Weightlifting Bending under the weight

The IOC sought to inject youth and improve gender diversity into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by adding events, while keeping the total number of invited athletes the same. In addition to the five new sports added in August, 2016 (baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the addition of 15 new events to existing sports.

And yet, to keep to a limit of 11,090 total athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, cuts had to be made. The IOC made decisions that resulted in the elimination of 285 quota slots for various sports. Much of this was driven by a need to improve gender ratios, particularly in sports like cycling, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming and water polo.

But the biggest losers? Wrestling with 56 cuts, weightlifting with 64 and athletics with 105 cuts.

Perhaps messages are being sent.

Wrestling was actually dropped from the Olympic menu of core sports in February, 2013 because the rules were considered vague.  Wrestling’s scoring system was too difficult to understand, which in turn made it difficult to engage the average television viewer. Somehow, through significant lobbying efforts, wrestling was reinstated as a non-core sport for the 2020 Games, but the latest decision to cull the wrestling numbers may be a reminder that wrestling has to work at its game.

Athletics, with its high profile events and global track stars, also suffers from a deep and dark history of doping. Most recently, the IAAF banned the entire Russian track and field team from the 2016 Rio Olympics. All of this may have made it easier for the IOC to prioritize cuts in athletics.

As for weightlifting, the dark clouds of doping have hung over this sport for decades. The IOC dropped an entire men’s weight class on its way to eliminating 64 quota slots for Tokyo 2020. Said Japan Weightlifting Association President Yoshiyuki Miyake in this Mainichi Daily News article, It’s a shame. I’m confused why they would make this kind of decision without any discussion.”

The New York Times wasn’t confused, as they stated in this piece entitled, “Freshening Up the Olympics. Sorry Men’s Weight Lifters.”

In the men’s 94-kilogram class at the 2012 London Games, Poland’s Tomasz Zielinski finished ninth. A disappointment, to be sure, but Zielinski was eventually awarded the bronze medal after six of the lifters ahead of him failed drug tests.

Wonderful story, right? Not so much. Zielinski, who obviously didn’t win a medal for his ability to learn from other’s mistakes, was kicked out of the 2016 Rio Games when one of his own tests came back positive.

IOC president has been explicit that he is sending messages, according to that same article:

Bach called weight lifting’s punishment in Friday’s reordering of the Games “a strong signal” to the sport. Good for him. Standing up to cheaters, and meting out real punishment, is common sense. If one sport’s athletes can’t follow the rules, other athletes from other sports should get a chance.

Roy with 1964 Tokyo Olympic Torch
Roy with 1964 Tokyo Olympic Torch
The Olympians has been a labor of love for exactly two years. It is my sketchbook as I prepare for the mural masterpiece, a book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

While my book’s focus is on the XVIII Tokyo Olympiad, I use my blog as an excuse to write about anything even remotely related to these areas: the Tokyo Olympics, the Olympics overall, Japan, and sports in general. In other words, I think of my blog as therapy for a restlessly curious mind.

How else could I go 730 straight days without missing a post?

Enjoy!

Japan 1964

 

Tokyo 2020

 

Random Rambles

Roy's 2nd Birthday
Roy’s 2nd Birthday
It’s been exactly two years since I started my journey to understand the context, the organization and the stories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. My father was at those games as a news producer for NBC, and I turned one years old on Opening Day.

I moved to Tokyo for a third time in January, 2014, excited by Tokyo’s selection as the host city for the 2020 Summer Games. Surprised to find not a single book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in English, I endeavored to write the definitive record. On May 1, 2015, I started my blog, The Olympians is in many ways, the first draft of my book.

All, thank you for your wonderful comments and support!

 

Olympians 1964

 

Amazing Olympians

femke-van-den-driessche
Femke Van den Driessche _Sporza

It’s been suspected for a while. The effortless speed. The wheels continuing to spin way longer than they should after a crash.

Tiny motors in bicycles.

“Bike doping.”

And finally, on January 28, 2017, a bicycle of a racer who had dropped out of the cyclocross world championships in Zolder, Belgium was seen to have electrical cables coming out of part of its body, according to this article. Upon further investigation, a small motor was found.

The bike belonged to a 19-year old Belgian cyclist named Femke Van den Driessche, a champion of Belgian national cyclo-cross and junior mountain bike tournaments. She was a favorite in the Zolder event until a mechanical problem ended her race. It has also put her career in suspension as Van den Driessche was banned for six years, and would be required to forfeit all results since October 10, 2015.

Van den Driessche said “It wasn’t my bike — it was that of a friend and was identical to mine,” according to this article. But her coach, Rudy De Bie said he was “disgusted.” “We thought that we had in Femke a great talent in the making but it seems that she fooled everyone,” he told Sporza.

Coincidentally, the day after this first publicly realized case of “bike doping”, the American news program, 60 Minutes, aired a segment entitled “Enhancing the Bike“. Correspondent, Bill Whitaker went to Budapest, Hungary to meet an engineer named Stefano Varjs, who designed a motor small enough to fit unseen inside the frame of a bike and powerful enough to motor an adult up a hill with relative ease.

stefano-varjas-and-bill-whitaker
Stefano Varjas and Bill Whitaker_60 Minutes – click on image to watch this 60 Minutes’ segment.

When Varis showed this invention to a friend in 1998, the friend said he had a buyer who wanted this technology and would pay a handsome sum, if the buyer was assured of exclusive right to this technology for 10 years. Varis was paid USD2 million, an offer he simply could not refuse.

From that point on, it has been suspected that motorized bikes have been used in competitions, even the Tour de France. Here is part of the transcript of the 60 Minutes report:

Jean-Pierre Verdy is the former testing director for the French Anti-Doping Agency who investigated doping in the Tour de France for 20 years.

Bill Whitaker: Have there been motors used in the Tour de France?

Jean-Pierre Verdy: Yes, of course. It’s been the last three to four years when I was told about the use of the motors. And in 2014, they told me there are motors. And they told me, there’s a problem. By 2015, everyone was complaining and I said, something’s got to be done.

Verdy said he’s been disturbed by how fast some riders are going up the mountains. As a doping investigator, he relied for years on informants among the team managers and racers in the peloton, the word for the pack of riders. These people told Jean-Pierre Verdy that about 12 racers used motors in the 2015 Tour de France.

Bill Whitaker: The bikers who use motors, what do you think of them and what they’re doing to cycling?

Jean-Pierre Verdy: They’re hurting their sport. But human nature is like that. Man has always tried to find that magic potion.

Watch the video below to see an example of a possible bike that’s been doped.

jamaica-4x100-beijing
Nesta Carter, second from left, tested positive for doping following Jamaica’s relay gold win at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. (Kevin Frayer/The Associated Press)

The 4×100 relay is a team sport in the strictest ways – all four individuals have to do their part, either by executing exactly to plan and training, or by following the rules to ensure minimum eligibility. If one individual fails, the entire team fails. There is very little room for error.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Usain Bolt made history running the third leg in the 4×100 men’s relay, becoming the first person ever to win gold in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100 men’s relay in the same athletics event. Not only that, he achieved all three victories in world record time.

But in late January of 2017, it was announced that his teammate, Nesta Carter, had tested positive for a banned stimulant (methylhexaneamine). In 2008, after the finals, Carter’s urine test came up negative. But due to the shocking news last year of systematic state-sponsored doping in Russia, the IOC asked for re-testing of results going back ten years, as the tools to uncover traces of banned substances has improved significantly over the years. Dozens of athletes have now tested positive, many of them medalists, including Carter. And because Carter has been disqualified, so too has the entire Jamaican 4×100 team.

Many who love and respect Bolt feel Bolt’s record has been tarnished, perhaps unfairly. And when Bolt and his teammates won gold in the 4×100 relay at the Rio Olympics, he became the first person ever to win the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100 men’s relay in three straight Olympics – the so-called Triple Triple. Well, that golden symmetry has been disturbed with the removal of the 4×100 gold in Beijing.

But most people will agree, the loss of the relay gold will not hurt Bolt’s immense legacy. Even Bolt believes that to be the case. “I think I’ve accomplished a lot. This hasn’t changed what I have done throughout my career. I have worked hard and pushed and done things that no one has done before. I have won three gold medals over the 100m and 200m, which no one has ever done before.”

trinidad-and-tobago-silver-at-beijing
Trinidad and Tobago trading up from silver to gold

The part of this story that does not get played up, the happy side of this story, is the medalists who move up the medal table:

Trinidad and Tobago: a traditional powerhouse in sprinting, took Olympic gold in the 4×100 meter relay for the first time. While they could have whooped it up, there is so much respect for Usain Bolt amidst the Caribbean nations, that the celebration in Trinidad and Tobago was somewhat muted, as represented in the comments of Trinidad’s gold-medalist, Richard Thompson. “Bolt’s achievements have been recorded in the annals of athletics and no one can take that away. Rather than lament for the Jamaican team, I prefer to focus all my energy on lauding my Trinbagonian athletes who ran a ‘clean’ race.”

Japan: At the Rio Olympics, Japan took silver in the men’s 4×100 relay, second only to mighty Jamaica, in a surprise. The Japan team had bested their country’s top men’s relay track result, bronze at the Beijing Olympics. But now, the men’s sprint team from 2008 are now equal to the 2016 – silver medalists. And heading into the Tokyo2020 Olympics, young runners have even greater reason to be inspired to train hard, run clean and dream.

Brazil: Perhaps the happiest group in these medal re-shuffles are the fourth-place finishers who wake up one morning to find out they are now bronze medalists. They missed the pomp and circumstance of standing on the medal podium and seeing their flag raised in front of billions of people. They may have missed financial opportunities that come with a medal finish right after the Olympics. But they now have something they didn’t expect to have – a medal. As Bruno de Barros, a member of Brazil’s 4×100 relay team, said “It’s a great sense of happiness, despite the time lapse, which isn’t really important. The feeling of being an Olympic medalist is the same. In fact, after waiting so long, it’s worth more.”

shinji-takahira-handing-off-to-nobuharu-asahara-of-the-now-silver-medal-winning-mens-relay-team-from-japan
Shinji Takahira handing off to Nobuharu Asahara of the now silver-medal winning men’s relay team from Japan.

sleep-deprivation

I wrote recently about cycling coach, Sky Christopherson, and his recommendations for a particular member of the US women’s cycling team to get more deep-sleep in order to improve the performance and recovery of her intensive training regimen. Sensors attached to her body were informing the cycling team that Jenny Reed’s body temperature was not cool enough to reach consistent levels of deep sleep, so they made efforts to ensure a cooler room and mattress in order for her to get the sleep she needed to maximize the return from the next day’s training.

I found that tidbit fascinating. I had been reading fairly consistently over the years of the importance of sleep in the workplace and the impact that sleep deprivation has on performance of employees. Here are some of the insights I gathered from a recent internet search:

  • Sleep experts often liken sleep-deprived people to drunk drivers: They don’t get behind the wheel thinking they’re probably going to kill someone. But as with drunkenness, one of the first things we lose in sleep deprivation is self-awareness. (The Atlantic)
  • One 2014 study of more than 3,000 people in Finland found that the amount of sleep that correlated with the fewest sick days was 7.63 hours a night for women and 7.76 hours for men. (The Atlantic)
  • On an annual basis, the US loses an equivalent of about 1.23 million working days due to insufficient sleep. This is followed by Japan, which loses on average 604 thousand working days per year. The UK and Germany have similar working time lost, with 207 thousand and 209 thousand days, respectively. Canada loses about 78 thousand working days. (Rand)
  • An individual that sleeps on average less than six hours per night has a ten per cent higher mortality risk than someone sleeping between seven and nine hours. An individual sleeping between six to seven hours per day still has a four per cent higher mortality risk. (Rand)
  • When asked what factors are keeping us awake at night, the need to use the bathroom (55%), an old, uncomfortable bed (46%) and partner snoring (42%) emerged top. Meanwhile, 23% claimed they were being kept awake by the partner using a mobile phone or tablet in the bedroom.  (Huffington Post)

There is far less research done on the impact of sleep deprivation on athletes, but the emerging consensus is sleep “can have significant effects on athletic performance”, according to the paper “Sleep in Elite Athletes and Nutritional Interventions to Enhance Sleep“.

Sleep deprivation can impact how effectively your body metabolizes fat, as well as your neuroendocrine system, which impacts how much human growth hormone (HGH) gets released. Because HGH is important to how fresh and ready you are to take on physical and cognitive tasks during waking hours, and to how fast you recover from exercise, experts are preaching more and more how important it is for athletes (particularly young athletes) to get more sleep, especially more quality sleep. Why fiddle with illegal injections of HGH? You can get HGH naturally by simply hitting the hay.

sleep-patterns
Examples of my sleep patterns, taken from my Fitbit on two different days.

While the research on the correlation between sleep and sports performance is still light, the paper cited above provides some of the early findings:

 

  • Improved Physical Performance: Increased sleep has been shown to increase the performance of basketball players in their sprint speed and free-throw performance over a two-week period. Additionally, increased sleep led to better moods, and thus “increased vigour”. The same researchers found similar results with swimmers with improved sprint times, turn times and mood improvement. Napping for 30 minutes also has an impact, with post-nap sprint speeds increasing.
  • Improved Cognitive Performance: Increased sleep has shown to have an impact on attention spans, ability to concentrate, memory, and other high-level cognitive functions. This is particularly relevant to the ability to perform in team sports. If you’re feeling drunk from lack of sleep, you won’t be able to see the field of play as fully as you like, or anticipate the consequences of newly adjusted offensive or defensive alignments, or recall the rules well enough to make the split-second decisions required in the heat of play.
  • Diminished Levels of Pain: Athletes have all sorts of aches and pains from the beating their bodies take from competition and training. According to the research, sleep deprivation can “cause or modulate acute and chronic pain”. In other words, you can encourage a vicious cycle of pain, which causes you to lose sleep, which enhances the pain, which makes leads to continued loss of sleep. And as stated before, loss of sleep results in disruption to the release of HGH.

In other words, whether you are fighting it out in the corporate jungle or on the playing field, sleep, particularly deep sleep, may be your biggest competitive advantage in today’s always-on lifestyle. Sleep, perchance to dream….of greatness.

 

Usain Bolt and the Holy Redeemer

    Usain Bolt and the Holy Redeemer

The bigger picture at the Rio Olympics:

Cambridge Bolt and Brommel