Sarah Lyall had a lovely essay on navigating the Olympic park in yesterday’s Times:
The park is a city unto itself, with the feel of an instant, pop-up sportscape, a grand but almost generic place. It feels as if it could be anywhere or nowhere, a great temporary community whose positioning outside one of the world’s most idiosyncratic cities is almost immaterial. Sure, the prevailing accents are British, and some of the restaurants sell fish and chips, and everyone loves Team GB, but the Olympic park barely feels like part of London or even part of Britain.
Jeré Longman also has a piece in the Times (today’s, I think, but it’s been online for a few days) on Lolo Jones that’s notable for how unerringly cruel it is. I didn’t know you could roll like that, NYT. Deadspin also has a good breakdown of the piece.
Still, Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign. Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses.
Steve Myers wrote about the photographer that caught that remarkable shot of Gabby Douglas’s winning beam routine (that also has a really cute editor’s note):
He wasn’t sure he had gotten the shot, though. Because he photographed the entire competition, he didn’t have time to look at anything. He put the card in his laptop, sent the images to an editor, and kept shooting. Only later did he realize that he had nailed it.
Scott Staton has a short history of strange controversies in marathons to accompany an excellent (subscription-only) New Yorker feature on a dentist alleged to have cheated repeatedly in marathons:
The original Olympic course retraced the route from Marathon to Athens along rough country roads. Of seventeen runners, twelve were Greek and eight failed to finish. To the host city, it meant the world that the winner of this first official marathon, Spiridon Louis, was “a child of the soil.” Another Greek runner followed and was awarded silver. When Spiridon Belokas came next, he completed an improbable Greek medal sweep and was rapturously received by the crowd. But the fourth place finisher, from Hungary, contested the result, charging that Belokas had covered part of the course in a carriage. This was true; Greek elation mingled with disgrace. Belokas lost his medal, but won the distinction of being the first person ever disqualified for cheating in a marathon.
Katie Baker for Grantland wrote a light but comprehensive history of trampoline is an Olympic sport (with a delightful number of links within):
Nissen was both restless and a consummate showman, two traits that helped explain some of his more notorious marketing stunts. In 1960, he rented a kangaroo and was photographed bouncing alongside it in Central Park. (The shot, which took nearly a week to get right, ended up in Sports Illustrated.) In 1977, he smuggled the components of a bespoke four-by-eight-foot trampoline to the top of the Giza pyramid in Egypt, assembled it, and bounced away. Back down at the bottom, he “found several Egyptian police along with the director of Egyptian antiquities waiting,” his daughter Dagmar wrote in a book about her dad. He had interests outside of the trampoline too: Nissen held more than 40 patents (including one for something named the “Bunsaver Air Cushion”) and in the ’70s owned a women’s professional basketball team called the Iowa Cornets.
Rob Trucks interviewed Nancy Hogshead-Makar about the moment she knew her career was over:
One of the hard parts when people talk about quitting is just that it feels so good to be that masterful at something, to be at the very top of the game, and to—I mean, I still, to this day, I’m 50 years old, I get in the water and I feel masterful. I feel like I can grab hold of the water, I can move the water. I move confidently and gracefully in the water. This is clearly where God meant for me to be. And then to go try to start from scratch at anything else is tough.
Sarah Rich on the history of the olympic pictograms:
Of all the instances in which graphic communication is necessary to transcend language barriers, the Olympic Games are, if not the most important, probably the most visible. We take the little icons of swimmers and sprinters as a given aspect of Olympic design, but the pictograms were a mid-20th Century invention—first employed, in fact, the last time London hosted the games, in 1948 (some pictographic gestures were made at the 1936 Berlin games, though their mark on international memory has been permitted to fade because of their association with Third Reich ideology).
Dvora Meyers on NBC’s stupid gymnastics coverage:
As we’ve noted, NBC didn’t show the floor routine of Ksenia Afanasyeva, the defending world champion on the apparatus, who crashed to her knees on her final tumbling pass—the moment that basically sealed the American women’s first team gold medal in 16 years. Showing Russians unhappy and in tears is one of NBC’s favorite pastimes, but seeing Afanasyeva stumble would’ve eliminated any sort of faux suspense that remained after Anastasia Grishina’s enormous error.
Eric Freeman on NBC’s approach to broadcasting the Olympics, and what it says about NBC:
"The broadcast is athletic competition communicated with an unheard-of level of editorial control, in which stars are picked before the games begin, sports are prized for their ability to produce narrative, and performance comes secondary to what people can say about it."
"Few would deny that Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world — but even fewer could say why. While his fans are happy to call him a miracle, the man himself is lost in a cloud of legends, hype and marketing."
Adam Elder for Wired on the technological advances in timing that Omega brings to the Olympics:
"The Games are as much a showcase for Omega as they are for the athletes, a chance for the Swiss watchmakers to show off the latest advances in sports timing technology — including a clock accurate to one-millionth of a second."
(Image via Prospect Magazine)
A Reading List on Tennis
With the Australian Open coming to a record-breaking, excessively long climax this weekend, what better to fill the tennis void than some great writing on the subject?
- The correct way to begin a tour of tennis writing is with David Foster Wallace. In his 1996 essay for Esquire, he uses a profile of Michael Joyce as a cover for an obsessive and effortlessly insightful consideration of tennis. Quite likely the best tennis nonfiction written to date. He revisits tennis ten years later for the New York Times and lets his inner fanboy loose with an equally epic and insightful profile of Roger Federer.
- Three years later, Cynthia Gorney gives us a fantastic, sprawling profile of Rafael Nadal.
- Rounding out the profiles of today’s top tennis players is S.L. Price with a profile of Novak Djokovic and Sarah Corbett on Venus Williams.
- For profiles of yesterday’s best, Julian Rubenstein’s award-winning profile of John McEnroe and Frank Deford’s 1978 profile of Jimmy Connors are required reading.
- One of the great pleasures of tennis is the personalities and the rivalries, and as Gerald Marzorati pointed out last year, “rivalries in tennis are like no others in sports.” In recent years, we’ve seen the same three — four or five if you’re generous — players constantly jockeying for the top spots in the rankings, always climaxing in thrilling, suspenseful, and often record-breaking semi-final and final matches in the year’s tournaments. “To be a great tennis player is to need a rival.”
- Although you wouldn’t call them rivals, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut found themselves locked in a seemingly neverending first round match-up at last year’s Wimbledon. Most tennis matches end long before the 11 hours this one took to end, usually because a player loses concentration, but neither Mahut or Isner blinked for 3 days of play, and Ed Caesar explains why in his GQ piece following the match.
- In “The most beautful game,” Geoff Dyer considers the beauty of tennis. It’s not enough that the players are simply good at tennis — everything you see on Centre Court at Wimbledon can be “replicated by an average player in a park.” The draw for the viewing public, he thinks, is wrapped up in the mechanics of the game: the most effective way to play is gracefully, as best exempified by Federer’s memorable single-handed backhand.
(Image via Grantland/US Presswire)
The NFL’s Concussion Problem
More than a dozen lawsuits filed on behalf of over 120 NFL football players will reach the courts this year. The suits claim the NFL deliberately concealed information on the neurological effects of repeated strikes to the head. This is an issue that’s been affecting the league since as far back as 1994, when the NFL formed the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee to investigate the dangers of concussion. It’s been largely an embarrassment for the NFL, but some good has come out of it.
Ann McKee, who heads the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy in Massachusetts has been studying the brains of deceased athletes since 2003, when she discovered an early case of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in the brain of a deceased boxer who had been mistakenly diagnosed with dementia. Since then she’s examined the brains of 15 dead athletes, many of which Nathan Stiles; all but one showed signs of CTE. A further 400 players have pledged their brains to the Center upon their death. The earliest evidence of CTE McKee has found so far was in an 18-year-old college football player. An NFL-funded survey shows the incidence of memory-related diseases like CTE in players between 30 and 49 to be nineteen times above the national average.
The problem is not, as most think, the big hits players endure but the repeated little hits, which explains the high incidence of CTE in linesmen, who could be struck in the head 1,000 times in an average season. Nor is improved helmet technology likely to help, since the damage occurs inside the skull. The consensus seems to be that the players must simply be willing to take the risk; it’s impossible to play the sport without using your head.
The lawsuits will play out in the coming months, and the NFL will probably try to have them dismissed, but should a judge allow the cases to proceed, the significant evidence should cast a sympathetic light for the players involved.