Friday, August 29, 2008

birthday (body) fat's my birthday. and a big one.

and to mark the chronological milestone i figured to match it with a physical one--even though today is about neither, but really instead about a mental one.

i once had a coach who argued you could tell a lot about a person's character and mental state from their body. he asserted that the body and mind were one, and that each reflected the other.

he didn't mean this in a metaphysical good-versus-evil sense, but more from a practical, performance-driven angle. he never suggested that good guys had one body type and bad guys another--that just doesn't happen. instead, he said things like a fat, chubby body was indicative of an undisciplined, unfocused, careless mind, using the reasoning that staying on a training and nutrition plan necessary for a lean, athletic physique required discipline, focus, and care, and therefore anyone who lacked those qualities would tend to stray from the plan and subsequently expand into corpulescence. similarly, he'd also point out that people under emotional and mental stress tend to use food as a coping device, and would also put less effort into exercise, suggesting that any sudden increase in body fat indicated a mind experiencing excess stress.

this was relevant to him, because he believed that physical performance was a function of both a well-developed body and a well-developed mind. it was because of this that he would periodically have us check our body fat percentages and review our overall body proportions, on the belief that our bodies would show just where we were mentally. uttering maxims like "a lazy body means a lazy mind" and "your body can't hide who you are" and "the truth is in the fat" or--and the one i remember the most every time i wake up in the morning and get ready to shower: "the mirror does not lie."

i used to look back on this with a certain level of reservation. while it had a certain logic, i always discounted it with a self-enlightened air, reminding myself that the obsession with body fat and body proportions was probably responsible for so many athletes developing subconscious eating disorders, and therefore something negative that needed to be ignored for the sake of greater health.

thing is, i'm not so sure anymore. at least, i'm no longer thinking it's such a black-and-white, good-and-bad, yes-or-no situation anymore.

my time in endurance sports, particularly with Ironman, has been a journey of great personal introspection, contemplation, and discovery. while i never meant it to be this way, i've found that it's become a vehicle for personal development, bringing about changes in me intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually--and these changes have matched, and even exceeded, the changes that have taken place in me physically.

a lot of it, i know, has coincided with major changes in my life, changes that encompassed school and career and family and friends and the larger world that spurred a great deal of re-evaluation and deep reflection about the state of living and existence. but an equal part of it--perhaps a greater part of it--i believe has been the demands made by the distance. you just can't undertake the amount and intensity of training required for Ironman without it affecting you in some certainly can't do an Ironman without it changing you forever. the commitment, the dedication, the suffering, the sacrifice exceeds anything most people have or will ever experience. no matter how good a shape you thought you were in before, it's nothing compared to the kind of shape you need to be in, and will be in, for Ironman.

and so in my odyssey through the distance, i've gradually seen my body evolve, change, transform from a bulky, clumsy exterior to a lean, smooth one, as the onslaught of miles demanded the shedding of useless deadweight in inverse correlation to an expansion in needed physical capacities. and the exterior changes have been matched by internal ones: with the passage of each mile, i've found myself being stripped of emotional and spiritual baggage, forced to relinquish burdens, pared of useless waste, so that there were no more delusions and distractions and artifice and pretensions and lies and half-truths and denials and, in short, that there was no more bullshit. so that what was left was the base essentials driving who i was and what i am and where i was going and, above all, why. so that i could see clearly (or clearly enough) to come to my senses and gain perspective and find myself and thereby finally begin to discover, with the awareness that can only come from the purity of that most necessary, the fundamental truths of life and living and all creation, in the silence of things significant and the realization of things profound.

as a result, i've started to come back a bit to my coach's beliefs, albeit from a slightly different angle. he looked to the body as a sign of discipline, focus, and care to competition and performance. but i look at this is just a pointer to something more: i look to the body as a sign of discipline, focus, and care to identity and being, with competition and performance just being vehicles for the spirit and the soul. this is in essence the ascetic tradition, holding that personal development involves both body and mind, so that the whole being is prepared and unified and thereby enabled to learn of the greater mysteries that lie beyond both.

it was because of this that i decided to mark this birthday with a goal of reaching 5-6% bodyfat--the magic numbers espoused by my coach as the target for all competitive athletes, since they constituted the barrier above which sports science considered useless deadweight and below which medical science considered inadequate for necessary biochemical processes. it's also a number that i never hit, neither my time under him nor my time ever since then. not even in my time in endurance sports.

so i chose that number out memory for him and his beliefs, but also as a target to help denote what i consider to be a milestone not just in age but in my own personal development...basically, a milestone in who i am.

towards that end, i've spent the past months since Ironman New Zealand in steady training, holding to a steady diet of workouts and nutrition, trying to get back to where i was a year ago, if not a little farther.

at IMNZ, for various reasons, i was not in a healthy state of mind, and i think you can see it in the photos of my body at the time:
i was a little overweight, despite all the training. and as much as i hate to admit it, i pretty much had fallen into the traps my coach had always warned me about: with all the (non-race) stress i was under then, i was eating more and working out less than i should have. and i very much was struggling with discipline, and focus, and care. in fact, i didn't even really care about at all--the race, the place, or even me. it shows. i was at 9% bodyfat. i'm kind of ashamed of what i looked like then.

it's been a number of months since then. there's been some trials. some good, some bad. a lot changes. a lot of transition. and a lot of thinking and introspection and contemplation. and all of it with the aid of the distance. i'm starting to feel in a better state of mind, and i think it's starting to show:
yeah i know, i'm just goofing around. but i did hit my target. my bodyfat now measures exactly 5%. that's right, 5%. i've hit the target my coach always wanted me to hit but never was able to. but it's a target that's not just a number. it's not what he thought it was.

because for me, that number is not just about the body and what that body can do. it's about what that number represents. and for me, that number represents everything that's happened to me in endurance sports. in the distance, with the distance, because of the distance. the passage of the miles that have wrought so many changes in my mind and my heart and my spirit and my soul. the journey that has released me from self-destructive deadweight of unessential burdens. the path that has enabled me to discover the empowerment of deeper truths. the odyssey that has led me to find myself and my God...or at least as much as anyone can hope to begin to know.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

triathlon as a team sport? not for Ironman.

hmmmmmmm...i don't know about this:
if the link doesn't work, i've put the full text of the article at the end of this post.

this is an article from a Canadian newspaper, and goes into detail about how the Canadians used a team approach to the triathlon event at this past Beijing Olympics. essentially, Canadian favorite Simon Whitfield, who is a former Olympic champion and was a strong contender for gold in this year's Olympics, was accompanied by another Canadian competitor, Colin Jenkins, whose only role was to serve as a "domestique."

those of you familiar with cycling know that a "domestique" is someone on a team who is not expected to win--nor will be allowed to--but is instead expected to help the team leader to succeed by (among other things) chasing down breakaways, opening riding lanes, and creating drafting lanes.

the latter is perhaps the biggest duty, since it allows the team leader to stay relatively rested while still remaining in contention for the final push to the finish. at the speeds cyclists go, wind resistance can consume as much as 30-40% of a competitor's energy output, so any relief that can be gained from drafting offers a huge aid.

similarly, in swimming, where water is such a high-density medium, drag resistance also consumes a major portion of energy output. which is why open-water swimmers frequently engage in drafting behind other swimmers to save themselves for the finish.

thing is, i'm really not sold on this as part of the sport.

on one hand, i can see 3 arguments supporting team-work:
  • there's drafting in all of the individual sports involved in triathlon, so it's entirely consistent that triathlon--which combines all 3--also allow team-work. open-water swimming allows it. cycling allows it. even distance running, which is often perceived as an individualist event, features constant drafting. particularly in events like the 10,000 meters or marathon, you often see runners staying in a main pack and exchanging roles at the front, with the aim of race favorites to save energy by drafting behind the leaders until the final sprint to the finish. it happened at this past Beijing Olympics, which even showed men's and women's marathon leaders involved in team-work, with the Chinese women helping each other and the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners working together.
  • the article is right, there is a trend towards triathlon teams. professionally, you see teams becoming organized by sponsors, with examples like Team Timex or Team Tri-Dubai. collegiately, it's always been teams organized by individual schools. traditionally, the team approach was related to training and logistical support, but the trend is to now carry it into race day.
  • the rules allow it. at least in ITU (International Triathlon Union). and so long as the rules are set up to allow it, athletes will interpret them in any way possible to maximize their chances of winning.
but despite all these arguments, i still am a purist. to me, triathlon has always been more than just a competitive sporting event. following its origins in Hawaii and San Diego, i have always held to the principles that existed at the sport's inception: self-improvement, self-exploration, self-enlightenment, self-empowerment. all of these things point to an individualist spirit, with a competitor undergoing training and race day engaged in a journey going as much within themselves as it is going without in the world.

this may be my preference for Ironman talking. Ironman rules are different. drafting is not allowed, thereby effectively negating the major reason for race day team-work and confining team approaches to training and logistics. the World Triathlon Corporation, which runs Ironman internationally, holds to the fundamental vision that spurred then-Navy Commander John Collins to hold Ironman in 1978: an individual trial of endurance, with you facing only the elements and the clock, with the goal of you overcoming your own hurdles. the philosophy is entirely individualistic.

yeah, i know, all this meta-physical touchy-feely introspective spiritual mumbo-jumbo is just ethereal contemplation in a world full of realities and driven by profit-based motives. and given that choice, the sporting world is going to choose the latter, since the sport is a business based on audience revenue and thereby in need of spectator-friendly drama. and one of the most spectator-friendly dramas is the constant battle of competitors in a pack, playing out their tactics over the course of a race, setting themselves up for a final climactic showdown at the finish line. it plays to the human cultural traditions of theater maintained since the dawn of human civilization, and works with our natural desires for what we want in a spectacle: the increasingly intense conflict of point-counterpoint leading to a peak that produces a determinative conclusion.

compared to this, the introspection of an individualist trial-by-fire is utterly boring, and offers nothing for spectators--and the business based on them--to watch.

still, i hold to this: on some level, it's not about a business. in some ways, it never was. Ironman didn't start out as a business. it was meant to be about the athlete facing themselves, alone, stripped of all lies and pretensions and distractions and sycophants and seductions and illusions, so that there is nothing left but truth. and through that truth, the athlete is able to gain a greater understanding--of themselves, the world, the universe, god(s), eternity, and the state of creation and the meaning of it all. and through such understanding, the athlete can become something better than they were before--as a competitor and as a human being.

triathlon, at least for Ironman, was meant to be a transformative experience. meaning it is meta-physical, it is introspective, it is spiritual. even if touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo. it still is.

which i guess is why Ironman races are so unique. because even though they now have a professional circuit, and even though they have prize money, and even though they have sponsors, they are unlike any other triathlon, and unlike any other sporting event, anyone will ever get to see. in Ironman, professionals regularly stay to watch the amateurs finish, professionals regularly mingle with amateurs before and during and after competition, professionals regularly follow the individual stories of amateurs played out on every race day.

you see, it's because they know. they know Ironman is a transformative event. they know what Ironman was and is and will always be about. and they respect it, and they've decided that this is what they still want.

is it wrong to be a business? no. it's a necessity. is it disrespectful to the origins of the sport? no. things change. it's a choice, as much as anything in life is a choice.

but is it what people want? is it what people need? in a world of the profane, the unholy, the obscene, the filth and misery and cruelty and suffering and despair and desperation and darkness? in world that needs to be shown, to be given, to be made into something better?

to me, that's the real question. and given the choice between ITU team-work and Ironman individualism, i know where i'm going to find the answer.

'Within The Rules'
Canadian tactics change triathlon into a team sport
Zosia Bielski
National Post
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

With a silver-medal win in the men's triathlon yesterday, Canadians have set in motion the evolution of the sport from an individual event into a team one.

Borrowing tactics from the Tour de France, Triathlon Canada and silver medallist Simon Whitfield have effectively reinvented the sport -- with winning results.

Mr. Whitfield, 33, used a 25-year-old Canadian non-contender as a "domestique" who saved him energy during the cycling stretch of the race.

Triathlon purists -- those who believe the sport has always been lone wolf in nature -- have criticized the controversial move.

But Triathlon Canada officials say the sport has been shifting toward a team direction and Canada just capitalized on it first.

"Our goal is medals, not just to show up and be good Canadians. It's a change in the paradigm. It's a culture shift. ... Why not be the first ones to get out and do it and make everyone react to us?" said Alan Trivett, Triathlon Canada's executive director. "We played within the rules."

The triathlon involves a 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike ride and 10-kilometre run, and generally takes athletes less than two hours to complete.

Mr. Whitfield, a Kingston native who now lives in Victoria, last won a gold eight years ago in Sydney, then fell to an 11th place finish in Athens.

Upon Mr. Whitfield's request in June, officials at Triathlon Canada drafted Colin Jenkins from Hamilton to serve as his training partner. They picked Mr. Jenkins-- who did not qualify for the Olympics -- over higher-ranking athletes because he is a strong swimmer and cyclist, a perfect "domestique" for Mr. Whitfield.

Yesterday, the team tactics panned out for Canada.

During the race's 40-kilometre cycling leg, Mr. Jenkins battled it out at the front of the pack, chasing breakaways and allowing Mr. Whitfield to ride in his draft and save energy for his run.

After the bike leg, Mr. Jenkins placed fourth, while Mr. Whitfield sat in 12th, relatively rested up for his run.

During the run, Mr. Whitfield dropped back in the final kilometre before sprinting past the sport's current top three -- Bevan Docherty of New Zealand, Javier Gomez of Spain and Germany's Jan Frodeno.

He was ultimately overtaken by the German in the last 30 metres.

After the race, Mr. Whitfield split his $15,000 silver medal bonus with Mr. Jenkins and vehemently defended his push for a domestique.

"I believe it's the evolution of our sport, and you're going to see more and more countries do it. And it worked spectacularly today. [Mr. Jenkins] was spectacular today.

"The communication was spectacular," said Mr. Whitfield, who intends to compete in the 2012 Games in London.

"It took courage to say that we wanted to do this, and we took criticism.... I got called arrogant, and I got called cocky ... and I said, 'Wait a minute. I thought you wanted to win,' " Mr. Whitfield said.

Mr. Jenkins finished in 50th place -- dead last among those who finished the race-- but treated Mr. Whitfield's victory as his own.

"I didn't really care about the rest of my race. I actually stopped and yelled at Simon as he ran by, it was so exciting," said Mr. Jenkins, who had not run in six weeks after being hit by a car.

That was not a problem: Mr. Jenkins admitted he had not trained to win a medal. He also denied that Mr. Whitfield was doing it for himself.

"It's evolving into a team sport.... A medal for the country -- come on, what more can you ask for, seriously?"

Although they admit it may be the only way to the podium, triathlon purists are criticizing the team tactics.

"I think there's going to be a lot of dissension with all this," said Kevin Mackinnon, who competed nationally from 1985 to 1993 and now edits Triathlon Magazine Canada.

Two decades ago, he opposed drafting, saying it would turn triathlon racing into a team sport.

"If the goal is to get a gold medal and that's where Olympics have gone, yeah, this is a great move. I got into the sport for the individual thing but as soon as you allow drafting, that changes the playing field completely."

He said that now, recruiting domestiques such as Mr. Jenkins could sour the sport for traditional triathletes who want to compete, not help the top dog.

He pointed to Paul Tichelaar, a 27-year-old from Edmonton who qualified for the Olympics and finished in 28th place yesterday. Ranked sixth in the world, Mr. Tichelaar declined to participate in the new team mentality.

"I think Paul has always made it abundantly clear he's not crazy about this whole thing and I can see where he's coming from. Simon just outsprinted him at the world [championships] in June, so he feels like he can compete with Simon. Now all of a sudden you're saying, 'Hey, you know the guy that you were neck and neck with 100 metres before the finish line at worlds? Now we don't want you to race him anymore, now we want you to help him.'"

Mr. Trivett said Mr. Tichelaar was released from any obligation to race as a team.

"He could race however he chose yesterday," Mr. Trivett said. "We wanted him to be a part of the team and his heart really wasn't in it. It didn't appear that he was really buying into the process, because while I don't believe it's controversial, it's not a guarantee."

Mr. Mackinnon also said more higher-ranking athletes -- such as Brent McMahon -- might be excluded with a Triathlon Canada system that favours domestiques.

The 27-year-old from Kelowna, B. C., was not invited by Triathlon Canada largely because he runs better than he swims, Mr. Mackinnon said.

"What we're now going to start seeing more and more in the sport is people who are swim-bike specialists whose sole job is to get a fast runner to the finish line, or to the start of the run in the best possible shape. It's absolutely no different than the Tour de France, the domestiques hauling their team leaders and making sure everything's taken care of until the big sprint."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

why i love the Olympics (part 4: emotion)

we tend to belittle emotions and demean those who show them.

we tend to view emotions as a sign of weakness or lack of control. and because of this, we mock them. deride them. insult them. call them names like "drama queen" or "candy ass" or "pansy." and then we go further, and punish them, suppress them, deny them. do everything to eradicate them...them and those who dare display them.

we tell ourselves emotions are not necessary. that they are a waste. that we don't need them. in us, in others, in life.

which is why i love the Olympics.

everywhere at the Olympics, you'll see the grand scale of human emotion. from supreme joy to utter sorrow. from ecstasy to agony. elation to dejection. triumph to anguish. bliss to despair. the great extremes reaching across the human experience encapsulated on the field of athletic competition. and released in measure equal to the physical grandeur unleashed in play, in full display on the faces of those who can no longer contain them...nor would ever want to.

here's a sample of what i've seen:
you see, the Olympics are a reminder that there are some things in life that lie beyond the reach of words: feelings that run too deep, too strong, too great, to ever be expressed in the paltry confines of a construction like language.

in these times, emotions are all we have. because they are the only things capable of reflecting the full reach of what we feel. even if that reflection can only be released in tears.

without emotions, we cannot be complete. we cannot experience all that there is to experience, feel all that there is to feel, learn all that there is to learn. without emotions, we cannot grow into the grandeur that we come to call great expanse of human existence. we cannot realize the mystery of life.

emotions are the markers of the deeper aspects of our nature, of the passions that hold our higher truths. as such, they must be made known--experienced, felt, learned--if life is to be known...if we are to ever become more than what we are, or ever to become that which we were meant to be.

a life without passion is a life unknown.

and a life unknown is a life unlived.

"Sport is this great arena for drama. It's a reflection of life."
-Cathy Freeman, Australian 2000 Sydney Olympics gold medalist, 400m

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

why i love the Olympics (part 3: sportsmanship)

the world is full of obnoxious personalities. disrespectful. uncaring. cruel. sadistic. venal, vindictive, self-serving, selfish. they're everywhere. sometimes disguised beneath veneers of kindness, sometimes open, but always common. spreading poison and adding suffering to others around them...especially the innocent.

so often it seems these personalities are rewarded. their behavior encouraged. given the blessings of love and adoration and fame and fortune and joy and bliss, even as their venom leaves their victims to struggle in the wreckage left by their brutality.

we've all seen it. we've all known it. we've all suffered from it. from them.

and been left wondering if this is all there is to human behavior, if this is how humanity is supposed to truly treat one another. if this is really the state of the world.

which is why i love the Olympics.

anyone watching the swimming events at the Olympics this past Saturday, August 16, got to observe an interesting situation on the pool deck in the Water Cube. it was caught on television and given considerable discussion by television commentators, who seemed just as confused as the spectators since events were unfolding live in real-time. there was little mention given to it in the print media, but you can read the following to get an idea:
i've included the full text of the 1st article below, in case none of the links work.

essentially, this is what happened:

prior to the start of the semifinals for the women's 50m freestyle, the television cameras showed Dara Torres breaking away from the starting block and approaching the swimming officials to commence a brief exchange of words. she then spoke with the assembled swimmers on the pool deck, and seemed to have all the competitors stop and delay the race.

after several minutes of confusion, the reason for Dara's actions became evident. apparently, a Swedish competitor, Therese Alshammar, had discovered her swimsuit was broken just moments before swimmers were supposed to enter the starting blocks, and had been forced to find and put on a replacement suit. Dara had been trying to help Therese--who incidentally is one of the better 50m freestyle swimmers in the world and one of Dara's main competitors--but on seeing that the zipper was beyond repair, she decided to hold up the race to allow Therese to get into another suit.

Dara first approached the swimming officials for extra time, who granted her request for a few minutes' delay. to insure that there was no premature start, Dara then held an ad hoc discussion with all the swimmers to organize an impromptu group sit-in to wait for Therese, even going so far as to tell Casey Campbell, Australia's 16-year-old entrant, to "chill out" until Therese could get to the starting blocks.

this was probably one of the more unique expressions of sportsmanship i've ever seen at any athletic event. and it was probably one of the more selfless things i've ever seen done at a high-stakes, high-pressure competition.

normally, competitors are held responsible for themselves to be ready for a race start. the risk of not being ready is to simply have the race start without you, and to be thereby disqualified. as a result, other athletes actually benefit from 1 person not making it to the race start--especially if it means eliminating a main competitor, and especially if it's in a major event like the Olympics. i'm sure this was a potential scenario that could have been played out in Therese Alshammar's case.

but the fact that Dara Torres had the presence of mind to look out for another competitor, even in a high-pressure environment like the Olympics, and particularly for a competitor who promised to be a main rival, speaks volumes about her character. and the fact that she then took upon herself the duty to act to see that the situation was resolved only adds to it.

this entire display serves as a reminder about sportsmanship, and just what that word really means.

had Therese been disqualified, it would have meant that all the present athletes had taken advantage of a fellow competitor's misfortune. the situation would have been a tragic one for her and for her country of Sweden, a distraction for the swimming venue in Beijing, and a source of unresolved conflicts with open questions as to who really was the best swimmer deserving of the finals and just how the competitions rules treated competitors fairly or unfairly. in essence, it would have only served to degrade the entire sport and the Olympic spirit, and their aspirations to better human ideals.

however, by seeking to help Therese, and making sure she made the start of the women's 50m freestyle qualifier, Dara fixed everything. she stopped the exploitation of another's misfortune, and in doing so prevented a tragic outcome, nipped a potential for a major Olympic distraction, left the question of athleticism to competition on the field of play (where it's supposed to be), and rendered moot any debate over the fairness of rules. she upheld the dignity of the sport and the Olympics, and preserved their goals of advancing human ideals...that, and, perhaps more importantly, she also made a better friend.

this story shows how things like respect and courtesy and compassion and kindness really do make a difference. without them, there's nothing but brutality and chaos, and a resulting propagation of suffering that only serves to denigrate the human condition. with them, there's dignity and order, and a liberation of the spirit that frees people to discover the greater truths of human existence.

because things are bad enough without adding to the misery that's already in the world. things are bad enough without adding to the suffering with obnoxious or cruel or sadistic or selfish behavior.

what the world needs is something--and someone(s)--that makes things better. and that something, and someone(s) begins with us. each of us. each of us involved in the great race of life. with the presence of mind to look out for others, and taking upon ourselves the duty to act to see things resolved.

respect. and courtesy. and compassion. and kindness.

so that our actions become our character, and our character becomes our life, and our life becomes an expression of ideals made real...ideals of all that which is virtue, and a reflection of the more noble aspects of the human spirit.

so that we may realize the greater truths of existence, and make manifest those truths in ourselves, in each other, and in human life.

and thereby justify the act of living.

Torres is fastest qualifier in 50 free, confirms she will anchor relay
BEIJING — Dara Torres is doubling up her duties in her run at history on Sunday.

In addition to seeking her 11th Olympic medal in the finals of the 50-meter freestyle, the 41-year-old mom confirmed Saturday she will swim the anchor leg of the women's 4x100 medley relay about 40 minutes later.

A double medal performance would tie Torres with Jenny Thompson as the most decorated U.S. woman swimmer in history, with 12. She already is the oldest female swimmer in Olympic history.

Torres won the 100 freestyle at the U.S. trials but elected not to swim the individual event in Beijing to concentrate on the 50 free and the 4x100 free relay, which she anchored for a silver medal.

Natalie Coughlin won a bronze medal in the 100 free Friday, but she is swimming her strongest stroke, the 100 backstroke, in the relay.

Torres was the fastest qualifier in the semifinal heats of the 50 free Saturday, cruising in a time of 24.27 seconds. Sixteen-year-old Cate Campbell of Australia will be in the next lane, having qualified second in 24.42.

Torres disappeared from the starting area just before the semifinal, doing something any mother would do — helping a youngster with her suit.

Therese Alshammar of Sweden was late to the pool deck because her suit ripped in the ready room and Torres lent a hand.

"Therese's suit ripped when we were getting ready to walk out. … We got it up and it ripped again," Torres said. "I saw her not march out and I just went over to the ref and said, 'Can you wait because there's a girl whose suit just ripped?' They said they would try to delay it and I was telling the other girls so they wouldn't be ready to go and be all nervous."

Alshammar failed to qualify for the finals. Kara Lynn Joyce of the U.S. qualified seventh.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

why i love the Olympics (part 2: friendship)

we treat friendship like a commodity, like a cheap trinket bought and sold.

in some ways, we treat friendship as something even less--trinkets bought and sold at the very least indicate a recognition of some kind of value, but so many times we make and discard friendships for nothing, suggesting utter disrespect and ignorance for their significance and meaning.

and so friendship is cheapened into something less. and we treat it accordingly. harshly. we ignore it, we abuse it, we use it, we punish it. we give it no credit for its sacrifices and support, and assign to it all blame for our failures and wrongs. we deny its claims of honesty, and we engage in paranoid delusions as to its motives. we provide it no sustenance, and take from it everything to feed our selfishness. we conspire against it, sabotage it at every opportunity. we abandon it, even destroy it, with the slightest whisper of a whim.

and then we think nothing of the disrespect that has been made, or the harm that has been done, or the loss that has been suffered. to the friendship between peoples, to the other person, and most of all, to ourselves.

it's a wonder there is any bond of any value of any kind between people on this earth.

which is why i love the Olympics.

in the West, we are not privy to certain Olympic sports. the news telecasts in the United States, in particular, skip over sports it deems less popular to a domestic audience. which includes things like dressage, crew, ping pong, or pistol shooting. which is a shame, because it missed out on a very special Olympic moment.

the finals of the air pistol competition were held this past Sunday, August 10. Americans were denied live broadcast of the event, and more importantly, the medal award. news of what happened had to be relayed via print media, which gave it only brief mention.

you can read about what happened in the following selection of articles:
i've put the full text of the first article below, since it seemed to give the best story.

the background is this: Russia recently invaded Georgia, using military force to occupy the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, essentially creating a state of war--de facto (as in net effect, with soldiers fighting and people dying), if not de jure (as in officially declared by either government)--between the two countries. i won't go into the details here, but you can reference short summaries at: Washington Post, CNN, and BBC.

during the medal ceremony for the air pistol competition, the silver medal was awarded to Natalia Paderina, a Russian, and the bronze medal was awarded to Nino Salukvadze, a Georgian. they are competitors and arch-rivals, but also happen to be very good friends. and despite the hostilities between their 2 countries, they made a public expression of their friendship and gave each other hugs and kisses while on the medal stand, and followed this by statements to the press of their continued dedication to their friendship in the face of adversity.

nino salukvadze gave the following quote (as translated in various incarnations):
"if the world were to draw any lessons from what i did there would never be any wars. we live in the 21st century, after all. we shouldn't really stoop so low to wage wars against each other."
on one level, this displayed the nature of friendship between 2 different people. it's a strong one, a sincere one. one able to withstand the pressures of their countries, and one able to hold against the onslaught of global geopolitics. and more than this, it looks past notions of country or culture or cause or conflict to recognize people as being people and a person as a person, and hold to the bond that is there, and preserve it in the face of hostility.

on another level, however, it speaks to something more. it speaks to faith, and respect, and honor. faith in the relations that exist between people. respect for those relations, as much as there is respect for others as human beings. and honor that is given to the meaning of the friendship that can arise as a result.

this, despite all the anger and hate and rage and anxiety and fear and paranoia and jealousy and suspicion and cynicism and bitterness and sorrow and despair that fills this world. despite all the violence and sickness and torment and suffering that consumes this globe. despite all the forces of darkness that seduce and enslave this earth. despite everything that strives to drive us apart and have us hurt one another.

despite all speaks to faith and respect and honor to the relations between people, and the meaning of friendship that can arise as a result.

because there is meaning in friendship. meaning in that we as human beings can truly seek to sustain one another, can truly seek to give sustenance and aid to each other, can truly seek to be selfless and sacrifice to others, can truly seek the betterment of another.

meaning in that we can commit to such ideals and thereby dedicate ourselves to greater virtues...and to do so not alone, but with the knowledge that we are accompanied by those who believe and feel and act the same, so that our combined aspirations unite to lift not only ourselves or one another, but the entire state of humanity within which we live.

there is meaning in friendship.

it's a meaning that's more than nothing, a meaning that's more than a commodity.

it's the meaning of being a human being.

it's the meaning of human life.

and just how great it--and how great we--can be.

Georgia and Russia stay in Olympics, despite threat of war
International Herald Tribune
By Jeré Longman
Sunday, August 10, 2008

BEIJING: On Friday night, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia stood on the welcoming line at the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics. By Saturday night, he returned home on the front line. On Sunday, Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia edged toward full-fledged war, leaving the medal count grimly superseded by talk of a body count.

Often, the opening ceremonies are the most inspiring part of the Olympics, reality trumped for four hours by possibility. Iran marches next to Iraq. North Korea sometimes walks shoulder to shoulder with South Korea. But as the Russian athletes and Georgian athletes rolled into the Olympic Stadium on Friday, tanks rolled into South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia that has support from Moscow.

While a human peace dove flapped its wings on the infield of the Olympic Stadium, and spectators raised their arms in pantomimed flight, bombers took to the sky in the Caucasus. Hundreds are said to have died over the weekend.

Early Sunday morning, Georgia considered withdrawing from the Olympics. But, at 3 a.m., the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, instructed his country's 35-member team to remain in Beijing, passing the message through his wife in the athletes' village, athletes and a spokesman said.

Later Sunday morning, Georgia won its first medal as Nino Salukvadze took bronze in the women's 10-meter air pistol competition. Russia also confirmed that it would continue to participate. And athletes from the two countries offered a sporting gesture of conciliation.

After the women's air-pistol competition, the Russian silver medalist, Natalia Paderina, shared the podium with Salukvadze, the bronze medalist from Georgia. The women, who are friends, gave each other a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

The decision by Georgia and Russia to remain in Olympic competition "reflects the Olympic spirit and the value of the Games," said Giselle Davies, a spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee.

The two countries will meet Wednesday in women's beach volleyball. But no one expects the kind of animosity that occurred at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, when the Soviet Union met Hungary in men's water polo three weeks after invading Budapest.

The game, known as the "blood in the water" match, became so confrontational that it was halted before time had expired, with Hungary ahead by 4-0. News reports at the time said angry spectators crowded the pool deck, shouting and spitting on the Soviet players, prompting the police to intervene.

But these are different times. The Soviet Union is no more. And while their governments were on the brink of war, athletes from Russia and Georgia mingled during the opening ceremony.

There are complicating layers to the story. Two weightlifters on the Georgian team are from South Ossetia, as reportedly are some of the Russian wrestlers. Allegiances, like the milky sky here, are not so clear.

"For the Olympics, unfortunately, this is not a big deal," David Wallechinsky, a leading Olympic historian, said of the Russia-Georgia conflict.

Georgia, which first competed as an independent nation at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, does not field a big enough Olympic contingent to be a force in team sports. Instead, it seeks medals in individual sports like boxing, judo, weightlifting and wrestling. That will blunt any potential tension when athletes from the countries meet at the Beijing Games, Wallechinsky said.

"When it's individual against individual, you probably wrestled against the guy before in the European championships or the world championships," he said. "You don't see him as a Russian who invaded your country; you see him as a guy who beat me 3-2 last time. If it was team sports, it would be more volatile. But I'm not worried about beach volleyball. What are they going to do, say, 'Here's sand in your eye'?"

The timing of the conflict could not have been more embarrassing and inopportune for the International Olympic Committee, which has joined with the United Nations since the 1990s in calling for a so-called Olympic truce during the Winter and Summer Games.

The idea was spawned by the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and the bombing of Sarajevo, the host city of the 1984 Winter Games. But the truce is only a recommendation and is nonbinding. Contrary to a widely held belief, war did not stop during the ancient Olympics either, Wallechinsky said.

"It's a nice idea, but really it was safe passage," he said. "If a war was going on, they would stop and let athletes and spectators go to Olympia. Then they would fight again. When the Olympics finished, they stopped again and let everyone leave."

By Sunday evening in Beijing, the Georgian Interior Ministry said it had withdrawn its troops completely from South Ossetia, leaving it under Russian control, in an attempt to stop further bloodshed. Russian reports were contradictory.

"Our athletes are nervous; they are thinking about their families," said Giorgi Tchanishvili, a spokesman for the Georgian Olympic Committee. "But we are together with more passion and feeling. Maybe athletes can show somehow that you should be fighting only the sports arena. We can show all of the world that we want peace."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

why i love the Olympics (part 1: class)

so i have a 19-year-old college heckler to this blog.

you know the kind. the armchair athlete who's never done anything remotely athletic in his life, but yet sees himself as God's gift to physical perfection and feels necessary to browbeat everyone so they know it. the obnoxious loud-mouthed conceited windbag with an overblown sense of self-importance who thinks it's acceptable to personally insult and denigrate others. the pathological hyper-aggressive personality who insists on building his own self-esteem by beating down the self-esteem of others. the kind of person you may describe with terms such as "jackass" or "douche-bag" and my friends and coaches call an "idiot" or a "loser."

he's identified himself--and others have told me (yes, it unfortunately seems we know the same people)--through a number of comments that stood out for their remarkable lack of brutishness and mental incapacity. basically, he's made it clear he's out of touch with the greater truths of life and living and what it is that's really important in this world, and is simply just a dorm room thug seething in his own invective and hate.

what's curious is that he keeps mocking this blog as being for "old people"--with his idea of old built around a bizarre fixation with the number 30. he's made a number of comments about how pathetic that age is, usually within the context of aggrandizing his own physical abilities. yes, i know, it clearly shows just how little he knows about athletics, and how he's obviously never heard of names like Jason Lezak, Dara Torres, Merlene Ottey, Carl Lewis, or any of the countless other mature athletes who've done so many special things and given the world so many special performances in their careers.

and yes, he's clearly an upstanding character. my teachers would call him a "philistine." my grandfather would have labeled him as someone "who does not deserve the honor of being called a man."

i call him someone with no class.

which wouldn't bother me (i've taken to just deleting his comments). except that he's being rewarded for it. the same way bad men always seem to be rewarded in this world: the adoration of girls and the adulation of his own posse and the encouragement of his behavior within his own peer group. it's quite a sad statement on what people consider important.

it's enough to make you wonder if there's such a thing as good in this world...or if the good guys ever win.

and that's why i love the Olympics.

those of you watching the swimming events on Sunday, August 10 were treated to one of the most special moments in Olympic history: the men's 4x100 relay. in short, it was the greatest swim relay race in history, and one of the greatest moments in sport. EVER. and i'm not even a swim fan. this race reflected everything great about Olympic competition, and the way the Olympics always seem to reveal the greater aspects of the human spirit and human values.

you can read some of the newspaper stories about what happened:
for reference, i put the full text of the 1st article at the end of this post, since it seems to be the most comprehensive.

here's the background: prior to the race, the French team--who were the favorites to win--had publicly stated "the Americans? we're going to smash them. that's what we came here for." seeing that they were young and brash, and were led by the world-record holder Alain Bernard, and held 4 of the 5 fastest times in the world this year, there was very little reason to doubt them. they came into this race with all the obnoxious behavior and boorish aggression of playground bullies intent on intimidating everyone out of the gym.

basically, they had no class.

the American team was comprised of Michael Phelps swimming lead-off, followed by Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones, and then Jason Lezak as anchor. while Phelps is known for his unquestioned swimming domination, the U.S. was not favored to win. they were older--with Lezak being a notable 32 years old--and slower than the French. most argued it was going to take a miracle, or everyone on the U.S. squad having the race of their lives, for them to be in contention. as a result, they came into the race with a noticeably subdued demeanor of men focused on the challenge before them. later, they would note that they even took a team-only meeting in the days before the race to have a reflective, heart-to-heart conversation about being a team and about what this race meant.

but the race didn't seem to start very well for the Americans, with the French and Australians setting a blistering pace putting the Americans in a trailing position despite personal best times from Phelps and Weber-Gale. and it didn't seem to be going well at all when Jones hit the wall and Lezak found himself starting almost a full body length behind French anchor Alain Bernard...a full body length behind someone younger and faster and the reigning world-record holder. everyone wrote Lezak and the American team off, even the television commentators, since there just seemed no way for Lezak to catch up or even compete.

but that's why the Olympics are so special.

Lezak later commented in interviews that he steeled himself, and decided that no matter what happened he was here to represent his country, his team, and his honor, and he was going to do whatever it took no matter how much it hurt. and slowly, he began chipping away at Bernard's lead.

at the 50-meter mark Lezak had managed to catch the Frenchman's wake, and used the draft to keep working up to Bernard. at the 75 meter mark he was an arm's length behind. then, 2 meters from the finish, he found himself only a hand behind and blasting past Bernard. Lezak made a last surge, and touched the wall a split-second before the French leader.

the final result? a victory for the Americans, in a world-record time of 3:08.24. and the utter exuberance and joy of the American team going absolutely out of their minds. and the French team completely shocked and in tears.

you can see an interactive presentation of the race:
while all the live footage of the race has been removed for copyright restrictions from Youtube, i managed to find a Youtube audio recording that gives you an idea of how electric this race was:
after the race, during interviews, the Americans said they had posted the French taunts on their locker-room walls for motivation, and decided that "we were going to let our actions do the talking." for all that, the Americans still displayed enough sportsmanship to meet the French team, with Phelps remembering to shake hands and talk briefly with each of the French swimmers--both at the end of the race and again on the medal stand. the French, for their part, were left to reconsider their lessons, with Frederick Bousquet, who swam the French team's 3rd leg, conceding "experience overcame talent."

for my part, i think this race showed more than that.

this race did show age trumping youth (a 32-year old Lezak chasing down a 25-year Bernard). but it also showed a team of obnoxious, hyper-aggressive personalities being defeated by a team of reflective, sincere ones. it showed trash-talking boorishness being taken down by quiet actions. it showed rudeness being overcome by sportsmanship.

it showed in perfect illustration what one coach of mine once said: "boys will talk the talk. men will walk the walk."

it showed in perfect succinctness everything that real athletes are constantly taught: the meaning of class.

and that's why i loved this race. and it's why i love the Olympics.

because it shows something the world needs the most at the times the world needs it shows the greater aspects of the human spirit and human values.

and it shows that they have a place in this world.

and it shows that they can win.

Jason Lezak made sure Michael Phelps still has a chance for 8 golds
International Herald Tribune
By Karen Crouse
Monday, August 11, 2008

BEIJING:Lezak, swimming the anchor leg of the U.S. 4x100-meter freestyle relay, out-touched Alain Bernard of France at the finish by 0.08 seconds.

Would Michael Phelps's bid for eight gold medals in the Beijing Games dissolve in a pool at the Water Cube on Monday? The answer was a resounding no.

Not over Jason Lezak's 32-year-old body.

Lezak, swimming the anchor leg of the U.S. 4x100-meter freestyle relay team, hit the water a half-second after Alain Bernard of France, who came into the race as the world-record holder in the 100-meter freestyle. "I knew I was going to have to swim out of my mind," Lezak said.

Lezak made up ground, but with 25 meters remaining it appeared as if he would run out of pool. Trailing Bernard by half a body length, Lezak put his head down and surged to the wall.

A three-time Olympian, Lezak had been in this predicament before. He anchored the U.S. 4x100 relay teams at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics that came up short. This time, he was part of a photo finish.

When the water settled, the giant video scoreboard showed that Lezak had out-touched Bernard by 0.08 seconds. Phelps's pursuit of Mark Spitz's record of seven swimming gold medals in one Olympics remained alive, with a little help from his mates.

Lezak's split of 46.06 seconds was the fastest anchor leg ever, by 0.73, and his personal best by over 1.2 seconds. "His last 50 meters were absolutely incredible," Phelps said. "He had a perfect finish."

After Lezak touched, Phelps, who swam the first leg, raised his arms and let out a primal scream. Garrett Weber-Gale, who swam second, came up from behind him and swallowed him in a hug.

The United States was timed in 3 minutes 8.24 seconds, shattering by nearly four seconds the world record that its B team had set the previous night. France won the silver in 3:08.32. Australia, benefiting from a world-record setting lead-off swim of 47.24 from Eamon Sullivan, was third.

Bernard, who in a matter of minutes lost the 100-meter world record to Sullivan and the relay gold to Lezak, was bereft. He broke down in tears in the pool and later in the interview area.

His teammate, Frédérick Bousquet, who split a blistering 46.63 on the third leg, said, "We believed in the gold medal until the end." He added, "The touch made the difference and experience overcame talent."

Though not well-known outside swimming circles, Lezak, a native Southern Californian, has a reputation in USA Swimming for finishing strong in sprints.

"Jason is the most phenomenal closer I've ever seen in my life," said Cullen Jones, who swam the third leg.

After making the turn, Lezak said he momentarily lost the courage of his convictions. Bernard had a 0.6 of a second lead and Lezak was not sure he could reel him in. "I'm not going to lie," he said. "The thought really crossed my mind for a split-second: 'There's no way."'

Then he reminded himself that he was representing his country, and this was the Olympics, and he was not getting any younger, so he had to make the most of this chance.

"In five seconds I was thinking all these things," Lezak said. "And I got a supercharge."

With his surge, Lezak kept alive Phelps's drive to break Spitz's record and collect a million-dollar bonus from Speedo. Asked if he would demand a cut if Phelps succeeds, Lezak grinned and joked, "We've already talked about that."

Phelps, 23, was timed in 47.51 on the first leg, nearly half a second faster than he clocked at the U.S. Olympic trials but behind Sullivan's 47.24. He joined his teammates in the ready room with one lackluster morning swim behind him.

In the semifinals of the 200-meter freestyle, the second of his five individual events, Phelps never held the lead in his heat, botched his finish. He qualified fourth with a time that was two seconds slower than what he had clocked at the trials in July and one second slower than his target number.

"I just wanted to save as much energy as I could for the relay," Phelps said afterward, between labored breaths.

He and his teammates knew they had to be at their absolute best if they were to hold off the world, which has gotten the best of the Americans in the past two Olympics. As thunder rumbled over the bubble-wrap ceiling of the National Aquatics Center, Phelps stepped to the blocks.

The quartet of Nathan Adrian, Jones, Ben Wildman-Tobriner and Matt Grevers gave Phelps and Co. the swimming equivalent of the pole position - Lane 4, in the middle of the pool - by qualifying first in the heats Sunday night. In the process, they gave everybody the time to shoot for, eclipsing by 0.23 of a second the world record with a clocking of 3 minutes 12.23 seconds.

The squads from France and Australia also finished under the existing record of 3:12.46, setting up a final that delivered all the bang of a fireworks show.

At the U.S. Olympic trials in July, Lezak, Weber-Gale and Phelps posted sub-48 second swims, which until the Games had been matched this year by only two others: Bernard and Sullivan.

Lezak, Weber-Gale and Phelps sat out the preliminaries to conserve energy. In what proved to be a competition within the competition, the four Americans who did swim were essentially racing one another for the opportunity to team with Lezak, Weber-Gale and Phelps in the final.

Jones, a Bronx native who grew up in New Jersey, won the honors by clocking the fastest split, a 47.61 on the second leg. In 2006, Jones became the first African-American to break a long-course world record when he was part of the U.S. relay team that set the global mark that fell Sunday night.

All eyes Monday were on Phelps, but the pressure was on the French, who had never won a medal in the event and were trying to win their country's first swimming relay gold.

In the heats, the French had rested their two fastest swimmers, Bernard, who broke the world record in the 100 freestyle twice in March, and Fabien Gilot, who has the sixth-fastest time in the world this year.

The uncertainty of the outcome was a decided departure from 1972, when Spitz counted three relays among his seven golds. In those days, United States dominance meant there was never much drama in the relays. Going into the 1972 Munich Games, the Americans had won every Olympic gold awarded in the 4x100 freestyle and medley relays and 8 of 13 in the 4x200 freestyle.

Since then, the rest of the world has caught up to the United States, the globalization of the sport reflected most dramatically in the relays. In 2000, the Americans were upset by Australia in the 4x100 freestyle, and in 2004 they finished third behind South Africa - which returned for its defense unchanged from 2004 - and the Netherlands.

Returning the Olympic crown in the event to the United States was a high priority, Phelps said. "A couple of days ago we had a guys-only meeting where we shared some stories going back and forth about the hopes we have for this meet," he said.

The French had made their hopes public. Their trash talking might have been their undoing; it motivated the Americans. "It fired me up more than anything else," Phelps said.

However many more Olympic medals Phelps wins, his legacy is secure and so, now, is Lezak's.

"I just happened to have the swim of my life at the right time," Lezak said.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

my friends in the Olympics

i have 5 friends in this Olympics. as in competing.

2 are swimmers, 1 is a diver, and the other 2 are in track & field. not all are from, or are representing the USA, but originate and represent other countries from around the world.

i won't disclose their names, since i know they're trying to keep their lives as private as possible.

but i wanted to write this for them, both to wish them luck in Beijing and to share with everyone some very special things they've taught me.

being at a NCAA Division I athletic program you can't help but be surrounded by world-class athletes. and if it's a school like USC, which is a powerhouse factory for professional and elite athletes, you can't help but see them on a daily basis. and if you're an athlete yourself--even just a loser amateur who's not even within a stone's throw of being mediocre--you can't help but get to know them on a personal level.

and what you find out is the reality of athletics is very different from what most of the public thinks. most of the public, prejudiced as they are by the images and stories and spectacle of professional sports, perceives athletes as strangely anomalous, tragically self-conflicted figures who are as supremely gifted physically as they are flawed personally. the public tends to think of athletes as physical superhumans afflicted by excesses of vices in ego, arrogance, selfishness, conceit, obsession, insensitivity towards others, a desire to dominate and humiliate people, aggression, and brutality. the prevailing view is that these traits are necessary in the sporting world, and are a part of (and a distinct aid in) honing the attitudes necessary for competition and victory.

which is unfortunate. because these perceptions then seem to be relayed beyond sports to the rest of society.

here's how: as much as the public criticizes these aspects of athletics and athletes as negative, on some level people still admire athletics and hold athletes as paragons of humanity. as a result, whether subconsciously or otherwise, they begin to pick up cues from the sporting world. they see society, and their own lives, as a competitive endeavor, whether at work, or school, or driving on the freeway, or looking for parking, or shopping for groceries or standing in line. they see it all as a competition for victory. and in order to compete, they start to look for models of behavior in such an environment, with those models being what they perceive to be the individuals most successful in that environment: athletes. and in order to win, they then begin to emulate what they perceive to be the typical behavior of athletes...perceptions rife with the prevailing views of excess vices in personality and character.

which is unfortunate. because i think it's wrong. at least based on what i've seen.

i can't begin to tell you the number of recreational playground athletes, weekend warriors, wanna-bes, poseurs, and couch potatoes i've met holding to the most obnoxious modes of behavior acquired from their perceptions and misperceptions of sports and athletics. i've seen adults push each other aside for places in a grocery line, spouting trash-talking nonsense about "winning" and "losing" in life. i've seen healthy young men clip frail old women on the freeway, speeding for a few extra meters in rush hour traffic. i've seen 19-year-old punk-ass college students intimidating, bullying, humiliating, and even assaulting others just to satiate some bizarre need for a sense of personal physical superiority and manhood.

and all of it was driven by beliefs about what constitutes the necessary traits for competition and victory, beliefs taken from popular views of athletics and athletes.

beliefs that are all so wrong. at least based on what i've seen.

i won't deny that some segments of sports fits such negative profiles. but to me, that's those segments of sports that have been contaminated by outside elements like money and celebrity, elements that are the real sources of so much of the vices people see.

you see, in the rest of sports--the part of sports outside of money and celebrity, the original, pure side of sports--things are different. the rest of sports is about dedication to long hours of suffering to achieve higher aims. about discipline to maintain effort and focus to improve the self. about diligence to identify and correct personal flaws and weaknesses. about a desire to become something better.

and these things aren't the kinds of things that allow for ego, arrogance, selfishness, conceit, obsession, insensitivity, domination, humiliation, aggression, or brutality. these things--dedication, discipline, diligence, desire, to improve, to become better--require very different traits, traits like personal humility, honesty about the way things are, awareness of the self and others, cognizance of the transience of the physical, respect for the importance of the mental and spiritual, and perspective on life and living on all its levels and in all its meanings. basically traits that are less about competing, or winning and losing, but rather instead about simply becoming better people and advancing the human condition.

and this is what i've seen in my friends currently at the Olympics.

i've seen them train. i've seen them study. i've seen them live.

i've seen their long, solitary, painful hours of almost unendurable training in the pool, in the gym, on the track, on the trails. i've seen them juggling 2-a-day workouts with full course loads of upper-division classes. i've seen them holding resolutely to their nutrition plans while gazing longingly at everyone else's plates. i've seen them keeping fastidiously to curfews and schedules while everyone else went out late into the night. i've seen them rising early, heading out the door, while everyone else slept in. i've seen them struggling to stay awake, fighting past the limits of their own exhaustion. i've seen them constantly delay immediate self-gratification for the sake of greater long-term goals. i've seen the sacrifices they've made in time, and friends, and family, and self, and through it all maintain compassion and courage and faith and hope and respect and dignity in the humanity of themselves and others...i've seen what it takes to be an Olympic-caliber athlete.

and i've seen that all this resulted in people who are all to aware of their own shortcomings and the need to correct them, as much as they are aware of the shortcomings of the world and the need to correct them. people who understand that it's important to not value a person based on just their outside, but it is just as--if not more--important to value based on what they are inside. people who recognize the transience of life, and the need--and what it takes--to respect it. people who realize that it's not enough--never enough--to be good physically; you have to be good mentally and spiritually.

and these are real athletes. not recreational playground athletes, not weekend warriors, not wanna-bes, not poseurs, not couch potatoes, not adults in the grocery line, not healthy young men driving on the freeway, not 19-year-old punk-ass college students with inferiority complexes about their personal physical superiority and manhood.

real athletes. not the dysfunctional caricatures perverted by money and celebrity and publicized and worshiped by so much of society.

real athletes. faithful to the purity of sport as a transformative driver in realizing the greater truths in human life.

real athletes. who've taught me what that term really means.

real athletes. who've taught me about what it means to live and breathe all the things good and noble in the human body, the human mind, and most of all, the human spirit. about what it means to constantly aspire to the greater things in life and just what it takes to get there. about what it means to become better people and to advance the human condition.

real athletes. who've taught me what it means to be a good soul.

and that's why i really admire my friends. not because they're in Beijing, representing their respective countries. not because they're in the Olympics, competing on a world stage. not because they're traveling to different countries and meeting people from other societies and learning about living from other cultures. and certainly not because they're athletes.

but because they're good human beings.

and because they make me as an endurance athlete want to be one too.

citius, altius, body, mind, and spirit.

good luck, guys. you're my heroes.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

live what you believe

you want your life to be an art, more than just a science.

you want your life to be profound, more than just mundane.

you want your life to be sacred, more than just profane.

and you say this to yourself and everyone you know, and you say this whenever and wherever you may go.

you say this, because you believe it. you say this, because it's what you want.

but saying and believing is not enough.

saying and believing doesn't make you what you want. it doesn't make you an artist, or profound, or sacred. any more than someone saying and believing they are an Ironman doesn't mean they are.

saying and believing is not also have to be.

saying and believing does nothing more than give expressions of what you want. expressions of words and thoughts. and as such, they have no substance, produce no reality, make no manifestation of what is really, deep within you, your utmost dreams.

and dreams that remain dreams means a life unlived. your life. unlived. dreams have to be given substance, reality, manifestation for life--your life--to be lived.

life, dreams, words. they have to have meaning.

and that means you making the commitment to find the challenges and to undergo the experiences and to learn the lessons involved in becoming what you want. whether it be studying working training in class in books in actions in miles in hours and hours and hours committed to hopes and ideals and truths and objectives and targets and goals. to grow and expand and rise beyond the confines of whatever it was you were before and whatever it is you are now.

because only then can you begin to understand the meaning of what you say and what you believe. only then can you begin to know the full magnitude of what it means to become what you want. only then can you begin to realize the true nature of the transformation you have taken to be an artist, or profound, or sacred, or an Ironman.

because sooner or later, you have to stop wanting to become the person you want to be, and you have to start being the person you want to be.

because sooner or later, you have to live.

you have to live what you say. you have to live what you believe. you have to live your dreams.

life, dreams, words. they have to have meaning.

and so do you.