Greg Louganis
Greg Louganis

Greg Louganis had won silver in Montreal and two gold medals for diving in Los Angeles in 1984. In 1988 at the Seoul Olympic Games, Louganis was favored to win gold again in both the 3 meter springboard and the 10-meter platform events.

But that changed suddenly when Louganis hit his head in the 3-meter preliminaries, and fell into the water with blood seeping from his head. As he explained in a recent episode of Hang Up and Listen (the Slate sports podcast), “in that split second, I was the underdog.” (Listen from the 36-minute mark for the Louganis interview.)

Louganis went on to win gold in both the 3-meter and 10-meter competitions, ending the Olympic career of who some say is the greatest diver of all time. But the competition in 1988 was the toughest he faced with the Chinese coming on strong and challenging Louganis for diving supremacy. And more personally, it was only six months before when Louganis learned he was HIV positive. If the Korean authorities had known that, it is possible they would not have let him into the country to compete in the Olympics.

As the Slate interviewers asked in disbelief, after getting a concussion in the prelims, leaving blood in the water hiding the fact that he is HIV positive, the Chinese breathing down his neck as he battles to stay in medal contention….how did he focus.

Louganis replied with a laugh, answering as it wasn’t that big a deal to do so.

“That was my upbringing. I’ve been performing (for so long). I started dance and acrobatics when I was 3. I was taught, “Hey, the show must go on.” As soon as that music starts, there is no looking back. if you lose your place, you gotta catch up. You don’t get second chances. It was easy for me to compartmentalize my life because I had done so for so many years. We get good at what we practice. That is something I practiced a lot.”

Louganis is not alone. Almost all athletes at that level can narrow their focus on only the elements they know will contribute to their success. It amazes me

nagasaki
Nagasaki Peace Park
On August 9, a plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, 70 years ago. The primary target of the B-29 carrying “Fat Man” was a city in Kyushuu called Kokura.

Kokura was the location of munitions factories, which had been targets of US bombers in previous days. In fact, the smoke of burned-out factories, as well as the dense smoke from burning coal tar done with purpose by Japanese on the ground, was so bad that the bomber pilots decided to move on to their secondary target – Nagasaki.

And the rest is history.

This last tidbit is tiny in the context of this story. The reason isn’t clear to me, but the sport of Keirin was initiated in the city of Kokura in 1948. Keirin, a bicycle race that takes place on an oval track, was devised to raise money through gambling. According to this article, over 55,000 people came out on a single day to the Kokura Velodrome, raising close to 20 million yen, motivating local governments to arrange similar activities.

Keirin became an Olympic sport in 2000 at the Sydney Games. Racing around a track for 2 kilometers, differentiated by its use of an accelerating motorized bicycle that sets the pace, Keirin has become one of the most popular racing events in the Olympics.

keirin japan

Adolph and Rudolph Dassler
Adolph and Rudolph Dassler

The battle between Adidas and Puma is no coincidence – their cut-throat competition founded on a blood rivalry.

There once was a company called Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik, formed after World War I by Christoph Dassler in the town of Merzogenaurach in Germany. Christoph’s two sons Adolph and Rudolph became active in the family business. With the help of partner blacksmiths who made spikes for track shoes, they built shoes for runners, and famously got American Jesse Owens to wear their track shoes at the 1936 Olympic Games. Owens won four gold medals in those shoes, and the Dassler brothers got incredible insight into the power of branding.

But the family business would not last. As Andrew Jennings wrote in his book, The Lord of the Rings: Power, Money, and Drugs in the Modern Olympics, “…the two brothers had a dreadful argument. So dreadful was the dispute that Adolph and Rudolph decided never to speak to each other again. They parted company and ran rival shoe businesses in the town on either side of the Aurach River.”

james cleveland owens – modell waitzer – 1936, sprint shoe worn at the olympic games in berlin; shoe size: 7,5 (uk), 162 g image © adidas
james cleveland owens – modell waitzer – 1936, sprint shoe worn at the olympic games in berlin; shoe size: 7,5 (uk), 162 g image © adidas

Adolph, who was called Adi by family and friends, combined his nickname and the first syllable of his last name to form the brand “Adidas”. Rudolph chose a sleek and powerful big cat to represent his shoe company “Puma”. The company not only split in two in 1948, so did the town, as Richard Hoffer explains in his book on the Mexico City Games, Something in the Air.

“This created a civic tension in the town, as well, as scores of employees were now forced to take sides, some with Adolf’s newly formed Adidas company, others with Rudolf’s Puma. It was said that townspeople walked the streets with their heads down, the better to check out their neighbors’ footwear, and thus identify their family allegiance.”

Adi Dassler and his son Horst would

adidas-vs-puma

Way before there was a Nike, there was Adidas and Puma. The basketball shoe wars of today are echoes of the battles that took place between two rival German shoe manufacturers. And in these battles emerged a hugely lucrative sports marketing business that benefited both maker and athlete. At the Melbourne Summer Games in 1956, the son of Adidas owner, Horst Dassler, convinced officials to prevent the shipment of Puma shoes from passing through Customs. At the same time, the Adidas shipment came through allowing him to give away shoes to eager Olympians. When American sprinter Bobby Morrow won three gold medals in Melbourne, he was wearing a free pair of Adidas running shoes. When Americans saw Morrow and his triple-striped shoes on the cover of Life Magazine, Adidas sales jumped. Bobby Morrow_Life 12-10-56 The German champion sprinter of the 1960 Games in Rome also got free shoes, and a whole lot more. Armin Hary was the first runner other than an American since 1928 to win the 100 meter race and lay claim to the fastest man on the planet. And when he crossed the finish line, it was in Puma spikes. Yet, when he stood on the winners platform to receive his gold medal, he was wearing the stripes of Adidas. (Go to this site to see the pictures.) Hary was clearly playing Adidas and Puma against each other, not only receiving shoes, but also payments.

In 1964, the human bullet, Bob Hayes was in the middle of a bidding war between

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

The German rowing teams had already won five of the previous six rowing events in the Olympic Games hosted in Nazi Berlin. At the beginning of the main event – the eight oars – the American crew didn’t hear the man say “start”, so lost precious seconds from the beginning. They were in the last lane, which had the hardest crosswinds to overcome. Their stroke, the pace-keeper of the eight-oared crew was so ill, he looked as if he would pass out any moment. And for the first half of the race, the men’s team from Seattle, Washington was in last place with another 1,000 meters to go.

I was on my step machine at the gym yesterday, my towel and water in their place, and my Kindle resting on the step machine display. I was reading the final chapter of Daniel Brown’s brilliant book about the legendary American crew from The University of Washington – The Boys in the Boat – Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

boys in the boat_seattle PI

The description of the race, as were descriptions of all the key races, were thrilling. And as I tapped from page to page, I noticed my pace picking up on the machine. The stroke, Don Hume, was a ghost, and the coxswain Bobby Moch, was hesitant, but shouted that he wanted the 7, Joe Rantz, to take over the stroke role. That woke up Hume, who resumed his role and picked up the pace.

And again, up went my pace.

Brown writes

Yao Ming supports Beining 2022 Bid
International and NBA basketball star Yao Ming.

It’s a sad day when the International Olympic Committee cannot even clear one of the lowest bars for choosing the host city for the Winter Games: snow.

A telling first line from the New York Times regarding the IOC awarding the 2022 Winter Games to Beijing. This is the first time the same city has ever been awarded the Summer and Winter Games, probably for the obvious reason that cities big enough to host the Summer Games simply don’t have big mountains or enough snow to host the Winter Games.

The reality is, the lack of snow did not prevent Beijing from being selected. Perhaps the main reason for Beijing’s success is that the Winter Olympics are currently considered a very expensive proposition by host cities, limiting the competition significantly. The only other candidate for these games was Almaty, Kazakhstan, which actually has snow.

In fact according to Andrew Zimbalist in his insightful book, Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup, the Olympics in general, and the Winter Games in particular, have had a declining number of applicants and candidates in the 21st century due to rising cost. As a recent example, he cites that Vancouver, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010 is a billion dollars in debt for bailing out investors in the development of the Olympic Village, resulting in cuts in service to education,

Frank Gorman and Sammy Lee at the 1964 Olympic TrialsFrank Gorman and Sammy Lee at the 1964 Olympic Trials
Frank Gorman and Sammy Lee at the 1964 Olympic Trials

“I was 10 years old when Sammy won his first and second Olympic medals at the 1948 Games,” Frank Gorman of diving legend, Sammy Lee. “We were not able to view his triumphs on television in those days but the newspapers were full of good coverage  and I thought that he was the greatest competitor in London.”

Gorman, who won silver in the 3-meter diving competition in Tokyo, would often go as a younger, less known diver to competitions without the support of a coach. If Sammy Lee was there, he always lent a hand. “I finally got to meet Sammy at the USA National Diving Championships in the early 1950s at Yale University. I might have been the youngest competitor and was there without a coach. During the workout I met Sammy and before long he was helping me with some of my dives. I was thrilled to have the World Champ watching me. Sammy was low-key, patient and explained clearly what I should do to improve my efforts. In future years I frequently showed up at meets without a coach and Sammy was always there for me.”

Søren Svejstrup also competed as a diver at the Tokyo Games, had a very similar interaction with Lee. “I went to a meet in Los Angeles in 1960,” wrote Svjestrup. “I was all alone, and still not experienced in diving meets. And I did not know how to do a good twisting dive from the 10 meter platform. The dive I executed was a handstand, fall over where I end up diving feet first after a half salto. I’m sure no one had seen such a dive in the US because everybody laughed, but not Sammy. He told everybody that it was a classic European dive and he would give it a high mark. And if anybody wanted to try the same dive, he would like to see it. Nobody did. At the meet, Sammy scored me a ten. I was grateful, and of course I lost my heart to Sammy forever.”

Sammy Lee and Soren Svejstrup
Sammy Lee and Soren Svejstrup

Dr. Sammy Lee, a medical MD who served with the US Army Medical Corps in Korea, winner of the James E Sullivan Award as the most outstanding athlete in the United States in 1953, and a repeat champion in the 10 meter platform dive, winning gold in London in 1948, and Helsinki in 1952. In addition to countless stories of helping divers all over the world, he coached Olympic divers Pat McCormick, Bob Webster, and Greg Louganis. August 1 is Dr. Sammy Lee’s birthday! And on this day

Livio Berruti congratulates Henry Carr, who won gold in the 200 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. From the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”.
He ran with a silky smooth stride. He grooved around curves with grace. And he won the 200 meter finals at the 1960 Summer Games in Rome….wearing sunglasses.

Livio Berruti, who hails from Torino, Italy, was the most celebrated of the celebrity in Rome at that time, the essence of cool that hot Italian summer.

American Ken Norton was favored to win the 200 meters, but he faded quickly as Berrutti raced to a world record time of 20.5 seconds to win gold. David Maraniss described in his book, Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, how Berruti felt as he emerged victorious. “He approached the finish line knowing that he still held the lead, and threw himself at it, sprawling on the dark red track, overcome ‘with that kind of liberation you feel when you’ve faced a difficult test and managed to pass it.'”

Amidst continuous cheers of “Ber-ru-ti! Ber-ru-ti! Ber-ru-ti!”, his fate as an Italian sports legend was sealed.

As for the shades, Maraniss explains that Berrutti was shortsighted, to the point that he could not see other runners or the finish line without them. So he wore prescription glasses that tinted in the sunlight, wearing the same pair whether competing or sitting at home.

In Tokyo, Berrutti finished fourth in the 200 meter race. And immediately went up to the Olympic champion, Henry Carr, and congratulated him a race run well.

Here is great footage