Fans remained inside the Stade de France after the soccer game between France and Germany amid confusion caused by the attacks in the area. Credit Christophe Ena/Associated Press
Fans remained inside the Stade de France after the soccer game between France and Germany amid confusion caused by the attacks in the area. Credit Christophe Ena/Associated Press

A suicide bomber, who had a ticket to the football match between France and Germany at the Stade de France on the evening of Friday the 13th, was denied entry to the stadium after a frisk search. Moments later, he detonated his bomb, one of three to go off outside the stadium in Paris where the Prime Minister of France sat as a spectator. On a most unfortunate day, that perhaps was a bit of fortune.

Inside the stadium, according to this New York Times report, the game went on.

The coaches for both national teams decided not to inform their respective teams about the horrifying occurrences taking place nearby, probably because the events were just unfolding and they were unclear regarding the extent of the violence in Paris. When added to poor cell reception due to the concentration of people at the football game, and possibly also the increased data traffic as a result of the terrorist attacks, people on the pitch and the stands remained in enough of a fog to allow their focus to stay on the game.

The beginning of the New York Times video demonstrates the confusion at the stadium.

NY Times Video on Paris Attack

France won the game on a late goal. By that time, the reality of the terrorist attacks had become clearer and the players were informed. But as the NY Times reported, the atmosphere during the game was surreal. “It was so weird,” said Cyril Olivès-Berthet, who was covering the match for the French sports newspaper L’Équipe. “The players were running and doing their game, and the fans were chanting their normal chants, ‘Aux Armes, Aux Armes,’ a typical chant that is a warrior thing about taking arms and going to war. When France scored the second goal late in the game, they all waved their flags and the players celebrated like they always do.”

It can be debated endlessly whether the coaches made the right choices to inform the players, or whether officials made the right choice to allow the game to continue. That is not important. Showing strength in the face of adversity, effectiveness in uncovering the culprits, and wisdom in decisions related to retaliation or reaction – that is important.

My thoughts go out to all impacted by the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Life in the Favela_NYTimes 1

The slums of Brazil are called favelas. One of every five residents in Rio de Janeiro, host of the 2016 Summer Games, live in a favela. In this poignant video piece, Nadia Sussman of the New York Times paints a picture of despair as favela denizens seek stability and happiness amidst a war between the police and the drug lords.

Sussman interviews Damião Pereira de Jesus, a resident of a favela called Complexo de Alemão, whose aunt was killed by a stray bullet. He expressed his views of life in the favela after the Police, known as the Pacifying Police Units, came to his favela.

They came giving residents a lot of hope for social programs. But they don’t get close to residents in that way. The government comes with its laws. But here there’s already a law, the traffickers’ law. Residents are confused. Who to trust? Who to interact with?

Everyone has dreams. The favela is full of them. If the government would come and help realize these dreams, the community would be happier. I intend for my children to bury me, not for me to bury my children.

Screen capture of the New York Times video, Pacification Without Peace
Screen capture of the New York Times video, Pacification Without Peace
Carnival King Momo, Wilson Dias da Costa Neto, celebrates upon receiving the keys to the city
Carnival King Momo, Wilson Dias da Costa Neto, celebrates upon receiving the keys to the city
  1. Rio is named for a river that doesn’t exist. (Janeiro is January, which is when the Portuguese first arrived in that part of Brazil.)
  2. It was once part of a colony called Antarctic France. (The French apparently got there before the Portuguese.)
  3. The French once held it for ransom. (There be gold and diamonds in them thar hills!)
  4. It served as the capital of the Portuguese Empire for almost seven years.
  5. Its residents might be named for a house, or maybe a fish. (When citizens of Rio go out on the town to sing, you could say “Carioca go ka-ree-oh-kee”.)
  6. Its giant statue of Jesus is struck by lightning several times a year. (What exactly is God trying to say?)

    “Christ the Redeemer” overlooking Rio de Janeiro (© Danny Lehman/Corbis)
  7. For five days a year, the city is run by a mythical jester named King Momo.
  8. It hosted the world’s biggest soccer game.
  9. The city put QR codes in its mosaic sidewalks. (So those pictures of the ground are not accidental.)
  10. Street art is legal there. (Isn’t everything?)
  11. It has a Carmen Miranda Museum. (Now, that’s cool!)
Team USA getting read to compete at the 1964 Olympics, from Dale McClements Kephart's personal collection
Team USA getting read to compete at the 1964 Olympics, from Dale McClements Kephart’s personal collection

She was 19, and at 5 feet (1.5 meters) and only 98 pounds (44 kgs), said to be the smallest Olympian at the 1964 Olympics. Gymnast, Dale McClements, competed in a tough competition with much stronger teams from the USSR, Czechoslovakia, ending up the highest ranked American at the Tokyo Games.

And she kept a journal of her time.

She told me that she was very excited to go to Japan, and experience a different way of life. Below are excerpts from her diary, and how her teenage eyes saw the world, one particularly different from her life in Seattle.

Oct. 4th:  Food here is very good although for some reason I haven’t been eating that much for lack of hunger and quest for drinks.  They have all kinds of food which could suit all nations.  Oh-yoyo and Sayonara!  Good morning and goodbye.

Oct. 5th:  We had a flag raising ceremony today.  When all the members of a country are all in the village, we have to march as a team to the Olympic circle of flags with other countries doing the same thing.  So we marched, if you want to call it that.  After seeing how well and in step all the other teams are, it is kind of embarrassing to march with our team.  We have bikes we can ride all over the village. We spend most of our time training or in the village. You just pick one bike up and leave it when you get off of it.  Sometimes we end up racing for bikes though.  We also get free ice cream here. It’s fun.  

Dale McClements, Kathy Corrigan and Linda Matheny in the Olympic Village, Olympics, from Dale McClemments Kephart's personal collection
Dale McClements, Kathy Corrigan and Linda Matheny in the Olympic Village, Olympics, from Dale McClemments Kephart’s personal collection

Oct. 8th:  We went into town yesterday.  This is where I noticed that there are so many people here.  The streets are loaded with people.  I love the Japanese people and thought – they are so quiet, yet so friendly and humble.  I think they are great and this has been the best country I’ve been to so far.  Traffic drives me crazy here so I just don’t look at where we’re going anymore.  It’s a miracle that we haven’t had a wreck yet.

Oct. 10th:

Today was opening ceremonies. It was a great one too. The standing around for 3 hours was worth the one hour ceremony. First we marched halfway around the stadium and onto the field. Some speeches were made, then the Olympic flag was raised. Next, balloons were let loose, the torch bearer ran the track, climbed the carpeted steps to light the torch at the top of the stadium, the pigeons were let loose, then – most impressive of all – 5 planes described a circle in the air which formed the linking Olympic circles in their correct colors. Then we marched off.

But as time approached the beginning of the Tokyo Olympics, there was considerable uncertainty around the make-up of the US women’s gymnastics team. Surprisingly, the team had not been finalized. Who would round out the six members of the team? Who would end up being the alternate? McClements expressed the frustration she and likely other members of her team had during the Games.

Oct. 13th:

Things are a very big mess right now. Everything has been leading up to this, but today everything blew sky high and we haven’t even reached the worst part of it yet. It’s nice to be on the team, etc, but they sure shouldn’t put us through the mental strain they are when it is so close to the meet. Actually, I have nothing to be upset about because I’m in a good position. The number 1 problem is who is going to be the alternate? That’s a good question – no one of us can even take a wild guess. The past few days our routines have been judged by our own staff. I have ignored this and concentrated completely on my training. It is bothering a lot of the team however. What bothers me is that we are not getting enough training in because of so much formal preparations to be judged. 3 people on the team do not have a secure position.

Team USA: Janie Speaks, Marie Walther, Muriel Grossfeld, Linda Metheny, Dale McClements, Kathy Corrigan, Doris Fuchs, from the personal collection of Dale McClements Kephart
Team USA: Janie Speaks, Marie Walther, Muriel Grossfeld, Linda Metheny, Dale McClements, Kathy Corrigan, Doris Fuchs, from the personal collection of Dale McClements Kephart

When McClements returned home to Seattle after competing in the Summer Games, and then exhibitions in other parts of Japan, she met with the press. She said that US Women’s Gymnastics will never improve until the politics are removed from the selection process. For a long time, there had been complaints by gymnasts regarding the head of the AAU gymnastics body who, apparently, made all decisions regarding selection at that time.

“The problem could be called one of personalities,” McClements was quoted as saying in The Seattle Times. “A few persons control the sport nationally. These few insist upon using the same small number of judges and refuse to allow new blood in. there are several other qualified to judge, one of them a former Olympics competitor, but these are ignored. One result of this ‘control’ has been poor planning, to the detriment of those competing and to the standing of United States teams internationally.”

For example, she cited that the team was together only for two weeks to train and that the

Soichi Sakamoto, founder of the Three Year Swim Club in Maui and coach of champions
Soichi Sakamoto, founder of the Three Year Swim Club in Maui and coach of champions

“He made you believe that if you set your goals high enough, you could achieve anything,” said Olympian Bill Smith of his coach and mentor.

Said John Tsukano, “We were kids from this small town in Maui, so we believed anything was possible. We would tell all the other teachers and our friends that we were going to make it to the Olympics. They would just laugh.”

Soichi Sakamoto was not a swimmer. He was a learner and a teacher, who asked the simple question “What makes a swimmer go fast?” When Sakamoto passed away in August, 1997, it was clear he knew that answer better than most, as he personally coached five Olympic champions, making Hawaii a swimming hotbed.

Sakamoto was a grade school teacher and a Boy Scout scoutmaster on Maui who knew only basic survival swimming techniques. The school where he taught was near the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, a sugar plantation that utilized miles of irrigation ditches to water the canes. In the Hawaiian heat, the schoolkids would often cool off in the ditches. The management of the plantation were concerned for the safety of the children so they asked Sakamoto to supervise them. And when Sakamoto watched the kids swim in the ditches, he asked himself that question.

Training in the irrigation ditches of the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company
Training in the irrigation ditches of the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company

“I didn’t know anything about swimming, but I realized that, if I put them in the water and watched their progress, maybe I’d learn something,” Sakamoto explained in this article. “So I watched their progress and tried to eliminate haphazard movement. It was common sense.”

The ditches were 8-feet wide and 4-feet deep. While similar to the size of a swimming lane in a pool, this lane had a current. It occurred to Sakamoto that swimming against the current of the irrigation ditch in the most efficient manner could help develop a swimmer into a very fast swimmer. He marked off distances of 50, 100, 150 and 200 meters, and developed an interval training system that helped build up the form, strength and speed of his students.

“In that ditch, the current coming down offered them natural resistance, and when they swam up they were developing a stroke that was very efficient and practical,” explained Sakamoto. “If they had done it in entirely still water, I don’t think it would have developed. Drifting

Milkha Singh
Milkha Singh

The newspapers called him “The Flying Sikh”. On top of that, the sprinter from India was sporting unusually a beard and a topknot on his head.

Most significantly, Milkha Singh was fast!

It was the finals of the 400-meter race at the 1960 Rome Olympics, and the international press gave Singh a chance at being a rare track and field champion from Asia, certainly the first from the newly independent nation, India. As David Maraniss describes in his book Rome 1960, Singh burst out of the blocks in lane 5 in the finals of the 400 meter race in the 1960 Olympics, keeping pace with South African Malcolm Spence in lane 3. Halfway through the race, Singh very much had a chance at gold.

But as they entered the second half of the race, American Otis Davis and German Carl Kaufmann began to emerge from the middle, and surge to the front. They pulled away from Milkha and Spence. At the end, Davis barely edged out Kaufmann. And despite a desperate push, Singh could not wrestle the bronze from Spence.

It was fourth place for Singh, finishing out of the medal, but entering into the consciousness of Indians, a symbol not of failure or misfortune, but of how hard work can take an Indian to world-class levels.

And in the scheme of things, Singh’s life experiences as a child pale in the face of the challenges he faced in Rome. When the British Indian Empire fell, and the state of Pakistan was split off from India, primarily to create separation between Hindu and Muslim populations. The so-called partition, a mass migration of Muslims into Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs into India, was a time of tragedy, when neighbor set upon neighbor, when families were split, and people were murdered depending on what religious beliefs they were believed to hold.

Milkha Singh witnessed this first hand in his home, which was located in the nation that became Pakistan. Driven from his town, his family joined the migration. Inevitably, the family encountered the hatred head on, and Milkha witnessed the deaths of his parents and his siblings. An orphan, separated by surviving family members, Milkha made his way across the border into India.

Soon after the Rome Olympics, when Singh returned to India a star, he was asked by the Indian government to participate in a track competition in Pakistan. And Singh refused. It is the kind of script that could only appear in a movie. And of course, this was the dramatic finish to the 2013 movie, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (“Run Milkha Run”), starring Farhan Akhtar, who does actually look like Milkha Singh in his youth (although far more muscular).

In the end, the prime minister of India appeals to Milka Singh’s responsibility as a soldier of India to defend his country’s honor at this track meet in Pakistan. In reality, very little time has passed since the Partition. Milka Singh did indeed run, as the film would have you believe, from the ghosts of his past, from his Pakistani rival, Abdul Khaliq, and find, perhaps, a peace within himself.

Singh would go on to compete. He appeared in Tokyo at the 1964 Summer Games, running in the 4×400 Relay, but unable to help his team beyond the heats. He was apparently an inspiration to the British champion, Ann Packer, whom he greeted with warm confidence before the 1,500 meter finals, telling her she would win, and she did. More importantly, Singh continues to inspire and make an impact. While he reportedly sold the film rights to his story for one rupee, he stipulated that a share of the profits would be given to the Milkha Singh Charitable Trust, which assists poor and needy sportspeople.

Here is the final scene from the Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra film, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag in which Singh triumphs in Pakistan.

Japan rugby union team in gloucester brave blossoms
The Japan National Rugby Team wins three times at the World Rugby Championships in Gloucester, Scotland in October.

The surging love for rugby in Japan has been driven by the success of the Japan team, aka “The Brave Blossoms”, in the recent Rugby World Cup Championships in Gloucester, Scotland last month. The team’s three victories at the tournament drew attention to the fact that the next Rugby World Cup Championships will be held in Japan in 2019, a year before the 2020 Olympics, when rugby will continue as a participating sport after its Olympic debut in Rio in 2016.

But the rugby we watched at the Rugby World Cup Championships is significantly different from the rugby we will see at the Olympics. Rugby Union is the name of the sport that is challenged at the Rugby World Championships, and it requires 15 people aside. Rugby Sevens, which people will see at the Rio and Tokyo Olympics, place seven people aside, even though the size of the field for both sports are the same: 100 meters long by 70 meters wide.

Thus, Rugby Sevens is faster. On the same size pitch, you can imagine that it is easier to defend with 15 people on the field as opposed to 7, which is what Rugby Sevens, appropriately named, requires. So instead of getting pushed, pulled, banged, tripped and generally hit every meter of the way in a Rugby Union match, you have open spaces, breakaways and sprints in a Rugby Sevens match. Instead of the bulky, squarish hulks you tend to see in a Rugby Union match, you’ll see muscular but lither athletes who can run world-class sprinting times.

Rugby Sevens is also shorter in duration. Rugby Union plays its matches in 40-minute halves, closer to the duration of soccer and NFL football games, while Rugby Sevens’ games are made up of 7-minute halves, or 10-minute halves for championships rounds. In other words, Rugby Seven matches finish in the amount of time it takes to play half a Rugby Union match. And fans and casual fans alike have taken occasional jabs at the seemingly slow pace of scrums in Rugby Union matches, where a large number of heavy athletes wrap arms in a pile that seem to do little but kill time.

Because of the above differences, the scoring in Rugby Sevens are perceived to come fast and furiously. Just watch this video compilation of scores made by the Rugby Seven speedster, Carlin Isles.

Now if you want me to further confuse, I could attempt to explain the difference between Rugby Union and Rugby League (and their 13 aside rules)…but I will not attempt a try.