Ed Caruthers at Santa Ana
Ed Caruthers at Santa Ana College

Still a freshman at Santa Ana College, high jumper Ed Caruthers was headed to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Caruthers had always been a football player, and as a pretty good wide receiver/defensive back, he hoped one day to get drafted by an NFL team. Out of football season, Caruthers dabbled in track and field. Strangely, with little effort, Caruthers would win most high jump competitions. In 1964, he told me, he “went to the AAU championships, and lo and behold, I jumped 7 ft 1 inch, and beat John Thomas, which then qualified me for the Olympic trials.”

Even more strangely, Caruthers wasn’t even aware that the Olympics were that year – 1964. He was simply more interested in preparing for the football season that Fall. But when he won the finals in the high jump at the Olympic trials in September, he realized that he wasn’t going to play football for Santa Ana in the coming months, and so did not register for school. As he told me, his track coach was “happy as a lark,” while his football coach had a hole in his team.

So Caruthers the football player, who was an accidental Olympian, took off for Japan in early October, about a week in advance of the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremonies. Caruthers was in good shape when he arrived, but with so much time before his competition, he needed to train. Unfortunately, it was hit or miss if a particular US team had dedicated coaches or not. The high jumpers, according to Caruthers, did not. And for a kid like Caruthers, who a month before wasn’t even aware the Olympics were taking place, a naïve kid who wondered why his teammates would not train with him, was suddenly thrust wide-eyed into the world of super mega-sports spectacle, complete with all the food you can eat.

The high jump competition was in the last two or three days so I was in Tokyo three weeks without competition. I didn’t have any coaching, and I didn’t go up to any coach and ask them either. I’m jumping by myself so I didn’t have that extra thing to push me higher. If John Rambo or John Thomas were out there training with me, I might have had the adrenaline going, wanting to show them. But (even though we were teammates) I was a competitor to them, so we didn’t.

Caruthers was not born of wealth, and was barely eating a bowl of cereal a day when he was a student in junior college. But when he came to Tokyo, and was privy to the bounty of the Olympic Village, he ended up eating eggs, waffles, bacon, cookies, ice cream, and lots of it. “I weighed 190 pounds when I arrived. After two weeks, I weighed 198 pounds. I thought maybe when you go to the other side of the world you gain weight, but no.” He just ate too much.

So prior to the high jump competition, Caruthers stopped eating. For three days, all he consumed was cornflakes, milk and salad. So, no, Caruthers was not feeling as strong as he wanted to at the start of the competition, nor feeling right or ready. As a consequence, Caruthers did not perform as well as he had expected, as he explained to me in detail:

I was getting up really good but I couldn’t tell what I wasn’t doing wrong. People in the stands who saw me jump said “we can’t believe you missed that… all you had to do is step one foot back”. I was about 3 – 4 inches over the bar. My plant wasn’t in the right place but I couldn’t tell. I’m 19 years old. The first jump was easy. But you have to make adjustments in your 2nd or 3rd jumps. At 7 feet everything has to be really refined and precise – there’s less room for error. I needed to make adjustments. After my second attempt I really needed someone to tell me but all I’m doing is I’m trying to run faster because I think I need more effort. I ended up jumping only 6-10 and a quarter.

Caruthers finished in eighth place. He sat on the bench and watched the others compete to the finish. Valeriy Brumel of the Soviet Union and John Thomas both jumped 2.16 meters, but could not go beyond that. Brumel took gold on fewer misses, Thomas silver and Rambo bronze. Caruthers thought, “damn, there are two guys on the medal stand I’ve beaten this year. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be on that stand.” He thought about the opening ceremonies, being together with thousands of athletes, all the flags of the world flapping around him, and “I’m right there in the middle of it. I am with the best athletes in the world.” He realized at his darkest moment that finishing eighth was not good enough, that his attitude and focus were inadequate, and that he wanted, needed to redeem himself in Mexico City four years later.

When Caruthers returned home to California, he was determined to focus more on track than on football. He was offered scholarships to play at USC or UCLA, but he picked the University of Arizona because it was 500 miles away from home, and from all the distractions of his friends and neighborhood. And he also wanted to make sure that he got his degree, and sought help from the university to ensure that he did well with his grades and graduated.

That’s what Tokyo did for me. Prior to that I only cared about two weeks from now. After Tokyo, my attitude was the difference between night and day. Training. Confidence. Everything. I knew what I was in school for. I had a schedule. I built up my strength. I refined my technique. I worked it so that I knew exactly what I should be doing to jump my best height.

In 1967, there was no better high jumper in the world than Ed Caruthers. He was primed for gold in Mexico City. He was determined. Nothing was to get in the way of his goal – to erase the memory of his poor performance in Tokyo. Nothing.

Nothing….except the Flop.

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Weverton celebrates with Neymar
Brazilian goaltender Weverton rushes to celebrate with teammate Neymar.

Neymar knocked in the winning goal, securing Brazil’s first Olympic gold medal in its religion of soccer. But it was Weverton the goalie who arguably won the match for the Seleção, with his lunge to the left and save of Germany’s Nils Petersen’s penalty kick in the last moments of the Olympic finals.

Surprisingly, Weverton wasn’t even on the team five days prior to the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics. How did he get on the team, and find himself in the most intense moment, inside the pressure cooker of Maracanã Stadium, during Brazil’s most important sporting event of their Olympic Games?

To be blunt, Weverton was lucky. Three times, circumstances conspired to change his fate dramatically.

One of the world’s most prestigious football tournaments, the Copa América, is held in South America pitting the best of Latin America, with nations from North America and Asia. Unfortunately, Brazil had been going through a funk, and the team’s performance at Copa América in June was poor – so poor that team manager Dunga got the sack, a little less than 2 months before the start of the Rio Olympics. In a state of uncertainty and flux, Rogério Micale was appointed coach of the Brazilian squad that would assemble for the Olympics. While Dunga did not appear to consider Weverton for his Olympic squad, apparently Micale did.

The second stroke of luck was an injury. Micale had Fernando Prass as his starting goalkeeper. Prass, at the age of 37, was having a fantastic year leading his team, Palmeiras, to the top of the Brazilian first division. On July 25, 11 days before the start of the Rio Olympics, Prass injured his right elbow. He was expected to make it back to the pitch on August 1, but his injury didn’t get better fast enough to satisfy Micale.

The third circumstance that bent the heavens in Weverton’s direction was distance. Micale’s first alternative to Prass was Diego Alves, the goalkeeper for Spanish club Valencia CF. But Alves was not in Brazil, and with precious few days left before the start of the Summer Games, Micale needed someone in Brazil to begin preparations right away. That’s when he decided to place a phone call to the captain and goalkeeper for Atlético Paranaense, a professional football club in Curitiba, Brazil. His name was Weverton, and he was getting off the plane returning from this team’s loss to Sport Recife the night before.

Weverton makes the save
Weverton stops Germany’s penalty kick.

That phone call would drastically change his life. Coach Micale wanted Weverton, who at the age of 28 had never been selected for the national team, to join the Brazilian national team for the Olympics. Not only that, with the start of the Olympics only five days away, Micale wanted Weverton minding the nets as the starter.

How would Weverton Pereira da Silva do? Through the preliminary games, the knockout quarterfinals and semifinals – through five consecutive Olympic matches, Brazil and the newfound goalie did not give up a single goal. It took nearly 60 minutes into Brazil’s sixth match before Weverton gave up a score, a strike hit so sharply by Maximilian Meyer of Germany that no goalie would have had a chance. In other words, Weverton had already paid back the faith Micale had invested in Weverton. But it was at the very end of the finals, on that fateful kick by Petersen, when Micale’s investment paid dividends.

Weverton, the accidental Olympian, saved the day, the match and quite possibly, the Olympics for Brazil.

Neymar nails the final penalty kick to win gold
Brazil captain Neymar broke down in tears after scoring the penalty that earned his country’s first ever football gold medal (Photo: Getty Images)
It wasn’t a 7-1 victory. The universe did not bestow such poetic justice, the redemptive opportunity for Brazil to equal their slaughter at the hands of Germany at the World Cup in 2014. Brazil hosted that World Cup, losing to Germany by 6, and ending that tournament in shame.

On August 20, 2016, the day before the closing of the Rio Olympic Games, Brazil defeated Germany in the soccer finals, on the razor-thin edge of a penalty shootout. Despite the brilliance and success of Brazilian soccer over the decades, Brazil had never won an Olympic championship. On their 13th attempt, Brazil struck gold, and all of Brazil exhaled, and then danced.

After a tense 90 minutes of play that left the two powers tied 1-1, and then an additional 30 minutes of extra time, it came down to penalty kicks. Germany’s Matthias Ginter was up first, and he slotted the ball into the lower right corner, the Brazilian goalie, Weverton, guessing correctly but not able to handle it. The German goalie, Timo Horn guessed correctly on Renato Augusto‘s shot, but the ball zipped into the upper right hand corner of the net. On Germany’s second attempt, Weverton had Serge Gnabry‘s shot lined up, but it slipped under his arm pit and into the net. Marquinhos of Brazil sent his shot into the upper left hand corner of the net to equalize. And on it went, Julian Brandt, then Rafinha, Niklas Sule, and then Luan, their aim, all true.

When Germany’s Nils Petersen stepped up, with penalty kicks tied at 4-4, momentum was hinting at another score from Petersen. But momentum doesn’t last forever. Petersen’s shot went to Weverton’s left, and the Brazilian goalie got his hands out to block it. When the ball fell harmlessly aside, the Maracanã exploded. Everyone watching knew Brazil was on the verge of a magical moment.

BRASIL E ALEMANHA
Weverton saves the match. Foto: LEONARDO BENASSATTO/FUTURA PRESS/FUTURA PRESS/ESTADÃO CONTEÚDO
Up stepped Brazilian sensation Neymar, who had performed superbly during this Olympic run, and in fact scored Brazil’s only goal on a perfect free kick in the first half of the match. Gold and glory for Brazil was his alone to grasp, as billions around the world held their breath.

Neymar nailed it, his knees buckling as he fell to the grass. A flood of tears streamed down his face, tears for so long kept at bay by the repressive weight of a nation. As he lay there on his back, his hands covering his face, there was nothing left for Neymar to give. But to Brazilians, he had given them everything as the stadium erupted in a cathartic fit of joy.

The fears of the zika virus. The pollution of Guanabara Bay. The impeachment of the Brazilian president. The worst economy in decades. The constant news of corruption and crimes, and the concomitant and constant criticism Brazilians endured not only by foreigners but within their own ranks.

At the moment the ball hit the back of the net, Neymar made it all right.

Komazawa Olympic Park venues 2
Komazawa Olympic venues in 1964, from the book, The Games of the XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964

Are the Olympics a worthy investment? Does the investment create legacies for the host country?

The answer to those questions are often “no”, unfortunately, at least in terms of the billions spent on structures like stadiums and other various sports venues.

Many of the structures built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics still exist, like the Nippon Budokan, the National Gymnasium and Annex, as well as the Komazawa Olympic Park venues. Not only that, they live and breathe. Click below on the video to see and hear what I did.

On Sunday, May 1, during the long break in Japan known as Golden Week, I took a short bicycle ride to Komazawa Olympic Park, and walk where 1964 Olympians walked. The Park is a collection of venues: Komazawa Gymnasium where Japan won 5 of 16 total gold medals just in wrestling, Komazawa Hockey Field where India beat Pakistan in a memorable finals between two field hockey blood rivals, Komazawa Stadium where soccer preliminary matches were played, and Komazawa Volleyball Courts where Japan’s famed women’s volleyball team mowed through the competition until they won gold at a different venue.

On that day, thousands of people were enjoying unseasonably warm weather under clear, blue skies. The tracks around the park were filled with runners. The gymnasium was hosting a local table tennis tournament, and the stadium was prepping for the third day of the four-day Tokyo U-14 International Youth Football Tournament.

Komazawa 3

In the plaza between the various Komazawa venues, hundreds were enjoying the weather with great food and drink. I was pleasantly surprised to find draft Seattle Pike IPA. While enjoying the cold beer on the hot day, surrounded by hundreds of people loving the day, I realized that Japan in the 1960s made great decisions in planning for the 1964 Olympics. I had a similar revelation earlier when I visited the National Gymnasium months earlier. So much of what was built for those Summer Games are a part of the everyday life of the Japanese.

Japan built a fantastic legacy for 1964. What legacy will Japan begin in 2020?

Komazawa 6

group of death
From JEA’s Sports World

 

What is the “Group of Death”?

  1. A heavy metal band from Hamburg
  2. A recently discovered novel of youthful enthusiasm gone wrong by J. D. Salinger
  3. A designation for the group in a multi-staged sports tournament perceived to contain an outsized level of strong teams
  4. All of the above

That’s right. The answer is “c”. In the first round of a tournament, you’d rather have an easier time before you get into the more competitive rounds. The “Group of Death” is the group said to have no easy wins, so you don’t want to be in that one. Granted, this designation is purely subjective and has no bearing on the tournament themselves. This is how the English newspaper, The Telegraph, describes it:

The “group of death”, a concept that sounds like it was named by an 11-year-old child listening to emo for the first time, was actually coined by Mexican journalists to describe Group 3 at the 1970 World Cup, which contained the defending champions England, the favourites Brazil, the two-time finalists Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Since then, the term has been much used, misused and very possibly overused to describe a group with a lot of good football teams in it, of which only two can qualify.

In the upcoming Rio Olympics, The Groups of Death in the men’s football (soccer) teams are in Group B, and in the women’s teams are in Group G.

Here’s how the sports internet site Vavel describes the two groups of death:

group of death men

Men’s Group of Death

This group is the Group of Death for this year’s Olympic Games. This group is composed of Sweden, Colombia, Nigeria, and Japan, loads of big-hitters in the U-23 game. Nigeria, Japan, and Sweden were all first-time winners of their respective confederation championships, making the competition fierce for one of the two qualification spots in this group. Colombia qualified by defeating the United States in the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL playoff after failing to meet automatic qualification by finishing second in the South American Youth Football Championships.

group of death women

Women’s Group of Death

It’s called Group G for a reason. Why? This is the Group of Death. The lowest-ranked team in this group is Colombia at 24, and they’ve given the United States, the top team in this group, their fair share of battles over time. New Zealand, the OFC champs, are actually ranked higher than Colombia at 16. France is second-highest ranked team in the group, ranked third and is one of two teams from UEFA to qualify for the Olympics via the World Cup. 

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.

Wearable Devices_GPSports

In Major League Baseball today, entire stadiums are decked out with sensors so that the movement and speed of the baseball can be tracked real time the moment it leaves the pitcher’s hand, and the moment it comes into contact with the bat, to the moment it lands in a fielder’s glove or in the stands. (Click on link below for examples.)

http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/94788780/v36825353/statcast-tracks-the-captivating-moments-of-the-lcs

Measuring health indicators are becoming the routine for health conscious people who wear consumer devices like Fitbit or UP. When I first wore my Microsoft Band, I appreciated learning about my heart rate while exercising but was surprised to learn how many calories I used while sleeping. (Around 350 to 400!)

At the organizational sports level, teams are using companies like GPSports, Catapult and Adidas to track the movements of their soccer, ice hockey or rugby players, primarily with an aim to understand the correlation of movement and injury. According to this New York Times article, the wearable devices for athletes, which is commonly a tracking device placed at the top of the back held in place by a compression shirt, provide data on the exact movements and conditions of a player. Presumably that data can be correlated to moments of injury, which is explained in greater depth in this Sports Illustrated article on how this data is used in ice hockey.

In the Age of Enlightenment, Europeans learned to better control their environment, and got a better picture of how much Man, not God, controlled one’s destiny. Of course, the scientific mind can get carried away with measurement. Charles Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, developed machinery that could measure the degree to which a meeting was boring by counting the number of times a person fidgeted (perhaps an idea before its time!)

Frederick Winslow Taylor, credited with developing Scientific Management over 100 years Frederick-Winslow-Taylorago, would divide female party-goers into two sets (attractive and unattractive), and use his stopwatch to make sure he spent equal time with both.

Based on such dweebish behavior, it’s understandable people are ambiguous when faced with number-crunchers, particularly those calculating what might be considered incalculable – like a person’s morale, one’s decision-making ability, quality of service, or the return on investment of a training program.

But if truth be told,