Tag Archives: Olympics

Engagement

On the heels of yesterday’s stunning announcement that a top State Department official would actually meet with Iranians, the Guardian has quite a bombshell:

The US plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years as part of a remarkable turnaround in policy by President George Bush.

The Guardian has learned that an announcement will be made in the next month to establish a US interests section – a halfway house to setting up a full embassy. The move will see US diplomats stationed in the country.

Wow.

If true this really is shocking. After nearly 8 full years of steadfastly opposing any sort of engagement with Iran Bush is going to send diplomats to Tehran? Talk about Obama defining the middle of the debate. Bush has until now defined the far right position on Iran, yet now all of a sudden he’s awfully close to Obama.

In related news of our opening with Iran, the State Department and the NBA teamed up to bring the Iranian men’s basketball team to the United States for their pre-Olympic warmup.

NEW YORK, July 15, 2008—The Basketball Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its FIBA Asia Champion men’s national basketball team have been invited by the NBA, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State, to compete against NBA teams and the NBA Development League Ambassadors over the next six days in Utah. As part of its trip, the Iranian national team will participate in the Rocky Mountain Revue presented by StoresOnline, the Utah Jazz-hosted summer league.

The Iranian national team will play four games during its stay in Utah as part of its preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games, which will be played in Beijing, China. In addition to games and scrimmages, the team will also observe NBA team practices and engage NBA and D-League players and coaches in basketball dialogue. The team will also have the opportunity to visit American cultural sites.

Not a huge deal on its own, but in the context of the last couple of days it is yet another sign of increased US engagement with Iran. Overall, this is great news both for the US and the world. Engagement with Iran is a good thing that will ease international tensions. It will make it easier to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, especially with the direct, high-level talks. Who knew Bush cared about his legacy so much?

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When is Performance Enhancement Cheating?

Everyone is more or less united that taking steroids, HGH or other performance enhancing drugs is bad. But where should we draw the line? There has been a lot of argument about whether Oscar Pistorious’ blades give him an unfair advantage and whether he should be allowed to compete in the Olympics against able bodied athletes.

This column by Arthur Caplan raises some interesting questions.  Perhaps his most interesting point, in terms of performance enhancement relates to enhanced eyesight.

Tiger Woods is probably one of the greatest golfers of all time. But, his vision was so poor that he was almost legally blind without contact lenses or glasses. In 1999, he had laser surgery on his eyes and his vision improved to better than 20/20. He had another procedure performed last year leaving him not only with improved vision, but better vision than most humans. Does laser-eye surgery that improves vision past 20/20 confer an unfair advantage on Tiger? And what’s the difference between superhuman legs and superhuman sight?

The difference would be even bigger in sports that rely on eyesight more than golf. A baseball player who uses laser eye surgery to achieve 20/10 vision is almost certainly gaining a bigger advantage at the plate than someone like Barry Bonds, who uses drugs to get stronger. Yet we universally think that laser eye surgery is ok while steroids aren’t. Why?

The other point that Caplan makes against performance enhancing additions like laser eye surgery and Pistorious’ blades is the continuity of sport.

Sport demands continuity with its own history. If you make technological changes in the equipment — swimsuits, pole vaults, running shoes, skates, skis, baseballs, bats, playing surfaces, etc — then you undermine the ability of today’s athletes to be compared not only with their peers but with their predecessors.

Similarly, if people with artificial legs, artificial eyes that permit exquisite focus, pharmacologically enhanced muscles or emotions, or brain implants that permit unprecedented concentration or endurance enter into competition, then you no longer have a sport. The athletes are not comparable to those who attempted the same feats in earlier times.

The example of this that I am most familiar with is the new Speedo swim suit that significantly reduces drag and improves times.

Professor Jean-Francois Toussaint, author of a respected study on the limits of human physiology, recently had to update his statistics after a series of 33 records tumbled in world pools, mostly thanks to the best swimmers choosing the new Speedo LZR racer.

“The suit allows gains of about two percent from previously fixed values, therefore it is possible to imagine the 100-metres freestyle could be swum in 46 seconds, or 50 metres in 20.5 seconds,” Toussaint said.

The flip side is that is simply about progress.

“Yes, the swimmers today have advantages that let them go faster than swimmers ten years ago,” said Isaac. “However, that’s the nature of sport, whether it’s tennis rackets or golf clubs or new running shoes or the composition of running tracks. I wouldn’t say it cheapens it, but yes, they have an advantage over those in the past. All the people now have access to the same technology, so the best swimmer is still winning.”

My response is basically that there will always be improvements. If not in technology then in techniques, training and diet. Is it an unfair advantage for athletes to train at high altitude, or to higher a better coach who is better at teaching a new technique.

Swimming records in particular fall for all sorts of reasons. Techniques improve, training methods improve and diets improve. Between 1960 and 1970, with no major technological advancements in swimsuits, the World Record in the 400 meter individual medley fell from 5.07.80 to 4.31.00. that is a gigantic fall. The record now, after advancements in swimsuit technology and all, is 4.06.22.

There is an equity issue here though.

Ah, but therein lies the rub. Every athlete doesn’t have access to this technology. When it comes to the Olympics, some countries have contractual obligations to other manufacturers.

In many sports, say basketball and badminton, this is a moot point — a pair of shoes won’t make any real difference. But increasingly it’s clear that for swimming, a suit has a major impact on performance.

I’m not sure what the best answer is. But it certainly doesn’t seem like the best option is to ban laser eye surgery, new swimsuits and other enhancers.

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Pistorious Gets to Run

It looks like the double amputee sprinter may get a chance to run in the Olympics after all:

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius won his appeal Friday and can compete for a place in the Beijing Olympics.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the 21-year-old South African is eligible to race against able-bodied athletes, overturning a ban imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

CAS said the unanimous ruling goes into effect immediately.

“I am ecstatic,” Pistorius told reporters in Milan, Italy. “When I found out, I cried. It is a battle that has been going on for far too long. It’s a great day for sport. I think this day is going to go down in history for the equality of disabled people.”

Despite the ruling he still has an uphill climb. He’s been focusing heavily on his appeal and hasn’t been training as much:

“A lot of the time we’ve had this year we’ve devoted to the court case,” Pistorius said. “Now when I get home, my time can be dedicated to training. I am going to have to start thinking about getting my body in shape in order to run those [qualifying] times. I am hopeful there will be enough time but it is going to be very difficult.

His other chance would be to make the South African relay team, which wouldn’t require him to run the Olympic qualifying time, which he hasn’t gotten yet.

This is great news. Pistorious is an inspiration to people all over the world and the IAAF’s contention that the blades he uses to run are somehow an advantage, despite the fact that he has no legs below the knee, defied logic. I’ll be glad to see Pistorious get a chance to run for the Olympics.

This E:60 feature on Pistorious is about the best overview of his situation I have seen.

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