Conlan landing a right on Nikitin
Michael Conlan landing a right on Vladimir Nikitin.

As Russian boxer Vladimir Nikitin and Irish boxer Michael Conlan prepared for the start of the quarterfinal bantamweight bout at the Rio Olympics, the announcers set the stage with perceptive foreshadowing.

“Let’s hope this is a fair decision. We’ve had some absolutely shocking decisions, including last night in the world’s heavyweight final. All we ask is that Michael Conlan is judged fairly.”

“Nikitin got a lucky decision against Chatchai Butdee from Thailand in his last fight. A lot of observers here in the press gantry couldn’t believe he won the fight.”

Yes, the announcers on the broadcast feed I watched were Irish.

In the first round, Conlan, in red, was quick, aggressive going both to the body and the head. Nikitin, in blue, appeared to me to land several successful blows to Conlan’s head. Prior to that Conlan was getting a few shots to the left side of Nikitin’s head, and you could see a welt getting redder on Nikitin’s close-cropped scalp. Apparently that had been opened up in the previous bout with the Thai boxer. At one point, the judge stopped the fight to wipe blood off of Conlan, but that was probably Nikitin’s blood.

In the waning seconds of the first round, the Russian appeared to me to land successive blows to Conlan’s head – six or seven maybe, to which Conlan replied with a right. The announcer described it this way: “Attempts from Nikitin not really scoring, and Conlan comes across with a right and another.” The “another” was blocked by Niktin’s glove in my view.

As the round ended, the announcer said, “It’ll be very interesting to see what the judges are scoring. Will they be looking for the aggression or will they be looking for the boxing?” Presumably the announcer meant that Nikitin was making a show of being an aggressor, while Conlan was boxing his way to a first round edge. “I hope the judges are seeing a fair fight here,” the announcer said, almost anticipating the judges to score it in Nikitin’s favor.

When the 1st round scores came up, all three judges had Round One for Nikitin 10-9. The announcers were incredulous. “10-9 for Nikitin! What! What are they watching? What are they watching?”

“We saw this last night with Tishchenko.”

“Yeah, another Russian boxer!”

Nikitin lands on Conlan

In the second round, Conlan appeared to be taking the fight to Nikitin, landing far more blows than the Russian. With a minute left in the of the round, the fight was stopped and blood was cleared from Conlan’s nose and Nikitin’s head. When the fight resumed, they came out swinging. And again the fight was stopped to clean up the side of Nikitin’s head. But when they came back out, you could see that Conlan had opened up a new wound as blood streamed from the area of Nikitin’s left eyebrow.

“He is beating off Vladimir Nikitin here. And if the judges don’t see that, you just give up for amateur boxing, because this is absolutely brilliant by Michael Conlan.”

At this stage, again with my untrained eyes, I would have to say Conlan won the second round. He landed more blows, and there were times when Niktitin looked like he was flailing in the wind. I wouldn’t say Conlan won overwhelmingly, but solidly yes.

The judges agreed, each giving the second round to Conlan 10-9. Two-thirds of the way through, the two boxers were tied – even steven.

Conlan starts off the third round landing five or six punches as Nikitin kept his blue gloves up around his face, where they had been throughout the entire match.

It’s as if the announcers were trying to contain their own anxiety and will Conlan to victory for Ireland, as it turns out, the last boxing hope for Ireland in the Olympics.

“He’s the last boxer left standing, arguably the best boxer on this Irish team, the most talented. Michael Conlan, boxing for a place in the semi finals.”

“I’m not sure what I’m seeing him do here. He’s boxing lovely. He’s making Nikitin miss, but he did this in the first round and it all went against him.”

But in the second half of the final round, the two boxers stood toe to toe, exchanging punches, although to my eyes, Conlan was more aggressive, and landed more frequently. Towards the end, you can see both fighters were exhausted, both landing punches here and there, but no one really establishing any semblance of dominance.

As they lined up with the referee, Conlan was looking confident, raising his hand as the voice intoned that the victory was unanimous.

“It has to be Conlan. Surely. Surely.”

Nikitin defeats Conlan

As soon as the announcer said, “In the blue corner…” Nikitin dropped to his knees and looked up to the sky in joy. As the referee, still holding the arms of both boxers, twirled them around 360 degrees to display the winner to the entire audience, Conlan probably felt he was being dragged around like a rag doll. The judges from Brazil, Sri Lanka and Poland all scored Nikitin ahead 29-28, which meant that all three judges scored round 3 10-9 in favor of Nikitin.

“It’s another shocker,” said the announcer.

Was it? OK, I’d give Conlan the edge in round 3, and I believe he should have advanced. But I’m not a boxing expert. I’m only a casual fan of the sport. I grew up adoring Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, admiring their skill, determination and confidence as they ruled as champions. And when I think of Olympic boxing matches absolutely stolen, the benchmark to me is superstar Roy Jones Jr, when he clearly won his bout with Korean Park Si-hun in the light middleweight gold medal match at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, although the judges saw it differently, awarding gold to the Korean.

But may be I’m in the minority. After the decision, Conlan blew up in front of the press. Raising a nasty finger to boxing officials, shouting, “They’re f&@%ing cheats. They’re known to be cheats. Amateur boxing stinks from the core right to the top.”

Vladimir Nikitin Victorious

Conlan was referring to officials from AIBA (The International Boxing Association), who a day later recognized issues within their judges and referees. In a statement released soon after the Nikitin-Conlan fight, AIBA released this statement:

Sasson and El Shehaby
Or Sasson of Israel extending a hand to fellow judoka Islam El Shehaby of Egypt, to no avail.

The man in blue lay on the mat, a victim of a well-played seoi-nage, staring at his fingers for over ten seconds, while the man in white stood waiting.

When they faced each other, the Israeli, Or Sasson (in white) looked to the referee and bowed to the Egyptian, Islam El Shehaby (in blue). El Shehaby did not return the bow, which is essentially a requirement at the end of a judo bout. Sasson, who eventually won bronze in the  +100kg class, then walked up to El Shehaby and extended his hand, but the Egyptian judoka turned away and refused to shake his hand.

Was this a personal gripe? Was this a geo-political spat? However you look at it, El Shehaby earned significant points in quest of the title of Rio’s Biggest Sore Loser.

Close behind is American goaltender, Hope Solo, who was in net when the vaunted and heavily favored US women’s soccer squad lost to Sweden on penalty kicks. She was rightly proud of her team for showing “a lot of heart” for coming back to tie Sweden 1-1 late in the match, but then lost control of her emotions (again) by saying post-match that the Swedes played like “bunch of cowards.”

When we perform at the highest levels and win, win so often that losing is hard to come to grips with, words and actions can sometimes be unpredictable at best, shameful at worst. At the 2010 Winter Olympics, reigning champion in men’s figure skating, Evgeni Plushenko of Russia, lost to American, Evan Lysack. Plushenko’s reaction: “I was positive I won. I suppose Evan needs a medal more than I do. Maybe it’s because I already have one.”

Back in 1964, at the Tokyo Olympics, South Korean boxer Dong Kih Choh was suddenly disqualified in the first round of his bout against Stanislaw Sorokin of the Soviet Union. He was so peeved that he grabbed a chair, and refused to leave the ring for about an hour.

Dong Kih Choh 1
Dong Kih Choh, south Korean Featherweight, from XVIII Olympiad Volume 10

And then there is the infamous American ice hockey squad. In 1996, the NHL and the IOC came to an agreement that enabled NHL pros to participate in the Olympics. At the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, the Americans, which included such stars as Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick, performed miserably, winning only one game against a weak Belarus squad. After getting thumped by the Czech squad, the eventual gold medalists, the Americans are said to have washed away their sorrows in alcohol. Not sated by liquor, they turned to vandalism: smashing chairs, chucking fire extinguishers off the balcony, and causing several thousand dollars in damage. Equally distasteful  – no one on the team acknowledged any bad behavior.

A few weeks later, team captain Chris Chelios sent the Nagano Olympic committee a check for $3,000, and wrote in a letter, “I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the people of Japan, the Japanese Olympic committee, the USOC, and to all hockey fans throughout the world. Bitter frustration at our own level of play caused a few team members to vent their anger in a way which is not in the tradition of NHL/Olympic sportsmanship.”

Well, at least they apologized.

I kinda doubt we’ll see an apology from El Shehaby and Solo…..

Claressa Shields USA
Claressa Shields, SHE GOAT

She grew up in Flint, Michigan, a city so poor and underserved that the local government doesn’t care their children are being poisoned by lead in the water. But she had a talent – to hit, and hit hard.

Claressa Shields is the world’s strongest female boxer in the middleweight class (75kg), and is a favorite to win gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In fact, she could become the first American to win boxing gold in two successive Olympics.

She is a marketing phenomenon heading into the Summer Games – the most recent being her appearance in the recent Sports Illustrated The Magazine’s Body issue, which features nude photos of some of the most famous athletes in the world. But it is the documentary, T-Rex, which tells the story of a fragile young girl turning into a determined woman and Olympic champion, that put her firmly on the American pop culture map.

Will she have strong competition at the Rio Games? Of course, she still has to be win her three or four contests. But as Shields stated recently in Slate’s sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen, she has fought all her known competition and beat them all at least once. And when she won the middleweight women’s world boxing championship on May 27 this year in Astana, Kazakhstan, she beat the only strong contender she had not faced, Nouchka Fontjin of the Netherlands.

She’s (Nouchka) pretty tall, she’s a heavy hitter. For the last two years, I just can’t wait to fight her. I can’t wait to run into her. She was ranked number 3 in the world, and when someone’s ranked that high, and I hadn’t fought them, there’s always some talk. I want to prove the doubters wrong, prove that I’m the best, prove that I cannot be beat by anybody. For the last two years, she’s been an opponent I’ve been hitting on in the gym against her because I thought she was top competition. I fought her in the worlds and dominated her, 3-0. She was competitive. But I was just great.

Shields is 74-1 in her career, a two-time world champion, gunning for a second Olympic gold. Chances of success? High.

Oscar Pistorius led away

On July 6, double-amputee Olympian Oscar Pistorius, was sentenced to six years in prison for murder. The South African, who competed in the 400-meter sprint at the 2012 London Olympics, was convicted for firing four bullets into his bathroom door, killing his girlfriend Reena Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day three years ago.

In this high-profile long-running set of trials, Pistorius claimed someone had intruded his home and that he fired his gun fearful for his life. Many feel that Pistorius was let off easy, his six years not coming close to what many thought would be a 10- to 15-year sentence.

In the long history of the Olympics, Pistorius joins a small group of Olympians who served time for murder, according to one my favorite go-to books, The Book of Olympic Lists, by David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky. In their list of 20 Olympians Who Did Time in Prison, there are four other Olympians who went to the slammer for murder.

James Snook
Dr. James Snook

James Snook: Snook was a member of the gold medal winning US Free Pistol Shooting team at the Antwerp Games in 1920. At the age of 48, then a professor of veterinary medicine at Ohio State, Snook confessed to the murder of his mistress, Theora Hix. He was put to death in the electric chair after being found guilty of taking a hammer to Hix after violent sex at a rifle range.

Humberto Mariles
Humberto Mariles

Humberto Mariles: This two-time gold medalist and bronze medalist equestrian from Mexico competed at the 1948 Games in London and the 1952 Games in Helsinki. One August summer day, Mariles experienced an extreme fit of road rage when another motorist forced him off the road. According to Wallenchinsky and Loucky, “at the next traffi light Mariles pulled out a gun and shot the man.” Mariles was sent to prison but was pardoned by the President of Mexico.

Ludovit Platchetka
Ludovit Platchetka

Ludovit Plachetka: Plachetka was a middleweight boxer from the Czech Republic who won his first match at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics against a boxer from Swaziland before being eliminated by a boxer from Uzbekistan. According to Wallechinsky and Loucky, Plachetka went from Olympian to felon in less than a year. Apparently he was in an ongoing dispute with his girlfriend over visitation rights of their child that escalated to the point where Plachetka shot to death the mother of his girlfriend. He would have shot his girlfriend if not for gun jamming at that moment. The former boxer/bouncer was sentenced to 13 years.

As for Pistorius, six years may seem like a long time for him. But a top sports officials in South Africa has said the sentence includes time served, and that with good behavior could be out in time to train and participate in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

According to the Daily Mail, “Tubby Reddy, CEO of South Africa’s Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, said he had ‘no problem’ with the idea of the ‘Blade Runner’ returning to the national team and representing his country at the highest level – despite widespread condemnation of Pistorius’ crime and six year sentence.”

Manus Boonjumnong in Athens_Getty
Manus Boonjumnong (R) of Thailand and Ionut Gheorge of Romania compete during the men’s boxing 64 kg semifinal bout on August 27, 2004 during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games at Peristeri Olympic Boxing Hall in Athens, Greece. Getty Images

The light welterweight from Thailand was breezing through the bouts, handily beating boxers from Greece, Philippines, France and Romania with his superior ring movement and speed.

The final bout was against Yudel Johnson of Cuba. The tiny Carribean nation was the dominant power in boxing at the time. In fact, they entered boxers in all 11 weight classes and medaled in all but two, including 5 golds. Johnson was expected to win, but Boonjumnong raced to an early lead and then boxed defensively to victory and gold.

While the Johnson quickly complained about the refereeing, Boonjumnong took a phone call from the King of Thailand, praising the boxer’s achievement. Holding a picture of King Bhumpibol Adulyadej in one hand and a cell phone in the other, he listened in awe, taking a call he could only dream of. As he said in this AP report, “I fought for my king, who urged me to be strong in my final bout,” Boonjumnong said. “I dedicate the gold medal to my family and to all the people of Thailand. And, of course, to the king of Thailand.”

And with victory comes the spoils. Boonjumnong returned to Thailand a hero, seeing his six-week old son for the first time, aptly named “Athens”. The hero was also awarded 20 million baht in recognition of his gold-medal achievement.

In 2004, 20 million baht was about US$560,000, which in Thailand, still recovering from the Asian Economic Crisis that began in 1997, would have been an extraordinary amount of money, particularly for someone who came from modest means. In Boonjumnong’s case, the money meant freedom to do as he pleased. In short, the Olympian went on a boozing, womanizing and gambling spree that resulted in scandalous headlines, divorce and a return to modest means.

Still in his mid-20s, his supporters thought he had another round of Olympic glory left in him, but the only way they could get him back into a fighting mindset and ready for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was to show him some tough love. The Thai amateur boxing president through down the gauntlet, put Boonjumnong on a plane with no money in 2005, and sent him to Vietnam to train and get his act together.

Training away from adoring fans in Thailand, and feeling the heat of the competition, many who gathered from all over Asia to train in Vietnam, Boonjumnong began to re-discover his fighting spirit. At the 2006 Asian Games held in Doha, Qatar, took gold as the light welterweight champion.

At the Beijing Games, Thailand had high hopes for two Boonjumnongs, as younger brother Non competed in the welterweight division. Unfortunately, Non, the 2007 world championship silver medalist fell quickly in the competition, leaving the elder brother to restore family and national honor. And gold was within Manus the elder’s reach, as he made his way through Japanese, Kazakhstani, and Cuban rivals. He was not as dominant as in Athens, and fell to an aggressive lefty from the Dominican, Manuel Felix Diaz.

Manus Boonjumnong in Beijing_Getty
Silver medalist Manus Boonjumnong of Thailand, gold medalist Felix Diaz of Dominican Republic and bronze medalists Alexis Vastine of France and Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo of Cuba pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men’s Light Welterweight; Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

Bronze, not gold adorned the now aging boxer upon his return to Thailand. Still, no Thai had, or has since, medaled in two different Olympics. As the 2012 Olympic Games, there were rumors that Boonjumnong would go for gold again in London. But at the age of 31, he said that he lost the fire for amateur boxing, and declined to be considered for a third Olympics. And yet, apparently he had enough fire for professional boxing, claiming his party days were long gone, and that he was aiming for champion Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines

Boonjumnong’s supporters got his professional career off to a wining start, ensuring his

Cassius Clay wins gold in rome
Cassius Clay wins gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics after defeating Zbigniew Pietrzykowski by decision in the finals of the light heavyweight championship.

Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3, 2016, and the internet flooded with tears.

A great man has passed, and all we can do is remember.

In 1960, Ali was known as Cassius Marcellus Clay. The 18-year-old from Louisville was certainly one of the noisiest Americans at the Rome Olympic Games. He did claim to be the Greatest to anyone who would listen, but he was not viewed as a leader of the US team. According to David Maraniss in his book, Rome 1960, Clay was simply not recognized on the same level as fellow US Olympians like decathlete Rafer Johnson, sprinter Wilma Rudolph, high jumper John Thomas, basketball players Oscar Robertson and Jerry West.

Rafer Johnson running in 1960
Rafer Johnson in Rome in 1960.

As discus thrower Rink Babka, the discus thrower from USC was quoted as saying, “When I think of 1960 and hear people say Cassius Clay was Mr. Olympics and everyone went to see him – bullshit.”

But one person in particular found Clay to be a kind of kindred spirit, or rather an alter ego. Maraniss wrote touchingly about the relationship between 1960’s Greatest Athlete in the World, decathlon champion Rafer Johnson, and boxing’s self-proclaimed Greatest of All Time.

“He (Johnson) felt close to the young boxer from the first time they met at the Olympic Village in Rome. Months after they had won their gold medals, they toured the South together on a speaking tour of predominantly black colleges. They were roommates on the road and stayed up late at night as Clay told Johnson precisely how he planned to become an unforgettable character as well as the heavyweight champion of the world. Many of the cocky phrases and poems that Clay – and later Ali – brought to the world, he first tried out on Rafer Johnson in their hotel rooms. Johnson saved those discussions for posterity on a small tape recorder.

The friendship, for Johnson, was an attraction to an opposite, or a repressed part of self, and he was self-aware enough to appreciate it, saying of Cassius Clay: “I love the way he talked. He was just brash and challenged people, and he said it the way he felt it, and he talked about it. I am not that type of person. I carry it inside. I talk about it a little bit, but I don’t need to say everything. He seemed to need to say everything. He wanted to talk about the beginning, and how he was going to do it, and the end, how he was going to finish. I just couldn’t do that. That just wasn’t my makeup. But I loved him for being that kind of person. I loved him for that.”

Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire
1960 Olympian and gold medalist Muhammad Ali defeats 1968 Olympian and gold medalist George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire, in 1974.

Clay won the gold medal in the light-heavyweight division at the Rome Olympics. He would go on to fame, recognition and notoriety four years later as Muhammad Ali. You can read all about that on the Internet, where Ali will indeed go down in history as the Greatest of All Time.

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in The Thrilla in Manila
1960 Olympian and gold medalist Muhammad Ali defeats 1964 Olympian and gold medalist Joe Frazier in The Thrilla in Manila, in 1975.
Mourad Laachraoui victorious
Mourad Laachraoui (center) wins gold in the European Taekwondo Championship on May 18, 2016.

It is hard to imagine. You train and train in relative anonymity, hoping for a spot on the team that takes you to the Olympics. And when you finally make the team, you become the topic of terrible news.

On May 18, Mourad Laachraoui won gold in the European Taekwondo Championships, and earned the right to represent Belgium at the Rio Olympics. The 20-year-old defeated Jesus Tortosa of Spain to take the 54-kilogram division championship.

The victory triggered a media avalanche, for Laachraoui has the misfortune of being the younger brother of Najim Laachraoui, the now infamous terrorist who made the bombs used in attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, and the explosions at the Brussels Airport on March 22 2016. In a time when Laachraoui should be ecstatic with glee and glowing with hope, he and his family read such headlines: “Mourad Laachraoui: Suicide bomber’s brother wins European gold”.

Najim Laachraoui at Brussels Airport
Images of Najim Laachraoui at the Brussels Airport

Najim had apparently disconnected from his family when he moved to Syria in 2013. When asked about his brother in the aftermath of the Belgium bombings, Mourad said he was “sad and ashamed.” “Our family has the same questions you all have,” he said in March. “He [Najim] used to be a nice intelligent guy. I couldn’t believe it.”

According to this article, the lawyer for the Olympian said that Najim “was dead to Mourad from as soon as he went to Syria. He said the family were no longer able to live their lives normally and could not even go to the shops.” Apparently, since Najim died in the suicide bomb attack in Brussels, the family has lived holed up in their home with curtains closed at all times. Mourad said at the time, though, that he would continue to fight and win a spot to represent his home country of Belgium.

And fight and win he did.

But the victory is not yet so sweet.

It was round 3 of the gold medal championship bout in the light middle-weight division at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Broadcasters for the American Broadcasting Company, Marv Albert and Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, already seemed convinced that the gold medal was going to go to the American, Roy Jones Jr, who was battling the South Korean, Park Si-hun.

“Jones just picking away and stepping away,” remarked Albert. Jones had already scored a standing 8 on Park, and the broadcasters argued that Se-hun should have had another standing 8. With only 1 minute and 30 seconds remaining, Marv Albert said “Park Si-hun is taking a thrashing. It was back in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympics that Frank Tate won the gold in this light middleweight division. Roy Jones looking to join him in the record books.”

When the broadcast came back from the commercial break, the American announcers were pretty sure of the outcome. “Roy Jones severely outclassed his opponent, Park Si-hun of Korea, as we await the decision,” said Albert. “And Jones scored from outside, scored from inside and he scored from the middle distance,” said Pacheko. “Almost anywhere he chose to stand and give angles, he out-boxed, out-punched, out-sped and out-talented Park.”

Jones landed far more punches than Park over the course of the three rounds, 86 for Jones, 32 for Park. “Should be a no question, but you never know,” intoned Albert just before the announcement.

The decision: Park Si-hun wins, 3-2 on points.

Albert’s reaction: “Well there it is! Park Si-hun has stolen the bout!”

Park Si-hujn and Roy Jones Jr_1
Boxing: 1988 Summer Olympics: USA Roy Jones Jr. victorious with South Korea Park Si-Hun after Light Middleweight (71 kg) Final at Jamsil Students’ Gymnasium. Seoul, South Korea 10/2/1988 CREDIT: John Iacono (Photo by John Iacono /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X37085 TK33 R6 F21 )

Was this a home ring judgment? After all, Koreans still recalled the loss of Kim Dong-kil to American, Jerry Page, in the light welterweight semi-finals at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. As you can see in this recording of that fight, it was definitely a close fight. I am not so big a boxing fan that I can explain in detailed fashion why one fighter deserves a decision over another, but I would reckon that Page won the first two rounds, and that Kim came on strong enough in the third to possibly win the third round….but all up, I can’t argue with a Page victory.

However, my amateur eyes tell me that Jones indeed did “thrash” Park in 1988. And as David Wallechinsky and Jaime Loucky explain in their fun-fact-filled book, The Book of Olympic Lists, Park seemed to fight unimpressively throughout the Olympic tournament, gaining their title as the most “underwhelming winner” in any Olympic Games. “Probably no gold-medal-winner in Olympic history has been less deserving of his prize than Park Si-hun, who benefited from five ‘hometown’ decisions.”

In Park’s first bout, he beat Abdualla Ramadan of Sudan, who retired after two illegal blows to his hip and kidney. Park then defeated East German, Torsten Schmitz, in a unanimous decision, even though observers thought Schmitz had won. Then Park

Roy_1965 maybe
Roy, around 1 years old

On May 1, 2015, I kicked off my blog, The Olympians, with the intent of providing at least one blog post every day. Here we are, 365 days, over 10,000 visitors, nearly 20,000 views later, and I have kept my promise. Many thanks to all those who have helped me along the way!

Below are 20 of my favorite posts in 2016:

  1. The 1962 Asian Games: How Cold War Politics Sparked Heated Debate, Leading to the Indonesian Boycott of the 1964 Games
  2. “Do it Again. Again. Again.”: The Uncompromising Mindset of an Olympic Champion
  3. The Dutch Boycott of the 1956 Olympic Games Part 2: Rehabilitation
  4. The Hijab and The Turban: Why American Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad is Important  
  5. Dr Jega: The Fastest Man in Asia Learns that Life Works in Mysterious Ways
  6. Duke Kahanamoku Part 1: Surfing’s Johnny Appleseed Inspires Australia’s Pioneering Surfers and an Entire Sports Culture
  7. Japanese Face Off in Australia on the 15th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor
  8. Ken Sitzberger and Jeanne Collier: Diving’s Power Couple in 1964
  9. The Pain and Joy of Pain: Dick Roth and the Gold that Almost Wasn’t
  10. The Perfectionist’s Dilemma: The All-or-Nothing Life of Hurdler Ikuko Yoda
  11. Rare Canadian Gold in Tokyo: George Hungerford and Roger Jackson Win the Coxless Pairs
  12. The Record-Setting Row2Rio Team: Following in the Footsteps (Sea legs?) of Christopher Columbus
  13. Remembering the 3.11 Earthquake and Tsunami, My Ancestors, and the Tokyo Olympic Cauldron
  14. Sazae-san Part 3: Suicides and The Pressure Cooker of Japanese Education
  15. Simple is Best: Finally, The New Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Logos
  16. Singaporean Cyclist Hamid Supaat and the Big Chill: Competing on the World Stage
  17. The “Six-Million-Dollar-Man” and “Real Steel” Scenarios: Science and Technology Blurring the Lines and Creating New Ones  
  18. Tommy Kono: Out of an Internment Camp Rises Arguably the Greatest Weightlifter of All Time    
  19. Unbroken: The Truly Epic Story of Louis Zamperini Finally Shown in Japan
  20. Worrying Willy and Paradise Pete: How the US Army Prepped Recruits for Japan in the 1950s

Click here for my favorite posts from 2015! Again, many thanks for all your support!

electrically stimulated muscles_Cybathlon
Wheelchair racers whose legs are paralyzed, but whose leg muscles are electro-stimulated to move

 

We cringe when we hear about yet another doping case in sports. Dopers are cheaters! We hope that international bodies like World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) can stay close with the shadow chemists who continue to devise new ways to mask the fingerprints of performance enhancing agents.

We thrill to see a double amputee sprint on carbon-fiber blades, but we worry if they will one day far outpace sprinters who race on legs they were born with. Unfair advantage!

The truth is science and technology, if it had a will of its own, is ever eager to advance, solve problems, and push the inside of the envelope. The infamous Oscar Pistorius was allowed to compete at the 2012 Olympics on his blades, running in the 400 meter and 4X400 meter competitions. Technology in this case did not afford the runner an advantage to take him to the elite levels of sprinting.

But we all know, it’s a matter of time. The “Six-Million Dollar Man” Scenario, where a given person with various prostheses and enhancements will be “better than he was. Better….stronger….faster.” The Six Million Dollar Man debuted on American television in 1973. If the main character, Steve Austin, wanted to participate in the 1976 Olympic Games, he would have won gold in almost every athletic event. Why he wasted time as a secret agent for the OSI is beyond me.

The Six Million Dollar Man

So what does the future hold? Clearly, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs will continue to look for ways for people with disabilities to return to so-called “normalcy”. They will also look for ways to give “normal” people super-human abilities. In the case of organized sports, the nature of competition will continue to change. In fact, it already has.

When technology creates a totally different standard of performance, new competitions arise, as was explained in this Wired Magazine article from 2012.

When such devices are perfected to the point that they can be used for athletic purposes, we’ll be looking at an entirely new concept of sport. It’s doubtful the Olympics will ever feature exoskelletally assisted runners or weightlifters, but what’s to say that a different type of venue won’t arise for such a thing? “I think that once the technology is proven to exceed normal human function, then the stage will be set for the introduction of a whole new type of enhanced sporting entertainment,” said Matthew Garibaldi, director of the Orthotic and Prosthetic Centers for the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at UC San Francisco.

In fact, two competitions that put technology front and center have emerged. As explained in this Inverse.com article, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich organizes a competition called the Cybathlon, the next one scheduled on October 6. It’s similar to the Paralympics, in which disabled people use technology, like a prosthesis, and the athlete