Mo Farah after his 5k victory at the london Anniversary Games
Mo Farah after his 5K victory at the London Anniversary Games.

Mo Farah had not competed much in 2016. While Farah, who won gold in both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races at the London Olympics, as well as gold in both races at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, the Brit had not run competitively all that much in 2016. And his results have been up and down as well.

But on July 23rd, returning to the stadium he won double Olympic glory, Farah restored faith in his fans, and gave hope to the possibility of being the first person since legendary Finn, Lasse Virén, to accomplish the double-double: winning gold in the 5K an 10K in two consecutive Olympics. At the London Anniversary Games, Farah won the 5,000-meter race convincingly, finishing well ahead with his trademark kick. His time of 12 minutes 59.29 seconds was his best since a tune-up to the London Games in June, 2012. In other words, his 33-year-old legs are feeling young.

“This is my best ever form heading into a major championships,” he is quoted as saying in The Mirror. “I am in good shape and it’s great to win before Rio. I just have to keep my feet on the ground as it’s harder to defend an Olympics than win it first time because people have had four years to work out how to beat you.”

Farah winning 5k at 2012 London Olympics
Farah is pictured celebrating his sensational 5,000 men’s final victory at the 2012 London Olympics

Four-time Olympic gold medalist, Michael Johnson, knows something about the challenges of repeating as champion, and so he knows Farah has to be wary of the competition. “It gets more challenging for Farah now he’s older. He’s dominated but the Kenyans are trying to figure out how to beat him. They are coming up with a plan and hoping to catch him on an off-day. It’ll be fun because it’ll make it even more competitive.”

The Kenyans agree. Farah’s 10,000-meter rival from Kenya, Bedan Karoki has said, “he has always beaten us in the last lap, but we have worked on that and hope to turn the tables against him this time in Rio. We are very good in lapping — indeed much better than him — but he waits until it matters most, and that is what we have worked on this time.”

Farah agrees, saying as much after his victory in the London Anniversary Games.

But while there is little evidence to show in 2016 that Farah has what it takes to win the 10K in Rio, at the very least, he is the clear favorite for the 5,000-meter race in Rio.

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open water swimming fort copacabana

In the first four Olympiads, from 1896 to 1904, swimming events were held in open water areas like The Mediterranean, The Seine River or artificial lakes. As mentioned in a previous post, the 1908 Olympics in London were held at the massive White City Stadium that had a pool and diving area built into the infield. For the most part in recent history, swimming events have been held in pools, and recently indoor pools.

At the 2000 Olympics, the triathlon was introduced, which includes a 1,500 meter swim in open water. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, athletes could compete for the first time in a 10,000 kilometer swim. In Beijing, this 10,000 meter swim took place in a rowing-canoeing park, while the same race took place in The Serpentine, which is a recreational lake in Hyde Park, London.

For the 2016 Rio Olympics, both the triathlon and the 10,000 meter swim competition will commence at Fort Copacabana, which is at the southern edge of Rio de Janeiro. This is truly open water as Fort Copacabana opens up into the South Atlantic Ocean.

There has been a lot of news about the filthy and possibly dangerous conditions in the Guanabara Bay waters, where the sailing events will take place, but Fort Copacabana is about 30 kilometers away from the polluted waters of Guanabara Bay, and there is less anxiety about sickness and safety for he triathlon and 10,000 meter race. This is how the site openwatersswimming.com puts it.

Fort Copacabana to Guanabara Bay

As can be expected in a beach bordering a major metropolitan area, Copacabana Beach is not pristine and there is plenty of urban runoff in the water, especially after a rain. But it still remains one of the world’s most iconic beaches and presents one of the world’s greatest natural amphitheaters for open water swimming competitions. With a twice daily inflow and outflow of water from the Atlantic Ocean, major events like the Rei e Rainha do Mar and Travessia dos Fortes are hugely successful.

To me, what is more amazing about the 10,000 meter open water swim is how close the finishes are. Unlike a 10k run, which is completed in 26 to 28 minutes at high performance levels, a 10k open water swim will take about 1 hour and 50 minutes to 2 hours, which is a little less time than a fast-paced foot marathon of 42 kilometers. While 10,000 meter race finishes are determined by seconds, marathon top finishers are often ten to thirty seconds apart.

Maarten van der Weijden
Maarten van der Weijden, winner of the first Olympic 10,000 meter open water swim competition in 2008.

In the short history of Olympic open water racing, after nearly two hours of grueling swimming, the differences between the top finishing times have been seconds, even fractions of seconds. At the first 10,000 race in Beijing, only two seconds separated the medalists, 1.5 seconds being the difference between gold and silver. At the London Games four years later, only 3.4 seconds separated first from second.

All this after nearly two hours in the water!

2004 Athens Olympics

Reports are that only 50% of tickets to the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, starting on August 5, have been sold. For the Paralympics in September, only 12% have been sold.

The Brazilian economy is shrinking during its worst recession in 25 years. The President of Brazil is under threat of impeachment for a decision to include an ex-President in her cabinet, someone under investigation for receiving bribes in the Petrobras corruption scandal. The Zika virus continues to spread in Brazil, a disease where there is now “strong scientific consensus” that it is a cause of microcephaly in newborns.

Those perhaps are the biggest factors that will result in many empty seats of a possible 7.5 million that are available for the Rio Olympics.

What’s interesting is that empty seats at Olympic Games is a recurring headache and embarrassment for Olympic organizing committees.

At the 2004 Games in Athens, “only about two-thirds of the 5.3 million tickets were sold“. At the 2008 Games in Beijing, organizers claimed that all 6.8 million tickets were sold, and yet empty seats blotted arenas throughout the Games. And at the 2012 Games in London, where pledge after pledge was made by organizers to fill the seats, and that “more than 20 million applications were made for the 6.6 million available seats”, the London organizing committee could not prevent the empty-seat phenomenon.

Empty Seats at Gymnastics Competition at London Games
2012 London Games

Athens and Rio share a common issue in that their economies may not be vibrant enough to drive local ticket sales. But Beijing and London do. Other factors are at play, resulting in tickets going unused. This article from The Guardian regarding empty seats at the London Games indicates that a few groups who are granted reserved seating, often the best seats in the house, just don’t show up:

  • Accredited members of the Olympic family, which include international sports federations, IOC officials and corporate sponsors,
  • Guests of corporate sponsors who receive tickets more for their affiliation with the sponsor and less regarding their interest in the Games
  • Members of the press, who may be less interested in heats and preliminary rounds
  • Athletes, particularly in the first week of the Games as all athletes are preparing or competing

Beijing pointed to another group – agencies that buy and re-sell tickets to people overseas or to people locally anticipating a spike in demand during the Games. Westerners in

BCCJ Paralympics Event 1
British Chamber of Commerce Japan panel discussion: “What About the Paralympics”.

Rina Akiyama is totally blind in both eyes, but that didn’t stop her from learning how to swim and eventually becoming a champion swimmer.

Hisano Tezuka is deaf, but that didn’t stop her from becoming a skiier, determined to compete at the highest levels in the Deaflympics.

Daisuke Uehara does not have the use of his legs, and was turned off by people encouraging him to take up wheelchair basketball, and gladly took up the sport of ice sledge hockey, helping Japan to Paralympic silver at the Vancouver Games in 2010.

On March 25, I had the honor of listening to the stories and views of these retired athletes, who were asked by the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan to join a panel discussion entitled, “What About the Paralympics”, an event with the aim of raising awareness of Paralympic sports in Japan. In my research on the Olympics, I have spent little time on the Paralympics, an event that started with a competition for war veterans with spinal cord injuries at the same time as the 1948 London Games. The first official Paralympic Games were held in conjunction with the Rome Summer Games in 1960, and have continued ever since, growing consistently in popularity and significance.

Rina Akiyama
Rina Akiyama, gold medal winner of the 100-meter backstroke at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London_Getty Images

What I learned is that the Paralympic Games is not about disabled athletes, but about athletes with tremendous ability. If Japan (or any society) values diversity and strives to be more inclusive, then a mind shift needs to take place. The BCCJ, like elements in the public sector, the private sector and NPOs, believe people need to stop making the so-called disability of a person the number one characteristic of a person, and need to start understanding the abilities of that person that allow growth and avenues for that person to achieve his or her potential.

In the case of Paralympic participants, these people are athletes, some of them as intense and brilliant as their so-called able-bodied colleagues.

Akiyama began swimming at 3. At 10, she read a book about the Paralympics, and from

Row2Rio route map

What does it take to go from London to Rio on human power? Physically fit, mentally strong, well organized fanatics on a mission.

On January 9 of this year, 2 men and 2 women got on their bikes and cycled over 2,400 miles from Olympic Park in London to Lagos, a port town in southern Portugal. On January 31, they left Lagos and started rowing a 8.6 meter long boat called a Rannoch R45, which can house four or five people uncomfortably, allowing three people to row at the same time. They are currently close to the halfway mark rowing a total of 3,600 miles with the intent of hitting land at Recife, Brazil. From there, they will cycle down the Brazilian coast to Rio de Janeiro, which should take another four weeks.

The mission is raise awareness of the upcoming Rio Olympics, making the literal connection between the past 2012 Olympic venue with the future 2016 venue. But on the way, they are raising funds for cancer research, as well as their journey’s operations.

Row2Rio Foursome

The four team members are:

  • Susannah Cass: a 27-year old PhD student of botany from Dublin
  • Jake Heath: a 29-year old podiatrist from Twickenham
  • Mel Parker: a 27-year old fundraiser for a children’s charity from Gloucestershire
  • Luke Richmond: a 31-year-old cross-fit and Olympic lifting coach from Australia

And their posts on the journey rowing south 24 hours a day are fascinating:

  • Luke Richmond, Day 1-3: It was a brutal first day and night, sea sickness had three of us spewing all at once, only Jake seemed un effected. I was sure I was about to die.
  • Jake Heath, Day 1-6: The trip so has been life changing already, because I have realized how much you can push your body, if you can keep breaking things down on the small tasks, like the two hour stretch in front of you. I am currently switching in Row2Rio in boatwith Luke every two hours for 24 hours a day, as we row our way across to Brazil. The girls are also switching with each other, every two hours, but staggered by one hour with us, so everyone gets to spend some time together.
  • Jake Heath, Day 7&8: We have been on what seems like a giant conveyor belt of water and big waves. It’s all good and going in the right directions for us to reach the canaries in two days and then push on to Cape Verde straight after. The sea swells are pretty big and at night they can catch you off guard and just crash over your head. Last night Captain Susannah caught a high wave, which went all over her, but I luckily was out of the rowing seat having a stretch and remained bone dry. Carbon copy thing happens to Mel the next I shift, this time I was getting a drink and avoided it once again. I know what you are thinking? I promise I am actually doing some of the rowing!
  • Mel Parker, Day 18: Imagine your bed is 1m by 1m, around your little square of bed you have everything tied to the walls – your wardrobe, toiletries and a few days food. Above you you’ve got all the comms and electronics you could need to get you safely across an ocean. Behind your head you have the worlds noisiest neighbour, which sounds like a robotic Jurassic park, but is working hard to make sure you’re steering in the right direction.

If you’re interested in making a donation to help the MacMillan Cancer Support organization fight cancer, go to this link.

If you’re interested in following the exploits of this fantastic four, here is a link to their blog – Row2Rio. And stay tuned!

Bud Collins and Dick Enberg
NBC announcer Bud Collins, left, with Dick Enberg in the television booth at the All England Club for the 1982 Wimbledon. Photo: Walter Looss JR. /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

I was a big tennis fan when I was growing up in Queens, New York, getting lessons at Cunningham Park, and playing with friends on the awful concrete court on the grounds of the Queens General Hospital. And I remember in the 1970s watching Breakfast at Wimbledon on NBC, with Bud Collins, when Bjorn Borg was the dominant male tennis player of the time, routinely defeating Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas and Roscoe Tanner. And I remember the epic five-setter in 1980 when John McEnroe lost to Borg at Wimbledon. Bud Collins was always there.

Collins passed away on March 4, 2016.

But what I just learned is that Bud Collins, who essentially began his journalistic career as a college student for his school paper, went, somewhat on a whim, to the 1948 London Olympic Games as a spectator. The goal was to cheer on a fellow Baldwin-Wallace College student, William Harrison Dillard.

A few years ago, Collins wrote this wonderful article for ESPN, recalling his early days in Berea, Ohio, where he literally delivered newspapers (Cleveland Plain Dealer) on the Baldwin-Wallace campus and its environs as a 14-year old. When he became a BW student, world-class hurdler Dillard also decided to join BW. Dillard could have gone to Ohio State, the alma mater of Jesse Owens, the last American to win Olympic gold in the 100 meters in 1936, but as Collins relates in the article, Dillard wanted to stay closer to home.

harrison dillard 1948
William Harrison Dillard in 1948 at the London Summer Games.

 

Collins continues to write this amazing story of how Dillard was pretty much expected to win gold in the 110 meter hurdles easily at the re-boot Olympics in 1948, the first Olympics since Berlin in 1936, postponed for 12 years due to world war. (in fact, Dillard served in the US military, seeing significant action on the Italian front.) But for some reason, at the Olympic trials, Dillard competed poorly and would not be asked to compete as a hurdler. He did place third in the 100 meters, so was put on the team to possibly compete in the 400-meter relay team.

So when young Bud Collins, and his editor on the school paper, decided to use their savings and borrow money so they could go to London, there was only a slim possibility of watching their buddy, “Bones” Dillard, compete at the 1948 Olympic Games. As it turned out, in a London still climbing out of the rubble of World War II, Dillard was crowned the fastest man in the world, and a budding journalist named Bud Collins was there.

Thank you Bud, for the memories.