August 5th, 2012
Anthony Lane has been getting into the spirit of London 2012:
[On how "home interest" isn't as important as you'd think for spectators once they're sat down in a stadium watching fit, dedicated athletes who've spent four years or more preparing themselves to do incredibly difficult things extremely well.] I felt this keenly last weekend, at the water polo – another insane, compelling pastime that finds its ideal home at the Olympics. As with weightlifting, the imperatives and tactics could not be clearer; the same cannot always be said of the competitors, who famously reserve their most heinous acts for a murky world below the waterline. On the surface, strapping young men and women try to pass the ball and hurl it into the net. Underneath, however, there is a flagrant suspension of the laws that govern not only this particular sport but the entirety of human civilization. London has installed cameras on the bottom of the pool, and occasionally – less often than I would have liked, but probably as often as the organizers dared – we would be granted cutaway shots, screened at the ends of the pool, of what was going on down there. The only thing I can compare it with is the tuna-fishing sequence from Rossellini's "Stromboli," when a hundred enraged fish churn, thresh, and wriggle for their lives. If you order the special in one of London's fish restaurants, over the next fortnight, and find yourself chewing on what appears to be a shred of bathing cap, maybe in the colors of Australia, don't say a word. Just swallow and carry on.
[Via The Browser]
August 5th, 2012
I do like the self-deprecating tagline used on Twitter by one of Britain's other heptathletes, Katarina Johnson-Thompson:
Chronically indecisive so I've adopted two surnames & the heptathlon.
[Via The Observer]
June 24th, 2012
At Blood & Treasure, the story of the battle for the black jersey:
Shortly after World War Two, the Italian cycling authorities introduced the Black Jersey, awarded, along with a cash prize, to the entrant who came last in each stage of the Giro d'Italia. This was partly to encourage the fans to identify with cyclists nearer their own level of skill and partly to encourage the crowds to hang around after the leaders had whizzed past. [...]
It worked rather better than the organisers expected. [...] Coming last was a serious matter. [...]
June 16th, 2012
We Vs. The Night:
Three longboarders flex down a winding mountain face in the cold of the night, equipped with nothing but a couple headlamps to tear through the darkness.
It's a lovely short film, but to my mind it'd work a lot better without the music on the soundtrack. I don't think it needed any music at all, just the sound of their longboards' wheels on the road as they trundled down the hill in the dead of night.
Still worth a look, though.
February 19th, 2012
One more sport I'm perfectly happy never to have tried: volcano-boarding…
British journalist John Kay, chief reporter at The Sun, once summarized his personal M.O. as "If you don't go, you don't know." It's stuck with me ever since and is precisely what's brought me to Cerro Negro – the only place in the world you can do volcano-boarding, our guide said. The sport was created in 2005 by an Australian sand-boarder named Darryn Webb, who first tried mattresses, boogie boards and a mini-bar fridge before settling on the makeshift toboggan. Trips now run daily from the hostel Darryn also founded, called Bigfoot, where just $28 buys you a seat in the back of a flatbed truck, the use of a homemade board, and on this day the upbeat guidance of a man named Anthony, who is squat and muscly and so agile he can pop out of a hatch in our truck's cab, swing his body around as we jounce along some seriously unpaved roads, and land casually in the truck's rollicking bed. He looks like the sort of person who can handle tobogganing down an active volcano, while the 20 of us who will actually undertake the challenge look hot and tired and more like Janes than Tarzans.
July 6th, 2011
Former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara remembers being in the Sri Lankan team bus when it came under fire during the team's 2009 tour of Pakistan:
Tharanga Paranvithana, on his debut tour, is [...] next to me. He stands up, bullets flying all around him, shouting "I have been hit" as he holds his blood-soaked chest. He collapsed onto his seat, apparently unconscious.
I see him and I think: "Oh my God, you were out first ball, run out the next innings and now you have been shot. What a terrible first tour."
May 19th, 2011
May 9th, 2011
Probably the greatest newspaper correction ever published:
Correction: May 8, 2011
An item in the Extra Bases baseball notebook last Sunday misidentified, in some editions, the origin of the name Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver, which Mets pitcher R. A. Dickey gave one of his bats. Orcrist was not, as Dickey had said, the name of the sword used by Bilbo Baggins in the Misty Mountains in "The Hobbit"; Orcrist was the sword used by the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in the book. (Bilbo Baggins's sword was called Sting.)
Not that I follow baseball, or had read the original report, but reading this I can't help but ask myself "Would I have noticed their mistake?" I have a horrible feeling that I would have.
[Via The Awl]
May 1st, 2011
Marc Tracy on attending the 2011 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference:
There was an unusually small room at the northwest end of the hall devoted to the authors of research papers. Here are the names of some of the papers: "Paired Pitching: The Welcomed Death of the Starting Pitcher"; "Optimizing an NBA Team's Approach to Free Agency Using a Multiple Choice Knapsack Model"; "A Groovy Kind of Golf Club: The Impact of Grooves Rule Changes in 2010 on the PGA Tour"; "An Improved Adjusted Plus-Minus Statistic for NHL Players"; "A Major League Baseball Swing Quality Metric"; "The Effects of Altitude on Soccer Match Outcomes." There is no way David Foster Wallace did not come up with at least one of those titles.
Readers on this side of the pond shouldn't be put off by the fact that the article is almost entirely about American sports; ultimately, Tracy isn't so much writing about sports as he is about geeks who love (analysing) sports. The geekery is the thing.
[Via Give Me Something To Read]
January 26th, 2011
December 22nd, 2010
Back in 1974 James N Bailey, General Counsel to the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise, responded to a letter from an unhappy season ticket holder with what might just be the best reply ever committed to paper.
[Via Deadspin, via The Awl]
October 26th, 2010
I get vertigo just looking at this photo of a climbing wall at Bjoeks, Groningen.
October 18th, 2010
Howard Jacobson profiles a legend on the comeback trail:
The big question for those of us jaded with the modern game of ping-pong – the oof-plock, oof-plock of devious sponge, no rally lasting longer than the cramped spin serve, the dabbed return, and the silent kill – was whether the great Marty Reisman, just one grey hair short of 70 but still refusing the rest owing to old age, was far enough advanced on his comeback trail to lift another U.S. Open Hardbat title.
Hardbat? The antiquated three or five ply wooden paddle covered with rubber pimples. Elegant and audible. Kerplock-plock.
The smart money was saying no. [...]
[Via The Morning News]
October 9th, 2010
David Fleming on the "Uh-oh" moment:
We can exhaustively explore every aspect of athletic life — victory, defeat, violence, racism, drugs, brain damage, paralysis, death — but nothing reveals as much about the physiology, psychology and sociology of sport as the excretory experience of athletes.
Of course, such is the sacredness of our relationship with our bowels that we're all programmed to pretend no one ever poops (or writes about it), despite the fact that every day on this planet, we humans produce 1.5 billion pounds of the stuff. The plain truth is, we all poop. Even athletes. Especially athletes. One of the sports world's last unspoken dirty little secrets is that this perfectly normal bodily function has a profound effect on all levels of competition. And the more you understand the way exercise impacts the intestinal tract, the more you'll wonder how any athlete ever manages to hold it in.
[Via Give Me Something to Read]
September 2nd, 2010
The NFL is returning to Channel 4:
NFL football is coming home! Almost three decades after first appearing on Channel 4, the NFL is returning to its original station in a new deal to broadcast Sunday Night Football. Channel 4 will air the league's premier match-up at 1 a.m. every Sunday night, with the game kicking off at 1.20. The new season will begin with the Dallas Cowboys' trip to arch-rival Washington Redskins on September 12. [...]
I used to enjoy following the NFL back in the 1980s when Channel 4 gave the sport its first mainstream UK TV coverage. I stopped following the NFL once Channel 4 lost the rights, primarily because when Channel 5 took over the contract their coverage initially centred around their live game show in the wee small hours. I could have recorded the shows to watch during the week, but somehow I just never got into the habit. In fairness, it may also have been that the generation of players I'd become familiar with when I first encountered the sport in the early 1980s was starting to retire and I felt less of a connection with the teams than I had a few years earlier.
It'll be interesting to try to follow the sport again in the age of the internet. Back in the 1980s the Channel 4 show early on a Sunday evening would show highlights from the previous weekend's games, but given the lack of coverage of the NFL in the UK mainstream media at the time it wasn't a problem to avoid finding out the results over the course of the week so I could safely catch up on the action on a Sunday night. Now that it'd be trivial to find out the weekend's scores online, will I have the willpower to hold out until the next highlights show? If I can't wait, will I end up trying to seek out game highlights on YouTube in preference to waiting for a chance to see the highlights on Channel 4?
[Via Phil Gyford]
August 8th, 2010
Sholto Byrnes found a lovely story about an American's first encounter with the game of cricket in pre-Second World War Borneo:
A peppy American journalist married to Harry, [... Agnes] Keith was, along with her husband, part of a European expat community that numbered only 75. Her book is a treasure of humorous description; and I hope readers share my delight in this passage.
The married men were to play the bachelors of Sandakan in a cricket match. As I had never before seen cricket, or my husband playing it, I thought I should attend.
I went down to the padang [field] at ten o'clock with my best hat on, as I knew the women would be there too, and we all sat under a canopy with cold drinks and waited for the game to begin. At least I thought we were waiting for the game to begin. The men were on the field in smart white flannels, moving about in such a leisurely manner and with such gentlemanly courtesy and good feeling, and such apparent desire for the opponent to make the best shots, and such well-modulated remarks of "Well bowled, sir", that I, accustomed to American football, thought they must still be practising. [...]
You can probably guess the punch line, but the passage is worth reading in full, even so. Cricket is such a strange, wonderful sport.
May 26th, 2010
I had no idea there was a Sauna World Championships:
Okay kids, today's activity is to go down to your local Pizza Hut, have the oven set for 261° and insert your body into it. The tips of your ears start to ignite. The backs of your arms scream. Your throat burns as if somebody had stuck a tiki torch down it. Your lips feel bitten by large, unseen raccoons. And you haven't hit 30 seconds.
Now do it for 10 minutes or more, and that's what it's like to compete in quite possibly the world's dumbest sport: the Sauna World Championships.
I know. I entered.
The eighth annual championships were held in August 2007 in Heinola, Finland, a lake-riddled town 87 kilometers north of Helsinki. As my wife, The Lovely Cynthia (TLC), and I drove up, my mind reeled at what kind of things competitors would say to sportswriters afterward: "I just got hot. What can I say?"
I went over the rules. Competing in six-person heats — written without irony — the 84 contestants battle to see whose skin boils last. You may wear only a bathing suit that goes eight inches down the leg and absolutely nothing else. You can wipe sweat from your face but not your body. You cannot cover your ears with your hands. You may not lean over too far. Ambulances will be standing by. Good luck! [...]
Somewhere, a TV producer is putting together a proposal for Celebrity Sauna Sizzle. If you doubt it, consider that in the 1980s and 90s Clive James made a good living out of presenting clips of wacky foreign TV shows for British audiences to marvel at, secure in the knowledge that British television was The Best In The World and we'd never stoop so low. Over the last decade, a frighteningly large number of those shows have been adapted for British TV, frequently with the addition of 'celebrities' to the mix.
Why wouldn't they usher a crowd of D-listers and wannabes into a walk-in oven to bake at 260°F for ten minutes or so?
[Via The Browser]