Some more Olympic musings since the last ones…..

Okay, so I set myself up for an inevitable fall. In previous years, possibly to my defense, I have managed to keep up with daily posts detailing some nonsense (with pictures) about which sneakers I wore each day, but the notion of posting daily about happenings at Olympics that happen both whilst I’m at work and later into the night when I’m asleep, seems overly optimistic to say the least. So here we are, enough days into the Games that I no-longer really know how many days we’re actually in, and I’ve not mentioned anything since the shenanigans on Saturday – largely focusing on a preposterously dangerous Cycling road-race course, positing that it could cause chaos in the second race as the Women were scheduled to tackle it the following day. So read on to see how self-congratulatory I can be about bad things, and other stuff……

I’m not always happy to be right…..

Dutch Cyclist Annemiek Van Vleuten, riding in what she suggested would be her last Olympics*, was the unfortunate victim of the shockingly precarious decent towards the end of the Cycling Road Race. Out on her own in a strong position to win, the same sketchy bad-idea of a parcour that had already claimed the scalps** of several of the top male riders cruely ripped the potential for her biggest career victory out of her grasp, and worst still, the severity of the crash, largely exacerbated by the nonsensically placed concrete blocks aside the road, landed the rider in intensive care. Ending what she later said ruefully to be the best ride of her life with concussion and 3 fractured vertebrae, Van Vleuten would have been completely unaware that in her absence, compatriot Anna van der Breggen took home the Gold for the Netherlands, topping a podium without the heavily fancied World Champ Lizzie Armistead or 2012 Goldist Marianna Vos. The struggles of the former, on a course admittedly not suited to her profile, were a salient example of the nuances of road racing without race radio, a tool available to the riders throughout their ‘day-job’ but inexplicably removed in the Games; whilst receiving a bike change at the back of the race, Armistead would have normally requested her teammates to either come back and help, or at the very least assist in minimising the speed of the main group, whereas in fact, unaware of her team leaders predicament, Emma Pooley actually drove the pace faster at the front of the bunch before Nikki Harris received a stern ticking off for not twigging that Lizzie was nowhere to be seen in the peloton.

*More on age and cycling later

**Well, lots of skinsuit fabric and flesh at the very least

As ridiculous as this radio fiasco is (worsened by the fact that several days later the Time Trial riders such as Emma Pooley were allowed to use radios), it didn’t match the absurdity of the course, that having claimed at least 3 vertebrae, 2 collarbones, a shoulder blade and a pelvis has “angered” former pro-turned pundit Chris Boardman, who has joined the voices raising displeasure about the de-prioritisation of human life and safety now synonymous with Rio 2016***.

(***Okay, excluding the crucially important Lifeguards in the Aquatics Centre)

He IS a Jolly Goodfellow

Vicariously living through people you don’t know seems to be the largest motivator for many Olympic armchair athletes – but I must confess the tenuous relationship I have with Synchro-Divist Daniel Goodfellow, having known him as a child who attended a Holiday Playscheme I worked out for many years) greatly increased my enjoyment and excitement. Admittedly, I didn’t actually manage to watch his Bronze-medal winning display with Tom Daley, but the very fact that I was concerned with the result of a sport I don’t follow, speaks volumes to me. Otherwise, the main intrigue could have been the fact that the water in the outdoor diving pool has mysteriously turned green, with no explanation offered as yet from the organisers. Also, some other GB divests did them some even betterer diving and won Gold in the Springboard Synchro, largely based on doing an incredibly difficult dive very well individually, and less-so on the actual synchronisation.

Interestingly for me, I’ve had the revelation during these Games that ‘athletic’ type events (those whereby winning and losing is decided upon tangible measurement e.g. distance) are generally awarded on single, best performance (e.g. furthest throw in Javelin) and not as the ‘averaged’ reward for consistency in ‘gymnastic’ type events (which tend to give qualitative scores over a range of attempts). I’m not 100% sure what I think about this distinction, as to which I think is a more valiant system…..

 

Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number

Yeah, so I’m blatantly using the title of deceased R’n’B star Aaliyah’s debut album to highlight the creepiness of R. Kelly, the producer of the then 13yr olds album which featured a single with the same title, sung as a chorus line proceeded by “going down ain’t nothing but a thing”. This, coupled with the Album Cover alone, should have been enough to convict Kelly in his later trials for abusing minors. But distasteful digression aside, the Cycling Time-Trials were great examples for us older guys and gals. All-time World Legend Fabian Cancellara capped off his swansong season by powering around Rio to best Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome, despite being the second-oldest to come down the incredibly long starting ramp. A popular athlete amongst his peers, many will be pleased that he was able to make amends after crashing-out on the Mall, from a very promising position in London 2012. This said, his story pales in comparison to his female counterpart……

Armstrong may be the most respect-worthy cyclist of All-Time

There’s a headline most wouldn’t expect to read, however, the completely-unrelated-to-Lance-despite-having-the-same-name-as-his-ex-wife Kristin Armstrong put on a clinic to her younger competitors, all of whom were at least 7 years her junior, as she completed her second return from retirement with her 3rd Gold in as many Olympic cycles. Surpassing the post-retirement exploits of even Michael Jordan (even if MJ won 2 Golds before retiring the first time mind!), Armstrong, whom I shall only mention is 43 years of age as a respectful sign of her achievement, limited her losses on the lumpy stuff knowing full well her legs contained the wattage to surpass any disadvantage held by the time she reached the flat sections.  To the best of my knowledge, the only mention of this Armstrong with any kind of doping is the triumphant story high up the Google searches as she bested previously banned Russian Olga Zabelinskaya to Silver. Kirstin’s palmares, combined with her non-sporting life, really do make her one of the best rounded stories of individual greatness I’ve come across at these Games.

Swimming: Lacking distinction or is Phelps simply superb?

Michael Phelps, a man who has apparently maintained a frat-boy lifestyle whilst becoming the most decorated Olympian of all-time, and has now taken to the Voodoo practice of ‘Cupping’ (presumably as a post-retirement plan to make a killing selling such witchdictory nonsense) has won a further 3 Gold Medals this Olympics to his existing record total of 18, in just 4 Olympic cycles. Whilst 9 of these have come in relay events with teammates, the remaining 12 have come from 5 “different” events, utilising either butterfly, freestyle or a ‘medley’ of strokes. I’ve certainly been in bar chats whereby the suggestion that the lack of distinction is a causal factor in the ability of certain physical specimens to dominate at their peak. It’s pretty much unheard of, outside swimming, for athletes to gain more than 3 medals in a single Games, so is Phelps’ total padded out by the nuances (or lack thereof!) of his event? Would Usain Bolt not also be 80, 150 and 220m Champion?

In any case, none of this matters this side of the pond as that Peaty lad ripped his own World Record to shreds, claiming 100m Gold in Breaststroke. My earlier assertions that Swimming must be doped up beyond belief, based largely on the frequency with which World Records fall, is equally as likely to be a product of the fact that so many darn different records exist, given the numerous ‘different’ events available to competitors.

Errors & Omissions

PTI inspired, I’m sure I’ve left loads out, so this section will be here ‘for the editor’ as things I’ve forgotten/neglected inevitable come to mind!

 

 

Olympic Day 1

*No mention of an opening ceremony will be made, beyond this disclaimer #snore*

Once again any avid cycling fan will have sat frustrated by the tinkyness of organisation of the Olympic Road Race. The system of allocating team places proportionally based on qualifying points for any nation, whilst admittedly utilised in the World Championships, massively advantages the stronger nations as the sport much more than any other functions as a numbers game, and is quite probably why Peter Sagan sacked it off as riding alone with zero team-mates would represent an excessive hiding to nothing. Unsurprisingly, a strong break of 6 riders was kept in check by the strengths primarily of GB and Spain, both with the full compliment of 5 riders. This was achieved without the benefit of race-radio, which factored later on in the race when a group of chasers almost left a solo breakaway win Gold simply because they didn’t realise anyone was ahead of them – until the motorcycle commissaires informed them of the time gap (a feature that undermines the purity possible without race radio, making the exclusion akin to asking Tennis players to use wooden racquets during the Olympics).

But before ‘the final’ was able to unfold, the fears of safety for the Games as a whole were prevalent as an allegoric symbol in the 150mile course that quite frankly featured an needless level of danger, not least resultant of an avoidable dictum from the organisers themselves. On the early circuits before the coastal pilgrimage to the Copa Cabana, a section of incredibly rough ‘pave’ (cobblestones) claimed an ever increasing number of victims, not just to the temporary inconvenience of dropped chains (which claimed half a dozen riders most laps) but to the far more problematic crashes resultant of, or at least exacerbated by, the proliferation of water-bottles extricating themselves from their cages. Nonsensically, given that nations were allowed to use their own bicycles with branded advertising (same for helmets, sunglasses and skinsuits), every single water-bottle had to be the official Rio 2016 bidon supplied by the organisers, that according to commentator Chris Boardman, simply didn’t seem to fit into the cages on most bikes (and given that not only is he still a world record holding former pro, but has also been key in British Cycling’s “Secret Squirrel” technological development team, probably has a fair clue what he’s on about).

Picture the scene, your in a group of riders, some of whom by virtue of the Olympic system are at the upper limit of their ability just staying with the group and are riding more erratically than the established pro’s you’re used to be centimetres from at high-speeds, and you hit a section of bone-rattling cobbles. With minimal room to manoeuvre, a water-bottle fly’s across the road, full of liquid we’re talking a 1kg missile propelled at your wheels, it’s no wonder there were so many riders retiring from the race after these crashes, but some wonder should be given to the need for this to have happened….

Then, after the flat of the coastal road, the final 50 or so kilometres were held up and down as precarious a road as I’ve seen from watching countless hours of cycle racing from around the world. With a continuous series of swinging blind corners, a rapid decent on roads with no pavement, just 2ft drops and peculiar concrete blocks as a gutter hazard, the race was incredibly exciting, but releasing Tigers into a Squash court would increase the heart-rate of us viewers; at least the latter is seen as too costly. Consequently, in the final 20km a decisive move that should have resulted in a sharing of the podium for all 3 participants, the most revered descender in all cycling, Vincenzo Nibali, lost his shot at a well-deserved medal with a crash that took the equally impressive Sergio Henao with him. Whilst being left to fight the wind alone for 15minutes, the game should have been up for the lone survivor of this incident, but Rafa Majka almost benefitted from the aforementioned confusion of the pursuing group, whom having passed the carcasses and bikes at roadside, started to deploy tactics against each other presuming the winner to be decided from within their group. This was only after they’d themselves been whittled down, with the favoured Welshman Gerraint Thomas crashing out of a position that could easily have turned into his 3rd successive Olympic Gold, adding to his Team Pursuit track medals from Beijing & London). This climb, in perfect weather, claimed more casualties than you’d get with a full peloton descending on a rain-soaked mountain, and as I type Thomas is being taken to hospital (although he did ride to the finishline at least, still finishing ahead of Froomey!).

Back to the endgame, and the group eventually couldn’t contain an attack from Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet and Denmark’s Jakob Fulsang, who bridged to the lone Polish Rider Majka before dropping him in the finishing sprint, with Van Avermaet completing his comeback from a broken collarbone earlier in a year where he’s finally slayed the dragons of Fabian Cancellara  & Peter Sagan, adding Olympic gold to a campaignwhereby some impressive early season scalps saw him climb to the top of the UCI rankings, albeit almost as briefly as he wore the Yellow Jersey recently at the Tour.

In other Games news for GB, apparently horsey dancing has gone well and the decrement in world record swimming times has furthered with British Fish Adam Peaty taking an ‘unbelievable’ (in the Greg Lemond re: Lance Armstring sense) 0.43 seconds off the 100m breaststroke best in a first round qualifier, dropping his own best of 57.92 to 57.55 (an uncomfortable 0.75% on a record that has already fallen by nearly 3 full seconds in the past 15 years).

I do hope you’re all having fun watching whatever you’re into and do feel free to criticise that which I’ve missed!

[EDIT: OKay I’ve given it some more thought, and the reality is the drop in WR for the swimming really isn’t that big a leap, and the fact that so many swim records get smashed is a product of the fact that there’s SO MANY swim records to choose from in the first place. I’m also really interested to see how that sketchy downhill at the end of the road race plays out tomorrow as the Women give the course a blast, I have to assume that watching the Shark of Messina getting concrete-beached will have a genuine effect on the tactics employed as few will want to be having to race that section at full throttle…..]

Preview: Rio Olympics 2016 (GBcentric)

You were warned! Here’s a quick rundown of those Olympic things that excite me and (because fundamentally I will never not be a little bit of a curmudgeon) , those things that really don’t…..

Cycling

Men’s & Women’s Road Races (Saturday 6 & Sunday 7 August)

Men – As the “Evil Empire” Team Sky Procycling pull on Red/White & Blue Skinsuits for the day, with newly crowned triple Tour de France winner Froome-Dog Millionnaire and double Olympic Goldist Gerraint Thomas presumably doing rock-paper-scissors* to decide who breaks it to Steve Cummings and whichever Yates brother isn’t banned that they’ll be working for the bigger names. Real good shout for a GB Medal here, especially as Peter Sagan has chosen to forsake his normal podium spot to go ride bouncy mountain bikes instead (making Sunday 21 August far more intriguing btw). 

*Go after 3, not on 3.

Women – My early shout for BBC sports personality of the year has been Lizzie Armitstead, who has more than filled the cleats of the retired (/horse-racing) Victoria Pendleton, who now like Chris Boardman pedals bikes through Halfords’ tills and not around velodromes. Armitstead comes into Rio on the back of a hugely successful year, which may perhaps be eclipsed by the recent controversy of her ‘provisional suspension’ and subsequent acquittal for missed (not failed) drug tests. This story seemed to go under the radar, only raising it’s head days before the start of the games once it has been confirmed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that she could indeed compete, and I now wonder if this explains her absence from the La Course one-day race at the culmination of the Men’s Tour de France (I should check, but doubt there’ll be a trustworthy source on the matter). The rhetoric, fortunately, seems to revolve more around the legitimacy of her participation given that she only contested the first of 3 missed tests after she’d missed the third, which triggered the suspension threshold (2 year ban), and very little suggestion is being made of Lizzie actually being a drugs cheat (although obviously there will always be insinuation). Illuminating articles of the difficulty faced by athletes in jumping through the administrative hoops of the “whereabouts system” and anecdotes of athletes falling into these traps make me more empathetic to the situation, although other athletes have been quick to sling mud with the ‘your job is to get this right’ retort. 

In any case, Armitstead is in, setting up a truly compelling showdown with multi-time all-everything GOAT-nominee Marianna Vos, the brilliant story of the established champion hoping to return to domination after an injury absence that allowed for the rise to prominence of the young upstart, although road racing is so unpredictable that the smart money would be that neither will win Gold.

Oh yeah, and the Road Time-Trials have good stories too, with a women unfortunate enough to have the same name as Lance’s former wife, Kristin Armstrong, looking to 3-peat Gold, plus somewhere Sir Dave B will be shouting “Go on Frooooomey” as the Mount Ventoux jogger bum-wiggles towards a second successive podium.

Track Cycling (Thursday 11 – Tuesday 16 August)

Huge GB hope all over this one, although the entire programme has taken several hits during the last ‘cycle’. The Women’s Team Pursuit squad were, 2 years ago, much heralded as the possibly the most dominant team in sports, as in all of SPORTS, with only their own world records and internal competition from the squad to challenge them since the format changed from 3 riders doing 3000 metres to 4 riders doing 4k. Australia seemed to need a little longer to adapt to this, but eventually caught up at such a pace that they’ve overtaken GB, setting a World Record whilst becoming World Champions last year. Couple this with the huge controversy several months back, which has largely ‘gone away’ in the British press, that saw the head honcho step-down amid allegations of sexism and bullying, and things certainly don’t seem to be quite as shipshape as they were under Brailsford.

However, far from the wheels falling off, GB still have multiple multiple World Champions who are legitimate Gold contenders, as well as the feel-good story of the un-retired Bradley Wiggins and the un-dead Mark Cavendish, the latter seemingly having resurrected his road career quite possibly because of his desire to compete for Olympic track medals (notably mentioned as ‘medal’ not ‘Gold’ whenever I’ve heard him talk of ambition). With ‘Sir Wiggie Smalls’ (copyright Jack Whitehall) and Cav getting the band back together for a World Championship in the Madison earlier this year, things are looking good for both, although the more cynical side of my mind does wonder how convenient it is that Cav’s selection, which is far from a cut-and-dry choice given his relatively mediocre performances in his chosen Olympic event of the Omnium and the strength of his competition for that place from admittedly less popular riders, coincided so well with the fallout from the aforementioned difficulties. It was like skysports cleared their website of all the ‘bad things said about GB cycling’ stories with buffering filler along the lines of ‘Cav hopeful to be selected’, ‘Wiggins makes non-committal remark supporting all riders’, ‘Cav still hopeful for Rio, still….’. But yeah, Wiggo et al have a real shot at Gold in their Team Pursuit, and if Laura Trott doesn’t medal she’s sure to lose her signature braided ponytails in the name of marginal gains. 

Diving (Sunday 7 – Friday 12 August)

British wonder child is now all grown up, to the point that Tom Daley’s biggest challenge may not come from competitors, but from the ability to manage the physical deterioration a rigorous Olympic schedule will put on his body, after a career staring very young on the arduous 10m board. He’s also facing the peculiar challenge of executing his signature “Firework” dive, a much more difficult twisting maneuver developed by his coaching team for him due to tyhe fact he can’t do the easier orthodox variant. But my main investment is with his synchro-partner, Danny Goodfellow, who I got to know over several years working at a Holiday Playscheme he attended whilst he was perhaps 6-13.  Having won Gold with TD in the recent Europeans, there’s some good hope that the cheeky, perpetually eating, ‘jolly Goodfellow” will get himself chained with an audacious medallion far sturdier than the 20p “Winner” plastic medal we’d invariably award him for mad trampoline skills back in the day.  

Track & Field (you’ll know when it’s on!)

4 years ago Greg Rutherford was the absolute epitome of what I believed to be wrong with the ‘Olympic fever’ engulfing the nation. Here was this unknown chancer in a sport no-one really follows, lucking out on an improbable culmination of events that saw all the expected medal contenders either not in attendance or under-perform, whilst he managed to ride the wave of GB glory and long-jumped to the upper limit of his ability, winning the event with a mediocre distance when compared to the leading jumps that season. Since then, I’ve realized he’s brilliant, and the fact he’s reliably brought his best when it matters most is in-itself quite compelling, raising the debate of potential vs performance as an indicator of greatness. Also, he’s really congenial from the media appearances I’ve seen, doesn’t take himself too seriously, is open and frank about the fact that yes, he shouldn’t have won in 2012, but the fact of the matter is he did. As ‘Dr’ Lou Holtz once said about championship games, “you don’t have to be the best team in the world, you just have to be the best team in the stadium” (incidentally, when checking the legitimacy of his ‘Dr’ prefix, wiki game me tyhis quote from his, also quite relevant here: Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.) 

I’m not overly bothered by Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill (although any multi-eventer naturally deserves mucho respect) but believe there is possible World Record jeopardy in the Men’s High-Jump. Obvs we all want Bolt to burn the track up whilst drinking a can of Lilt, preferably breaking MJs 400m record whilst celebrating his 200 win, and busting Powell’s total in the sandpit after his 100, just to give us a glimpse of what else he could have been. I’ll also be keeping an eye out for the winning time in the Women’s 100m hurdles, to see if it’s even in the same arena as the 12.20 Kendra Harrison set since not making the selection for the U.S. Team (casually breaking a near 20yr World Record in the process of ‘getting over it’).

Things I’m not fussed about

Any sport whereby the Olympics isn’t the pinnacle (Football, Boxing), especially when the rules are amended (remember the Dream Team in 1992 looking confused at the European 3point line), or whereby the top-stars abstain because it really matters not to them (Golf) automatically undermine their own interest. As superb as GB Rowing has been in my lifetime, the lack of the ‘Oarfathers’ (which I believe they’ve never been referred to as, rightfully), and the fact that as a Cantabrigian I’m upset whenever boats are not raced in a ‘bumps’ format, means I’m unlikely to watch too many athletes risking their health in the bacteria infested cesspits I’m lead to believe they’ll be competing in.

That gymnast dude that retired, became a d-list panel show guest, and is now pushing himself around a pummel horse again – good luck to him but much like the rest of you, I haven’t taken a blind bit of notice of him for 3 years, so why should we now? Equally, apparently, we have like the best swimmer ever in Team GB, but knowing nothing of him, how can I take any pride from his potential success?

Oh and horses doing sort-of-dance routines. No. Just no.

With this said, however, there is one other aspect of Team GB’s Olympic endeavors that I do think we can all get on board with:

Medal Counting

For the geekier stattos among us, especially those seeming with national pride, there is another contest, one which pits the entire Team GB against ‘the model’. Basically, using trend analysis, my good buddy Dr Balmer and his et al homies did them some number crunching, allowing for the fact that nations historically experience an increase in medals won in the games both immediately prior and after an Olympics they host. More resources are made available from the start of the host-application process (the ‘please choose us, look at how good our infrastructure will be’ effect), which only increases once the IOC chooses you (the ‘please kids become good so we don’t embarrass ourselves in front of the world’ effect) and carries over another 4 years (the ‘there’s still some money and public interest left over from the one we held’ effect).

The model in question predicted 39 in Beijing 2008, which GB out-performed with a sterling 47, but winning 18 more in London 2012 wasn’t as huge an increase as it seems, when the trend of history would have suggested 63. Now? Well according to the guy who I missed the biggest night of London 2012 with (we were probably trapeezing, hence the banner pic on this blog from that one time it ever happened in my life), anything below 46 medals will represent abject failure and all Team GBers should be taken out to pasture. This bar, set back in 2009 remember, is comparatively low compared to the range stated in this recent Sky Sports article of 47-79 (although the 48 medal target set since then is at the more conservative end).

So yes, get your planners out, wall-charts at the ready, smartfone applications set on stun, and enjoy – I’ll try and be here on a nightly basis to offer my thoughts on the events as they unfold.

National Pride & the Olympics

I’m becoming unnervingly excited by the upcoming Olympics, peculiarly so given the largely apathetic response I had 4 years ago when they occurred mainly about an hour away from my home. Perhaps then, a differently jaded man, I was overly influenced by what I felt to be an insidiously exaggerated excitement on behalf of the majority of non-sports fans, and responded to the overwhelming surge in new (and presumably short-term) uber-supporters and armchair enthusiasts as if single-handed I was tasked with re-addressing this balance. Not only did I actively prohibit my own enjoyment of the games by consuming less sports than at previous Olympics, but I probably cut my proverbial nose off and watched less sports than I normally would when major international sporting events were not occurring,  and then to a lower degree of emotional investment and anticipatory excitement..

My contrarianism worked to my chagrin.

When I recall my position from then, I know that one of the factors deterring me from the band-wagon was the uneasy relationship I’ve cultivated with national pride and patriotism. I’d argue that the intellectually evolved position undermines the unwavering supporting of teams as nonsensical – either you arbitrarily support a team chosen, most often, by success during your formative years (fraught with the risk of an adulthood of frustration supporting a now mediocre team you’ve no logical affinity to) or support the team proximal to you/your relatives (which in modern sports are represented by a global, transient workforce who are disincentivised from loyalty by the systems around financial remuneration from their short-lived careers). The connection between fan and player has been eroded to the point that the US collegiate system (NCAA), whereby student-athletes are never eligible to actively represent a school for more than 4 years, is a microcosm of professional sport, although the loyalty of NCAA fans to either their alma mater or teams of an institution that to residents would be a huge local-employer, seems a more obvious reason for affinity.

But moreover, supporting indiscriminately of ones own nation of birth seems, by default to create a preference for those more alike to you based on superficial traits, than those less like you. I often encountered the argument that, say, as a English born man of a Scottish Father, that I should route for Andy Murray. I do not. I am not a huge Tennis fan, not since Agassi and Nike parted company at least, but I have never found Murray compelling, regardless of nationality. I have, however, a huge respect for Rafael Nadal, a man who trained to use his less-dominant hand to play because this would reap reward. I also find hims game more enjoyable to watch, and his fashion sense is a further selling point, so despite never having been anywhere near Spain, I’d support the Spaniard over my compatriot. Similarly, I have many favourite athletes, admittedly often based on a self-fulfilling premise of being attracted to and admiring excellence (which provides the reinforcement of your guys and girls winning), any the factors involved in my preference of them over others is rarely related something as arbitrary as patriotism. Sure, the nature of propinquity means I am more exposed to British sportsmen and women, and as such more likely to discover their background, become encapsulated by their story, and follow them with keen interest and investment in their success, but this is something that I at least acknowledge as a disconcerting skew (even if I do still route for a favourite knowing that I could be as impressed by their opponent, were I to know more of them).

However, with all this in mind, this time around I can’t help my childish excitement, and I’m buying into the “Go Team GB”ethos of the media that exposes itself most readily to me. I’m even hoping for British victories in events that I know our athletes are not currently performing as “best in the world”, which to me is normally a huge factor in deciding who I hope to win. The belief that some deserve success more because they are, simply put, greater, causes me as much intellectual conflict as patriotism, however I still want Usain to humble those others unfortunate enough to be born into his era, as if this affirmation of the ‘correct order of things’ is a positive. I can see how this desire of mine undermines the nature of competition, the notion that concepts such as ability and performance are fluid and the rankings can fluctuate between athletes during their careers isn’t one I’m able to fully adopt; to me the best should have been undefeated and any instance where they were bested is an aberration.

So yeah, I’m all over the place going into these Olympics, but will be back tomorrow with some of the things that have me much more intrigued than 4 years ago, when I spent several days in the capital largely ignoring (not quite boycotting) the games to the point we didn’t even watch the much-heralded track & field night where everything happened, and to this day am not sure if it was dubbed “Super/Golden Saturday” (nor am I a million percent convinced it was definitely Saturday, but I seem to recall going out for noodles, stopping over the getting a Sunday service train back, frustratingly being barred from transporting a bike I’d been gifted on the tube as it was prohibited during the Olympics, oh the delicious irony).

[EDIT – interestingly, the morning before I posted this, Facebook ran with an advert to get people interacting about Rio, with a slogan along the lines of ‘competition brings us all closer together’, which I very much guess is the Olympic spirit that so many non-sports fans get on board with, and perhaps this mentality is missing from me to my detriment. Not sure exactly what I think about this yet, but certainly won’t go thought-hungry thanks to this. Cheers Zuckerberg, wait until I’ve written a damn blog before showing me the light!]

 

 

 

 

So Star Trek made a Star Wars & The Furious film…..

It is with great regret that I find myself compelled to discuss, with some negativity, the most recent installment of the Star Trek Reboot film series, the Justin Lin Directed and J.J.Abrams produced Star Trek: Beyond.

Right-off the bat I’m going to throw it out there – despite my lifelong affinity to the number 13, as an installment of the Trek film franchise I must say that this is quite possibly, unluckily, the worst, possibly even dethroning the previous series low-light of Insurrection (and in this context ‘throne’ is indeed applicable to the bathroom euphemism).

To take care of a little admin I should point out that I’d not been especially opposed to the reboot – having been raised initially in The Next Generation (TNG) I didn’t hold the characters of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura et al as sacrosanct, and am not particularly precious about The Original Series (TOS), and really enjoyed Into Darkness (having been admittedly somewhat reticent to myself after the retconn’ing of Star Trek (reboot). I made the conscious effort not to overthink it, matters more urgent and all that, and chose to come into Beyond having pretty much ignored any hype – I’d not even taken from the trailers what the plot was even going to be about.

Unfortunately, this attitude seems to be the one taken by those making the film also, as it appears that “overthinking” was certainly not going to be an issue – indeed perhaps the lack of plot apparent from the trailers was merely symptomatic of a lacking in the film as a whole, which quite presumably resultant of leaving it in the hands of the guy behind the Fast & the Furious films (an admitted guilty pleasure of mine), boiled down to several barely clarified action sequences padded out for 122 mins.

There was, at least for us Star Trek geeks, enjoyment to be had with the requisite in-jokes and knowing-nods, and the continued character development should provide some insight to those viewers who’ve not come into the reboot with fully-formed understandings of whom they believe each character to be, but largely speaking, the film was far more focused on shaky-camera chases through blinding explosions either on-board the Enterprise, or on the planet surface/space-station that serve as equal-share hosts of the film. Oftentimes I found myself comparing it to the flying=shooty things chase scenes through a forest in one of the pre-prequel Star Wars movies, whereby the protagonists are speeding around a terrain unknowable to the viewer, with almost incomprehensible levels of stuff going on which does little to create any real tension given that, you know, the characters involved are clearly too important to be killed off at this juncture (and in the Trek examples, not Red-Shirted).

As they story unfolds, we find that a small group of “Aliens” seek to undermine the established socio-political climate by blowing everything up until people think best to leave well alone, the analogy for the West’s struggles with Islamic State Terrorism are as uncomfortable as they are clumsy. Then there’s the big plot reveal, you know, after a bunch more absurd action sequences that includes (but by no means limited to) Kirk expertly speeding a motorcycle around a rocky terrain he’s never encountered, only to do the flying off a vehicle mid-air person catch that happened probably on a bridge (?) with Vin Diesel in another of the Director’s nonsense fest movies designed more to keep aloft the straightened arms of frat-boys cheering on anything adrenaline, as opposed to actually providing genuine intrigue as to the welfare of those characters well-crafted to earn the investment of the audience.

I’m most certainly missing much, somewhat deliberately so, somewhat as I began to deliberately forget much of this film even whilst I watched. There was the planet-dwelling alien outcast, hiding away from said Terror cell and, having allegedly raised herself, successfully evaded their capture by becoming a self-taught expert in technological engineering, martial combat and guerrilla strategy who was seemingly given the depth of character to be a strong-female as well as potential romantic intrigue for the returning characters, as well as some comic-relief (referring repeatedly to “Mr Scotty”, oh the japes!).

In fact, I’m even missing the big plot reveal I myself introduced in the paragraph prior! Well then gentle reader, prepare for an ex post facto confabulation from yours truly, as it’s almost certain that given the time of release this cannot be deliberate, however perhaps I should be more forgiving of the film as it does offer such prescience, but the final twist comes in when the Terrorist leader is unveiled to be, originally, a former Starfleet officer, now jaded and opposed to the United Federation of Planets (European Union, anyone?!). Fittingly played by a Brit, this baddie (and he is, having used alien technology to prolong his life to the sacrifice of the enslaved race inhabiting the planet, not to mention the whole Terrorist attacks aspect) wants to stimulate a separation of Earth from the wider conglomerate, using militaristic jargon to justify his disdain for the ‘insipid’ (did Quark call it “insidious”? Like root beer?) Federation and it’s ideological weaknesses of compassion and co-operation as the reason for the difficulties faced by Team Human and gods-chosen planet, Earth. If this wasn’t a painful and timely reminder of the narrow-mindedness employed in much of the Brexit rhetoric, then Idris isn’t more believable as a Baltimore Drugs Baron than as a Londoner…..

Oh yeah, one final gripe – so the swarmy unbeatable killer spacecraft, numbering in their billions, kick the hind-teeth of the Enterprise in seconds, basically obliterating it, and no my problem isn’t with their failure to defeat the archaic and mothballed wreckage that the crew eventually escape the planet on (explained with an actually rather brilliantly gratuitous scene, heavily borrowing from a ploy used to best The Borg with a huge nod to Kirk’s formative years in the reboot, whereby those Boys Entering Anarchistic States Towards Internal Excellence quite literally manage to Sabotage Mr Elba’s evilest ploy). The real issue here is, given how amazingly effective, with a shockingly harrowing incessant and inevitably destructive method the ‘swarm’ is, why isn’t this weaponry deployed to achieve the desired effect of devastation and fear, instead of the elaborate protracted plan to get some bio-weapon that, whilst demonstrated as moral comeuppance on a self-serving rival captain who betrays Kirk, isn’t actually nearly as horrific as that already at his disposal.

Star Trek is supposed to be better, more cerebral than Star Wars, but by relying so heavily on  set-piece action sequences, and ultimately leaving it in the hands of the people that gave you either those drive-fast shooty films / the most recent Star Wars nonsense, Trek really only has itself to blame, and has gone Beyond the outer limits of Gene Roddenberry’s universe and disappointingly visited those of George Lucas.

 

 

Stages 3 – the ill-advised 3rd Chapter

So on Saturday* we had a ‘master class’ presented by Stages’ own Neil Troutman at our facility, in preparation for which I’d ensured to forward my second review to the company, in case they wanted to fore-warn (/fore-arm? Or is that the Popeye thing?) their guy of my issues. There’d been some confusion as to whether there would be separate sessions for the venues class instructors and another for us class participants, and given low numbers registering interest, a decision was made to run a single ‘master class’, after the two regular instructor-led classed that morning, which allowed Neil to participate in the second class himself and provide feedback directly to one of the instructors.

Alas, only 4 instructors were in attendance, all of whom are freelancers; there wasn’t a single employee of our gym present, although it should be said that these 4 do take probably 8 of the 15 classes on our weekly schedule, and the majority of the remaining classes are taken by different freelance instructors. In addition to these, there was perhaps 5 members also in attendance.

The format of the ‘master class’ was quite sensible, Neil took us all through a regular session before a Q&A session. The class was easy-access, in as much as it didn’t require much in the way of pre-existing benchmarks – I mention this because Neil does teach focused classes in his own studios that are based around Zone Training and Functional Threshold Power, testing his participants at the start of a period thus allowing them to work to their own individualised Power & Heart Rate targets. The class we experienced was deliberately more basic, after a very light 7 minute warm-up (which he rightly suggested may be best to do in the “Warm-up” mode offered by the SC3 computer so as not to ruin your stats later) with 4 working blocks each of 4 minutes, comparing our distance set against that from the previous working phase, with resistance and cadence variations prescribed by Neil. To the best of my memory, from scrutinizing the output data file (more on this later), the working phases went vaguely as below, with my results parenthesised for reference:

  1. 4 Minutes 80-90 RPM (avg. 230 Watts, Distance 1.55)
  2. 4 Minutes 90-100 RPM (avg. 299 Watts, Distance 1.72)
  • 4 Minutes 70 RPM (avg. 273 Watts, Distance 1.64)
  1. 4 Minutes 90 RPM (avg. 327 Watts, Distance 1.77) – this may have been “dealers choice” with the aim to better the previous distance.

As seems to be recurrent with our studio since the refurbishment, acoustic issues were presumably to blame for my missing an instruction between the first and second phases (although I was at the time adamant it wasn’t made), which had me taking the resistance up at the same time as increasing the cadence, which would have smashed the Distance goal I’d set, but I hadn’t planned to ride in what I presumed to be a taught session with a lower-back that was in spasm, and I didn’t fancy trying to sustain near 500 Watts for 4 minutes (which I doubt I could do fresh and fit!). The misunderstanding revolved around the application on the “SprintShift” lever, which Neil later explained does indeed represent two full revolutions of the resistance knob for each increment on the lever. IIRC we had finished the first working phase (i) on the 1 O’clock position, I didn’t hear an instruction to return the SprintShift to 11 O’clock, and consequently when asked to increase the resistance by [number now lost to failings in memory!] turns of the knob, I was in double trouble (faster and heavier). This illustrates one of my issues with the resistance system, as it either relies upon a continual progression and reference to the previous setting (which very intensely hinges on an instructor accurately conveying demands, each participant hearing and their fitness mapping similarly to one-another) or using the 0-turn position as the starting point, requiring the rider to reset between tracks. In the former, one missed instruction, either by participant or instructor, can result in a completely unintended scenario where a rider (/the whole class!) attempts something way off the plan.

[*Non-sequitous confession EDIT – I’m actually returning to write this blogpost after ‘parking’ it for possibly months, and the Saturday in question was now a fair, fair while ago! So this may no-longer flow, but I’m a lazy man and too arrogant to discard/re-write that which I’d already committed to paper, as it were]

The class, from my opinion, was a very intriguing format for training, but not as fun as those sessions primarily driven by music. Neil himself admitted that we only pedalled ‘on the beat’ for a limited period of one track, and whilst it covered several different types of training, it did lack the seemingly unpredictable variations in effort-intensity that occur when a workout is slave to the music – which to me better replicates the nuances of sport whereby external factors dictate when and how hard you have to work. These sessions with their unacceptably short recovery just because some band love them a long-chorus and a short bridge kick my lazy posterior into forcing myself through intervals I’d never make myself do, in a great allegory for chasing a frustrating opponent who won’t stop attacking, and when ordered somewhat randomly tracks can be used to create something way closer to a sporting contest than anything more deliberate can ever offer.

Now, part of my delay in writing this response relates to Mr Troutman himself. I found him very charismatic and likeable, engaging and knowledgeable, and since meeting him I have read-up on his work and he comes across as an absolutely passionate enthusiast for his craft. In short, I’m really quite sold on him, however, take some issue with the fact that a class-instructor (whose session he sat in on) went away feeling demotivated and chastised from Neil’s feedback. I’m not sure if this verged on criticism deliberately, as the conviction with which Neil preaches his strong beliefs about how indoor cycling should be taught could suggest he’s not afraid to ‘put noses out’ as it were, but the upshot is an instructor whose classes I genuinely cherish to the point I’ve dragged my partner back early from a holiday to make, lost confidence teaching on bikes that he’d already found limiting compared to the Keiser M3. Debate’s about the efficacy of various ‘moves’ and ‘gimmicks’ in group cycling can wait for another day, and I know Neil runs a programme of CPD for qualified instructors and recently presented a workshop on how to teach the same tracklist on bikes of various types, but I am already digressing far-too-far from the equipment review that this I had intended this to be.

During the Q&A session Neil did shed some gems of Stages insight that helped two of the issues I’d mentioned in my previous instalments. My handlebars were by this point so wobbly that I made point to ensure that even whilst teaching Neil could see me repeatedly knowing the ‘Fitloc’ lever back into place. Much to my blushes, he politely demonstrated that a simple ‘righty-tighty’ on the locking pin alleviated this, although this is a maintenance trick you’d hope was communicated via manual or staff training (although as mentioned, the engagement between our gym/staff and the manufacturers hasn’t been superb). Further, some of the inconsistencies with read-outs (such as the preposterously enormous wattage the instructor bike had been showing) were explained as likely due to calibration issues, and a simple “zero reset” procedure should improve accuracy. For posterity, this is achieved by activating the computer with a few turns of the pedal and entering ‘warm-up mode, From here, set the left crank with the power-metre on it to the ‘down’ pedal position and wait for it to rest motionless, then press and hold the left-hand “Light” button until the screen informs you that the procedure has been successful. Mr Troutman did suggest that during installation, the drive-train itself may not be correctly tensioned, and this potentially can result in an inaccurately difficult ride should there be excess frictional resistance.

Neil then fielded expertly (and professionally) all manner of questions, of varying quality from intriguing to self-fulfillingly mundane, regarding training methodology, bike-fit, musical inspiration and compatibility/functionality of applications and devices. But for me, the most beneficial answers were those above, that could well have been made available to the club in the first place, and have improved my experience of the SC3 noticeably – knowledge several members and myself have paid forwards repeatedly.

So after what must be 6 months now, where do I stand on the SC3? Well, it no-longer angers me to the point of walking out of class’s mid-way through, but how much of this is due to a greater understanding and appreciation versus an increased apathetic amotivation, I am undecided. I am admittedly learning how many turns of the resistance knob I should expect to require for those tracks I am most familiar with, and getting my head around the wattage I can hope to average. I’m also slowly coming to terms with the ego-deflation of attaining around 2/3 the average power at the end of a SC3 session compared to my best figure on the Keiser M3. In summation I guess the SC3 is not as bad as I initially painted it to be, but nor is it anywhere near as good as I believe it should have been, regardless how time and familiarity are skewing my disdain.

As an incongruent epilogue to all this, and in truth a large motivator behind my rekindling of this post, as impressed as I was when Stages contacted me in response to my sending them the first instalment of this review, I am humbled and flattered by the communication I’ve received from Keiser, whom beyond tweeting a “I miss you” message regarding the swap from their product, I’ve made no attempt to contact regarding this matter (although I’m sure I sought clarification on the M3’s power algorithm on a couple of occasions, to little avail). As they contacted me via a comment on my first post, I’ll leave it in the readers hands to see for themselves how their company has responded to my feedback, but I will state at this stage that I am hugely excited by their contact and hugely hopeful that it will come to fruition. Watch this space…..

So I’m trying to complete Trip Advisor…..

I’m not entirely sure when or why it came to my attention that the internet had provided a vehicle ideal for anyone with the same balance between being overly opinionated and time-rich as myself. It occurs to me that it might have only been pointed out to me once I actively started to have a more positive outlook and impact on the world, from my previous level of Victor Meldrew curmudgeonliness. In any case, I’m aware that I’ve taken to highlighting the positives, and where possible sharing praise and recommendation for places and people who provide enjoyable experiences, and that Trip Advisor seems to be a sensible outlet for this. I’ve resisted my more instinctive tendencies, to a moderate level of success, and have rarely ‘gone to town’ berating a place, or used the medium as an opportunity to indulge my well-honed brand of needlessly slagging something off to excess.

At first, the idea of congratulating those that do well fueled my desire, and I was more than happy to wax-lyrical about the eateries that I’ve consistently enjoyed, although part of the reward was admittedly the opportunity to point-out the flaws of those places that do aggravate my sensibilities, either by insinuation or via full-on comparison. But in any case, as a man who prefers familiarity, I started to run out of places to review, and the motivation to ‘Advise Trippers’ (a phrasing I’m pretty certain was met with eye-rolls at best during any marketing meeting where it unveiled its unpleasant face) soon waned. But then something peculiar started to happen, amidst the plethora of nonsense junk mail one receives (especially with a gender non-specific email address), several messages came through to inform me that I had “readers”. Now even my ego is able to accept that these “readers” were at best people clicking on a page where my words happened to reside, and the corresponding number of individuals who’d taken the time to comment or vote any reviews as “helpful” suggest few were actually reading, and even fewer were in any way enjoying. But that, of course, mattered little; I had an audience! Finally! Actual people (outside of a splattering of Facebook friends bored witless at their desk jobs) are potentially receiving my opinions, which of course, I think is great. From here, the claws of power sunk in, and incentivised by megalomania, I became a serial Trip Advisor.

Well no actually, for once my needy lust for listeners, had little bearing on my behaviour. Instead, I fell for the system of awards and congratulations that the site uses. Like a child furiously acquiring Pokémon for little justification beyond the insidious message that “you got to”, I’ve become a willing slave to the pursuit of collection (which, if you look at my relationship with, say, sneaker purchasing, you’ll realise is far from unusual). I now find myself assembling a resume of rewards, badges and other such titles, in addition to the reinforcement messages congratulating me on what was initially “hundreds” and now “thousands” of, “readers”. Remarkably, this has not only had an influence on my behaviours as they pertain to writing self-important opinionated reviews for the sake of my internet persona, but it seems to also be affecting my outlook on life itself and my actions in it. By training, I’m a man well-suited to the ergonomic groove he’s set himself into, firmly sticking my ways around me. However, in order to jump through the hoops (salivating as I am) held by this website, I need to provide it with increasingly more content, and what was once a wholesome indulgence in saying some nice things about the few places I frequently-frequent, has now become a motivator for not just opinion, but also action.

It all starts, as any such ‘foot-in-the-door’ sales do, with simple freebies. First, you’re thanked for submitting a review, and then informed when it has been posted. Next, you are informed just how many “readers” and “travellers” have “enjoyed” your reviews, with the hint that they’d benefit more should you be so kind as to share your views on yet more stuff. It even offers helpful hints on places you may also like to comment on. This presents the first of many advertisements to you as a reviewer, as clever computer-math has presumably been applied and now you’re facing a list of places that either you have tried, or presumably by the Kevin-Baconny interrelatedness of such things, probably should check out. Much to the pleasure of my meal-maligned partner, the seeds of venturing off of the beaten path were being sown……

But time passes, and as life occurs around you, such notions are often sidelined, instead a continuation of the norm predictably assumes the forefront of actuality; in times of need (or opportunity, depending on your outlook to such things) you find yourself opting for those trusted places that you know work. Consequently, your TripAdvising goes stagnant, forgotten like your MySpace page (note to self, do check to see if my MySpace page even still exists). But, unlike that guy Tom (it was Tom, wasn’t it?), who for all intents and purposes chucked in the towel after doffing his cap to Mark Zuckerberg, TripAdvisor is a tenacious buddy, pursuing you with the veracity of a stalker, whilst maintaining the boundaries just the right side of restraining order. Fine, you may not have added TA to your contacts and the communiques may appear only in your Junk Mail, but you don’t take the step to actually block them as a sender. And every now and then, as we all know, we do feel the need to check the junk, y’know, ‘coz you never know…..

Then it’s there. In black and white (or blue and white or, well, I guess you can probably customize e-mail accounts endlessly), you, little old you, are in the X% of reviewers, with further qualifiers of area, and probably age/gender demographics. The bar is set admittedly low, but with the human ego, you are stirred by the notion that you are one of the more read people exactly like yourself, suddenly Homer is grateful to be the one to get Homer Simpson’s syndrome. Sure, you know it is sunshine inserting itself into your rectum, but it does give you a warm-glow around the perineum. From here on in, the competitiveness takes over, and before you know it, your motivation for meals now includes a nod to what badge an establishment can help you achieve – have we been to somewhere that counts as a “Hotel” in Suffolk? That’d earn double credits! Next comes the inevitable trade-off in quality; whereas once you typed from the heart, passionately sharing the best and worst experiences in a humanitarian attempt to assist others, to acknowledge and admonish. Now, you’re happy to think up the requisite 100 characters to get you the points, cheapening the whole endeavour irreconcilably.

Sure, I have managed to find the time to send the occasional gushing gratitude to those places that have really deserved it, but more oft I’ve phoned-in a sub-standard, partially accurate and barely checked string of words that vaguely might convey whatever I immediately recalled about a place whenever I get around to creating a flurry of reviews to maximise the efficiency of my TripAdvising.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this blogging is cutting into my score…..