Athlete 

n.

A person possessing the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility, and endurance, that are necessary for physical exercise or sports, especially those performed in competitive contexts.

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It’s been hovering around him since the opening ceremony, and now after he has shattered six world records and won seven of his seven entered races, there is no question to many sports fans and journalists alike that Michael Phelps is the greatest athlete ever to set foot on Earth. He has the three key components of a true athlete: strength, agility, and endurance, and he happens to compete in a sport that demands each of those traits. But is he really the best? I beg to differ.

There is no disputing that Phelps is the greatest swimmer ever, but some people need to seriously contemplate making a statement like this, which in my opinion is very premature. The world has only seen this guy for less than a week, and whatever he has managed to accomplish is admittedly extremely impressive, but the world has simply seen better out of a human being. It seems like in all this excitement the world has forgotten the flawless performances that have been displayed thus far in the world of sports ranging from Kobe Bryant’s 81 point performance, where relentless scoring met grace and agility, to Michael Jordan’s illustrious career. And who can forget Walter Payton’s mesmerizing speed and toughness in the dirty sport of American football and Usain Bolt’s recent world records with arguably the best sprinting ever showcased. And what about Pele, Gordie Howe, Magic Johnson, and the many others who really were sports during their era. 

And we keep forgetting the unknown sports that really showcase the most challenging and athletic ability — Big Mountain Skiing, Biatholan, the marathon, horse racing, gymnastics, and (my favorite) — parkour.

So is Michael Phelps the greatest athlete ever? It’s very hard to tell, and it all comes down to a long and hard thought by a well respected journalist. So who is the greatest athlete ever? David Belle. Look him up.

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In a game hyped beyond belief, stuffed with politics analogies as well as a standing basketball turning point, not only did the US prevail, but they did so in such an effortless fashion it made the Chinese look like they were suddenly playing for second place. The US players floated down the court, and had two options – pass the ball to their guards for them to embarrass the inexperienced Chinese defenders or dump the ball into the post and watch Dwight Howard’s carnage. It was such a blowout, by the end of the game the US players were getting fancy with behind the back and twisting passes, mostly fans weren’t contempt with the US team flat out scoring. At any time during the game, if a Chinese player made any sort of nice move and finished it either with a layup, dunk, or a three pointer got the entire bench complete with everyone from China’s coaching staff to the Chinese models that normally just stand there and smile jumping for joy and pumping their fists.

So now that it is clear China still has work to do in basketball, why isn’t the USA back to their normal selves? They passed their test and demolished the famed Chinese dream team, with all 15 people on their team personally stabbing China’s basketball coffin. So why aren’t they credible any more? Is it because this was just a first round game? No. My answer? They haven’t faced Greece yet, plain and simple. Why? They is the perfect team to beat America — under the radar, sly, non-advertised, and good. They aren’t my pick for the gold, but they sure are contenders that the USA needs to watch out for – if they come into a game with them in their normal cocky, bulldozer attitude their going to snatch that gold medal off of their necks like they did in 2004.

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Having seen quite a lot of sporting events, and naturally, quite a lot of opening ceremonies, I must admit I was pretty amazed watching this year’s Olympic Opening ceremony. It was huge, involving thousands of people, but it was also very simple and artistic. From the blimp camera view, the shapes that the many thousands of humans made were breathtaking (my favorite was a bird which flapped its wings multiple times). The dancers were skilled and quick, and their overall performance was brilliantly choreographed. The fireworks were amazing, all their detail was displayed individually. The opening ceremony was (you could say) perfect, with amazing technology, great music, and risky acrobatics that was flawlessly executed via thousands of headphones, remote controls, and intense determination behind the scenes. 

But I didn’t like it.

Why? How could you just dismiss a flawless performance that took years of preparation and thousands of people to perform? In truth, it was perfect, but to me, and probably to many other people, it was expected. Let’s face it — the Chinese are master performers, they are as skilled, acrobatic, and dedicated as anyone else out there, but this would be their stereotypical performance. Just think about it. If someone told you that the Chinese were going to put on a performance for billions of people, and they could use all the people and money they pleased, this is what you would expect — and this is what we got. It was the best performance I have ever seen — and call me spoiled — but it wasn’t unique. It wasn’t different, it wasn’t simple, and it could have been. I enjoyed watching the ceremony, but I still think they could have done better. Better, but not with more people and money. Call me crazy, but I think the perfect Olympic Opening Ceremony should involve not involve dancers and acrobats, but all the athletes participating in the actual games. 

Let’s face it — to make it to the olympics, you don’t just need to be good at your sport, you need to be legendary. And everyone in the olympics is skilled, in shape, and experienced in entertainment. It would be exciting to have all the athletes’ best skills incorporated into the performance. It would be a fresh idea, it would be hilarious (some of the athletes would probably slip up or add some humor into it), and it would be great to see your favorite player perform. It would be like a professional dancing with the stars, and I think it would be entertaining for the viewers. Its just an opinion, but I think it would work.

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China’s In Trouble

August 6, 2008

I bet a few critics of the IOC are giving their “I told you so” remarks right about now. Why? China’s in big trouble. After insurgent attacks in Western China, China’s is up to their necks in problems – as well as doubters. These attacks (which killed 20 border patrolmen) claimed to be in favor of independence in some of China’s Western providences. But everyone knows that they came at the perfect time – just days before the Beijing Olympics. And why are we so ticked off with this? In 2001, when China was given their Olympic stature, they vowed to do many things for the game, including limiting the violence and taking care of their human rights issues. If you ask a foreign policy hunk, they’ll most likely tell you that after seven years, they haven’t exactly fulfilled their promises. Their popular-with-the-press pollution problem doesn’t help either, as many athletes who arrived to the games wore masks off the plane. 

But aside from that, one must wonder if another attack is in the making for Beijing. The Chinese government boasts they have foiled past plans, but many of us know that with China’s decreasing credibility, they are looking for anything to gain the press’s trust – and with China that sometimes leads to a habit of exaggerations. Aside from that, it looks like China isn’t very keen on getting very much outside press into their business – they weren’t so accommodating to Japanese reporters covering the insurgency attacks. They also don’t like the rest of the world reporting on the games, as they issued a countrywide internet blackout for websites that planned to cover the Olympics. They also sent out a list of websites that they did not want to publish a word about their games, most international. China has also cut off internet access entirely in parts of their country, and one can only wonder why…

So here we have a country in which many people are speculating. It has in a sense failed its own promises. They have issued a media and internet blackout throughout their entire country and have set limits on all the worldwide media they can get their hands on. They aren’t exactly best of friends with America, and our athletes have showed their concern by wearing masks inside the air-conditioned Beijing airport. So with all this, one might conclude the US president should not be one of the spectators at the Olympics. This was something I was for until my brother brought me to my senses and gave me a great, but simple reason why this would be a horrible idea. He correctly stated that Bush would stir an already sticky situation by boycotting the Olympics.

Now this is a correct answer, but there is something he may not have thought of, and rightfully so. In this whirlwind of politics, one might forget what the Olympics really boil down to – sports. A gathering of world-class athletes couldn’t come in a more grand stage, and sometimes big time newspapers and writers can forget that. We’ve all had those moments sitting in front of the TV with a Coke in one hand and chips in the other with your buddies, and whether you are watching tennis or basketball, ski racing or baseball — pegging your friends with chips or chucking them at the players on TV – we’ve all felt at home. I remember watching the finals with a bunch of guys I spent a week with in some remote tennis camp (that’s another story), and they were all Boston Celtics fans. Crammed in a smelly breakfast room with a bunch of sweaty top US junior tennis players in a room with only two small rotating air-fans, I felt like some monk dude who found the connection with god. I had found the real essence of sports – rooting on a team with a bunch of other people who you knew nothing about other than the point that they liked another team. You hated them, but that just makes your connection with them more powerful. So this is why we should forget that maybe we made a bad decision by picking China to host the Olympics, but besides that, in the end it’s the game that matters. I’m sure if Bin Laden was a Red Sox fan and Bush was a Yankees fan they would get in a brawl, but in the end they are just sports fans. My point here? Sports isn’t just a game, it’s an escape from politics and the outside world. That’s why every country should be part of this celebration, and that’s why we should all forget the politics, cram ourselves in small bar with our buddies and stare at the TV screen, and be sports fans. Not politicians, presidents, citizens and terrorists, but just sports fans. And that’s all that we have in common these days.

A Changed Game

July 28, 2008

As the Olympics draw closer and closer, through observing the US’s olympic preparation, I noticed the distinct differences between todays athletes and yesterday’s legends. One difference that really divided me were the physical differences. Watching the Olympic track and field trials, I noticed the build the runners had. They looked like hulks compared to the brawny runners of the past, their stick-like arms and long legs making long and fast strides. And although this new breed of runners doesn’t exactly look like the stereotype 1970′s sprinters, they can certainly sprint like them — and these days, they can do it faster. It seems like all the news stories in track and field these days are either someone breaking a record, or someone using steroids, but none the less, this kind of popularity definitely doesn’t hurt the sport. For me, it also makes it exciting. Reviewing the old tapes of the 70′s and 80′s was fun for me (I wasn’t even close to being alive then), but more fun is watching the races live. I am one of the many people who welcome this new change in sports — and there will certainly be more to come.

In past years, USA basketball has come into big competitions with high expectations, and after “shockingly” being beaten by teams that trained together the entire year for these moments, one might wonder if they are destined to lose unless they play with a team’s mentality. Can this country, blessed with the most talented basketball players the world has to offer, ever assemble a group of ball-players to compare with Jordan’s historic 1992 Barcelona squad? Is this Coach K’s year to make a gold medal team? Can America put aside its troubles and rivalries, and instead of playing for themselves, play for the world? Is this their year? All signs point yes, but what do I think? No. And I’ll tell you why.

In today’s basketball, more and more of our best players are assembling overseas, and less are developing in America. Our young american players grow up under a coach’s eye, each and every one of them with tremendous talent, but most totally uncoachable. And this is the exact opposite over in Europe, with great, coachable team player being mass produced like Toyota Prius’s. So unless America can get it together NOW and play for the common prize, a gold medal (which I don’t think is going to happen this year), our future looks dim.

In contrast, the 1992 team consisting of the NBA’s legends who united once a year to play together as one, were much like Europe’s players today, but much more talented. Led by Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley, that team had depth too, their entire bench hand-picked from the nba’s greatest role players. Jordan, among his teammates, sacrificed points for assists (he rarely posted over 18 points in a game), and the team excelled more than any USA team could wish to do today (or ever again). My point is, unless the US can take away their star power and ego, we’re not going anywhere in the olympics. Do I think we can do it this year? Yes. Will we do it this year? No.

For this year’s summer olympics, everyone involved from doctors to the athletes themselves have voiced their concern about Beijing’s air quality, especially for more intense and breath-demanding outdoor sports like sprinting and long distance running. Doctors are even predicting that the air quality, along with Beijing’s summer heat and high humidity, will require more hydration and breaks for the athletes if they want to stay conscious and come home to the US without any health problems. The air, which Time dubbed “the worst in the world” will force US athletes to wear protective masks even when they are walking around town. 

The internet is abuzz with criticism toward the pollution. One person I noticed over the web had a rather interesting observation, reminiscent of Sharon Stone’s controversial comment which got her banned from China all together. They claimed that it was “karma” that China is stuck with horrible humidity and pollution after all the “mistakes” they made. Figures.

But there is hope! Time.com published an article titled “Beijing’s Olympic War On Smog,” which cleared up any uncertainty to me, stating Beijing cut their total emissions by 30%. One former steel worker claimed that after the factory he worked at was shut down, the air is “so, so much better.” Well, at least they have a start. 

Articles: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1730918,00.html, 

http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1709961_1711305_1711328,00.html

 and interviews.

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