Yuzuru Hanyu and Pooh

It rained Pooh.

And that meant Hanyu was back.

Ever since 2014 Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan went down painfully after injuring his right ankle in October last year, his legions of fans in Japan and around the world have been collectively holding their breath.


TOPSHOT – This picture taken on November 9, 2017 shows Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu reacting as he falls after missing his jump during a practice of the Grand Prix of Figure Skating 2017/2018 NHK Trophy in Osaka. Japan Skating Federation announced the Olympic champion Hanyu withdraw from the NHK Trophy after injuring his right ankle. / AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS / STR / Japan OUT


Would the world’s greatest figure skater be able to return to the ice in time for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Nobody really knew because he had hidden himself from the probing Japanese media in Toronto, under the guidance of his coaches and Olympic medalists, Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson.

In fact, the current World Champion was not even in South Korea in the first few days of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and confessed at his press conference on February 14 that he “had a little bit of uncertainty.” For a man of few words, that’s telling.

Yuzuru Hanyu PyeongChang short program 1
Yuzuru Hanyu performs his short program on Friday at the Pyeongchang Olympics at Gangneung Ice Arena. | AFP-JIJI

And yet, as you know now, Hanyu nailed his short routine, scoring the second highest short program score ever – 111.68 points. More importantly, his 4.1 point lead over Javier Fernandez is even greater than his lead when he won gold in Sochi four years earlier.

More significantly, he landed a series of quads, including a a quad toe followed hard upon by a triple toe, all landing on his right leg, after which the NBC color commentator said in mock disbelief, “What injury?”

Hanyu was indeed back….back for more gold. And not just the golden fur of his favorite fuzzy character, Winnie the Pooh.

Athlete Anatomy Olympic Channel

You’ve done it. Admit it. All those surveys that tell you which Beatle you are, what famous portrait in the world’s museums you most look like, and what your mental age is.

The Olympic Channel has another one “Athlete Anatomy – Which Sport Suits You?” Through a series of questions that asks you about your gender, body shape, agility, power, reaction times, preference for summer or winter sports, land or water sports, sports with or without equipment, etc., you get a result.

For me, a person who is short, not so strong, and average in many ways physically, I ended up with two sports that surprised me momentarily, and then didn’t.

Olympic Channel My sport match is wrestling.jpg
My match for summer sports.

My anatomy apparently fits the profile for a wrestler, or for a ski jumper.

I was surprised at first because I have no interest in either sport. But perhaps if I were in an institution that demanded I be placed in a sports activity, perhaps that is where people of my type go.

When I think about it, wrestling requires no equipment, and the thinking is that probably anyone can do it. Now, with all due respect to the great athletes who are wrestlers, the point is not everyone can do it well. But I suppose with training and practice, I could become OK.

Olympic Channel My sport match is ski jumping
My match for winter sports is ski jumping.

As for ski jumping, that sport definitely requires buckets loads of courage, to go flying down a mountain at speeds that could send you flying into a spin that breaks many bones in your body. But with the example of Eddie the Eagle still fresh in many of our minds, the short, stocky, average-body type guys like me might see a bit of ourselves in Eddie.

How about you? What sport suits your anatomy?

PyeongChang Weater Feb 1

It’s a week away. I’m so excited. I’m getting chills.

I will be in South Korea for the opening ceremonies of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, with the world’s best winter sports athletes, world leaders, celebrities, the North Korean cheering squad and 35,000 other participants….freezing our butts off.

I routinely look at the weather app on my iPhone for the temperature in the area of the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, and it’s always minus-something celsius. In fact, over the past ten years, the average temperature of this northern part of South Korea is -5.8 Celsius.

And because the Olympic Stadium was built without a roof – to save costs – there are fears that the cutting winds of that area will give the “lucky” spectators a chance to sit for 4-5 hours in a wind chill of -12 degrees. This may not be healthy. According to this article, six people were treated for hypothermia at a concert they attended in the Olympic Stadium in November, 2017.

In order to prevent the mountain winds from sweeping through the stadium, organizers have built a wall 3.5 meters high, that circles around the stadium for 350 meters, which they hope will keep the wind chill down. They will also hand out blankets and heat packs to each of the participants. You can bet I will have those little instant heat packs all over my very layered body.

Here is one of a great set of FAQs on the PyeongChang Olympics from the Associated Press:

Q:  What’s the weather like?

A:  Bundle up. Gangwon Province is one of the country’s coldest places. The wind is brutal, and the stadium for the nighttime opening and closing ceremonies is open air and has no heating system. Locals make it a matter of pride not to complain about daily wintertime life, but visitors risk misery if they’re unprepared.

Fortunately, misery loves company…and maybe 35,000 people together can bring the heat!

IX Winter Olympics in Austria, 1964

There were whispers.

The four-time Olympian and 7-time medalist in cross-country skiing, including three gold medals, Eero Mantyranta of Lankojarvi, Finland was a legend in his country and his sport. But he could not outrace the rumors of blood doping when he competed.

As a child, everyone in Lankojarvi skated and skied, but Mantyranta excelled, winning his first cross-country ski race at the age of 7, and then dominating all takers into his early teens. Eventually he was able to find employment as a border patrol guard, who got around his territory on skis. As a twenty-year old, he made the Olympic squad that traveled to Squaw Valley, California for the 1960 Winter Games, snagging a gold medal in the 4x10km cross-country ski event.

Four years later at Innsbruck, Austria, Mantyranta was one of the Games’ stars, taking two more golds in the 15 and 30-km races, as well as a silver medal in the 4x10km relay. And in his third Olympics, Mantyranta tool home a silver and two bronze medals.

All that success only encouraged the rumors. After all, it was known since he was a teenager that Mantyranta had “high hemoglobin and far more than the usual amount of red blood cells,” according to David Epstein, author of the fascinating book, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. “Normally, those are signs that an endurance athlete is blood doping, often with a synthetic version of the hormone erythropoietin, or EPO. EPO signals the body to produce red blood cells, so injecting it spurs an athlete’s own body to bolster its blood supply.”

But also according to Epstein, the rumors were untrue.

First there were indications that other members of the Mantyranta family also rested for high levels of hemoglobin, but because there were little ill effects from higher-than-average hemoglobin levels, doctors were never concerned. But this coincidence made hematologists from Finland wonder. After putting the Finnish Olympian through additional blood testing, it was learned that in fact Eero Mantyranta had very low levels of EPO, and that when most people stopped producing hemoglobin based on what the body considered enough, Mantyranta’s body was genetically designed to continuouisly pump out hemoglobin.

And more hemoglobin meant not only very ruddy cheeks. It also meant high levels of oxygen circulated inside Mantyranta, a significant advantage that allowed him to ski faster and longer than almost every other cross-country skier. Most certainly, Mantyranta’s singular drive to train and increase his performance as a cross-country competitor was essential to his Olympic success. But most certainly, so was this genetic advantage.

Here’s how Epstein remembered Mantyranta in this obituary, when the great cross country skier passed away in 2013.

Being born with talent is one thing; alchemizing it into Olympic gold entirely another. And though I drew attention to Eero’s startling biology, that’s worth remembering as well. I’ll remember Eero the way he was when I met him. A jovial and remarkable-looking man, with dark, slicked-back hair and prominent cheekbones that seemed to pull at the corners of his mouth, giving him a slightly inquisitive look. There was a thickness about him, a barrel chest and bulbous nose. I remember when he shook my hand, I felt as if he could’ve crushed my fingers, and I noticed that his middle finger was bent at a right angle from the top joint. He spent the brief period of Arctic winter sunlight that day working in his reindeer yard. I thought he must have been the strongest seventy-three year old I had ever met. That’s how I’ll remember him.

Eero Mantyranta at home

Shaun White ion Snowmass
Shaun White reacts to his perfect score

It’s disturbing to watch.

“I was going up and I remember seeing the wall come around…and I just kind of blanked.”

Of course he blanked. Shaun White‘s head, which was moving with considerable speed due to a complex high-speed aerial spin during a practice half-pipe showboarding session in October, smacked right into the lip of the wall. When White came tumbling down the wall, blood gushing from his face.

“I have never really had that much blood coming out of me before,” said White.

The two-time gold-medalist in the snowboard halfpipe from San Diego, California was in New Zealand to train in preparation of entering a fourth straight winter Olympics in PyeongChang when this accident happened, requiring 62 stitches to his face. But it took only a couple of months before White was back on the snow competing for Olympic qualification.

The last qualification took place on Saturday, January 13, in Snowmass, Colorado, and the 31-year-old White pulled off a perfect score of 100 to again qualify for his fourth Olympics in a row.

The footage of the accident was from an 8-part documentary called SnowPack: Shaun White and the U.S. Snowboard Team, which focuses on White’s journey to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games.

Abebe Bikila in Rome
Abebe Bikila running barefoot in Rome.

Running in Vibram FiveFingers Bikila EVO Shoes is like running barefoot. And running barefoot can, it is said, return you to a better, injury-free way of running.

That’s the whole point of the Vibram experience – to reproduce what it is like to walk or run barefoot. And who better to name a running shoe that replicates the barefoot experience than Abebe Bikila, the famed two-time gold medalist who famously came out of nowhere to win the 1960 Rome Olympics marathon…sans socks and shoes.

The shoe manufacturer, Vibram, has marketed shoes called the Vibram Bikila, trademarking the name of the famous Ethiopian athlete in 2010. In February, 2015, Teferi Bikila, the son of Abebe, filed a lawsuit against Vibram to cease using the Bikila name as the family never granted permission.

Vibram Bikila shoes

“He won the Rome marathon with bare feet, and nobody did it before then or since then,” Bikila, 45, said in this AP article. “It’s important that his legacy be respected.”

Unfortunately for the Bikilas, there is apparently a time limit on respect. A judge of the U. S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington dismissed the lawsuit in November, 2016, citing that the Bikila’s were aware of the Bikila shoe brand in 2011 but did not act until 2015, and thus “it would have been unfair to Vibram to allow the lawsuit to go forward after such a delay, when Vibram had been investing in and marketing the products for years.”

“The Bikilas unreasonably delayed in seeking to enforce their rights, and this unreasonable delay prejudiced Vibram,” wrote Judge Ronald Leighton.

In other words, the other shoe dropped.

If you’re following the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics on Twitter, you can’t avoid the tweets on calls to boycott the 2018 Winter Games in support of a ban on the eating of dog meat in Korea. Certainly, as 2018 just happens to be The Year of the Dog in the Asian zodiac timeframe, and the Winter Olympics are in South Korea this year, this is an opportune time to protest the consumption of dog meat.

Over the past two millenia, gaegogi, or dog meat, has been consumed in Korea, as well as China and Vietnam. Wikipedia cites an article that states 25 million dogs are eaten each year by humans. I have never tried dog meat, or cat meat for that matter, which is also consumed by humans to lesser degrees, primarily in Asia.

But I have had horse meat, a popular delicacy in Japan. It’s called basashi, served raw like sashimi, and it is delicious. But friends who had never in their life had the thought of eating horse would probably outwardly protest, or inwardly recoil upon hearing that horse was a highlight of Japanese cuisine.

Basashi, or raw horse meat, a popular dish in Japan.

There are quite a few commentaries on the internet on this topic – the idea that eating animals viewed first as pets and friends is abhorrent, while eating animals viewed first as food is not even a passing thought for most people (vegans and animal activists excluded).

Why is that? Jared Piazza, a lecturer in moral psychology from Lancaster University commented about the terrible ways dogs are slaughtered for human consumption, and the ambivalence it creates in many:

I too find myself heartbroken by these images. But as a vegan I find myself wondering why isn’t there more outrage in the world over the slaughter of other animals. For instance, each year in the US roughly 110m pigs are killed for meat. Where is the same public outcry over bacon?

The simple answer is emotional prejudice. We just don’t care enough about pigs for their needless suffering to pull at our heartstrings. As Melanie Joy, social psychologist and expert on “carnism” points out, we love dogs, yet we eat pigs, and there are simply no good moral reasons for such hypocrisy.

However this belief really just reflects the fact that people spend more time getting to know dogs than pigs. Many people have dogs as pets and through this relationship with dogs we’ve come to learn about them and care deeply for them. But are dogs really that different from other animals we eat?

Dr. Marc Bekoff wrote in Psychology Today explained that our feelings towards animals slaughtered so they can become pork chops or hamburger or chicken soup are muted since these animals are “out of sight, out of mind” for many of us.

In my essay concerning eating pigs I wrote, “When some people learn that I go to China to work with Animals Asia in their moon bear rescue program (link is external) (see also) they ask, ‘How can you go there, that’s where they eat dogs and cats?’ I simply say that I just left the United States where people routinely eat pigs, cows, chickens, and millions of other sentient beings.” Why is eating dogs different from eating cows and pigs at a barbecue or in a restaurant? For one, we don’t see the actual painful process of how pigs and cows become meals. 

In the end, is the debate about whether people eat dog or cat meat? Or is it about whether we care how we treat animals raised for human consumption? Do many of us prefer to keep such images out of sight, out of mind? (Yes, I struggle with the non-committal nature of this post’s conclusion.)