Pool Pains and That Relay

It is unfortunate, but a greater proportion of the headlines for the Rio swim and dive events are increasingly coming from news not directly related to the fine performances of the athletes. If the green pool was a source of confusion in the first week of the Games, then the mishmash in the second week has been doubled, with concern about systemic bias from the pool’s current as well as that bizarre encounter at a gas station involving Ryan Lochte and his friends.

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First, according to the WSJ, three scientists believe that there was a current in the Olympic pool that resulted in inferior performance from swimmers in lanes 1-4 and superior performance from swimmers in lanes 5-8. They note the statistical significance of the time differential between the lower and upper lanes, but perhaps the most compelling evidence is the following (emphasis added):

In Rio, the lane bias also showed up in the 800-meter and 1,500-meter races, the other events analyzed by the researchers. Swimmers in lanes 1 through 3 swam as much as .6 seconds slower while heading toward the starting blocks than they swam while moving away from them, according to an analysis of split times by Brammer.

Swimmers in lanes 6 through 8 showed the reverse, logging faster times while moving toward the starting blocks than they did away from them, according to Brammer. The closer swimmers were to lanes 1 and 8, the outer lanes of the pool, the greater the effects on times, he said.

Now, theoretically, the current should be neutralized if swimmers are swimming multiple lengths of the pool but this does cause issues for the 50m races which are only one length long. One independent voice – Trevor Tiffany of Myrtha Pools USA – says that his team floated a jug before the races. Based on the result from the test, his conclusion was that there was no current in the pool.

For its part, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has so far remained silent on the issue. Perhaps because they have other fish to fry….

We woke up Thursday morning with a series of strange news headlines involving highly decorated American swimmer Ryan Lochte and a few of his friends. In an interview with NBC, Lochte said that they had been robbed at gunpoint at a gas station. According to video footage, it turns out that the swimmers had been acting belligerently and vandalized the bathroom by tearing down doors. When they returned to the taxi, they were asked to pay money for damages and were confronted by an armed security guard. According to Reuters:

Veloso, Rio’s police chief, said police investigations had shown that the swimmers had broken a mirror and a soap-holder in the bathroom, adding that they then handed over a total of 100 reais ($31) and $20 in U.S. currency as compensation.

According to Lochte’s account, $400 was stolen from them.

At one point, a security guard pulled a firearm after one swimmer behaved erratically, Veloso said, adding that the guard had not over-reacted: “From the moment the gun was pulled out, they calmed down. Once they were calm, the gun was lowered.”

Locate managed to get back to the US before being detained. His teammates were not so lucky with one paying $11,000 to escape prosecution:

ABC News reported early on Friday that Feigen had agreed to pay $11,000 to a Brazilian charity to avoid prosecution in the case, citing his attorney Breno Melaragno Costa.

The outlet said the dispute would be settled, his passport returned, and Feigen would be allowed to leave the country once payment was made to the Reaction Institute charity.

So it’s good to know that the Brazilians are living up to their reputation in their strict adherence to the rule of law. Now just point me to the statute that says “if you slander, please pay a bribe of $11,000 (to a charity) and we will just move on”…

For those of you have an interest in this charity and a knowledge of Portuguese, you can find further information on Instituto Reação here.

(Image credit: WSJ)

The Missing Olympian

Grace Cossington Smith was an Australian artist born in 1892. Some of her notable works include paintings of Sydney harbor like The Bridge in Curve. A beautiful image of an unfitted bridge leading toward the sun and full of bright colors, the image evokes a sense optimism, hope, and progress.

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But a lesser-known image, and one which we shall employ as a backdrop for our expose today, is called the Lacquer Room. Once again, the bright colors are pre-eminent. Red chairs speckle the foreground, the canvas lacks the width (apparently) to portray the entire scene. Tables are cut off, chairs are cut off and even people are cut off as the painting simply cannot capture the magnitude of the moment.

But one thing is missing. If you look closely, there is no shadow in the image. Surely some shadowing could give the image more depth and more gravitas. And yet there is none. There are a few areas of darkness but no shadow in the true sense of the word.

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And that is similar to what we see at the Olympics this year. we lament the absence of star professional athletes- the ones with the big sponsorship deals and the ones who have been winning on the pro circuits over the last four years. No LeBron, no Spieth. No Sharapova or McIlroy. Soccer’s Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi will both be no-shows.

Isn’t the Olympics where everyone wants to be? Isn’t it the pinnacle of sport where young children run and pass and kick and shoot in hopes of someday making it to that grandest of stages? What must go through the minds of these athletes that they would undermine the integrity of such a spectacular event of global harmony and athletics?

Many of our more cynical readers will surely have answers to these questions. Indeed, they are meant to be rhetorical. For we know why these athletes don’t compete; it conflicts with their day job. If Rooney was injured at the tournament how would his club team feel? Why should Spieth travel all the way down to Rio in order to take part in yet another golf tournament; one for which there is essentially no prize money or ranking points or other perks on the line?

So has the integrity of competition at the Olympics been undermined by these absentees? Are the fields so depleted that the Olympics has simply become a game of “the best of the rest”; the place where washed up journeymen go for their 15 minutes of fame and an NBC puff profile piece?

In a word, yes. We don’t see the finest athletes who are leaders on a pro tour (other than the events with a smaller fan base like swimming and track and field).

But this is not a bad thing; in fact, it is good. For the Olympics were instituted for amateurs and that is how it should remain.  The Olympics are not about the athletes but the events; not the competition, but the story. We see people third by their name and second by the country they represent but first and foremost as Olympians.

So when we look at the Lacquer Room, we don’t see the absence of the shadow but we look at the vibrancy of the color. The lack of depth and gravitas is appropriate because we can view the image simply as it is; a portrait not of humans but of such tremendous humanity that it runs off the page.

So we raise a glass to you – Olympians.

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(Image credit: Wikipedia, Australia Art Gallery)

Why Russia Will Run in Rio

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The big, huge, larger-than-life news this week that Kazi was focused on was not in OH-IO but rather in the upper echelons of the IOC – the International Olympic Committee. At stake is Russia’s eligibility to participate in this summer’s Rio Olympic Games. The WSJ explains:

Less than three weeks before the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, an independent probe on Monday produced the most damning evidence to date of a vast, state-sponsored doping program run by Russian sports officials that included corrupting the testing lab at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

For the International Olympic Committee, the report sets up a choice as delicate as it is momentous: whether to ban Russia from the Rio Games.

Last month, the IOC formally supported a ban on the country’s track and field team competing in the Games because of state-sponsored doping, and will now face considerable pressure to keep out the entire Russian delegation.

The evidence in question?

Among the findings was a system for identifying and replacing dirty urine samples during the Sochi Olympics…

Well naturally, this has been a point of contention among the finders of these facts, which have conveniently surfaced just three weeks before the Games. The United States contingent is “shocked” at the revelations:

IOC President Thomas Bach said the findings “show a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and on the Olympic Games.” Travis Tygart, who leads the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called the allegations “mind-blowing.”

The drama!

The coincidence…

In all seriousness, it must be nice for the intrepid researches to have found such damning evidence at the last possible moment. The Sochi Games took place over two years ago, and with 15 business days left before the Rio Games commence, the bottle has been uncorked, the evidence found, the skeletons unearthed.

Moreover, these forensic findings become exponentially more challenging to uncover with each passing day. Materials can be destroyed, tampered with, or hidden. There is less manpower dedicated to revealing fraud and PED use in the years after a Games than leading up to it or at the Games itself.

Russia President Vladimir Putin is taken aback by the findings. That paragon of virtue and honesty has no place in his heart for cheaters, apparently:

Putin, who said there is no place for doping in sports, also suggested the doping scandal appeared to be an attempt to “exert pressure” on Russia.

Putin would clearly never condone the use of performance-enhancing drugs in an effort to bring glory to his nation when they are the hosts (or at any other time). Never.

It is disheartening to see drug use continue to be the headline in elite athletics. The fact is that of course Russian athletes were doping, just as the Chinese did in 2008 and the Canadians did in 2010…well, maybe not the Canadians, unless maple syrup is a drug.

But the point is this: The IOC will not suspend Russia because the facts have materialized too late and I suspect they don’t have enough evidence to truly convict the Russian delegation. There is one simple reason why this is coming to light today. It is to dissuade the use of PEDs in the Rio Games by proving that they can and they will catch the cheats and ban them.

So don’t pay attention to these doping stories.  Pay attention to the athletes. Most are clean and their work is a spectacle that should be admired and applauded.

(Image Credit: IBTimes)

Murray remembers Dunblane

Today, we repost a BBC story about Dunblane, Scotland. It is good to see sports making the world a better place.

Andy Murray hopes his tennis success has helped the healing in Dunblane, his home town ripped apart by a horrific shooting incident 17 years ago.

Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and one teacher at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March, 1996.

In a BBC One documentary broadcast on Sunday, Murray, a pupil at the school at the time of the shooting, broke down in tears when recalling what happened.

“You have no idea how tough something like that is,” he told Sue Barker.

Cradling his dog on his lap, the emotional Scot, 26, said the incident had affected him deeply but hoped his numerous triumphs on the tennis court had been a positive influence on Dunblane.

“It is just nice being able to do something the town is proud of,” said the reigning Olympic and US Open champion, whose elder brother Jamie was also a pupil at Dunblane Primary School.

In the hour-long documentary, Murray’s mother, Judy, recalled the day Hamilton entered the school with four handguns, opening fire on a class of five- and six-year-olds in the gymnasium.

He later shot himself dead before he could be captured.

Andy Murray goes to sign autographs on a visit to Dunblane following his Olympic success at London 2012
Andy Murray signs autographs on a visit to Dunblane following his Olympic success in 2012

Judy said that Andy had been walking to the gym when the shootings had begun and said her family knew Hamilton, a 43-year-old unemployed former shopkeeper, before the incident took place.

“Andy’s class were on their way to the gym, his class were the next ones in the gym,” she said. “His class was stopped when somebody went up, when they heard the noise and discovered what had happened.”

Struggling to contain her emotions, she explained: “I was one of hundreds of mums that were queuing up at the school gates waiting to find out what had happened, not knowing if your children were alive or not.”

She added she still found it difficult visiting the school and purposely avoided the gym where the shootings took place.

“I actually don’t go near that part of the building,” she said. “When I go up to school now, if I’m doing something, I’ll do it in the playground or I do it in the new gym.”

In the aftermath of the shooting, Judy said Andy and Jamie had wanted to know why Hamilton had done what he did.

“There were lots and lots of questions from them, mainly I think because they knew the guy who had done it because they used to go to one of his boys’ clubs up at the high school,” said Judy.

She also revealed that she had given Hamilton “lifts up and down from the train station to the high school”, making her sons question the killer’s motives even more.

She added that Andy would talk about the incident from “time to time” but that Jamie “never ever talked about it”.

Andy added that he had not wanted to know too much about what had happened at the time but that his view had changed.

“It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to actually research it and look into it,” he said.

Jamie, 27, was also interviewed in the BBC documentary, titled ‘Andy Murray: The Man Behind the Racquet’.

Roger Federer wins his seventh Wimbledon singles title

A former Grand Slam winner himself, having won the mixed doubles title with Jelena Jankovic in 2007, he agreed that his brother’s achievements had helped Dunblane recover from its ordeal.

“It’s nice that, after all the negative publicity the town got after what happened so many years ago, that it’s able to be shown in a positive light now,” he said. “I guess that’s a testament to the success that Andy’s had.”

Andy, currently ranked number two in the world, begins his quest for a first Wimbledon men’s singles crown on Monday, when he faces German Benjamin Becker in a first-round match on Centre Court.

The British number one lost in last year’s final, beaten in four sets by Roger Federer, who was claiming the title for a seventh time.

Why Durant’s move means Golden State Doom and Merritt’s kidney-comeback

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So Kevin Durant is moving to Oakland. The #Decision has been made, the paperwork has been signed, the deal is done. Golden State will now begin a dynasty, they will go for the undefeated season, they will win the Finals for the next five years and the team will go down among the legends of the sport. Steph Curry will score 30pts per game and get 10 assists, feeding Durant’s 40pts. Klay will chip in with 25 and Iguodala will put in 20 and get his 10 rebounds a game. This is how it will be so there’s really no point in watching for drama over the next five years. Just enjoy the show because we know who is going to win.

Or do we?

What has been the driver of Golden State’s success? Sure, Curry and Thompson and the rest of the crew have been superb but that hasn’t been the key. Rather the main ingredient has been an underdog mentality. “We are underrated”…”Steph doesn’t get the respect he deserves”…”They think we don’t deserve to be in the same category as the Bulls”.

Durant changes that. Golden State now has no excuse not to win. Rather than the opportunity to prove people wrong they now have the pressure to prove people right. With expectations so high, it only makes sense that they might falter. And we’ve seen this happen in the past: look at how Dwayne Wade fell off from superstar to role player when LeBron went to Miami. Or how much better LeBron plays when he feels compelled to carry his team to victory. Or how Draymond Green took on the media when he said that what they were saying about Curry was “slander”.

No longer. Now the Warriors are not warriors but expected victors. This is an entirely different mindset and we would not be surprised to see them miss out on the Finals in 2017.


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In other news, 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist Aries Merritt will be attempting to qualify for the US team again this weekend…only nine months after a major kidney transplant. While he struggled and clipped a few hurdles in the race, watching him back in action is a testament to the true Olympic spirit. These are the stories that people should be talking about, not the politics of it all.

Whether or not he ultimately qualifies, it shows how someone can be knocked back and with perseverance achieve goals. Goals may be reset, objectives recalibrated, but ultimately Merritt was able to race in front of the Hayward Field faithful one more time…and that should be celebrated.

(Image credit: YouTube, USATF)

Le Tour…and Invoking Rule XL

The summer of 2016 is a great time to be a sports fan. Perhaps the best time in history. We recently bore witness to a stunning come-from-behind win in the NBA Finals, we are in the midst of compelling drama on the soccer pitch both in the Euros and in the Copa America, and it is all leading up to the single biggest event the world has ever known – the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Yet, while all the articles and news segments and blogs are focused on these events, 200 big-legged, skinny-armed men are embarking on thousands of miles traversing the Alps and the Pyrenees on bicycles. For these guys, it is the pinnacle of their sport, the summit, if you will. It is what they’ve been training for years and years to accomplish. Many won’t even finish and only a handful has a chance to actually win.

So in our bid to be open, welcoming, and tolerant of all sports, we thought we would give them some space in our Saturday column.

The big news this year is that the organizers are adding detection devices. These highly sophisticated magnetic resonance sensors are designed to…you guessed it – check to see if there are motors in the bikes. Ummm…has that ever been an issue in a competitive bike race? These bikes weigh less than a couple of pounds – I think a motor worth its salt would be pretty obvious to any casual fan watching. The bike would be twice the size of the others!

Ok, ‘nuff said on a sport that no one cares about.

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International bodies apparently like their rules and articles. No sooner had we hears about the Brexit and Article 50 than we began to read stories about the Olympics and Rule 40.

You see, every Olympics has a few main sponsors who pay tens of millions for the right to use terms like…”the Olympics”. In the past, the International Olympic Committee had imposed a marketing blackout during the games for companies that sponsor athletes rather than the event itself.

However, rule changes earlier this year are now allowing non-event sponsors like Under Armour to sponsor individual athletes and leverage those relationships during the Olympics. So most people walk away happy. Under Armour is happy because it can now advertise and use its relationships during the Olympics. The athletes are pleased because now their relationships with their sponsors have become more valuable. Agents are happier because more valuable relationships mean higher commissions.

Who isn’t happy? Honestly, the Kazi team. The Olympics isn’t about the cult of individual personalities but the collective experience. It isn’t a series of races but an event from start to finish. Focus on a few specific athletes dents that mission.

Now, this isn’t to say that Nike should have a monopoly on the event sponsorship of the Olympics. Perhaps the IOC should allow multiple lead sponsors. But sometimes we need to take a step back, appreciate the Michael Phelps and Usain Bolts of the world but realize that they are part of the Olympics, not the other way around.

(Image credit: Tour de France, Olympics)

WADA – When Administrators Defeat Athletics

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Early Friday morning, news began to filter out to various outlets that the Rio lab that will be testing for drug use at the 2016 Summer Olympics has been suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Sadly, it seems that at nearly every Olympics Games in recent memories, the lead-up has been characterized not by inspiration stories of amateur athletes finally getting that one shot for gold, but rather the administration of the events.

Think back:

  • 2014 Sochi – Occurred amidst the Crimean controversy.
  • 2012 London – Citizens couldn’t get tickets to the biggest and most enticing events because of the poor allocation system. But they could definitely pay taxes to fund the Games.
  • 2010 Vancouver- The Canadians just did things right…but for us on the West Coast, why were we watching the Downhill on a 5-hour delay when we were literally a two hour drive from the Games?
  • 2008 Beijing – A good Games, but the Opening Ceremony was almost too good. It was all people talked about for months.
  • 2006 Turin – Not bad except that you still had Mr. Berlusconi running a corrupt government.
  • 2004 Athens – Greece has still not recovered from the economic setbacks of that time period.

Can we not just celebrate the athletes? Are we not permitted simply to laud the unifying spirit that the Olympics provides? No; for we aren’t even worried about the athletes cheating now – we are worried about the testing agencies cheating. Layer upon layer of administration, more and more filters obscuring the pure and unadulterated essence of global competition and international cooperation.

This is not about red tape or bureaucracy but where our attention is focused. It can either be focused on politics – I mean, let’s be honest, we get plenty of that elsewhere – or it can be focused on something that takes place once every two years, for just two weeks. For those two weeks we can cheer together, high-five together, appreciate what pure hard work means together. We can cry as athletes collapse with exhaustion and cry when they get back up – not to win but to finish.

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We don’t pretend to be anything close to Olympianic at Kazi. But we can try, in our own small way, to contribute to that same essence – that same spirit with which all of us identify. We will be cheering for the Americans but we won’t begrudge anyone cheering for their own – as long as it isn’t WADA, the World Athletic Distraction Agency.