Tis the season for interesting Olympics stories! Though, since I’m not that interested in sports, most of my clips are a little peripheral to the actual standings. I’ll lead off with my favorite: the Atlantic‘s discussion of how people set up the mikes for the events.
Let’s take archery. “After hearing the coverage in Barcelona at the ’92 Olympics, there were things that were missing. The easy things were there. The thud and the impact of the target — that’s a no brainer — and a little bit of the athlete as they’re getting ready,” Baxter says.
“But, it probably goes back to the movie Robin Hood, I have a memory of the sound and I have an expectation. So I was going, ‘What would be really really cool in archery to take it up a notch?’ And the obvious thing was the sound of the arrow going through the air to the target. The pfft-pfft-pfft type of sound. So we looked at this little thing, a boundary microphone, that would lay flat, it was flatter than a pack of cigarettes, and I put a little windshield on it, and I put it on the ground between the athlete and the target and it completely opened up the sound to something completely different.”
Just to walk through the logic: based on the sound of arrows in a fictional Kevin Costner movie, Baxter created the sonic experience of sitting between the archer and the target, something no live spectator could do.
And you can pair this with the NYT‘s discussion of photography tactics for the swimming events for more engineering awesomeness:
[Kluetmeier] should know. He was the first person to place a camera at the bottom of an Olympic pool, at the Barcelona Games in 1992. That year he dived the 12 feet to the bottom, only to resurface to find a guard with a submachine gun.
“He said I had to take it out,” Kluetmeier said. “He thought it was a bomb.”
It’s hard to follow that up with anything, but luckily, there’s this excellent video promoting the Paralympics.
My favorite events in the Summer Olympics are gymnastics and synchronized high dive. But after reading this Grantland piece on rhythmic gymnastics I’m intrigued and terrified:
And yes, you’re going to find no shortage of blog posts harrumphing that it’s “not a sport” and “they’re just ballet dancers,” etc. Dude, do you realize fox hunting used to be considered a sport? The point being that the definition of “sport” is big and porous and fabulously imprecise, and there’s no reason for it not to be, and RG great Evgeniya Kanaeva, who’s one of the favorites in London, can do stuff like “throw a ball 40 feet in the air and catch it on the small of her back while balancing on the tips of her toes on one foot with the other leg in the air.” I have no time for anyone who would rather defend the silos and find a reason to exclude RG than just shut up and marvel at it. Also, I have seen how ballet dancers train, and if ballet dancers decide to call themselves athletes … well, as far as I’m concerned ballet dancers get to call themselves anything they want. The top RGers work as hard as, and with as punishing and disciplined a perfectionism as, any elite athlete. Bro, trust me: That shit is unreal.
Via Flowing Data, I found great coverage from the NYT that will make you fall in love with any of the sports they profiled. They show beautiful breakdowns of the biomechanics of a number of the events. Squee!
And just purely in the name of delight: this mashed together speech by Boris Johnson slamming the Olympics:
And the final link is not strictly Olympics-related, but the New Yorker‘s recent feature on strongmen competitions was so excellent and surreal, that I can’t resist the excuse to link it.
For a long time, strongmen didn’t bother with specialized training. When CBS televised the first World’s Strongest Man contest from Universal Studios, in 1977, the competitors all came from other sports. There were bodybuilders like Lou Ferrigno, football players like Robert Young, and weight lifters like Bruce Wilhelm, who won the contest. Even later, when the dilettantes had mostly dropped out of contention, there was no standardized equipment. Shaw had to cast his own Manhood Stones from a plastic mold, and he practiced the Keg Toss in his parents’ back yard, in a large sandpit that they’d built for volleyball. “Even ten or twelve years ago, you wouldn’t have had a place like this,” he told me at his gym. “But a guy can’t just come in off the street anymore and be amazing.” These days, most of Shaw’s equipment is custom-forged by a local company called Redd Iron; his diet and his workout clothes are subsidized by his sponsor, the supplement maker MHP—short for Maximum Human Performance.
“I see guys accomplish things that are just blowing my mind,” Dennis Rogers, a grip master in the tradition of Thomas Inch, told me. Although the lifts vary from contest to contest, the most popular strongman events and records are now well established, and the latest feats circulate instantly on YouTube. “The weights they’re moving, the dead lifts they’re doing, the things they carry—it wasn’t until 1953 that the first five-hundred-pound bench press was done,” Rogers said. “Today, you have guys who are doing a thousand pounds. How much can the human body take?”
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