WMG promo page_Kyoto

Imagine over 40,000 people coming together in front of stunning Heian Jingu in Kyoto, people of all ages from all over the world, smiling and happy to be in Japan.

It’s hard to imagine that scene today, a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has left the biggest tourist destinations of the world, including the popular former capital of Japan, bereft of visitors. But that’s what Jens V. Holm sees in his head, in May of 2021. That’s when the World Masters Games 2021 Kansai takes place, the global sporting event that brings together two to three times the number of athletes than the Summer Olympics.

Holm is the CEO of IMGA, or the International Masters Games Association, and he expects to be in Japan from May 14 to 30 of next year, during the 17 days of the first ever World Masters Games (WMG) in Asia.

The WMG invites anyone 30 years of age or older to compete in 35 sporting disciplines ranging from track and field and swimming events to team events like baseball and rugby, to lesser known competitive sports like tug of war or orienteering. Held every four years, the year after an Olympic year, WMG is becoming one of the most popular Big Tent sporting events in the world.

A significant difference between WMG and the Olympics is that while the Olympics invite national teams, the WMG invites individuals, which means there is no mass directives from committees to dictate whether an athlete will attend or not attend. And while Holm, like the rest of us, does not know if there will be a vaccine by the end of the year, he does know we will be better prepared in 2021. “We will take precautions, do proper risk management,” he said. “We have spread the venues out over the entire region of Kansai so that we won’t have all the people in one area during the Games.”

The World Masters Games Kansai 2021 is Japan’s “canary in the coal mine” – the event that will determine the confidence the world has in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and whether the world will also come together for the opening ceremony on July 23. As we approach the Fall of 2020, we can look to the “health” of the canary, hoping to hear the chirpy notes indicating WMG is ready for flight in 2021.

And WMG can fly.

In the shadow of the Olympics, FIFA World Cup and other massive international sports events, the World Masters Games has quietly built up a tremendous fan base of participants. Additionally, Holm said that cities are eager to bring the Games to their areas, with four cities currently bidding for WMG 2025: Perth, Taipei, Paris and Singapore.

WMG map and sports

While the Olympics generally get a lot of bad press about budget overruns and white elephant “legacies,” the World Masters Games creates significant return on investment to the host city, without the development of any new infrastructure. In fact they insist that the host city employs only existing infrastructure. The World Masters Games focuses on attracting participants from around the world, like a major marathon or triathlon event, to generate revenue, not on television rights, spectator ticket sales or sponsorships like the IOC does. Holm explained that the IMGA is a non-profit, and that the purpose of the Masters Games is to serve as a tourism event.

Our focus is on the host cities making money, not the IMGA. We charge the host city rights fees, but always less than the city receives from the athletes in registration fees, so the organizers start in the black.  And we don’t allow the city to build anything. This way all their investment into operating the games will serve as an investment in tourism. The big revenue generation for the host city or region is athletes paying for their own travel and accommodation.   

In fact, if you watch the promotional video for WMG 2021 Kansai, it is essentially a tourism video enticing athletes to experience the beauty and cuisine of the nine prefectures hosting sporting events during the games.

Holm said that prior to the pandemic outbreak, expectations were that WMG Kansai was going to be their most popular event ever. While the last WMG saw over 28,000 athletes gather in Auckland, New Zealand in 2017, Holm was expecting a record-breaking 50,000 athletes, half from Japan, and half from overseas. And these athletes are above average spenders.

“The average age for both men and women is 51,” said Holm. “The athletes who come from overseas end up taking two weeks off to participate, indicating they tend to be from higher income groups. And 77% of them have a university degree. With high income and high education, you have more time and resources to focus on your health. That fits in very well with the Japan market, which is focused on building their tourism industry, as well as working to ensure their aging population has an active lifestyle.”

So without the financial burden of building costly infrastructure like sports venues or athlete accommodations, among other things, and the focus primarily on attracting motivated athletes (not spectators), the World Masters Games model has proven to have a positive impact on the host economy. An independently researched report on WMG2017 in Auckland, New Zealand stated that the “return on Auckland’s investment in WMG2017 was 151%, calculated as $34.2 million (WMG’s contribution to regional GDP) divided by $22.6 million (Auckland’s investment in WMG2017).”

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Jens V. Holm, CEO of the International Masters Games Association (IMGA)

A good part of that return on investment came from the over 27,000 visitors to Auckland who spent a total of 241,480 nights in hotels and Airbnb venues, staying on average 8.9 nights. The 17,000 overseas visitor spent over USD56 million in New Zealand, a fifth of that from visitors who flew in via the national carrier, Air New Zealand.

This is what the leaders of the nine prefectures in the Kansai region are hoping for, a jolt to re-energize their tourism ecosystem.

“That’s why we had it on the drawing board to spread venues across the region,” said Holm. “There is so much to see in Kansai from a tourism point of view. And the infrastructure is very good. This will be an excellent way for the country to promote itself.”

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Lyzia Xu 5

Olympians are inspirations because of their achievements despite the barriers before them. Lijia Xu won the gold medal in the Laser Radial sailing competition at the 2012 London Olympics for Team China, reaching the heights of her sport after overcoming a lack of hearing and sight, a sporting complex inexperienced in sailing, cancer, and a culture not yet open to new ideas.

Today, the Shanghai native is based in Dorset, England, and like so many high-performance athletes, figuring out how to transition from sport to new and sustainable career opportunities.

As a coach and trainer, Xu has gone online, sharing her techniques and insight on Airbnb Experiences. Xu has two courses: Olympic Champion’s Sailing Journey, and the one I participated in, Home Workouts & Q&A with Olympic Gold Medalist.

In the Home Workouts course, Xu is all business, as she takes you through a wide range of stretching and small-muscle group workouts, explaining how “T,” “Y,” and “W” exercises can relieve pain and improve posture. For a first-timer like me, those exercises proved to be a heck of a workout.

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Xu learned these techniques as a teenager when she first started training with sailor and coach, Jon Emmett, who taught her that not only could Pilates resolve her spine issues, they would give her the mobility and movement required for the very physical aspects of sailing in a one-person dinghy.

Xu met Emmett because she was desperate to learn. Within the sports development system in China, Xu was beholden to her coaches and the sporting administrators who dictated the training regimen of all their athletes. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, competitive sailing was a relatively new sport in China, and so the local expertise was not so advanced.

Thirsty for knowledge, Xu read a book called “Be Your Own Sailing Coach,” and reached out to the author, Emmett, on Facebook, as she explained in her fascinating book, “Golden Lily: Asia’s First Dinghy Sailing Gold Medalist.” Despite the local protests, Xu helped get Emmett hired to coach the sailors in China. But that was just the beginning of the challenge, as Emmett and his coaching ways created discomfort for the local coaches, as Xu wrote:

All the sailors have to listen unconditionally to their coaches; the coaches obey their leaders; and the leaders report to their superiors. What Jon found hard was how those leaders, who had never sailed, could say that they knew what was best for the sailors and arrange everything based on their knowledge of an unrelated realm. They were unwilling to listen to the sailors’ opinions and it was a common practice to deny or disagree with what someone in a lower position said or asked for. So however hard the sailors tried to make the most reasonable and sensible suggestions to their coaches and leaders, their effort was mostly in vain.

Up to the moment Xu won the gold medal in the Radial Laser competition at the 2012 London Olympics, she had to fight for time and advice from Emmett, as access to the English coach was highly restricted. But in some ways, that was par for the course for Xu.

When Xu was born in 1987, her parents learned that she had half the hearing of an ordinary person and very poor vision in her left eye. Throughout her childhood and teenage years in Shanghai, she had to deal with the embarrassment of asking people to repeat themselves, or the spiteful laughter of children and adults who could not understand why she had to be told things over and over again.

But thanks to a chance meeting in Shanghai with a sailing coach who spotted the 10-year-old swimmer at a pool one day, Xu was asked to try out for the nascent sailing team, in a boat called “Optimist,” an appropriate name for the young girl who continued to keep her chin up. Once she realized the benefits of sailing, her self-esteem bloomed.

The freedom (of the water) was particularly appealing because I felt my life was limited by my poor hearing and eyesight while on land. Young children laughed at me, made fun of me, and didn’t allow me to join their activities due to my lack of these basic human functions. So the moment I boarded a boat, a deep sense of freedom suddenly overwhelmed my body, heart and mind. I loved to be in the boat surrounded by nature which isn’t judgmental; just fresh, open and vast! I had never been so happy and fulfilled as I was on a boat.

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The little tomboy grew from 130 to 176 cm and doubled her weight from 30 to 60 kg. She won the 1998 Chinese National Championships in Hong Kong, and in 1999, won her first international competition, taking gold at the Asian Championships. Soon she was flying to other countries and winning championships overseas. And in 2002, at the age of 15, she had the 2004 Athens Olympics in her sights.

Perhaps the Olympics had always been a silent goal. Xu wrote in her book about how she was inspired by a Japanese television series about a female volleyball player hoping to make it to the Olympics. And when she eagerly watched the opening ceremonies on the 2000 Sydney Olympics, her father teased her by saying, “Will I see you on TV one day, representing China in the Olympic Games?”

However, as Xu wrote, “life doesn’t always go the way we plan.” In November of 2002, a tumor was discovered in her left thigh bone. Surgery would mean that the dream of making the team for the Athens Games was over. Not having surgery, she was told, would mean the possible loss of her leg, if not her life.

After the surgery, after the unbearable pain began to fade, she started her recovery – excruciating exercises so that she could reactivate her leg muscles and walk again. But beyond the exercises, she used the downtime to study English, with the intent to communicate with foreign sailors to improve her craft. And it was in those quiet moments alone, she realized how much she missed sailing.

Sometimes I would ponder how boring my life was without sailing. It was like a life without vigor, a picture without color, or a movie without sound. It was in those quiet days, reflecting on myself and the past, that I realized how deeply I loved the sport of sailing. My life just couldn’t continue without it. When I steered the boat it is actually the boat which was pointing out a route for me, guiding me towards my dream goal and life values.

Sometimes you meet someone whose life energy is so great, it’s visible. If you have the opportunity to meet Lijia Xu, online or otherwise, you’ll know what I mean.

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An Airbnb Experience with Rika Saito, Olympic weightlifter for Team Japan.

Weightlifting is not an easy sport to compete in. Injuries are commonplace.

You can herniate your disc, incur Achilles tendonitis, tear your labrum, inflame your elbow or knee, or pull your hamstring,Rika Saito started her career as a high school student, and competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the women’s 69 kg weight class for Team Japan. In her 13 years of weightlifting, she said she was struggling with injury almost all the time: lower back pain, elbow ligament injuries, fatigue shin fractures, etc.

So in order to decrease the frequency and duration of injury, she said it was important to do the exercises that increased mobility or the stability of the joints of her body, from her ankles to her neck.

Saito, a native of Kyoto, offered her years of experience in high-performance weightlifting training to average Japanese stuck in home isolation with her Online Airbnb Experience, entitled “オリンピアンによるからだと向き合うストレッチ,” or “How an Olympian Stretches.”

Saito spent over a year in Canada working odd jobs and studying English. While her English ability is strong, she runs this program in Japanese, running ordinary folk like me through such flexibility exercises as:

  • Scorpions: where we lay flat on the ground face down, lift one leg up and bend it over your back until your toes hit the ground, and then repeat with the other leg
  • Downward Dog Left Lifts: where your hands and feet are planted firmly on the ground with your butt raised in the air, and you lift your leg with your foot reaching to the ceiling before bringing the leg down and the leg tucking back in with the knee pointing in the direction of the other arm, and
  • Spider-mans: where you start off similar to downward dog but your plant, say, your right foot just outside your right hand, and then allowing your body to push down and stretch the tendons in your legs.

Repeating these stretches brought sweat to my brow. But Saito was enthusiastic and encouraging during the hour of training.

Still, I wasn’t about to start lifting massive weights as Saito has done in her career. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Saito finished sixth in her weight class at the age of 25,seven years after becoming the best high school women’s weightlifter in Japan. After lifting 87 kg in the snatch (a single motion lift), she succeeded in her three tries at the clean and jerk, capping her day with a lift of 122 kg. Her 209 kg total did not medal, but it was a Japan record and an incredible feat.

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Full demonstrations of stretching technique via Zoom.

Imagine, she said, picking up the heaviest member of the Japan Rugby Team and lifting him over your head. That would be Koo Ji-won, who is 122 kg.

While Saito did not medal, she still got to enjoy the immensity of the Olympics. She was amazed at the VIP treatment Olympians got as her bus zipped along the highly congested highway from the airport to the Olympic Village, with her lane cleared of traffic. And she was star struck at who she saw in the dining hall – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Lionel Messi – gold medalists all at the Beijing Games.

Motivated by Tokyo’s winning bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saito has been helping train Japanese weightlifters and educating athletes about the issues of doping, and looks forward to the Tokyo Olympics next year. She’s particularly hopeful for Japanese weightlifter, Mikiko Ando, who finished fifth in the 58 kg women’s weight class, and has high expectations for Ando.

The problem – like so many others, she doesn’t have tickets to the Olympics!

 

******

 

If you’re Japanese comprehension is intermediate or better, join this great Airbnb Experience with Olympian, Rika Saito. And if you ask, she can run this program in English.

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Saito snatching the Japan record at the Beijing Games.
Book Cover Japanese version
The cover of the Japanese version of my book, from a flyer to booksellers.

I started this blog on May 1, 2015 with the hopes of publishing a book on the 1964 Tokyo Olympics before the start of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I achieved my goal, with time to spare.

1964

日本が最高に輝いた年

敗戦から奇跡の復興を遂げた日本を映し出す東京オリンピック

For more information in Japanese, click here.

It certainly was disappointing to see Tokyo2020 postponed to 2021. But my fingers are crossed that the world will still come to Japan in July 2021 for the Olympics, and August, 2021 for the Paralympics.

As I explained to Kyodo News, Tokyo2020 could be a great Games:

If the world is able to come to Tokyo next July without concern for their health, leaders will be able to speak out proudly about the resilience of the human spirit, and many will likely agree. On top of the natural celebration of sport and achievement, there will be stories of how individuals, teams and nations overcame the pandemic that will further inspire.

 

Best of The Olympians 2020 So Far

Tokyo2020

Learning from Olympians Online

CoronaVirus

1964 and 1980

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Who will win? The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

The online experience is best when you forget you’re online.

Olympic sailor, James Espey, and his wife and Team USA sailor, Genny Tulloch, made that happen in their program – Sail the Virtual Seas with an Olympian.

Bantering with amateur sailors and sailor wannabes online, Espey provided an exciting blow-by-blow commentary of one of his own races at the 2012 London Olympics, using video and web conferencing annotation tools to demonstrate the excitement of Laser class sailing, drawing involuntary “woah’s” and “oohs” from the program participants.

We were all joining a new virtual learning course organized by Airbnb. The global lodging company has invested in guided experiences hosted by residents of popular travel spots called Airbnb Experiences. In the era of social distancing, Airbnb is moving experiences online, a growing number hosted by Olympians, current and retired. While other programs focused on the personal back stories of Olympians, like the Airbnb Experiences of Breeja Larson or Lauren Gibbs, Espey’s focus was on the tactics of race sailing, finding inventive ways to engage and teach.

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Using household items like utensils, bag clips and tooth picks, Espey, a Northern Ireland native, and Tulloch, a contender for Tokyo2020, demonstrated the choices sailors make at the starting line depending on wind direction. They showed through items on their table how competitive sailors explain race conditions and tactics  to each other, a practice called “Bar Karate,” so called for the movement of arms made to show shifts in boat direction, usually executed with a favored drink in hand.

For the layperson, sailing is a mystery. For the competitive racer, sailing is a challenge. But the differentiating factor between a great sailor and an Olympic sailor, like the Olympic Alpine skier, is in the ability to read the course. Unlike skiers, sailors have to read their watery course as it changes on a moment-to-moment basis, because of the wind.

Catching the visual cues of wind, revealed in darker patches of water known as “puffs,” or “cat’s paws” is a critical differentiating factor, as Espey explained. “If you get a header, you tack. If you see a puff, you have to understand why it is happening, what its effect will be, and how your behavior in the boat should change. Is it going to lift me? Head me?”

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Is that dark patch a “puff” of wind to leverage, the shadow of a cloud, or a forest of kelp?

In addition to dark patches in the water, clouds are clues to the location of wind. But you need to understand the differences in clouds. Tulloch said that “clouds that are building are sucking in air. They look like mushrooms, and you want to avoid them at all costs. The ones that are about to spit out rain, you sail to as fast as you can. The second that rain comes there is 10-15 knots more than anywhere else on the course.”  Added Espey, “You have to watch clouds out of the corner of your eye. As clouds move across the course, they can drag the winds, create a temporary false wind shift, and swing back again once that cloud leaves. They’re very helpful. You can play them. You just don’t know until it happens.”

On the particular London Olympic race day that Espey shared, it was “pretty hectic,” as the Nothe Course, one of five Laser courses in Weymouth Bay had considerable wind shifts in play. “It was hell,” said Espey. Like any race, reading the “puffs,” and understanding which ones will provide the greatest acceleration is vital. And he showed how many sailors may have misread a dark patch in the bay to the left of the starting line as a puff, when actually it was a shadow of a very high cloud, “which distracted a lot of these guys,” said Espey.

A smaller group headed right toward true wind, and got off to a great start. Tulloch explained that  people who qualify for the Olympics are the best at managing these things: reading the wind, starting well, and physically handling the demands of the boat while monitoring shifts in the wind. Espey said it’s like examining a puzzle and finding the easy way through it.

Espey still competes in professional competitions at the highest levels, and remodels boats in San Francisco, including the 100-foot super maxi CQS, the world’s fastest yacht, the first to exceed 50 knots. Tulloch does color commentary for televised sailing events like American’s Cup, and is expected to do so during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Together, they form a terrific tag-team teaching combo. Come and sail the virtual seas with them in this engrossing Airbnb Experience.

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James Espey sailing in the Laser competition at the 2012 London Olympics for Team Ireland. (With permission from James Espey.)

Lauren_2 redacted

Some people describe it like being kicked off a cliff in a trash can, akin to the worst turbulence you ever felt while flying.

That’s how Lauren Gibbs described the experience of the bobsleigh in her compelling online program, A Day in the Life, Olympic Bobsledder. Her live program is part of Airbnb’s newly launched online experiences, a growing list of programs you can join via Zoom, a great way to fill the time during your COVID-19 home isolation. On the day I participated, people from New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Quebec and Tokyo gathered to listen to a bona fide Olympian.

Gibbs is a native of Los Angeles, California, which she points out is “far from being the Mecca of bobsledding.” Unlike Breeja Larson profiled in Part 1, Gibbs didn’t dream of being an Olympian since the age of 4. She went to college (Brown University) where she played volleyball, got her MBA (Pepperdine University), and then worked in sales for 12 years. She was working in Denver, making good money overseeing a team of 200 across 5 states. But she wasn’t happy in her work.

One day in 2014, while working out at Front Range CrossFit in Denver, Gibbs had one of those accidental meetings that in hindsight, changed her life. Jill Potter, eventual captain of the US women’s rugby team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, trained at the same gym, and asked Gibbs a series of surprising questions: How much do you back squat? How about dead lifts? And can you sprint?

Gibbs answered, but had no idea why she was being asked these questions until Potter came back and said, “I think you should bobsled.” Gibbs, who sprinkles her talk with laugh-out-loud remarks throughout the online session said, “which of course is something every 30 year old thinks they’re going to hear on a random Wednesday.”

But Gibbs actually took the idea seriously. She had experience being unemployed during the sub-prime crisis and promised herself then that she would always give every new opportunity a serious look. So she did some digging. She learned that since women’s bobsledding was introduced as an Olympic event in 2002, Team USA had medaled every time. She learned that the USOPC had a training center in Colorado Springs and that there happened to be a try out that weekend. She thought, “What do I have to lose. At the very least, I can enjoy the food at the cafeteria, maybe meet some Olympians. It will be a cool story to tell at the office.”

After the try out, she got an invitation to rookie camp at Lake Placid in New York, and found out what it was really like to ride a bobsled down an actual sliding course.

I’m standing over the edge and it looks like an iced-over water slide, a death trap. I’m standing at the top of the mountain and I’m terrified. I’m staring down at the dark abyss, because it goes right into a corner and you can’t see what’s coming next.

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Gibbs demonstrating what it’s like to be a brakeperson in a 2-person bobsleigh.

Gibbs made it down the track, and she screamed “Heck yes! I’ve got to do that again!”

And so the sales executive quit her job and embarked on a path of potential glory, but also great uncertainty.

Following your dream is an amazing thing, but it is also painful. The harder you work and the closer you get to your goal, the more terrifying it becomes. You start to realize that as you get closer to your goal, you have more to lose. There is so much uncertainty. And a lot of times, there’s nothing you can do about it as so many things are out of your control.

Spoiler alert – Gibbs would eventually make Team USA on the 2-person bobsleigh team, joining then two-time Olympian and medalist, Elana Meyers-Taylor. The pair would take silver in their event at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

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Showing off her very heavy silver medal from the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

Today, Gibbs is training to make Team USA for the 2022 Beijing Olympics. She is making less money, but she is saving more as she has become more focused in her goal and more disciplined about what she needs and doesn’t need. And she is happy.

In her online program, Gibbs shares three of her life’s lessons, one of which is how to say “no,” something easier to do when you know what you want. She knows it. And she’s going for it.

Do you want to feel that passion? Do you want to ask her yourself how she does it? Then sign up for her program.

Elena Myers Taylor and Lauren Gibbs
From Lauren Gibbs’ Instagram page.

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She grew in the heart of the ghetto in Mesa, Arizona, with dreams of making a million dollars, but little else.

I was four years old, watching my first Olympic Games, and looking at the gymnasts, and being thrilled with them, how powerful and beautiful and graceful they were. And I had the thought, ‘they’re little like me. If they can do it, I can do it.’

Today, Breeja Larson is an Olympic champion, with a life of lessons for future Olympians, and the rest of us. In fact, in this age of CoronaVirus, lock downs and social distancing, Larson is expanding her network and influence virtually. Working with Airbnb, Larson offers an online program called “Goal Setting with Olympic Gold Medalist,” an intimate and stimulating experience with a world-class athlete.

Larson won a gold medal in swimming at the 2012 London Olympics on a powerful Team USA swim squad which took nearly half of the 34 gold medals up for grab in swimming. One of those gold medals went to Larson who swam in the preliminary heat in the 4×100 medley relay for Team USA, swimming one of the fastest breaststroke legs amidst the 16 teams, ensuring her team would compete in the finals. Although Larson didn’t swim in the finals, her teammates set a world record and got them all gold medals.

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Larson with her gold medal….the color reflected on my screen not doing the medal’s sheen justice.

Larson shared her story on Zoom with 8 participants who joined from California, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina and Tokyo. They were able to hear her Olympic journey, a powerful story of perseverance.

As Larson grew to 6 feet tall, she realized she wasn’t going to realize her dream as an Olympic gymnast. But she knew sport was a way for her to get a college education, and that she would need a scholarship to accomplish that. She saw swimming as an opportunity, and convinced a local Mesa swim club to allow her to swim for free for 10 months. Her coach was encouraging, and asked her of her Olympic dreams. When Larson explained  she used to harbor hopes of becoming an Olympic gymnast, her coach opened her eyes to the world of possibility.

Swimming is like gymnastics. Every time you dive in the pool, you have to have the perfect angle, grace and power. Every flip turn has to have the perfect landing. It’s a beautiful dance routine in the water.

That was the moment Larson’s mindset shifted, when she learned that every time you look at something as a negative, you can change the mental angle and see it as a positive. “Mindset has a very strong hold over your performance,” she said.

Larson built up her savings in high school lifeguarding, making sandwiches at Subway, cleaning homes, even collecting aluminum cans while training hard as a swimmer. And her hard work paid off when she got a partial scholarship to Texas A&M University. But life as a student athlete was tough, particularly since she had to embark on a training regimen to make up for years of training that most of her teammates had already compiled.

The workload as a student athlete was just crushing me. And one day, two months into the academic year, I remember going into the cafeteria, trying to eat my food, and the biggest pile of bricks just fell on me. I felt I was about to crack. Everything felt so hard and I was breaking down.

She sent a long message to her mother – “a pathetic rant” as she called it – and said essentially, “I’m going to drown. I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to quit. I want to go home. I’m not good enough.” And as Larson wallowed in self pity, her mother sent a her a very simple life-changing message.

This is what it feels like to be a champion.

In this Airbnb Experience, Larson shared that lesson as well as several others she has learned over the years. In addition to the critical impact of having a positive mindset, she talked at length about how important it is to set audacious goals, to chunk the big goal into smaller tactical goals, be intensively self aware about what you want and why, and get objective feedback from others. She is articulate, practical and most of all, inspiring.

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And now, at the age of 27, Larson is working hard to apply those lessons and make the team again for Tokyo next year. Competing as a pro, she actuallytook first leading wire-to-wire in a 100-meter breaststroke finalsof the Phillips 66 National Championships on August 3, 2019, only 9 months ago, giving her hope of returning to the Olympics in 2021. But then COVID-19 entered the picture.

The pools are all closed. Coaches don’t have jobs. But the athlete in my head is saying, ‘keep going. You got this. 16 more months. Just chunk it out. Figure it out up here and the rest of it will take care of itself.’ But if I choose to swim, everything else goes on hold. I can’t eat anything with sugar. (Assuming concerns of the pandemic ease) I wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere with my boyfriend or go to music festivals. I’d miss a lot of summer weddings.

However, if she doesn’t make the attempt, Larson said she would “have this empty hole. I want to hang up my goggles after my last race, instead of saying the pandemic happened and I moved on.”

So against all odds, Larson stays positive, focused on her goal. Will we see her in Tokyo in the summer of 2021? Maybe you should attend her Airbnb Experience over the next few months and ask her yourself. She’ll be happy to talk with you.

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Jimmie Johnson in eNASCAR iRacing Pro
NASCAR racecar driving great, Jimmie Johnson, competing in the first eNASCAE iRacing Pro Invitational on Fox.

What’s a diehard sports fan to do? This weekend, the only games being played were by football teams in the Belarus Vysshaya Liga and Burundi Primus League, by baseball teams in Nicaragua, and by ice hockey teams in Russia’s Liga Pro, according to flashscore.com.

 

Fans have more time to watch sports than ever before as coronavirus has forced a daily domestic life upon hundreds of millions of people around the world. Unfortunately, and ironically, there are almost no sports events to watch.

 

Every weekday morning in Japan, I should be at the office, peeking at my smartphone to see if my New York Rangers sneak into the NHL playoffs, or my New York Knicks can compete again for a Lottery Pick in the 2020 NBA draft, or my New York Mets pick up where they left off last year and make a determined march to the MLB playoffs. Now, I self isolate by working at home, with no sports to distract, trying to keep coffee and toast crumbs out of my keyboard.

 

Yes, the great pandemic of 2020 is enabling CIOs globally to accelerate the corporate digital revolution as they race to enable massive numbers of people to work from home, creating significant changes in the way we work.

 

The great pandemic of 2020 is also accelerating the growth of an already booming business – eSports – which is projected to surpass $1 billion in revenue for the first time this year, with expectations to hit $1.8 billion by 2022. The timing is strangely coincidental, but the Japanese government announced on March 29 a plan to expand Japan’s nascent eSports industry in collaboration with the private sector with the hopes of driving revenues of over $2.5 billion by 2025.

 

To the surprise of most people over 40, there is a growing audience for watching other people play video games, particularly on the biggest viewing platform – Twitch. And thanks to the need for greater social distancing, viewership has boomed. According to thegamingeconomy.com on April 2:

 

Market-leader Twitch has surpassed its records for hours streamed, average concurrent viewership (CCV), and hours watched, with the latter passing 3.1 billion hours for the first time. Comparing the figures to last year, Facebook Gaming has seen dramatic increases in its streaming portfolio, with hours watched up 236% to 563.7 million, hours streamed up 131.5% to over 4.9 million, and average CCV up to 256,000 at any one time.

 

In search of sports content, Fox Sports in the US broadcast on Sunday, March 22 the first of several broadcasts of eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, a live event featuring some of America’s best racecar drivers doing 100 laps for a contest of 150 miles…on a game counsel…in their homes.

 

Denny Hamlin, a 30-time NASCAR champion, and a three time Daytona 500 champion, pulled out a stunning last-second victory over legendary racer Dale Earnhardt Jr. Thanks to the simulation platform called iRacing, and its realistic rendering of the raceway and cars in motion, as well as the entertaining and real-time commentary by the Fox sports announcers, the eRace felt like a real car race. Over 900,000 fans tuned into this inaugural event, and a week later in the series’ second installment, over 1.3 million watched the simulated race.

 

 

The NBA has promoted its NBA 2K20 tournament, which features 16 NBA stars competing against each other on the league’s flagship video game, NBA 2K20. In the tournament’s first match on the morning of Saturday, April 4 (Japan time), Brooklyn Net superstar, Kevin Durant, took on Miami Heat small forward, Derrick Jones Jr. The tournament player can pick any NBA team to represent them. In this case, Durant played the Los Angeles Clippers while Jones used the Milwaukee Bucks.

 

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A screenshot from the inaugural game of the NBA 2K20 Tournament between Jones and Durant.

As media experiments in trying to figure out which eSports and what formats will best attract the audiences, there will be flops. eNASCAR is very watchable, thanks to the realistic visuals and the use of real announcers providing the call and the color. The NBA 2K20 in its current form relies on the game’s own play-by-play announcers, as well as the personality and communication skill of the players. Here’s how CBS Sports described the match between NBA players Patrick Beverley and Hassan Whiteside.

 

Let’s be honest: the first night of this tournament was boring. Beverley spiced up the ending, but that’s an unfair standard because he could spice up a baby shower. The normal human beings that participated in this tournament weren’t exactly trading barbs. All things considered, it was a dull start to a tournament that had real potential. Whether players are unwilling to open up in front of cameras or if this tournament needs a broadcaster to host the games and stimulate conversation is unclear, but what we saw on Friday wasn’t exactly thrilling content. 

 

But that’s sports. You win some. You lose some.

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Max Whitlock showing off in a new sport – pommel couch.

Two-time Olympian and five-time medalist in gymnastics for Team GB, Max Whitlock, has been helping his gymnastic colleagues stay in shape with his #GymnasticsWithMax series. On a lighter note, he showed a new event he created – “pommel couch.”

The first Team USA sports climber selected for Tokyo2020 was Brooke Raboutou, who has been keeping sharp by getting around her house without touching the floor. Here she is getting a snack.

Oktawia Nowacka, the bronze medalist in modern pentathlon at the 2016 Rio Olympics, stays in shape at home in Starogard Gdanski Poland with a variety of exercises that require s litle open space, furniture, resistance bands and a dog.

Retired javelin thrower, James Campbell, raised GBP26,000 by running the equivalent distance of a marathon in his garden. April 1 was his birthday so he decided to do celebrate in a most monotonous manner – circling the grounds of his 6-meter long garden area for over five hours. Campbell from Chelthenham, England set the Scottish record in the javelin throw at 80.38 meters, which stands today.

 

Mary Pruden is a sophomore swimmer at Columbia University who gave it her all in a 100 individual medley race. So inspiring were Pruden’s efforts that sports broadcasters Dan Hicks and Rodney Gaines dubbed their play-by-play onto Pruden’s video, this “race of the century.”

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I didn’t realize I had so many foreign words in my book.

 

When David Shih, the reader for the audio version of my book, 1964: The Greatest Year in the History of Japan, contacted me to confirm pronunciations in my book, I thought it would be for a few dozen Japanese names and words.

David sent me a list of over 330 words, phrases and names to confirm. Suddenly, I realized that the world of reading was different from the world of listening.

 

When you read 10.54 seconds, do you say “ten point five four seconds,” or “ten and fifty four one hundredth seconds”? When you read the year 2020, do you say “twenty twenty, or ” “two thousand and twenty”?

 

The writer of a book leaves the pronunciation to you. The reader of an audio book does not have that luxury. When asked how to actually say names and words like Kurfürstendamm Strasse, Anton Geesink, Boris Shakhlin, or Ranatunge Koralage Jayasekara Karunananda, I must admit – I had to guess. I assumed I was worldly enough to get pronunciations right or close enough, particularly the Japanese ones.

 

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David Shih in Henry VI: Shakespeare’s Trilogy in Two Parts

Thankfully, David looked into the pronunciations as well, thanked me for providing my feedback, but also indicating very clearly that my pronunciation was incorrect on “a few”. It was more than a few, and David showed me his research on why a particular name or word was pronounced in a certain way. He even corrected my pronunciation on a Japanese word.

 

After receiving that feedback, my confidence level in David went through the roof! David is a professional in his craft, as an actor, a narrator of documentaries and as a reader of audio books. He has appeared in a wide variety of American television and film productions, as you can see below.

 

But when my audio publisher, Tantor Audio, asked me to consider David, I saw that he had read for a book I really like: Strangers from a Different Shore, by Ronald Takaki, which tells the stunning history and stories of Asians emigrating to America. David’s reading of Takaki’s book brought the experience of my grandfather alive for me, and so I very quickly said yes to Tantor’s recommendation of David.

                                                                                                                                  David, like me, is Asian American, but unlike me, he grew up in an area where there were not so many Asians. I was raised in New York City, the ultimate melting pot. We both grew up identifying more as Americans, than Asian Americans, but for different reasons.

 

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David Shih with Aaron Paul in The Path.

In a place like New York, you are surrounded by so many different ethnicities that you quickly realize you have more friends outside your own particular ethnic “brand” than inside. The way you affiliate with your friends are through your neighborhood, your school or your sports teams. It wasn’t until I left the US for Japan in 1986 that I began to identify with my Japanese side. I was 23 years old and I finally learned how to pronounce my own family name, the first of many revelations about my family culture.

 

As David explained to me via email, he grew up in “a small Midwestern town with little diversity and very few Asians. I found myself trying to blend in and felt very disconnected from that part of my identity.”

 

I used to think of myself as an American just like everyone else I grew up with. I considered myself an actor, not an Asian American actor. But at that time, the type of roles that were available to Asian actors were extremely limited and tended to be very stereotypical: restaurant delivery boy, deli owner, doctor, tourist, etc.

                                                                                                                                    There were virtually no Asians on TV or in movies, and the ones that you saw were frequently humiliating caricatures, like Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles” not to mention all the Asian roles that were played by White actors. There wasn’t much to look up to. Suddenly, I was confronted with being an Asian American actor and what that meant. At first, it felt very limiting and was difficult to embrace. But things started changing over time, and slowly more and more roles became available to Asian actors that would not have been when I started.                                                                                                          

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David Shih in Billions.

 

David is not a sports fan, but I’m glad he enjoyed reading my book. He cited the stories about the underdogs and overcoming adversity – the Sri Lankan runner who came in dead last in the 10,000 meter race, or the American swimmer Dick Roth who avoided the surgeon’s knife to win the individual medley, or the story Hungarian canoeist, Andras Toro, who had to make the life-changing decision to defect to America or not.

 

I think this plurality of stories is what I really loved about this book. For me, the Olympics aren’t simply about competitions between nations to see who’s the best. It’s a moment where a remarkably diverse group of people with vastly different backgrounds, experiences and circumstances come together to find the best in themselves. Sometimes it’s found on the field of competition and sometimes it’s found off the field. Even Japan itself, rose to the occasion and found just what it was capable of both as a nation and as a people. 

 

I am proud to have David read my book. His resonant actor’s voice gave me chills when I first heard him read my words.

I hope you agree.

 

David Shih is a New York based actor. His theater credits include The Great Wave (Berkeley Rep); Henry VI: Shakespeare’s Trilogy in Two Parts, Awake and Sing!, [veil widow conspiracy] (NAATCO); KPOP (Ars Nova); Somebody’s Daughter (Second Stage); Tiger Style! (La Jolla Playhouse); Bike America (Ma-Yi Theatre Co.); Crane Story (The Playwrights Realm).  His television credits include “Hunters,” “Billions,” “City on a Hill,” “Iron Fist,” “The Path,” “Blindspot,” “Elementary,” “Madam Secretary,” “The Blacklist,” “Blue Bloods,” “Mozart in the Jungle,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” And his film credits include All the Little Things We Kill, Mr. Sushi, Eighth Grade, Fan Girl, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Saving Face. He narrated the History Channel documentary China’s First Emperor and the Discovery Networks series Royal Inquest, voiced the character of Eddie Toh in the hit video game Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar Games), and is a critically acclaimed audiobook narrator. He also works with Only Make Believe performing for children in hospitals and care facilities.