Lauren Tamayo, Dotsie Bausch, Sarah Hammer, Jennie Reed

“It was a miracle,” he said.

Not only had the US not won a medal in team pursuit cycling in 20 years, USA Cycling hadn’t even bothered to organize a pursuit cycling team since 1996. So in 2012, when four American women decided to make a go of it, training desperately for the London Olympics, the collective experience in pursuit cycling in America was minimal, the team’s budget was meager, and the gap between them and the very best in the world was huge.

And yet, as 1996 Olympian, Sky Christopherson told a transfixed audience at a speaking event sponsored by the US Embassy in Tokyo in early December, a miracle indeed happened. Dotsie Bausch, Sarah Hammer, Jennie Reed and Lauren Tamayo came seemingly out of nowhere to win silver in the women’s team pursuit in London.

Hammer was already a four-time Cycling World Champion in individual pursuit, but was determined to be an Olympic champion. Bausch was a model recovering from anorexia who hadn’t started her cycling career until the age of 26. Reed was asked to come out of retirement to join the team to take a crack at the 2012 London Games.

This is the starting point for the mesmerizing documentary, Personal Gold, produced by Christopherson, who had transitioned from Olympic cyclist to entrepreneur. Not only has he become an authority on the relationship between biometrics and genomics and high performance, he also established a consultancy called Optimized Athlete.

Sky Christopherson at The American Center Japan in Tokyo

I had the pleasure of watching this documentary at this event, after which Christopherson made himself available for Q&A. His documentary told the story of a women’s cycling team that clearly lacked support in 2012. While Great Britain and Australia’s cycling organizations put tens of millions of dollars into their road and track cycling teams, USA Cycling put all their dollars in road racing, thanks to the success of Lance Armstrong and his colleagues.

Personal Gold tells the story of how the team identified Mallorca, Spain as a good place to train for its low cost and proximity to London. Other national teams would provide a whole cadre of trainers and coaches. When the American team arrived in Mallorca three months prior to the start of the London Olympics, they were shocked to learn that the only support USA Cycling would provide is a single coach.

As is shown in the documentary, the athletes’ husbands played an integral part in Team USA, keeping the bicycles in tip-top shape, shouting out times and providing water during training, cooking meals, giving massages, and being massively important keepers of morale. In addition to the cyclists’ husbands, Christopherson created a virtual team of volunteer advisors – experts on biology, genetics, sleep, a data analytics consultancy, as well as a former Navy Seal who provided guidance on teamwork.

During the course of the training camp, amazing progress was made in understanding the particular strengths and weaknesses of each of the cyclists, and what they needed to do as a team to improve. When the team began its training in Spain, they knew they had to get to world-class speeds of about 3 minutes and 16 seconds in the 3,000 meter race. But try as they could, they could not even break 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Unfortunately, by the time they broke camp, they still had not improved their times.

But Christopherson provided insight into how the body works after training hard. Like the idea of how an “a-ha” moment hits unexpectedly, after periods of great focus and concentration, the body is also readying itself for it’s own “a-ha” moment. “When we arrived in London, we began to taper (our training routine). We mostly rested. And that’s when the biggest potential comes. Of course, it’s unclear how high you will go. But athletes can get into a flow. Something happens, from their hearts, and they transcend.”

As they readied themselves for the qualification round in the velodrome in London, the team from the US tried to stay calm in a velodrome located in a country that is cycling mad. Unfortunately they were going up in the first round against Team GB, and the noise and the support for the Brits was likely intimidating.

The riders selected for this round, Bausch, Hammer and Reed, looked sloppy during the qualification race, their formation far from tight. As it turns out, they achieved their fastest time ever at 3 minutes and 19.4 seconds. But it was disappointing as it was still


For those of us in Japan, now thinking of how we are going to get ready for Tokyo 2020, the handover ceremony from Rio to Tokyo still resonates.

For eight minutes at the end of the Rio Olympics, Japan was given the spotlight. And the light shone brightly on Japan’s technology, fashion, arts, children and of course, Tokyo. They even made the solemn national anthem somewhat modern and uplifting with the stunning focus on the hi-no-maru, the red circle on white that symbolically represents the country.


Tokyo2020 recently shared a video of this ceremony’s production, which is fascinating. These are the kinds of intense, complex projects that I would absolutely love to be a part of.

Global marketing and advertising powerhouse, Dentsu, was hired to create the closing handover ceremonies for Tokyo2020 for both the Rio Olympics and Rio Paralympics. Dentsu was paid JPY1.2 billion (USD12 million) to produce these segments, and of the big decisions they made was to include globally reknown cartoon characters: Doraemon and Super Mario.

Clearly, the transformation of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe into Super Mario and back again was the highlight of the handover ceremony. And interestingly, Nintendo is reported to have paid nothing to have one of its characters be front and center.

Four more years to go. So much to do, so little time.

On October 10, 1963, I was born.

One year later, on October 10, 1964, Tokyo was reborn.

Japan was on the rise in the early 1960s and the XVIII Olympiad provided an opportunity for Japan to show the world that it was not only back on its feet, but sprinting!

To recall the energy, ingenuity and enthusiasm of Japan that October in 1964, here is a wonderful gallery of pictures from the Yomiuri Shinbum Group.

The famed National Gymnasium, designed by Kenzo Tange, under construction

Chapter One: Tokyo Reborn: See the Olympic venues under construction.

Testing the Seiko timing system that automatically captures swim finish times

Chapter Two: Made in Japan: See the emergence of Seiko and IBM, taking Japan and the Olympics to the next level of technological achievement.

Traditional happi coats were distributed to Olympians.

Chapter Three: “Omotenashi”: See the myriad ways in which Japan made visitors welcome, and gape with admiration.

Japanese athletes training hard.

Chapter Four: International Sports Festival: See how the Japanese athletes trained and groomed for their big coming out party, and how overseas athletes were welcomed to Japan.

Yoshinori Sakai lighting the Olympic cauldron on October 10.

Chapter Five: Olympic Flame: Follow the torch, and see how Japan celebrated one of its greatest. proudest days of the Showa Era.

Thanks to those Tokyo Games 52 years ago, October 10 was declared a public holiday in Japan – Sports Day – and has become a time of the year when schools all over Japan put their children through a variety of sporting activities, with their proud parents cheering them on.

It’s a day of health.

It’s a day of sport.

It’s a day of pride.

I think I’ll keep it as my birthday.

Coca Cola Booth Roppongi Hills 1
Coca Cola booth at Roppongi Hills


It was August 6 and I had just watched the opening ceremonies of the Rio Olympics, which was being broadcast live in Japan that lazy Saturday morning. Quite coincidentally, my wife and I reserved a Brazilian barbecue place in Roppongi for dinner that evening.

Roppongi is a hive of activity, a center of commerce, entertainment and shopping that bustles 7 days a week. In our stroll through Roppongi that day, I came upon two examples of how official Olympic sponsors have begun marketing the Olympics, not only as a lead in to the Rio Olympics, but also as a proud reminder that Tokyo will be the host of the XXXIII Olympiad in 2020.

Coca Cola is one of 12 worldwide Olympic sponsors, part of the so-called TOP program – TOP standing for “The Olympic Partner”. Like other TOP sponsors, Coca Cola has exclusive rights in the food and beverages industry to use the word Olympics and the five-ring symbol of the Games in its global marketing and advertisements, among other exclusive rights.

And in the popular Roppongi Hills square was a Coca Cola booth, with kids and adults lining up to get in. Inside the booth was a large screen displaying a swimming competition computer game. A pair of contestants would line up in front of the screen, get a motion-sensing band attached to their wrist, and then furiously roll their arms as their watched their avatar on the screen race to the finish. At the end, they were awarded a medal with a bottle of Coca Cola attached.

After dinner, we walked to my old work haunt – Midtown Tower. This popular office complex was built by Mitsui Fudosan, a major real estate developer in Japan. Mitsui Fudosan is not a TOP partner, but is instead a Tokyo 2020 Gold Partner. In the Olympic hierarchy of sponsors, the IOC allows the local national Olympic committee to select local sponsors that have exclusive rights in Japan to market and advertise using the word “Olympics” and related logos.

Sumitomo Fudosan Midtown Tower Olympics Exhibition 1

Mitsui Fudosan used the open area in front of Midtown Tower artfully. Dotted throughout the square were sculptures of figures in athletic pose, gleaming white and geometrically fashioned. A female basketball player and a wheelchair tennis player greet us at the entrance. A sprinter climbs the glass cover of the escalator leading down to the underground shopping areas. Synchronized swimmers rise from a shallow pool of water, a paralympic runner strides, and a pair of judoka negotiate a fall.

Mitsui Fudosan wants you to “Be the Change”. In a missive at the display area, the JOC Olympic sponsor states that like athletes, whose daily efforts and countless beads of sweat and tears, have shaped them into Olympians with unique and wonderful stories, Tokyo is also being shaped on a daily basis, building by building, each with their own stories. The last line of the missive states, “Next, it’s Tokyo’s turn. The Olympics will be on our stage. What fantastic stories will be told?”

Sumitomo Fudosan Midtown Tower Olympics Exhibition 2

Rio Closing Ceremony_1

The countdown to Tokyo 2020 begins!

The Rio Olympics are over, the Olympic flame extinguished. But before the final lights of the closing ceremony dimmed, Japan sent the world an invitation. After the traditional handover of the Olympic flag from the mayor of Rio to the governor of Tokyo, Japan gave the world a sneak peek, showing why everyone should be excited about coming to Tokyo in 2020, July 24 to August 9. The closing ceremony is an opportunity for the host of the next Olympics to whet the appetite of Olympians, wannabes and sports fans alike. And Japan did not disappoint.

The show at the end of the Rio Olympics closing ceremony was hippy, cutie, techie, sexy, targeting the hippocampus of youth the world over fascinated with Japan, it’s machines, its pop music, it’s kulture of kawaii.

Rio Closing Ceremony_4

An introductory video took us on a jazzy tour of Tokyo, starting us off at the famed zebra crossing in Shibuya. We see the red Super Komachi bullet train which harkens back to the first bullet train introduced 9 days before the start of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. We see the Sky Tree, Tokyo’s newer, bigger tower, although it can never replace the iconic Tokyo Tower, built just prior to the 64 Games. We see Pacman, Doraemon and Hello Kitty, and athletes lined up in profile, reminiscent of the famous athlete posters designed by Yusaku Kamekura for the 1964 Games.

Rio Closing Ceremony_3

And we see Japan Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, in a car, in a hurry to get from Tokyo to Rio. He can’t get there in seconds….unless of course, he turns in to Super Mario, who ends up taking a plunge down an animated tunnel, landing on the other side of the world in Rio. Abe likely had to be heavily convinced, or plied with much alcohol, to appear in a Super Mario costume in the middle of Maracana Stadium. But he did, figuring that if the Queen of England didn’t mind being parodied for the London Olympics opening ceremonies, then maybe he shouldn’t either.

Rio Closing Ceremony_5
Yes, that’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, making sure he’s seen in a Super Mario costume for as little time as possible.

The video was the prelude to a display of art, dance and technology that was both precise and frenetic, ending in a Tokyo tableau, framed by, what else, that unmistakable silhouette of Mount Fuji. At show’s end, Prime Minister said, “See you in Tokyo!”

So, will we see you in Tokyo? We certainly hope so!

Watch the video here.

barcelona cauldron lighting
The lighting of the cauldron at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
The Olympics live on symbols. The five colored rings that represent the five continents of the world. The doves that represent peace. The gold, silver and bronze medals that symbol achievement at the highest sporting levels.

One of the most dramatic symbols of the Olympic Games has been the lighting of the Olympic cauldron that symbolically represents the Games ancient Greek origins, the beginning of the Games, and by extension, the suspension of hostilities in times of conflict and the coming together of the world’s athletes in competition and fair play. The cauldron lighting of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics most poignantly emphasized the need for world peace.

While this particular ceremony started at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, it was at the 1992 Barcelona Games where organizers raised the bar significantly in creating the Wow factor, that moment when you’ve seen something spectacular, something you would not have imagined or expected. In this case, it was paralympian archer, Antonio Rebollo, who shot a flaming arrow some 60 meters over a cauldron that rose seven-stories high, igniting the gases accumulating over the cauldron, and sending chills and thrills across the world.

In 1996, the organizers of the Atlanta Olympics had all sorts of issues with the planning of the cauldron lighting, but one thing they got right was having Muhammad Ali do the honors. Spectacle had to wait four more years for Sydney to bring goosebumps tot the world. An island nation, surrounded by water, Australia brought fire and water together in spectacular fashion. 400-meter sprinter, Cathy Freeman, stood in a pool of water. When she placed it to the watery surface, a ring of fire curled around her, the cauldron rising out of the water like a spaceship, making its way majestically to its home at the top of the stadium.

In 2008, China amazed the world with its spectacular opening ceremonies, highlighted by its impossible-to-imagine sky run, performed by legendary gymnast, Li Ning. Rising high above the crowd, suspended on wires, Ning appeared to run along the stadium wall for 500 meters before applying his torch and igniting another flame that spiraled up into a spectacular ignition of the cauldron.

What new spectacle and symbolism will the Rio Olympics bring? Our hearts are already a-flutter in anticipation.


Broadcaster at the Rio Olympics:

The Belgian has the lead, 30 meters on the Ethiopian struggling to stay in the race. With only a lap to go, we are clearly on the brink of….wait…my goodness! Two people have wandered onto the track, a girl and a boy…what are they doing on the track? They’re just walking, staring at their phones…and here come the leaders waving their arms, shouting. LePlante and Kidane veer to the right and pass them…they’re just standing there! Now the rest of the pack is shouting at them as they past the boy and the girl n their right and left…. OK, finally an official has come to escort them off the track. We saw this happen two days ago, when a teenage boy from Canada walked onto the mat during the semi-finals of the bantamweight wrestling competition. Could this be, yet again, another Pokémon Go attack?

On July 13, the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, wrote on his Facebook page on July 13 that he welcomes Nintendo to roll out the gaming phenomenon, Pokémon Go. “The whole world is coming here. Come too!”

Eduardo Paes facebook pokemon go

With everything going wrong in Brazil, the mayor knows that Pokémon Go is right now the hottest item in pop culture, so just talking about it is easy publicity for the upcoming Rio Olympics. Launched to phenomenal fanfare in Japan, the game starring such characters as Pikachu, Squirtle and Fennekin, Pokémon Go is scheduled for launches in Asia. Unfortunately, with scant few weeks left, it does not appear that Pokémon Go will be making it to Brazil any time soon.

I guess they’ll just have to settle for the Olympics.

August 4, 2016: As it turns out, Pokémon Go launched today in Rio.

Berlinger Urine Sample Bottle
Swiss manufacturer Belrlinger’s urine sample bottle explained by the NY Times.

I have enough trouble taking the cap off those child-proof bottles for pain medicine. I’m sure it’s not easy to open up one of Berlinger’s urine sample bottles.

The design of this bottle is based on 20-years of experience of designing and manufacturing security bottles according to Berlinger & Co AG, and that the Swiss company “welcomes all endeavours to further investigate these allegations.”

The allegations are that the lab in Russia in charge of testing urine samples of high-performance athletes had figured out a way to open up sealed urine sample bottles in order to switch out tainted urine with clean urine. The New York Times has covered the state-sponsored doping scandal in Russia extensively, and a recent article provided details of how athletes beat the urine tests.

Today, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) released its report on the allegations of Russia’s doping and cover-up of doping, not just of track and field athletes, but all high performance athletes. As a result, the recommendation for a Rio Olympics ban on Olympians from Russia have expanded to all athletes.

As many now know, the head of the drug-testing lab for athletes in Russia was a man named Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, and he described in detail how tainted urine samples were passed through a small round hole in the wall of the testing facility, to be returned with clean urine samples. Before the bottles were returned, however, someone had to figure out how to re-open the supposedly tamper-proof bottles without any obvious evidence of tampering.

famous russian hole in the wall
The now famous Russian hole in the wall.

The bottle, which is part of Berlinger’s “BEREG-KIT”, was designed to be opened only one way once sealed – by breaking the cap into two parts with the use of a special tool in the kit. Somehow, Russians involved in the conspiracy to cover up drug usage figured out how to open the bottles up without breaking the cap. Here’s how the Times explained the process:

In Room 124, Dr. Rodchenkov received the sealed bottles through the hold and handed them to a man who he believed was a Russian intelligence officer. The man took the bottles to a building nearby. Within a few hours, the bottles were returned with the caps loose and unbroken. Dr. Rodchenkov’s team emptied and cleaned the bottles with filter paper and filled them with untainted urine collected from the athletes months before the Olympics.

This made me wonder – what are the ways in which urine tests can be compromised. I thought I would uncover stories only about athletes, but in the United States in particular, needing to cheat on drug tests is far more common than I had thought. I’ve lived in the US for only three adult years, so I was surprised at the level of drug testing that takes place in schools, hospitals and places of employment, very often as a part of the pre-employment screening process.

With a relatively high number of recreational drug users in America comes a need to cover up drug remnants in the system. According to this website, there are three basic ways to “fool” a urine drug test:

  • Diluting a urine sample with water,
  • Substituting your urine, or
  • Adulterating a sample.

Apparently, tampering in the first and third ways are easily detected by lab technicians, but “substitution”, assuming you are not being observed up close when peeing into a cup, is the best way to beat the test. Not only that, the tools to beat the urine tests are available online. I had no idea.

A quick search took me to this product called “U Pass Synthetic Urine” for only $11.74. U Pass comes with a bottle of “100% Toxin Free Synthetic Urine” and two heat pads that can be used to warm the sample just before the test. (After all, you can’t hand a sample of urine to a security person that doesn’t feel somewhat warm.)

u pass

According to the website, THC Clean, subtitled “The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for THC Detox & Passing Your Drug Test”, U Pass works and doesn’t work, and that “… you need good quality synthetic urine in order to not get caught.”

But perhaps the most important advice provided in the THC Clean site is that drug tests and drug-cheating techniques are changing all the time: “When reading synthetic urine reviews online and other people’s experience with synthetic urine, on forums and such, it’s important to look at the date. Drug testing evolves constantly, which means the same brands and methods may or may not still be effective. If older than a year, you may want to look for something more recent.”

Drug testing is a cat-and-mouse game, but one in which the mice are sponsored by well financed and highly motivated players, relative to the cats, who always seem to be two steps behind.

jets drawing the olympic rings 1
From the official report of the Tokyo Olympic Committee, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964

It was one of many proud and emotional moments for the Japanese, as 80,000 in the National Stadium stood for the playing of the Japanese national anthem at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. And then, breaking the crowd murmur and piercing the crisp blue Autumn sky were five jet planes of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. The crowd looked to the sky in awe to see the five jets skywriting the five rings of the Olympic movement.

Victor Warren of the Canadian field hockey team told me “it was magic! It was a beautiful start to a beautiful day.”

The jets over that Tokyo sky on October 10, 1964 represented precision, artistry, modernity and a profound understanding by the Japanese that the Olympics deserved big moments.

Will 2020 have a similar moment?

How about creating a man-made meteor shower?

Star ALE man mde meteors

A Japanese start up called Star-ALE (not the Manchester beer) is hoping to pull off the moment of the Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremonies. The leaders of Star-ALE aren’t talking about launching rockets into the sky, but dropping man-made meteors from space! They call this spectacular piece of performance art SkyCanvas. “Making the sky a screen is this project’s biggest attraction as entertainment. It’s a space display,” said Star-ALE founder and CEO Lena Okajima.

Star ALE orbit

What Star-ALE plans to do is to launch a series of microsatellites that will hold some 5,000 to 1,000 specially-created pellets. These pellets will circle about a third of the circumference of the earth before they begin their spectacular fiery burn into earth’s atmosphere some 35 to 50 kilometers above land. They plan to employ a variety of chemical concoctions that will result in a wide range of colors streaking the sky.

Star ALE colors

Star-ALE writes on their website that they plan to launch their first satellite in 2017, launching a new one every year after. By 2020, they expect to bring the heavens down on Japan for a spectacular start to the XXXII Olympiad.

Star ALE area of visibility

Watch the concept video below to visualize the future.

Dan McLaughlin
Dan McLaughlin

Malcolm Gladwell said so in his enlightening book, Outliers, so it must be true. “The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

So inspired was Dan McLaughlin, a commercial photographer from Portland, Oregon, he decided to quit his profession and commit to learning how to play golf by practicing for 10,000 hours to see if he could become a professional golfer. This from a man whose golf experience up till then consisted of two visits to a driving range as a child.

So on June 27, 2009, McLaughlin began his journey, and tracked it on his site, The Dan Plan. And in 2012, when McLaughlin was the 2,500 hour mark, writer, Alan Bastable met McLaughlin, and was impressed with his progress. McLaughlin had a 10 handicap, and according to Bastable, was energetic, enthusiastic and committed. At that stage, the plan was to hit 10,000 hours of practice in 2016, by which time he hoped to be a pro golfer.

Dan McLaughlin 2

Fast forward to November, 2015, and McLaughlin finds himself stuck on pause. Bastable caught up with McLaughlin to find the golfer recovering from back injuries with rest, as well as working hard to improve his financial situation. While the press and corporate sponsors are intrigued by this Quiotic dream, they are not showering him with as much attention as he would like. But more damaging has been the injuries to his back, which has McLaughlin contemplating surgery.

As McLaughlin said in this November post in his blog, he wrote about his frustration in dealing with his injury. “My back has been improving steadily and there was one week where I was able to play three rounds of golf with minimal pain. Then there are days where I swing a club once and it feels like I have reverted 3 or 4 weeks in my recovery. It’s not a half full – half empty situation, it’s more as if the cup has sprung a small leak and water is flowing in haphazardly.”

McLaughlin has hit the hard wall of reality. And one hopes that he is able to recover from his back ailments and resume his journey because his original reason for starting this journey resonates with me. Here’s how McLaughlin explained it in this interview with Bastable:

I’m interested in seeing whether somebody could do it, and how far they can go. In our culture, we’re kind of fascinated by the idea…not quite manifest destiny, but the ability to transform, and how far one can go, is it talent or hard work, and which trumps the other, and how much human potential we all have.

The Sports Gene Book Cover 2013I suppose McLaughlin’s premise is that in the nature vs nurture debate, nurture (or deliberate practice in this case) can “trump” nature, or the genes that assign specific physical attributes to you. Here’s what David Epstein wrote in his fascinating book, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, about why that thinking appeals to so many people:

The “practice only” narrative to explain Tiger Woods has an obvious attraction: it appeals to our hope that anything is possible with the right environment, and that children are lumps of clay with infinite athletic malleability. In short, it has the strongest possible self-help angle and it preserves more free will than any alternative explanation.

And yet, Epstein explains that the 10,000-hour idea is more rule of thumb than rule.

…one man’s 3,000-hours rule was another man’s 25,000-and-counting-hours rule. The renowned 10,000-hours violin study only reports the average number of hours of practice. It does not repot the range of hours required for the attainment of expertise, so it is impossible to tell whether any individual in the study actually became an elite violinist in 10,000 hours, or whether that was just an average of disparate individual differences.

In other words, 10,000 hours is an average, and there must be other reasons to explain why some people achieve mastery faster than others, or why two people raised in similar