Thunderstorms, Night Meets, Canada Geese and Fireflies Provide an Unforgettable Experience

Canada-Geese_webI ‘m a track fan and I love night meets. There’s nothing quite like them. The stadium lights turn the track into a giant stage as everything around the track fades into the darkness.  There’s a heightened sense of drama because athletes look like they’re performing under a spotlight.

The wind drops to nothing, there’s a bite to the air, and conditions become perfect for competition. And there’s an elevated sense of anticipation, as if everyone in the stadium is holding their breath, waiting for the next great performance.

Our regional championships were held in my hometown last week, and a lightning-delay forced the meet to linger into the night. Of course, I was delighted by Mother Nature’s intervention. As always, the night competition heightened the track experience, but nature provided two perks that made the evening even more special for me.

As the meet was ending, a large flock of Canada geese flew over the field, barely clearing the stadium roof. A fly-over by the air force couldn’t have been more dramatic. Everyone became silent,  the only sound a chorus of honking and the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the powerful birds as they thrust the air beneath their wings. They had appeared suddenly, close above us, highlighted in sharp detail beneath the stadium lights and then just as suddenly disappeared into the darkness, their sounds slowly fading into the night. It was definitely a “wow” moment for everyone who witnessed it.

The other special experience happened soon afterward, as I rode my bicycle home, two kilometers down a dirt path.  Pedaling beneath its overhanging canopy, I could barely see the silhouette of the bordering tree trunks as I flew down the path. Suddenly, without warning, I was surrounded by hundreds of fireflies, igniting and disappearing like signal lights in the darkness. Sensing my approach, they moved to the edge of the path and formed a flickering audience for over 200 meters as I pedaled through them, my jaw wide open in awe.

A track meet under the lights … a fly-over by floodlit Canada geese … a flood of fireflies… all in one night!  Life can be good.

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]track and field,track & field,night track meets,physical education,Mother Nature,Canada Geese,fireflies[/tags]

Why the Olympics are So Addictive

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The Winter Olympics are over, and if you’re like me, you’re feeling a huge void in your life! That’s particularly true here in Canada, where Olympaholics like myself became accustomed to following the Games in the mornings, at the office, during meals, in the shower, and late at night.

It’s interesting, but for those 17 days, I completely forgot about the Toronto Raptors, a team I’d been following before the Olympics. Somehow, the struggles of the millionaire players on that squad seemed inconsequential compared to the efforts of the world’s snowboarders, curlers, nordic skiers, ice dancers,  skeleton racers, and bobsledders, many of whom live below the poverty line.

I was particularly interested in the efforts of two athletes, Canadian hockey player Rebecca Johnston and cross-country skier, Devon Kershaw. I coached them both in their high school days, when they were competitive runners in addition to being phenoms in their chosen sport.

They were both excellent runners, having won medals at the provincial, and in Rebecca’s case, the National Junior level (in the 400m).  I can take absolutely no credit for their Olympic success – they made wise choices in specializing in sports other than running. But it sure was fun watching them perform at the highest level, at our home Olympics, under the most intense scrutiny they’ll ever face.

Rebecca, a speedy forward on the team’s “energy line,” won a gold medal in hockey – Canada’s game- with every eye in the country watching her every move! At only 20 years of age, she played with incredible composure and was a threat to score every time she took the ice.

Devon helped put Canada’s men’s team on the map in cross-country skiing, placing a surprise fourth in the men’s team sprint (a two-man relay), then a shocking fifth in the 50km mass start – the most prestigious of the cross-country skiing events. Better known as a sprinter, he missed fourth by a photo-finish and a bronze medal by .5 of a second.

My favorite moment of the Games was Devon’s interview immediately after his race, when, exhausted and emotional, he was asked why he was so upset. He said, that it was a tough pill to swallow to have skied for two hours only to come up 1.5 seconds from a gold medal… Not the bronze, not a silver. but gold. What a mental shift from an athlete who went into the race ranked 27th, and before the Games would have thought a top-10 finish to be a dream result.

For me, that’s why Olympics are so addictive to so many. The pressure-filled atmosphere allows us a glimpse into both the athletic evolution and the true character of the athletes we observe, and if we’re lucky, with whom we’ve associated.

You can see the finish of Devon’s race and his interview at:
http://www.ctvolympics.ca/cross-country-skiing/results-and-schedules/event=ccm750000/phase=ccm750101/highlights.html

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]Winter Olympics,Olympic cross-country skiing,Olympic nordic skiing,,Olympic hockey[/tags]

Track Broadcasting Needs Better Announcers

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I’m a track fan, so I really enjoyed watching the World Track and Field Championships over the past two weeks. Fortunately, I was able to watch three different versions of the meet: NBC, CBC and the live feed the live feed on the internet as provided by the CBC and Universal Sports websites.

And once again, it has become very clear why viewership for the sport is so poor in the U.S.  The television commentary provided by NBC was so horrible it detracted from the enjoyment of the event. Little technical information was provided – not enough to educate new fans or please aficionados. Lead play-by-play man, Tom Hammond sounded like a parody of an FM-radio announcer, and colour man, Ato Bolden, while certainly a knowledgeable sprinter and a huge step up from Carol Lewis, babbled incessantly at a volume so high it sounded like he was announcing professional wrestling. Dwight Stones and Lewis Johnson seemed to compete with each in making ridiculous comments, and trackside interviews were often inane and showed a lack of knowledge of the sport…for example, asking athletes, were still breathing hard after their events, what they thought about Jesse Owens.

The CBC team of Mark Lee and Michael Smith is much better and I enjoy listening to them. Smith has improved every year and with his decathlete’s background knows what he’s talking about.

However,  the Cadillac of track commentating was provided by the Brits who announced the live feed on the internet. They demonstrated a combination of expertise, authority, eloquence, passion and frequently amusing turns of phrase. They were able to convey excitement by raising their voices only when warranted. Here are some examples of commentary by the Brits:

“Away it goes, high and handsome. Splendid form for Thorkildsen!”
“He really did hit it through the point of the javelin.”

“When he’s good, he’s very, very good. When he’s bad, he’s very, very bad. Tactically inept at times, but sometimes he can be devastating.”

“Victory, yes, but for how long. Rodgrigues definitely tried to push her way through a space that just wasn’t there. The tragedy of this is, even if the Spaniard is disqualified, Burka will never get a medal.”

“Oh dear, it’s another no-jump. Three no-jumps in the final of a world championship. No wonder she’s distraught.”

“Beekele ran 2:24 over the last 1000m of the 5k – equivalent to running a 3:36 1500m over the last part of the race. That’s why Lagat didn’t have enough to hold him off at the end.”

Here’s a video example of exciting track commentary:
British Announcer – Usain Bolt’s 100m
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAPqQMCI9H4

Compare to the NBC coverage of the same race:

NBC Coverage
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qslbf8L9nl0

If Americans ever want to develop support for athletics in their country, they should hire a British coverage team.

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]track and field,IAAF Championships,World Track and Field Championships,track announcing,track announcers[/tags]

Olympic Observations – Bolt & Lezak

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With the summer Olympics at the half-way mark, here are some observations:

Track – Usain Bolt
After watching Usain Bolt shattering the world record with a 9.69 in the 100m, I realize I have been coaching the event all wrong. I always thought sprinters had to use their arms in the last 20 metres of the race. Apparently holding them out like wings while pounding the chest is faster. I can hardly wait to implement this new technique!

Swimming
Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals in swimming was a super story.

But the best race performance, for me, was watching his teammate, 32 year-old Jason Lezak on the final leg of the of the 4 x 100m freestyle relay.

Lezak was anchoring against the world record holder in the 100m freestyle, Alain Bernard, of France. Bernard had done some trash-talking before the race, stating that the French team would smash the Americans. As the race progressed and the final exchange took place, it  appeared that Bernard’s prediction would come true, as he entered the water almost body-length ahead of Lezak.

However, as the Frenchman raced down the pool, he edged too close to his lane line. Lezak, the canny veteran, realizing the mistake, edged over to their shared line and drafted behind Bernard, riding his bow-wave, like a dolphin with a ship.  It was a rookie error on Bernard’s part, and Lezak made him pay.

With 10 metres to go, Lezak, who had expended a fraction of the energy of the Frenchman, made his charge, head bobbing, legs thrashing and arms flailing furiously.  The move was so dramatic, that he almost appeared to lift out of the water. Lezak out-touched Bernard by 8/100th of a second after having swum the fastest relay leg in history.

It was something to see. Michael Phelps deserves the attention he’s receiving, but he owes his record of 8 gold medals to Jason Lezak.

There will be more Olympic observations in the next blog.

P.S. Bernard later redeemed himself by winning the 100m freestyle in a new world record.

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]Olympics,Usain Bolt,Jason Lizak,swimming,track[/tags]

Defeat Reveals an Athlete’s True Character

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A big loss can tell you more about a person’s character than a big win. Defeat tends to strip away our layers of camouflage to reveal the person’s true nature.

I witnessed just such a situation this weekend at the Ontario high school track and field championships (OFSAA). It’s a huge, prestigious, high-pressure event, involving over 2200 athletes plus a stadium-full of parents, spectators and university scouts. The athletes call it “The Show.”

One of my runners had qualified for the sprint hurdle event. She’s a 15-year-old dynamo, with freckles, a huge smile, a quit wit and so much energy that she often bounces up and down when she is talking to you.

She had beaten the odds just to qualify. Although she had been an OFSAA and Canadian Legion finalist last year, she had injured her hip early in the Spring and had barely been able to practice. But she persevered, attended therapy sessions, stopped her other sports (of which there are about five), and got herself healthy enough to advance through the qualifying meets.

In the morning heats at OFSAA, she had run well, qualifying third behind an athlete who had broken the meet record.

The afternoon final was a pressure cooker, run in tropical heat before a capacity crowd. My runner, in lane three, had a decent start and was still in contention when the runner next to her hit the fourth hurdle then took two stumbling steps and fell sideways into my athlete’s lane, flying at my girl’s ankles like a halfback making a cut-block.

My runner was forced to jump sideways to avoid contact, but it put her out of rhythm and slowed her to a near-stop. The race was long over by the time she crossed the finish line, tears streaming down her face.

She was sobbing as she walked off the track, and after a teary hug with Dad and a thrown track spike, stomped off to cool down. With all the adversity she had overcome and sacrifices she had made to get to this race, she was incredibly frustrated, disappointed and angry.

A half hour later, she came back and told me that she’d probably have another cry later by herself, but she’d be OK. She was tough. And it was better that this had happened in the final than in the heat.

Then she said – with a smile – that it was Karma that this had happened. “How so?” I asked.

“Well, when she hit the hurdle, I thought “Good!” So the next thing you know, she’s in my lane. That’s Karma. You shouldn’t think bad thoughts about the other girls when you race.”

Like I said…character!

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]track,hurdles,hurdling,physical education,character[/tags]

Sports Injuries Often Occur Off the Field

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An event during this year’s cross-country running season reinforced the point of an article I wrote several years ago called “Injuries- Check Outside Activities.” (PE Update members can find it using the search bar).

The point of the article was, if your athletes sustain an injury – especially a chronic injury – make sure you know what their outside activities involve. And make sure you know what kind of shoes they use for casual-wear.

What reminded me of that article was one of my female runners who complained of foot pain back in the Fall. A week of non-impact training in the swimming pool didn’t help at all – the pain kept getting worse.

It wasn’t until we saw her mosey into practice one afternoon that we realized what was going on. She was wearing ballet-type slippers. Our campus is hilly with a 15-minute walk on paved streets between some classes. She was wearing the slippers because they were “comfy.”

After advising her to wear better shoes, there was still no improvement for a couple of days. We then thought to ask what she was wearing instead of the slippers. Flip flops. Not much better. She explained that they went with her nail polish (this was in late October in a northern climate). Needless to say, we advised another change in footwear.

A week after exchanging her ballet slippers and flip-flops for regular running shoes, her foot pain was gone. A miracle!!

This is a great example of an injury whose origin wasn’t sport-related. The moral is, be careful when you encounter one of your own athlete’s ailments – they may not have occurred on the playing field at all. And athletes often don’t realize how their non-sport activities can affect their injury status – as a result they may fail to mention such activities to you. You must often be very pointed in your questioning when trying to determine the cause of your athletes’ injuries.

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Dick Moss, Editor,
PE Update.com

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[tags]sports,sport,injuries,sports medicine, coach,coaching[/tags]