The inveterate Chris Dunn brought this to my attention. It was a wonderful thread on Twitter. A bit of background first, though, which is about baseball, but bear with me because the story really isn’t. But it helps round-out the tale, getting to know the person involved.
Yu Darvish is a Japanese pitcher who signed with the Texas Rangers in 2012. He was considered at the time perhaps the best pitcher in Japan and has largely had a very good career since coming to America and playing in the majors here, but not without some bumps along the way.
In his first season with Texas, he finished third in the American League voting for Rookie of the Year. The following year he lead all of baseball in strikeouts and finished second in American League voting for the Cy Young Award as best pitcher. He also struck out 500 batters in fewer innings than any starting pitcher in the history of baseball. So, he's very good.
He moved to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and had a mixed career. His record was good, though there were some inconsistencies, and he had a famous flameout in the 2017 World Series against the Houston Astros. It later came out that the Astros cheated by stealing signs between the pitcher and catcher -– whether that impacted Darvish’s collapse in the World Series, it’s hard to say. But it’s certainly possible.
Anyway, the following year he was signed by the Chicago Cubs. I was thrilled.
I had a fellow-Cubs fan friend, however, who was very down on Darvish after he got off to a very bad start with Chicago his first year -– not helped by coming off his World Series meltdown, and bolstered by criticism by a Dodgers fan who was friends with my friend. We'd argue because I'd defend Darvish, despite his problems. I liked Yu Darvish from the start -- though was certainly bothered when he started poorly. But I sensed it was an anomaly since his career was far better than that. And I didn't hold his Dodger post-season blow-up against him. (Hey, by those standards you should hate a lot of great players who performed badly in the World Series, like Dodger star Clayton Kershaw.)
It turned out that Darvish had been hurt his first year, and even had to stop pitching, eventually missing the last third of that season. Though he did start the season, he wasn't up to speed yet, working himself back in to shape -- and so the debates between my friend and I continued. Darvish finally got fully recovered by mid-season of his second year, and from that point on he was absolutely tremendous. But because his great "second-half" numbers got lost amid his full-season stats, it took a while for many people to realize that, particularly since his first year had been so problematic. But as the remainder of the season progressed, my friend was open-minded enough to start giving my debating points some leeway and finally accepted that Darvish had good games in him, though he still needed convincing it wasn't a fluke and would hold through the next year. By the third year, though, he became convinced and was totally on board. Darvish had a great season, leading the National League in wins and having the second-best earned run average in the league, a miserly 2.01. It reached the point that when the Cubs traded him after 2020 to the San Diego Padres, my friend was disappointed. As was I.
Which brings us to the tale. This comes from a series of tweets by Annie Heilbrunn, who is a sportswriter for the San Diego Union-Tribune. I’ve edited them together here in story form, and tweaked some of the text for normal-writing style.
And here it is --
Wanted to share a quick story about Yu Darvish. It starts with a boy named Landon, who, for his 10th birthday, was gifted a trip by his grandparents to Truist Park in Atlanta to see the Padres play the Braves. Landon is a Padres fan.
Landon and his dad made the 3.5 hour trip from Tennessee, where he lives. But the game was postponed due to rain, which would bum any kid out. However, one player stood outside to sign autographs in the rain: Yu Darvish. Landon was thrilled when he got a ball signed.
Landon's mom is not a baseball fan, but she noticed how happy Landon was (despite the rainout) and messaged Darvish on Instagram. Didn't expect him to write back, but wanted to say thanks for standing in the rain and making her son happy with a signed ball.
Darvish wrote back the next day:
But the NEXT day, Darvish followed up, asking if he could gift Landon and his family a trip to Petco Park in San Diego to see the Padres, since his trip was rained out. Darvish offered to pay the flights, hotel and tickets. Landon and his dad accepted, blown away by the generosity.
Landon came to Petco Park earlier this week, courtesy of Darvish, and saw his Padres play. He got to chat in the dugout with Darvish before the game. Yu gave him signed cleats, a glove and an autographed [Francisco] Tatis jersey. Landon said it was the best day of his life.
His family hopes to host Darvish for a homecooked meal if he ever comes through Tennessee. They are still in shock this trip even happened, and that a chance encounter led to it. Landon will likely never forget this moment. The end.
As you might imagine, there were a lot of comments to this Twitter thread, all ravingly positive. But this one stood out, because it was sort of an addendum to the story. A father wrote --
"We were there as well. Yu made my boy's dreams come true, he’s such a good dude. First game my son has been to that a player signed autographs, and to do it in the rain was awesome."
So, yeah, that's the answer to anyone who asks, "Yu who?" That's Yu Darvish
Over the weekend, I was flipping through channels on Sunday morning when I came on ESPN and little 7-minute “ESPN Featured” segment, and it was such a funny joy I was hoping I’d be able to track it down here – and happily I found it.
Recently, I’ve written here about Bill Veeck and his wild inventiveness being the P.T. Barnum of baseball, eventually getting voted into the Hall of Fame. This story is about Jesse Cole who has sort of morphed a combination between Veeck and P.T. Barnum. It takes him from his dreams of a baseball career ended by injury to being a minor league general manager at the age of 23 for “the worst team in the country” – to buying a non-existent college summer league team and turning it into a wild, wonderful phenomenon, the Savannah Bananas. Jesse Cole’s rule is, “Whatever’s normal, do the exact opposite.”
A look at the team’s website shows such promotions as a breakfast series of games, playing games in kilts, a singing postgame interview, and relentlessly more. I'd explain, but the video does a better job, showing many of them.
But just to let you now I'm not a-lying...
This story is such fun. Even if you don’t like baseball, it will likely not fail to put a smile on your face. Maybe even make you wish you lived in Savannah. As a guy waiting to get into the ballpark says, “I could care less about baseball ‘til this came about. Now, I’m addicted to it.”
Okay, and as a bonus because you deserve it, and just so that you know it's actually real, here is the totally-weird singing postgame interview --
Bear with me, it's worth it. Really.
Henrik Lundqvist retired today after 15 seasons as the goaltender for the New York Rangers in the NHL. born in Jämtland, Sweden, Lundqvist helped lead the Swedish Olympic team to the Gold medal in 2016. During his years in the NHL, he won the Vezina Trophy as best goaltender in 2012.
So, on the occasion of his retirement, it's only proper to honor the 39-year-old Swede with his appearance in a "This is SportsCenter" ad for ESPN, one of the more off-beat and funny, which is saying a lot for the long-running series of ads are very off-beat and funny.
Yesterday, major league baseball played an official game at the Dyersville, Iowa, location where the 1989 movie Field of Dreams was made. It wasn’t on the same field, but a new one connected to it (with a conjoining corn field) that was constructed to major league dimensions, and with seating for 6,000.
Before the game, they have a lovely ceremony that featured Kevin Costner, who also went to the announcing booth later to talk about the movie with the sportscasters. Very thoughtfully, he said that he gets too much credit for the movie and started praising all those who made the film what it was, started with Phil Alden Robinson, who wrote the screenplay (based on W.P. Kinsella’s wonderful novel Shoeless Joe) and directed the movie. I’ll post the video of the pregame show below.
And there's a remarkable bonus P.S. after that which will boggle you. Honest. If you don't want to read any of this or watch the video, at least jump to that.
But first, a few comments about the documentary that Fox Sports made about constructing this field of dreams and the background on the making of the movie itself. Called If You Build It: 30 Years of “Field of Dreams,” it’s been repeated several times on the FoxSports1 channel since it premiered over the week, and is next scheduled tonight at 10 PM on the channel (which is 400 in my West L.A. Spectrum guide). The documentary is really well done, though I had a rough time watching it for a very personal reason – I came inches from being hired to do the unit publicity on the movie, but in the end wasn’t hired.
I had read several novels by W.P. Kinsella, including Shoeless Joe, and when I read that they were making a movie of it, I was so anxious to work on it. Over a year in advance I tracked down who the executive producer was, a fellow named Brian Frankish, and wrote him. It was much too early to even think of hiring the publicist who’s usually one of the last crew members hired. But we stayed in touch, and six months later (still way early) he had me come in to his office at Universal Pictures to talk. It went so well, and set up another meeting to talk with Phil Robinson. Still far, far in advance of the movie production, but he wanted us to meet.
That meeting with Phil went very well. (We later became friendly through the Writers Guild, and when I reminded him that I was that guy who interviewed with him SO early to do the P.R. on Field of Dreams, he actually remembered it.) Since the movie’s story centers around Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Chicago White Sox (nicknamed the “Black Sox” for throwing the World Series), I brought along my Nelson Fox autographed-model baseball glove and my Luis Aparicio autographed “To Bobby, best wishes") baseball – both the former double-play combination for the White Sox and now in the Hall of Fame. We talked a very long time and a range of subjects, including Kinsella’s other novels. (We disagreed about The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, a novel about the most monumentally epic game ever played, where quite literally the heavens opened.) And when I left, it was pretty clear that I had a big leg up on being hired. But it was still much too early. Nothing was settled.
And then months later, Brian Frankish called me to say he’d been replaced as producer. He was being kept on the film as executive producer, but since it was the producer who hires the unit publicist, the job was no longer certain because the new producers had their favorite publicist, and the job was down to that person and me. It wasn’t hard to guess what would happen. And that’s what happened, and I didn’t get the job.
I never much liked unit publicity, but I really anxiously wanted that job. But I was still so glad that the movie was being made, because I loved the novel. It’s always a bit bittersweet watching the movie, but since it’s so wonderful that transcends all, and it’s a total joy.
Watching the “making of” documentary was a bit tougher for the “This nearly was mine” aspect. However, 30 years have passed, and it's a fond memory just to have crossed paths with it all. (As for "memory," Phil Robison corrected me on some of my recollections that I wrote about in the first draft of this that I posted. Since he was right there in the center of it all, I defer to his recollections on everything here and have made some edits.)
One story that I do remember different from what was told in the documentary is one I'm absolutely sure of -- because I got it years ago...from Phil Robinson. The way the producer told the story about the title of the film changing from Shoeless Joe and becoming Field of Dreams made it seem like he was the one more involved and who gave the news to novelist Kinsella about the change. But while very close to the way Phil tells it, his is a bit different and with much more detail, indeed details that make it clear his version and involvement are the true one. As Phil relates the story, Universal insisted that they wouldn’t release the movie as Shoeless Joe because tests showed that people thought the movie was about a homeless guy. Instead, they gave the filmmakers a long list of other titles to choose from. (The producer said that the studio just gave them the title, here, it's Field of Dreams.) Phil said that the long list of possible titles was really terrible, including one that pretty much gave away the ending. There was only one title that was passable, Field of Dreams, and it one was the filmmakers picked. However, the only thing Phil insisted – because he had built up such a good relationship with W.P. Kinsella by then, adapting his novel – was that he be the one to break the news to him. (Not the producer doing so, as he said.) For all these reasons, though the two are close, that’s why I believe that Phil’s version is the correct one. He had the long relationship with the author. Anyway, he called Kinsella and told him that unfortunately the studio was making them change the title of the movie, and it wouldn't be called Shoeless Joe, like his book. But Kinsella wasn’t bothered, “That’s okay,” he said, “I never liked that title anyway. The publisher insisted on it.” Relieved, Phil asked him what his own title for the novel was. Kinsella answered, “Dream Field.”
Brian Frankish also told me a funnier version of the story about the corn that they described in the documentary. They tell the tale well, but don’t have the punch line. There had been a massive drought in Iowa that summer, and corn wasn’t growing anywhere. And without high corn, there was no movie. Production was nearing and the filmmakers didn’t know what to do. Finally, they got the advice about trucking in thousands of gallons of water, and the corn grew – really high. The addendum to this is that someone on the film said to a local farmer how it was a shame they weren’t able to get their corn to grow that summer like they had at the film location. “Hey,” the guy said, “you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars piping in all that water because you’re Hollywood and could do that! We couldn’t. We’re farmers.”
Anyway, the documentary is done very well. My personal hesitancies and hiccups aside, it’s really worth watching, if you can track it down On Demand or on a FoxSports1 repeat.
As for that pregame ceremony with Kevin Costner, here’s the video. It’s about nine minutes long, and admittedly a little corny, but I found it very well done, appropriate to the film, and actually a bit moving at a few points. And if you loved the movie, you likely will think so, too. In the announcer’s booth later during the game, Costner talked about how he didn’t know how the program ceremony would go, but when he heard “that great music” playing, he said he just let it take over and was surprised that it was all as moving as it was.
And this is the great P.S. that I mentioned at the beginning. And it wasn't referenced on the broadcast, because I suspect they didn't know at the time. It was probably only discovered by statisticians later.
The game -- played to honor the movie Field of Dreams, based on the novel Shoeless Joe -- was won in the bottom of the ninth inning when Tim Anderson of the Chicago White Sox, down 8-7 after giving up four runs in the top of the inning, hit a two run home run -- into the corn field! -- to win the game. And the scoreboard exploded with fireworks. The first "exploding scoreboard" in the major leagues having been built by Bill Veeck when he owned the Chicago White Sox. But believe it or not, that's not the point.
This is the point --
Throughout both teams' history playing against each other over a few thousand games, the Chicago White Sox have beaten the New York Yankees with a last-inning, game-winning home run 15 times.
The first time it was done, the game-winning home run was hit by...Shoeless Joe Jackson.
I've wanted to post this story for years but could never find the right video. This comes close. I thought of posting it during the Olympics, but ultimately felt it best to just write about the games at hand -- and this is from the Mexico City in 1968. It's a wonderful tale, even if you don't like sports, because it's more about one guy and how he changed a sport despite initial ridicule. And stick around to the end since there's a bit of a bonus twist ending.
When we watch the high jump, we see the athletes jump high, twist their body and throw their back over the bar. That's just that way it's done.
Except it's not how it was done. For decades, high jumpers leaped up and threw their just over the bar, straddling it. Hence it being called The Straddle. That's how all the high jumpers in the world did it. Jumping forward -- not...backwards.
But now they jump backwards. Upside-down. Flopping over the bar. That's why it's called the Fosbury Flop.
Though in full, it's called the Fosbury Flop because of the man who invented it and was the first to risk the ridicule of the track & field world, Dick Fosbury.
The video goes into his engineering background as being part of how he came up with flopping. My recollection at the time wasn't just that he used science to come up with the new way of jumping, but that necessity actually was the mother of invention here -- that Fosbury had had an injury and wasn't able to jump well over the bar like everyone else, so he had to develop a new way to jump. I hadn’t been able to confirm my distant memory from when I was a kid, but finally did find an article which said – “Fosbury did, however, compress a couple of vertebrae in the mid-1960s because not all high schools felt they could afford the new foam material. Fosbury recovered from this injury.”
The best I can tell is that is seems his new style began to develop a year or so earlier in high school, using an adapted “scissors-kick” style (which he had to do because he found that he simply couldn’t jump as high as the others, "I was probably the worst in the state of Oregon") and that the injury was caused by landing on wood chips that some schools still used in the pit. He then refined his new style until it became dubbed the Fosbury Flop.
What also stands out is that pretty much no one around the rest of the world knew about Dick Fosbury and his flop. He wasn’t a world class high jumper, just a good college athlete who was getting better. But in track meets around the U.S., his technique was getting noticed. In part because they thought he was crazy, in part because it was so remarkable. And I remember first seeing it at the U.S. track & field trials before the 1968 Games. And as a kid, I was bowled over by how fun and goofy it looked – and at how successful Dick Fosbury was.
And so I couldn’t wait for Mexico City. Not only because I was anxious to see him jump more – but also because I knew that few people in the stadium, let alone around the rest of the world, had ever seen anything like it and didn’t have a clue what they were in for.
And that’s the only thing that’s significantly missing from this video, good as it otherwise is at telling the story. And missing from all other videos of Dick Fosbury at the Mexico City Olympics. What’s missing is…the sound.
To be clear, a lot of videos do have sound, but it's clearly dubbed. Not the real thing. The real thing was very special.
That sound is still a visceral memory to me. And a big part of the magic of the moment. Watching in anticipation as Dick Fosbury was about to make his first high jump, knowing what’s coming, knowing the people in the stands didn’t know and then him jumping, twisting and for the first time ever in the Olympics…going over backwards – and the people watching this in the stadium ROARED. It was partial laughter, partial admiration because he did go over the bar.
And what was just as memorable was that with each successive jump, more and more people in the stadium caught on that something weird and funny and special and impressive was going on at the high jump pit and the ROARS grew louder each time. And the laughter grew less. And it became cheering by the end as it seemed like all 80,000 people in the stands by now (or however many there were) were all watching. And going wild at the end as this totally unknown Dick Fosbury kept flopping over the bar until he won the Gold medal. And set a new Olympic and United States record at 7 ft-4¼ inches.
How much did it change the track-and-field world? At the Olympics four years later, already 28 of the 40 competitors were using the Fosbury Flop, including 13 of the 16 finalists. And it built from there. Today, it is the standard. Every Olympic high jump champion after 1972 has won the Gold medal using the Fosbury Flop. Every high jumper in the just-finished Tokyo Olympics used the Fosbury Flop.
So, here then is the video. It tells the story very well. It just leaves out the injury and – unfortunately – The Sound. But do your best to imagine it, the stunned, bewildered, overjoyed, laughing, cheering, roaring sound. Growing with each jump. I’ll keep looking for a video that has it, and hopefully one day will find it – like I eventually found this one -- but until then, this is a very good video and does Dick Fosbury proud.
Okay, so I said I'd keep looking. And in fact, I even took one last look before I posted this. And I sort of, kind of found video of Dick Fosbury jumping at the 1968 Olympics with sound. It's not much, so you don't get the full experience, and the entire video is only 48-seconds -- but at around the 24-second mark, there is about five seconds of footage...with sound!! But what helps beyond even hearing this quick burst of cheering is that you can see the faces of the crowd watching him in total awe and wonderment, leaping to their feet. And then there's Dick Fosbury himself years later talking about it and the roars of the crowd.
And I'll keep looking, especially since I now know the footage with sound is out there.
NOTE: Initially, I embedded the video below, but it appears to play immediately and also on either a repeating loop or non-stop leading into other footage. So, it's a bit distracting. So, instead of embedding it, you can watch it here.
But I'll also throw in a bonus.
This is a very nice 5-minute feature on Dick Fosbury with the good fellow today looking back on how he developed the Fosbury Flop and self-effacingly talking about that day in Mexico in 1968, mixed with video and photos. And happily, his memories of it all match mine.
We watched the Olympics all day so that you didn’t have to.
And now we finish it off with a look at the Closing Ceremonies. I wasn’t planning to write about the Closing, but having seen it, I was so taken aback by how weird it was (which is the polite term), that I thought it deserved comment.
In fairness, I know that they were dealing with a worldwide pandemic, and there are simply things they could not do. So, I did my best not to judge it by normal standards as much as reasonable. Mainly, I tried to use the Opening Ceremonies as a comparison point, seeing what they had at their disposal and could do there. And I wasn’t bowled over by that. But by comparison, the Opening Ceremonies were Shakespeare as done produced by the extravagant Ziegfield Follies. The Closing Ceremonies were really weird and for my taste fared poorly.
First though some comments about the NBC broadcast itself.
When Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir made their initial appearance for the network, it was a few years back during the Winter Olympics, and they were not the #1 skating announcing team. They were sort of auditioning on a minor NBC channel (I forget which one) that was carrying all the skating, as opposed to the main NBC with their #1 team on primetime. And I kept writing what a terrific job Lipinski and Weir did, along with anchor Terry Gannon. They were fresh, smart and interesting. And they still sort of are – when they are doing skating. Though I find that they’ve gotten a bit sloppy, and less insightful. But audience rightly loved them at first when eventually transferred to NBC as the new #1 – and since then, NBC tries to use them as much as possible. And for my taste, they just aren’t up to be as good with “everything” as they can do (at their best) with skating. Further, though their devil-my-care attitude was fun initially, they seem to have taken it to heart and decided that they are the show, and the event they’re covering is secondary. That’s always a big mistake. And it’s carried over a bit to even skating. But especially when it’s not skating, it’s overpowering. And trying to fill two hours with commentary for a topic that’s not their field – and the Closing Ceremonies of the Summer Olympics is not the field for these two ice skater – the flamboyance and thinness was very overpowering. There are so many times you can be told that the memories will stay with these athletes forever.
Also, it’s a big mistake by NBC not to have a sportscaster who has been covering the Games on the broadcast. That allows the person to pick out faces of the American and international athletes in the crowd and talk about what they did during the game. Without that, it’s just a mass of humanity. Terry Gannon is a sportscaster, but he had no involvement with covering the Summer Olympics, so he was out of his normal element. At the very least, they could have had spotters in the booth feeding names to the announcing team – but you still need the knowledge of who they are and what they did. And…nothing. They weren’t “bad.” But they weren’t good. And they were a lot closer to bad. Mostly, they were flat, repetitious, and more boring than idea. Their saving grace is that they have engaging personalities, especially when not trying to make themselves the show, and periodically did let that come forth.
Which brings us to the Closing Ceremonies themselves.
I was actually really impressed with their opening piece, which was a sort of computer-generated waterfall of lights that “spilled” from the top of the stadium to the field and them lofted into the sky to become the Olympic rings. I thought, wow, if that’s their standard, these Closing Ceremonies have a chance of being pretty good. It was not the standard. It was the high point and plummeted from there.
And I want to be clear about something. I did say above that I know they had limitations due to the pandemic. But I’ve written here a few times about a Pan-Asian Obon Festival event that is held annually a few blocks from me, put on by a local Buddhist temple. I’ve even posted video of one of the highlights, when they have several hundred members of the temple fill the street and march around doing traditional dances in costume, to music and a big drummer. It’s wonderful. And if they could put that on down the block, that’s a starting point for my comparisons of what the Tokyo Closing Ceremonies producers came up with.
Some random thoughts.
I don’t begin to know what the person who chose the music for the entrance of the athletes was thinking. It was sort of like someone took the “Monty Python” theme and decided to change the tempo and mix it with bad, fake disco and add some circus tunes they had in their archives.
The opening presentation of supposedly “bringing Tokyo to the Olympics” was a mess. At first, I thought it was just the athletes on the field dancing around, letting off steam, and doing “stuff.” But then I realized, no, those are actually performers and this was all planned and choregraphed. And all that “stuff” they’re doing is supposed to be the best of Tokyo. I kept thinking that the athletes watching this on the field must have been bewildered by the “stuff” going on around them.
With all the athletes on the field, the best and most moving moment was when the camera caught U.S. women’s volleyballer Haleigh Washington sitting and staring at her Gold medal, overwhelmed by it all and weeping, eventually hugging a friend tight in joy. It was a great moment. It would have been nice if the announcers had a clue about who she was and talked about her part in the Games – and who the other athlete was (who I couldn’t identify), but…nah, silence.
Then, they had a sad, dancing tree.
There was what I’ll call a kimono dance and one of those terrific, big pounding drums, and that was pretty good, especially compared to the rest of the mess. Not as good as the Obon temple down the block from me, but still, very nice.
Then the flag bearers from all the nations came in, and just when you’re sure they’re going to have rousing, Olympic march music to accompany them, it was…well, I don’t know how to describe it other than it was like something mellow from cool jazz pianist George Shearing.
And then, we had our NBC announcers tell us that coming next was the presentation from Paris, which is going to be hosting the next Summer Games, so be sure to stick around because “You’re not going to want to miss this.”
Yipes. To be clear, it had some nice things in it. Cycling over rooftops was great. And making the Eifel Tower a flagpole was good. And some other things. But this was Paris! The proud holders of world culture. And they’ve had probably eight years to plan what they were going to do, to inspire the world to join them in 2024. And…this is what they came up with? Beginning with perhaps the most inspiring national anthem in the world – La Marseilles!! – a song that drove the French Revolution, performed with an arrangement so lovely and soporific that it slowed the thing down to a pace that could not have invigorated even a sloth. And then, what seemed like an homage to extreme cycling, followed by France patting themselves on the back by featuring like half a dozen French Gold medal winners from the current Olympics. And all topped off – at a presentation for the world’s great event promoting international peace -- by military jets doing a flyover. It’s not that it was bad. It was just empty and without structure and pompous and political.
And finally, returning to Tokyo, they finished things off with a lady and seven children (clearly, the obligatory Olympic homage honoring the Children are Our Future), performing a song that I kept thinking at any moment they would be breaking into singing “Do-Re-Mi” that went into long performance piece, rushing around and always looking up into the sky and pointing at something that I suspect they didn’t even know what they were doing, but just told to look like they were full of wonderment.
And then the IOC called an end to the Games and called the Youth of the World to come together in Paris in 2024.
I will say that since this year’s Olympics were weird all the way through for many reasons, not the least of which that they were held and not postponed again, though managed reasonably well, despite no crowds in the stands, it was only fitting to go out with the weirdest Closing Ceremonies I’ve seen. Even considering the understandable limitations they had.
And “weird” is the polite term.
If only they’d hired the program director for my local Buddhist Temple Obon Festival.
We watch the Olympics all day so that you don’t have to.
With her 11th medal in Track & Field, what a wonderful way for Allyson Felix to not only end her record-setting career, but end with a Gold medal in the 4x400 relay. And it was good that the men won the same race, their first Gold medal at the Games – they didn’t do poorly, but by U.S. standards, it wasn’t a strong Olympics.
The U.S. women’s basketball win was remarkable. Not that they ran away with the Gold medal game against Japan – yes, that was special, and the game wasn’t as close at the 15-point margin since the starters were taken out with four minutes left – but it was the team’s 55th consecutive Olympic win and their seventh consecutive Gold medal. Lots more can be said. Nothing more needs to be. But one would be remiss not noting five of those Gold medals for Diana Taurisi and Sue Bird.
I also want to give Sportscaster Points to the NBC announcer who tried to keep the audience on the edge of their seat when, with seven minutes left and the U.S. team up by 20 points – a team that had won 54 straight games and six consecutive Gold medals – said that if Japan had a run of eight points, the game could be very different. Well, yeah, but even at that, this 54-straight wins team would still be up by 12 points with time running out – and more to the point, it wasn’t going to happen. And didn’t.
Okay, why not make it the Trifecta? I’ve posted two videos of Jessica Springsteen in Equestrian jumping, so it’s only proper to have a third, particularly because this time she didn’t have a single fault, and this was the finals, and the U.S. team received the Silver medal.
And here’s the post-even interview
The men’s marathon took place in better conditions than the women’s the day before, but it was still blistering. I was sorry that they changed the wonderful tradition – holding it on the very last day and timed so that the finish line is inside the Olympic stadium, and the runners can enter with the arena full of cheering spectators waiting for the Closing Ceremonies. But since the Closing Ceremonies will be very different, without full stands, it was understandable.
More to come. Maybe…
We watch the Olympics all day so that you don’t have to.
And this is one of the things most people didn’t watch. Though I’m sure it will be on the main NBC broadcast now, when they had no plans for it before. I wasn’t going to begin with this story – and almost didn’t even watch, it was the Gold medal match for heavyweight wrestling -- but sometimes the Games take an unexpected turn. I’m not a big wrestling fan, but as I wrote here right before the Games began, I’ve had good luck with American wrestlers having no chance but winning the Gold medal matches -- having actually attended Jeff Blatnick’s amazing, iconic, near-impossible win in Greco-Roman Wrestling at the 1984 Olympics here in Los Angeles. And posted a photo as proof. So, when I saw yesterday that it was the Gold medal final, and young, inexperienced heavyweight Gable Steveson (named after the all-time great Dan Gable, could the story get any more Hollywood?!) was going against the 3-time defending world champion Geno Petriashvili from the country of Georgia, I figured, hey, maybe lightning will strike again, and I’ll watch. And – it was utterly amazing.
The young Steveson was given almost no chance, though he held a lead after the first of two periods and even took a 4-0 lead. But the experienced world champ Petriashvili came back to take a two-point lead. He held a three-point lead with only a minute left. And then 30 seconds left. And then just 10 seconds left – as the color analyst began screaming what he has to do, what he has to do, what he has to do, what he has to do. Against the 3-time defending world champion. All I will say is keep watching, and don’t get mad at me for tricking you into watching a wrestling match with an unhappy ending.
Here’s the video, you won’t believe it, even after you can figure out the ending. Because it’s more remarkable that you can figure. And I don’t like hyperbole. And I was watching live, figuring it was over, when the Oh, My God moment came. It’s worth watching the whole thing, but if you only want to see the end, just jump to the 3:45 mark with only 24-seconds left in the match. But stick around briefly to see the 275-pound winner (wearing blue) celebrate.
NBC won't let the video be embedded, but I recorded the last 24 seconds of the match with my mobile phone, and although the sound is tinny, the overall quality is fine. However, the whole 6-minute match is wonderful and fascinating, and if you're interested you can see the full thing here.
And this just in -- a joy watching Molly Seidel, the youngest member of the U.S. women's marathon contingent, just 27 with only three marathons under her belt, stun all the experts and get the Bronze medal in oppressive heat. My favorite part was when, with about 30 yards to go and knowing for sure that she was about to get a Bronze, she began to let out shouts of joy, shaking her arms in excitement.
Glad to see the U.S. women’s soccer team come back from their tough loss to Canada and beat Australia to get the Bronze medal. Not what they were expecting, but it’s a solid result, especially given how weak their offense was the whole Olympics. It was an odd game. The Americans were winning 4-1 pretty far into the second half, but had to hold on to win 4-3. Though the Australian’s third goal came with a minute left in regulation. However, soccer – being what it is – had another four minutes of “extra time” that the U.S. team had to kill off.
The American men’s basketball team had its own odd game – and as it happens, also against Australia, no less – in fact, far more odd. The winner would play in the Gold medal game, and halfway through the second quarter, it looked like that would be Australia, which took a 15 point lead. But no only was the U.S. team able to cut that lead to just one point by the end of the half…but in the third quarter, they went on a 17-point run. And ended up winning the game in a walk, winning by 19 points, 97-78.
Speaking of walking, I may be ready to add Race Walking to the list of a few events that I could compete in and keep my Olympic Dream alive. No, I’m not sure I could do that bizarre wiggle-waggle that race walkers use – I suspect I might trip over my feet. But nothing says you have to walk that way in the race, you only have to…well, walk. I’d lose badly, of course, but I can walk. The challenge, which is why I’m hesitant to add it to the list, is that the race is 31 miles, five miles longer than a marathon. Being able to walk for 31 miles is not the same as being willing to. (The Olympic event was won in three hours and 50 minutes. At my normal, brisk pace, it would probably take about 10.) Whimsically, NBCsn carried the race in its entirety. Four hours of walking Incidentally, who in the world came up with the idea – “Hey, here’s a sport and we can put it in the Olympics – a walking race, but really fast!!!” Clearly, no one at the IOC looked at him liked him like he was nuts and said, “Er, the whole point of walking as opposed to racing is that you’re not racing. If you want to race, then run. And by the way, it looks incredibly stupid.”
They had several cycling races at the velodrome. As I mentioned, I not only like cycling (though I don’t understand most of the rules), I especially like races in a velodrome. The angled, oval track looks great, the cyclists whirr around at dazzling speeds weaving around one another, and it has a great sound. And I may understand the rules even less than the outdoors events. There are breakaway groups and chase groups, but why they matter – other than being ahead and behind – is beyond me. Yesterday, it was all part of what they call the Omnium, which is a great name and enough reason alone to like it all. As for as I can tell, this is an event made up of four different kinds of races – the scratch race, the tempo race, the elimination race and points race. The two they had in the morning included one kind of race that was largely a mass of cyclists trying not only to be first but get points. I’m going to guess that was the Points Race. The other was the team event that has something to do with your time is determined by which of your riders finished last – which tends to be near meaningless since they’re usually in packs and the last rider will finish about .3 seconds behind the first. I have no idea which of the other three it was. But here’s the five-minute Points Race. As I said, I don’t know exactly what’s going on with getting the points, but…it’s still a joy.
Nor will NBC let this video be embedded, either but you can watch it here. (I'm not quite sure why NBC does this, since the videos are all on YouTube, not on the NBC Olympics site. Go figure.)
There’s a wonderful and surprising feature that NBC has oddly only used on women’s field hockey, at least as far as I can tell. But TV has access to the referee’s headset, so when she’s talking with the officials booth about replays or other rulings, you can hear the conversation. Further, because the referee’s microphone is connected, we can also hear her discussions with the players – the players’ voices are as clear, of course, but clear enough. After all, when they’re talking to the referee it’s generally because they have a point to make, so they’re not in a whispering mood. It’s very interesting, and the only reason I can figure that it’s only being done in this one event is because it’s a test.
Okay, just because you deserve it, I watched some more equestrian, so that I could pass along Jessica Springsteen’s second ride. Though she did well in her first, she didn’t qualify for the individual finals. However, this is her ride that helped the U.S. Team make it into the finals of the Team Show Jumping.
And yes, again, this is an official NBC Olympics video, so you can see it here.
And just so you know that every rider doesn’t just prance through this without much effort, here is Shane Sweetnam of Ireland, who just wasn’t in sync with horse Alejandro yesterday. You’ll note, too, the announcers commenting how, what with all the heat, the time off this pair had should be to their advantage. “Should be” being the operative term. Also, the phrase, “Oh, my…” comes to mind. As it happens, I recorded this off the TV with my phone (no official NBC video here!), so here it is below -- and the quality should be good enough.
I have a new favorite from out of my extensive viewing during the Olympics. It’s Chinese golfer Shanshan Feng. She plays on the LPGA tour in the U.S. (and was the first Chinese golfer to win a major championship), but I hadn’t heard of her. She was interviewed yesterday after her second round because she shot 10 strokes better (a 64) than she did the day before – and it was her birthday. She was so charming, so ingratiating, so self-effacing, so open, fun, bubbling, honest and warm – the very opposite of the perception I think most have of quiet, taciturn, low-key Chinese -- and it was hard not to be won over. I wish I could find the interview, but I can’t. But this two-minute piece of her LPGA competitors explaining why they love her, interspersed with a few clips of her (all fun, but not of which do her justice compared to that interview) at least gives a sense.
Early in the Olympics, I wrote about how problematic it seemed that Russia barely got a slap on the wrist for a massive doping scandal that an official report uncovered "a widespread and extensive state sanctioned doping system." There is an excellent article on Yahoo! News about how the IOC largely ignoring even its own minor sanctions has grown to be an “elephant in the room.” The story quotes Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, who called the IOC penalties on the Russians “a farce.” Tygart went on -- “Unfortunately, we’ve seen this horror film already – where the Russian state-sponsored doping program walks free and Russia wins while the IOC and WADA leaders attempt to pull the wool over the world’s eyes by claiming Russia is 'banned’,” he said, referring to the World Anti-Doping Agency, in an email to Reuters that was published Saturday. "It is barely a 'rebrand' and will do nothing to stop the corruption in Russia and likely will embolden others willing to win by any means.” You can read the full article here.
More to come...
We watch the Olympics all day so that you don’t have to.
Today we have a bunch of ruminations.
Yesterday, they held the shot put, for which two Americans won the Gold and Silver medals. Upcoming will be the hammer throw. What I’ve never quite figured out is why they have both of these events in the Olympics – or for that matter, in existence. I know that they require different skills. But the differences seem forced, in order to create two events. In both, you are throwing a very heavy ball as far as you can – the difference is that for one, you attach a long cord to the very heavy ball and then fling it, rather than push it. Now, why someone ever attached a cord to it, I have no idea. Mind you, I like the hammer throw. I just don’t know why they have both events. For that matter, I’m not sure why they have three similar events if you include the discuss. That’s essentially like the shot put, with a big heavy ball that you throw as far as you can, except that they’ve shmooshed the ball plant into a disk. Again, I like it – maybe the most of the three. But…three??
There’s been a lot of talk during the Olympics about how hot it is in Japan, but it’s very difficult to get a perspective on that. Yesterday, though, I heard something mentioned by a one of the golfers on the U.S. women’s team. But first, some background: I’ve heard that the Japan organizing committee pulled a fast one on the IOC when they made their pitch to hold the games, putting together a brochure extolling how gorgeous the weather was in Japan during July and August. As the reporter said, actually all Japanese know that those are the two most brutal months. Yes, Tokyo held the Olympics in 1964, so I suspect the IOC figured all was well – except the games were pushed back a couple of months then, because of the horrific heat! Now, why no one on the IOC did a simple Internet search for “temperature Japan July August” is beyond me. (I just did do a search for those terms. The very first result says – “On an average day in July, the temperature in Tokyo can reach highs of 95-degrees F in July and August. When outside, stay hydrated with water, wear lightweight clothing, and you bring a fan with you.” Result after result all the same thing, how “notorious” the humidity is, making it seem even hotter than it is. And it is very hot. “August is the hottest month to visit Honshu. The weather is now sticky and humid with temperatures rising as high as 35°C on some days in Tokyo.” Yet somehow, the IOC missed this.
Anyway, back to the story and perspective. They were interviewing American golfer Nelly Korda. She said that she lived in Southern California and to prepare for Japan, she went to Palm Springs (which is in the Mojave Desert) to practice. Temperatures there can reach 110-115, she said, “…and I played each day – as long as I was able to.” And then she added, “But it was nothing like this.” That’s the perspective. That is brutal conditions. And all the IOC had to do was have an intern do a search for “temperature Japan July August.”
On NBC’s coverage of the shot put, they gave the results of the shot put in meters. The USA Network was covering the same event – the announcers would give the results in meters, too, but on screen, it showed the numbers in feet. I understand why NBC shows everything in meters – it’s international, and that’s what the Olympics use. But this is a TV show for an American audience – where everyone here uses feet and yards. When a race is a set distance, like 100 meters, it absolutely makes sense to present it in meters only, it’s all that matters. But in flexible events – like the shot put, high jump, pole vault, long jump and such – where the distances change and each inch matter, it seems like it would be a Really Easy Thing to convert the meters and present both numbers so the people you are actually broadcasting to could have a sense of the distance that would be meaningful to them. All year long, every year, all the time, Americans who watch track & field events know the results and records in feet and inches. So, why on earth during the Olympics – when you have your biggest audience, and that audience is entirely in America – would you decide to not use the measurement that you normally use the rest of your lives???! Not in place of meters, but alongside. And the reason we know it’s a Really Easy Thing is because…one of their own other networks does it!!!
Karate was added to the Olympics this year by Japan. That makes sense. Until you see the event. Now, to be fair, there are different disciplines to the Karate competition, and I’ve only seen the first one. I believe it’s called “kata.” But – but – but – oh, my. Ohhhh…my. It’s one person on a mat, making various, intricate karate thrusts. They’re not competing against someone else on the mat, they’re not breaking board, they’re just…well, throwing out an arm, lifting an arm, swiveling, kicking a leg…alone. Into thin air. And apparently they’re judged on the accuracy and perfection of the moves. It’s like Kabuki Theater. It’s like judging a boxing match – expect there’s only one person in the ring, and he’s throwing punches at no one. It’s like judging ballroom dancers – but with only one of the partners on the dance floor and no music…as an Olympic event. Sorry, I’m sure it’s very traditional and meaningful in Japan. And it is very artistic and even highly impressive. Oddly fascinating to watch, briefly. But it’s performance art. It is not an Olympic sport. I’m sure that being able to do the karate moves perfectly alone are important to the ethos of karate. But it’s just moves you’re working on, hoping to get right, get perfect before your opponent enters to face you. It reminds me of the famous line by former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, who said about boxing, “Everybody has a plan – until you get punched in the mouth.” This is the plan before the punches start. The moves alone on the mat are deeply impressive, seriously impressive. But they are practice. They are shadow boxing looking into a mirror. Rehearsal for the show before the curtain goes up at 8 PM – without the other actors or orchestra. I am certain that some of the other Karate disciplines with competitors facing one another are Olympic sports. Not this. Not…this. Not kata. This is real talent, great talent. It is not an Olympic sport. And it’s mind-numbingly selfish, foolish and insulting to think or even suggest it is. And I’m sure you think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. Here. –
More to come…
This is funny -- then unexpected and funny. Then endearingly funny.
But it's even better than that. That's because I had a version of this to post, but the embed code for the video from a tweet wasn't working. So, I went online to see if I could find a YouTube version. I couldn't find the exact same video, but found a better one that includes the video and then extends with with a wonderful addendum.
For those keeping a scorecard, the player who begins it all is Goran Ivanisevic, who is getting beaten badly in the finals of the 1997 tennis tournament at Queen's Club, London. His opponent is Mark Philippoussis.
. , jokingly hands his racquet to ballgirl Amy Denton Clark and invites her to take over, which she does after some understandable hesitation. She's back at Queen's in 2017 to talk about the experience with interviewer John Inverdale.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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