Pyeongchang NBC logo

We live in a 24/7 always on world. When NBC delayed broadcast of premier sporting events at the Rio Olympics, so that they could present them during prime time in the evenings, their strategy backfired for many. After all, in today’s world, people can learn of the results instantly.

NBC recently announced that for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in early 2018, all broadcasts will be live, no matter the time in the US.

“That means social media won’t be ahead of the action in any time zone, and as a result, none of our viewers will have to wait for anything,” Jim Bell, president for NBC Olympics production and programming, said in a statement. “This is exciting news for the audience, the advertisers and our affiliates alike.”

Since South Korea will be 14 hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States, if an ice hockey match starts at 8pm in Korea, then New Yorkers can watch it real time, but they’ll have to be up at 6 am to do so. Of course, if you’re a big hockey fan, trying to avoid hearing the score for another 12 hours before watching it prime time would be a pain in the neck, if not impossible.

This may actually be ho hum news for most people.

But in 1964, the prospect of broadcasting the Tokyo Olympics live to other continents was an exciting thought.

NHK camerman 1964 Tokyo Olympics
NHK camerman at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
Live broadcasts in 1964 were not new. The 1936 Berlin Olympics were shown live on German television. The 1960 Rome Olympics were the first to be broadcast live across Europe. But, according to John Slater of Western Carolina University, Japan wanted the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to be the first broadcast live to another continent.

Slater wrote in this abstract that members of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee wanted the Tokyo Games to be known as the Technology Games. And so they contacted the American government in Washington D. C. if they would be willing to adapt American communication satellites designed for telephone communications to relay television signals. American officials also thought it would be very cool to be the first Games to broadcast signals literally across the globe.

NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Corporate, built a transmitter in Japan, and the US Navy made modifications to a communications facility in California, and NASA which operated the satellite Syncom II, moved its orbiting location from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And when they tested the ability to send visual and audio television signals from Japan to North America real time, it worked! But as Slater wrote, NBC, which owned the broadcast rights in the United States, got very defensive.

The U.S. Department of State coordinated the use of the necessary radio frequencies. The system worked, and the Communication Satellite Corporation offered to make satellite time available. Both CBC and the European Broadcasting Union signed up for an hour a day, at a cost of U.S. $150 a minute.

But NBC chose to protect its investment in exclusivity. It got hung up on NASA’s policy that programs sent via experimental satellites should be made freely available to all competing media. In the end, only the opening ceremonies were televised live in the United States, and then only in the East. During the competition itself, U.S. viewers had to wait to see next-day videotapes of the Games, while viewers in Canada and Europe got the full benefit of live coverage. The Canadians had embraced the new technology, while the U.S. broadcasters tried to fend it off as a threat to their commercial interests.

NBC got an earful for promising live broadcasts, but actually providing tape-delayed shows in the evenings.

But that was 1964. Today, on the eve of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, NBC will be giving sports fans immediate gratification.

Matthew Mitcham
Matthew Mitcham

All of the rows on either side of me faded to nothing. And all sounds completely dissipated. All that I could hear was the sound of the spray trickling onto the water. Time slowed down and it was just me and the dive.

Matthew Mitcham, with his back to the water atop the 10-meter platform, exhaled, and lept into the void. The Australian then executed a two and a half somersault with two and a half twists in the pike position, and nailed it. Liang Huo of China, who was in first up to the last dive, climbed the platform to execute the same dive, and was unable to deliver the precision of Mitcham. Huo fell to fourth, and Mitcham, to his wonder and surprise, took the gold medal. In fact, at these 2008 Beijing Olympics, Mitcham was the only non-Chinese to win gold in the 8 men’s and women’s diving competitions.

Mitcham won because he was able to execute a dive of the highest difficulty at the time. FINA judges rated Mitcham’s and Huo’s attempt at 3.8 degree of difficulty (D.D.). But as is true in sports that employ D.D. in their judging, like figure skating or aerial skiing, the bar will continue to rise. At the Beijing Olympics, you had to have a D.D. of well over 3. Today, it needs to be over 4.0. In fact, FINA has identified 13 dives that have a difficulty of over 4, compared to over 10 years ago when it was only 2.

So where are divers and coaches getting insight into new ways to twist and tumble to greater dives? That’s right – mathematicians.

This article from MIT’s Technology Review cites the research of William Tong and Holger Dullin of the University of Sydney in Australia in explaining how to design even more complex dives, ones that would not necessarily come intuitively to the most advanced divers. How did they do it? Here’s how Tong explains it on his University of Sydney site:

My doctoral thesis focused on optimal shape change control and achieved three primary goals: using the geometric phase to improve planar somersault performance, developing the mathematical framework to describe the twisting somersault, and innovating new dive sequences yet to be performed by real world athletes.

No, I can’t quite fathom that either. So the Technology Review article dumbs it down for us by explaining that Tong and Dullin have created a mathematical model for how a human body twists and turns in the air, with the expectation that they can propose new sequence of movements to increase the speed of these movements. Increasing speed is essential for the simple reason that the law of physics limits the time one can stay in the air after leaping off a ten-meter platform or a three-meter springboard – 1.43 seconds in a freefall to be precise. The diver can currently increase that to 1.6 seconds with his body movement.

Tong and Dunn have designed a dive that includes five twists and 1 1/2 somersaults that would take 1.8 seconds, based on their mathematical model, “assuming the diver generates only moderate levels of angular momentum during takeoff.”

This is longer than divers have in the air. But the pair say that there are various ways to make gains. An obvious way is to increase the amount of angular momentum during takeoff. Also, the diver spends a significant amount of time—0.4 seconds—with arms and legs stretched out to achieve the full 1½ somersaults. This could be reduced by taking a tucked or piked position (although their model is as yet unable to incorporate these positions).

This dive, labeled the 513XD dive, has never been executed. But the researchers say it is a matter of time. “By simulating the 513XD dive we hope to provide coaches and athletes with insight and motivation so that the dive may one day be executed in competition.”

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Wilson Kipsang wins the Tokyo Marathon

Wilson Kipsang won the Tokyo Marathon on March 1 with the time of 2 hours, 3 minutes and 58 seconds. The Kenyan broke the Japan record for the race, but did not beat his personal best of 2:03:23, which was a world record he set at the 2013 Berlin Marathon. Nor did he best the current world record of 2:02:57, currently held by fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto.

Kipsang, enjoying the cool temperatures of Tokyo, thought he could take back the world record. But he likely did not believe he had a chance at running under 2 hours. Getting to 1:59:59 is the holy grail of long-distance running. According to this in-depth look from the New York Times at “Sub2”, as this quest is called, a researcher from the Mayo Clinic thinks that breaking the 2-hour barrier won’t happen for another 10 to 25 years, and a three-time Olympian from Ethiopia, Bekele, says “I can’t say it’s possible.” As the article explains, “Could the body have enough carbohydrate fuel to run that far, that fast? Would the brain slow the legs for self-preservation?”

A 1:59:59 marathon would require a searing pace of 4 minutes 34 seconds per mile, seven seconds faster than the pace of the current world record. It would require 85 to 90 percent of a runner’s maximum aerobic capacity — twice the capacity of an average man — and a sustained heart rate of about 160 to 170 beats per minute. (The typical resting rate is 60 to 100 beats per minute.)

It is beginning to feel a bit like Zeno’s Paradox, that no matter how close you get to your target, you may never reach it. Could the 2-hour marathon be a bridge too far? Sports scientist and anti-doping expert in the IOC, Yannis Pitsiladis, believes that a Sub2 marathon is possible. “What excites me is understanding the limits of human performance. What can man do?”

yannis-pitsiladis

Pitsiladis believes we’ve only just scratched the surface in understanding the science of endurance running. Incremental gains in the disciplines of nutrition, biomechanics, genetics, running efficiency, training, race strategy, sports medicine, as well as data analytics could get runners to the tipping point of dramatic advances in long-distance running. “We know nothing about the science of training,” Pitsiladis said. “I really mean nothing. When I say that, people get really upset.”

Here are a few of the non-conventional ideas of Pitsiladis from that New York Times article:

  • How Many Miles: Many elite marathoners, for instance, run about 120 miles a week in training. But there was little science to support that regimen, Pitsiladis said. Perhaps 75 miles a week would work just as well for many runners — or maybe any reasonable training program would.
  • Live High Train High? A popular training method is known as “live high, train low.” By living at a higher altitude, athletes stimulate the production of red blood cells to compensate for the lower level of oxygen in the air. By training at or near sea level, they are able to maintain the intensity of their workouts because more oxygen is available. Live high, train low is supported by some evidence. But Pitsiladis is not fully convinced of its efficacy, saying, “I would bet you it’s wrong and that what’s better is live high and train higher,” as perhaps the two greatest distance runners in history — Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia — often did.
  • Be a Glutton for Glucose: Pitsiladis had come to believe that a two-hour marathon might be best achieved by bombarding the system with glucose.For instance, Owen Anderson, a consultant to the Sub2 Project who coached elite Kenyan road runners in Michigan, gave his athletes eight to 10 ounces of a sports drink about 10 minutes before a race to get accustomed to a bloated feeling. (They drank more during competition.)
  • Run the Second Half Faster: Against convention, Pitsiladis theorized that the second half of a two-hour marathon would be run faster, not slower, than the first half. As runners burn fuel and become lighter during a race, he said, they should become more economical, needing less oxygen to maintain a certain speed.
  • Squeeze Don’t Twist: When runners drank, Pitsiladis believed, they could shave precious seconds by squeezing fluid from a bag instead of opening a bottle, as elite runners do on the course.
  • Rinse Don’t Drink: And perhaps, he said, they needed to drink little or nothing in the second half of a two-hour marathon. Instead, they might rinse their mouths with a carbohydrate solution and spit it out. Research showed the brain could be tricked into believing that more carbs were on the way, thus inducing the muscles to work harder.
femke-van-den-driessche
Femke Van den Driessche _Sporza

It’s been suspected for a while. The effortless speed. The wheels continuing to spin way longer than they should after a crash.

Tiny motors in bicycles.

“Bike doping.”

And finally, on January 28, 2017, a bicycle of a racer who had dropped out of the cyclocross world championships in Zolder, Belgium was seen to have electrical cables coming out of part of its body, according to this article. Upon further investigation, a small motor was found.

The bike belonged to a 19-year old Belgian cyclist named Femke Van den Driessche, a champion of Belgian national cyclo-cross and junior mountain bike tournaments. She was a favorite in the Zolder event until a mechanical problem ended her race. It has also put her career in suspension as Van den Driessche was banned for six years, and would be required to forfeit all results since October 10, 2015.

Van den Driessche said “It wasn’t my bike — it was that of a friend and was identical to mine,” according to this article. But her coach, Rudy De Bie said he was “disgusted.” “We thought that we had in Femke a great talent in the making but it seems that she fooled everyone,” he told Sporza.

Coincidentally, the day after this first publicly realized case of “bike doping”, the American news program, 60 Minutes, aired a segment entitled “Enhancing the Bike“. Correspondent, Bill Whitaker went to Budapest, Hungary to meet an engineer named Stefano Varjs, who designed a motor small enough to fit unseen inside the frame of a bike and powerful enough to motor an adult up a hill with relative ease.

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Stefano Varjas and Bill Whitaker_60 Minutes – click on image to watch this 60 Minutes’ segment.

When Varis showed this invention to a friend in 1998, the friend said he had a buyer who wanted this technology and would pay a handsome sum, if the buyer was assured of exclusive right to this technology for 10 years. Varis was paid USD2 million, an offer he simply could not refuse.

From that point on, it has been suspected that motorized bikes have been used in competitions, even the Tour de France. Here is part of the transcript of the 60 Minutes report:

Jean-Pierre Verdy is the former testing director for the French Anti-Doping Agency who investigated doping in the Tour de France for 20 years.

Bill Whitaker: Have there been motors used in the Tour de France?

Jean-Pierre Verdy: Yes, of course. It’s been the last three to four years when I was told about the use of the motors. And in 2014, they told me there are motors. And they told me, there’s a problem. By 2015, everyone was complaining and I said, something’s got to be done.

Verdy said he’s been disturbed by how fast some riders are going up the mountains. As a doping investigator, he relied for years on informants among the team managers and racers in the peloton, the word for the pack of riders. These people told Jean-Pierre Verdy that about 12 racers used motors in the 2015 Tour de France.

Bill Whitaker: The bikers who use motors, what do you think of them and what they’re doing to cycling?

Jean-Pierre Verdy: They’re hurting their sport. But human nature is like that. Man has always tried to find that magic potion.

Watch the video below to see an example of a possible bike that’s been doped.

phones
There be gold in them thar phones!

If you’re living in Japan, and you buy smartphones like you buy a fashionable spring jacket, then you’ve got a bunch of phones in your cabinet that are just gathering dust.

Tokyo2020 wants your phone! Starting April, Japan telecommunications conglomerate, NTT Docomo, will set up collection boxes in over 2,400 NTT Docomo stores across Japan. Additionally, the Japan Environmental Sanitation Center, will also set up collection centers to collect old PCs, tablets, wearables, monitors, and other electronic devices that can be mined for metals.

The goal is to collect 8 tons of metal, which will yield 2 tons of gold, silver and bronze, and eventually result in the production of 5,000 medals for winners in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Said Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimura of this initiative, “computers and smart phones have become useful tools. However, I think it is wasteful to discard devices every time there is a technological advance and new models appear. Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic medals will be made out of people’s thoughts and appreciation for avoiding waste. I think there is an important message in this for future generations.”

Sustainability will be a key theme of Tokyo2020. And my hope and expectation is that Tokyo2020 will be a shining model of how to present the Olympics, as it was in 1964. Tokyo2020 will stand in stark contrast to past Olympics.

For example, there are already signs of decay in Rio de Janeiro as venues used for the 2016 Rio Olympics have been abandoned. This is an oft-told tale, with plenty of photographic evidence of waste from past Olympics. Only six months later, the main venue for the Rio Olympics is an empty, pilfered and unused shell of a stadium.

The IOC knows its reputation and perhaps its long-term survival are dependent upon making the Olympics more in line with the host country’s economic plans and means, and more conscious of its obligations to be more socially tolerant and more purposeful in driving sustainability.

kohei-uchimura_gold-medal_rio_ap
Kohei Uchimura’s next gold medal might be made from recycled smartphones

Since its inception in 2014, IOC President, Thomas Bach, has driven home the 40 tenets of his vision – The Olympic 2020 Agenda – a list of priorities, principles and actions that will guide the IOC in the coming years. Some of the hopes is to help ensure that host cities do not end up with an overly burdensome budget to hold the Games, to make the bidding process less complicated and less expensive, to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and to drive greater sustainability.

The IOC has been working closely with Tokyo2020 to bring its operational budget down from USD30 billion, which is four times the budget put forth in the 2013 bid for 2020. The current goal is to get the budget down to under USD20 billion, which is far under Sochi’s USD50 billion spend, Beijing’s USD40 billion spend, and more in line with London’s USD20 billion spend. I believe that Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is making an honest attempt to drive the budget down, as well as create a legacy of sustainability and inclusiveness in Japan.

If you’re in Japan, you too can help! Look for your old smartphones, and the signs at NTT Docomo. Donate a phone, and ensure that a piece of your property becomes a piece of the winning medal for Olympians in 2020.

drone-shot-surfing
Expect incredible drone shots of surfing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

One of my favorite toys as a kid was Verti-bird, a Mattel product from 1973 in which you operated a mini-helicopter to stop the bad guys. You had to control the helicopter’s lift and descent as well as speed, but it was connected to a wire so its flight was limited to a circular route.

But it was very cool!

Today, drones are the modern-day Verti-bird. This is a very weak comparison because drones today are in the middle of cutting-edge advancements in logistics, the military, security, news and sports coverage.

I remember talking with a photographer who covered the sailing events at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and he mentioned that it is hard for people unfamiliar with yacht competitions to show interest because of how hard it is to capture these competitions visually. Perhaps drones will change that.

Fox Sports made a commitment last year to provide broadcasts of golf and super cross using perspectives provided by drones. This has been made possible by adjustments to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines in the US, which now allows the use of drones for commercial use.

Because drones, when controlled by a skilled technician, can provide unique angles, particularly from above a stadium or an athlete, or close ups of athletes who are far from areas where cameramen or spectators watch.

Drones can currently move at speeds of 64 kph (40 mph). They can venture as far as 1.2 kilometers (.75 miles) away from the controller, which is a pretty wide berth. And battery life for a drone is about 20 minutes. These specs are true as of this writing, but I’m sure it’s already an outdated reality as this technology will advance rapidly.

Yes, there are fears that a drone will plop out of the sky and interfere with an athlete’s performance. People will point to the drone falling just behind a skiier at the Sochi Olympics. But the benefit, in terms of the birds-eye-view images and up-close perspectives in sports where such access was not possible, will outweigh the risk.

Expect to see incredibly creative use of drones at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

drone-shot-sailing

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Testing the new high-tech road surface August, 2016

The average temperature in Tokyo in July and August is around 30 degrees Celsius or 86 degrees Fahrenheit. But on the roads of Tokyo, after absorbing day after day of heat, can get as hot as 50 degrees Celsius, or over 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s hot!

And that’s not counting the dreadful humidity that time of year in Tokyo. I hated summers in New York City, but they’re worse in Tokyo.

Now, imagine running 42 kilometers on those roads, in that heat and humidity, because the marathons for women and men are scheduled respectively on August 2 and 9 in 2020. Researchers say that on average optimal times to run a marathon are temperatures of around 6 degrees Celsius or 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Average body temperature is around 37 degrees Celsius and research also shows that running performance drops significantly if body temperature rises above 38.8 degrees celsius, according to this article.

At 38.8 C, the body can no longer effectively cool itself and it begins to divert blood to the skin to help keep it cool. This decreases the amount of blood available to carry oxygen to working muscles, which affects performance.

In intense hot weather athletic events, as the body becomes severely dehydrated, the result can be heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke, heat-induced coma and then even death.

road-surfaces-for-marathon
The examples of the high-tech road surfaces: the one on the left is the water-retaining material and the one on the right is the ceramic-based sprayed material

Clearly, organizers of the Tokyo Olympics want to avoid both cramps and death. What are they going to do? They’re going to turn the roads white. On August 31, 2016, a special event was held on a 250-meter stretch of road in the middle of Tokyo that incorporated two pieces of heat-reducing technology:

  • a ceramic-based spray coating with insulating properties which resulted in a whitish-colored road that reflects the sun’s infra-red rays, as well as
  • another road material that has water-retaining properties, by which water is retained and slowly evaporated, thus cooling the roads.

These two technologies will be combined to build out a road of some 21 kilometers, according to a television broadcast I recently saw, and allows the entire 42-kilometer race to be run, presumably, on a road much cooler than what they would experience today.

Olympic marathon runner Toshihiko Seko and Paralympic wheelchair marathon runner Nobukazu Hanaoka, were on hand on August 31 to test them out the new road. Their reaction?

  • “The heat-insulating paving was clearly cooler,” said Seko after a test run on the road.
  • Hanaoka said: “The wheels did not slip when I applied the brake, even when the surface was wet.”

Other ideas being explored to keep the road and the runners cooler are:

  • More shade along the course
  • An earlier start in the day
  • Routing the course through more open areas with greater wind movement
  • Routing the course near water and presumably lower temperatures
  • Placement of cool mist stations along the course