“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.
American Justin Gatlin is the fastest man in the world today, but can he beat the speed of a ball in freefall that accelerates at 9.81 meters per second squared in the Shotgun Touch competition?
Russian Denis Ablyazin won the silver medal in the men’s vault at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, but can he win the “Monster Box” competition, hurdling a vault over 3 meters high?
New Zealander Tomas Walsh won the bronze medal in the men’s shot put at the Rio Games, but can he defeat All Blacks rugby player and fellow New Zealander, Nepo Laulala, in the excruciating “Power Wall” contest?
If you’re a big fan of Ninja Warrior, you know the incredible obstacle course is based on a Japanese television program called Sasuke, produced by Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS). The same network, TBS, also produces a program called Sports Grand Prix Top Athletes which puts athletes to the test in creative competition.
And being an Olympian does not put you to the front of the class. Ablyazin made it look easy vaulting a horse built up some 2.5 meters high. But near the 3-meter mark, he faltered and lost to a Japanese trampoline competitor. Walsh also made it look easy pushing a movable wall against other competitors who sought to push the wall back, an event that is akin to a reverse tug of war.
But one would have thought that racing a falling ball to a spot requires pure speed, and that the fastest man in the world should win hands down. The “Shotgun Touch” competition requires a runner to touch a button which releases a ball from the ceiling (an unknown number of meters above the ground). The object is for the runner to get any part of their body, usually hands and fingers, on the ball before it touches the ground.
For competitors like track stars Kenji Fujimitsu and Gatlin, as well as Kansas City Royal Whit Merrifield, or J-League soccer star, Kensuke Nagai, getting to the ball 12 meters away was not so difficult, but another 50 to 100 centimeters, and the ball can seem to be accelerating faster than the law of physics. In some of the early attempts around 12 meters, Gatlin made it look easy with the ball hitting him in the back or his arms.
And yet, he actually missed at 12.60 meters and twice at 13 meters, disqualifying him from the rest of the competition. As he learned, diving technique is as important as speed. There’s no way Merrifield would beat Gatlin in a 100-meter sprint, and yet he was able to succeed at 13 meters. In the end, it was J-League soccer star Nagai who triumphed the shotgun touch competition.
Kinda silly, kinda fun…that’s how I spent my New Year’s evening.
As soon as Jean-Claude Killy ended his run in the Alpine downhill competition at the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics, the first person to greet him was his mentor and friend, Michel Arpin. Arpin, who worked for ski manufacturer, Dynamic, adroitly hugged his friend, showing photographers his back pouch with the Dynamics logo.
A policeman, as instructed to do for all skiers, took Killy’s skis away in order to avoid the “unseemly” display of ski brands adorning an amateur Olympic champion. Arpin then, according to The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics, took one of his skis off and planted it in the snow so that photographers could capture Killy with the ski and the two yellow bars of the Dynamic brand.
Killy retired from competitive skiing not long after Grenoble, because he knew that it would be hard to sustain his World Cup skiing dominance and triple-gold medal Olympic achievement. He also knew that he had other worlds to conquer. He signed with sports management firm, International Management Group, and started his career representing such brands as American Express, Schwinn bicycles, United Airlines, Chevrolet, as well as Head, the ski equipment manufacturer which put Killy’s vaunted name on their newest fiberglass skis.
Jean-Claude Killy, from the tiny village of Val-d’Isere in the French Alps, was a super star, and was now getting paid enough to live the life of the jet set and do what he pleased. He married an actress, Danielle Gaubert. He competed as a race car driver. He acted in movies, and produced television programs. Eventually he moved into sports administration, joining the executive board of the Alpine Skiing Committee of the International Federating of Skiing (FIS), serving as co-president of the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics, president of the Tour de France organization, as well as a member of the International Olympic Committee.
Famed gonzo journalist, Hunter S. Thompson, spent some time with Killy in the midst of his transformation from world-class skier to world-class pitchman, catching Killy in a burst of unsolicited honesty. “Before, I could only dream about these things,” said Killy. “When I was young I had nothing, I was poor. . . Now I can have anything I want!”
Killy indeed started from humble beginnings. But he felt he had earned his way to the top, focusing on all aspects of how to be the greatest skier of his time, and making the same effort to be the best in his part of the world of business. Thompson recognized that drive in Killy in his profile called “The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy.” Thompson was following Killy during a marketing tour for Chevrolet, noting that Killy’s ability to draw you in was Gatsby-like, and was an ability that made him rich. But Thompson also admitted that Killy worked at his new profession, as much as he did in his previous one.
Jean-Claude, like Jay Gatsby, has “one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
That description of Gatsby by Nick Carraway — of Scott, by Fitzgerald — might just as well be of J.-C. Killy, who also fits the rest of it: “Precisely at that point [Gatsby’s smile] vanished — and I was looking at an elegant young roughneck, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. . .”
The point is not to knock Killy’s English, which is far better than my French, but to emphasize his careful, finely coached choice of words. “He’s an amazing boy,” I was told later by Len Roller. “He works at this [selling Chevrolets] just as hard as he used to work at winning races. He attacks it with the same concentration you remember from watching him ski.”
The Gregory Brothers are an amazing group of musicians who have used pitch-correction software to turn verbatim into joyous song. The video below is of a song they call “Speechless,” stitched together with the words of joy of 2016 Rio Olympians. See Olympic stars Monica Puig, Mo Farah, Andre deGrasse, Kevin Durant and Simone Manuel in their singing debut.
If you’re flying in and out of Haneda Airport from January 9, 2018, you may be surprised to see a new team on hand to assist you. The team will be made up of seven robots designed to assist staff and visitors at the busy domestic and international airport, located very near the central part of Tokyo.
Robots will be there to provide information, offer interpretation into four different languages or carry your bags, for example. When you’re at Haneda in January, you’ll see a C-3PO ancestor, the”EMIEW3″ robot, which is less than a meter tall and can provide you with information in English and Japanese.
With the number of foreign visitors to Japan climbing rapidly – the total number of visitors to Japan exceeding 24 million this year – combined with a tight labor market, Haneda officials realize that they will need robots to increase productivity and meet the needs of travelers. Additionally, there is a pride associated with showing the world during the Tokyo2020 Olympics that Japan is cutting edge.
As Yutaka Kuratomi, a representative from the Japan Airport Terminal, said in this article, “We want foreign tourists to think that the Japanese people are cool when they come here.”
These are fascinating pictures of Emperor Hirohito and the Empress in the summer of 1964. Taken from the September 11, 1964 issue of Life Magazine, these black and white photos reveal the Emperor to be a somewhat ordinary man, grandfatherly, academic. In fact, the couple looks like they’re having fun looking for mollusks.
The magazine even quotes the Emperor describing the “umi ushi” they found. “This is an easygoing chap, not in the least alarmed at being caught.”
Americans who saw this set of pictures in Life Magazine were probably surprised to see a totally different Emperor Hirohito. Perhaps their memory of him was a leader who sent suicide dive bombers to attack Pearl Harbor, or drove soldiers to kill themselves in the name of the Emperor rather than be captured by Allied forces. But to see the Emperor at all in the 1960s was due to efforts by the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP), the entity that governed Japan in the post-war years, as well as members of the Japanese government.
After World War II, in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s defeat at the hands of overwhelming American military firepower, one would think there would be too much concern over what to eat, where to sleep, and how they will cope the next day for people to care about the Emperor, and whether the imperial family as an institution should be maintained.
And yet, support for continuing the imperial throne was strong, a survey in October, 1945 revealing “widespread enthusiasm or deep awe and veneration comparable to that of the war years,” according to John Dower in his seminal book, Embracing Defeat. While forceful calls for the dethronement of Emperor Hirohito and elimination of the imperial system in Japan were common in America and other allied nations, the head of SCAP, General Douglas MacArthur, agreed that it was important to keep the emperor in place.
Dower quoted a memo from Brigadier General Bonner Fellers to MacArthur about the reasons why the Emperor should remain as a symbol of Japan, emphasizing the fact that the Emperor, by going on the radio and announcing Japan’s defeat and need to lay down arms, “hundreds of thousands of American casualties were avoided and the war terminated far ahead of schedule.” in the case of trying the Emperor for war crimes, Fellers argued that “the governmental structure would collapse and a general uprising would be inevitable.”
SCAP was therefore insistent that Hirohito remain as Emperor, and not be tried for war crimes. In place of a deity as the head of Japan, SCAP sought to “humanize” the Emperor. A big part of those efforts were sending the Emperor on tours across the nation to meet the people in 1946. SCAP made sure pictures were taken and film was shot to document the Emperor walking amidst his people, a scenario unthinkable during and before the war years.
The above is a great video explanation of the venues of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Below are a few of the fun facts I like.
The Impermanence of the Olympic Stadium: The PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, which will house 55,000 people (including me) is a temporary structure. After the Games, it will be dismantled. Apparently, the 1992 Albertville Winter Games were the first to decide that taking care of a Winter White Elephant was simply not smart economics, and the organizers of the PyeongChang Olympics thought similarly.
Winter and Summer Fun: The Alpensia Ski Jumping Center in the Taeback mountain range was originally planned as the site for the opening and closing ceremonies. Instead it will be host to ski jumping and the Nordic combined events in February. What’s interesting is that the landing area for ski jumping is about 100 meters, so the organizers thought that the space could be converted into a football stadium, seating 11,000, for the summer months.
Remember 2018:The Alpensia Sliding Center, which will house 7000 spectators to watch the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton competitions, has a snaking track that runs exactly 2,018 meters, so bobslieghers will never forget the year they glided to glory in South Korea.
Desecration or Modernization: The Jeongseon Alpine Center is a series of new ski routes and structures built on previously virgin forest ranges on Mount Gariwang. As is explained in the video, this area was one of the few areas that could fulfill a requirement of a slope that had a virtual drop of 800 meters, and so the Korean Forest Ministry okayed the opening up of the 500-year old protected forest that is now the site of the alpine events. This development has been the object of ongoing protests regarding the sites impact on the environment, among other things.
Oh to be a child again – to not care what others think, to ask questions randomly and endlessly, to see only friendship in others, and possibility in anything….
And so it is inspirational to me that the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee decided to have elementary school children in Japan select the mascots of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. On December 7, 2017, the organizers finally unveiled the top three mascot designs, which will be put to a vote of schoolchildren held from December 11 of this year to February 22 of 2018.
Initially, to my adult eyes, they kind of look and feel similar, perhaps because they are generally all humanoid, and of the same dimensions. To me, the Olympic mascots of candidates A and B are quite similar in their big-eye and big-ear look. But on closer inspection, candidate C is different, with the pronounced application of Japanese fairy tale characters – the fox (kitsune) and the raccoon (tanuki).
Candidate B’s Paralympic mascot is also from Japanese lore, an animated representation of the koma-inu, the lion-dog creature that you often see at the entrance of shrines. Candidate A tries to employ the checkered design of the official Tokyo2020 logo, which to me, feels kind of forced, something a committee member would recommend.
But again, my adult eyes are not the filter – the mascots are for the kids.
Having said that, the finalists in this competition were decidedly selected by adults. As this list of jury panelists show, only adults selected the final three designs. And these were very commercial adults, people who have succeeded in marketing product to children and young adults: experts from toy companies Bandai and Takara Tomy, from comic publishers Shueisha and Shogakukan, children’s book publisher Poplar, game producers Bandai Namco and Square Enix, anime producer Toei Animation and stuffed doll manufacturer Sega Interactive.
So the Tokyo 2020 mascots, when they are voted on by schoolchildren in the coming weeks, aren’t entirely springing from the fertile minds of children. But at least they have a say. The question is – will moms and dads the world over, when the time comes, have a say in whether to buy or not.
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