phelps vs shark

Jesse Owens was without a doubt the star of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. A black man winning four gold medals in Arayan Germany was interpreted as a symbol of America’s strength in diversity. And yet, when Owens returned to America, he struggled to earn a consistent income, unthinkable if he were a star today.

One way Owens earned a living – he was an owner of a Negro baseball league team, The Portland Rosebuds. In order to bring fans in, I suppose, he footraced against horses between games at double headers.

Michael Phelps never had to do that to make a living.

And yet, the single most decorated Olympian ever, including a record 23 gold medals, Phelps is engaging an even more absurd race….against a shark.

In promotion of Discovery Channel’s annual “Shark Week”, Phelps will swim a race against a great white shark on July 23, 2017.

What can I say? This is the height of absurdity.

I can see in my head what a race with a horse looks like. I cannot imagine what a race between a man and shark is. How long would the race be? Since sharks are always in motion, does this particular great white shark getting a running start, as it were? Are man and shark racing together, in the same ocean lane? If yes, I imagine that would motivate Phelps in a uniquely visceral way.

But the simple reason why this whole exercise is clearly a gimmick, according to this article, great white sharks reach speeds of 25-35 mph, while a swimmer of Phelps’ caliber tops out at 6.

So silly. But, I’ll watch.

Menu
White House Menu 1964_from the collection of Dick Lyon

You’re at the White House, enjoying Breast of Chicken Georgina, Rice Pilaf and Eggplant Provençale. You’re seated at the table with Lynda Johnson, the daughter of the most powerful man in America at the time. But you’re also chatting at your table with some of the greatest athletes of 1964.

This is where Dick Lyon, bronze medalist in the coxless fours, found himself on Tuesday, December 1, 1964, at a fete for the US Olympic Team medalists who competed at the Tokyo Olympiad several weeks earlier, hosted by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“We didn’t shake hands with President Johnson,” Lyon, a rower from California, told me. “He was probably meeting with General Westmoreland, or someone. It was a busy time for them. But we got to shake hands with the vice president, Hubert Humphrey.”

06d2 Dick 1964 001
Dick Lyon with his bronze medal_from the collection of Dick Lyon

In addition to the president’s daughter and a staff member of the White House, those seated at Lyon’s table were some of the most celebrated athletes of the Olympics: 10,000 meters gold medalist Billy Mills, fastest man-in-the-world gold medalist Bob Hayes, 110-meter hurdles champion Hayes Jones, double-gold medalist swimmer Donna deVarona, as well silver and bronze medalists in the modern pentathlon, yachting, and shooting.

Lyon shared with me a picture of the actual menu, which he passed around the table for their signatures. Here are the names of those at Lyon’s table, just in case you aren’t experts in graphology.

This is Part 2 of a breakdown of the amateur film by George and Lilian Merz.

The Merz’s, who won an award for their summary of the XVIII Olympiad in Tokyo, stayed primarily around the National Stadium, so their view of the Olympics was primarily track and field. But on occasion, they trained their cameras at events outside the National Stadium, as well as on non-sporting events. Their footage of the ceremonies have been more effectively captured elsewhere, but their human interest forays are interesting at times.

US Team Opening Ceremony_Merz Film
US Team Opening Ceremony
  • Opening Ceremony: 1:25 – It’s the Opening Ceremony at the National Stadium on October 10, 1963. At the 3:12 mark, the US team enters the stadium. The men on the US team are wearing cowboy hats, and it appears that is all you see in their sea of members. The women however aren’t wearing any hats. President Johnson, who is believed to have had the hats sent to the Olympians, probably didn’t think it was appropriate for women to wear these cowboy hats. What struck me was how small the female crowd was. When I looked it up, of the 346 people on the US Olympic squad, only 79 were women. And many of them were likely swimmers who had to compete in the next few days, so were likely not allowed to march in the opening ceremony. Interestingly, the men who dominated the US sailing team brought up the rear, not in cowboy hats, but in sailor caps. Also great footage of the balloon released, the Olympic flag raised and the cauldron lit, in a jam-packed stadium. At the 8:36, Merz has footage of the Emperor and Empress of Japan in the stands!
  • Huckster Girls: 12:25 and 13:56 – That’s what Merz calls the women selling food and drink in the National Stadium. I can’t tell what snacks they were selling, but they were selling a bottle of Coca Cola for 50 yen. At 360 yen to the dollar, that’s about 13 cents!
  • Nature Boy: At the 14:32 mark, Merz films an unusual looking Japanese man outside the National Stadium, whom he dubs “nature boy”. He’s bald headed and bare chested, except for a sash, and holding a banner. The sash says “Make Your Body as Naked as Your Face!”. His banner basically says the same thing, further emphasizing that nudity is healthy, and that he belongs to some sort of nudist association. In modest Japan, this is the last thing I would have expected to see in this documentary.

Nature Boy_Merz Film

  • Rain Rain Rain: You can see at the 17:16 mark a sea of umbrellas. On certain days, it simply rained through the day.
  • Press Seats and TV Monitors: As you can see at the 16:44 mark, the press section in the National Stadium had little TV monitors so that the press could watch the action up close.
  • Eating Bento: I don’t know what the guy is eating, but I’m sure it was good! At the 23:16 mark you can see the spectators sitting on wood-slat benches, and this particular man enjoying a bento. He appears to be sitting in a covered section of the stadium too.

eating bento in the stands_Merz Film

  • 4×100 Swimming Relay Men’s: 5:26 – The Merz’s visit the National Gymnasium and fil the second heat of the men’s 4×100 swimming relay, which the Americans win handily.
  • Field Hockey Men’s: 25:24 – The Merz’s take a break from the National Stadium and head to the Komazawa Stadium to watch a field hockey match between Germany and Kenya.
  • Basketball: 25:48 – The Merz’s then head to the National Gymnasium Annex to see men’s basketball. Unfortunately, the footage is too dark to tell which players are from which countries.
  • Closing Ceremony: 27:38 – And finally, here was footage of the closing ceremony. The film is dark, but you can see the Olympic flame extinguished – a blurry light extinguished, the Olympic Flag lowered, to be send to Mexico City, and an fireworks display to cap off an incredible two weeks.

Rain Rain Go Away_Merz Film

I won 2nd place at a chess tournament, which took place at the famous Manhattan Chess Club, when I was 13 years old. I still have my trophy. And trust me, if there were more than 3 competitors in that tournament, I’m sure I would have done equally well!

Ioannis Malokinis
Ioannis Malokinis

Perhaps that’s what Ioannis Malokinis, Spiridon Chasapis and Dimitrios Drivas told themselves as they swept the medals in their swimming event – the 100-meter Freestyle for Greek Sailors. Yes, this was an event at the revival of the Olympic Games, held in Athens, Greece in 1896. Yes, this was an event only Greek Sailors could compete in. And yes, only three sailors jumped into the Bay of Zea for this competition.

Eleven Greek sailors had signed up for this unique and partisan event, but the water was said to be so cold that others likely begged out. According to The Complete Book of the Olympics 2012 Edition, the gold medalist from the 100-meter freestyle event (the one open to all nationalities and occupations), a Hungarian swimmer named Alfréd Hajós said, “the icy water almost cut into our stomachs.”

Alfred Hajos
Alfréd Hajós

Hajós also competed and won the 1,200-meter swim. He had smeared a thick layer of grease in an attempt to ward off the effects of the icy waters, and still barely completed the race. The very quotable Hajós had said, “My will to live completely overcame my desire to win.”

So while Hajós won silver in the 100-meter freestyle swimming event, only one other person may have completed the event – Otto Herschmann of Austria. The other 8 competitors who reportedly entered this competition were not awarded medals. It simply may have been too darn cold to bother.

The 100-meter freestyle event has become one of the must-see events at the Summer Olympics. However, needless to say, the 100-meter freestyle for Greek Sailors did not make its way beyond those 1896 Olympics.

YOG winner of inaugural triathlon team relay - Europe 1
Youth Olympic Games winner of inaugural triathlon team relay – Europe 1

A triathlon team relay? A normal Olympic triathlon lasts about 2 hours. Would a relay version last 8 hours? That’s definitely not must-see television.

On June 9, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that the triathlon relay will be a part of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But it isn’t as long as I had initially imagined. The specs for this particularly relay is that each of four team members run mini-triathlons. Instead of say, swimming 1.5 kilometers, cycling 38.48 kilometers, and then running for 2.5 kilometers like they do at the Olympics, the relay triathletes will instead each swim for 250 meters, cycle for 7 kilometer, and run for 1.7 kilometers. With those significantly shorter distances, four triathletes can complete a race in less than 90 minutes.

Where did this idea come from? The IOC, in a way, has their own innovation lab called the Youth Olympic Games (YOG). As a reaction to growing concerns of obesity in children, the IOC created the Youth Olympic Games, a smaller-scale Olympics for athletes aged 14 to 18. The first YOG was featured in Singapore in 2010, where 3600 athletes from over 200 nations came together to compete in 26 sports.

One of those sports was the Mixed Triathlon Relay. Another was 3-on-3 basketball.

What’s on the horizon? AT the 2018 Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games, athletes will compete in dance sport -more specifically, break dancing.

Will you be 14 to 18 in 2018? Are you an amazing at headspins, airflares, robot moves and the baby swipe? Then here’s your chance to compete in Buenos Aires at the Youth Olympic Games, and potentially, legitimize breakdancing as sport to the point where the IOC asks, “so you think you can dance at the Olympics?”

Winners of the first FINA 4x100 mixed medley relay- Great Britain
Winners of the first FINA 4×100 mixed medley relay- Great Britain

In the history of the Olympics, both Summer and Winter versions, athletes who have compiled the highest medal hauls over their Olympic careers tend to be gymnasts and swimmers. In fact, of the top 20 greatest career medal recipients, seven are swimmers, including the all-time record holder, Michael Phelps, and his 28 total medals.

It just got a little easier for swimmers to add even more medals.

On June 9, 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the addition of another 15 events for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, including the men’s 800-meter freestyle, the women’s 1500-meter freestyle, and the intriguing 4×100 mixed medley relay, in which 2 men and 2 women form a single team and swim the butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle in succession.

Phelps reacted strongly when he heard the news, stating that the additional swimming events would “(take) away from the sport,” according to this NBC Sports article.

What else are we going to add? Are we going to do, like, 75m frees? How many other events are we going to add? When you add something like an 800m for men and a 1500m for women, and you’re adding mixed relays and 50s of strokes. I don’t want to say it, but it seems like there’s too much going on. It seems like, so then we’re going to grow the team by a handful of other people? I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s what swimming has been through all of this time, and hopefully we don’t have it for too long, but it’s not in my power. I can’t really do anything. I’ll just sit and watch.

It’s a bit of a ramble from Phelps, but it’s clear he’s unhappy. One could speculate that the IOC made it easier for some young swimmer to have more chances to earn medals, and perhaps one day, overtake Phelps’ 28 medals.

On the other hand, British gold medalist in the 100-meter breaststroke, Adam Peaty, expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that the IOC didn’t add even more swimming events as he thought that people wanted to see more sprints, for example, 50-meter races in the breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly. Perhaps more accurately, Peaty believes that the emphasis should have been on speed over distance, as he said in this BBC article.

Sprints engage people more than distance events. I don’t like that there’s another distance event and I don’t think that’s what’s needed. I’m a bit disappointed. Maybe they could have both just done a 1500m and then done away with the 800m. You can’t please everyone and I know I’m a sprinter but they’re the races I always remember growing up watching the Olympics.

Eri Yamamoto and Yamawaki

Eri Yamamoto-MacDonald navigates the world in a wheelchair. No matter how fast this para-athlete swims, or how many goals she scores as an ice sledge hockey competitor, or how many kilograms she pushes into the air as a competitive powerlifter, when people see her, they see someone who needs help.

At an American Chamber of Commerce Japan event on June 2, 2017, Yamamoto-MacDonald of The Nippon Foundation told a fairly typical story, for her, of going to a store to buy rice. When she got to the cashier to pay for a 5kg bag of rice, the person working there took notice of her wheelchair and asked her, “are you able to carry that bag of rice?” She understood the person was not acting mean, but she was frustrated that as a power weightlifter, who lifts 50 kilograms in competition, is seen as so helpless that she can’t lift 5. “They are not seeing me as an athlete. They are seeing me as a disabled person.”

For joint speakers, Yamamoto-MacDonald, as well as Yasushi Yamawaki, also of the Nippon Foundation and president of the Japan Paralympic Committee, it is their mission to change the perceptions of people regarding individuals with impairments. “It’s not about disability, it’s about ability,” said Yamawaki. “We take the word ‘impossible’, and add an apostrophe between the ‘I’ and the ‘m’, because we like to say ‘I’m possible’. To us, nothing is impossible.”

Yamamoto-MacDonald, who has not had the use of her legs since birth, has been working in the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center with a goal of bringing social change to Japan. It’s important to change the tangibles, she said, designing infrastructure and venues to make it easier for people with impairments to navigate and take advantage of their surroundings. But it’s more important to deal with the intangibles. “Changing peoples’ minds is more important. Having them watch high performance para-athletes can change people’s perceptions towards people with disabilities.”

Nippon Foundation produces an Education Toolkit, called “I’m Possible”, which they distribute to schools throughout the country. So far they have handed out 23,000 toolkits nationwide. Nippon Foundation has organized visits by para-athletes to over 100 elementary, junior high and high schools last year. The plan is to visit 250 schools in 2017 and 1,000 by 2020.

The education is important because it is often the social environment that highlights the disability of an individual, as Yamamoto-MacDonald explained. If the work environment of a person with an impairment allows that person to move about and do the things he or she wants or needs to do, the so-called disability can be rendered unnoticeable. But if the physical environment caters to so-called able-bodied people only, and the surrounding individuals consciously or unconsciously behave or speak in a way that ignores or demeans those with impairments, then as Yamamoto-MacDonald observed, the social environment creates the disability.

She explained that at her workplace in the Nippon Foundation, everyone works to chip away at both the tangible and intangible barriers people with impairments face. However, while her workplace allows her to live a relatively normal life, she finds Japanese society less accommodating. “Japanese people are very polite. But in public, they are not. If I’m traveling by train, I need to use the elevators. But people who have the option of stairs and escalators push their way in front of me to get into the elevators.” She said that in contrast, while London still needed to make improvements to infrastructure, they had a better mindset, even back in 2012.

Yamamoto MacDonald and Roy

At the London Paralympics, I worked at the Japan House to build awareness for the Tokyo 2020 bid. To get to the venue I had to take public transpiration. I got off at a station where there were no elevators. The officers told me that I had to get off at the station before this one. But they made sure I got to the venue. The people’s mindset is very important, even without all of the infrastructure. I got to where I needed to go in London. Tokyo doesn’t have that mindset. People need to care a little more. It would be better to have more accessibility, but it is accessibility in the heart that is more important.

Yamamoto-MacDonald talked about how important it is for companies to expose themselves more to people with impairments, and to understand that engaging with a wider variety of people is an opportunity. In fact, she said that CSR, which stands for Corporate Social Responsibility, should really be re-labeled CSO, or Corporate Social Opportunity. It’s an opportunity for corporations and wider society to understand the power of diversity and inclusion. But it is also a way to expand opportunities for people like her. This is key for two reasons: to motivate those with impairments who feel different and isolated, as well as to unlock the potential abilities in the disabled.

I never got asked about my hobbies, or what sports I like. When I was 9, I was so shy. I couldn’t say “thank you”. Why is it only me who has to say “thank you” all the time, I thought. I couldn’t say “thank you” back because I felt I couldn’t help anyone. But when I began swimming, I gained confidence. I swam faster, faster than even able-bodied swimmers. That’s when I started saying “thank you”. As I grew more confident, I began to dream of being a Paralympian, going to the Paralympics. Since I began having that dream, it has become my identity.

An injury at 16 made it difficult for Yamamoto-MacDonald to continue her swimming career. She went to Canada and became proficient at ice sledge hockey, but she also understood this kind of hockey was not yet a Paralympics event. When she returned to Japan, she did not have a specialization that could focus her training for 2020, until she stumbled upon powerlifting.

Last year, the Tokyo Metropolitan government sponsored a special event – a power-lifting exhibition. I saw big guys lifting hundreds of kilograms. My boss told me to give it a try. I grabbed 20kg and it was light! It was fun! I saw other women stop at 20kg but I was able to lift 40 kg. Since then I have been powerlifting.

She explained we rarely see powerlifting on television or live. There are very few events and opportunities, and the opportunities for people with impairments to see para-athletes is very low. “You have to meet the right people for the right chance to come around.” And that is something Yamawaki explained is key to driving societal change – the need to create greater exposure of para-athletes to society to show what is possible.

Yamawaki ended the talk with a video from the International Paralympics Committee. As you can see in the video below, there is a strong push to bring sports opportunities to youth with impairments, that motivating them earlier in their lives will lead them to greater choices and fuller lives.

“It’s not about what people can’t do, it’s what they can do,” he said.