Shaun White might be back to the Olympics. But Ayumu Hirano has arrived.
The 19-year-old from Niigata, Japan, Hirano slam-dunked his ninth and final round to win gold in the superpipe event at the Winter X Games in Aspen Colorado, on January 28, 2018.
Hirano had taken the lead on another favorite, Australian Scotty James in his third round run where he scored a very high 96.66. He held the lead until his ninth and final run, where it was Hirano’s to win or lose. And based on the reaction of the two ESPN announces, Hirano won emphatically, with an amazing string of 1440’s, which I presume means four 360s, also known as 14s.
Brandon: Have you ever seen a run like that in a pipe final Craig McMorris?
Craig: No because it’s never been done anywhere on earth. How are you going to out-do yourself, Ayumu Hirano! Look at this! Jump man. Jump man. Jump man. I’m speechless.
Brandon: I need you to say something, Craig.
Craig: Ayumu Hirano. Front 14 double. Cap 14 double. Front 12 double. Back 12 double. And a backside air right off the top that’ll just drop your jaw. What planet are you from? Not earth, Brandon. Not earth.
Brandon: That’s the first time we’ve ever seen back to back 14s ever. Period. Exclamation point.
Hirano won the silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, falling to Iouri (iPod) Podladtchikov of Switzerland. But with his triumph at the X Games, expectations for Hirano gold In PyeongChang are now sky high.
My friends know this: I’m addicted to Nissin Cup Ramen.
There’s something about the aroma after I’ve waited that obligatory 3-minutes for the hot water to soften the noodles and bind the various spices and ingredients in a flavor that instantly gratifies me. This is not a universal addiction to Cup Noodle. It has to be made in Japan – the ones manufactured elsewhere are probably catering to local tastes, and to my palate, pale in comparison.
I don’t believe they manufacture the King Size version anymore, but if they did, I’d buy.
Nissin Cup Ramen also tends to have the coolest commercials. One released in November, 2016 is not only super fun, it is appealing to the same demographic the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are trying to appeal to. In a somewhat tenuous take on The Seven Samurai, Nissin created a commercial that features athletes decked out in traditional armour that the West now associate with the warrior class known as the samurai.
And the seven featured in this commercial are magnificent! They surf, they skateboard, they pogo-stick over street vendors, they spin on their bikes, do acrobatic twists on skis to the amazement of the bewildered crows around them.
Over the decades, the IOC has worked with host countries to appeal to the youth, and ensure a market for their product for years to come. The X-Games, an ESPN-sponsored event featuring extreme sports, drove up the popularity of skateboarding and freestyle motocross. Thanks to growing popularity of these youth-driven activities, snowboarding became an Olympic sport in 1998, while BMX cycling debuted at the 2008 Olympics.
Tokyo 2020 will feature a bevy of new competitions that the organizers hope will build a new generation of Olympic fans, including surfing, skateboarding, and sports climbing.
As Costas recalled on the radio sports program, Mike & Mike, “It was both dramatic and completely stunning!” After all, the producers kept it a secret as to who the final torch bearer would be until the very last moment.
No more than 10 or 12 people on the whole planet even knew that he would be the last torch bearer.
Dick Ebersol who ran NBC Sports and was such an important part of the history of the Olympics, it was his idea to have Muhammad (Ali) do it. The night before the Olympics at the production meeting, Dick said to me and Dick Enberg, who was co-hosting the opening ceremony with me, “I’m not even going to give you a hint as to who the final torch bearer is, except that you will definitely recognize him or her. And I want your expression to be as spontaneous as that of the crowd.”
And when Janet Evans, that great Olympic swimmer climbed up the steps carrying the torch, got to the top, Muhammad literally stepped out of the shadows. So no one saw him until the very moment that he got the torch. And Janet handed him torch and you heard in that stadium something you almost never hear in an arena or stadium. You hear lots of sounds in a sports event, but you almost never hear an audible gasp. And that’s what you heard that night, because people were so stunned to see Muhammad Ali.
And here was this man, who once was one of the most physically beautiful and nimble of athletes, reduced to a man trembling, trying to hold onto that torch and light the cauldron, and yet somehow, even in that condition, there was something so dynamic and magnetic about it. And he was once one of the most vocal of athletes and by that time he had been reduced to virtual silence. And yet in that moment, he was just about as profound as he had But there was something truly unique about that moment. And every time I think about it, even now, and I’ve recounted it a couple of times in the last 24 hours when people have asked me the question you’ve just asked me, every time I think about it, I still get goosebumps.
Here is a short clip from an ESPN piece about that moment.
Not only has Uchida led San Jose State University to become the most dominant force in judo in America, coaching the university to about 90% of all national championships over the past 50 years. He has officially established the sport in America from his base at San Jose State University. According to this video short by ESPN on Uchida, the Japanese American from California, helped ensure that the AAU sanctioned judo as a competitive sport in 1953, and then had San Jose State host the first national championships.
Uchida was also responsible for establishing a weight-class standard. Judo up to then was a sport where anyone could face off against any other judoka, no matter their weight. But he and others did not think that fair, and in order to make judo more competitive, and thus more popular, weight-classes, as was the case in boxing and wrestling, were established.
London Games bronze medalist, Marti Malloy, was a student of Uchida at San Jose State, and said in this Players Tribune article: “Yosh is to judo what Gregg Popovich is to the NBA. When you’ve been around judo for as long as he’s been, you’ve seen just about everything. He’s taught me classic Japanese judo, in which you manipulate the balance of your opponent using precise technique. That differs from other styles around the world, like in Europe, where judo can be more physical and resembles something closer to wrestling. Call it old-school, but Yosh has this thing about setting an example to the rest of the country about what it means to get an education and also be a judoka.”
But it wasn’t all that simple for Uchida, considering that Uchida was a young Japanese American in California, where Japanese were often discriminated against. Uchida’s family in California were treated as enemies of the State after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. While his parents were sent to an internment camp in Arizona, Uchida, who was an American citizen, was drafted into the US military. “[My parents] thought they would be thrown in there and they would be shot,” said Uchida in the ESPN documentary. “They were really
Stephen Curry is 6 ft 3 (1.91 m) tall and 190 lbs (86kg) – above average tall, but kinda small for NBA standards. And yet, if he makes the US Men’s basketball team, and the US wins the gold medal in Rio this summer, Curry has the potential to stand on top of the international basketball marketing world.
After Curry’s Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship last May, and after the holiday shopping season, Curry’s jersey is the most popular. The only shoe more popular than Michael Jordan’s for Nike is Curry’s for Under Armour. This fascinating ESPN article explains, in fact, how Nike lost Curry to Under Armour in one of the great sports marketing signings of all time. According to sports marketing impressario, Sonny Vaccaro, the man who signed Jordan for Nike, Curry didn’t fit the mould, and was overlooked by Nike, which already had Curry under contract.
“He went to Davidson,” said Vaccaro. “He was always overlooked. He was skinny, he was frail, he was all the things you weren’t supposed to be. He never got his due. All of a sudden, like a bolt of lightning, Steph Curry is on the scene. And this is the hardest thing for Nike to swallow right now. What you’re witnessing is a phenomenon. This is like Michael signing with Nike in ’84. He’s going to morph into the most recognizable athlete. And why is he going to be that? Because he’s like everybody else.”
The average height of a human male ranges from 5ft7in/170 cm to 5ft11in/180 cm tall. So relative to the average height of an NBA player, which probably averages a foot taller, Curry is, well, short. And yes, he is an athletic freak whose body control is at a level of balletic precision. But more importantly, he is the greatest three-point shooter of all time. And while an NBA team loves the athletic big guy who can shoot threes (e.g.; Detlef Schremph, Kevin Durant), the three-point line is the realm of the guard, either the point guard or shooting guard, the shortest guys in the game.
Actually, the NBA has always had a love for the tall guy. There’s an obvious structural reason for that. When James Naismith created the game of basketball, he conveniently attached a peach basket to the rails of a running track that ran above the floor of the gym in Springfield, Illinois in 1891. Those rails happened to be 10 feet off the ground.
“That arbitrary decision to put the basket at ten feet caused the game of basketball to take shape around the tallest players,” said Roman Mars, in this fascinating piece called “The Yin and Yang of Basketball“, in one of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible.
As the game developed, it became obvious that the taller you are, the easier it is for you to defend the basket, and certainly, to score. And in the 1960s, the slam dunk became popular, particularly among black players. As the 99PI podcast went on to explain, the dunk became a symbol of black power, and was seen as such a threat that the NCAA, America’s governing body for college sports, banned the slam dunk from 1967 to 1976.
While the NCAA decision was likely a racially-driven one, the slam dunk was also primarily the domain of the tall player. And at that time, the NBA was getting a bit boring as people basically threw the ball into the tall center, who would take a very high-percentage shot. The ABA, an emerging competitor basketball league, saw an opportunity to draw fans that the NBA could not: they introduced the three-point line in 1967. As ABA commissioner, George Mikan (a big man in the NBA himself) said, the three pointer “would give the smaller player a chance to score and open up the defense to make the game more enjoyable for the fans.”
Twelve years later, the NBA also adopted the three-point shot, a radius some 25 feet (7.6 meters) from the basket. And while it was seen as a gimmick and seldom attempted in the early years, the three-point shot has become a strategic tool in the coach’s toolkit, and the
FIFA, the world organizing body for football, and famously the organizer of the World Cup, is based in Zurich, Switzerland. But when authorities quietly escorted 7 FIFA executives out of a posh hotel in Zurich where a FIFA executive meeting was being held in May, 2015, it was due to the work of the FBI in the United States. I thought, “Wow”, that’s influence. Why is the US driving this and not another country, perhaps one more steeped in football lore where the loss of purity in sport would rankle more deeply.
I’m still not clear on this, but according to this thorough and fascinating piece from ESPN, the roots of the investigation that led to arrests at FIFA began in an FBI Bureau in Brooklyn, New York. When FIFA announced in December, 2010 that not only did Russia win the right to host the 2018 World Cup, but that Qatar won that honor as well for 2022, suspicions ran particularly high that something fishy was up.
As the article explains, “even the laziest ExCo members lived like kings. They each received $200,000 annual stipends, along with liberal per diems every time they went to Zurich. And they controlled the votes that decided where the most watched event in sports, the World Cup, would be played. This selection process seemed engineered for bribery, the FBI agents thought.”
The FBI first focused their attention on a member of the FIFA ExCo who happened to be based in New York, Chuck Blazer. He’s a large man, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin joked looked like Karl Marx, and was so caught up in cloak-and-dagger, stab-you-in-the-back FIFA politics, and so sick from the ravages of diabetes and cancer, that he turned. Blazer became the FBI’s inside man, recording conversations with other FIFA leaders for over a year, providing a “wealth of information” on the inner workings of a scandalous organization.
Another primer for the FIFA scandal is this piece from 60 Minutes, which features the lead FBI investigator John Burretta, as well as the long-standing thorn in the side of FIFA and the IOC, BBC journalist Andrew Jennings. Jennings’ talk on corruption in FIFA had fallen on deaf ears for years before he finally found redemption in these arrests.
Of all the things I learned, here’s the bit that got me. Not only did Blazer live in the luxurious Trump Tower (rent $18,000 a month), he had a smaller apartment next door, “reportedly for his cats”.