Week of August 6, 2021

An Olympic Thesis

I’m not a big Olympics guy. I know, as my friend Joanna said last weekend: that is very much not on-brand for me. I have written a sports blog for seven years, for goodness sake. But I don’t have a ton of free time and I want to spend it doing the things I want to do. I can’t pretend to get excited about a sport like beach volleyball, for example, once every four years. Especially when I’d rather watch my favorite team continue to be the best team in baseball, ahem.

However. though I have not watched more than perhaps 45 seconds of the ongoing Olympics*, I do have a gripe with some of the sports that are in the Olympics. After some thought, I came up with a simple two-step test on what should and should not be an Olympic sport. It is as follows:

  1. The sport should be otherwise underexposed. 
  2. There must be some novelty to the competition. That is to say, the Olympics cannot simply be another event on the calendar. We must be seeing the sport in a way that we otherwise do not.

To illustrate:

Golf: NO. Why is this an Olympic sport? It’s a wildly popular worldwide sport and there is no differentiation between its weekly events and its Olympic presentation. Get it out!

Basketball: YES. It’s popular, yes. But it’s generally not played country vs. country as it is in the Olympics. Quite novel!

Tennis: NO! God no. See: golf.

Got it? Ok, let’s do this.

  •  Artistic swimming:
    • Yes.
    • PAL: saw it, started making fun of it for 5 seconds, then was completely impressed and captivated. YES.
  •  Diving
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes
  •  Marathon swimming
    • I don’t know what this is, yes.
    • PAL: sure
  •  Swimming
  •  Water polo
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Hell yes. Great watch. 
  •  Archery
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes, but I’m not as impressed if I run into an archery Olympian.
  • Badminton
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes
  • Baseball
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Meh
  • Softball
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Yes
  • Basketball
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Sure
  • 3×3 basketball
    • Leaning NO here. It doesn’t fail the tests but it’s also not really played as a sport anywhere. Completely contrived for the Olympics.
    • PAL: So dumb. No.
  • Boxing 
    • This probably fails the tests, but I’ll make an exception here because it’s still an amateur Olympic sport. Like, Canelo isn’t allowed in the Olympics. Once they let pros, it’s out.
  • Canoeing
    • Sure.
    • PAL: Yes
  • BMX freestyle
    • No. Underexposed, but I think this fails prong two: it’s just another event in the same format that we can see year-round.
    • PAL: Nononono. 
  • BMX racing
    • No. See above.
    • PAL: God no.
  • Mountain biking
    • No. See above.
    • PAL: nah.
  • Road cycling (4)
    • No. See above.
    • PAL: God no.
  • Track cycling 
    • I think this is again a no, but I’m not sure.
    • PAL: Watched it today. Loved it. Seems to check both of your boxes. 
  • Equestrian
    • I believe this fails prong two but I’m not sure. Are there international competitions? If not, and they are regional or national only, this is allowed.
    • PAL: Sure. Who cares. The most compelling equestrian story of the Olympics is that Bruce Springsteen’s daughter was on the U.S. team. 
  •  Fencing 
    • See equestrian.
    • PAL: Yes, but they could make it really interesting by bringing in real swords. Just sayin. 
  •  Field hockey
    • Yes.
  •  Football/Soccer
    • Women’s: Yes. See basketball.
    • Men’s: Yes. This also passes because they have implemented a rule that I endorse to ensure this doesn’t just become a repeat of the World Cup: all but three players on each team must be under 24. This creates even more novelty.
    • PAL: But that age rule makes me care a bit less or makes it mean a bit less. 
  •  Golf
    • PAL: No…how long is this friggin list? 
  •  Gymnastics
    • Yes.
    • PAL: Y
  • Handball
    • I think this makes it but see equestrian.
    • PAL: Hard yes. 
  •  Judo
    • Again, see equestrian.
    • PAL: Don’t know. 
  • Karate
    • Again, see equestrian.
    • PAL: I
  •  Modern pentathlon
    • Yes.
  •  Rowing
    • Yes.
  •  Rugby sevens
    • Yes.
  •  Sailing
    • Yes.
  •  Shooting
    • Sure.
    • PAL: I’ll say it…is this a sport?
  •  Skateboarding
    • No, get out. Fails the golf test.
  •  Sport climbing
    • Underexposed, but I think fails the golf test. 
  •  Surfing
    • No, fails the golf test.
  •  Table tennis
    • Fairly certain this fails the golf test.
  •  Taekwondo
    • See equestrian.
  •  Tennis
    • Again no. NO.
  • Track and Field
    • Yes.
  •  Triathlon
    • Underexposed, but again I think it fails the golf test.
  •  Volleyball
    • Yes.
  • Beach volleyball
    • This has gotten so popular that I think it fails the golf test.
  •  Weightlifting
    • Perhaps fails the golf test but exempt as a quintessential Olympic sport.
  •  Wrestling
    • Yes.

So, there you have it. The definitive list of sports are or are not appropriately played in the Olympics.

*I wrote this before, in a moment of weakness, I watched the second half of the US/Australia men’s basketball semifinal.


PAL: My favorite line from TOB: “Though I have not watched more than perhaps 45 seconds of the ongoing Olympics, I do have a gripe with some of the sports that are in the Olympics.” Hahahaha!

I don’t hate your rationale—I’ve been watching water polo, track, rowing, softball, and I’ve been a hard pass on skateboarding and climbing (and I really enjoy climbing!)— but, man, I am a sucker for the Olympics. What a great break from the same old same old (NFL, NCAA football, NBA, baseball)l. The Olympic athlete stories are inspiring, and every couple of years (winter and summer games) I love learning about an athlete that isn’t constantly in the public eye.

Having said that, I have one more gripe to add to TOB’s hot take (seriously, who the hell is anti-Olympics?): why the hell is olympic softball being played on a baseball field?

Damn. These are the best softball players in the world, and they are treated like a non-tryout youth team. I was stunned when I watched USA-Canada in pool play. With the amount of money spent on the Olympics, you would think they could have built at least two turf softball fields. 

Did a little internet sleuthing and found the following as a possible reason. Per Larry Brown: “Well, as you probably guessed, this is a cost-saving measure. NBC Sports’ softball announcers said that baseball and softball agreed to share the venue as part of an effort to get back into the Olympics. This is the first year softball and baseball are back in the Olympics since 2008.”

Just a bad look to have an Olympic women’s sport played on a men’s field.  

TOB: AND ANOTHER THING. Michael Phelps is overrated! His medal count is inflated because his sport has an insane 4 strokes, multiple lengths, and relays and medley and all other kinds of crap. 

EXACTLY. This has bugged me for over a decade and I am finally ready to say it aloud. Thank you.

Hal Higdon

I was meaning to share this story a few weeks ago before we went on vacation. It’s a bit evergreen, so—what the hell—I’ll share it this week. 

Most everyone I know who’s trained for a marathon or half marathon has typed in the name “Hal Higdon” when looking for a training plan. It is free, it is detailed, it will get a first time runner across the finish line if they stick to the training plan. In a fitness world of personalized plans, coaches, and enough gadgets to fill a container ship, Higdon’s plans remain the standard. 

A few weeks ago, the NY Times went a little deeper on the 90 year-old “internet king of running plans”.

Per Talya Minserg:

Higdon started running in high school, and began researching different ways to train for races while a student-athlete at Carleton College in the late 1940s. “I was a perky little freshman and sophomore who came up with training ideas of my own,” he said in a telephone interview. He honed his expertise as an elite runner both in the youth and master divisions, taking his family along with him for the ride.

Before races had water stations, his family would stand on the side of courses with cups of water. His children fondly remember spaghetti dinners before marathons. So, too, do they remember having marathon greats like Bill Rodgers stop by the family home for a meal or two.

In those days, Higdon made a living from freelance writing on a variety of subjects. But the through line remained working with athletes and writing for runners. It wasn’t until 1990, when a high school friend recruited him to design plans for Chicago Marathon runners, that he began crafting training plans for a larger audience.

When I read about Higdon, it reminded me of another name synonymous with sports training. My brother-in-law recently gave me the golf training book Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book. Pretty much any golfer will have heard of it. In Higdon and Penick, you have two men who became passionate about a sport decades before each caught on with the masses. Both men also pay as much attention to the complete amatuer and the experts. 

While Penick died in 1995, before the age of internet golf training (my god, YouTube, IG, SnapChat are full of tutorials), Higdon embraced social media as a way to communicate with folks going through his training plans. Apparently, through the help of grandkids and other family members, Higdon remains the person behind the response to questions and comments across social media.

A fun story about a the guy behind a name that I’ve known for 20 years. – PAL

Source: “Hal Higdon Has Trained Millions of Runners. At 90, He’s Not Slowing Down.”, Talya Minsberg, The New York Times (07/18/21)

Is the USMNT For Real?

The U.S. Men’s National Soccer team has had quite the summer: First, in June, their A-squad beat Mexico’s A-squad in the Nation’s League final, in one of the most exciting soccer games you’ll ever see.

Then, last weekend, their B or C-squad beat the Mexico A-minus squad on a late goal to win the Gold Cup. It was quite the turnaround from four years ago when they shockingly failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

But as soccer analysts will tell you, it’s not just that the U.S. won these tournaments, beating their archnemesis in the process. It’s how they won, with style and panache, with young talent providing so much promise for the future (seriously, buckle up for World Cup 2026, which the U.S. will host). For the first time ever, USMNT fans have hope that their squad will soon be able to compete with the elite squads across the globe. And while the upcoming, talented generation has a lot to do with it, so does the team’s coach, Greg Berhalter, as Leander Schaerlaeckens writes. 

Berhalter has succeeded in creating a culture that players want to be part of and making the USMNT a destination for top soccer talents who could have chosen to play for other national teams. This is an interesting look at Berhalter – where he came from, what he’s doing, and where he hopes to go. If you’re a fan of international soccer, you’ll enjoy this one. -TOB

Source: Gregg Berhalter’s Plan for American Men’s Soccer Is Working,” Leander Schaerlaeckens, The Ringer (08/02/2021)

Actually, Revenge is Pretty Good When Hot and Fresh, Too

In my fantasy baseball dynasty league, I have been on a hunt for a longterm solution at third base all season, ever since Vlad Guerrero, Jr. lost his 3B status and left me with Vlad and Pete Alonso to fill my 1B/DH spots. I cycled through some guys, and traded for Moustakas who was on my roster for a week before missing the last three months with a heel injury. I’ve used Wilmer Flores and Joey Wendle and others, when they were on hot streaks. I even scooped up an injured Evan Longoria and stashed him on my IL.

But I’ve been keeping an eye out for a young guy, and this week I came across someone named Abraham Toro (what an elite name), who went on a tear after being traded from Houston to Seattle last week. So I did some digging to see who he is and came across the incredible story of how he got traded.

You know that scene in Moneyball when the A’s trade for Ricardo Rincon? When he was traded, Rincon was playing for Cleveland, who were in Oakland to play the A’s. So Rincon had to simply walk down the hall to join his new team. That is a true story, and while Toro’s is similar, I think Toro’s story is even better. Here’s the AP’s Chris Talbott with the story:

Toro was taking his pregame swings for Houston when he learned about the deal. The infielder walked to the other dugout, put on his new uniform and went back to the batting cage.

I mean, that is incredible on its own. The dude is taking BP, is told he’s traded, goes to his new dugout, gets his new jersey, and goes back out to the field to continue getting ready. And the cherry on top of it all? The day before he was traded Toro hit a dinger for the Astros, against the Mariners. The day he was traded? He hit a dinger for the Mariners, against the Astros. Per Elias, “Toro is the first player in major league history to homer for one team and against that team in consecutive games.” That is some serious, “Eff you,” energy. 

And if you’re curious, Toro is still on a tear. In 8 games with Seattle, he’s hitting .429/.500/.857 for an OPS of 1.357. -TOB

Source: Abraham Toro Homers Late for New Team, but Astros Hold on to Win,” Chris Talbott, Houston Chronicle (07/28/2021)

Tweets of the Week

Song of the Week

The New Basement Tapes – “When I Get My Hands On You”

Kind of a cool project from a few years back. A supergroup with super duper producer T Bone Burnett took a bunch of Bob Dylan lyrics from his Basement Tapes time with the band – lyrics that were never turned into song (at least that we know of) – and took a crack at putting them into songs. This song is my favorite from the album. Anyone with an upcoming wedding: this song would be a damn good first dance song. – PAL

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“Debbie told my son he looked like Tom Petty in a negative way.”

– Catherine