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Archive for the ‘olympics’ Category

The cost of gold

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What did all those medals cost China? Billions of dollars and the effort and sacrifice of countless young athletes, most of whom came nowhere near the Olympics, let alone a medal. There are an estimated 400k kids in specialized sports schools in China.

WSJ: …In the eight years to 2006, the latest set of full-year figures available, China’s spending on sports increased 149% to 9.2 billion yuan ($1.35 billion at today’s exchange rates), compared with a 36% increase to 7.1 billion yuan in natural-disaster relief. Adding to the budgetary pressure is the need to rebuild after this year’s Sichuan earthquake, which will be financed by a 5% reduction in all other government spending. On top of all that, China’s Olympic building spree has left the government with 31 new and refurbished stadiums that it now must maintain.

…Because of China’s population-control policies that allow most families only one child, they are increasingly reluctant to turn over their offspring to the state sports academies. Much of China’s athletic success has been built on vast numbers of athletes from peasant stock who were willing to chi ku — to “eat bitterness” — to grind through the state sports system and have a shot at success.

Despite such heavy spending, China didn’t make up very much ground in track and field. Liu Xiang’s 110m hurdles gold in Athens was described as “the heaviest” and “the one with the most gold content” of all of China’s medals. (Note, cf. Phelps, that they didn’t say this about a swimming medal. They have a pretty realistic idea of which sports are the most competitive 🙂 Liu’s failure to compete in Beijing due to injury may have been the single biggest Olympics story in the Chinese media.

On the other hand, Jamaica (population less than 3 million) had a great Olympics on the track: three golds and three world records for superman Bolt, and a medal sweep of the women’s 100m.

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August 23, 2008 at 7:31 pm

Posted in China, olympics, sports

Bolt is the greatest of all time

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19.30 in the 200m, breaking Michael Johnson’s record! Two world records, two gold medals. He led by 10m at the finish, and this time there was no show boating.

I remember watching Johnson set the record in Atlanta (on television). I couldn’t imagine when — if ever — it would be broken.

In the semifinal heat yesterday Bolt looked like he was jogging at the finish, yet placed ahead of Shawn Crawford, the defending gold medalist from Athens who finished third in the final. Bolt destroyed his competition effortlessly. He is a superman among boys.

Hopefully the silly US media will forget about Phelps and focus on the real story in Beijing. Note added: Bolt donated $50k to earthquake relief in Sichuan province. He said he was moved to tears on the night of winning the 200m race, when more than 90,000 spectators in the Bird’s Nest sang “happy birthday” for him. Unfortunately, not of interest to NBC.

NYTimes: The margin of victory seemed almost impossible. His finishing time, a sport-shattering moment. Just days after Usain Bolt electrified track and field with a world-record run for the ages in the 100 meters, he might have outdone himself in the 200.

Jamaica’s wunderkind surged so far ahead of a stellar Olympic final field Wednesday night that the final 50 meters inspired sheer awe. Running hard through the finish, Bolt not only ran 19.30, breaking the world record by two-hundredths of a second less than two hours before his 22nd birthday, but he seemed to set new parameters on what humans can achieve.

This time, unlike in the 100 meters, Bolt ran hard the entire race, clearly wanting to show what he can do when he is serious. In the 100, he essentially stopped racing with about 10 meters to go, threw out his arms and slapped his chest before he crossed the finish line. That made his time of 9.69 — .03 better than the world record — that much more astounding because it could have been even lower.

In the 200, Bolt overpowered the field in the turn, entering the straighaway with the only question left being how much would he win by and would he break the world record. That was 19.32 seconds, set by the American Michael Johnson at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Before Wednesday night, Johnson’s record run was the only performance under 19.62. Bolt’s previous personal best was 19.67.

“I didn’t think I’d see under .30 in my lifetime,” said Renaldo Nehemiah, a former gold medalist in the 100 hurdles. “He’s a freak of nature. He did it at 14 and he did it at 17. Most people aren’t surprised he did it. They might be surprised he did it here, but it was inevitable.”

More from George Vecsey of the Times; Michael Johnson agrees with me on the singular nature of Bolt’s performance:

NYTimes: …“It was the most impressive athletic performance I have ever seen in my life,” Johnson said Wednesday, before the next one. “It was amazing to watch — especially since I didn’t have to watch from behind.”

…Usain Bolt has made this a two-athlete Olympics. In two bursts of speed, he has matched much of the buzz for Michael Phelps, who won eight medals in the pool. Bolt’s two gold medals were won out in the open, on two feet. The first one was play. The second was work. But both are records. Kiss the old ones goodbye.

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August 20, 2008 at 2:40 pm

Phelps, shmelps — Bolt is the man

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9.69 — and he strolled across the finish line while beating his chest with no one even close! Bolt is 6 foot 5 and only 21 years old. I think Michael Johnson’s record in the 200m is in jeopardy. Bolt is probably the greatest of all time, assuming he’s clean.

NBC: …With a full seven strides to go, he dropped his arms and let them fall outstretched to his sides, appearing almost to run sideways as he played to the sold-out crowd of 91,000 at the Bird’s Nest. Just before the finish line, he started high-stepping and, for good measure, executed a chest-thump.

All that, and still — 9.69 seconds. Bolt simply ran away from the rest of the best of the world.

“I was just saying I’m No. 1,” Bolt said later. “This is what I came out here to do, and I made it.”

BBC: …Michael Johnson described [it] as “the greatest 100m performance in the history of the event”.

Johnson, a multiple Olympic champion who still holds the 200m and 400m world records, told BBC Sport: “He shut down with 10m to go. We have never seen anything like it before.

“It’s absolutely amazing. Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay cannot run with him. He is a show unto himself.”

Remember what I said about Jamaican track a month ago during the Olympic trials…

I was a competitive swimmer from age 7 through college. My high school team won a state title my junior year and conference titles all four years I was on the team. We had numerous All-Americans and state champions. I’m still ranked (barely) on the all-time list. But the best athlete I ever competed against was a running back who had been an LA sprint champion and had turned down Division I football scholarships to attend Caltech (he was 6 foot 2 and around 190-200). I could not lay a hand on him in the open field and he was incredibly strong in the weight room even though he never trained. (Most swimmers are shockingly weak when it comes to lifts.) During our senior year scouts from USFL teams were still looking him over as a free safety, despite his not having played high level ball in college. There is no comparison between the quality of athlete in amateur, fringe Olympic sports and the big money sports like football and basketball.

Phelps, shmelps.

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August 16, 2008 at 3:26 pm

The tidal wave from PRC

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Will China’s Beijing Olympics performance match their dominance of international science competitions? A reader sends the following information.

Yes, yes, I know — but are they creative? 😉

China took the gold medal in 2008 the 49th International Mathematical Olympiad (July 10th to 22nd, 2008 – Madrid, Spain) link

Russians came in 2nd by very small margin. USA came in 3rd with the help of Asian students such as Alex Zhai who got a perfect score of 42, along with other two students from China. (Big surprise is where have the Indian students gone? Maybe in the SpellingBees? 🙂

China also took the gold medal in the 39th International Physics Olympiad (2008) – Hanoi, Vietnam (28/07). All of its participants got Gold medals. Canada and US team members are also mostly Chinese. Taiwan is in second place. link

At 2008 the 40th Chemistry Olympiads held in Budapest, Hungary on July 21, 2008, all 4 Chinese students got gold medals, again China in 1st place.

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August 6, 2008 at 1:46 am

Fast times in Jamaica

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Ever wonder how Jamaica, a country of 3 million people, can compete with the US and totally dominate all of Europe and Asia when it comes to the sprints? China has spent billions on a Soviet-style sports program that selects promising athletes at a young age and sends them to special sports schools. When Liu Xiang won the 110 hurdles at the last Olympics, Chinese officials referred to his gold as the “heaviest” of all medals won by Chinese in Athens. There is no lack of Chinese desire to win sprint gold — Liu Xiang is the biggest sports star in China after Yao Ming! Similarly, the US and Europe have far more money than Jamaica for training facilities, coaches, scholarships, stipends, etc. World class athletes in Jamaica train on a grass track and in weight rooms with rusty barbells. Most US high schools have superior facilities. (See video here.)

The times below are phenomenal — they rival the times put up this weekend in Eugene at the US Olympic trials, and totally surpass the performance of any European or Asian nation.

World record-holder Usain Bolt beat former record-holder Asafa Powell in the 100-meter final in Jamaica’s Olympic trials, finishing in 9.85 seconds in Kingston.

Powell was second in 9.97. Last month in New York, Bolt ran a 9.72 to break Powell’s world record of 9.74.

Kerron Stewart won the women’s 100 in 10.80, the second-fastest time by a Jamaican woman ever. Shelly-Ann Fraster was second in 10.85, Sherone Simpson followed in 10.87 and world champion Veronica Campbell-Brown was fourth in 10.87.

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June 30, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Back and jetlagged!

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Sorry for the lack of posts — I am digging out after returning from Paris.

Here are some sports links I found of interest 🙂

Ulitmate fighting on CBS tonight — first time on a national broadcast network! Kimbo Slice, one of the headliners, rose to fame thanks to YouTube video of his street fights. Although he has fan appeal, he’s far from a top level fighter at this stage of his development.

US military embraces ultimate fighting! See here, here and slides.

Profile of China’s surprisingly successful rowing program. (video, slideshow.) They’ve recycled tall athletes from track and field and other sports into rowing. I’ve always thought the talent pool in rowing was relatively thin, and China’s success partially supports this viewpoint.

Some projections have the Chinese olympic team edging out team USA in the overall medal count in Beijing.

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May 31, 2008 at 10:59 pm