Friday, August 29, 2008

Bolt vs. Phelps

Now that the Olympics are over and the dust has settled, it's time for me to look back and give my own synopsis of the proceedings. One of the biggest stars of the Beijing Games was, as you probably guessed, Michael Phelps (and his mom, but do not get me started on that one). He did some great stuff, I mean, 8 gold medals is absolutely amazing and obviously setting 7 world records in one competition is nothing to be forgotten soon. However, there's a line, and when NBC started to advertise their new DVD touting Michael Phelps as the “Greatest Olympian of All Time,” they crossed it. (P.S. Don't get me started on NBC and how they single-handedly destroyed the Olympics for this whole country either). I mean, I don't even consider Phelps' performance as the greatest performance of this Olympics. Whoa, put down the pitchfork for a sec, I'll explain. I know it might be hard to fathom at first. “How can that be possible, he was on TV so much??” you say. We all know that NBC did so well at covering everything this Olympics but surprisingly there were a couple [billion] things they missed, so let me fill you in. Let us turn to the marquee sport of the Olympics, Track and Field. Surprised? Shouldn't be, it's where the greatest performances of the Beijing Games occurred. Lemme introduce a kid named Usain Bolt. After the waves calmed at the Water Cube and most the nation was worshiping Phelps for his “inhuman” speed and endurance, other sports commenced and most forgot to pay attention. A kid from Jamaica named Usain Bolt won 3 gold medals and set 3 world records. But how on Earth can I claim that Bolt > Phelps?? How is is 3 bigger than 8? [looks confused while holding hands mimicking a scale] Most of the comparisons across the sports are done by using raw numbers, like, 8 golds vs. 3, which turns out, is completely flawed. Sports also differ in the facility that one can earn gold medals.

Let me illustrate the difference between swimming and track. Phelps was able to win 8 golds; 5 individual events and 3 relays. The distances covered in each event were very similar which allow for massive hauls in the medal count. For this exact reason the old medal count record holder was also a swimmer: Mark Spitz. For a runner, it's seriously next to impossible to approach those kind of numbers. Let's figure what range Bolt would have to have to compete just on sheer numbers. He'd have to win the 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, 4x100 m, 4x400 m, 800 m, 1500 m, and 3000m Steeple. It's difficult for the layman to understand the massive difference there is between a steeplechase runner and a 100m runner, but it's basically never been done even at a high school level. Now, take that to a world-class level, it's impossible.

Here's a quote to help everyone understand that I'm not alone on this one:

"Swimming events take place in a 50-metre pool. All events are multiples of 50. Swimmers traverse the distances in different styles: going forward in freestyle, in breaststrokes, like a butterfly, or going backwards in a backstroke, and a combination (medley) of all the four. There are several relays for each of these styles and medleys, over varying distances. The track and field equivalents of the swimming events are: running forward, running backwards, running sideways and a combination thereof within a 50-metre track. You get the picture! The point is, swimming and track and field are in different leagues."

-The Daily Star

Hardly getting into the biomechanics and physiolgy of swimming vs. running, suffice it to say that setting an Olympic record, then coming back 40 min later and setting a WR is I-M-P-O-S-S-I-B-L-E in track, the pounding the body takes in running is many many times more intense. That's why swimmers (and cyclists) can practice for 6 hours a day and runners only 1-2.

Ok, world records. Sounds pretty important, right? What if there were more world-record breaking performances than gold medals? Kinda looses it's significance. That's swimming for ya. Did you watch the 4x100m relay when Lezak pwnd the big-mouthed French team for gold? Great race right? But did you see there were like 5 or 6 teams also under the world-record? A new WR is essentially expected in every race. Track completely differs from swimming in this regard. The 200m WR was set 12 years ago by the legendary Micheal Johnson. Nobody had approached that record since, in fact nobody had got within three-tenths of a second which is huge in a 20 second race. That's huge. The record was deemed to be virtually unbreakable. I wish I had the figures, but the 100m WR progression has crept along over the last few decades where breaking it by .02 is considered a “shattered” record. The margins of victory of .01 of a second are commonplace (sorry Phelps, I'm kinda referring to your magnificent .01 sec butterfly victory). Bolt annihilated the 100m WR, but he jogged in. He jogged it in. It was the most destructive 100m victory this world has ever seen. Nearly everybody agrees that he could have been under 9.6. I can't even begin to help you understand how extraterrestrial that would have been. I could go on, but suffice it to say that track WRs are much more difficult and rare than swimming records, several times over. My buddy from The Daily Star agrees, and so do these stats:

Over the last 30 years, the 50m Freestyle world record has dropped over 2.5 seconds. Over the same period, the 100m WR has dropped only about .3 seconds.

Participation in a sport significantly increases the talent pool in the sport and therefore creates more depth in talent and quality. Track and Field is one of the most popular sports in the world, with some of the highest participation rates. In the US, the basketball/football/baseball mecca of the world, more high school kids compete in track than any other sport. Like I said, that alone makes it so much more competitive. Swimming is big relative to obscure sports like badminton but still can't compare to the sheer number of track and field. Smaller participation allow for some prodigy like Phelps to come along and dominate because the field of athletes just isn't nearly as competitive. Many agree that swimming is like distance running was back in the 70's, if you were good, you could go around winning everything merely because there was no competition. In track, winning both the 100m and 200m in one Olympics has only happened a handful of times, but not one of those times did any of them include a WR. Bolt set 3. Correction: Bolt smashed 3.

Now don't get me wrong, Michael Phelps is an amazing athlete, possibly one of the best to ever live, but Bolt has has him beat. But because of the ignorance of network television who can't figure that Olympic greatness must be measured beyond adding 1 + 1, (and almost comically because of this, the resultant ignorance of the general public) he hasn't been recognized for the substance of his accomplishments.

Oh, and Bolt is only 22, and he's not retiring.

I won't even start with the man, Bekele. Let's leave that for another day.

Friday, August 8, 2008


When it comes to world-class sporting events, I dive in head first. However, those who know me well know that I don't like to support the well-known or trendy in much, and this attitude carries over into the sporting world. I'm not much of a fan of the NBA, I hate football and baseball is a pastime and should have been left in the past. I've grown to love soccer, which is funny because it's the world's most popular sport, and I love Track & Field more than any other sport out there because of it's purity and supreme objectivity. No politics, no bias and no guessing. The Olympics are starting and I seriously look forward to this the entire 4 years leading up to each one because of the emotion and passion involved in each competitor's life. It's really hard to understand the amount of work each and every athlete has put in to be at the Olympics and I'm super amped to watch as much as I possibly can.

Like I said before, I don't like the mainstream things in life, I enjoy forming my own opinion about everything. The Olympics is formed of a large (too large if you ask me) contingent of sporting events, some that don't get any exposure until the Olympics themselves. I intend to watch as much of the following as possible:

  • Archery
  • Basketball (redemption, if not, will concrete my reasons for not watching the NBA)
  • Beach Volleyball
  • Kayaking (not canoeing)
  • Cycling (especially the velodrome stuff)
  • Fencing
  • Handball (can't decide if it's more basketball or soccer)
  • Rowing
  • Shooting (don't know why this is an olympic sport but whatever)
  • Soccer
  • Swimming (they hog all the coverage though, so I might boycott)
  • Table Tennis (don't know how humans can react that fast)
  • Triathlon (some of these guys can run a sub-30 min 10k after everything!)
  • Water Polo
Track and Field
Ok, this deserves its own special paragraph. Or list. Something.
  • Men's 100m- Of the 3 medal contenders, 2 are current/former world record holders and the other has the fastest time ever ran but was wind-aided. I picked Tyson Gay to win, but mostly cuz he's the American. American vs. Jamaica. Watch this one, short but sweet.
  • Men's 400m- The fact that this is being run at the Olympics only makes it more exciting because it has a larger audience but the race could have been settled at the Oly Trials in July. The "Lone Star" 6'1" 155 lbs skinny white kid Jeremy Wariner vs. LeShawn Merrit, the darkhorse (no racial pun intended, he's just not the favorite, I swear). Wariner never lost for years, but this year Merrit surfaced as a legitamate threat and beat Wariner in the spring and at the U.S. Oly Trials. However, Wariner and Merrit have raced twice since the trials and Wariner ran 43.8 or .7 something insanely fast. My money is on Wariner, but you never know.
  • Men's 800m- This was one of the greatest races I've ever seen in the Trials, but the Americans won't be quite as prominent on this level. However, pay attention to what the Oregon sophomore Andrew Wheating does, he always exceeds expectations, so I'm stoked to see what he does. The real race is the 18 yr old kid from Sudan who wins pole-to-pole and he does it in Nike Zoom Forevers. Those are XC shoes. Heavy ones. No clue how but he does it. The reason why this could be exciting is a Cuban and a Russian (Athens gold medal winner) Borzakovsky will be hunting.
  • Men's 1500m- Ok, we never do well anything above this distance, but we have one of the most technichally sound racers ever to run the event: Bernard Lagat. He almost beat the WR holder last time in Athens, this is his race to bring the gold home for his adopted country, the USA. That is his whole goal, I hope he does it.
  • Men's 5k- THIS is going to be one of the greatest events of the olympics (stay tuned for a later entry when I rant about T&F not getting one minute of live coverage the whole Olympics, and this is why). Bernard Lagat (previously mentioned) won both the 1500 and 5k at the World Championships last year. An amazing feat. The stick in the spokes this time around is the following: Kenenisa Bekele, the World Record holder in the 5 and 10k. People are betting on Lagat because of his flawless tactics and strategy combined with his lethal finishing speed. However, some forget that Bekele "The Great" ran a 52 his last lap of a 10k this year. Sadly, I think Bekele wins, but it'll cost him.
  • Men's Marathon- This is crazy. We, the USA, have a legitimate shot at a medal in the Marathon. Ryan Hall, the kid who bonked at the Arcadia Mile trying to hang on to Alan Webb back in high school, has an outside shot at this one. The thing is, the WR might not stand either so he's gonna have to be on his game or he's through. Too many elite Africans there to make you pay for any mistake along the 26.2 miles.

Sorry that was so long, but it's a special occasion.

P.S. While you're in the sporting mood, check this out. A man from Sandy, UT is in the middle of a record attempt of the Appalachian Trail. Over 2000 miles in 47 days. Insane.

Link: http://www.whereskarl.com/

Monday, August 4, 2008

And so it happened...

That I got a blog, per request of one Nicholas Tanner Mills. Thank you and continue to check up on this b/c you'll prolly be the only one to ever do so. Obrigado, e boa noite.