10 May, 2015

Ryan Bailey is a little nobody

Well, that’s what Warren Weir, Olympic and World medalist over 200 m, called Bailey after the latter’s provocative gesture following the US victory in the 4x100 m World Relays competition.

The US victory over Jamaica in the men’s 4x100 m was the first since 2007. The american team, which included two doping offenders, Gatlin and Gay, managed to beat Jamaica 37.30 s to 37.68 s despite an anchor leg of 8.65 s by Bolt, which is most probably the fastest ever run. Following this victory, an exuberant Bailey mocked Bolt by striking the famous Bolt “to di world” pose dragging his finger across his throat in a cutting gesture.

How can Bailey be so ignorant of his own value compared to Bolt’s? He has never ever beaten Bolt. In their most recent race in Rio, he profited again from a view of Bolt’s back.

And just as a sobbering experience, he also, just one day ago, on May 9th, had a view of Asafa Powell's back over 100 m at the Jamaica International Invitational, beaten at, an admittedly more than decent, 9.93 s, comparted to Asafa's 9.84 s. 

(Before people start criticising my tolerant attitude towards Asafa Powell who has served a six-months ban for doping, I should point out that Powell was sanctioned for the use of oxilofrine, a stimulant. There are not lasting effects of amphetamines, as is the case with anabolics. Of course, the use of stimulants cannot be condoned, but I consider that once you serve your sentence for stimulants you are clean, unlike the anabolics users).

Anyhow, Weir did not mince his words.

"When you see the greats, you have to show them respect, you have to respect the legends of our sport. Especially when you are a little nobody, you really are to show more respect to those who are leading the way and those who have accomplished way more than you have.”

The 4x200 m jamaican team, anchored by Weir, won the World Relays competition, in a race where the US were disqualified, and celebrated their victory by a collective “to di world” pose on the podium.

John Smith, who is coaching Bailey will have to spell it out for his protégé. Showing disrespect to any athlete is tantamount to showing disrespect to the athletics world as a whole. Unless Bailey learns how to show proper respect, his presence at the top will be ephemeral.

04 May, 2015

King Carl or how I learned a new slang word

I was planning to write this post for quite a long time. Still I was missing the proper angle and I kept postponing it. Finally I got it in spades thanks to Chris Lamberts’ article “Why I despise Justin Gatlin”. No, we are not going to discuss Gatlin here. He is but small fry compared to the one and only Carl Lewis.

Lamberts personal journey from admiration of Gatlin to pure loathing reflects my own as far as Lewis is concerned. But let us rewind the tale and start at the beginning, at the time when I admired Lewis.

I became aware of Carl Lewis at the beginning of the 80s, most probably when he jumped a massive 8.62 m in 1981. In 1982 he fouled (just barely, a foul that created quite some controversy) a jump over 9 m. But the moment of real glory for Lewis came when at the 1984, Los Angeles, Olympics he matched the feat of the legendary Jesse Owens winning the four “sprint” events, 100 m, 200 m, long jump and 4x100 m. It was at that time that the first clouds did appear. I remember reading an article with a jab at Lewis concerning the 4x100 m, a race he might lose because of somebody else’s fault. The article said, tongue in cheek, that the only way to make sure that nothing like that happened was to run all four relays himself. In fact lewis attitude had started irritating people. For Edwin Moses “Lewis rubs it in too much. A little humility is in order. That's what Carl lacks." I ignored all this and continued admiring Lewis, through the years. I remember I was disappointed when his 8.91 m jump in the 1991, Tokyo, World championships was registered with wind aid. His final great victory came when he equalled Oerter’s feat winning in 1996 the olympic title of long jump for the fourth consecutive Olympiad.

At that time I heard the circulating rumour that Lewis could be gay. I do not care in the least about the sexual preferences of other people but I thought that that could be a possible explanation for the flamboyant attire of Lewis. I was somewhat perplexed by the choice of the IAAF of Lewis as “Athlete of the Century” but I decided that since Lewis had reproduced the feats of both Owens and Oerter the choice was not unjustified. (Who else could it have been? I don’t know, but names like Nurmi and Zatopek spring to my mind).

Things started going down the drain as far as my feelings for Lewis are concerned when at the beginning of the oughts it was revealed that Lewis had been tested positive to some forbidden substance at the 1988 US Olympic Trials. He defended himself by claiming that he had consumed the banned substances accidentally (a frequent argument of athletes who have tested positive in doping controls). To be fair, the level of stimulants used by Lewis is now regarded as a negative test. Still, it remains that at the time, with the regulations in effect, Lewis should have been excluded from the Seoul, Olympic US team. Lewis own defence in a 2003 interview was that he was let off because that was the normal practice in those times. In his own words "I don't know what people are trying to make out of nothing because everyone was treated the same, so what are we talking about? I don't get it."

But where my attitude towards Lewis veered completely was during the 2004, Athens, Olympics. I had the occasion to watch several interviews of Lewis on television and I was shocked by his haughty attitude, his arrogance, his dismissive manner towards greek athletes. This period opened my eyes and I started paying more attention to all the negative critiques towards Lewis. I found out that the person I erstwhile admired was... but I will stop here. Chris Lamberts has a great blog post on his meeting with Carl Lewis. I urge you to go and read the full text there, in particular since he has also a post on his meeting with Frankie Fredericks, who is the zenith of lovability compared to Lewis’ nadir. Still, for those of you who are too lazy, I will try to summarise Lamberts’ post.

The “meeting” of Lamberts with Carl Lewis took place at the Sports Illustrated party held after the last day of the 2004, Athens, Olympics. Chris was chatting with his mate Matt Douglas and they spotted Carl Lewis. Matt said, “Lambo, it’s Carl Lewis. He’s my fucking hero, I’ve gotta go meet him.” Lewis was wearing black formal trousers (with braces), a white vest, a bowler hat and sunglasses, just leaning against the wall with an unlit cigar in his mouth. He looked like a knob. After some hesitation they went over to Lewis. Matt said “Carl, look, I just wanted to meet you and shake your hand. You’re such a legend and an inspiration. You inspired me into the sport as a kid and have inspired me my whole career and now here I am at the Olympics. It’s kind of thanks to you. You’ve done so much... it’s so great to meet you... basically I just wanted to say you’re my hero.” Carl lowered his sunglasses, looked Matt up and down for a moment, took the cigar out of his mouth and said: “I know.” Then walked away.

It was thanks to Lamberts’ post that I learned a new slang word: knob. Initially referring to the male sex organ, the word is now used for a disliked person, “dickhead” being a synonym. After all these years and everything I have seen and read on Carl Lewis I start thinking that this word may be appropriate. 

01 May, 2015

Russian madness

I could not believe my eyes when I saw this. A member of the Russian parliament introduced a bill which aims at limiting the participation of Russian athletes to just two Olympic Games. The reason for this, at least in part, is to avoid what happened in the Sochi, 2014, winter Olympics with figure skater Yevgeni Plushenko. 

In Sochi, Plushenko, participated at the team event placing second at the short program and first at the free one helping Russia win the gold medal. However his back injury worsened and he deiced to withdraw from the individual competition. He underwent surgery after the Olympics and is now thinking about returning to competition.

The bill introduced by Yegor Anisimov in meant to give younger athletes their chance at an olympic participation. In Anisimov’s own words:

“There is no doubt that Plushenko knew about his health problems earlier on, but he didn’t remove his candidacy to compete at the Olympic Games, thus depriving other athletes of the chance to take part.“

But it is a known fact that Plushenko himself had declared in December 2013 that he wanted to compete in the team event and not the individual event.

Anisimov’s argument is that his bill, if approved, will allow other, younger and no less talented athletes to take part in international competitions at high level.

This is pure bullshit.

The reaction of top Russian athletes was prompt. Plushenko himself said

"I think the suggestion has no place and is impossible to understand. I think such questions should be decided by experts.”

For Vladimir Salnikov, a multiple olympic gold medalist in swimming, 

"The person who comes up with this idea will be someone who does not have a clue or anything to do with sport.”

Finally the great Yelena Isinbayeva, multiple Olympic, World and European champion did not mince her words:

"This is complete idiocy from someone who knows nothing about sport. This legislation has no bearing on real life.”

Let us for a moment imagine such a rule valid since ever and not only fo Russians. Al Oerter would have had to contend himself with just two gold medals. The same goes for Saneyev and Zelezny. (And, no, I am not forgetting Carl Lewis. I am going to write a full post on “King” Carl sometime soon. It’s the one I am itching about for quite some time now).

Wait, there’s worse. For some athletes success may come late. Alain Mimoun, somebody for whom I have a sincere admiration and deep respect, had to wait for his third Olympiad. It was not until Melbourne, 1956 that he managed to win the gold medal he was running after for years, beating in the process his friend, the great Emil Zatopek.

But there’s more. Suppose I am a coach with a promising young athlete who manages to make the minima and qualifies for the coming Olympics. Am I going to risk one participation, out of the precious two, on an athlete who has not yet fully matured? Isn’t it better to wait for another four years hoping that by that time my athlete would be really competitive? But how about the unique experience a participation at the Games is providing? And how about a situation where a non-participation decision is taken and then injuries deprive the athlete of any chance for future participation? In this case we would have squandered a unique chance because of some stupid calculation.

And if Mr. Anisimov’s logic is pushed to the limit, why restrict the participation to the Olympics and not extend the measure to World and Continental championships? In this case the career of an athlete would be a mere four-year one. If it comes to this, why bother? Let’s stop doing individual sports and start sending our kids to football academies. At least, if they have talent they may become rich.