kottke.org posts about sports
Johanna Nordblad is a free diver who specializes in cold water dives. After being injured in a biking accident, her recovery involved ice water baths and she developed an interest in cold water. Ian Derry filmed Nordblad doing a dive for this gorgeous short video.
There is no place for fear, no place for panic, no place for mistakes. Under the ice, you need total control of the place, the time, and to trust yourself completely.
Another fine example of the Great Span: Vin Scully is retiring after 67 seasons as the play-by-play announcer for the LA Dodgers. Scully started the job in 1950, when the Dodgers still hailed from Brooklyn and Connie Mack still managed the A’s:
It is amazing to contemplate that he joined the Dodgers only three years after Jackie Robinson did, and was in the booth for the first ballgame Mickey Mantle ever played in New York. It is startling to realize the on-air audition he had — and didn’t pass — to become John Madden’s TV partner was 35 years ago this month. It is mind-bending to consider that he has not just been on 22 of the 94 annual radio and television World Series broadcasts ever, but been alive for 87 of them. It is goose-bumpy to recognize that the season he began broadcasting major league games, Connie Mack was still the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics (Mack had become A’s manager in 1901 and we’ve just passed the 130th anniversary of Mack’s debut as a major league catcher).
Mack was born during the Civil War, played his first game in 1886, competed against the likes of Cap Anson and Cy Young, and had been a retired player & full-time manager for four years before an 18-year-old Ty Cobb made his major league debut. (via df)
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)
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.
This is a beautifully shot video of the process for making tennis balls, from what looks like bread dough in the first steps to stamping the logo on the ball right before it goes into the canister.
I was commissioned to make a film and shoot a set of images by ESPN for Wilson, to show the manufacturing process of their tennis balls for the US Open. We flew to the factory, shot the film and stills in one day then flew home. Its an amazingly complex manufacture, requiring 24 different processes to make the final ball. It was hot, loud and the people who worked there, worked fast. So much beauty in each stage. I love the mechanics of how things are made, it fills me with great pleasure.
I love the little hand-clasper bots that put the yellow felt on the balls. One question though: the entire video is shot at normal speed, but the people putting the felt on the balls, that seemed sped up. But maybe they were just moving that fast?
Speaking of, feel free to have many possibly conflicting feelings about the people making the balls and their inevitable future replacement by a fully automated system. I know I did! (thx, damien)
Last night, I finished OJ: Made in America, ESPN’s 8-hour documentary series about OJ Simpson. Prior to starting the series, I would rather have poked an eye out than spend another second of my life thinking about OJ Simpson; I’d gotten my fill back in the 90s. But I’d heard so many good things about it that I gave it a shot. Pretty quickly, you realize this is not just the biography of a man or the story of a trial but is a deep look at racism, policing, and celebrity in the US. OJ: Made in America is excellent and I recommend it unreservedly. From Brian Tallerico’s review:
Ezra Edelman’s stunningly ambitious, eight-hour documentary is a masterpiece, a refined piece of investigative journalism that places the subject it illuminates into the broader context of the end of the 20th century. You may think you know everything about The Trial of the Century, especially if you watched FX’s excellent “The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story,” but “OJ: Made in America” not only fills in details about the case but offers background and commentary that you’ve never heard before. It is an examination of race, domestic abuse, celebrity, civil rights, the LAPD, the legal process and murder over the last fifty years, using the OJ Simpson story as a way to refract society. Its length may seem daunting, but I would have watched it for another eight hours and will almost certainly watch it again before the summer is over. It’s that good.
The only real criticism I have of the series is that the treatment of women in America should have been explored more, on the same level as racism and celebrity. A.O. Scott picked up on this in his NY Times review:
It is hard not to notice the predominance of male voices among the interview subjects, and the narrowness of the film’s discussion of domestic violence. This is not to say that the issue is ignored: Mr. Simpson’s history of abusing Nicole is extensively and graphically documented, as is the fact that most of his friends ignored what was going on at their Rockingham estate. But the film, which so persuasively treats law enforcement racism as a systemic problem, can’t figure out how to treat violence against women with the same kind of rigor or nuance.
A fuller discussion of domestic violence in the US and misogyny in sports would have provided another powerful, reinforcing aspect of the story.
Channel 4 is broadcasting the 2016 Paralympic Games in the UK and the commercial they made for it is great. I spied Richard Whitehead in there…his performance winning the 200 meters in the 2012 Paralympic Games is incredible:
Rodney Mullen, one of modern skateboarding’s founding fathers is still skating hard at age 49. (So’s Tony Hawk, landing 900s at 48 years old.) In this short film, he’s captured in 360° video performing some tricks, new and old, in what he refers to as a “stanceless” style. Mullen’s still got it, but he had to resort to some extreme measures to make sure his body came along for the ride.
What makes a soul regular, and what makes a soul goofy? To understand why this question began to grip Mullen, you have to go back to 2003. That’s when his body began to lock up. Decades of skating had yielded decades of scar tissue; his right femur had started to grind against his right hip. “Like anything that grinds, the body will fuse it, will calcify it,” explains Mullen. “I could feel how fast it was cinching me down. I couldn’t roll out of stuff anymore. And if you can’t fall, you can’t skate.” Doctors were wary of breaking up the fusion. One doctor in particular, says Mullen, “said with his eyes what he wouldn’t say with his mouth: There’s no way out for you with this.”
Mullen was determined to find a way out. With wrenches, knife handles, and other instruments, he began to jam open the scar tissue that was locking him down. In time he graduated to pulling the tissue apart, using large objects as leverage. “You know it’s a little rope in there that’s binding you,” he explains. “So you pull, you pull, you pull, and right when you think you can’t take it anymore, that’s when you give it all you have.” Late at night, Mullen would look for things against which he could hoist, heave, and winch himself, tearing the tissue into submission. “Fire hydrants are great,” he says. “Shopping cart racks: Those are really useful.” When scar tissue breaks free, it feels like dried gum snapping in half, or uncooked spaghetti cracking apart. Mullen was twice approached by police who, hearing his screams, thought he might be getting mugged. “You have to be so desperate where you actually don’t care what happens to you at some point.”
I mean!!! (via @freney & @UnlikelyWords)
Back in 2014, Ukrainian Danyl Boldyrev scampered up a 15-meter course in just 5.60 seconds. That’s almost 6 mph, straight up a wall.
Former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch on approaching problems head on:
That might be the best answer to any interview question ever. (via digg)
They race motorcycles with sidecars and it is the nuttiest thing: the sidecar passengers throw themselves all over the place in order to shift the center of gravity of the bike in the turns. (via digg)
Update: Ok, Sidecar Motocross might be even nuttier:
According to this 2011 article on Mark Eaton and other 7-footers who have played in the NBA, there are only 70 American men between 20 and 40 who are 7 feet tall…and that more than 1 in 6 of them get to play in the NBA.
The curve shaped by the CDC’s available statistics, however, does allow one to estimate the number of American men between the ages of 20 and 40 who are 7 feet or taller: fewer than 70 in all. Which indicates, by further extrapolation, that while the probability of, say, an American between 6’6” and 6’8” being an NBA player today stands at a mere 0.07%, it’s a staggering 17% for someone 7 feet or taller.
Being seven feet tall is absurdly tall and comes with a whole host of challenges, from bumping one’s head on door frames to difficulty finding clothes to health issues. Some of these difficulties arise out of simple geometry: as height and width increase, volume increases more quickly.1
In Twelfth Man, a short film by Duane Hopkins, you’ll witness the chaotic and occasionally ugly run-up to a football match in one of the most heated rivalries in England, the Tyne-Wear derby pitting Sunderland against Newcastle United. Watching it, I was reminded of the rhetoric and confrontations happening around the US in the presidential primaries. Turns out, equating politics with sports is not far off the mark in this case.
Sunderland and Newcastle are situated 12 miles apart in North East England. After first meeting in 1883, the teams have played a total of 155 matches, with each winning 53 matches (with 49 draws). According to Wikipedia (and ultimately sourced from a pair of texts on the two cities), the rivalry between the two cities dates back to the English Civil War in the 17th century:
The history of the Wear-Tyne derby is a modern-day extension of a rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle that dates back to the English Civil War when protestations over advantages that merchants in Royalist Newcastle had over their Wearside counterparts led to Sunderland becoming a Parliamentarian stronghold.
Sunderland and Newcastle again found themselves on opposite sides during the Jacobite Rebellions, with Newcastle in support of the Hanoverians with the German King George, and Sunderland siding with the Scottish Stuarts.
If you’re unfamiliar with English football, the entire entry is worth a read, particularly the sections on policing and banning fans during away games and hooliganism. There’s even an entire section on players (and a couple of managers) who have played for both teams, a reminder that although rivalries may stretch back centuries and be rooted in deep political differences, money holds a powerful attraction. (Which brings us right back to the US presidential primaries…)
Update: Matches between the two teams may be hard to come by next year. With a 3-0 win over Everton on May 11, Sunderland secured a place in the Premier League next year and caused Newcastle to be relegated to the Championship, the league below the Premier League. The bitter rivalry rolls on.
Update: See also Viceland’s The Eternal Derby about a football rivalry in Serbia. Here’s the trailer for the episode:
And some footage of a pre-match riot. Intense.
Velocipedia is a collection of drawings of bicycles paired with realistic renderings of what the real-life bikes would look like. Some of the sketches, drawn from memory, are not that accurate and result in hilariously non-functional bikes.
Yesterday, New Zealand’s William Trubridge set a free diving world record in what’s called the free immersion apnea discipline. According to the official results, Trubridge dove, without using fins or weights or tanks, to a depth of 124 meters in Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas. The video above offers a view of most of the dive, which took 4 minutes and 24 seconds for Trubridge to complete. I don’t know a whole lot about the mechanics of free diving, so I was surprised that after a few pulls on the rope to get himself going, it’s a free fall to the bottom. Watching him falling motionless through the water like that was eerie.
Update: Thanks to @chriskaschner for the diving physics lesson:
Below ~25m your lungs compress from pressure and you “fall” underwater, no more floating, only way back is to swim/ pull up
From the excellent collection of British Pathé videos on YouTube comes footage of a 1928 bicycle race on penny farthings aka the “boneshaker” aka those bikes with the big wheel in front. Here are a couple of contemporary penny farthing races. (via @sampotts)
Pele: Birth of a Legend is a biopic about the rise of Pele, the Brazilian footballer. It was written and directed by Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, who also directed The Two Escobars, an excellent 30 for 30 film about Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and Colombian footballer Andres Escobar. (via @ivanski)
String Theory, a collection of David Foster Wallace’s writings on tennis will be out next month.1 The five pieces in the book include his NY Times’ essay on Federer and a 1991 piece from Harper’s. John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote an introduction, which was published recently in the New Yorker.
The collection is also available on the Kindle, without the Sullivan intro.
Sam Hinkie recently resigned as general manager of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. His resignation letter took the form of an investor letter, a la Warren Buffett’s annual letters. Before he gets down to basketball specifics, Hinkie spends several pages explaining his philosophy. Along with Buffett and his business partner Charlie Munger, Hinkie mentions in this introductory section Atul Gawande, Elon Musk, Bill James, James Clerk Maxwell, Bill Belichick, Jeff Bezos, Tim Urban (whom he suggests the Sixers owners should meet for coffee), AlphaGo, and Slack (the Sixers’ front office uses it). He even quotes Steven Johnson about the adjacent possible:
A yearning for innovation requires real exploration. It requires a persistent search to try (and fail) to move your understanding forward with a new tool, a new technique, a new insight. Sadly, the first innovation often isn’t even all that helpful, but may well provide a path to ones that are. This is an idea that Steven Johnson of Where Good Ideas Come From popularized called the “adjacent possible.” Where finding your way through a labyrinth of ignorance requires you to first open a door into a room of understanding, one that by its very existence has new doors to new rooms with deeper insights lurking behind them.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d guess that Hinkie is a regular kottke.org reader. (via farnum street)
It is perhaps difficult to believe, but the jump shot was not always a part of basketball. It had to be invented. Rise and Fire by Shawn Fury is the story of that invention, which is still — *cough* Steph Curry — being tinkered with in the lab.
In his short post about the book (he calls it “new and fun”), Tyler Cowen shares this excerpt:
But in March 1963, a month before his final game for the Celtics, [Bob] Cousy complained to the Associated Press, “I think the jump shot is the worst thing that has happened to basketball in ten years.” Cousy’s objections? “Any time you can do something on the ground, it’s better,” he said, sounding very much like a coach who would have enjoyed benching Kenny Sailors or Bud Palmer. “Once you leave the ground, you’ve committed yourself.” Jump shot critics discouraged players from flying into the air because they feared the indecision that came when someone left their feet. They feared the bad passes from players who jumped with no clear plan of what they’d do in the air. Staying grounded meant fewer mistakes. It was simply a safer way to play the game, if not as exciting.
1963 was more than 50 years ago, but well into the modern era in the NBA. (I know, pre-merger, but still. We’re not talking George Mikan here.) Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West were all playing, as was a rookie named John Havlicek, who played for the Celtics until the late 70s.
It’s been awhile; let’s check in on what skateboarder Richie Jackson is doing. Oh, more incredibly creative and chill tricks? Niiiiiiice.
The thing these three Russian women do starting at about 0:45 and continuing until about 1:20, is just flat-out amazing. Just watch. (via @dunstan)
Just as he did a couple of years ago, Casey Neistat busted out his board yesterday and went snowboarding behind a 4WD Jeep in the blizzard covered streets of Manhattan. (thx, david)
It took me a few minutes to realize that FootGolf, like chessboxing, is an actual sport and not a Funny or Die skit. As you might have guessed, FootGolf is golf but with soccer balls and feet instead of golf balls and clubs.
This is America in a nutshell. Instead of banning kids from playing football, as the world’s leading expert on the football-related head injuries urges, a school district is having their football players drink a brand of chocolate milk that has been shown in a preliminary study to “improve their cognitive and motor function over the course of a season, even after experiencing concussions”.
Experimental groups drank Fifth Quarter Fresh after each practice and game, sometimes six days a week, while control groups did not consume the chocolate milk. Analysis was performed on two separate groups: athletes who experienced concussions during the season and those who did not. Both non-concussed and concussed groups showed positive effects from the chocolate milk.
Non-concussed athletes who drank Maryland-produced Fifth Quarter Fresh showed better cognitive and motor scores over nine test measures after the season as compared to the control group.
Concussed athletes drinking the milk improved cognitive and motor scores in four measures after the season as compared to those who did not.
Vice Sports has a quick look at what’s wrong with this study.
See also these new helmets designed to “prevent” concussions. The problem is not poorly designed helmets or lack of magic chocolate milk. Those things only make matters worse by implicitly condoning poor behavior, e.g. if helmets prevent concussions, it’ll gradually result in harder hitting, which will result in more injuries.
If you ever need a good definition for “differently abled” (as opposed to “disabled”), these two videos should suffice.
Surfer Kelly Slater has built what I can only guess is the world’s largest wave pool that pumps out perfectly surfable waves. It looks a bit boring actually, faultless waves every time. Like playing against the computer in NHL ‘94. (via @mathowie)
Today, the NY Times is running an editorial by Dr. Bennet Omalu called Don’t Let Kids Play Football. Omalu was the first to publish research on CTE in football players.
If a child who plays football is subjected to advanced radiological and neurocognitive studies during the season and several months after the season, there can be evidence of brain damage at the cellular level of brain functioning, even if there were no documented concussions or reported symptoms. If that child continues to play over many seasons, these cellular injuries accumulate to cause irreversible brain damage, which we know now by the name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a disease that I first diagnosed in 2002.
Depending on the severity of the condition, the child now has a risk of manifesting symptoms of C.T.E. like major depression, memory loss, suicidal thought and actions, loss of intelligence as well as dementia later in life. C.T.E. has also been linked to drug and alcohol abuse as the child enters his 20s, 30s and 40s.
The story of Omalu, his research, and its suppression by the NFL is the subject of Concussion, a movie starring Will Smith that comes out on Christmas Day, as well as a book version written by Jeanne Marie Laskas.
OMG OMG OMG! Théo Sanson recently slacklined across a gap spanning nearly a third of a mile in Utah, which might just be a world record. This is gorgeously filmed; you really get a sense of the scale of the gap Sanson crossed and how high in the air he was. My palms are absolutely drenched after watching that. (via colossal)
Watch as skier Ian McIntosh hits an unexpected trench on one of his first turns down an extremely steep mountain and tumbles 1600 feet in less than a minute. Actually, don’t just watch…put your headphones on and listen: McIntosh was mic’d up while falling and you can hear the whole thing. (via devour)