“Excuse me sir, but before I can let you in, I need to know that you possess the multi-tasking capacity necessary to fully assimilate this meet.”
Then again, I’m glad they don’t test. Because based upon my early performance at the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships, I would flunk.
Walking in the door at the Albuquerque Convention Center, I was reminded of opening weekend of the fantasy football season, when each year without fail, I would freeze immediately upon entering my local sports bar – and then meander around aimlessly in search of the ideal seat for simultaneous viewing of every game in which one of “my guys” was playing. An aerial shot of me would look like one of those Family Circus cartoons with the big dotted line showing where Jeffy or P.J. had scampered off to that day, bless their annoying little hearts.
Maybe it was a case of Sports Lag. After all, I was on the back end of a day-night doubleheader involving two different events in two different towns. Maybe it was the dark and rainy film noir-esque night outside. And maybe it was because I was inside a professional sports arena and there was no discernible buzz.
Whatever it was, it was all a bit odd…
I had come to the Rose Garden Arena, the centerpiece of Portland’s Rose Quarter entertainment district, to see Skate America, a stop on the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating tour. But as I made my way around an eerily quiet concourse it almost felt as if I’d wandered into the wrong building.
The concourse didn’t appear to be fully lit, and only a handful of concession stands were open. And in a horrific sight that I hope to never again encounter, all of the beer taps at all of the beer stands had been removed! I still shudder at the visual image.
I’m starting a movement. I haven’t got a name for it yet…alright, I admit it – virtually none of the organizational details have progressed beyond the half-baked stage. But I have a cause: I will not rest until it is decreed that all aquatic sporting events must be conducted outside.
I didn’t even know that I was possessed of this passion until I arrived recently at the Splash Aquatics Center in La Mirada, CA. On my way there to watch the U.S. Masters Synchronized Swimming Championships, I had been assuming the event would take place in the same environment that I’d experienced when I attended the U.S. Nationals in April.
Now, I love the smell of chlorine as much as the next person. And what can be more inviting than the still air of a humid, over-heated natatorium? OK, pretty much anything. But my newfound love affair with “synchro” had made the conditions bearable in the Spring, and I knew that the same would hold true now in the Fall.
…Continued from the previous post.
It’s pretty easy to see how archery came into existence as a sport.
Long, long ago, in a time that predates even ESPN, people had to eat. They noticed that animals that just might fill that express need seemed to be running by with regularity. Somebody decided to take a curved tree limb, stretch some twine between its ends and use it to propel pointy sticks at these animals.
Poof. Instant supper. After which they invented beer to wash it down.
Naturally there emerged some down time between animals running by, so the enterprising among these folks began to proactively venture out after them. They decided to call it hunting. Somewhere in there green tights and pointy leather hats came into vogue, but that’s a different story.
Here’s the point. In every group of people there’s inevitably somebody who says something like “I bet I can shoot my pointy stick closer to the middle of that tree over there than you can.” In this particular case, that guy’s name was Archie.
I’m really, really sorry, but you have to admit it – that joke was just sitting there for somebody to use.
There are perfect days and then there are perfect days. And one notch ahead of that was the day that I found myself at the ARCO Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA to witness the USA Archery SoCal Showdown tournament.
It was amazing to consider that I had been at another Olympic training facility just two weeks prior to that, and the environment couldn’t have been any more different. At the Bethesda Center of Excellence a drizzly morning and the mist rising from steam-heated water gushing down the whitewater river course combined to provide an almost surreal backdrop to the Canoe/Kayak Nationals.
At Chula Vista, it was brilliantly sunny and warm, with literally not a cloud in the sky. A very slight cooling breeze topped off the kind of day that needed no studio retouching to go directly to a Chamber of Commerce highlight reel.
…Continued from the previous post.
When last we visited, I was at the L.A. Velodrome to take in the USA Cycling Elite Track National Championships – specifically the Team Pursuit competition. Although I had struggled with the whole “pursuit” concept, I was enjoying the uniqueness of the event. This is not the cycling that the average Josephine on the street is familiar with.
For starters, the bicycles themselves are really just first cousins to the road bikes that are used in the Tour de France – or the Tour de Coffee Shops that we recreational riders take part in, for that matter. For one thing, there’s no brakes. While this could be problematic when out for a ride in the neighborhood, in the velodrome it’s pretty rare that some clown in a ’96 Toyota Celica blows a red light and cuts you off.
Scratch races, sprint races, pursuits, Madisons. Something called Omniums, which is cycling’s answer to track and field’s pentathlon…but with one extra event. Or heptathlon …but with one fewer…well, you get the point – they’re doing a lot of stuff on a bike on a track.
Hmmm…what to watch…what to watch? How about the Team Pursuit? Done and done. And it was off to the L.A. Velodrome.
The son of two elite paddlers, Henry has been in a kayak since the age of 3 ½ (well, other than for meals and bedtime stories). He’s been competing in junior events since he was 6.
He was in Maryland recently – as was I – to take in the USA Canoe/Kayak Slalom National Championships at the Bethesda Center of Excellence training center. There was one small detail that differentiated our visits though. Henry was there to compete in the National Championships.
You know what I like about sports? I mean aside from all of the obvious things that would motivate a previously sane individual to spend a year of his life chasing down events to watch?
It’s the unexpected and the ironic. And I found both at the USA Canoe/Kayak Slalom National Championships, where the unlikeliest of partnerships was on display.
The event venue, the Bethesda Center of Excellence whitewater course, is a man-made one, measuring 40 feet across and a quarter mile long. The beauty of this artificial river – and what makes it truly unique – is that the water that tumbles through it is always at least ten degrees warmer than that of the neighboring Potomac River, whose western shore runs parallel to the course and serves as its runoff point.
“How can this be?” the alert reader might ask. An excellent question.
What I really meant was that there was no more deference paid to him than to any of the other swimmers during the preliminary heats for the men’s 100 meter butterfly competition. It was Day 3 of the ConocoPhillips Swimming National Championships, and things were moving along at a clip that would make process engineers green with envy.
So there wasn’t much time to reflect on Michael Phelp’s 783 (or so) Olympic medals – or much of anything for that matter, as a parade of swimmers went through 14 heats in each of five different events.
In the twenty seconds or so that each swimmer stood on their starting block in preparation for their heat though, I got a good look at what makes Michael Phelps different. Of course, he has the swimmer’s classic V-shape torso, with massive shoulders tapering down to a slim waist. And his arms are long. Very long. But then again, so were most everyone else’s.
At the end of those long arms though, are massive hands. At first I thought he had purchased a couple of those foam “We’re # 1” hands at the AquaZone souvenir shop, and had forgotten to take them off. Upon closer inspection though…yup – those are actual hands. Hands capable of scooping prodigious amounts of water away from one’s path.
Phelps is taller than most swimmers, and here’s the thing – that additional height is not evenly distributed across his frame. It’s all in his upper body. He has the torso of a very tall man and the legs of a much shorter man. So when those XXXL arms and hands go to work in the water, it seems to me that they are carrying along a considerably smaller person in comparison to his competitors.
That would be my understanding of the mechanics involved. But then again, I’ve never completed a “some assembly required” project without having some important-looking bits and pieces left over. So maybe none of the above matters that much. In which case I’ll just go to my fallback explanation for Phelp’s dominance – he’s a wicked good swimmer.
For every top dog there’s a perennial contender. For every Roger Federer there’s an Andy Roddick. For every Tiger, a Phil. And for Michael Phelps there is Ryan Lochte – a swimmer that would be The King Of The Pool were it not for Phelps. Lochte has come agonizingly close on many occasions to unseating Phelps as the top American in multiple events, and has a pretty good winner’s resume of his own. But if you say “swimming” to any random American in the post-Beijing era, they will reply “Phelps”.
If at this point you are beginning to feel the least bit sorry for Ryan Lochte, let me spare you the effort.
First of all, the guy is by all accounts a truly classy competitor who is well-respected by his peers. And nothing that I saw in my admittedly limited exposure to him appeared to contradict that reputation. He’s also getting more than his fair share of endorsements – in fact, Speedo was using these Championships as a vehicle to launch a new line of Ryan Lochte footwear.
And then of course, there’s the girls.
The word went out in the morning prelims that Lochte and fellow swimmer Peter Vanderkaay would be appearing at 4:30 in the Autograph Zone, a tent set up in the expo area that fronted the event venue. I happened to be returning to the site for the evening session right around that time and was greeted by a line of about 300 people, roughly 297 of which were female.
Vanderkaay arrived in the Autograph Zone first and took his place without much fanfare. Lochte arrived a few minutes later. With much fanfare. It wasn’t quite The Beatles at Shea Stadium, but let’s just say that if you happened to be in the vicinity of the Woollett Aquatics Center at that time…you noticed.
I’m comfortable enough with my masculinity to admit that even I was on the verge of a swoon.
I stood off to the side and watched the proceedings for a while, and while I was very impressed with the way that Lochte interacted with his star struck fans, I was even more impressed with the way he acted to make sure that Vanderkaay was not overlooked by the fans who were clearly there for one reason.
As much of a hit as Lochte was with the fans though, it was Michael Phelp’s night in the pool. The only event in which he was entered that day was the men’s 100 meter butterfly, and while he had just barely won his preliminary heat in the morning, he dominated the final. His winning time of 50:65 seconds proved to be the fastest time in the world this year, and was just 0:15 seconds slower than his gold medal winning time in Beijing.
But as soon as he was done swimming, he seemed to fade into the background. I almost had to remind myself that I was watching one of the most decorated Olympians in history. He received his medal with a smile, did a brief interview and then slipped through the gate into the athlete’s private area of the venue.
Maybe he’s more publicity-shy than I had originally thought. Or maybe he was just in a hurry to try on a new pair of Ryan Lochte brand Speedo footwear.