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President Bush and Senator Campbell

 

Ben Nighthorse Campbell was a member of the first American team to compete in the fledgling judo competition at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In order to prepare for the Olympics, he moved to Japan to train, where he said he was the outsider, the newcomer. “You learn by watching and doing whatever the newbies did. I scrubbed uniforms, toilets. And they’re watching you. If you’re willing to do it, they treat you with respect.”

That’s not an easy thing to do – to subsume your ego for the greater good of your ultimate goals and earn the respect and assistance of others. Campbell told me most other Americans could or would not do so, and did not continue with their training in Japan, excepting two other Americans at Meiji on his Olympic squad: Paul Maruyama and Jim Bregman.

So many factors result in the seemingly random way successful people and leaders emerge. In addition to his high level of physical skills, Campbell’s emotional intelligence – his ability to show respect and humility in a new cultural milieu, to build relationships that will help him drive toward his and his colleagues’ goals – appears to be a key factor in the success he has had through his life. Campbell would serve in the House of Representatives and the US Senate for nearly 20 years. Broadly speaking, success is due to a mixture of skills, naturally gifted through DNA or developed through experience and effort, as well as circumstance and how one reacts to it.

While Campbell said that training in Japan was tough, in some ways, he had gone through even more challenging experiences as a child. He was the son of Albert Campbell who suffered from alcoholism, and of Mary Vierra, who had to live and work in a sanatorium much of her life due to her contraction of tuberculosis. Since his father struggled to find work, as did many during the Great Depression, and his mother could have only minimal contact with her children due to the contagiousness of her disease, both Ben and his sister Alberta Campbell had a nomadic childhood of foster homes and orphanages.

According to Campbell’s biography, Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior, the siblings grew up hungry, feeling abandoned, and had to negotiate the randomly rough relationships of life in the orphanage – situations ranging from disciplinary beatings and haranguing for not washing one’s hands to fear of sexual abuse. And because the orphanages would keep males and females separate, Ben and Alberta could not support each other as brother and sister during these complex emotional times.

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Siblings Ben and Alberta, from the book Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior

As it turns out, Ben and Alberta had different reactions to these trying times. At the age of 44, Alberta overdosed and died on a potent combination of sleeping pills and alcohol. Ben somehow found lessons of life in his childhood struggles, as noted in his biography.

Sadly Alberta seems to have crumbled under the same pressure that made Ben strong. Although the orphanage experience may have contributed to her destruction, Ben thinks he benefited in some ways, “‘That must have been so terrible,’ people always tell me, but as I look back on it I think it was one of the best things that happened to me. It made me very self-reliant and independent. If you have nobody to rely on, then you have got to do it yourself.”

These were not lessons that were learned over night. An underachiever in school who would have run-ins with the police on occasion, Campbell eventually learned after a 2-week stint in juvenile lock up that he needed greater discipline and direction in his life. Campbell was 17 when he decided to enroll in the United States Air Force, where he served in The Korean War, and sharpened his judo acumen.

But there was always an inner dialogue taking place within Campbell, a key ingredient in honing a potent emotional intelligence. After the Tokyo Olympics, Campbell began to more strongly identify with his native Indian roots. As he explained in his biography, his father was Cheyenne, a native Indian tribe based in the Great Plains of the United States. Native Indians were an oft-discriminated peoples, and so Campbell kept his Cheyenne connection quiet, revealing it to his son only in his love for making jewelry. But it became important for Campbell, the Olympian, to better understand who his ancestors were, and thus who he was.

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Campbell learned of his connection to a family line named Black Horse, and developed a deeply personal relationship with the Cheyenne. As successful people do, he understood the story of his life, how he connected to the past, and his obligations to his people in the present and the future. His love of the outdoors and art was not a random interest but a connection to a culture he was ingrained within to a degree he was not conscious of until late in adult life.

Self awareness in leadership is key. Campbell’s coach on the US men’s judo team of 1964, legendary judoka Yoshihiro Uchida, believed that Campbell was inspired to understand his roots during his time in Japan, according to Campbell’s bio:

I believe the time he spent there was a period where he learned a great deal more about himself as an American and as a Native American, because only when confronted with another culture do you truly begin to question and appreciate your own heritage.

Campbell is retired from politics, but running a successful jewelry business and still in good health and expectant to return to Japan in 2020, as are his teammates from the men’s judo team. For a kid from California, who grew up without a home, he now has three, real and symbolic – one in Colorado, another in Montana where his of Cheyenne family reside, and a third in Tokyo, where years of hard work first began to blossom.

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Members of the US Olympic Judo Team in 1964: George Harris, James Bregman, Yoshihiro Uchida, Paul Maruyama and Ben Nighthorse Campbell

When it was announced in 1960 that judo would make its Olympic debut in 1964 in Tokyo, Ben Nighthorse Campbell knew he had to be there. He had to be there not only to compete in the Olympics, but also to train. Japan was the mecca for judo, a martial art developed by IOC’s first representative from Japan, legendary Jigoro Kano.

So after years of training in the United States in high school and college, as well as in the US Air Force in South Korea, Campbell resolved to go to Japan and train at the Japanese judo powerhouse, Meiji University. In the 1960s, there was no organized funding system to train and support American athletes in judo, so Campbell sold his car and his house, and even cashed in his life insurance policy to pay for his trip to Japan.

“I’m not sure what I was thinking,,,it’s really hard,” Campbell told me. “You can’t believe the difference (between training in the US and Japan). You have to live with a lot of bruises. I was training 5 hours a day, first at Keishicho (where the police trained) in the morning, and then at Meiji in the afternoon. If you broke your nose, you had to show up. If you broke something else, you had to stand at attention for hours until you healed.”

Campbell, who would go on to serve in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate from 1986 to 2005, representing the state of Colorado, said in his biography, Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior, “the training, in fact, was absolutely brutal. My nose was broken a couple of times, I lost two teeth, and I guess I broke or dislocated virtually every finger and toe I’ve got and suffered any number of bruises, contusions, and swollen ears.”

Training with the very best judoka in the world twice a day every day in Japan shaped Campbell into a champion, as he won US national titles from 1961 to 1963, and a gold medal in the open weight division at the Pan American Games in 1963. He also attended the Tokyo International Sports Week, which was held precisely one year prior to the actual start of the 1964 Olympics. This was a dress rehearsal for officials and planners, a way to test out preliminary operational plans, including the opening ceremonies. But it was also a legitimate sports competition for athletes who were invited.

Campbell was already in Japan for Tokyo International Sports Week, and pulled off what was considered an upset at the time. He defeated the captain of the Meiji University team, someone who was considered a strong candidate to make the Japan judo team. So when Campbell went to New York City for the Olympic trials, he was at the top of his game. He went on to win seven out of seven matches, five of them on falls, and won a spot on the US Judo Team.

ben-nighthorse-campbell-in-competition

With only four months to go before the Tokyo Olympics, Campbell had to stay in shape and stay away from major injury. Unfortunately, he was not in Japan, where the competition was keen. Instead he trained against a large number of inexperienced judoka, which according to Campbell, can be unpredictable, and lead to awkward maneuvers that can lead to injury. As it turned out, Campbell had just such an experience, tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. With the Olympics around the corner, Campbell felt he had no choice but to grin and bear the pain.

In his first bout in the Budokan during the last days of the Tokyo Olympics, Campbell faced off against Thomas Ong of the Philippines. The match was over in seconds, as Campbell simply rushed Ong and swept his legs out from under him for an ip-pon. His second-round opponent was a far heavier opponent from Germany, Thomas Glahn. And in the midst of battle, Campbell’s knee gave way, and then so did any chance of winning a medal. Campbell forfeited and hobbled off the mat. “If my knee was OK, I could have beaten him,” Campbell told me.

ben-nighthorse-campbell-and-anton-geesink_from-an-american-warrior
Campbell and Geesink, from the book Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior

Glahn would go on to earn a bronze medal, but could not do better as he lost to Japanese judoka, Akio Kaminaga. As it turns out, Kaminaga was the only Japanese not to win gold when he lost famously to the huge and hugely talented Dutch man, Anton Geesink.

And then the Olympic Games ended. It was time to say farewell. Campbell was hanging out with one of his friends from California, Don Schollander. Having won four gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, the swimming golden boy Schollander was pegged to carry out the American flag for the closing ceremonies. But according to Campbell, Schollander had to leave, literally during the closing ceremony. So somehow, during the march in the stadium, Schollander handed Campbell the flag for the rest of the march. Campbell’s knee was aching. Cold winds were whipping through the late October evening. And the flag and its pole, apparently, is not so light. But according to Campbell in his biography, it was a weight he would bear with pride, not just on that day, but throughout his days of service.

Campbell has never forgotten that moment. He remembered it clearly twenty-five years later when, as a member of Congress, he voted for the amendment to make desecrating the American flag a crime. “I got some heat from the liberals for that vote, but it made no difference to me. I told my colleagues on the House floor that I didn’t fight in Korea or carry our flag in the Olympics so some fool could burn it.”

 

Usain Bolt and the Holy Redeemer

    Usain Bolt and the Holy Redeemer

The bigger picture at the Rio Olympics:

Cambridge Bolt and Brommel

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)

Brazil had so much to be proud of at the 2016 Rio Olympics:

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Hans-Gunnar Liljenvall in Mexico City

One thousand Russians are known to have benefited from doping and the cover-up of doping in the state-sponsored program to provide illicit advantage to Russian athletes, particularly during the 2012 London Olympics, the 2013 track and field world championships in Beijing, and the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The first major report on Russia from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in July, 2016 included a recommendation to the IOC to ban the entire Russian team from the 2016 Rio Olympics. As a result, over a hundred Russians were eventually forbidden from competing in Brazil.

WADA released a follow-up report on December 9, 2016 – a far more comprehensive review of the state-sponsored doping program in Russia, and it was damning. And there will likely be another round of medal shuffling – at least 15 Russian medalists at the Sochi Winter Games had urine samples that had been tampered with.

It’s a grim time for international sports – the insidious plague of doping and the lengths individuals and countries will go. It makes me pine for those halcyon days of the 1960s and 1970s (yes, written with ironical intent), when our views on doping were less sophisticated.

The first person ever disqualified for “doping”, as it were, was when Swede Hans-Gunnar Liljenvall was discovered to have ingested an illegal substance prior to competing in the modern pentathlon at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics – beer.

It’s said that he had a couple of beers and that traces of alcohol were found in urine. Unlucky for Liljenvall, 1968 was the first year that the IOC included urine testing, as well as alcohol on the list of banned substances. Unfortunately, Liljenwall took his two other teammates down with him, as they lost their bronze medals as well.

Why beer? After all, alcohol is a depressant, not a simulant. This article supposes, probably correctly, that in certain hand-eye coordination events, like pistol shooting in the pentathlon, you need to calm yourself, as opposed to gear yourself up. That’s the same reasoning why anti-psychotics are sometimes illegally injected into horses in equestrian events – to calm down the excitable horses.

Today, getting disqualified for beer sounds silly. Getting banned for caffeine too, but I suppose only to the non-athlete. My mind wonders how many cups of coffee or cans of red bull would it take to get you to world record levels…but I suppose that is not what WADA is looking for.

Caffeine is a stimulant, and until 2004, it was a banned substance. In fact, the second person ever banned for “doping” was a Mongolian judoka named Bakhaavaa Buidaa, who lost his silver medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics after over 12 micrograms of caffeine per milliliter was found in his urine. At least that’s how a lot of sources explain this incident.

But there are also references to Buidaa taking Dianabol, an anabolic steroid that provides a low-cost way of building muscle quickly. Since combining caffeine and Dianabol is a popular routine for athletes who need muscle mass to compete, it’s possible that both were in the judoka’s system.

Caffeine was taken off the banned substance list, but it is still on the IOC monitoring list.

Kousei Inoue in Rio
Japan’s Men’s Judo Team coach in Rio, Kosei Inoue

At the 2012 London Olympics, the men’s judo team from Japan did not win a single gold medal. Of the seven weight classes, the Japanese took two silver and two bronze medals in arguably their worst showing since judo premiered at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the men’s judo team from Japan won two golds, and equally important, scored a medal in each of the 7 weight classes. The last time Japan medaled in all classes? 1964.

If this is the return to the glory years for Japan, just in time for the pressure to really build for Japanese athletes at the Tokyo2020 Games, then the men’s judo coach, Kosei Inoue, deserves top judo kudos. Inoue, gold medalist in 100kg weight class at the Sydney Games, was at those 2012 Games as an assistant coach, and he observed a judo team in chaos, according to this Gendai Business article (in Japanese).

Judoka were confused as the team of coaches were not specifically assigned to weight classes, so the judoka were uncertain whose coaching they should follow. Judoka were bullied excessively. Injured judoka were threatened with being dropped from the team. As a result of that and particularly the results in London, the coach was fired, and Inoue was asked to take over the team.

Japan's Judo Gold Medalists
Judo gold medalists Mashu Baker (left), Shohei Ono (center) and Haruka Tachimoto pose during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Tuesday. | KYODO

According to various sources, Inoue brought a winning mindset to the men’s judo team, focused the coaching on technique and playing to the strengths of each judoka, improving judoka’s strength, showing them to think outside of the Japan box, and emphasizing open communication between coaches and judoka.

Inoue ensured that his training sessions were not random and chaotic, but were focused on themes, like “technique”, or “finishing strong”. He also ensured that the judoka had their own coaches, and their own development plans. As gold medalist, Mashu Baker said in this Japan Times article, “After the London Olympics, Coach Inoue took over and I have had the pleasure of training under him. I don’t know what it was like in 2012, but I can say that under Coach Inoue we have had very personalized training which really looks at making the most of the skills of each individual athlete.”

According to a story on the television news program, Bankisha! (バンキシャ!), during the Rio Olympics, Inoue realized that while technique is important, foreigners did tend to be physically stronger, particularly in the heavier weight classes. Inoue ensured that his judoka were also improving their overall strength so that they would not be wrestled out of competitions.

Inoue also thought that the way non-Japanese fought in the judo dojo was important to understand. He thought it was important that his team know that the Russians developed their techniques from Sambo, a Russian wrestling sport, and that Brazilians developed their s from jiu-jitsu.

“The world is progressing fast. You’ve got to be aware of it,” Inoue said in this Japan Times article prior to the Rio Games. “Japan’s judo has been trying to do things its own way, as if Japan was the be-all and end-all of everything.”

Inoue may have gained this insight thanks to the Japan Olympic Committee, which selected Inoue to live in the UK, learn English, see how Europeans train in judo. Perhaps the JOC saw the coaching potential in Inoue, and believed the international experience would be of benefit. Inoue spent two years in the UK, including time in Edinburgh, Scotland with George Kerr, the president of the British Judo Association, and London, teaching at the famed Budokwai.

“I felt strong pride at what I’d done,” Inoue recalled in the Japan Times article. “But once I stepped out of my country, I didn’t understand the language and the environment. Their coaching style was totally different (in Europe). I felt like I had been taken down a peg. It was tough for me, but eventually, I began to think I was immature, that I didn’t know anything. The world is so big. So when people ask me what the best experience from being abroad was, I always tell them that I realized how ignorant I was.”

Inoue even sent his judoka, Ryunosuke Haga and Masashi Ebinuma, to train overseas on their own, to build their self-reliance and mental toughness, and they both secured bronze medals for Japan.

Inoue was shaping into the ideal coach for Japan’s national team. He knew what it was to be a champion in Sydney. He knew what it was like to be humbled in Athens, when he didn’t medal. He realized that the world offered a treasure trove of lessons that would

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Aska Cambridge

When around 98% of a nation is perceived to be of the same ethnicity, it stands to reason that nationality and ethnicity are viewed as one and the same.

But Japan has been a magnet for those seeking opportunity as well as for Japanophiles, particularly since the economy boomed in the 1980s. As the influential Japanese television entertainment industry increasingly viewed diversity as a way to get more viewers, Japanese-speaking foreigners became more popular. Children of mixed marriages, those who essentially grew up Japanese, have now become de rigeur on Japanese television.

I was one of those foreigners who came to Japan in the 1980s, but because I am of Japanese ethnicity, I have been able to blend in. I get neither fingers pointed at me, nor praise for my Japanese proficiency. But even though my cultural background is American, I can see why the attention of Japanese still, to this day, perk up when a non-Japanese is in their midst. The non-Japanese is such a tiny population that they really do stick out. Like the majority of the film, Lost in Translation, the minority experience for the “gaijin” in Japan is clichéd. And yet true.

So when the Japanese men’s 4X100 relay team very unexpectedly took silver at the Rio Olympics, losing only to the vaunted team from Jamaica, it was a very special moment for Japan. Not only did the Japanese excel in an area they are not customarily strong in – the sprint – a 23-year-old named Aska Cambridge (ケンブリッジ飛鳥), the child of a Japanese mother and a Jamaican father – was a proud member of those Japanese speedsters. He ran for the Japanese squad, he speaks fluent Japanese, and yet, he doesn’t fit the everyday look of what most Japanese perceive as Japanese.

Mashu Baker and his mother
Mashu Baker and his mom.

When a 21-year-old Japanese won judo gold in the 90kg weight class at the Rio Olympics, Japan cheered. At the 2012 London Games, no Japanese won gold in judo, the most Japanese of all the Olympic competitions. In fact, no Japanese had won the 90kg weight class since it was introduced in 1980. So who brought back the glory? A person named Mashu Baker (ベイカー茉秋), the son of a Japanese mother and an American father.

At first glance, he looks Japanese. But it’s the name that sticks out. Baker is clearly not a Japanese name, and it is written in the press in katakana, the script reserved for foreign words. Interestingly, the first name “Mashu”, while spelled out in Chinese characters, was likely chosen because of its close approximation to the name “Matthew”. I don’t know what’s written on his US passport, but it’s possible the Bakers decided they wanted their son to be identified in Japan as a “ha-fu”, a child of mixed parentage.

“Ha-fu” over the decades, perhaps centuries, have on the whole experienced more prejudicial than preferential treatment. But I do not underestimate the power of role models. I am sure that the brilliant examples of Aska Cambridge and Mashu Baker will continue to help revise how Japanese, and the rest of the world, perceive what a Japanese is.

And that’s a good thing.

Sasson and El Shehaby
Or Sasson of Israel extending a hand to fellow judoka Islam El Shehaby of Egypt, to no avail.

The man in blue lay on the mat, a victim of a well-played seoi-nage, staring at his fingers for over ten seconds, while the man in white stood waiting.

When they faced each other, the Israeli, Or Sasson (in white) looked to the referee and bowed to the Egyptian, Islam El Shehaby (in blue). El Shehaby did not return the bow, which is essentially a requirement at the end of a judo bout. Sasson, who eventually won bronze in the  +100kg class, then walked up to El Shehaby and extended his hand, but the Egyptian judoka turned away and refused to shake his hand.

Was this a personal gripe? Was this a geo-political spat? However you look at it, El Shehaby earned significant points in quest of the title of Rio’s Biggest Sore Loser.

Close behind is American goaltender, Hope Solo, who was in net when the vaunted and heavily favored US women’s soccer squad lost to Sweden on penalty kicks. She was rightly proud of her team for showing “a lot of heart” for coming back to tie Sweden 1-1 late in the match, but then lost control of her emotions (again) by saying post-match that the Swedes played like “bunch of cowards.”

When we perform at the highest levels and win, win so often that losing is hard to come to grips with, words and actions can sometimes be unpredictable at best, shameful at worst. At the 2010 Winter Olympics, reigning champion in men’s figure skating, Evgeni Plushenko of Russia, lost to American, Evan Lysack. Plushenko’s reaction: “I was positive I won. I suppose Evan needs a medal more than I do. Maybe it’s because I already have one.”

Back in 1964, at the Tokyo Olympics, South Korean boxer Dong Kih Choh was suddenly disqualified in the first round of his bout against Stanislaw Sorokin of the Soviet Union. He was so peeved that he grabbed a chair, and refused to leave the ring for about an hour.

Dong Kih Choh 1
Dong Kih Choh, south Korean Featherweight, from XVIII Olympiad Volume 10

And then there is the infamous American ice hockey squad. In 1996, the NHL and the IOC came to an agreement that enabled NHL pros to participate in the Olympics. At the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, the Americans, which included such stars as Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick, performed miserably, winning only one game against a weak Belarus squad. After getting thumped by the Czech squad, the eventual gold medalists, the Americans are said to have washed away their sorrows in alcohol. Not sated by liquor, they turned to vandalism: smashing chairs, chucking fire extinguishers off the balcony, and causing several thousand dollars in damage. Equally distasteful  – no one on the team acknowledged any bad behavior.

A few weeks later, team captain Chris Chelios sent the Nagano Olympic committee a check for $3,000, and wrote in a letter, “I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the people of Japan, the Japanese Olympic committee, the USOC, and to all hockey fans throughout the world. Bitter frustration at our own level of play caused a few team members to vent their anger in a way which is not in the tradition of NHL/Olympic sportsmanship.”

Well, at least they apologized.

I kinda doubt we’ll see an apology from El Shehaby and Solo…..

Rio Olympics Judo Women
Brazil’s Rafaela Silva celebrates after winning the gold medal of the women’s 57-kg judo competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
Policeman and firemen in Rio de Janeiro, who were so incensed they were not getting paid, decided to greet visitors landing at the airport with a sign – “Welcome to Hell – Police and firefighters don’t get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will be safe.”

Despite the budget troubles, officials arranged to ensure a security force of 85,000, of which 23,000 are actually soldiers.

And yet, the anecdotes of crime are painfully ironic.

  • Sailing gold medalist, Fernando Echavarri and Liesl Tesch, an Austrailian paralympic sailor, were both mugged at gunpoint.
  • The minister of education of Portugal was robbed on his way back to his hotel while strolling near the rowing venue.
  • A New Zealand sports official was nearly shot by a stray bullet as he was standing in the equestrian media area.
  • The Olympics own security chief was attacked by four men with knives. The security chief, fortunately, had security, who had a gun, and was able to shoot one and chase the others away.

And while crime in Rio has gotten heightened attention due to the Olympics, Carioca have lived in an environment of insecurity and unease their entire lives, particularly those who live in the slums known as favela.

One person who has emerged from the drug and crime-infested favela called Cidade de Deus, made famous in the film, City of God, has put a dent in the perception that all is doom and gloom in the deeper recesses of the mega-city Rio de Janeiro.

On Monday, August 8, Rafaela Silva won gold in the women’s 57kg judo finals. Defeating Mongolia’s Dorjsurenglin Sumiya convincingly, Silva emerged as Brazil’s newest hero.

Silva grew up only 10 kilometers away from the artificially up-scale Olympic center, in the City of God favela, where as a dark-skinned woman, she faced racial abuse, got expelled from school, and grew up poor and hungry.

Rafael Silva

In an attempt to help Silva avoid bullies and drug gangs, while steering her down a better path, she was enrolled in free judo classes. For whatever reason, judo was the way out of the favela.

At the 2012 London Games, Silva was expected to do well, but was disqualified for an illegal move during a preliminary match, and never made it to the medal round. That made it easy for the racists to flame her with insults, calling her a monkey who needed to be in a cage.

Silva’s achievement is more than just an athletic achievement – she had to overcome far more than the average Olympian. As Juliana Barbassa, author of “Dancing with the Devil in the City of God” told the BBC, “It’s a situation of literal marginalization- they were pushed to the margins. To get out if it as Silva has done is really challenging. She literally had to fight her way out of the environment.”

When Silva won the gold medal, her reaction was complex: of joy, of vindication, of shame.

The monkey that they said had to be locked up in a cage in London is today an Olympic champion at home. Today, I’m not an embarrassment for my family.

She is not an embarrassment. She is a hero to all Brazilians, a hero to the downtrodden and the hard working. A hero from the City of God.

Russians banned not banned
Source: ABC News Australia

Who’s in? Who’s out? The very political decision making process for which Russian athletes are considered eligible for the Rio Olympics or not has changed yet again.

As most of the sporting world is aware, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) issued a report recommending that the entire team from Russia be banned from the upcoming Rio Olympics. The International Olympic Committee, which originally had the final thumbs-up, thumbs-down accountability on who gets to participate in the Olympics, decided to defer judgment on Russian eligibility to the international sports federations.

IOC and Russian flagsThis created chaos as, frankly, with less than two weeks to go, the various federations, some supremely under-resourced, have to make a well-researched decision on who to ban or not to ban. Many have criticized that decision. And as can be expected, decisions on Russians allowed to compete are inconsistent.

In this great summary by ABC News of Australia (as of July 27), the IAAF has banned all track and field athletes, as has the International Wrestling Federation. The World Rowing Federation has approved 6 for participation, but banned 19. The governing body for badminton (BWF), the International Judo Federation and the governing world body for volleyball, FIVB, have essentially cleared all of their eligible Russian players to compete.

As of this writing, the current estimates for Russian competitors at the Rio Olympics is more than 200, according to the Daily Mail.

However, on July 30, the IOC, likely buckling to criticism, decided to set up a three-member panel that will ultimately decide on Olympic eligibility, based on recommendations from the federations. The IOC spokesperson said that the process would be completed by August 5, which also happens to be the day of the Olympics opening ceremonies.

One person of note who will not be competing – Yuliya Stepanova. The athlete who risked her career, and perhaps even her life to help blow the whistle on the Russian state-sponsored doping and cover-up operations by talking with journalists and WADA was ironically banned.

Rusanova of Russia competes during the woman's 800 metres semi-final heat 1 at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu
Yuliya Stepanova

The IAAF, which has been hawkish in banning Russians from international competition, recognized the bravery and impact of Stepanova by approved her competition in the Rio Olympics as a “neutral athlete”. Despite that, the IOC decided to ban Stepanova from competing for her failed drug tests in the past, while conveniently dropping its accountability, casting a blind eye in all the other cases by allowing a third party to determine Olympic eligibility.

By the way, the honorary president of the International Judo Federation is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.