These composite photos from the NY Times of athletes competing at the Olympics are fantastic. See also the same treatment for Simone Biles and Usain Bolt. (via @feltron, who wrote the book on this stuff)
These composite photos from the NY Times of athletes competing at the Olympics are fantastic. See also the same treatment for Simone Biles and Usain Bolt. (via @feltron, who wrote the book on this stuff)
During the medals ceremony for the 200 meter race the 1968 Olympics, gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos, both standing shoeless on the podium, each raised one black-gloved fist in the air during the playing of the US national anthem as a gesture in support of the fight of better treatment of African Americans in the US. It was an historic moment immortalized in photos like the one above.
The white man in the photo, silver medalist Peter Norman from Australia, could be considered a sort of symbolic visual foil against which Smith and Carlos were protesting, but in fact Norman was a willing participant in the gesture and suffered the consequences.
Norman was a white man from Australia, a country that had strict apartheid laws, almost as strict as South Africa. There was tension and protests in the streets of Australia following heavy restrictions on non-white immigration and discriminatory laws against aboriginal people, some of which consisted of forced adoptions of native children to white families.
The two Americans had asked Norman if he believed in human rights. Norman said he did. They asked him if he believed in God, and he, who had been in the Salvation Army, said he believed strongly in God. “We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat, and he said “I’ll stand with you” — remembers John Carlos — “I expected to see fear in Norman’s eyes, but instead we saw love.”
Update: In 2011, Democracy Now! interviewed Carlos about the salute and the aftermath. He was joined by sportwriter Dave Zirin and the pair told a story about why Norman didn’t want to be represented alongside Carlos and Smith with a statue on the San Jose State campus:
DAVE ZIRIN: OK, just checking. Well, they made the decision to make this amazing work of art, these statues on campus. And they were just going to have Tommie Smith and John Carlos, with a blank space where Peter Norman stood. And when John heard about that, he said, “Oh, no, no. I don’t want to be a part of this. And I don’t even want this statue if Peter Norman’s not going to be on it.” And the people at San Jose State said, “Well, Peter said he didn’t want to be on it.” And John said, “OK, let’s go to the president’s office and get him on the phone.” So they called Peter Norman from the president’s office at San Jose State, and sure enough, they got Peter on the phone. I believe Peter said-what did he say? “Blimey, John”? What did he say?
JOHN CARLOS: Yeah, “Blimey, John. You’re calling me with these blimey questions here?” And I said to him, I said, “Pete, I have a concern, man. What’s this about you don’t want to have your statue there? What, are you backing away from me? Are you ashamed of us?” And he laughed, and he said, “No, John.” He said-you know, the deep thing is, he said, “Man, I didn’t do what you guys did.” He said, “But I was there in heart and soul to support what you did. I feel it’s only fair that you guys go on and have your statues built there, and I would like to have a blank spot there and have a commemorative plaque stating that I was in that spot. But anyone that comes thereafter from around the world and going to San Jose State that support the movement, what you guys had in ‘68, they could stand in my spot and take the picture.” And I think that’s the largest thing any man would ever do. And as I said, I don’t think that my co-partner, my co-heart, Tommie Smith, would have done what Peter Norman done in that regards. He was just a tremendous individual.
In the 100m dash at this year’s Olympics, Andre De Grasse finished third behind Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin with a time of 9.91 seconds. Jesse Owens, running on a cinder track with heavier, stiffer leather shoes, won the gold at the 1936 Olympics with a time of 10.3 seconds. CBC took De Grasse to a dirt track, gave him a replica pair of Owens’ shoes, and timed him. I won’t give away the result, but Owens looks pretty good in comparison. As David Epstein said in his TED talk, perhaps technology is responsible for much of the improvement of athletic achievement:
Consider that Usain Bolt started by propelling himself out of blocks down a specially fabricated carpet designed to allow him to travel as fast as humanly possible. Jesse Owens, on the other hand, ran on cinders, the ash from burnt wood, and that soft surface stole far more energy from his legs as he ran. Rather than blocks, Jesse Owens had a gardening trowel that he had to use to dig holes in the cinders to start from. Biomechanical analysis of the speed of Owens’ joints shows that had been running on the same surface as Bolt, he wouldn’t have been 14 feet behind, he would have been within one stride.
In De Grasse’s defense, he was running on dirt, not cinders and didn’t have much of a chance to train on the surface or with the shoes. But still.
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.
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.
I needed a good laugh this week and this news report from The Onion about how the Olympic Village in Sochi was built with the athletes’ sexual activities in mind was an LOL machine. NSFW.
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.
I can’t stop watching this…watch Imperial AT-AT’s attack Olympic mogul skiers on Hoth:
Those skiers are not going to make it past the first marker. (via devour)
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.
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!
From Slate, some speculation that Caster Semenya sandbagged the 800 meter final in order to avoid further gender-related scrutiny.
After the race, track and field aficionados questioned her tactics. The BBC’s David Ornstein said it appeared that Semenya “had more left in the tank.” His story quoted BBC commentator Kelly Holmes, who won this event in the 2004 Olympics, suggesting that Semenya hadn’t made her best effort: “She looked very strong, she didn’t look like she went up a gear, she wasn’t grimacing at all. I don’t know if her head was in it, when she crossed the line she didn’t look affected.” Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden tweeted that Semenya “seemed oddly disengaged most of race and not tired at end.”
I watched the race and Semenya’s finish was odd…she made her move super-late and was moving at a tremendous pace when she crossed the line. Had she worked her way up to the front before the final turn, she may have beaten the field by several lengths.
Update: Here is a more nuanced analysis of Semenya’s effort in the 800 meter final.
Perhaps there is nothing to her performance other than that she runs a more even pace than her rivals.
A comparison between her semi-final and this race is interesting in this regard. In that semi, she went through 400m in just over 58 seconds, 600m in about 1:28 and then closed the final 200m in 29.5s, looking like she had something in reserve.
Tonight, she went through 400m in 57.69s, then through 600m in about 1:27.1, and then closed in a touch over 30 seconds. My point is, her performance in the final was slightly faster at every stage than the semi, until she closed slower over the final 200m. To finish SLOWER than she did in the semi implies that she has little reserve and that she is closer to the limit than she looks. She wasn’t actually that fast over the final 200m, it’s just that everyone else was very slow!
Smithsonian Magazine has a good argument on why Jim Thorpe should be considered amongst the greatest Olympians even though his records and medals are not officially acknowledged by the IOC.
A week later the three-day decathlon competition began in a pouring rain. Thorpe opened the event by splashing down the track in the 100-meter dash in 11.2 seconds-a time not equaled at the Olympics until 1948.
On the second day, Thorpe’s shoes were missing. Warner hastily put together a mismatched pair in time for the high jump, which Thorpe won. Later that afternoon came one of his favorite events, the 110-meter hurdles. Thorpe blistered the track in 15.6 seconds, again quicker than Bob Mathias would run it in ‘48.
On the final day of competition, Thorpe placed third and fourth in the events in which he was most inexperienced, the pole vault and javelin. Then came the very last event, the 1,500-meter run. The metric mile was a leg-burning monster that came after nine other events over two days. And he was still in mismatched shoes.
Thorpe left cinders in the faces of his competitors. He ran it in 4 minutes 40.1 seconds. Faster than anyone in 1948. Faster than anyone in 1952. Faster than anyone in 1960 — when he would have beaten Rafer Johnson by nine seconds. No Olympic decathlete, in fact, could beat Thorpe’s time until 1972. As Neely Tucker of the Washington Post pointed out, even today’s reigning gold medalist in the decathlon, Bryan Clay, would beat Thorpe by only a second.
Update: I misstated what the Smithsonian article actually said about Thorpe’s official status according to the IOC. Here’s what the article says:
It’s commonly believed that Thorpe at last received Olympic justice in October of 1982 when the IOC bowed to years of public pressure and delivered two replica medals to his family, announcing, “The name of James Thorpe will be added to the list of athletes who were crowned Olympic champions at the 1912 Games.” What’s less commonly known is that the IOC appended this small, mean sentence: “However, the official report for these Games will not be modified.”
In other words, the IOC refused even to acknowledge Thorpe’s results in the 15 events he competed in. To this day the Olympic record does not mention them. The IOC also refused to demote Wieslander and the other runners-up from their elevated medal status. Wieslander’s results stand as the official winning tally. Thorpe was merely a co-champion, with no numerical evidence of his overwhelming superiority. This is no small thing. It made Thorpe an asterisk, not a champion. It was lip service, not restitution.
Thorpe’s family got his medals and is listed on the Olypmic web site. But as the article says, it does nothing to recognize just how dominant Thorpe was in the decathalon and pentathalon. In the decathalon, Thorpe led from the second event on and beat his nearest competitor Hugo Wieslander by almost 700 points. (For his part, Wieslander refused to accept the gold medal retroactively awarded to him because of Thorpe’s disqualification.) His victory in the pentathlon was even more lopsided…in an event where fewer points are better, the second-place competitor earned three times as many points as Thorpe. (thx, gary)
Nate Jones was disappointed about how women’s Olympic beach volleyball has been photographed at the Olympics so he decided to show us what other sports look like through the lens of women’s Olympic beach volleyball photographer’s lens. The results are hilarious.
On Twitter right now, Neil deGrasse Tyson is imagining how various Olympic events would work on Mars.
Women’s Beach Volleyball on Mars: No protective ozone layer there. Solar UV would irradiate all exposed legs, buns, & tummies
Gymnastics: On Mars, with only 38% of Earth’s gravity, the Vault & other spring-assisted leaps would resemble circus cannons.
The WSJ is producing some homemade highlight videos of important Olympic events, sort of like what one of the Tenenbaum children might conjure up.
Nevermind that Marissa Mayer is a pregnant CEO…Malaysian air rifle shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi is set to compete at the London Olympics while eight months pregnant. Shooting with a potentially moving/kicking baby on board can’t be easy.
The International Olympic Committee does not keep records on the number of pregnant athletes, but a search of news reports suggests that only three other pregnant women have competed in the Olympics, all of them in the Winter Games. And Nur Suryani looks likely to set the record for the most heavily pregnant competitor in Olympic history.
Shooting may be less strenuous on a pregnant body than many other sports, but it is also a sport in which fortunes can hinge on fractions of millimeters, with breathing, balance and concentration considered paramount.
Nur Suryani has a solution when she steps onto the rifle range in London: “I will talk to her, say, ‘Mum is going to shoot just for a while. Can you just be calm?”’
But just when you are thinking “yay ladies”, consider that when the Japanese soccer teams flew to Europe on the same flight, the men sat in business class while the women were seated in coach.
It was precisely a year ago that the Japanese women’s soccer team won the World Cup, beating the United States in the final and giving a boost to the spirits of a nation that had been battered by an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear disaster.
But when they flew to Europe on Sunday along with the men’s team, the women were in coach seats while the men were up in business class. The Japanese Football Association said the teams had left Tokyo together on the same Japan Airlines flight.
“I guess it should have been the other way around,” Homare Sawa, the leading player on the women’s team, told Japanese reporters this week. “Even just in terms of age, we are senior.”
And don’t even get started on Saudi Arabia and many other Middle Eastern countries. Recent “progress” aside, these countries are still sickeningly misogynistic regarding athletics.
Update: Taibi ended up finishing 34th out of 56 in the qualifying round.
Jesse Owens’ medal-winning exploits against the Aryan backdrop of the 1936 Olympics are well known, but I had never heard the story of his friendship with his German rival in the long jump. Owens explained in a 1960 Reader’s Digest piece:
Walking a few yards from the pit, I kicked disgustedly at the dirt. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to look into the friendly blue eyes of the tall German broad jumper. He had easily qualified for the finals on his first attempt. He offered me a firm handshake.
“Jesse Owens, I’m Luz Long. I don’t think we’ve met.” He spoke English well, though with a German twist to it.
“Glad to meet you,” I said. Then, trying to hide my nervousness, I added, “How are you?”
“I’m fine. The question is: How are you?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Something must be eating you,” he said-proud the way foreigners are when they’ve mastered a bit of American slang. “You should be able to qualify with your eyes closed.”
“Believe me, I know it,” I told him — and it felt good to say that to someone.
Here’s a video of Owens competing in Berlin:
With the Olympics about two weeks away, consider this a final you-can’t-unsee-it reminder that the 2012 London Olympics logo looks like Lisa Simpson performing oral sex.
It’s not as bad as some of the others on this list (oh, that Mon-Sat logo), but it’s still exceptionally unforgettable. Enjoy the wall-to-wall Olympic coverage for the next two weeks!
NBA TV did a documentary on the 1992 Men’s Olympic basketball team, aka the Dream Team. It it, for now, available on YouTube:
Get it while you can…this looks like an unofficial copy and the NBA is likely to take it down soon. (thx, david)
This history of the 1992 US Olympic basketball team might only be interesting to those who watched all those games. Which I did. And I am.
Chuck started Michael and Magic every game and then rotated the other three. Pippen would start one game, Mullin would start the next. Robinson and Ewing would alternate; Malone and Barkley would alternate. He was a master at managing. But in the second game against Croatia, there was never any doubt: He was putting Pippen on Toni Kukoc [who had just been drafted by the Bulls and had been offered a contract for more money than his future teammate]. Pippen and Jordan were tired of hearing about how great Kukoc was, because they were winning NBA championships.
You ever watch a lion or a leopard or a cheetah pouncing on their prey? We had to get Michael and Scottie out of the locker room, because they was damn near pulling straws to see who guarded him. Kukoc had no idea.
Over at the NY Times Olympics blog, Victor Mather takes a look at a few sports that would be fun to see in the Olympic Games again.
3. Dueling pistol, 1906
No actual duels were fought, alas. Rather, contestants shot at a dummy dressed in a frock coat. Shooting events tend to be rather dull to watch, but they would have a chance with creative thinking like this.
And tandem bike racing!
And don’t forget the art competitions.
The Olympic Games used to include competitions in painting, sculpture, literature, architecture, and music.
From 1912 to 1948 rules of the art competition varied, but the core of the rules remained the same. All of the entered works had to be inspired by sport, and had to be original (that is, not be published before the competition). Like in the athletic events at the Olympics, gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded to the highest ranked artists, although not all medals were awarded in each competition. On a few occasions, in fact, no medals were presented at all.
Here’s a little weekend viewing for you…Ballislife has put several complete 1992 Dream Team games up on YouTube. Here’s their game versus Croatia to get you going:
Here’s a photo of three gentlemen running in the first Olympic marathon in 1896 attired in what looks like street clothes.
This was the second modern running of the marathon; the first was a pre-Olympic qualifying race held a month before. In the Olympic race, seventeen competitors started the race and only about half finished. The winning time was just under three hours and the third place finisher was disqualified for covering “part of the course by carriage”. I would also not be surprised if the three fellows in the photo above stopped off for a coffee and some painting along the way.
Many of the stadiums and venues from the 2004 Athens Olympics are now lying abandoned, unused since the Games and symbolic of the disfunctional Greek economy.
Softball has no following in Greece, and the construction of a permanent softball stadium hasn’t changed that. […] Greeks like sports, but they like smoking more.
A city “winning” the right to host the Olympic Games seems like buying a pig in a poke.
The Big Picture has an awesome set of photos from the 2010 Winter Paralympic Games in Vancouver. Handicapped my ass…most of these events look much tougher than their regular Olympic counterparts.
Economics professor Daniel Johnson makes accurate Olympic medal predictions using a handful of indicators that are unrelated to sports.
His forecast model predicts a country’s Olympic performance using per-capita income (the economic output per person), the nation’s population, its political structure, its climate and the home-field advantage for hosting the Games or living nearby. “It’s just pure economics,” Johnson says. “I know nothing about the athletes. And even if I did, I didn’t include it.”
For the upcoming 2010 games in Vancouver, Johnson predicts that Canada, the US, Norway, Austria, and Sweden will end up with the most medals. (thx, brandon)
Update: Johnson’s predictions were a bit off.
Alan Clarke has designed some lovely proposed posters for the 2012 Olympics in London.
I don’t mean to link to every single thing on The Big Picture, but Alan’s knocked it out of the park again with these fantastic photos of the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games. These sports look more difficult than the ones at the regular Olympics. Take, for instance, goalball:
Participants compete in teams of three, and try to throw a ball that has bells embedded in it, into the opponents’ goal. They must use the sound of the bell to judge the position and movement of the ball. Games consist of two 10 minute halves. Blindfolds allow partially sighted players to compete on an equal footing with blind players.
The Games aren’t being broadcast on American TV but you can catch them on the web at Universal Sports.
Some physicists have worked out what Usain Bolt’s time in the 100 meters in Beijing would have been if he hadn’t started celebrating before the finish line: 9.55 seconds. The original paper is here. I tried doing this the day after the race but even the HD footage wasn’t good enough to see the tick marks on the track and I didn’t want to mess around with all the angles. (via justin blanton)
Update: The folks at The Science of Sport lay out a much more sensible case relying on split times that Bolt would have run somewhere between 9.61 and 9.69. (thx, jim)