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.

Secretariat wins the 1973 Belmont
Secretariat winning the Belmont, captured by photographer Bob Coglianese

Triple Crown winners come in spurts. Seven horses won from 1930-45, though a quarter century passed before Secretariat broke the drought. Two more winners followed him in the 1970s, Affirmed and Seattle Slew. Just as viewers started to yawn, another 37-year gap occurred until American Pharoah won in 2015.

Affirmed beating Alydar at Belmong
Alydar losing to Affirmed for the 3rd race of the Triple Crown, AP photo from ThoroughbredRacing.com

Losing by a Nose, Three Times

Affirmed’s feat in 1978 was different from Secretariat’s. All three of Affirmed’s races were close; he beat the same horse, Alydar, three times. At the Belmont,  Alydar almost passed him, and the write-up here described it as one of the closest in history.  Hard to be Affirmed, three times the target–how much harder to be Alydar, just nosed out all three times?  A worthy competitor makes the champion’s achievement almost as remarkable as 31 lengths.

Spotless

Justify’s lineage includes Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and War Admiral–all Triple Crown winners. Like that other red horse, Justify favors the lead, the worst position for winning any kind of race, since the front-runner can not see the chasers. Justify’s jockey Mike Smith, the oldest to win a Triple Crown, had as much work to keep Justify in front as those who tried to catch him from behind.

Justify wins Kentucky Derby
Justify winning 2018 Kentucky Derby in rain and mud, photo by Wooley

The 2018 Belmont was also a well-contested race, not a runaway by Justify. Gronkowski moved up from a terrible start to almost pull even; there were  huzzahs in our house for the white-cap in second.

Justify after winning Belmont
Justify, winner at the 2018 Belmont over come-from-last-place Bronkowski, still shot from NBCSports

All three races in 2018 were drizzly, with the Derby the wettest in years. Yet Justify’s prowess is seen in the pictures.

He’s the only horse and rider not spattered with mud, a clear, clean winner.

 

 

The Yin & Yang of the 2018 Winter Olympics

Jokes about curling are as old as the hills in Pyeongchang. If using a broom is a sport, I’m an Olympian every day. Other fans make light of alpine skiing. How hard is it to fall down a hill? Some sports writers are openly suspicious of new sports, as even one Canadian columnist derided the two gold medals for Canada in mixed-doubles curling and team figure skating. But the Winter Olympics are splendiferous precisely because of all the contrast, across the athletes and among the sports. Hard/soft, high/low, old/young, male/female, fast/slow, down the hill/up into the air, taking off forward/landing backward and always landing upward, as if there was nothing to it.  This is the yin/yang of the Games.

Red Gerard gold medal slopestyle run
Red Gerard, Men’s Slopestyle Final, Photo by David Ramos

Contrast across Olympic Athletes

Take, for example, the gap in age across the snowboarding competitors.  17-year-olds Red Gerard and Chloe Kim of the U.S. are barely old enough to drive, and both now have gold medals to hang on their rear-view mirrors. Kim competed against Kelly Clark who, at twice Kim’s age, was seeking a fourth medal to add to her stack from half-pipe that began at Salt Lake City when Kim could barely walk. Even older than Clark is 39-year-old Brian Gionta, captain of the men’s hockey team, while Cheryl Bernard on the Canadian curling team is 51. Continue reading “The Yin & Yang of the 2018 Winter Olympics”

Figure Skating’s Trail of Broken Dreams

I Tonya movie still, broken skate
I, Tonya
courtesy of Entertainment Weekly

The Olympics start in nine days, but this is not–strictly speaking–a post about the Olympics. This is a reflection prompted by seeing the movie, I Tonya, which cleverly insinuated itself into movie screens early enough to put itself in Oscar contention for 2017 but late enough to be seen right before the start of the Pyeongchang Games. The mockumentary-style film is worth seeing as a drama even if you’re not a skate fan. It also reveals the quirks in skate judging that result in odd results, perhaps to Harding, but to so many more that Olympic skate results are practically a conveyor belt of unfair outcomes.

Bashing Someone’s Hopes

Margot Robbie is terrific as Tonya Harding*, the powerful but feisty skater who won the U.S. Nationals but wanted more. Her manipulative and abusive husband launched a plot to scare her competition and his cretinous cohorts improvised with a crowbar to Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. Harding became a national joke and an international disgrace. I thought the film clearly showed Harding’s culpability in covering up the plot after the fact, lying to the FBI, and suing to keep her Olympic spot.

But afterward I heard some say that they thought the movie showed Harding was robbed, that she should have won a medal, shouldn’t have been pilloried by the press, and deserved more. Harding’s interview with the New York Times this month suggests she still thinks she was mistreated. The film–assuming its accuracy–does make one thing clear: when you are abused by your loved ones, as Harding was by her mother and husband, you come to feel that the world is against you and that you bear no responsibility for whatever happens. Continue reading “Figure Skating’s Trail of Broken Dreams”

‘Splaining Sports

It’s the first week of April, and, if you’re a fan, you know that means it has been 155 days since the end of the World Series. I was going to entitle this “The Crack of the Bat” and talk about how the smell of freshly mowed lawns and hot dogs reminds one of baseball. About how doing yardwork is better while listening to an afternoon game on the radio. About MY team’s savvy trades in the offseason, or how my favorite player’s scooter had once again been stolen (#HunterGate2). But it does occur to me that not everyone likes baseball, which puts me in a quandary. Perhaps I need to explain baseball. But suppose you don’t like sports it all? It might be necessary to explain Why Sport? in the first place.

Sports premise number one. You are more likely to enjoy a sport if your local team wins, if your local team won when you were a child, if your college had winning sports teams, or if you or a family member played. If you are unlucky enough that there’s never been a good local sports team near where you live, and your parents/college didn’t follow sports, and you never played any, then it is possible — just possible — you are not fond of sport, any sport. The libraries and museums are just waiting to receive you. Note also an important corollary: If you love a sport, it does not follow that your spouse will love it. Spouses can often find better ways to use their time. Continue reading “‘Splaining Sports”