Category Archives: Olympic Fever

Petanque Moving Closer to Its Target: Inclusion in the Olympics

France's Dylan Rocher (Source: Boulistenaute)

France’s Dylan Rocher (Source: Boulistenaute)

This post has been in the works for a while now.  For the last two years it’s been written and re-written in my mind, debating the pros and cons of pétanque becoming an Olympic sport.  The decade-plus lobbying efforts have progressed considerably, and pétanque players and fans alike are optimistic that the French game could make its Olympic debut in 2024, which coincidentally, Paris is bidding to host.  So I decided it’s time for me to put my thoughts in writing.

For anyone reading this who’s not familiar with pétanque, let me make something clear:  Pétanque is not the same as (Italian game) bocce.  It’s better.   I’m sorry, but one won’t ever find me excited about the possibilities of bocce becoming an Olympic event.

Because I do play pétanque, one might think that I’m automatically biased regarding pétanque in the Olympics.  Do I think pétanque should become an Olympic event?  The answer is surprising:  yes and no.

I have a bit of a problem with certain games or skills being in the Olympics if they don’t require a lot of athleticism.  Now, I’m not suggesting that pétanque requires no athleticism, but it requires much less compared to wrestling, swimming, gymnastics, or speed skating.  My interpretation of the Olympics is that it’s a series of multiple, athletic sporting events and does not include those which require less athleticism or physicality.  With that said, shooting, archery, and maybe even curling wouldn’t make my cut.    I know.  I’m going to get a lot of flack for these comments.

Adding pétanque to the Olympics also brings up another problem I have with new events continually being added the Olympics.  Already the Summer Olympics are teetering on the edge of becoming a circus, these additions to the Games diluting the uniqueness and respectability of being an Olympian, of becoming an Olympic medalist.  Does every game and sport need to be in the Olympics?  No!

And yet these two sentences I just wrote will be argued by those who cite the words of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern-day Olympics:  “All sports for all people.”  However, to use Coubertin’s lovely quote and argue for continued expansion opens the Olympic floodgates, allowing all games and sports into the Olympics.  Chess, backgammon, video games, poker, stair climbing, hang-gliding, hot air balloon racing….Do you see where this is going?

Let’s set aside my personal feelings about the dilution of the Olympics and examine the current IOC requirements for becoming an Olympic event.  All 33 criteria are in published form on the IOC website, titled the, “Evaluation Criteria for Sports and Disciplines.”  Rather than go through the entire exhaustive list, I’ll touch on the most important ones:

  • Youth appeal.   While youth development is a problem in some countries (including the United States), it appears to strong and growing in both African and Asian countries.  In addition, development remains a focus for many European nations.
  • Universality and popularity.  According to the International Federation of Pétanque, there are over 110 countries with established pétanque federations.  There is no question that the popularity of pétanque is widespread and well-established in the majority of these countries.
  • Good governance.   The sport has an international governing body and affiliated federations (mentioned above).

Based on this criteria, pétanque qualifies to become an Olympic event.  And while I might initially heave a heavy, exasperated sigh over yet another event being added to the Olympics, as a player of the game, there’s a small part of me which will be excited.  I’ll be excited for the game which I’ve quickly grown to love.

I have one small request:  For pétanque to be included in the Olympics, the semi-finals and finals need to be more than just one game.  The present structure has titles being won in final games which last as few as 30 or 60 minutes.  Let’s have a best of three matches to determine the victors.  After all, this would be for an Olympic medal!

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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The Olympic Games: Everyone Wants to Compete, No One Wants to Host

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(Photo: Associated Press/Charles Krupa)

Just when it seemed promising that Americans could enjoy an Olympics not being aired at 2:00 in the morning, such chances were dashed today–dashed when Boston mayor Marty Walsh announced that he would not “commit to putting the taxpayers at risk” to cover the expensive costs of bidding for and hosting the 2024 Olympic Games.  Walsh’s press conference occurred a few hours before sources inside the US Olympic Committee confirmed that a Boston 2024 is no longer likely, and therefore there’s little optimism that a post-2016 Olympics will be held in the Americas any time soon.

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The Power to Inspire, Unite–To Change the World

mandela flame

Photo: Reuters

Our hearts are heavy since learning of Nelson Mandela’s death yesterday.  Although old in age and having done so much to change our world, many of us are finding it difficult to say goodbye–to bid farewell to a pillar in our international community.

It is a sense of trepidation that I feel when I consider a future without Mandela.  I wonder how we will all continue to fight for equality and social justice when such an influential figure is no  longer here to inspire us.

13 years ago Mandela gave a speech in Monaco during which he spoke these powerful and unforgettable words:

“Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

During his 95 years, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was always learning, growing, and advocating change.  He never gave up.  Never surrendered–even when faced with countless hurdles of cruelty and injustice.  Instead, he stood firm in his quest for a world without hate, prejudice, injustice, and inequality.  His unwavering strength, courage, and passion for change is known to have inspired countless others over the decades.   Yet perhaps now–in a post-Mandela world–is when his legacy should influence us all the more.

In less than two months the 2014 Winter Olympics will open in Sochi, Russia.  These games which were designed to ensure ‘all sports for all people’ are being hosted by a country where homosexuality is banned and stories of persecution against sexual minorities are being reported.  Sochi is this century’s Berlin.  A sporting movement which Pierre de Coubertin designed to promote peace, athletics, and equality is once again being held in a country whose laws and actions directly contradict the tenets of the Olympic Movement and the late Mandela.

The torch must  now be passed on–but not from Mandela to a single heir-apparent.  Rather, shouldn’t we all collectively take the torch and vow to move forward, to do our part?    Athletes competing next year in Sochi will represent both genders, all sexual orientations, all races, and a diverse number of religions.  They–along with us, the fans–have “the power to change the world.”  Their actions, their performances, and our support of them can help inspire change.  We not only owe this to Mandela, but more importantly, we owe this to ourselves and posterity.

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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The Body of an Olympian

Welcome back, me!  Most importantly, welcome back to any loyal readers who are still hanging around!  After a brief hiatus, I’m ready to pick up the baton, the pole vault, the hockey stick–fill in the blank with whatever metaphor you wish.

As I began to dust off my gear and return to some hardcore training (We have an Olympics coming up in just under 90 days, folks!), I came across this series of photos shared by a Facebook friend.  This series by photographer Howard Schatz not only reminds us of the vastly different body types required for the various sports, but it celebrates the diversity of sport and humankind–something that the 2014 host country doesn’t (sadly) embrace.  The photo series includes former and current Olympians, paralympians, and athletes from other sport genres.

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Taking a Break

sits-empty-start-sessionI’ve often mentioned how difficult it can be to balance work, family, and a blog.  At times I’ve done it well, and other times not so much.  These past several weeks have found me so busy tackling both work-related and personal issues, that the blog has been neglected.  And while this isn’t an Olympic year,  there’s still been plenty of news.  I’ve been unable to address the riots in Brazil, the disturbing legislation out of Russia, or the tumult in Turkey.  Furthermore, I haven’t been able to take time to reflect on the one  year anniversary of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

There have been many Olympians who have taken time away from their sport, to heal, re-charge, or focus on other matters, only to return to a few months later stronger and better than before.  Let’s hope that I can return to this blog in a couple of months’ time and be ready to pick up and go!

My love for the Olympics has not waned in the least.  It only grows stronger!  But if I am to enjoy this blog as much as I can, I need to be able to devote more time and energy to it.  Perhaps this is suicide in the blogosphere, but I must take a “leave of absence” from blogging for a month or two.   I’ve got to focus on myself for a bit.

To my loyal readers, do not abandon this blog!  I will return in a couple of months, ready to begin writing again about the most wonderful sporting event in the world.

Until next time…. Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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‘Tragedy and Triumph’

candleThis is just not the way it’s supposed to be.

Yesterday’s forecast for Boston was a perfect sunny day for its famous marathon.  Thousands of runners would cover 26.2 miles through the historic city before crossing the finish line, cheered on by their supporters.  Sure, to place in the top three is truly a feat.  But to actually cross the finish line, whether first or last, is the true accomplishment in a marathon.   For thousands, it is a race unfinished.  The chaos from yesterday’s bombings along the finish line of Boston’s marathon interrupted the remainder of the race.  In just a few seconds, runners suddenly were more concerned with their own safety and aiding others than focusing on their stride, endurance, and split time.

Some have placed this event as the third domestic tragedy in a year following those in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut.  Others have placed it as the third of three tragic sporting events (the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the bombing from the 1996 Olympics being the other two).

I remember the 1996 bombing in Atlanta.  I remember the raw emotions I felt.  For the first time, I realized that not even the Olympic Games were immune to the violence and hatred that plagues our world.  To see a sporting event that holds athleticism, fellowship, and peace at its core marred by hate-fueled violence was disturbing.  Some of my innocence was lost.  I think it was lost for many.

More innocence was lost on September 11, 2001;  on July 21, 2005;  and our sense of security and remaining naiveté continues to erode with each additional, senseless tragedy.  The countless shootings in the United States resulted from the mentally ill having easy access to extremely deadly firearms.  The tragedies of Munich, Atlanta, and now Boston were not the result of lunacy.  They were pre-planned, calculated acts of terror, fueled by a level of hatred that is difficult to comprehend.   In fact, it is difficult to comprehend what kind of human being can purposefully plan an attack that sabotages innocent civilians gathered together for a festive occasion.

As a sports fan, as a compassionate human being, I am angry.  Stupefied.  Saddened.  Along with thousands I also ask the same question:  Why?

Reflecting on yesterday’s tragedy, I find myself mulling over a quote from Olympian Mark Spitz.  Spitz, who won seven gold medals at the 1972 Games, was later quoted as saying, “The memories of the Munich games for me are of triumph and tragedy.”  So too will the 2013 Boston Marathon be for many of its runners and spectators.  For many, there is tragedy in the loss of life and of life-threatening injuries.  While I grieve for those killed and pray for the healing of those injured, I also recognize the tragedy of more innocence lost and an eroding sense of security.

Just as in 1972 and 1996, there is also triumph.  Webster’s Dictionary defines triumph as “the joy or exultation of victory or success,” “a victory or conquest by or as if by military force,” or “a notable success.”  Although the race was not finished by all, there were two runners who crossed the finish line with the best time, and their successes are worth noting:  Men’s winner Lelisa Desisa Benti of Ethiopia and women’s winner Rita Jeptoo of Kenya.   They were joyful and victorious, having conquered the obstacles of a marathon.

I firmly believe that we can never defeat hatred or fanaticism.  As we put one fire out, another two begin from its ashes, and the vicious cycle continues.  In the most literal sense, we cannot eradicate all evil.  Yet we can refuse to let it squash our spirit, our love of sport, our compassion for human life.  Just like the athlete who falls down and gets back up again, so must we.  Again and Again.

Faster, Higher, Stronger.

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Olympians and Reality TV a Great Match

Awhile back I wrote about those Olympians whom I’d like to see on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”  Perhaps someone was reading my blog, because one of them ended up on the current season.  Sadly though, Dorothy Hamill was down shortly after she sprung from the starting gate, withdrawing after only one week due to a back injury.  And I’ve got to tip my hat to Ms. Hamill, because the last thing I wanted to see was another dancer’s health woes dramatized each week on the show, like those of Melissa Gilbert and Jennifer Grey.  I hope, hope,  she can heal and that producers will allow her to return to the show for a future season.

Aly and partner Mark Ballas might have danced well, but McKayla is not amused.

They might have gotten good scores, but McKayla is not amused.

After the success of Shawn Johnson (not once– but twice) on  ‘Dancing,’ it was a no-brainer to lure a member of the 2012 US Women’s Gymnastics Team to join the cast.  I’m grateful Gabby Douglas wasn’t selected, as we all suffered from her overexposure in 2012.  Aly Raisman was the obvious choice.   Although I wonder how amused McKayla Maroney was over not being selected?

Also on ABC is a new series called “Splash.”  I’ve only watched bits of it.  While ‘Dancing’ might be more entertaining for the quality of some of the dancing, “Splash” fails to match.  It’s just one giant train wreck as celebrities attempt to pull off dives.  What I do love is getting to see Greg Louganis again.  With silver streaks in his hair and a body over 50 years in age, he’s still got charm and grace–both as diver and in personality.   He even won bonus points from me for how he handled Kendra Wilkinson.

While show judge David Boudia shows incredible ease and naturalness in front of the camera, it’s still Louganis whom I’m drawn to, and probably for sentimental reasons.  If only Fox’s “Skating With Celebrities” and ABC’s “Skating With the Stars” could have produced better results.

What will be next?  Gymnastics With the Stars?  I can  just see it:  Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci as coaches, with Mary Lou Retton and Mitch Gaylord as hosts or judges.  And we’d have to include Bela Karolyi as a judge.  He’d give Bruno Tonioli some competition as most animated and heavily accented reality TV judge.  Hey, and who wouldn’t want to see Chuy Bravo perform a bar routine?

Faster,  Higher, Stronger.

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