Friday, June 27, 2008

Coming Soon: The history of China and International Sports!


As a teaser, I would like to say that I am really, REALLY enjoying the current Story arc over at the web comic Penny Arcade. Not that they need my endorsement-- it's one of the most popular websites out there. They have taken ping pong diplomacy (post soon, I promise!) to a whole new level.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I wonder if this is how David Wallechinski feels all the time...

I by no means have sole rights to anything related to the Olympics. Clearly. For I am a humble blogger from the recesses of the American Southwest, with absolutely no chance to go to Beijing, to spend a bunch of money on mascot paraphernalia (or to even spell "paraphernalia" right without a spell checker), or to become involved in any more tangible way with the Olympics. And yet... when the NYTimes posts things like that cracked out Chinese mascots video I posted, like, two months ago, I get a little territorial. Or when they mention Sebastian Coe, no matter how briefly. He's MINE. I just spent, like, five hours researching him. DAMMIT.

Their latest post is a Q&A session with David Wallechinski, the preeminent expert on the modern Olympics. He's even published books on it and everything. I'll bet he spends all his days up to his ears in mascot paraphernalia (see, I'm getting better at it). And then, every couple of years, the rest of the world catches on that this might be a fun thing to talk about at length. And he has to scream "THAT'S WHAT I'VE BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU. BUT YOU NEVER LISTEN."

So, remember, NYTimes blog, I was here before you. And I know you have "journalists" and "ads" and "interviews with David Wallechinski," but I've got heart and a lot of tenacity.

And if I've learned anything about the Olympics, it's that tenacity is what counts. Also corporate funding. But mostly tenacity.

PS-- Be sure to check out the epic post below about public figures and their Olympic accomplishments. One of the best things about it, that maybe I didn't make clear enough in the post itself, is just how stereotypically wonderful each athlete's chosen sport matches their country of origin. An American basketball player? A Russian wrestler? A Pakistani cricket player? An Australian swimmer? All we need now is a Canadian figure skater, and we'd be set. Oh wait.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Athletes Turned Politicians (turned athletes?)

As a credential for public office, former Olympic athlete is fairly impressive. As a resume boost, it comes in right above nationally recognized former talk show host but below astronaut. Very little actually beats astronaut, as many a slain klingon will tell you. But just how many politicians can trace their roots to this most nationalistic of sporting enterprises? And just how hilariously stereotypical can their sports be?

This is by no means an exhaustive list (this is the sort of list I came up with given about an hour's prep time and unrestricted Google access), but it covers some of the more famous Olympians-turned-public servants... as well as some of the less famous but significantly more hilarious ones.

Bill Bradley: 1964 Gold Medalist in Basketball, US Senator from 1979-1997

Superior passing ability-- what I look for in a president.

It wasn't merely his exceptional record of service in the US Senate that gave this New Jersey Democrat the tenacity to oppose then Vice President Al Gore for the Democratic nomination for president. It was also the leadership ability he displayed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as the captain of the US Basketball team. Clearly.

Sebastian Coe, Baron Coe, KBE: 1980 and 1984 Gold Medalist in 1500m race and British Parliamentarian

Running strong for the Conservative Party

Sebastian Coe is not only a two-time Gold medalist in the 1500 meter race, not just the current Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, and not just a former Conservative Parliamentarian, but also a Knight of the British Empire. How cool is that?

(FYI, this is why you read this blog. So that you don't have to look at sites like this. My eyes! My ears!)

Otto Jelinek: Figure Skated in 1960 Rome Olympics and Canadian Minister of Multiculturalism

Figure skating costumes were classier in black and white.

Otto and his sister Maria were the first to perform lifts with several rotations, a skill that would come in handy later-- I can only assume that the job of Minister of National Revenue requires some heavy lifting and... rotating?

...I don't even know what that's supposed to mean.

Dawn Fraser: Eight-time Medalist and Member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Also, Official Australian National Living Treasure.

If only you were this cool.

Dawn Fraser is a kick-ass woman. In her swimming career, she held 39 records, won eight medals (four gold, four silver), won gold in the same event at three successive Olympics, and was the first woman to break 1:00 in the 100 Freestyle (breaking her own previous record). In fact, she held the record for the 100 Freestyle for more than 15 years!

But, she was, as Wikipedia says, a larrikin. (Don't worry, I had to look it up too. According to Wikipedia, larrikinism is "a uniquely Australian folk tradition of irreverence, mockery of authority and disregard for rigid norms of propriety.") The Australian Swimming Union put her under a ten-year swimming ban in 1965 after some antics at the Tokyo Olympics. (Great name for a rock band idea #507: Antics at the Tokyo Olympics.) She apparently marched in the Opening Ceremony against the wishes of organizers, wore a non-regulation swimsuit because it was more comfortable (scandal!), and allegedly climbed a flagpole in Emperor Hirohito's palace, stealing the Olympic flag. So... that's how to get you suspended from swimming for a decade, just in case you were wondering. Steal the Japanese Emperor's flag.

Embracing her early retirement, Fraser eventually went on to become a member of the New South Wales Parliament between 1988 and 1991. When the Olympics came to Sydney, of course, she was a torch bearer on the final stretch of the relay. It's really the least the Olympics could do to honor her true awesomeness.

Alexander Karelin: Russian Wrestler and Member of Russian Duma

Hey, I know, let's make this image reflect as much of the Cold War mentality as possible. You know, metaphorically speaking, Capitalist Pig-Dog.

Alexander Karelin competed in four Olympics, from the 1980s on. In fact, his tenure as Greco-Roman Wrestling Gold Medalist outlasted his country. Thanks in part to his trademark Karelin Lift (where he would literally lift and drop his 250+ pound opponent), he went undefeated from 1987 until 2000. He had to fit his Olympic training regime into his busy campaigning schedule in the lead up to the 2000 Sidney games.

Unstoppable and uniquely terrifying strongman and close personal friend of Vladimir Putin who can bash the opposition into the ground? Sounds about right for Russian politics.

And that's all for me, folks. Join us next time when we will present something else about the Olympics or something.

For further reading, look to:

USAToday, How to beat an Olympian incumbent: Unfortunately, despite the headline, the article offers little practical advise., Winning at Olympia: Rocking it old school style with Archibaldes, the Athenian politician and general who entered seven chariots in the 416 B.C. games. He basically swept, winning first, second, and either third or fourth places.

NYTimes, Bob Mathias, 75, Decathlete and Politician, Dies: The Gold medal winner and four term Congressman was "modest, clean-cut and self-confident, the epitome of the all-American boy." Well, duh. He was an OLYMPIAN. They do these kinds of things.

Ireland and the Spanish Civil War, Olympians and the War: Not one but two Irish Olympians who were also politicians fought and died in the Spanish Civil War. Hooray for awkwardly specific history! (One was named Eoin O'Duffy. It doesn't get any more Irish than that, seriously.)


Honorary Mention:

Imran Khan, Hot Pakistani Cricketer and Cancer Crusader

Look at that social conscience. Just look at it.

DISCLAIMER DISCLAIMER: Cricket is not an Olympic sport. Deal. It's my blog, I do what I want!

Imran Khan was one of the hottest Cricket players alive, and not just for his superior bowling skills. Described by many as "the Brad Pitt of Cricket," he led Pakistan to win the 1992 World Cup title. After he retired from Cricket, he was ready to live a quiet life of philanthropy. Pakistani bureaucracy, however, had a different plan!

After facing barriers to setting up a cancer hospital for the poor, he was inspired to take up public duty. He formed the Tehriq-E-Insaaf (Movement of Justice Party) in 1997.

Also, as if that weren't awesome enough, he was recently freakin' incarcerated when Musharraf declared the State of Emergency. He was released, along with 3000 other political prisoners, in November last year.


Sources: BBC, Wikipedia, NYTimes,, CBC, and other various sites and stuff. (By the way, I have a fun game! Go back to my early posts here and trace the devolution of my citations. Bah. I need to stop posting right before bedtime when I've already closed all the tabs and I just plain can't be bothered.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Badass South Africans

What is the Olympics about, really? Is it about all the nations in the world coming together as a peaceful community in the name of healthy competition? Is it about blatant and shameless capitalist consumerism? Is it about running swifter, reaching higher, and being stronger?

If you listen to American coverage of the Games, it is about one thing and one thing only: the amazingly heart-wrenching story of triumph over adversity. And this year the gold medal goes unequivocally to team South Africa.

First we have Oscar Pistorius. He is a world-class runner, having broken a world record in the 400 meters and set many other South African records in other sprinting events. Known as the fastest man on no legs, Pistorius wins able-bodied races despite losing both legs at an early age.

Some have questioned his speed an agility, chalking up his wins to his disability. They contend that his carbon-fiber prostheses give him an unfair advantage. Citing data that suggested his prosthetic legs used less energy than the calves of other runners, the International Association of Athletics Federation ruled in January that he would be ineligible for the Olympics. But in May, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prevent Pistorius from qualifying for the able-bodied Olympics.

He has not done so yet-- he has until June 30. I think he can. He's the Blade Runner, after all.

As if that weren't enough for the amazingly awesome South African team, swimmer Natalie du Toit has qualified for both the Olympics and the Paralympics-- the first athlete ever to compete in both events. (Pistorius may be the second, if he qualifies for the Olympics.) She is also missing a leg, but does not use a prosthesis for swimming-- making her less controversial than her fellow countryman. But honestly? No less awesome.

Diving off the starting block. Awesomely.

Man, South Africa, you are so cool right now. You have the most badass athletes of all the athletes so far. Good job.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My first born? Totally named Aoyun.

I can't allow the day to pass without mention of an AMAZING BBC article my friend sent me: Chinese Babies named 'Olympic Games'

To be fair, in Chinese the name is actually "Aoyun," which is not a terrible name, all things told. Also, China has a much stronger tradition of naming tykes after attributes or other random but powerful nouns than the US does. (Insert standard Hollywood-baby names-those folks are CRAZY joke here.)

And really, of all the things to be named in the world, Olympic Games is not the worst. It's a name with a longstanding tradition, closely tied both to the modern and ancient world. It denotes tenacity, fortitude, speed, grace, courage, and dignity (except, of course, where mascots are concerned). It's a name a small Chinese baby could be proud of.

An ADORABLE small Chinese baby! Just look at him!

Daaaaaaw. For you, little one, I Heart China too.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Best Runway In Town

Olympic fashion is everywhere these days, from the front page of the New York Times website-- Seeking Marathon Edge, Can Rice Lead to Gold? (actual first line of article: "Olympic marathon runners are no less obsessed about shoes than the gal pals in 'Sex and the City.'")-- to debates over swim wear (Japan Lifts Swimsuit Ban, BBC News).

But let us leave those discussions to what we call "serious blogs and news sources." No, I know what all of you are here for.


We begin with a trip down memory lane, to some of the fashions of the past...

Oh Aristidis Konstantinidis, will your mustache ever not be sexy?
He won the first cycling thingy, guys. Show some respect.

The archery lasses didn't get all the long skirt love. Just take a gander at these tennis outfits, circa 1896! Yeesh.

Moving forward, let us consider, for a moment, the Opening Ceremonies. You know, where everyone comes into the stadium, led by a placard-bearer, and all dressed in identical outfits? It's a pretty awesome bonding moment for everyone. But wait a minute, what happens if the designer happens to put everyone in doofy hats?

This. This is what happens.

But this year, surely they've learned their lesson. I mean, that previous photo was from 1992. Fashions have changed since then, right?

"Change" is one word for it...
This is Canada's official 2008 gear. I would not lie about something like this.

This, though. This is fuckin' badass.
Canadian designer, you weren't entirely on crack

Well, let us now consider Italy. Italy is considered to be the birthplace of high fashion. The shows in Milan and Rome truly set the stage for world trends in fashion. Surely their Opening Ceremonies would be in the best of taste and refinement. Right? RIGHT?

Um. Do you see the bitty skiers?

Really, Italy? You're going with the flaming robots?
...Okay. Whatever.

You know what? I could take you through every single fashion faux pas the Olympics has ever caused or been witness to (FIGURE SKATING!! FIGURE SKATING!!), but instead I will just move on to the image that has stuck with me since I was a wee lass of seven. Seriously. Barcelona 1992, may your snow globes never be forgotten.

And now? As we look to Beijing 2008?

Yeah. At least it's not a snow globe.

Monday, June 9, 2008

It's Beginning

Can you feel it? It's in the air, it's on the TV, it's in the Parade weekly insert in the paper. Olympics buzz has officially begun.*

All that talk about the torch run and the pollution, nah, that was just build up. We're getting ready for the main event, now. Things are starting to seep into the popular culture-- there are TV commercials, there are endorsements, and before you know it, it will be time to light up that big torch again. We have fewer than 60 days until the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics-- your visa cards are getting spruced up, the athlete coverage is beginning, and we're dusting off our copies of John William's seminal Call of the Champions. You know the one.

*As declared by me. Duh.