7 Quick Olympic Takes (8/3/12)

7 Quick Olympic Takes (8/3/12) August 3, 2012

— 1 —

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.”


— 2 —

It’s hard to follow that up with anything, but luckily, there’s this excellent video promoting the Paralympics.


— 3 —

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.

I dare you to watch this video and not be awed.

— 4 —

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!

— 5 —

And just purely in the name of delight: this mashed together speech by Boris Johnson slamming the Olympics:

— 6 —

And if it’s Olympic season, it’s time for me to climb back on my hobby horse about the way the IOC defines gender.  Here are two good links on the followup from the attacks on Caster Semenya.

— 7 —

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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  • – 7 – text


    Also, gender != sex.

  • Nick

    @4: “They show beautiful breakdowns of the biomechanics of a number of the events. Squee!”
    I’ve always been more inclined to say “squick!” at bio-anything….

  • Rhythmic Gymnastics always gets a bad wrap but I always thought It was awesome! I think b/c as a kid I was obsessed with this as soon on TV Ribbon that you could make cool designs and dance around with..I was also a fan of doing tricks with hula hoops.

  • Skittle

    How else would you propose sports be segregated by sex, if not by using biology? It doesn’t matter what gender someone says they are: sports are a physical discipline, and so a physical decision must be made. Otherwise, we could do away with the divide entirely, and female sprinters and weightlifters would never again get to compete at Olympic level. I would be interested to see the arguments in gymnastics, in that case, as to whether certain patterns of scoring were ‘fair’ in terms of gender, and whether we’d get different classes of gymnastics based on ‘strength’ and ‘agility’ that basically mirrored the old male/female divide. Particularly since men would probably complain a lot if the scoring favoured women, and yet women’s gymnastics is just more interesting to watch than the strength-based men’s gymnastics.

  • Hibernia86

    It is awesome that Leah got a post on Huffington Post, but I do have to disagree with her somewhat. We can criticize the method of gender testing, but there needs to be one. The whole point of having the genders separated in sports is to allow more fair competition. Men are on average stronger physically than women so if everyone competed together, men would win most of the medals. By not having some definition of gender, the two groups bleed together which makes it easier for the male athletes to win.

  • deiseach

    I was wiping away tears of laughter for the BoJo video 🙂

    As for the Olympics, our best hope for medals of any colour are the boxers (particularly Katie Taylor in the Women’s Lightweight; she got a bye into the quarter-finals for Monday 6th and will be fighting whoever wins between an English and American pair), though our sailors (again, particularly Annalise Murphy in the Laser Radial class – and don’t ask me what that means) are doing okay.

    We’ll do better in the Paralympics (47 gold over 13 Paralympics versus 8 gold over 20 Olympics won to date).

    • StrangerTides

      The Laser Radial is a type, or class, of boat. Appropriately, given the discussion of male/female differences in this post, the Laser Radial is a women’s only event, while the men sail the regular Laser – the Laser Radial has a shorter mast and reduced sail area so it can be sailed by lighter sailors in higher winds. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_Radial