Aileen Riggin 1920_wikipedia
Aileen Riggin at the 1920 Antwerp Games

Belgium put in their bid for the 1920 Olympics in 1912. Little did they know that Archduke Ferdinand would be assassinated in 1914, sparking World War I. Germany overran Belgium, clearly overriding any planning for the Olympics. In fact, the Olympics in 1916 were cancelled.

But when the war ended in 1919, Antwerp was selected to hold the 1920 Summer Games.

Over 9 million soldiers died in World War I. Around 7 million civilians died as a result of the war. The invasion of Belgium by Germany is often called “The Rape of Belgium“, during which over 27,000 Belgians were killed by German soldiers, an additional 62,000 died of hunger or due to lack of shelter, and one and a half million Belgians fled the country.

Aileen Riggin was part of the first ever US women’s team in the Olympics, which competed at the 1920 Antwerp Games. She got to Belgian in the SS Princess Matoika, which was known as the Death Ship as it had transported war dead from Europe to the US. In the book, Tales of Gold, Riggin shared memories that showed the war was still very much in the minds of people living and competing in Antwerp. As Riggin was a 14-year-old girl at the time, I simply cannot imagine how she felt.

“When we were not training, we went on several trips around Antwerp in our truck, and one was to the battlefields. The mud was so deep that we could not walk, so we stopped along the line and bought some wooden shoes and learned how to walk in them. They were not too comfortable but they did protect our feet from the mud. I do not know how we happened to be allowed on the battlefields, because they had not yet been cleared.”

“In places they were still the way they were in 1918, when the Armistice was declared. We even picked up shells and such things and brought them home as souvenirs. There were trenches and pillboxes and things like that scattered about the fields, and we looked into some of them, and they were deep in water. There were some German helmets lying on the field, and we brought some home with us. I picked up a boot and dropped it very hurriedly when I saw that it still had remains of a human foot inside. It was a weird experience, and we were glad to leave. It must have taken them another year to clear off the battlefields from the way we saw them. They were in shambles.”

Aileen Riggin On the Victory Stand
Aileen Riggin on the victory stand, from the book “Tales of Gold”
How a war devastated country could take on an international event while still in a “shambles” is hard to imagine. But the Belgian authorities did what they could, improvising in some ways. For example, the diving competition was held in a large ditch at the base of an embankment, created as a form of protection if a war were to come to Belgium. Riggin, who competed as a diver, describes the venue.

“On our second day in Antwerp an army truck came to drive us to the stadium where we were to swim. Words fail me in describing our first view of this place. I had never seen anything like it. it was just a ditch. I believe they had had rowing races there at one time. There were  boardwalks around the pool – I have to call it a pool – to mark the ends. In the center

marny_jolly_with_sukarno_1_asian_games_1962_2
Mariana Jolly meets President Sukarno at the Asian Games in 1962, from the collection of Mariana Jolly

She was a 14-year old, and yet an artifact of colonial Asia – the daughter of British parents representing Singapore in The Asian Games. When Mariana Jolly was asked to join the national swimming team to represent Singapore at the Asian Games, she had no idea that she would catch the attention of the most powerful man in Indonesia.

“It was the Asian Games, but I was the only European there,” Jolly told me. “Sukarno organized a lot of these social events for the athletes, there were quite a few. And the first time, he took one look at me and came to me. He asked me if I was Dutch. I said ‘no’, and he smiled. I danced with him at a barbecue, and I sang to him in Malay at another party.”

Little did Jolly know that the Asian Games they joined ignited the heated feud between Indonesia and the IOC, resulting in the last-second decision by Indonesia and North Korea to boycott the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

marny_jolly_with_sukarno_2_asian_games_1962_2
Dancing with Sukarno, from the collection of Mariana Jolly

Post-war, post-colonial Asia was a mess, a political vacuum, a time of economic experimentation that led to social upheaval. In the midst of those turbulent times, Malaysia emerged as a new nation in 1963, bringing together the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak.

Indonesia in the early 1960s was an emerging political power in Asia, led by that country’s first president, Sukarno. Leading the fight against the colonial rulers from the Netherlands, Sukarno was imprisoned by the Dutch rulers, freed by invading Japanese forces in 1942, and then appointed President of Indonesia when Japan surrendered to the United States and the allies at the end of World War II.

After decades of fighting Dutch colonial rule, Sukarno was anti-imperialist, and by extension, anti-West. While he did secure billions of dollars in aid from the United States and the Kennedy administration, Sukarno cultivated strong ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Soviet Union.

And to reflect Indonesia’s growing power and influence, Sukarno won the rights to hold the Asian Games in Jakarta in 1962. The Asian Games is held every four years like the Olympics, and brings together the best athletes of Asia. In 1962, the participating countries included the PRC, which was boycotting the Olympic Games, as well as nations in the Middle East. Sukarno decided to make a statement – he would not invite athletes from Israel, which was the enemy of so many of Indonesia’s allies in the non-aligned world, nor athletes from Taiwan, which the PRC did not recognize.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), led by then president, Avery Brundage, took umbrage, reiterating the importance to separate politics from sports, and indefinitely

TEN-SPO-SHARAPOVA
Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles, on March 7, 2016.  / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

The world was shocked when world #11 and five-time grand slam singles champion, Maria Sharapova, was suspended from tennis competition for use of a banned substance, meldonium. The tennis world reacted with scorn for the former world #1 women’s tennis player:

  • John McEnroe: “It would be hard to believe that no one in her camp, the 25 or 30 people that work for her, or Maria herself, had (any) idea that (meldonium had been banned).”
  • Jennifer Capriati: “I didn’t have the high priced team of [doctors] that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up.”

Capriati is making the most powerful case against doping from an athlete’s perspective. Taking banned or illegal drugs to enhance performance is cheating. And to not call out cheats is unfair to those who are not taking drugs that give advantage.

Sponsors dropped Sharapova like an overripe fruit with maggots inside. All except Head, the racquet manufacturer.

According to this statement from HEAD, “We question WADA’s decision to add meldonium to its banned substances list in the manner it did; we believe the correct action by WADA would have been to impose a dosage limitation only. In the circumstances we would encourage WADA to release scientific studies which validates their claim that meldonium should be a banned substance.”

WADA is the World Anti-Doping Association, the international governing body that establishes what athletes may or may not put into their bodies. The president of WADA, Dick Pound responded to HEAD’s statement to the BBC:

“First and foremost, Head is a manufacturer and seller of tennis rackets, among other things. So far as I’m aware, it’s not a medical expert and not in a position to amend the world anti-doping code. As for its view as a commercial racket seller as to whether meldonium should be on the list of prohibited substances or not, quite frankly I prefer the scientific opinion of medical experts to the commercial interest of somebody telling tennis rackets using a player who is subject to whatever discipline is called for under the world anti-doping code. A complete conflict of interest on its part, combined with a lack of knowledge of the particular substance.”

SPORTS-WADA-ESP-POUND
World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president Canadian lawyer Dick Pound / AFP PHOTO/PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)

That is a powerful and damning retort from Pound, whose efforts helped lead to the suspension of Russia’s entire track and field team from international competition, including the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics.

And yet, this is what confuses me. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus among “medical experts” as to whether meldonium actually enhances performance in athletes.

This New York Times article explains the science of how meldonium works. In short, burning glucose in your body releases more energy than burning fat. The “science” states that meldonium will work to encourage the burning of glucose, not fat. So when you’re oxygen starved, a situation many high-performance athletes find themselves in when they exert themselves, the meldonium will give them a glucose burn and a bigger burst of oxygen.

Meldonium box
A box of meldonium pills, legally marketed as Mildronate primarily in Eastern Europe.

The same New York Times article, entitled “Effects of Meldonium on Athletes are Hazy“, quotes Dr Eric Brass of UCLA, who questions the correlation between meldonium and greater athletic performance.

“In general, if one is involved in short-duration, sprint-type activity, one tends to use glucose because it is more available and it is an efficient way to generate energy quickly,” said Dr. Eric Brass, a professor of medicine at U.C.L.A. Still, Brass said it was not clear if that was what was really happening in athletes. “The science behind many of these performance-enhancing compounds is limited, biased and subject to misinterpretation,” he said. Several of the studies on meldonium were done on rats and published only in Russian.

This is why doping stories outrage me and put me to sleep at the same time. I definitely

C K Yang
Subject: Yang Chuan-Kwang. 1960 Olympics. Rome, Italy. Photographer- George Silk Time Life Staff merlin-1140594

They called him the Asian Iron Man, a title befitting the only Asian ever to set a world record in the decathlon, the ten-event, two-day athletic event that is as grueling an athletic competition there is.

As the first non-Westerner to set a world record for the decathlon in 1963, experts pegged C. K. Yang as a heavy favorite to win gold in Tokyo in 1964, and prompted this profile in the August, 1964 edition of the popular magazine, Boy’s Life. In this article, they wrote about Yang’s humble origins, a small, sickly boy. Not mentioned in the article was that he was born in the poorest, most isolated part of mainland Taiwan – Taidong.

So when the arguably greatest athlete in Asian history provides his list of key behaviors for training for championship performance, the readers of Boy’s Life might have taken note:

  • Determination.
  • Discipline yourself.
  • Practice with a purpose.
  • Don’t just run and run, and then go home.
  • Watch people running.
  • Appreciate what your coaches are doing for you.

Let ‘s look at a couple in detail:

Determination. “Want to do it, know that you can do it, then DO IT!”

Yang came up with Nike’s famous marketing phrase years before the company was created…but he knew from experience that being determined is a good part of the battle. When he made the cut to represent Taiwan in the Asian Games in 1954, he was probably going to compete in the broad jump or the high jump. When he went to his country’s training camp in preparation of the Asian Games, he began fiddling with other disciplines. Yang hurldle UCLAHe explained this in detail in this Sports Illustrated article:

Yang’s curiosity and competitive drive moved him to experiment with other events, hitherto strange to him. He set up a bicycle and used it as an impromptu hurdle. He read a Japanese book on hurdling – Yang speaks and reads Japanese fluently because of his schooling under the Japanese occupation – and studied its illustration. “I tried to bring the whole thing together in my mind,” he said, but his coach became irritated because Yang was not concentrating on his jumping. Yang said, “I told him I just can’t jump every day. If I practice hurdling today, maybe tomorrow I can jump more higher.” And I did. I jumped 2 or 3 inches higher.

And as the article continues, Yang did the same for javelin, the discus and the shotput, excelling in this new events to the point where the coach had to say, “How’d you like to try decathlon?”

Appreciate what your coaches are doing for you. Appreciate the fine equipment you have to work with, and then give your best. I came all the way to this country to take advantage of the coaching and equipment available here. Through track I have received an education, and because of this, I have given track everything I have.

Drake and Yang
Yang, and his coach at UCLA, Ducky Drake, to his right

In the Sports Illustrated article, Yang tells this touching story about how people need to have empathy for others who try so hard. He explained to the author of the article, Robert Creamer, that people made fun of him when he was about 15, and he suddenly grew. He was so tall and thin compared to his friends that people derisively nicknamed him “Bamboo”, and laughed at him, which Yang was understandably sensitive to. He told this story about how his baseball coach helped him gain his confidence.

In practice when I throw the ball I was – so funny form, you know? I couldn’t throw hard. The athletes start laughing at me. I was so happy to join them, and I was so embarrassed when they laugh at me. The coach was mad. He bawled them out who laughed, and he said, “if you laugh at people someday he will be much better than you are. You better not laugh at people. You never know. He have a long way to go, and maybe he can learn faster than you and someday laugh at you. Put yourself in that position. Suppose people laugh at you. How do you respond to them? How do you feel?” Said, “think about it.” And they didn’t laugh at me anymore.

C K Yang Sports Illustrated Cover
World’s Best Athlete – C. K. Yang December 23, 1963 X 9612 (X 9456) credit: Mark Kauffman – contract (BG Eric Schaal)

Before there was Jeremy Lin or Yao Ming, Tiger Woods or Se Ri Park, Nomo or Ichiro, or even Bruce Lee for that matter, there was C. K. Yang.

Iconic Asian athletes are far and few between, but Yang Chuang-Kwang, or C. K. Yang as he was popularly known, was called The Greatest Athlete in the World several times in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Competing in three Olympics as a decathlete – Melbourne in 1956, Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964, Yang of Taiwan set an indoor record for the pole vault in 1963, set the world record in the decathlon later that year, and still is the only Asian to ever hold the world record in that category. And in an epic, down-to-the-wire finish, Yang lost the gold medal to his best friend and biggest competitor, Rafer Johnson of the United States, at the Rome Summer Games.

He did not win the championship, but he made an entire nation, and quite possibly, an entire race proud. And there was one person in particular who was immensely proud – Mr S. S. Kwan.

Yang sat down with Robert Creamer of Sports Illustrated for a lengthy interview, and in this article, Yang expressed his keen gratefulness to Kwan, who was a successful architect and businessman who supported Yang’s development. In fact, Kwan, who was the president of the China National Amateur Athletic Federation in Taiwan, personally financed Yang’s travel and living expenses when Yang visited the United States to get experience in AAU meets.

Ducky Drake
Ducky Drake

Eventually, it was recommended that Yang stay in the US, where he enrolled at UCLA to train under the renowned coach, Ducky Drake, and become teammates with rising star, Rafer Johnson. Kwan supported it all.

“He (Kwan) was like a father, you know,” Yang told Creamer. “And then at Rome, I got second place, Mr. Kwan was so happy. I never saw him so happy as he was at Rome. He said, ‘Ahh! Now I have

Petrobras 3

Brazil is facing the worst economy in 25 years. The Zika virus is feeding fears, particularly for expectant mothers. And while the Rio Olympics are presenting an opportunity to shine the international spotlight on Brazil, the underclass are generally feeling that the only people who will benefit from the Games will be the fortunate rich and powerful.

And then, there is Petrobras, a government entity embroiled in a bid rigging scandal between officials in the state-owned energy company and construction companies that wish to win Petrobras projects. A secret cartel of construction companies work with Petrobras officials to select the construction company, purposely agree to exorbitant payments, after which the construction companies kick back payments back to the collaborating Petrobras officials, who use that money to fund friendly politicians, which is helpful for a state-owned organization. It is estimated that the scandal has resulted in over USD5 billion changing hands in various illegal transactions. That’s astounding.

Petrobras bidness 2

I have not done this explanation justice, which is why I want to point you to this very clear and effective explanation of the Petrobras Scandal, and the historical and political context, by Zach Beauchamp.

In Brazil right now, if anything can go wrong, it seems it will go wrong – just on the verge of commencing Brazil’s greatest party of them all, the Olympic Summer Games in Rio.

But one thing we can say about the Petrobras Scandal, something that Beauchamp points out at the end of his article. This scandal, which has been tabloid fodder for months in

Donald and Ivana Trump
Donald and Ivana Trump

The US presidential nomination process is a source of anxiety and entertainment for people outside the United States. This year is no exception, particularly with the rise of Donald Trump. While Trump has built an amazingly robust brand that represents, to his fans and supporters, success, straight talk and no-nonsense bias for action, he is also seen by others as arrogant, uninformed and dishonest.

Ah, but this blog is about the Olympics. So what’s the angle?

In April, 1977, Trump married a Czech model named Ivana Zelníčková in New York City. They met in Montreal at the 1976 Olympic Games, where Ivana was a successful model. Trump was immediately enamored of Ivana, and as was his wont, would boast. “By the age of six, (Ivana) was winning medals, and in 1972 she was an alternate on the Czechoslovakian ski team at the Sapporo Winter Olympics,” wrote Trump in his book Trump: The Art of the Deal. Apparently, he talked about his super model, super athlete wife in this manner countless times.

Ivana Trump_ Spy Magazine

But as written in this profile piece on Ivana in the May, 1989 edition of Spy Magazine, Ivana’s story was a tad embellished by The Don, as she admitted to calling him in the article.

Just to be clear, it doesn’t appear that Ivana was saying that she was an alternate on the Czech Olympic squad. Trump was the one waxing poetic about his beautiful bride.

Is Trump exuding success or dishonesty? I’ll leave that to you.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes
Rio mayor Eduardo Paes

Of the cities with the highest murder rates in the world, 41 of the top 50 are in Mexico and Latin America. Of those 41, 21 of them are in Brazil. It is both a stunning and unfortunate fact, particularly as Brazil is doing its best to get ready for the biggest sports show in the world – The Summer Olympics.

So by extension, there are concerns regarding crime in Rio de Janeiro.

Top 50 Most Violent Cities by Country_Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

A couple of weeks ago, Australian chef de mission, Kitty Chiller, announced that members of the Australian Olympic squad would not be allowed to visit the favelas “because we could not control visits involving a large number of athletes going to different places at different times.”

While the favelas in Rio, which are communities where the lowest income families often live, are a not-so-uncommon tourist destination, they are also apparently centers for crime: drugs, robberies, murder.

The mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, is doing all he can to fight off this negative perception. “There is a lot of ignorance about Rio and Brazil, a certain drama of how things are,” he said in response to Chiller’s announcement.

The world will come to Rio in August. Brazilians will welcome them with open arms. The first Olympic Games held in South America will be a tremendous event. And then life (and death) will likely go on…

See a previous post called “Life in the Favela: At War with the Pacifying Police

David Wottle on Winners Podium
02 Sep 1972, Munich, Germany — Hand over heart, America;s David Wottle stands on winner’s podium after receiving the Gold Medal in the Olympic men’s 800 meter race here today 9/2, with Soviet Silver Medal winner Evgeni Arzhanov in front of him, and Mike Boit (left) of Kenya, the Bronze medalist, behind. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
You couldn’t miss him. In the finals of the 800 meter race at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, he was the only one wearing a cap. And he was all the way in the back of the pack.

But Dave Wottle did not remain in the back. The Kenyans were setting the pace. Then the Soviet star, Yevgeniy Arzhanov, took the lead with two hundred meters to go, and Wottle of Bowling Green State University is in fifth at the beginning of his kick. As the American broadcasters shout excitedly in this particularly partisan call, Wottle passes one runner after another until nipping the Soviet at the tape to win gold.

Most athletes would bask in the warmth of victory – either jumping in jubilation, or smiling endlessly with a quiet sense of accomplishment. Instead, Wottle wore an expressionless mask, perhaps one of shock. And when he stepped up to the winner’s podium, he made a mistake in etiquette that ruined this championship moment for him.

As the American national anthem played, Wottle forgot to remove his cap. And as he mentioned in this profile in the book, Tales of Gold, “I suppose what most people will remember about me as an Olympic athlete is that I was the one who wore a golf cap while running and also that I forgot to take it off on the victory stand. That episode just dampened my whole Olympic experience. I was never so embarrassed in my life! It should have been the happiest day but it wasn’t; I was simply too embarrassed to be totally happy.”

It was 1972, four years removed from the black-fisted protests of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the medal podium in Mexico City, a time when the US was stuck in the quagmire of the Vietnam War, and only a few days before Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic Village, taking the Israeli team hostage, and eventually killing them. When people saw Wottle with his white cap on, and his right hand on his left breast, covering the USA patch, they may have wondered what he was protesting. The Vietnam War perhaps?

Wottle was mortified. He said he had absolutely no ill will in wearing the hat, that he simply forgot to take it off.

As Milton Richman wrote in the State Journal-Register, a local Springfield, Illinois newspaper, “The cap sells for 75 cents. You can get it for 35 cents wholesale. Dave Wottle wears it practically everywhere. He wears it when he runs. He wears it when he trains. He

bill bradley
Bill Bradley

Bill Bradley has the kind of career that makes me sigh:

  • Gold medalist on the USA basketball team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
  • College Player of the Year at Princeton in 1965
  • Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in 1965
  • NBA championships with the New York Knicks in 1970 and 1973
  • Induction into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1983
  • Elected to the US Senate in 1977
  • US presidential candidate in 2000

While in office as a US Senator in 1986, Bradley sent the editors of the book, Tales of Gold, documents that explain Bradley’s views on the Olympics at the time. Here is a summary of Bradley’s thoughts:

bill bradley olympian card 2End the Requirement of Amateurism: Bradley felt that the international playing field was not level, and that if athletes and National Olympic committees were truly trying to maintain amateur status, then certain capable, but financially weak athletes would struggle to train and compete, if not drop out all together. “First we need to have one uniform standard of eligibility, making skill the only criterion for competition and abandoning the ridiculous notion of amateurism in a world of differing social and economic systems,” Bradley wrote. “The traditional amateurism of an Avery Brundage eliminated the lower and middle classes of capitalist countries from competition. Without some form of subsidy they could not afford to compete against wealthier athletes. Since compensation for athletic services violated Olympic rules, officials often found less obvious ways to reward poorer participants. As a result, many athletes had to be dishonest about their compensation. It is time for the hypocrisy to cease and the rules to be modified by allowing open competition.”

Eliminating Team Sports from the Olympics: This I found intriguing. Bradley wrote, “I think we need to abandon team sports in the Olympics because they too easily simulate war games. One has only to look at the Hungarian-Soviet water polo game in 1956, or the Czech-Soviet ice hockey match in 1968, or any time the Indians and the Pakistanis play field hockey, to recognize that these contests go well beyond friendly competition.”

What I found confusing was Bradley’s next statement about the time he received his gold medal at the 1964 Olympics. “We should continue to recognize individual achievements. I will never forget that moment standing on the platform after beating the Soviets in the finals, watching the flag being raised and listening to the national anthem being played. It gave enduring meaning to the years of personal sacrifice.” After all, Bradley would not have received his gold medal for basketball if there were no team sports. And as I have written, the biggest factor for the US basketball team’s success was the coach’s ability to drill a powerful team concept into the minds of the players.

bill bradley olympian card

The Olympics – Not Just About Sports: Bradley was channeling the founder of the modern Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin, with this idea. de Coubertin actually had non-sport competitions in the categories of architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture in the Olympics from 1912 to 1948. Wrote Bradley, “We also need to champion individuals other than just the fastest, strongest, and the most agile among us. Why not extend the Olympics to two months and also recognize creative, intellectual, and artistic ability? A film festival, poetry readings, concerts, cultural shows, and athletic events might even run simultaneously at an expanded Olympics. The whole person should be the theme of the festival. The emphasis would not be on the rewards to be taken home but on the experience of living for two months in a microcosm of the world.”

A Permanent Home for the Olympics – Greece: Bradley provided these words in 1986, in a decade where the 1980 and 1984 Olympics were heavily boycotted along Cold War lines. He wrote, “The Games should be permanently located in their ancient birthplace, the country of Greece. This permanent home would come to be identified with the Olympics as an institution, and the Games would no longer be identified with the nationalistic displays of temporary hosts. The way it now is, too often the host country attempts to produce a gigantic display of nationalism. This also encourages a situation where the Olympics infringe on the domestic politics of the host country, as happened in Mexico City and Montreal. If the Games had had a permanent home in a neutral country, it is probable that neither the United States in 1980 nor the Soviets in 1984 would have withdrawn from the Games.”