With the World Cup just a year away, that means this year will have the FIFA Confederations Cup. Back in 2013, I did a focus on the Confederations Cup and why it’s an important tournament. This year’s Confederations Cup is important as well. Not just because the Cup is a growing tournament but also for the host country of Russia.
Russia is already a country controversial enough with the way they do politics. Hosting next year’s World Cup is also considered controversial as there’s question on how Russia won their bid and FIFA’s process in achieving the victories for both Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. All I can say in this matter is I don’t have the research on that and things will have to sort themselves out over the year’s time leading up to the World Cup.
While the World Cup will be contested in twelve stadiums in Russia next year, this Confederations Cup will be contested in four stadiums. All four being ‘fresh’ stadiums which are either just now breaking ground or have broken ground only within the past five years:
- Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow – This will be one of two stadiums in Moscow that will stage the World Cup. Located in the Tushino area of Moscow, this stadium is the home venue for Spartak Moscow. Completed in 2014, this stadium seats just over 45,000 people.
- Krestovsky Stadium, Saint Petersburg – This 68,000-seat stadium may have just broken ground this year but it took ten years to complete. Problems from construction management to changing contractors to problems with its conditions have plagued the stadium and its construction but it will finally be ready for the Confederations Cup. Built on Krestovsky Island, the stadium is also the host venue for the football team FC Zenit.
- Kazan Arena, Kazan – Completed in 2013, this 45,000-seat stadium has the largest outside screen in Europe. The stadium has hosted events like the 2013 World Student Games and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships. The stadium is also the home venue for Russian Premier League team Rubin Kazan.
- Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi – Remember the $51 billion Sochi Winter Olympics? This is the host stadium which hosted the ceremonies and held the Olympic flame. Determined not to have it become a ‘white elephant,’ the stadium is now the home venue for Russian Professional Football League team FC Sochi. In addition, it will also host six World Cup games next year.
The tournament begins Saturday the 17th. There will be eight teams. Six are winners of their continent’s respective championship, Germany qualified as winner of the World Cup and Russia qualifies as host nation. Here’s how the teams stack up. FIFA rankings for June 2017 are the numbers in brackets:
-Russia (63): Russia is an enigma in football right now. The team has a lot of talent but constantly misses in delivering in major tournaments and qualifying events. Such examples include qualifying for three World Cups since the USSR dissolved and failing to qualify for the knockout round each time. Another example is the Euro tournament: semifinalists in 2008 but out in the Group Stage in 2012 and 2016. Trying coaches from other countries like Guus Huddink and Fabio Capello have delivered sub-par results.
Russia has yet to prove its current team since Euro 2016. The team consists of a Russian coach and all but one of the lineup for the Cup play for teams in the Russian Premier League. 2017 has not been the best to Russia as they lost 2-0 to the Ivory Coast and drew 3-3 against Belgium and 1-1 against Chile. They did however score a 3-0 win against Hungary. Remember that football is a box of surprises as Pele always says and Russia could end up surprising everyone here.
-New Zealand (95): New Zealand can be either a very good team or a bad team. It qualified for the 2010 World Cup and drew in all of its games. However it hasn’t made much of an impact since. The current line-up of the all-blacks only features one player that plays for a team in a major European League (France’s Ligue 1). The Kiwis have been dominant against teams from Oceania but have struggled against teams from other continents such as a 1-1 draw against the US and losses to Belarus, Northern Ireland and Mexico. If they don’t go far here, they can always learn in time for next year.
-Portugal (8): Portugal is a team of surprises. The team went from lackluster group play in Euro 2016 to becoming Cup champions. Portugal has since maintained its reputation as one of the best teams in the world with excellent play in World Cup qualifying and continuing to win most of their games. However they have had some notable losses such as a 2-0 loss to Switzerland in September and a 3-2 loss to Sweden in March. Portugal can either be very on or very off here in Russia. The next two weeks will decide their fate.
-Mexico (17): Mexico has always been seen as the leader of the CONCACAF. They hope to take it even further by proving themselves among the best in the world. However it’s come at a struggle as they’ve ended their last six World Cups in the Round of 16. Mexico have had a lot of good wins in the last 12 months to teams like Ireland, Iceland and Costa Rica and even had a 1-1 draw against the US. However they’ve had a 2-1 loss to Croatia and a 7-0 loss to Chile at the Copa America. The World Cup may be one year away but now is a good chance for Mexico to prove itself on the world stage.
Prediction: This is a tough one but I predict the two qualifiers to the semis to be Mexico and Portugal, but don’t count out a possible surprise from Mother (?) Russia.
-Cameroon (32): Cameroon have been one of the most consistent African teams. However their play in the last two decades have been far from their glory days in the early 90’s. The team has worked hard to become better and more consistent since the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup where they finished dead last. The current squad has many players from many leagues. The team hasn’t had the best chances at proving themselves since. In the past twelve months, they’ve either won or tied every game, but they’ve all been against African teams. The Confederations Cup is a chance for them to prove themselves and where they stand.
–Chile (4): We can have a long discussion about the ‘sleeping giants’ in football waiting for their big moment to arrive. Chile would be one of them. They have been underestimated in the past and have even gone out in the Round Of 16 in the past two World Cups; and to Brazil both times. However Chile has seized the moment at both the 2015 and 2016 Copa Americas by winning their first-ever Copas. Chile now wants to prove its greatness on the world stage, but they have had an up-and-down period since Copa 2016. They’ve had wins against Uruguay, Colombia and Iceland, but they’ve also had losses to Romania and Argentina and even drew against Russia 1-1 just a week ago. Chile will have to seize the moment if they want to prove themselves further.
–Australia (48): Since Australia was switched from the Oceania federation to the AFC after their Round of 16 surprise at World Cup 2006, bigger and better things were anticipated from them. Instead it’s been the opposite with losing in the Group Stage these past two World Cups. Australia hopes to put itself back as a powerhouse. However they’ve had a mixed bag of results in the past twelve months ranging from a 1-0 win against Greece to a 4-0 loss to Brazil. Anything can happen here in Russia and Australia could possibly find itself among the frontrunners.
-Germany (3): The current holders of the World Cup appear to be the heavy favorites to win here. They’ve maintained a consistency even with new members added to the national team ever since. However they’ve had their difficulties too. The semifinal loss at Euro 2016 showed they still have some elements of team unity and other glitches to work on. Since Euro, Germany have not had a loss. They’ve had wins against England and the Czechs but have also drawn 0-0 against Italy and 1-1 against Denmark. They have what it takes to win the Cup here. They just have to deliver.
Prediction: Long shots can pull surprises but I’m going to go with my best instincts and predict Germany and Chile to be this group’s two qualifiers.
And there’s my look at the confederations Cup and the competing teams. Winner to be decided on Sunday July 2nd. Possible more blogs to come, depending on how many hits I get with this.
I know I’ve done individual reviews of Best Picture nominees in the past. This year I thought I’d try something new. I thought I’d do summaries of the nominees. Three blogs analyzing three of the nominees. It’s something new this year and I hope you like it. For my first summary, I’ll be reviewing the first three Best Picture nominees I saw: Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge and Moonlight.
When you learn Arrival is about aliens, I’m sure you have an idea of what you’d anticipate what a movie about aliens would be about. However, you’re in for a big surprise.
This is probably the first movie about aliens to earn a Best Picture nomination. The film appears to set up for a story that would most likely lead to big-time action sequences. Instead we get a film that’s very intellectual in dealing with aliens. Don’t forget Louise is a linguistics professor who was hired for this duty because of her language expertise. In this film, the focus is on communication. Louise has a way to communicate with the aliens and earn their trust even while those around her grow more hostile to the beings. Louise’s gift for communication goes beyond the aliens and she’s able to say to General Shang the words his late wife said to her. It’s like she has a sense for this.
Even with all this, the film is not just about aliens and preventing a human-alien war. The film is about Louise trying to heal after her daughter’s death. Her marriage is no more as well and she’s looking for her purpose. It’s even about Louise and her ability to foresee the future and the possibilities they can unfold. Louise is the central protagonist whom the whole story revolves around. She finds her true gifts at a time she least expects it and she’s able to find her life again. It’s almost like this alien invasion is like a godsend to her life. Right after her daughter dies, she learns of her purpose to the world and to others.
Denis Villeneuve did a top job of directing this film. He already has a reputation for films like Maelstrom, Incendies and Sicario. He’s also been hired to do the Blade Runner sequel. This film he directs is very tricky but he does all the right work for it. The script by Eric Heisserer is very smart and very deep. It does a very good job of getting the right moments of action and the right moments of drama pieced out.
The story also rested on the performance of Amy Adams. She knew the story was primarily about Louise and she had to make it work. Although the role didn’t have too much in terms of character development, her performance was solid and it held the story together. The supporting performers may not have had as big of roles but they still did well with their performances. Jeremy Renner definitely could have had more depth in his role. The music from Johann Johannson and Max Richter fit the movie perfectly. The visual effects were also excellent and just what the movie needed.
Arrival is a very intelligent movie. It’s an alien movie not like one you’d anticipate at first but you will leave the theatre pleased.
Mel Gibson is back. This time he has Hacksaw Ridge. It’s a war drama that’s about more than just the war.
This film makes for an interesting topic: conscientious objection. I know all about it. For years I went to a Protestant church where the people were known for their anti-war beliefs. Conscientious objection is something that’s bound to make one question their morals and even act out of hostility. I know that we have conservative pundits who insist that fighting in a war is the definition of patriotism and will even use scriptures to justify why was is the right thing. Upon release of this film, I was anticipating a conservative backlash against it. So far no ‘Diss The Doss’ movement has happened. No movement to have his Medal Of Honor posthumously revoked. Nothing. It’s a good thing because the film does make one reconsider what defines a ‘patriot.’ I’m glad this story was told.
One of the biggest complaints from conservatives in the last 40 years has been either the negative depictions of religion or lack of positive depictions of religion in movies. True, this is not the Hollywood where the Hays Code calls the shots. For those that read my review of Of Gods And Men, I have a quote from Barbara Nicolosi about why that’s the problem. That explains why it’s hard to get a pro-religion movie to compete for Best Picture nowadays. There’s a fine line of showing a film with a positive depiction of Christianity without it being schmaltzy, hokey or overly sentimental. Plus with all the ‘game changers’ in the last few decades, writing a winning script or creating a winning film is just that much of a challenge.
I feel they did a very good job in Hacksaw Ridge. It was a very good story of the persecution Desmond Doss had to face for his beliefs. It was a very gritty story of the war and all the damage it caused. Some say the graphicness was comparable to Saving Private Ryan. It was an honest portrayal about someone’s faith. However there was one point when I felt it was borderlining on hokey during the scenes of: “Please, Lord. Help me find one more.” I know that was something Doss said in real life but I’m just wondering if it could have been done better.
This film is the first film directed by Mel Gibson in a decade. I know he had to take a break as he had a very public meltdown with the things he said about others and problems with alcohol. You could rightfully call this film the redemption of Mel Gibson. He directs an excellent film that took a lot of effort to make. 14 years to be exact even while Doss himself was still alive going from one writer to the next until finally they had the right script and right story thanks to Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan. Gibson and the writers did an excellent job with the film with the story and the depiction of war.
In addition, the story was made thanks to the performance of Andrew Garfield. This was more than just a war story. This was a story of a person’s heart and soul. Garfield knew he had to personify Doss in his convictions in order to make this story work. He did it excellently. It’s hard to pick out any supporting players who stood out. None of the roles of the supporting actors were as developed. However Teresa Palmer did a very good job as Dorothy Doss and portraying the concerned fiancee, as is Hugo Weaving as the father Tom Doss and Vince Vaughn as the hard Sargent Howell. The visual effects and the sound mixing were top notch, as it should be in a film like this. The score from Rupert Gregson-Williams fit the film excellently.
Hacksaw Ridge is a surprising film. Who would’ve thought that the best war movie in years would be about a man that didn’t fire a single bullet? Definitely a story worth telling.
At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.
This year’s surprise critical success is Moonlight. It’s a very unique film like no other seen this year.
The film is unique as it sets itself around three key periods in the life of Chiron. There’s his childhood where he’s known as Little, there’s his teenagehood where he’s simply known as Chiron and there’s his adulthood where he’s known as Black. The film does tell a story of a man who you think would die young. He has all the ingredients: gay, living in inner city Miami, a verbally-abusive mother addicted to crack, arrested at a young age and a future of being a pusher himself. Somehow he finds the will to survive. He’s able to withstand the bullying he faces for being gay, he’s able to decide his life to the best of his abilities without his mother. Often it’s not the best choices he makes in his life but he finds the ability to survive. You wonder how does he do that? Was it from that brief time with Juan and his mentoring? Was it the love from Kevin he always knew was there? I remember that scene of Little in the school dancing classes dancing like he was in 7th heaven: his escape from the bullying. Was it a spark within Chiron himself? Whatever the situation, it results in beauty at the end.
The film is not just about Chiron. As one can see, it showcases the lives of many different African-American people living in the inner city. It may show some of the more negative depictions like drug dealers, poverty and drug addicts but it also shows positive images too like in the case of Juan and his girlfriend or even in music being played. It showcases some surprising things as well as how Juan the pusher can be a very smart man. It even dispels some myths we have of inner city people. Like how Juan was good at handling Chiron’s homosexuality and gave him words of comfort while Paula acted out in hostility. Usually you’d expect ‘gangstas’ to have a homophobic attitude. It showcases what it’s like to be black and gay in the inner city. It also showcases people’s insecurities. It is overall one man’s attempt to find himself in the harsh world that he lives in. Yet despite all its harshness, it becomes something beautiful in the end.
The film is a triumph for Barry Jenkins. This is actually his second feature as a director. His first film, 2008’s Medicine For Melancholy, won a lot of attention and even earned him many directorial debut awards. Moonlight is only his second feature. This film which he adapts a script from a drama school project from Tarell McCraney is a masterpiece in both the story and its direction. The script is also excellent that there is not too much dialogue but is able to say lots even in the silent parts. Another quality of the film; it says a lot while saying very little. Overall the film is a real delight to watch and leaves one wondering what Jenkins will have next.
The three actors who portrayed Chiron– Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes- all did a very good job with the role and portraying him at the right ages. Mahershala Ali was excellent as Juan: the pusher who becomes a mentor to little Chiron for that brief period of time. Ali had to bring the right charisma and character for a role like Juan to work not just in his scenes but to have an influence throughout the whole film. He did a stellar job. Also excellent was Naomie Harris. Possibly the one actor or actress to be a part of all three scenes, Harris was excellent as the drug-addicted mother Paula. She had to go through three stages with her role from a simple crack user to a crack addict to recovering in rehab. Each time she had to give her role dimension and inner depth to keep it from being cardboard. She did excellent too. There were additional supporting roles that were also good like Janelle Monae as Teresa and Andre Holland as the adult Kevin.
The technical bits were also excellent. The film was edited very well, the cinematography from James Laxton was possibly the best of the year. The score from Nicholas Britell was excellent but the inclusion of track music from classical to Latin to funk to hip-hop to Aretha Franklin to Motown really added to the feel of the movie. Almost feels like an anthology. In fact that scene when Kevin sees Chiron (as Black) after so many years and plays the classic Hello Stranger is one of the best scenes of the film.
Moonlight is a story of a young black man coming of age in the big city but it’s a lot more too. Those who’ve seen it will know why this film is a masterpiece.
And there’s the first of my Best Picture summaries for this year. Next one coming up in a few days.
Whenever an Olympic Games happens, I usually publish a blog relating to the host city or the host country. In this case, I’ll be focusing on Brazil’s past Olympic success and it has a lot. Brazil has won a total of 108 Olympic medals: 23 of them gold. That ranks them 33rd for all-time medals at the Summer Olympics. That’s also the most of any South American nation.
OFF TO A START
The very first Olympic Games Brazil sent an Olympic team to was the Antwerp Games of 1920 and they debuted with a bang, literally. Brazil won a gold, silver and bronze in various shooting events. The gold going to Guilherme Paraense in the rapid fire pistol event.
After the Antwerp Games, Brazil’s Olympic results consisted of woes up to World War II. They sent a 12-athlete team to Paris in 1924, a 67-athlete team to Los Angeles in 1932 which I will focus later on, and a 73-athlete team to the Berlin Games of 1936. All of which resulted in not a single medal won. Nevertheless there were some rays of hope. The biggest being from swimmer Maria Lenk. Just after finishing out of the final at her event in Berlin, she would set a world record in her event. She made history as the first Brazilian swimmer ever to hold a swimming world record. The Maria Lenk Aquatic Centre which was built for the 2007 Pan Am Games and will host three aquatic sports for Rio 2016 was named in her honor.
HARD TIMES FOR 1932
One of Brazil’s most famous Olympic stories is not exactly a positive one. It involved their Olympic team in 1932 as the world was going through the Great Depression at the time. Brazil was also hit hard during the Great Depression and their Olympic team were also feeling the heat. In order to raise funds for the team, the athletes would sell coffee beans at every port their ship, the Itaquicê, would dock at. Once the shipped docked at San Pedro, the authorities at the Port Of Los Angeles charged Brazil $1 for each athlete they let off the ship. The Brazilian team first let off the athletes with the best medal chances and swimmer Maria Lenk who would become the first Brazilian female to compete at the Olympics. However it wasn’t all over. The Itaquicê then sailed to San Francisco to sell more beans to fund the other athletes. It was successful enough to give the water polo, rowing and athletics athletes enough funds to compete. However the lack of funds meant 15 athletes could not live out their Olympic dreams and thus sail back to Brazil on the Itaquicê. The best result for the team was a 4th place in rowing.
SLOW BUT SURE IMPROVEMENTS
After World War II, Brazil would get better in sports at the Olympic Games but it would mostly go unnoticed for decades. The biggest notice came in the men’s triple jump. Even before the Helsinki Games in 1952, Adhemar Ferreira da Silva held the world record in the men’s triple jump. In Helsinki, winning was an ease for da Silva as he won by almost 10 inches and set a new world record in the process. Da Silva would repeat as Olympic champion in 1956. Da Silva would prove himself to be one of the greats of triple-jumping as his career would not only include two gold medals but he’d also break the world record five times in his career. Da Silva would prove to be inspiring to Brazil as there would be two other male triple jumpers who would win Olympic medals and break the world record too.
Unfortunately for Brazil, Da Silva would prove to be Brazil’s only Olympic champion up until 1980. With the exception of a silver in the triple jump in 1968, Brazil’s Olympic teams after World War II would come home with nothing but bronze in that meantime. Sure they’d always have at least one medal but a single silver and the rest bronze was pretty much it from 1960 to 1976. It’s not to say it was all bad as Brazil would expand its abilities to win medals in other sports like basketball, swimming, sailing and judo.
A BREAKTHROUGH IN 1980
The boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980 may have kept other nations at home but Brazil didn’t cave into the pressure. Their participation at the Moscow Games boosted its sporting confidence. The team won its first gold medals since Da Silva: two in sailing. These Games would later open the doors to Brazilians in sailing as success would continue. Brazil has won a total of 17 medals in sailing: six of them gold. The team in 1980 would also win bronzes in swimming and triple-jumping.
1980 would prove to be a boost of confidence to their Olympians as more success would follow. Los Angeles in 1984 would be the stage for Joaquim Cruz as he won gold in the 800m: Brazil’s first gold in a running event. Brazil would also win an additional five silver and two bronze at those Games. Possibly making amends for 1932. Medals came in judo, volleyball, sailing, swimming and their first-ever men’s football medal: a silver. Up until 1984, professionals weren’t allowed to compete at the Olympics which meant Brazil could only send ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which kept them out of the medals. Professionals were allowed to compete at the Olympics for the first time in 1984 and it opened the floodgates to Brazil–although not completely– to send better football teams to the Olympics. Dunga was part of the silver medal-winning 1984 team.
The Seoul Games of 1988 would give Brazil additional success as the team would win a total of six medals including their first ever gold in judo to Half-Heavyweight Aurelio Miguel Fernandez. This would open the doors to other judokas of Brazil as Brazil has won a total of 18 Olympic medals in judo including three gold. Brazil having the biggest Japanese diaspora outside of Japan may have a lot to do with it. Additional medals came in sailing, football (featuring greats Bebeto, Careca and Romario) and athletics. One noteworthy medalist was sprinter Robson da Silva. He’s considered to be the best South American sprinter ever. His bronze in the 200m in Seoul came just five days after running in the 100m dash: considered by most to be “the dirtiest race in Olympic history.” Robson was actually one of two with the most justifiable cases of being clean athletes. I like what he’s always said: “Sure I didn’t dope and I didn’t win all that much, but I sleep well every night.”
1992 would only be a case of three medals in three different sports but it was still a good showing for Brazil as it was their second Games where they returned home with two golds: in man’s volleyball and in judo. The volleyball gold would be key as it would pave the way for future success for the Brazilian team at the Olympics.
1996 AND THE BRAZILIAN BREAKTHROUGH
As Brazil’s economy would grow over time, so would their athletic prowess. Ever since the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the Brazilian Olympic team would always leave each of the last five Games with at least ten medals or more. In fact 70 of the 109 total medals Brazil has won before the Rio Games were won in the previous five Summer Olympic Games. Atlanta was the very first sign of the Brazilian sports boom. The nation won a best-ever total of 15 medals including 3 gold. The introduction of beach volleyball led to Brazil taking the top 2 spots in the women’s category. They also had continued success in sailing, judo, football (featuring Ronaldo) and swimming but they also won their first ever equestrian medals as well as their first medals ever won by female athletes.
2000 was a case where Brazil didn’t win a single gold medal but still left Sydney with a total of 12 medals. Success continued in swimming, track, volleyball, judo, equestrian, sailing and volleyball. They sure made up for their no-gold disappointment in Athens in 2004 with five golds of their ten medals: their most golds ever. Actually it was originally four golds but a bizarre doping situation led to five. In equestrian show jumping, Rodrigo Pessoa finished second to Ireland’s Cian O’Connor. However it was later revealed months later that the doping sample from O’Connor’s horse went missing and was finally tested in November of 2004 resulting in a positive test. That bumped Pessoa up to Olympic champion: Brazil’s first ever equestrian gold medalist. Bizarre but glad it was finally set straight. Another example of Brazilian sportsmanship came in the men’s marathon. Vanderlei de Lima was leading the race when out of nowhere, an Irish defrocked priest hounded him and disrupted his run. Fortunately de Lima was able to get back to running and finish third. When he received his bronze medal, he was also given the de Coubertin award for fair and courageous play.
2008 in Beijing saw their Olympic prowess taken another step further as they won three golds and a best-ever 16 medals. First-ever golds for Brazil came from swimmer Cesar Cielo Filho and long jumper Maurren Maggi in women’s athletics. This was also the first Olympics where both the men’s and women’s football teams won medals: silver for the women and bronze for the men. London 2012 was another increase in the medal haul with a best-ever 17 medals including three gold. The women’s volleyball team repeated as Olympic champions but the biggest gold-medal surprise came from gymnast Arthur Zanetti on the rings as he won Brazil’s first-ever gymnastics medal: gold on the rings. The team also won three medals in boxing–their first since 1968–and Yane Marques became the first Brazilian to win a modern pentathlon medal when she won silver.
A footnote to ad: Brazil has competed in every winter Olympics since the Albertville Games of 1992. Their best result is a ninth in snowboarding back in 2006.
No kidding Brazil wants to give their home country something to be proud of. They will field a team of 465 athletes in 29 sports and they hope to give Brazil its best-ever medal total. The men’s football team has brought Neymar–who was part of Brazil’s silver medal-winning team in 2012– on the squad. Marta is back on the women’s squad. And a unique situation in sailing where two of Torben Grael’s children–Marco and Martine– are competing in the sailing events.
As the athletes in Brazil compete in Rio de Janeiro, they will compete with a sense of pride. They will also compete having a set of heroes they’ve grown up admiring and idolizing and hopefully create new heroes for the next generation. The stage will be set.
DISCLAIMER: I know the Olympics have been going on for a week and a half and Brazil has won a lot of medals but I chose to exclude the results in Rio for the sake of keeping this blog ‘evergreen.’
WIKIPEDIA: Brazil At The Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Brazil At The Olympics>
WIKIPEDIA: Brazil At The 1932 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.<Brazil at the 1932 Summer Olympics>
The Rio Olympics is coming our way. Of course the media being what it is, it chooses to focus on all the bad news with the bad construction problems and the Zika virus and the slow ticket sales. The story of the Russian track team being systematically doped added to the fire and has led to scrutiny of the whole Russian team in recent weeks. However there have been tales of woe before past Olympic Games and they’ve gone off excellently so it would be fair to give Rio a chance. So without further ado, here’s my focus on thirteen to watch–eight individual athletes, a duo, and four teams:
-Katie Ledecky/USA – Swimming: You all thought Michael Phelps would be the top swimmer of focus in my blog, right? Wrong. He will be looked into in a focus on another swimmer later in my blog but now the swimmer of top focus here is the US’s next big swimming sensation: Katie Ledecky. As a 15 year-old, she competed in London as the youngest member of the US Olympic team. She won gold in the 800m freestyle and broke the American record along the way. Since then, she has become a distance freestyle ace with world records in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyles along with World Championship golds in those events as well as the 200 free. She is poised to win gold in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in Rio: a feat only achieved once before by American swimmer Debbie Meyer in 1968. Katie can even add a bonus gold with the 4*200m free relay. Her chances are good as her best time in the 800 this year is 12 seconds faster than the second-best and her top 2016 time in the 400 is 1.5 seconds faster than that of American teammate Leah Smith. However the 200 will be her toughest event to win as Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom’s 2016 best is less than .1 faster than Katie and just .12 behind her is Italy’s Federica Pellegrini: 2008 Olympic champion who finished fifth in London. Nevertheless it will be a brave attempt from the 19 year-old.
-Simone Biles/USA – Gymnastics: Women’s gymnastics has become a complicated sport ever since it was revolutionized by ‘pixies’ like Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci. It seems a gymnast’s career at the top is very short. It’s very hard to develop consistency especially with time encroaching. However one gymnast who can beg to differ is 19 year-old Simone Biles. She has shown a consistency in World gymnastics not demonstrated since Ludmilla Tourischeva back in the 70’s. In the past three World Championships starting in 2013, Biles has won fourteen medals including ten gold. She has also won the last three World all-around titles. Biles appears invincible but she does face rivalry from her own teammates Gabby Douglas (defending champ from London) and Laurie Hernandez as well as Russia’s Angelina Melnikova. Rio could just be the arena to crown her greatness in the sport.
-Ashton Eaton/USA – Athletics: There have only been two decathletes who have won back-to-back Olympic gold medals: The US’s Bob Mathias and the UK’s Daley Thompson. Ashton Eaton looks poised to become the third. He first burst onto the scene at the 2011 Worlds as a 23 year-old when he finished second behind his American teammate Trey Hardee. Hey, the US is known for their decathletes as they have won a total of 28 medals including thirteen gold. The following year, Eaton beat Hardee at the US Olympic Trials with a world record points total. Eaton went on to win gold in London as well as the last two World Championships. Eaton appears invincible having the year’s best result at the US trials but he does have rivals in Germany’s Arthur Abele and Canada’s Damian Warner who finished behind Eaton in second at the Worlds. Rio could just be the arena for a great to deliver.
-Usain Bolt/Jamaica – Athletics: What can I say? The ‘Lightning Bolt’ has proven himself to be the biggest thing in athletics since Carl Lewis. He has an unmatched streak at dominating sprinting in major events. It all started when he won the 100, the 200 and the 4*100 relay in Beijing in 2008 all in world record time. Since then every Olympics or Worlds he entered, he’d leave with golds in all those events each time with the exception of the 100 in 2011 where he received a false-start disqualification. Already people are ruling Bolt to achieve the triple-triple here in Rio. However it’s not 100% guaranteed. Bolt had to pull out of the Jamaican Olympic trials because of a pulled hamstring injury. He has since recovered well and even won a major 200 in London a few weeks ago. However the 100m has three runners that have a faster year’s best than Usain. Topping the list is 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin. The 200m features four runners who ran a faster time this year than Usain’s 2016 best. Topping that list is American LaShawn Merritt: 2008 Olympic 400m champion. Win or lose, chasing Olympic history will make for an exciting show from a legend.
-Mo Farah/Great Britain – Athletics: Seven male distance runners have won both the 5000m and 10000m runs in the same Olympics. However one–Finland’s Lasse Viren– has done it twice back in 1972 and 1976. Mo Farah, A Somali who moved to the UK when he was eight, appears poised to duplicate Viren’s feat. Farah’s last loss of a major 5000 or a 10000 came at the 2011 World Championships. Since then he has taken gold at the 2012 Olympics and both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships in both events. There will be rivals trying to block his path like Ethiopian Muktar Edris, American Galen Rupp, his Portland training partner, and Kenyans like Caleb Ndiku, Paul Tanui and Geoffrey Kanworor. Whatever the situation, Farah’s pursuit will be one to watch.
-Cate and Bronte Campbell/Australia – Swimming: Admit it. You get intrigued when you see a pair of sibling athletes either competing together or against each other. Enter the Campbell sisters from Australia who are at the top of the world in sprint freestyle. 24 year-old Cate is the one with Olympic medals–two bronze in 2008 and a relay gold in 2012–along with 100 free gold at the 2013 Worlds. 22 year-old Bronte won the 2015 World Championship in the 50 and 100 free with Cate winning silver in the 50 and bronze in the 100. However Cate that this year’s fastest times in the world in the 50 and 100. Bronte has the second-fastest in the 100 and fifth-fastest in the 50. Ah, don’t you wish sibling rivalry was this civil? However the Malawi-born Campbell sisters are not alone at the top. They will face challenges from Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom who also made the 2015 Worlds podiums in both events and 2012 Olympic champion from both events Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. The Rio stage should provide for some fun drama. And after all that rivalry, the two could just team up for a gold in the 4*100 free relay!
-Laszlo Cseh/Hungary – Swimming: All eyes will be on Michael Phelps. He may have won it all with 22 medals over three Games including 18 gold but he’s making a comeback after a troubling time since London which included his second DUI arrest. Who’s also worth looking at is 30 year-old Hungarian Laszlo Cseh. When Phelps won six golds and two bronze in Athens, Cseh won 400 individual medley bronze. While Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, Cseh won three silvers. While Phelps won four golds and two silvers in London, Cseh won 200 IM bronze. In all cases, Phelps was the Olympic champion. Here in Rio, we have a different scenario. We have Phelps trying to get back his old form while Cseh appears to be in the best form of his life. Cseh has the world fastest times this year in both the 100 and 200 butterflies. Cseh is a heavy favorite for the 200 but he does face rivalry from Phelps, American Tom Shields and Poland’s Konrad Czerniak in the 100. Cseh has never been called ‘Phelps’ Shadow’ in his career but Rio could become the first Olympic arena to finally beat Phelps and win Olympic gold.
-Majlinda Kelmendi/Kosovo – Judo: 75 nations competing in Rio have never won an Olympic medal. Two nations–Kosovo and South Sudan– will be making their Olympic debut. Kosovo’s team will consist of eight athletes in five sports. Leading the team is 25 year-old judoka Majlinda Kelmendi. Back in 2012, Kosovo was not officially recognized by the IOC and Kelmendi opted to compete for Albania. Since then Kelmendi has won gold at the World Championships in the lightweight category in 2013 and 2014. She missed out on the 2015 season because of an injury but is poised for a comeback in time for Rio. She has already won this years’ European championship. She faces rivalry from Japan’s Misato Nakamura and Brazil’s Erica Miranda. Whatever the outcome, be sure she’ll do her country proud. She will also be the flagbearer during the opening ceremonies.
FROM THE HOST NATION:
Of course there is to be some focus on athletes of the host nation. I make it a priority as it makes some of my favorite Olympic moments with athletes winning gold or a medal in front of their home crowd. And in Rio, Sports Illustrated predicts Brazil to win 20 medals including six gold. The most medals Brazil has won in a single Olympics is 17 back in London. The most golds, five in Athens in 2004.
Focus on the two teams later. Here are the duo and individual of focus:
Isaquias Queiroz and Erlon Silva – Canoeing: Brazil has won Olympic medals in thirteen sports but canoeing isn’t one of them. In recent years, Brazil has fielded a canoeing duo who have emerged at the top of the world in the 1000m event. Isaquias won the Worlds in 2013 and 2014 in the individual 500m. Erlon was part of the bronze medal-winning 200m pair in 2014. However both were competing in events that won’t be contested in Rio. Leading to last year’s Worlds, the two were paired together and trained for the 1000m pairs event. They entered that event at the Worlds and won. They will face challenges from the duos of Hungary and Poland. They could just make Brazilian Olympic history here in Rio.
Fabiana Murer – Athletics: Brazil is not expected to win any medals in athletics, according to Sports Illustrated. Overlooked must be pole vaulter Fabiana Murer. She’s a 2011 world champion and she finished second at last year’s World but is known for Olympic choking. In 2008, she finished 10th. In 2012 she failed to qualify for the finals. 2016 looks to be a good year for Murer as she set a new South American record back in July. However she faces challenges from London Olympic champion Jennifer Suhr of the US, last year’s World champ Yarisley Silva of Cuba, last year’s World bronze medalist Nikoleta Kyriakopolou of Greece and American Sandi Morris who’s the only vaulter to have a higher 2016’s best than Murer as of now. Whatever the situation, the home country has her back.
Refugee Olympic Athletes Team: In the past, you had to have some citizenship ties in order to compete at the Olympic Games. Refugees in the past have been overlooked as they were believed to have bigger problems than sports to deal with. Some would have to wait many years to represent the nation they’ve been adopted into. At the last Olympics in London, some refugees participated as Individual Olympic Athletes. IOC president Thomas Bach has taken note of the current worldwide refugee crisis by trying to break barrier for refugee athletes who want to compete at the Olympics. In March of this year, Bach announced his intention to create a team of refugees to compete in Rio taking into account the athletes’ sporting ability, personal circumstances and United Nations-verified refugee status. A $2 million fund created by the IOC was used to help train the athletes for Rio. At these Olympics, there will be ten athletes competing as Refugee Olympic Athletes. Five are runners from South Sudan who reside in Kenya. One is an Ethiopian marathoner who sought refuge in Luxembourg. Two are Congolese judokas living in Brazil and two are Syrian swimmers who have sought refuge in Belgium and Germany. They may not have much of a medal chance but they will already achieve victory by just competing at the Olympics.
United States Women’s Football Team: If there’s one team that one can call the class of the field, it’s the American women’s football (soccer) team. The US Women have won three of seven Women’s World Cups and four of the five Olympic gold medals. Those who saw last year’s Women’s World Cup know about how well the American women continue to play brilliantly. Here in Rio, fourteen women from last year’s WWC squad are part of the Olympic squad including stars Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. There are also four newcomers including Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn. Since their WWC win, the team has won all but three of their matches since, losing only once to China 1-0 in a friendly back in December. WWC finalists Japan may not have qualified but it’s not to say the US won’t face some tough rivalry from China, France and even hosts Brazil. Nevertheless if they’re as brilliant together in Rio as they were in Canada last year, magic can happen again.
TRIVIA: Being WWC-holder is actually bad luck for the Olympics. In the previous five Olympics, no team that was the WWC-holder at the time has won Olympic gold. They’d make the Olympic podium, yes, but never the top step. Can the US break this bad-luck spell?
FROM THE HOST NATION:
Brazil’s Olympic Volleyball Teams: Football may be Brazil’s #1 sport. It’s safe to say volleyball is Brazil’s #2 sport. Ever since the men’s team won Brazil’s first ever court volleyball medal, Brazil has been on a roll winning a total of nine Olympic medals including four gold. They’ve also won 11 of the 30 Olympic medals awarded in Beach Volleyball including two gold medal-winning duos. Brazil is expected to dominate here. In beach volleyball, Brazil’s pairs won five of the six medals with only the men’s silver conceded to a Dutch pair. Brazil is not as dominant in court volleyball at the Worlds but the teams have what it takes to deliver as the women have won Olympic gold back in 2008 and 2012. Here in Rio, the women will face tough competition from the US and China who finished ahead of them at the 2014 Worlds. The men appear heavy favorites to win but they will face challenges from 2012 Olympic champs Russia and 2014 Worlds champs Poland. It could be possible the home crowd’s cheering could propel them both to win gold.
Brazil’s Olympic Football Teams: You’d figure Brazil, a country that has won a total of five World Cups, would have at least one Olympic gold in football, right? Wrong! It’s all because of eligibility rules in football over the years. Before 1984, footballers couldn’t even make a penny off their sport if they wanted to compete. That would allow the Eastern Bloc countries to field their best for the Olympics and propel them to the podium while World Cup-winning countries like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy could only field ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which would finish in a shabby ranking or not make the Olympics at all. Brazil was able to qualify for six Olympics in that period but failed to win a medal.
In 1984, the Olympic door was open to professionals despite some restrictions or two. In 1992, professionals as long as they were 23 or under could compete. Since 1996, each squad had to have all but a maximum of three footballers under 23 with the other three being anyone they wanted. The opening of the floodgates to pros has boosted Brazil’s men’s team as they’ve qualified for six of the eight previous Olympic competitions and have stood on the podium five times. What they want here in Rio is to stand on the top step for the first time. In London, Brazil fielded a kit featuring a 20 year-old Neymar Jr. and won silver with Mexico taking the gold. Here in Rio, Neymar is back and the other 17 members of the Olympic squad are part of pro teams from Brazil, Spain, France and Italy. The Olympic squad may have finished third at the 2015 Pan Ams but the team has been consistent in friendly play over the last two years losing only to Nigeria back in March. Most of all, the team wants to return the football spirit to the country that left the nation broken-hearted at the 2014 World Cup and achieving shabby results at the last two Copa Americas. Whatever the situation, Brazil may just lift the spirits of their country.
Oh, did you think I’d forget the women’s football team? I didn’t. Women’s football isn’t as restrictive as the men’s competition. Every woman that competed at last year’s WWC is eligible to compete in the Olympics. As for Brazil’s women’s team, they have two Olympic silvers from 2004 and 2008. However they have had difficulties in the last major tournaments with losing in the quarterfinals at the 2012 Olympics and losing to Australia in the Round of 16 at the 2015 WWC. The team has since had their ups and downs with losses to the US, France, Canada and New Zealand they’ve trained hard under coach Vadao and have had mostly wins. Stars Marta, Formiga and Cristiane will be there. Hopefully the Brazilian women will be as victorious as their men and these Olympics here could be the arena for it.
And there you have it. Some of the athletes who to look out for at the Rio Games. Remember the gold medal does not go to the hardest worker, the most deserving, the most talented, the one with the most pre-Olympic accolades or even the best athlete. The gold goes to the one that’s the most there. And Rio will be the arena to decide the Olympic champions. These seventeen days will allow the athletes to “live their passion.” My review of Canadians to watch was printed the following day. Just click here.
You all remember Vancouver 2010. Canada won the most ever Winter Olympic golds in a single games with 14. Canada is not the host nation for the Winter Olympics anymore. That pressure now belongs to Russia. Nevertheless Team Canada will face pressures of its own over in Sochi both as individuals and as a team. One thing we should take into account is how some countries perform in the Olympics after they were host nation. Below is a chart of host countries and their various medal hauls. The #/# guide is golds/total medals:
As noted in that chart, some get better like Canada in 1992. Some still stay the same and some do noticeably worse like Japan in 2002 and Italy in 2010. Sports Illustrated predicts Canada to win a total of 31 medals including eleven gold. That’s an awful lot but not impossible.
In the meantime, here’s a look at some Canadians favored to do well in Sochi, if not win:
Patrick Chan – Figure Skating: Canada has a proud legacy in figure skating. So proud you could say figure skating is rightfully third behind hockey and curling as our national sport. Our legacy is there. Canada has also left every Winter Olympics since 1984 with at least one medal in Figure Skating. Canada is one of only five countries to win twenty or more Olympic medals in figure skating. We have Olympic champions in three of the four returning figure skating categories. The only one we don’t have is in the Men’s Singles event. Four bronze medalists, two double-silver medalists but never a gold medalist. This could finally be the year.
Patrick Chan has Canada’s best chances. He’s been national champion since 2008 at the tender age of 17, a world Championships medalist every year since 2009 and a World Champion three times starting in 2011. He has looked good this season, winning two of his three international competitions this year losing only the Grand Prix of Figure Skating.
He has looked good in practice here in Sochi and appears confident he will win. However he will have rivalries from Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten who finished behind him at last year’s Worlds and Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko who’s making a comeback. Also expected to challenge is Spain’s Javier Fernandez and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu: the latter two of which are coached by Canadian double-silver medalist Brian Orser. In fact it was Hanyu who gave Chan his only defeat this year at the Grand Prix back in December. So will he be the first Canadian men’s champion or the seventh medalist? It will all be decided on the 13th and 14th.
Erik Guay – Alpine Skiing: Remember the Crazy Canucks? Yeah, Canada had an impressive legacy in Alpine Skiing on both the World Cup circuit and the Olympic Games in decades past. Nancy Greene, Kathy Kreiner, Ken Read, Steve Podborski, Kerrin Lee-Gartner, we all remember them. Problem is it seems like it’s all in the past. The last Olympic medal was a 1994 bronze in Men’s Downhill by Ed Podivinsky.
Canada’s top bet to get back on the Olympic podium is Erik Guay. Guay is 2010 World Cup winner in the Super-G and 2011 World Champion in the Downhill. This year he has ranked in the Top 3 in the men’s downhill on the World Cup circuit. However he was sidelined temporarily in January due to a minor knee injury. But he’s confident he will be ready to perform on February 9th. Actually Erik is not the only Canadian alpine skier with good chances to win a medal. Healthy medal chances also come with Marie-Michele Gagnon who is currently ranked fourth in World Cup standings in the slalom and just won her first ever World Cup race–a super-combined event–just last month in Austria. Will a new generation of Crazy Canucks arrive in Sochi? The Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort will set the stage.
Alexandre Bilodeau – Freestyle Skiing: Alexandre isn’t just simply the first Canadian to win gold during Vancouver 2010. He’s the first ever to win gold on Canadian soil as the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary failed to produce a Canadian Olympic champion.
Since Vancouver he has made many public appearances and has graduated from college. His competitive drive has not deterred. He has won moguls silver at the past two World Championships and has already won three of the six moguls events on the World Cup circuit. He is a big favorite to win at what he says will be his last Olympics but his top challenge will come from fellow Canadian Mikael Kingsbury who is 2012 and 2013 World Cup winner in moguls, World moguls champion in 2013 and has won the other three World Cup events from this year. In fact Sports Illustrated predicts Kingsbury to win gold and Bilodeau to win silver. The stage for Canadian vs. Canadian will take place February 10th.
Charles Hamelin – Short-Track Speed Skating: There’s a lot of talk for the possibility of the first ever Canadian four-time Olympic champion. One possibility, actually three, is in women’s hockey which I will talk about later. Another possibility is in men’s short track speed skating with Charles Hamelin.
You could say that short track is in his blood. His younger brother Francois was part of Canada’s gold medal-winning relay and his father Yves is the current national director of the national short track team. Hamelin has had an illustrious career which includes two Olympic golds from Vancouver and a silver from Turin in 2006 as well as 26 World Championship medals, eight of them gold. In fact at last year’s World Championships, Hamelin was part of the gold medal-winning relay and won three individual bronzes.
Charles comes to Sochi as the reigning leader in the overall World Cup standings as well as leading the 1000m and 1500m. His path to more gold will not go unchallenged. His top threats come from Russia’s Viktor Ahn and South Korea’s Sin Da-Woon. Plus there’s the sport itself which is known for its slipperiness and frequent falls. It will all be decided at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
Alex Harvey – Nordic Skiing: Skiing sure runs in the family. It was natural that Alex Harvey take up cross-country skiing. His father Pierre was Canada’s best ever cross country skier when he was competing during the 80’s. In fact I myself remember back during the Calgary Olympics Pierre was giving Canada its best-ever finishes in the cross country events. Sure they were between 14th and 20th but they were still new achievements for Canadian skiers.
Alex, who was actually born in September of that year, has taken achievement to new levels. He now has Canada’s best ever men’s finish at an Olympic Games: fourth in team sprint with teammate Devon Kershaw. He and Kershaw would become World Champions in that event in 2011. Harvey won bronze in the sprint at last year’s Worlds. This season he has won two World Cup races. Sports Illustrated predicts him to win bronze in the sprint. However he’s pressed to win Canada’s first even men’s cross country medal by teammate Devon Kershaw who finished second to Harvey in a World Cup sprint event. He will also be challenged in winning the sprint event by World Champion Nikita Kryukov of Russia, World Cup sprint leader Josef Wenzl of Germany and Italy’s Federico Pellegrino who’s ranked second in the sprints. The Laura Biathlon and Ski Complex is the stage.
The Dufour-LaPointe sisters (Justine, Maxime and Chloe) – Freestyle Skiing: It’s not uncommon that you have siblings competing together at the same Olympics. Sometimes in the same event. But three? And all three of them in the same event? That’s the case of the Dufour-Lapointe sisters in moguls: Maxime who turns 25 on the 9th, 22 year-old Chloe and 19 year-old Justine.
The first excitement came when Chloe qualified for the Vancouver Games. Bigger excitement came when Justine won bronze at last year’s World Championships. However the excitement has been happening this year on the World Cup circuit. All six World Cup meets this year has seen at least one of the three on the podium with Justine winning two events and Chloe winning one. Currently on the World Cup circuit Justine ranks second, Maxime third and Chloe fourth. It’s possible the sisters could even sweep in Sochi. However blocking their path is defending Olympic champion, 2013 World Champion and World Cup leader Hannah Kearney of the U.S. American Heidi Kloser of the U.S. who is ranked fifth in the World Cup also poses a challenge as well as Japan’s Miki Ito who finished second at last year’s Worlds. It will all be decided February 8th.
Canada’s Hockey Team (men and women): Every Winter Olympics you can’t avoid the talk of Canada’s chances in hockey. Especially in men’s hockey. Hey, our national pride is at stake and winning it makes our OlympicsEver since NHL players were allowed to compete for the first time back in 1998, it’s always the challenge to prove themselves first among at least six equals. But we’ve succeeded with wins in 2002 and back in Vancouver. However we’ve found ourselves off the podium in 1998 and ousted in the quarterfinals in 2006.
Team Canada’s 24 members are all NHL players and eleven were part of Canada’s gold medal-winning team from 2010. Sidney Crosby who scored the ‘golden goal’ back in Vancouver is the captain this time. Team Canada has failed to win a World Championship medal ever since Vancouver but is predicted by Sports Illustrated to win bronze. They face challenges from 2013 World Champions Sweden whom SI predict to win and from the home country of Russia. It will all be decided at the Bolshoi Ice Dome by the 23rd.
As for the women, Canada has very good chances to win gold again. If they do, three women–Haylee Wickenheiser, Caroline Ouellette and Jayna Hefford–could become the first Canadians to win four Olympic golds. However their top rival as always is the United States. In fact the U.S. beat Canada for the 2011 and 2013 World Championships. It’s just a question of which of the two will take it on the 20th. Or a question of if a European team will upset. It’s possible.
So there you go. Those are some Canadians to look for at the Sochi Games. I know they’re more than seven but I couldn’t resist adding more. Besides people who like my Olympic writing probably don’t mind anyways. Besides since I wrote about the athletes from around the world yesterday, I figure you were due some Canadians.
They should provide for a lot of great moments and more national heroes. Interesting how ever since the 90’s Canada has become a superpower in winter sports like Austria and Norway. Before them we either had a lousy winter and a good summer or a good winter but a lousy summer. There have been one or two years where we had both a lousy winter and summer but that’s in the past. Anyways let the Games begin!
I wasn’t planning on posting this. Actually I was planning my next blog to be another Best Picture review. Instead I post this because of how shocking it is. And of how much I admired him and his works.
Philip was born in Fairport, New York (just outside of Rochester) on July 23, 1967, one of four children to family court judge Marilyn O’Connor and Xerox executive Gordon Hoffman. His parents divorced when he was 9. Hoffman’s past-time in high school was wrestling but switched to acting after a neck injury caused him to quit. Talent was noticed at a young age as he was selected at 17 to attend the 1984 theatre school at the New York State Summer School Of The Arts in Saratoga Springs. He graduated from Fairport High School in 1985 and attended the Circle in the Square Theatre’s summer program. He would go on to attend New York University’s Tisch School Of The Arts and graduated with a BFA in 1989. Soon after he had a bout of alcohol and drug addiction which we would attend rehab for shortly after and eventually overcome.
He made his acting debut on television acting in a 1991 Law & Order episode. His first film role came in 1992’s Scent Of A Woman. Minor roles in film continued for Hoffman over the next few years. In 1995 he joined the LAbyrinth Theatre Company where he staged and performed in numerous productions. However his breakthrough came in 1997 when he had a scene-stealing supporting role as Scotty J. in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. Hoffman would act in three more Paul Thomas Anderson movies: 1999’s Magnolia, 2002’s Punch Drunk Love and 2012’s The Master. Over the next few years, Hoffman’s reputation as an actor would grow with more excellent performances in independent films like The Big Lebowski, Happiness, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and State And Main. He also showed he could act well in popcorn films like Patch Adams and Almost Famous. In theatre, he would earn a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in 2000 for playing Lee in the readaptation of Sam Shepard’s True West.
Further excellent performances continued for him in films like Love Liza (which was written by his brother Gordy), Owning Mahowny and the TV miniseries Empire Falls. He also continued to do come off well in box office fare like Cold Mountain and Along Came Polly. Theatre accolades would continue with his second Tony nomination coming in 2003 for his supporting performance in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. However big critical acclaim in film. kept on alluding him until 2005’s Capote. There he was to play Truman Capote in a biopic directed by former Tisch classmate Bennett Miller. He was even said to act in character even after scene shooting ended. It was there where Hoffman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. And Miller received his first and so far only Best Director nomination.
Things became better for Hoffman commercially as he would play villain Owen Davian in Mission Impossible 3 months later. In 2007 he received Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor in the independent comedy The Savages and Best Supporting Actor for playing Gust Avrakotos in Charlie Wilson’s War opposite Tom Hanks. It’s his role in Charlie Wilson’s War that would earn him his second Oscar nomination. Hoffman would return as an Oscar nominee the following year in the Supporting Actor category again as Fr. Brendan Flynn in the film adaptation of the Broadway play Doubt opposite Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.
Hoffman would continue acting in film, both independent and commercial. He would also continue acting and directing in theatre. He wouldn’t get too much notice or acclaim over the next two years but his work continued to be consistent. He would again steal scenes in 2011’s The Ides Of March and Moneyball as frumpy Coach Art Howe. 2012 was another big year for Hoffman as it would be acclaim in both his theatre and his film acting. On stage he blew Broadway crowds away during the summer with his performance of Willy Loman in Death Of A Salesman and played controlling yet charismatic religious leader Lancaster Dodd in The Master. 2013 would give him more exposure to the commercial movie crowd as he entered into the Hunger Games trilogy as Plutarch Heavensbee in 2013’s Catching Fire. He had already finished playing Plutarch in the first Mockingjay film and had just finished most of the shooting for the second as of February 1st.
Outside of acting, Hoffman shied away from the spotlight. In 1999, he statrted dating Mimi O’Donnell. It would prove to be a permanent union and both he and Mimi had three children. He was open about his past alcohol and drug abuse from which experienced upon graduating from Tisch. He said of his experiences: “I abused anything I could get my hands on and I liked it all.” He recovered successfully and would describe himself as a teetotaler from his past experience but a relapse would eventually happen. In May 2013, he openly confessed to abusing heroine and prescription pills and checked himself into a rehab clinic for ten days.
On Sunday February 2nd, Hoffman was found dead by playwright and friend David Bar Katz in the bathroom of his Manhattan office apartment. A hypodermic needle was found in his arm according to the police. Heroin was also found in the apartment. He was 46 years old.
I hate to bring up the topic of tabloid gossip at a time like this but that topic is unavoidable. Especially when a famous actor dies in such a way. There’s no question in the weeks and months after, there will be a lot of questions about this. There will be some journalists who will want to interview Mimi O’Donnell or close family relatives about this situation. Cast mates of past movies will also be questioned. Even the rehab clinic Hoffman has been attending since his relapse will face its fair share of journalists. I myself am shocked to hear of that. Years ago I read his IMDB profile and it said he does not drink alcohol because of his past experience with alcoholism. I was happy feeling that there was an actor that can be free from scandal. I never knew about his relapse. This is especially surprising since you normally hear about such deaths of actors hugely in the public eye. And Philip was the opposite. He was mostly private, rarely attended A-list events, had friends who were mostly in theatre rather than in the Hollywood business, had an unmarried relationship to the same woman since 1999 and raised his kids quietly. I guess we’ll only know the whole story in the future.
One thing to say is I don’t want to focus on the surroundings of his death. Even though I feel like asking ‘What happened,’ I’ll keep my mouth shut for now. One thing I will say is that I will always admire Philip Seymour Hoffman for the actor that he was. I’m able to separate myself from actors as actors and actors as people. Whenever I admire actors, I admire them for their acting jobs. They’d have to give me a good reason for me to admire their lifestyle. Anyways Philip Seymour Hoffman was an excellent actor. He really knew how to embrace the character both physically and emotionally. He was more than a top character actor, he knew how to make the roles multidimensional. I’ve seen many of his performances and he never let me down once. He always delivered.
I’ve always considered Philip to be one of the best actors of my generation. I also must confess I was secretly predicting and hoping that Philip would be the next Tom Hanks. It just showed how naive I was to the present acting system. There was a time when an actor had the ability to be both a master of their craft and a top box office draw. That was common form the 30’s to the 60’s. Then there was a time in the 70’s when the big money-winning movies and the serious films had a gap between them that really widened in that decade. With that came a bigger gap between the on-screen craftmasters and the money-winning A-listers. That was especially noticeable in the 80’s. The reason why Tom Hanks was so beloved was that he was one of those rarities who was able to deliver in their craft and bring in top box office dollar.
I felt that Philip had the potential to do just that. I just wasn’t aware at the time of the types of actors that were able to win over the box office dollars. Turns out it’s back to being a looks thing again. Especially in the wake of the Twilight movies. I should know that 5′ 10″ and slightly pudgy won’t make you an A-lister. In fact one New York journalist summed up the physical appearance of Hoffman as: “a stocky, often sleepy-looking man with blond, generally uncombed hair who favored the rumpled clothes more associated with an out-of-work actor than a star.” That was just his nature. He was more interested in being an actor than a star.
Like I said Philip never let me down. Whether it was a role in a popular popcorn movie or if it was in a serious independent production, Philip always delivered. Even his co-stars would vouch for that. I believe that’s the legacy Philip will leave behind. Character acting performances that he didn’t just play but embodied and he knew how to grab your attention. I will always admire him for that.
Rest In Peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman. And thank you for captivating us over the years.
WIKIPEDIA: Philip Seymour Hoffman. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Seymour_Hoffman>
NOTE: I know this is awfully late to post a review of Catching Fire but I’ve had another lack of ambition in terms of writing this year. Those of you who’ve been subscribed to my blog for more than a year will remember the six week gap that began after the Oscars and left me with a March of nothing. Fortunately this gap ends today. However it explains this review coming awfully late.
I’m sure most of you have already seen The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Heck, there are still people seeing it as it’s still in the Top 10 at the box office this weekend and about to pass the $400 million mark. In this review, I won’t focus too much on the nitty gritty as I normally do. However I will post my thoughts on it as I was watching. Being one who has not read the novels, I will have a lot to say from what I remember seeing.
Those of you who have read my review of the original Hunger Games may have gotten a sense I did not read the novels. Especially since I made guesses about what was to happen in future movies. The funny thing is in the first movie, I thought the new love between Katniss and Peeta was real. I should have known Katniss did it for the sake of both of them winning. If it was a real relationship, why would boyfriend Gale applaud at the end?
One thing about the ending of the first. It provides the catharsis for President Snow to visit Katniss and even threaten her. The funny thing about the beginning is that it tells the whole truth about Katniss’ love triangle. There’s Gale whom she truly loves. And there’s Peeta whom she faked love for the both of them winning but he truly loves her and is crushed with the truth. There’s also the whole Hunger Games charade. Champions have to tour year after year across the districts. That mean the Katniss/Peeta charade has to be kept alive. It’s not an easy thing to do as people see them as this thing and rebels are executed by militia. Even harder is Peeta adding to the charade by proposing marriage to Katniss.
As one who hasn’t read the novel, the Quarter Quell came to me as a total surprise. Each year you have kids killing for the win and now you have winners killing each other off? I’m sure there were others who thought: “Not another Hunger Games. Twenty-four winners competing to be the one still alive? Why?” I was confused by it all, even though I was made aware that this was part of President Snow’s plan. I was also thinking is this was going to be your typical movie sequel where they rehash the elements of the original.
The Quarter Quell does appear to be redundant as it involves a parade around the stadium and even the contestants introducing themselves to the crowd and showing off their costumes. Even the new high-tech training does appear to be a case of rehashing from the first. Having Heymitch back as their coach and Cinna back as their costumer didn’t make things that much fresher either. There was one new element. There’s Katniss interacting and even befriending some of the other contestants before the competition.
Then comes the actual competition. There comes deadly rivalry from some of the contestants. There’s even potential fatality from some of the virtual effects created by the games masters. The way Katniss reaches out and befriends some of the other contestants is only slightly repetitive of the first but it does have its own original moments with her befriending of Mags, Wiress, Beetee and even the obnoxious Johanna. The Katniss/Peeta relationship in this movie had me on the untrusting side. It left me wondering if this was real or fake for the show again. Even the addition of Finnick leaves me wondering about the love triangle as I wondered is he really helping or is he trying to get a piece of Katniss?
It isn’t until the very end of the movie that I learned that the real battle in this Hunger Games movie is not Katniss against the other competitors but actually Katniss against the whole Hunger Games institution. It was obvious she knew what President Snow was up to. It also gave Katniss a sense that the other contestants in the Quarter Quell were as much a victim of this whole Hunger Games system as she was. It was evident that they all wanted out and would be lucky to survive getting out. The ending of the movie left me with a lot of questions about what to expect for the final part of the trilogy. Make that ‘parts’ since the final novel will follow the examples of Harry Potter and Twilight and divide it into two movies. Way to go, Hollywood!
Now onto the technical stuff. Jennifer Lawrence was good but not that spectacular. I’ll admit that I compared it to her Oscar-winning role of Silver Linings Playbook and it just doesn’t compare. It’s hard not to now! Josh Hutcherson turned Peeta from a lonely homely boy to a boy now angry and hurting. Sam Claflin helped make Finnick the one fresh character that added to the movie this time around. Actually the characters of the contestants of the Quarter Quell were all quite good in terms of both their characterizations and in making their characters human and likeable. The characters of those pulling the strings of the Hunger Games like Stanley Tucci’s Caesar and Elizabeth Banks’ Effie may have come across as irritating and stockish at times but they added to the story. Actually they added to the theme of the movie of how there are these cartoonish people pulling the strings of the show while the contestants are mostly the real 3D people in this game. Even though they have a show to put on and a game to kill for the win, they still feel and hurt.
Now onto the technical stuff. Francis Lawrence did a good job of directing, even though there was nothing fresh added. Actually he’s slated to direct both Mockingjay movies. We’ll see how he works it. Once again I admit I’ve never read the novel so I can’t say how good of an adaptation Simon Beaufoy and Michael De Bruyn did. I will say that it did seem too much like the first. James Newton Howard did a very good job in terms of the score. The visual effects team did an excellent job with the effects. Trish Summerville did a very good job with the costumes. It’s unfortunate that the first movie’s costumes didn’t get an Oscar nomination. I shouldn’t be surprised since the Academy normally favors timepiece costuming over fantasy costuming. But is it deserving, even again here.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is bound to get a lot of people who haven’t read the novel surprised, then questioning, then surprised and then guessing at the end what to expect next. The good thing about this movie is that even though there is some redundancy, it doesn’t resort to Twilight’s trick of focusing on hot guys. It knows it’s mostly about the drama and sticks to it. That’s the best thing and I hope they keep it up for the two Mockingjay movies.
“It’s one of those moments everyone remembered where they were when he won.”
-Toronto Star journalist Mary Ormsby
It’s funny how time passes. We always think that way whenever we remember a great moment in sports. It’s that same feel whenever we remember one of the more infamous moments in sports too. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the 1988 Olympic 100m dash final: a moment that would eventually become Canada’s most infamous moment at the Olympic Games. Any Canadian who was around at the time will remember that moment whenever you bring it up. However I was reminded of it two months ago when I saw an ESPN 30 For 30 film about it entitled 9.79* It was a film I watched repeatedly on Youtube. The film brought back a lot of memories for me but it also showed me there was more than met the eye at the time.
THE START OF IT ALL
Here in this blog I will reflect on my memories of that moment, the years leading up, the years since, and my own thoughts while watching 9.79*. I was a teenager around the time of the Ben Johnson/Carl Lewis rivalry. I was one who followed the rivalry rather closely. I still remember how it was first a case of Carl Lewis and how he matched Jesse Owens’ feat of four gold medals at the Los Angeles Games of 1984 in the same four event Jesse won gold in 1936. I knew of the Canadian named Ben Johnson who won bronze in the 100m dash during those Games. Back then, Ben Johnson’s bronze and the bronze of Canada’s 4*100 relay was good news but quiet news. Thanks to the boycott of the Eastern Bloc nations, Canada won 44 medals in Los Angeles including ten gold.
A RIVALRY IS BORN
I remember around 1985 reading about a Canadian named Ben Johnson who won a big 100m race and beat Carl Lewis along the way. Already that would catch some Canadians’ attention, including mine. A Canadian that could beat the great Carl Lewis. Attention from Canadians grew in 1986 when Ben Johnson continued his winning streak against Carl in 1986. I even remember reading of a meet Ben won with a time of 9.95 which was just .02 seconds shy of the world record. I sensed Johnson to be a possible Olympic champion in 1988 at that time and maybe a possible world record breaker.
Then came the 1987 World Championships in Rome. There are only two competitions in an Olympic sport where one can truly prove themselves the best in the world: the Olympic Games and the World Championships. It’s especially memorable not only for Ben Johnson’s win but for breaking the world record with a time of 9.83: one tenth of a second. I myself remember the World Championships of that year and CBC’s live broadcast. There was additional excitement to this showdown as Carl and Ben were assigned in side-by-side lanes which added more excitement. I was hoping to see the final live but I went away for something at the time. I don’t remember exactly what I left for. That night I saw the race at the end of a news broadcast. Before they were to show the race at the very end of the news show, the man made mention of the ‘9.83 seconds of Ben Johnson.’ I thought to myself: “9.83? That can’t be. You can’t break a 100m dash world record by a full tenth of a second. That’s too much. That has to be wind-aided.” I saw the rebroadcast of the race. I heard it was legit and I took it at face value at the time. For a year, I felt the same excitement as the rest of Canada knowing that we had the fastest man in the World. I think Ben even stole a lot of attention away from Wayne Gretzky. How often does a track athlete get more attention in Canada than a star hockey player? It made the anticipated Olympic showdown in Seoul that more exciting.
1988 AND THE BUZZ BEGINS
The Olympic showdown in Seoul was definitely something to wait for in big anticipation but it was still one year away. And a lot can happen in a year. First off was the Calgary Olympics. Canada again failed to win a gold medal. The months and weeks leading up to the Seoul Olympics would provide both excitement and drama. First there was excitement of the anticipated Johnson/Lewis duel. Then there was mention of another Canadian, Desai Williams who was also Johnson’s teammate from the Scarborough Optimists track club, being another potential threat to the field. There were the two Angelas–Bailey and Issajenko– who were both threats for the women’s 100m dash. For the record, the two Angelas did not get along well off the track. There was the CBC Olympic preview show Road To Seoul which showed the potential medalists for these Games, both Canadian and foreign in the various sports, and them telling their stories of their training, competing and their goals for the 1988 Olympics.
Then there was the drama of learning of Ben Johnson’s injury: a pulled hamstring. I didn’t learn about his injury until I was watching an Olympic preview show and it talked of Desai winning an international track meet as an injured Ben was a spectator in the stands. It left a big question mark whether Ben would heal in time for Seoul, not just for the sake of their own competition but drawing excitement and big-time attention to the Seoul Olympics. During Ben’s healing process came some more exciting news. In addition to Desai’s win, Angella Issajenko won the 100m at an international meet beating 1984 Olympic champion Evelyn Ashford of the US. The US Olympic trials also added to the excitement as Carl Lewis won the 100m in a wind-aided 9.78. Even though the time was not legit enough to be a world record, it sent a message to Ben which Ben naturally brushed aside. Another surprise moment at the US Olympic Trials was the 10.49 world record of Florence Griffith-Joyner in the 100m. It chopped more than a quarter of a second off the world record and is still questioned to this day, even though Griffith-Joyner’s autopsy results from 1998 declared nothing of steroid abuse.
Another note: I also remember one Olympic preview show talk about doping procedures and how they’re conducted. After a sporting event the athlete would produce their sample and it would be divided into two testing samples. If the first sample called the A-sample tests positive, only the athlete is notified and they are given two options. I forget what the first option was but I know the second option was reproducing a sample. If the second sample called the B-sample is positive, it’s confirmed and the necessary penalties and suspensions are carried out.
I was reminded in 9.79* of one key competition weeks before Seoul that would have a bearing on the story: the Weltklasse in Zurich. It’s funny how Zurich’s Weltklasse competition would provide a lot of key moments in the years of the Johnson/Lewis rivalry. In fact it was the 1985 Weltklasse where Ben’s first victory over Carl occurred. 1988’s Weltklasse was yet another focus of the Lewis/Johnson rivalry especially since this was Ben Johnson returning to competition since his hamstring injury. The Lewis/Johnson duel got even more attention than American sprinter Butch Reynolds breaking the 20 year-old world record in the 400m dash at that meet. I still remember CBC stopping broadcast of a soap opera at that time to show live telecast of that competition. I remember first seeing the warm ups and then seeing all of the runners shown lane-by-lane. Funny how the other sprinters who were in the same events of the Lewis/Johnson rivalry like Brit Linford Christie, American Calvin Smith and Jamaican Ray Stewart were frequently regarded by most as simply “lane-fillers” as Dennis Mitchell put it. I remember that Ben and Carl were again in opposite lanes and they both received the biggest cheers in the stadium when their names were announced. Then the run took place and Carl won with Ben third. That was Ben’s first loss to Lewis since 1985. I know it had some of us Canadian’s nervous. Hey, it was natural for us to want Ben to win in Seoul.
SEOUL 1988: THE MOMENT ARRIVES
Then came the Seoul Olympics. Sure enough the Lewis/Johnson rivalry was probably the most hyped-up rivalry before the Games. I can’t think of any other rivalry for Seoul that was more hyped-up. There were even the sentimental stories added to the hype of the rivalry. First was the constantly repeated story of Johnson being an immigrant and finding his place in track and field. As for Carl Lewis, his story was that his father died the year before and Carl put the 100m gold medal from 1984 into his coffin. He told his surprised family: “Don’t worry. I’ll win another.”
Even before the final, there was drama in the preliminary races. First was the quarterfinal Johnson ran in. Johnson finished third and with there being six quarterfinals, the Top 2 automatically qualified for the semi while the last four qualifiers would be the four fastest of those that finished between 3rd and 6th. Ben ran the first quarterfinal and would have to wait until all six were run to know if he qualified. You could bet it was an agonizing time not just for Ben but for Canada too. Even after it was clear Ben’s time was fast enough to qualify, many of us Canadians including myself were still nervous. After seven days of Olympic competition, Canada was still waiting for its first medal of any color at these Games and we didn’t know what to expect from Ben the next day. As for Carl, he not only won his quarterfinal easily but was the only one to run it under 10 seconds. Anyways Ben and Canada could breathe a sigh of relief in the semis the next day as Ben won his semifinal. However Carl also won his semi and just like in the quarterfinals, he was the only one to run it under ten seconds. The heavily-anticipated Lewis/Johnson rivalry in Seoul would finally be a reality in the final but the world would then have to wait an hour and a half for it to start.
THE FINAL: THE HYPE IS NOW A REALITY
I remember where I was during that exact moment too. It was a Saturday afternoon in Seoul when the event happened which meant because of the time difference, live broadcast took place late evening on a Friday for us Canadians. I don’t remember exactly too much about what I saw before the race started. I remember that my mother, my sister and I gathered around the television set. My father was at work doing overtime. Talk about hard luck that day. I remember the lane-by-lane rundown of all the finalists. I knew all their names but 9.79* reminded me of which runner was in which lane. I never forgot Carl was in Lane 3 and Ben was in Lane 6. I was also reminded by 9.79* of the starter and how he said “Take your marks” and “Set” in Korean. The film has made the memory hard to forget since.
Then the start. Surprisingly there was not a single false start beforehand: just one bang and it started. Then the race: I could remember Ben in the lead right at the start of the gun. All of us were glued to the television set in both excitement and nervousness. Once Ben crossed the finish line, we all jumped up and cheered loudly in celebration. I was also stunned to see the world record from Rome broken. My father even called from work as he heard it on the radio while working. I remember he asked me: “Did you see it?” in excitement. I remember going into a conversation though I forgot all we talked about. The following night I went to a party. We were all drinking and dancing. I remember one guy saying “Yeah! Ben Johnson!” Euphoria continued on the Sunday as well as relief that we were now winning more medals in other events.
THE TRUTH IS UNRAVELED
Then the bombshell. Everybody may remember where they were when they were when the final was contested and I’m sure most, if not everybody, may remember where they were when they heard the shocking news. I remember where I was when I received the first hint. It was late Monday afternoon and I returned home from school. My mother came and said: “I heard some bad news.” I didn’t know what she was talking about. Then she said: “There’s news of a positive drug test and they think it’s Ben Johnson.” I was surprised but I thought to myself; “It can’t be.” I then turned on the television. Within time I learned that it was true. Ben Johnson had tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol. I believe at first I didn’t want to believe it. However it was there on the television right in front of my face.
I remember switching between the channels showing Olympic coverage that evening. It was all the same. Both CBC channels, the English and French-language ones, had the story. Even NBC was showing it. I also remember CBC’s live broadcast from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Main Press Centre. It first started with an official announcing the sanctions to Ben: disqualification which included being stripped of his gold and a two-year ban from competition. It was followed by Alexandre de Merode, head of the IOC Medical Commission, being asked questions in various languages and responding in French. I was flicking between the three channels at that time. One station returned attention to the Olympic competition with the start of the men’s road race in cycling. Very ironically, it was won by Olaf Ludwig of East Germany. You’ll what I mean by ‘very ironically’ in my follow-up blog three days from now. That day did have some redeeming competition moments like Greg Louganis completing diving’s double-double of gold medals by winning platform diving and Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux receiving a porcelain box from the IOC for saving the life of a Singaporean sailor in danger of drowning days earlier.
The aftermath was ugly. I remember Ben’s sister constantly saying: “No! No! He would never do anything like this!” I remember many people were saying it’s possible to be sabotage. I remember news footage of Ben making his way to the Seoul airport and Ben’s arrival in Toronto. Both times he was met by news people that were both hungry and hostile. I remember hearing of all the professional companies that endorsed Ben Johnson including Diadora withdrawing their endorsements to him almost immediately. Most Canadian athletes tried to compete without letting the news affect their own performances. The Canadian team would leave Seoul with a total of ten medals, three of them gold. The Canadian track team struggled to compete in the wake of that debacle. Canada’s only legit medal in Track and Field was decathlete David Steen’s bronze. The sprinters just fell apart. Canada was medal favorites in both 4*100m relays but the scandal just caused the sprinters to fall apart. The women’s team failed to qualify for the final and the men’s team could only muster 7th.
Outside of Olympic competition, I remember a lot of news stories continuing. I remember Ben publicly declaring he had never knowingly taken steroids. Charlie Francis added to the alleged insistence of sabotage. But Angella held nothing back when she returned back to Canada. She declared that Ben took steroids and he knew about it. I remember news talk about Charlie’s team doctor Jamie Astaphan. I don’t remember of any mention of Dr. Astaphan before the news of the positive. If there was any, it may have been footnotes. After the news of the positive, you can bet there was focus on him. All this would pave way to an inquiry to get answers. Did Ben knowingly take steroids? Or was it sabotage? Who else was involved?
On a comedic note, I remember watching the first Saturday Night Live of that season. There was the Weekend Report with Dennis Miller and he did some post-Olympic humor. First was of the American Joyner family. The second was on Ben Johnson. You’d figure SNL wouldn’t dare miss a chance on this. And they delivered as they had a segment where Ben inspired the All-Drug Olympics. The competition was held naturally in Bogota, Colombia and there was ‘live footage’ of a Soviet weightlifter attempting to lift a huge weight. The sportscaster detailed all the drugs the lifter took and said: “but it’s legit, actually it’s enouraged, here at the All-Drug Olympics.” The lifter didn’t just simply fail in his lift but his arms fell off, leading him bleeding from the joints. Miller ended the segment cracking: “With the Games half-over, Canada leads in total medals.” Further cracks from SNL on Ben Johnson would continue over the episodes which would piss my teenage sister off a lot. I don’t think she got it at the time but the reason why Ben Johnson and Canada got a lot of pot shots on SNL was because creator-writer Lorne Michaels is Canadian.
AN INQUIRY GETS TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS
The Canadian government set up an official inquiry at the start of 1989 to get the answers on Ben’s positive results. The inquiry would be conducted by chief justice Charles Dubin and would be officially known as the Dubin Inquiry. The Inquiry turned out to expose more than just the answers to the Ben Johnson scandal. In fact I remember one of the athletes testifying one month before Charlie Francis was a Canadian weightlifter who had nothing to do with the Ben Johnson scandal. Even some doctors involved in outside doping cases were interviewed. Shows that the inquiry was more than about getting answers to a positive drug test at the Olympics.
In March 1989, almost five months since the test results were made public, Charlie Francis took the stand to testify. He admitted that he gave steroids to his athletes and that Ben knew all along that he was taking them. He even said that steroids gave a one-meter advantage in an event like the 100m dash. Simultaneously I remember reading that Desai Williams, who was preparing for a track meet in Europe, confessed his own participation in taking the steroids given by Charlie Francis. His reason: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” I also remember Carl Lewis’ reaction in response. He declared Ben: “a liar and a cheat. At least I have the world record by a clean athlete.” Angella Isajenko testified the following week. She even went as far as bringing her diary where she documented her steroid intake since 1979. I never saw live broadcast of the inquiry or even news coverage of that event. I did however read about it in the local newspaper. That’s the most I remember of that, and the tears she shed for her teammates the following day.
There was one athlete not directly connected to the Ben Johnson scandal that caught my attention. It was Canadian sprinter Tony Sharpe. He competed at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and qualified for the 100m dash final and would run as part of Canada’s bronze medal-winning 4*100m relay team. He stated in his testimony that steroid abuse gave him physical complications and would eventually lead to his premature retirement from the sport back in 1985. Serves as a reminder that for all the physical advantages steroids give, they also cause a lot of physical problems too.
Funny thing is right when the Dubin Inquiry was happening, an American sprinter named Darrell Robinson said he saw Carl Lewis and Florence Griffith-Joyner purchase vials of steroids. I remember that story quite well. I also remember reading in Sports Illustrated that Robinson and Griffith-Joyner, who retired shortly after Seoul, were both interviewed on the Today show where Griffith-Joyner called Robinson a ‘lying lunatic.’ Robinson responded: “The truth will come out.” I remember hearing many stories about Carl threatening to sue Robinson but I don’t think it ever came about. I never did learn the end result.
Back to the Dubin Inquiry, Dr. Astaphan finally testified. He admitted of all the steroids he gave to Charlie Francis and his athletes but the biggest shocker is that he gave some steroidic medicines that were veterinarian medicines: not meant for humans! I also remember him talking frequently of Winstrol. The bizarre thing I remember about this was that after he talked of all that he administered, he said he was keeping in line with the Hippocratic Oath he swore under. Funny. Since when did giving athletes performance enhancing drugs become in allegiance with the Hippocratic Oath?
The crazy thing about this is that with every athlete or professional connected to the Ben Johnson scandal giving testimony, it made me more and more impatient in waiting for Ben himself to testify. Ben finally testified in June. I remember on that day, someone in my family was watching something else on television. It was the only television in the house at the time. I then turned on the radio and I could hear Ben Johnson examined by the justice. Later on he would admit to taking them. When asked why he said he never knowingly took them upon arriving home, he said it was because he was tired and frustrated from all that was happening. He also told the youth of Canada not to take steroids. Funny thing is even after Ben Johnson had completed his testimony, there were still people and doctors that testified some time after. Also I remember just shortly after Johnson’s testimony, Geraldo Rivera did a show about steroids on his talk show Geraldo. I remember at the conclusion of the inquiry, Justice Charles Dubin stated his conclusions and verdicts. He also blamed the cutthroat competitiveness of competitive sports and even things like the Olympic Games and high-payout athletic endorsements for the rampant use of steroids.
There were additional penalties after the Dubin Inquiry. Both Desai and Angella were banned from competition for two years and were stripped of all their records. They would retire in that time. Other Canadian runners such as Mark McCoy who didn’t run his relay leg in Seoul in the wake of the scandal also received a two year ban. Charlie Francis would soon be banned from coaching for life. He appeared to have come clean after he admitted giving his athletes steroids. However he’d be disgraced again when he announced that he’d continue giving his athletes steroids. Once that was made public, he was banned for life. Ben Johnson’s world record from the 1987 World Championships was also stripped from the record books. The new record was the 9.92 run by Carl Lewis in Seoul. Ben was however allowed to keep both of his Olympic bronzes from Los Angeles. Desai and Angella were allowed to keep their 1984 Olympic medals too.
There are some interesting footnotes. One is that there were three books released in a matter of two years since that were either about the scandal or made mention of the scandal. The most notable was Carl Lewis’ autobiography Inside Track released late in 1990. In that same time period Charlie Francis released his book Speed Traps. However the biggest one for me was Angella Issajenko and her book Running Risks which was released around the same time as Inside Track. I remember she even had a radio interview on a Winnipeg station while promoting her book. She made mention of a meet where Canada’s senior women’s relay team finished behind East Germany’s junior relay team. That’s when she made the decision to go on steroids. She also said she believed the world has learned nothing from this. I admire Angella for most telling it like it was.
For years after Seoul, there was the big question about Ben Johnson running again. For a long time, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) was saying he can’t run for Canada again. Jamaica said they didn’t want him back. That changed when Carol Anne Letheren was made head of the COC. Johnson was allowed to compete for Canada again. I even remember a news story of Ben Johnson with his new coach in 1990. Ben’s comeback began at an indoor meet in the winter of 1991. I remember tracing Ben’s comeback attempt at the time. Upon returning, Ben looked less bulky since Seoul. Ben lost the race by a close margin. Ben would continue competing. However reality sunk in when there was a meet in France which was to be the first Johnson/Lewis rivalry since Seoul. It was actually won by American Dennis Mitchell. Carl Lewis finished second and Ben finished eighth and last. I was really hoping for Ben to come back from this and I was starting to lose hope in him. Further hope was lost when I learned he finished fourth at the World Championship Trials. His only berth at the Worlds came on the men’s relay. For the record, Canada had a new national fastest man: Bruny Surin. Ben was still persistent. He would qualify for the 100m dash at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona while Carl Lewis was ill at the US Olympic Trials and missed qualifying. Johnson only got as far as the semifinals in Barcelona. At that time I sensed some hope for Ben in the future.
Unfortunately the Barcelona Olympics would be the last major competition Ben would appear in. Months later, he allegedly failed another drug test. This time he was banned for life. I was shocked myself because I wanted to see him come back a winner. He protested his innocence but declined to fight the charge since he was nearing the end of his career. He did fight the charges five years later and won only to test positive again in 1999. By then, I just shrugged it off. I didn’t have to worry. Canada already had a new World’s Fastest Man in Donovan Bailey and he never failed a doping test. It was obvious that steroids made Ben.
So there you go. Those are my memories of the final in Seoul and what happened in the years leading to it and the years leading since. If I wouldn’t have seen that film 9.79*, I wouldn’t have remembered that today’s the 25th Anniversary of that moment. My how time flies. Anyways you heard my thoughts on the big moment today. I also posted my thoughts on doping in sport on Friday.
The members of the International Olympic Committee will meet in Buenos Aires from September 7th to 10th for their committee Session. This will be the 125th Session the IOC has held since 1894. Usually there’s your typical IOC business to discuss at the Session but this is one Session where there will be three high-focused issues.
Host City Of The 2020 Summer Games:
The IOC Sessions are where the elections are held for the host cities of future Olympic Games. They’re voted on usually six or seven years beforehand. The bidding process officially begins two years earlier when the IOC sends letters to the national Olympic Committees to submit bids. Bid confirmations and seminars follow and then the field gets narrowed down to a shortlist of candidates. This time it’s three. All three cities were visited by the IOC’s Evaluation Commission in March during three separate four-day periods and the report of the cities would be delivered in June followed by a briefing session of the candidate cities with IOC members in Lausanne. On Saturday the 7th, the vote for the host city of the XXXIInd Olympics will come down to three cities:
- Istanbul, Turkey – Turkey is the one country amongst the bidders that has never hosted an Olympic Games. However Istanbul has a good reputation of hosting events such as many soccer events and even a swimming World Championships. Also Turkey’s worldwide reputation has improved a lot in the past thirty years especially amongst joining the EU.
- Tokyo, Japan – This is the heavy favorite. Tokyo actually has hosted the Summer Games before back in 1964. Japan has continued to be a good host for sporting events like two Winter Olympics (Sapporo in 1972 and Nagano in 1998) and co-hosting the 2002 World Cup. However the earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear plant catastrophe still hang like a dark cloud over Japan and this may cause some to be weary of voting for Tokyo.
- Madrid, Spain – This is Madrid’s third attempt at hosting the Summer Olympics. It is given the least odds of the three host cities but don’t rule it out. We shouldn’t forget Rio had the third-most odds before the vote for the 2016 host. Both Madrid and Spain have a stellar record of hosting sporting events. Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics. Spain hosted the 1982 World Cup and the final was held in Madrid. Madrid has also hosted World Championships in Aquatic sports, basketball and even major tournaments in track and field and tennis. Madrid enters this race as the city that has proven the most in hosting sporting events.
The 26th Sport For 2020:
Usually an Olympic Session votes on including sports in the Olympic program. Here there will be a vote on including a 26th sport for the 2020 Summer Olympics. However that inclusion risks causing a highly-publicized exclusion. Months ago the IOC announced the Top 25 ‘core’ sports that made the cut for being contested for the 2020 Summer Olympics. What made the biggest noise was the one sport that didn’t make the cut: Wrestling. Wrestling has been part of the Olympic Games even up to its ancient contests in the 7th century B.C. It was included in the modern revival of the Olympic Games ever since the first Olympics in 1896 and has been part of every modern Olympics except for 1900. Wrestling was again contested at the London Games of 2012 where 29 nations won at least one Wrestling medal. Only Track and Field put more nations on the podium in London.
However it was not seen as Olympic enough to be a ‘core’ sport. Many National Olympic Committees have spoken their disappointment with this decision. Even the president of the International Wrestling Federation (FILA) resigned in disappointment. However Wrestling has been given a second chance as a sport up for the vote for the ’26th sport’ for 2020. The only other two sports rivaling wrestling are Squash which has never been contested at the Olympics and Baseball/Softball: sports contested from 1992 to 2008 and seeking to return to the Olympic program. The structuring of inclusions and exclusions of sports really shows how much the IOC has changed in the last 20 or so years. It also puts into question the future of other sports. I know the IOC is trying to keep the Olympics from getting too big but is exclusion of sports really the answer?
The New IOC President:
Tuesday September 10th will be the vote for a new president of the International Olympic Committee. After 12 years, Jacques Rogge will step down as president of the IOC. Rogge leaves a legacy of improving sports in developing countries and of making efforts for hosting the Olympic Games to be less costly. It’s not to say he’s had some controversies of his own. He had been rumored to participate in a discussion about Chinese internet censorship as they we about to host the Beijing Games in 2008. Nevertheless I consider him to be the least dictator-like IOC president in history.
Now on to selecting a new president. There are six men from six countries up for the position:
- Thomas Bach – Germany: Four months ago he was actually the first person to announce his run for the IOC presidency. He is an IOC member since 1991 and the President of the Arbitration Appeals Division for the Court of Arbitration of Sport. He is also an Olympic champion. Back in 1976, he was part of West Germany’s gold medal-winning Foil Fencing team. He’s the heavy favorite.
- Ng Ser Miang – Singapore: Ng has been an IOC member since 1998 and has been part of the Executive Board since 2005.
- Richard Carrion – Singapore: He has been a member of the IOC since 1990, currently chairs the Finance Commission and is a member of the IOC’s Marketing, TV and International Rights Commission. He’s also the CEO of financial holding company Popular, Inc., one of the most powerful financial companies in Puerto Rico.
- Wu Ching-Kuo – Taiwan (Chinese Taipei): He has served as an IOC member since 1988 and has served as the president of the International Boxing Association.
- Denis Oswald – Switzerland: He has served as an IOC member since 1991 and is the current head of the International Rowing Federation.
- Sergei Bubka – Ukraine: He has served as an IOC member since 2008 and is current head of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee. He is also considered to be the greatest pole vaulter in history. He was Olympic Champion in 1988 and has set 35 pole vault world records in his career.
One of these six will be the new president. It’s possible we could have the first president ever that was a former Olympic champion. It will all be decided Tuesday.
The 125th IOC Session has lots in stock when the various IOC members meet in Buenos Aires. There’s the usual admission of new members and there’s also the big matters I talked about. No kidding that lots need to be taken care of here.
The Confederations Cup soccer tournament began on June 15th. Also what started around that time was a protest in Sao Paulo about transit fare inflation. Protests soon grew in Brazil. I’m sure the Confederations Cup competition and the worldwide media attention to that event had a lot to do with the growth. But what are the protests about? And why are they happening all of a sudden?
First it’s important to look at the country of Brazil. Most people will consider Brazil a poor or developing country. It is true to an extent. What most people don’t know is how much Brazil’s economy has grown since the 1980’s. Its biggest growth was in the industries of oil, mining and agriculture which grew at 47% or 3.6% per year since 2000. Its industrial growth rate is also impressive with an 8.8% back in 2008. Brazil’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world and actually now ranks 7th in the world and has the highest GDP per capita in South America and 53rd in the world overall. Its gross national income of $10,721 US in 2011 classifies itself as upper-middle income: an income on par with many countries of Eastern Europe. It can be attributed to many factors. Some say it could be Brazil’s move to democracy that started with an Amnesty Law in 1979 and developed into its own Constitution in 1988.
The quality of life has also gone up considerably in the last 20 years and Brazil has worked to establish methods to either keep it that way or improve it. Despite huge urban sprawl in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, its cities have some of the finest public transit systems that have been copied and studied by many major cities in the world. Brazil has also reformed its Social Security programs and tax systems. There was even a Law Of Fiscal Responsibility that controls public expenditures by the Executive Branches of all government levels. Export, Industry and Trade has been increased while allowing Brazil to keep itself from vulnerabilities by methods such as not exporting the oil it consumes. It has also halved its debt through exchange rate-linked certificates which has allowed exporting to grow to as much as 20% a year and put a limit on its inflation rate to 4%. It also has an average life-expectancy rate of 72.7 years (2009) which is comparable to that of many Eastern European countries.
So what are all the protests about? Even before I get into the nitty gritty of the protests there are some facts to send a message that a bubble was about to burst. We must remember that while Brazil has improved a lot in past years and especially this century, there’s still a lot of development to go. Despite its improvements, the 53rd best GDP in the world shows they can do better. Its gross national income is roughly 1/4 of what developed countries like Canada are receiving. In addition, the minimum wage translates to an annual income of an unenviable 8,086 Brazilian Reals (R$) or roughly $3,600 American. Even in government despite being a democracy, Brazil still ranks as the 69th least corrupt country in the World according to Transparency International with a score of 43 out of 100.
The first protests actually started on June 1st, two weeks before the Confederations Cup was about to begin. The first major protest was in the city of Sao Paulo of a transit fare increase from R$ 3.00 to R$ 3.20. The first protest started on June 6 and grew over time. The real turning point came when police fired rubber bullets at the protesters and journalists on June 13th. This was widely criticized by Amnesty International and even Brazilian Amnesty Groups.
Soon after, and while the Confederations Cup was progressing further, the protests grew to as many as 250,000 in various major Brazilian cities on June 17th protesting. Rio de Janeiro had the biggest that day with 100,000. Even Brazilians in other world cities stages their own protests. By June 20th, protests grew to millions of people in 100 cities and grew over the next few days. As negotiations and government involvement in matters occurred, which I will discuss later, the protests calmed down but not without incidents.
Interesting enough is not just the number of protesters and cities involved growing but the issues too. What started off as one protest over a transit fare increase grew to a wide array of issues being protested against or demanded:
- A bill (PEC – 37) that hindered Public Ministry to investigate.
- The distribution of petroleum royalties to the appropriate causes.
- Lack of criminalization of all forms of Corruption and Embezzlement.
- Secret Voting in Congress for forfeiture of office.
- A bill (PEC – 33) allowing decisions made by the Supreme Court going to Congress.
- Having a Privileged Forum.
- Taxing in Public Transport.
- Demands to the National Pact for fiscal responsibility, control of inflation and proper distribution of funds to education, public transport and health.
- Demands to implement means of political reform in the country.
- Demanding 10% of the GDP be devoted to education.
- Demanding a free-pass for full-time university students.
- Demanding a revocation of a ‘gay cure’ bill (PDL – 234) authorizing psychologists to treat LGBT people.
Evident enough is that the growth in numbers and issues happened as the Confederations Cup matches were occurring. I still remember telecast of Confederation Cup matches on CBC that even included security updates of what was happening in the cities. Even though the protests have been successful in leading to solutions of problems being protested over, there was still last chances for opportunity as violent clashes occurred in Belo Horizonte as it was hosting a semifinal match on the 26th and in Rio de Janeiro as it was hosting the final on the 30th.
You could understand why the Confederations Cup had a lot to do with the increase in protests. With a major world event happening, it’s obvious the protesters want to highlight Brazil’s problems right while the eyes of the world are watching. Mind you these next three years are going to be very big for Brazil as they will play host to many major international events. Besides the Confederations Cup that finished yesterday, Rio will host the Catholic event World Youth Day later this month. Next year Brazil will host soccer’s World Cup with twelve major cities contesting the competition. And 2016 will have Rio hosting the Summer Olympic Games. I don’t know of any other country that has had to host this many major events in a matter of four years. For Brazil it’s a chance for them to show the world their image as a well-to-do nation as they will be the first developing country since Mexico in 1986 to host a World Cup and the first developing country since Mexico again in 1968 to host a Summer Olympics. In fact the World Cup was even the subject of protests that received less notice than most other protests. Many were protesting the government giving a lot of the budget ($12 billion US) to these sports events instead of on living conditions.
I mentioned that many of the issues being protested upon have been approved within this two-week span of time. You can assure the media attention to this had a lot to do with it. Among those approved by the governments and senate are: public transit prices reduced and taxes eliminated; petroleum royalties destined to education (75%) and health (25%); reform and improvement demands to the National Pact being granted; secret voting ended; Bill PEC – 37 being revoked; all forms of Corruption and Embezzlement being criminalized; and implementing a Plebiscite to politic national reform. Even though the Confederations Cup is over and a lot of reform and improvements have been politically approved, there are still demands outstanding. Some like the 10% allocation of the GDP to education, revocation of bill PDL – 234, and the Free Pass for students are currently under negotiation by Congress while issues of ending of Privileged Forum and the elimination of Bill PEC – 33 still remain undiscussed. On top of it, time will tell if the approved reforms are carried out and if carried out successfully or not. Another thing to look for in the future is how much impact it will have on President Dilma Rousseff. Her popularity has already been hit by the protests. It remains into question whether she will win the next election.
Even though many of the protester’s demand have been met and even though many are still pending as of now, don’t expect all the action to end just as the Confederation Cup has ended. I’m sure as long as Brazilians see injustice or wrong ways of doing things, there will continue to be protests even without the anticipated major events happening and even after they all end. Nevertheless it’s excellent opportunism to make improvements happen to a developing nation that has improved so much in recent decades but still has more to improve upon.
WIKIPEDIA: Economy Of Brazil. Wikipedia.com. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Brazil>
Uncredited Author . “Brazil: One Million People Demand Accountability” Transparency International. 21 June 2013. <http://www.transparency.org/news/feature/brazil_one_million_people_demand_accountability>
WIKIPEDIA: 2013 Protests In Brazil. Wikipedia.com. 2013. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_protests_in_Brazil>