Erratic Like a Fox

“Why did he do that?”

“How could she?”

“What was she thinking?”

Tsk, tsk.

We’re living in an age where we cheer the eccentric and boo the erratic, in equal measure. Same as it ever was.

I was prompted to write a post for today’s Word-of-the-day challenge about Erratic.  I immediately reflected on the past couple of weeks. Elon Musk and the joint. Serena pointing at the ref. Madonna, always controversial. What do they all have in common? Success, you motorscooters! Success, despite their seeming erratic behavior. Success which comes from their innovation, talent, and unpredictability.

Serena Williams serving
Serena beating the pants off her rival in the U.S. Open semifinal before losing in the finals, photo by Seth Wenig, AP.

The Erratic 85.49% Winner

Serena is the greatest tennis player in history. Winner of 23 Grand Slam titles, she now competes against teenage athletes who grew up idolizing her. About to turn 37 years old, with an infant at home, she blazed into the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals. Although she lost both finals, her power and presence were remarkable given her recent circumstances. Continue reading “Erratic Like a Fox”

A Shallow Understanding of Sport

Since I am such a lover of sport, I have been surprised this week by the lack of sensitivity displayed in multiple sport stories. No, I am not talking about the political correctness type of sensitivity but the fine tuning required for common sense and intelligence.

Les spectateurs de bicyclette sont stupides

Consider, for example, the Tour de France. I have one friend who is an avid follower of the event, who shrugs at basketball and disdains football, but whose eyes lit up last week describing the day when the riders went over massive amounts of cobblestones. Perusing last night’s updates with my friend in mind, imagine my surprise at googling “Tour de France” and seeing that the top suggested pairing included “tear gas.”

Pepper spray at Tour de France protest
Pepper spray and tear gas at the Tour de France due to a farmer protest, photo by The Boxing Observer

Continue reading “A Shallow Understanding of Sport”

Clean Winning at the Triple Crown

Justify wins Belmont
Justify winning the Belmont, photo from Foxnews

In the 143 years that the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes have been run, only 13 horses have won all three (9%). Fifty-two horses have won only two of the races; 23 failed the third race. The Belmont is the longest, so a horse that likes the front–like Justify–would have to hold the lead forever after already becoming The Target. Thus, I found myself teary-eyed watching Justify complete the Triple Crown even though we had only just been introduced.

Winning is hard enough when everyone tries equally, but even harder when everyone tries specifically to beat you.

The Lengths That They Must Go

I still remember that other chestnut thoroughbred from 1973. Everyone should watch that Belmont race (thanks, Youtube!). Secretariat was a once-in-a-lifetime horse, although I didn’t know it then. What sticks out is his surge along the back stretch, “Big Red” on his way to winning by 31 lengths. TV cameras couldn’t zoom out as they do now, so as the horse pulls away, the camera has to pan farther and farther right to see the rest of the field. Continue reading “Clean Winning at the Triple Crown”

Basketball as Epic

Golden State Warriors artwork battling NBA
NBA Battle from 2018 exhibit Dubz Against the World, drawn by Pzhouart.

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
The Odyssey, opening, Fagles translation

The Trojan war lasted nine years, not counting pre-war skirmishes, trade negotiations at Grecian Menelaus’ palace, or the kidnap of Menelaus’ wife Helen by the Trojan prince Paris. The Trojans and the Greeks had a long history. Epic hero Odysseus wandered among the magic isles of the Mediterranean for ten years. Still older Sumerian tales of Gilgamesh spanned decades while the Indian classic epic Mahabharata lasted for generations. So it may seem impudent to talk of a four-year basketball rivalry in the same terms. Yet many parallels lie between sporting events today and the stories of old, and a contest that now covers an unprecedented four meetings could be described in the language of the epic. Continue reading “Basketball as Epic”

Wow — Team USA Pyeongchang Olympic Medals

Congratulations to our latest Olympic medalists! I have to provide one more shout out to the amazing athletes, who provided an outstanding sixteen days of competition and success for Team USA, from Red Gerard’s and Jamie Anderson’s acrobatics in snowboarding to John Shuster and the curling team’s miracurlllll. Other memorable moments the women’s cross-country ski relay team who picked up the first gold medal in USA cross-country skiing EVER — Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall.

Diggins Randall win Olympics Pyeongchang cross-country relay
Jessica Diggins and Kikkan Randall winning the gold medal in the women’s team sprint cross-country skiing relay. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

And, of course, the women’s hockey team finally getting that elusive gold medal in hockey (again!) through a hard-fought battle in regulation time. (What about the men’s team? Didn’t crack the semi-finals. Oh, because they’re not professionals? How much do the women get paid to play again? OK, moving on…)

Just one more time here is the list of all the U.S. medal winners, courtesy of Wikipedia:

2018 Pyeonchang US Medalists
List of Team USA Medalists in Pyeongchang 2018

Medal Count Analysis–Bogus and Real

Since it’s the Olympics and there are, well, numbers, then I can’t resist commenting on the data behind the tag line I keep hearing from the media: the US had its worst showing in medal performance since Nagano. Medal count summaries tend to be gobbledygook anyway, as I mentioned in a previous essay, but this offhand dismissal of the athlete’s accomplishments is particularly heinous hornswaggle.

While the 28 medals achieved was lower than in recent Games, that is out of context. Here’s a chart of all the U.S. winter medal results since the 1924 Games in Chamonix:

Notice that in 1988 Nagano and prior years, the U.S. was barely in double digits, and, in fact, was barely cracking the low teens. When all the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events were added, starting in Salt Lake City, the U.S. medal counts started to double and triple.  The phenomenal medal total for Team USA in Pyeongchang is nearly twice the average prior to 1998. So, it’s not as if this 28 medals is some tiny number.

Also, our high numbers in recent games were partly due to those new extreme sports and due to the “home court” advantage of Salt Lake City and Vancouver. If you take those new sports out of the totals, our Pyeongchang result were better than many of those prior years and in line with the strong showings since 1992. In other words, those medals in curling, cross-country, and bobsled really are in line with prior Games.

I can’t wait to see a new generation of curlers and cross-country skiiers come through in Beijing 2022, inspired by the John Shusters and Kikkan Randalls of these Games.  U-S-A Slay all day!