956, cold war tensions between Hungary and the Soviet Union boil over during water polowilma-rudolph.jpg

Wilma Rudolph overcomes all kinds of odds to win gold three times in 1960 —>

johnson.jpgSally Robbins of Australia rows into a scandal in 2004

<— U.S. sprinter Michael Johnson actually appears to breeze past his opponents on his way to gold — and new records — in 1996

There actually were summer games in 1980, even though the U.S. didn’t go

olga-korbut.jpg<— Russian gymnast Olga Korbut wows the judges and charms the masses in 1972moussambani.jpg

The agonizing and perhaps heroic swim of Eric Moussambani of Equatorial Guinea in 2000 —>

A worldwide icon who won a gold medal in 1960 lights the Olympic flame in 1996

owens-medal.jpg<— Jesse Owens blows that whole idea about Aryan supremacy out of the water — and off the track — in 1936redmond.jpg

Runner Derek Redmond — and his dad — in a race we won’t ever easily forget (and not just because Visa won’t let us) —>

Torch song 29

August 9, 2008

How about those opening ceremonies in Beijing? Wow! Here’s what the final “run” to the torch looked like and the lighting of it. Pretty. Darn. Spectactular.

And here’s a view of how the lighting of the torch and the fireworks afterwards looked from outside the Bird’s Nest. (Pretty cool as well.)

Today’s Olympic moment is a whole bunch of moments — bits of opening ceremonies from past games. Enjoy!

2004, Athens: Back to the beginning.

2000, Sydney: Horsing around.

1996, Atlanta: Faster, Higher, Stronger, sung by Jessye Norman. (I covered the torch lighting in a previous post.)

1992, Barcelona: The torch is lit by a perfectly launched flaming arrow. Imagine the pressure on that guy!

1988, Seoul: Parachutists form the Olympic rings in the sky.

1984, Los Angeles: “Jet Man” jet-packs in and a choir sings welcome.

1980, Moscow: Just click here.

1976, Montreal: The nations’ athletes march in and the flame is lit by a pair of Canadian athletes — a French-speaking 16-year-old boy and a 15-year-old English-speaking girl, who apparently nurtured a flame of their own — years later, they married!

1972, Munich: Those games started well. If only they could have ended happily, too.

1968, Mexico City

1964, Tokyo: Hirohitio opens the games

1960, Rome

Note: I couldn’t find any vid of the 1956 opening ceremonies in Melbourne.

1952, Helsinki

1948, London: The first post WW2 games.

Note: There were no games in 1944 or 1940.

1936, Berlin: Frightening.

Torch song 28

August 7, 2008

At the ’92 games in Barcelona, Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia ran into the history books.

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One reason: She won the 10,000 meters.

Another: She was the first black African woman to earn any kind of medal.

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And: After the race, she and the second-place finisher in the race, Elana Meyer of South Africa, embraced and held hands as they ran a victory lap together. In those nascent post-apartheid days, it was a powerful sight to see the black African woman and the white African woman coming together with ease and joy.

Today’s Olympic moment is that race — and its aftermath.

Torch song 27

August 5, 2008

“He was just some guy from Vancouver.”

He was just some guy from Vancouver who could run the pants off the competition. That was 19-year-old Percy Williams at the 1928 games in Amsterdam, where the skinny, previously unknown guy from Vancouver who’d suffered rheumatic fever when he was 15 won gold medals in both the 100 meters and the 200 meters. Indeed.

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Today’s Olympic moment is a look back at Williams.

Torch song 26

August 3, 2008

Talk about perservering through the pain. No competitor has anything on Shun Fujimoto, a member of the Japanese men’s gymnastics team in Montreal in 1976.

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He broke his right kneecap while performing his floor routine but didn’t tell anyone, not even his coach, because he was determined to help his team as much as he could in its fierce battle with the Soviets.

After the injury, he competed in the pommel horse, scoring 9.5 out of a possible 10, and then the rings, where he achieved his highest score ever in the event — 9.7.

But with the dismount — ouch!!! — he exacerbated his injury to an unconcealable point and, though he fully intended to continue competing, he was ordered by doctors to withdraw.

His team was so inspired by his dedication that even one man down it went on to pull out the win over the Soviets, by the narrowest margin in Olympic history.

In today’s Olympic moment, Fujimoto looks back:

Torch song 25

July 31, 2008

Today’s Olympic moment: a flop the likes of which the world had never seen.

Now, it’s all you see when it comes to the high jump.

But back in Mexico City in 1968, many pooh-poohed or sneered at U.S. jumper Dick fosbury-flop.jpgFosbury’s crazy-looking technique: Instead of running up to the bar and leaping over it in a straddle position the way everyone else did, Fosbury ran up, turned slightly and leapt over the bar backwards, head leading the way, back curved upward and legs following. He could kick his feet up over the bar as he sailed past. He then landed on his shoulders — or his neck — and rolled over backwards.

“Sometimes I see movies,” he said back then, “and I really wonder how I do it.”

With the flop, Fosbury won gold in Mexico City — and revolutionized his sport.

Torch song 24

July 30, 2008

From the depths of sportsmanship at the 1988 games to the heights: Today’s Olympic moment. It has no video with it but the story should be enough.

On Sept. 24 of that year, several Olympic events were being held off the coast of South Korea — in the ocean. These Olympians manned sailboats.

The wind had risen and the ocean’s swells topped 6 feet.

l-lemieux.gifOn the race course for the Finn class boats, Lawrence Lemieux of Canada was running second when, on a neighboring race course, he spotted a sailor from the 470 class whose boat had capsized and he’d drifted far from it. Given the condition of the seas, the sailor appeared unable to make it back to his boat on his own power.

Lemieux didn’t hesitate. Abandoning his race for a medal, he went to the aid of the Singaporean sailor and hauled the exhausted man onto his own boat. Then he went to help the sailor’s teammate, who was clinging to their boat.

“The very first rule,” Lemieux said later, “is to help people in distress.”

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He didn’t win a gold, silver or bronze at the Olympics but at the closing ceremonies of those games he was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for his selfless act of sportsmanship. It’s a rare honor. Lemieux was inducted this year into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.

Torch song 23

July 29, 2008

I don’t see it as slacking off in posting my once-daily Olympic moments. I see it more as having had too many other things to do. Plus: No one complained, which might mean, well, no one cares. Too bad! I do! So I’m going to keep doing it anyway. 🙂

In today’s moment, in a unanimous decision by adults everywhere, South Korea’s boxing coaches are declared Losers (with a capital L) after they pitch a fit during the 1988 games in Seoul and attack a referee. They were mad because their boxer lost the bout. The boxer — himself no champ at fair play — had been penalized two points for repeatedly head-butting his opponent during the match.

The boxer refused to leave the ring and sat in his corner even after the lights were turned out!

In the following clip, the match in question is featured at about 21 seconds in. Then you can see the swirling melee in the ring after the bout and then the boxer sitting there in the dark (while some super-cheery presumably Korean music plays in the background).

In the South Koreans’ sorta defense, they felt they were owed some slack on boxing after dubious decisions during the 1984 games in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, not for a minute has anyone (outside of South Korea) ever believed that U.S. boxing great Roy Jones Jr. lost his gold-medal fight in ’88.

Torch song 22

July 25, 2008

Gold medals in four consecutive Olympic games?

Nothing to be scoffed at, but what if you won golds in five different Olympics?

You certainly can’t have a row about the greatness of such a person. Or maybe you can — steve-redgrave.jpgliterally — since, for today’s Olympic moment, I’m talking about British rowing great Steve Redgrave. (Thanks to Fay-to-Z‘s Greg Phillips for suggesting his fellow Brit for this series.)

Redgrave won gold in Los Angeles in 1984 (when he was 22), in Seoul in 1988, in Barcelona in 1992, in Atlanta in 1996 and in Sydney in 2000 (when he was 38). He was part of a team of rowers each time but, as some know all too well, every member of a rowing team has to perform their utmost, and Redgrave’s strength as a rower was legendary.

Just look at his arms at the end of this race in Sydney which gave Redgrave his fifth gold. Whew!