[From the Daily News]
Bill Mazer died on Wednesday. When I saw the obituary online in the NYT, I was transported back to my days as a passionate fan of New York sporting teams, and to one of the great sports conversationalists. I’m not a listener of talk radio, but I suddenly remembered that I was once, thanks to Bill, a pioneer who deserved a wider platform for his intelligence.
From the NYT:
Bill Mazer, who was a voice and face of sports coverage in New York for decades, pioneering sports-talk radio and becoming a television fixture while earning the nickname the Amazin’ for his encyclopedic recall of sports facts and figures, died on Wednesday in Danbury, Conn. He was 92. …
When Mr. Mazer retired in 2009, he had spent more than 60 years in broadcasting — 20 of them as a nightly sports anchor and the host of the weekend roundup “Sports Extra” on WNEW-TV, Channel 5. Before then he had been a host of sports-talk radio when the very idea of the format was new.
He ranged beyond sports occasionally in radio interview programs with figures from all walks of life, but sports was his passion and had been since he was growing up in Brooklyn.
For a time, though, while attending a yeshiva, he envisioned becoming a rabbi.
But he also played punchball and made Ebbets Field his second home. Sports won out. As he put it long afterward, unearthing the memory of a Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher of the 1930s with a terrific fastball and a musical name: “I was paying more attention to Van Lingle Mungo than I was to Moses.”
Mr. Mazer had been covering sports at radio and TV stations in Buffalo for 16 years when he was hired by WNBC-AM in March 1964. It was unveiling an innovative talk format.
“Here, Go Nag WNBC!” the station said in a March 1964 advertisement. “Listen to the Newest Sound in New York — your own voice and your neighbor’s — on WNBC Radio, 660 on the dial.”
The station invited listeners to pick up their phones and “talk sports with Bill Mazer from 4:30-6 p.m.”
Mr. Mazer held down the sports call-in spot while others, including Brad Crandall, Long John Nebel and Big Wilson, fielded calls on just about anything else.
He was born Morris Mazer on Nov. 2, 1920, in what is now Izyaslav, Ukraine, and moved with his family to Brooklyn when he was an infant. His father worked in a kosher poultry market. His mother took the boy and his friends to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers and occasionally to the Polo Grounds to see the Giants. But his father, like many new immigrants, regarded sports as a time-wasting frivolity.
As Mr. Mazer related it in “Bill Mazer’s Amazin’ Baseball Book” (1990), written with Stan and Shirley Fischler, “When I brought my baseball talk back home, my father invariably reacted as if I were discussing the manufacture of plutonium.”
And from Neil Best in Newsday:
Bill Mazer often lamented that he did not make it bigger, never quite breaking through as a nationally known figure rather than primarily as a New York-area sports broadcaster.
But he missed the point. Amazin’, who died Wednesday two weeks shy of turning 93, was the right guy at the right time in the right place, becoming in his own very New York way an important figure in sports media history.
Mazer was born in Ukraine but grew up in Depression-era New York, rooting for the Dodgers — especially pitcher Van Lingle Mungo — before settling after World War II in Buffalo, a job he landed through a guy he met in the South Pacific named Marty Glickman.
Sixteen years later, he was back where he belonged, on WNBC, where in 1964 he began a talk show — perhaps not the very first to host a sports call-in program but the first to use his kibitzing skills to popularize and perfect the art.
Naturally, Mazer claimed to be the very first, as would any self-respecting New York character with a healthy self-promotional streak,
Mazer’s legacy lacks the historical weight of his contemporary Glickman, a world-class athlete turned influential announcer who mentored a long list of broadcasting stars and who, by the way, preceded Mazer in talking sports on the radio.
But no matter. Mazer helped make and keep sports fun and connected in particular with a generation of teenage boys now turned men in their 60s with fond memories of calling WNBC on late afternoons and having their opinions taken seriously.
I never called in, but I was part of that generation.
Rowing great Harry Parker died nine days ago at the age of 77. Not knowing he had been ill, I was stunned to learn the news (via a tweet by WSJ sportswriter Jason Gay that night linking to Harvard’s news release), all the more since Harry always seemed ageless.
Like so many others, I view him as a major influence on my life, although I’ve had no contact with him for decades. As it happens, this week marks forty years since I accompanied him to the famed Henley regatta, where a Harvard crew won the Ladies’ Challenge Plate. That brought to an end my days as a member of Harvard crew.
Some facts, from the Harvard release:
Parker began his storied coaching career in 1960 as Harvard’s freshman coach. After the sudden death of head coach Harvey Love, Parker was promoted to the role which he would go on to hold for 51 seasons. Parker’s efforts also reached outside the Harvard rowing community, as evidenced by the 2008 dedication of Community Rowing, Inc.’s new boathouse in his honor.
During Parker’s tenure, Harvard crews enjoyed spectacular success at the Henley Royal Regatta in England. It began with the 1973 JV win of the Ladies’ Plate followed by the 1985 varsity win of the Grand Challenge Cup, its fifth and most recent title in Henley’s most prestigious race. Harvard went on to six more varsity victories in the Ladies’ Plate. The victory in 2012, beating Leander by one foot, was one of the most thrilling victories of his career as the crew overcame a three-seat deficit over the final 50 meters. Harvard also won three times in the Britannia and Prince Albert fours events. The Crimson owns three course records at Henley, more than any other university.
The Crimson also won the 1965 Lucerne International Regatta, took second at the 1967 world championships, captured the 1967 Pan American Games and claimed the 1968 U.S. Olympic trials before taking sixth in the Games at Mexico City. Additionally, a total of 52 Parker-coached Harvard oarsmen have rowed at the Olympic Games over the past six decades.
From 1964 in Tokyo until 1984 in Los Angeles, Parker regularly coached U.S. Olympic crews, leading both men’s and women’s entries to strong finishes in the eights and handling the sculling at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. He coached the 1972 Olympic men’s eight, which featured five Harvard oarsmen, to a silver medal and led the first U.S. women’s national team to compete in the world championships, earning a bronze in 1975. Parker later coached the U.S. women’s eight to a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.
In 1980, Parker coached the U.S. men’s Olympic eight, which ranked second in the world prior to the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. In 1985, he coached single sculler Andy Sudduth ’83-85 to an astonishing performance in the World Rowing Championships, during which Sudduth finished second and defeated four-time world champion Peter Michael Kolbe of Germany.
Parker began rowing as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was part of victorious crews in 1955 at Sprints and the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley. After graduating, he took up single sculling and won the gold medal at the 1959 Pan American Games. He then placed fifth in the single at the 1960 Olympics.
The most prestigious event in rowing is the Olympic eights competition. For much of the twentieth century, the US entry was our best collegiate crew, and it would win the gold medal. (There’s a current bestselling book, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown, about the University of Washington crew that won the eights that year.) But in 1960 a German crew won, suggesting that the rest of the world had caught up and we couldn’t continue to win with college kids. In 1964, we reclaimed the gold with a crew of older rowers from Philadelphia’s Vesper Boat Club. Harry’s 1968 Harvard crew was the last college crew to represent the US. They won the Olympic trials, went to Mexico City, qualified for the final, came down with intestinal illnesses, and finished sixth.
The time had come to send not our best crew among competing boats but our best oarsmen. Harry was picked to run the 1972 Olympic team alluded to in the quote above. He established the model, setting up a camp, inviting the top oarsmen in the country, and selecting the eight best for the Olympic boat. At its heart was two pairs of brothers who had been the heart of Harvard’s best crews in the preceding years. The boat won the silver medal, behind New Zealand.
It’s during this period that I showed up, going out for the freshman crew in the fall of 1969. My father had rowed at Penn, like Harry some years later, and I loved the sport, but I wasn’t very good. Sophomore year, by happenstance, I returned to the boathouse as a manager. Junior year I became what Harvard called the “varsity manager”, the #2 staff member, assisting the “undergraduate manager” in arranging trips and attending to other needs. Senior year, I was the undergraduate manager. In that role, I spent countless hours around Harry.
Harry coached until the end. Just a month ago, his crew finished second to Washington in the IRA Regatta, the unofficial national championship, and beat Yale a week later in the Harvard-Yale Regatta, the oldest intercollegiate event among all sports.
The Harvard-Yale race is distinctive because it continues to be rowed at its traditional distance of 4 miles, on the Thames River in New London, Connecticut. The standard distance for international and intercollegiate rowing now is 2000 meters, or about a mile and a quarter. The switch from this to 4 miles is challenging. To prepare, the Harvard and Yale crews built separate camps decades ago on the Thames upstream of New London, each complete with boathouse, primitive housing, a cafeteria, and a small house for the coach. It falls to the undergraduate manager to run the camp, which I did for two weeks in 1973.
In those days, Harvard and Yale never competed in the IRA, because it conflicted with their race. I don’t know the arrangements now, but I’m guessing they have shortened the time they spend at the camps. Indeed, in 1974, the year after I graduated, Yale moved its own graduation date up and decided not to compete with Harvard, since doing so on the usual date would have forced the oarsmen to stick around for weeks. (Harvard went instead to Madison to race Wisconsin and on to Seattle to race Washington, a rare dual race of crews representing two historic rowing traditions.)
The two weeks at Red Top—the Harvard camp—were an intense time. We would head down right after final exams. Or maybe it was even before finals ended, with finals proctored at the camp as needed. The race would be on a Saturday, with graduation on Thursday two days before. One consequence is that graduating seniors didn’t attend graduation. Not in Cambridge, that is. Instead, Harry would run an unofficial graduation ceremony after dinner on graduation day. The undergraduate manager would drive up to Cambridge in the morning to pick up the diplomas.
That’s me. And that’s what I did. Instead of attending morning graduation in Harvard Yard, I arrived at the boathouse to pick up some supplies, headed to the registrar’s office to pick up the diplomas, was told that they couldn’t release one diploma because one of the senior co-captains owed some funds, then dashed over to Mather House, my residential house, for the post-graduation lunch and house ceremony. My parents had flown up for that, so I got to spend a little time with them, then headed over to Quincy House to say goodbye to a good friend, and back to the registrar’s office to sort out the diploma problem. A well-timed emergency phone call to Red Top, the writing of a personal check to cover the balance, diploma in hand, I drove back to Red Top.
I missed a lot that day. But I had the honor of receiving my diploma from Harry, who spoke a few words about each of the graduating seniors. I had no doubt I was in the right place.
The NYT obituary gets close to capturing Harry’s mysterious essence and why receiving my diploma from him was an honor.
Beyond the innovations in equipment and training, Parker was known as a personality. Like Rockne and Wooden, he became legendary in his sport and something of a cult figure on campus. A taciturn but highly competitive figure, he imbued in his athletes a sense of purpose and dedication that helped his crews cohere and endure both the anticipated and experienced agony at the finish of a close race. And his influence was lasting, some of his former rowers say.
“The standards Harry set were there long after you stopped rowing,” said Kip McDaniel, a financial writer who rowed varsity crew for Harvard from 2002 to 2004. “Before a race, you knew the pain was unavoidable. But one of Harry’s great gifts was for creating crews. They were communities where there was simply no doubt that everyone was going to live up to Harry’s expectations, and as a result you were probably going to win the race.”
As news of Parker’s death spread, similar sentiments were expressed by others from previous generations.
“Working with him, you saw that as you applied yourself, you could apply yourself a bit more,” said Dr. Paul G. Ramsey, who rowed for Harvard from 1967 to 1971. Now chief executive of UW Medicine, which operates hospitals and clinics in Washington State, and dean of the University of Washington medical school, Dr. Ramsey added, “He was the best teacher I ever had.”
Rockne and Wooden! That’s rarefied company. I overlapped with Paul Ramsey. Years later, i would find myself at the same university, and even joined him as a dean for a while. Small world and all that.
One of my favorite memories, from that 1973 stay at Red Top, was of an afternoon when everyone else was napping following morning practice and lunch, before the afternoon practice. It was hot and humid, a good time to be asleep. But I was up, as was Harry, so we started up a croquet game, soon to be joined by our varsity boat’s stroke, Al Shealy (later to stroke the 1975 world champion crew and 1976 Olympic silver medal crew). Harry was competitive as always. The focus was on winning, not chit chat.
A few weeks later, we were in Nottingham for a new international regatta, which we were using as a tuneup for the Henley regatta. Harry and I took an after-dinner walk, with a low sun shining in our eyes as we crossed the River Trent. A beautiful evening. And the first time that he asked what it was I planned to do now that I had graduated, despite all the time we spent together. It was all about crew. Nothing personal. But that made sense. We had work to do, races to win. That was the focus.
Another memory: the weekend in Annapolis that May for the Adams Cup, the annual race between Harvard, Penn, and Navy. Winds were expected, the races should have been moved up, but the admiral wanted to come out and watch, and the starting times went unchanged. That was the story anyway. The winds picked up after the freshmen rowed, the remaining races were postponed to the next day, and suddenly I had to re-book 50 people for either a later plane that day or a plane the next day, plus figure out how to feed them Saturday lunch and dinner and make meal arrangements for Sunday.
Won, the JV coxswain had been unable to make the trip because of a Saturday exam. In the pre-cell-phone era, I somehow got word to him while he was seated in a theater Saturday to get on an airplane to Baltimore. My varsity manager Bill and I dropped off the freshman crew, then awaited the incoming plane to see if Won made it. He did. Sunday morning his boat awoke to the surprise that he was there to race with them. That was fun.
When we got back to Logan Sunday evening, while Bill and I were handing everyone cash as they came off the plane so they could take the subway back to Cambridge (in lieu of the rented bus we had set up for Saturday), Harry walked up to us and said words I thought I would never forget. Alas, I have now, but I was sure then that they were the highest praise I would ever receive from anyone, given that until then I had never heard words of praise from him at all.
The next winter, Harry decided everyone on the crew should take up cross country skiing as cross training for rowing. I was in graduate school at that point, but still had some friends on the crew, especially Won and Bill. Prompted by Won, I went out to the suburbs with him to Harry’s house so we could go skiing with Harry at an adjacent golf course. A couple of days later, I went to Eastern Mountain Sports in Boston with Won to buy new skis, practicing around the boathouse and the athletic fields the next day. With that as my total experience on skis, I joined a caravan of crew members the next weekend to drive up to Vermont and compete in a Washington’s Birthday weekend race. That’s a story in its own right, and this isn’t the place. Suffice to say that my accomplishments were sufficiently notable that I led the NYT coverage of the race the day after.
I realize that none of what I’ve written conveys Harry’s essence. Sorry. I don’t know how. He was unique. When my parents came up to Red Top two days after flying to Boston for my abbreviated appearance at graduation, I was thrilled that I could introduce them to Harry, before abandoning them one more time to jump in the launch with Harry so that we could head downstream to the start of the four-mile race and follow the two boats up to the finish. It’s hard to believe now how much crew dominated my undergraduate years, but it did. Which means, inasmuch as Harry was the center of Harvard crew, he dominated my life. In some sense anyway. Which is why his death comes as such a shock.
It’s May, and that means it’s time for a series of Ron’s View reports on the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament. The opening round will be played this weekend, with four games Saturday and four games Sunday. Each day, ESPN2 will broadcast one game and ESPNU the other three. Last year, this arrangement (and the addition of ESPNU to our cable package) made it possible for me to watch parts of all eight games. I don’t expect to be so lucky this weekend, if for no other reason because Sunday is Mother’s Day and Gail hasn’t chosen to celebrate by watching four lacrosse games.
Each year, when I turn to lacrosse, I review some essential background. Here goes.
First, the tournament format. Sixteen teams are invited, with eight of them seeded 1 through 8. Each seeded team gets to play its opening round game at home against one of the unseeded teams. These are the eight games taking place this weekend. The eight winners play their quarterfinal games the following weekend. If all goes to form and the eight seeds win, then they pair up in the traditional way, with #1 playing #8, #2 playing #7, and so on. These games are played on neutral sites. This year, four teams travel to the University of Maryland to play, while the other four go to Indianapolis. The semifinals and final are played the weekend after, which is always arranged to be Memorial Day weekend, with semis on Saturday and final on Memorial Day Monday. In recent years, the final weekend games have rotated between Boston (well, Foxborough), Philadelphia, and Baltimore, at the stadiums of the Patriots, Eagles, and Ravens.
Second, some history. Until the last decade or so, seven teams dominated the tournament, winning every championship among them and almost always supplying the runner-up as well: Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Virginia, North Carolina, Cornell, and Maryland. That the dominant teams are from Atlantic coast states is no surprise. The game has historically been played at the high school level mostly along the Atlantic coast (especially Maryland and Long Island) and in upstate New York, a close match to the locations of these schools. But now the game is going national. Even here in the Seattle area, it has become popular among local high schools. And with westward growth, other schools are becoming powers, ranked and seeded highly. Some of the new powers, such as Duke, are still in the traditional areas of strength. Others, such as Notre Dame and Denver, aren’t.
Of course, there are many other Atlantic coast school that have traditions of excellence, such as Navy, Loyola, and Hofstra, to mention three in the Maryland and Long Island lacrosse hotbeds. Navy was runner-up twice, in 1974 and 2005. Loyola was runner-up in 1990.
Lately things are changing. Duke, most notably, was runner-up in 2005 and 2007 before breaking through to win the championship in 2010. (Yes, Duke’s story is complicated, with the premature end to their season in 2006. The surprise may be not that they broke the seven-school-stranglehold on the championship, but that they didn’t do so sooner.) Notre Dame was runner-up to Duke in 2010, in the only final not to include one of the super seven. And last year, Loyola had its own breakthrough, earning the first seed and beating in-state rival Maryland in the final.
Which brings us to this year, and still more change at the top. I caught parts of two conference championship games last weekend. In the Big East championship Saturday, Syracuse closed out its history as a member of the Big East by beating Villanova. And on Sunday, Yale won its second consecutive Ivy title by beating Princeton, which had won over Cornell in a dramatic overtime semifinal. This was not a good year for Princeton. It needed the win and the Ivy championship to earn an automatic NCAA tournament bid. In basketball bracket language, it was a bubble team, and the loss burst its bubble.
That evening, the NCAA announced the bracket. No Princeton. No Virginia. And no Johns Hopkins! The lacrosse world is changing. In their place, new powers in the making snagged seeds two through four. I mentioned Notre Dame and Denver. Also Ohio State, which edged Denver 11-10 in their conference championship game the day before, scoring the winning goal with 24 seconds left.
Here are the seeds:
2. Notre Dame
3. Ohio State
5. North Carolina
8. Penn State
The other participants are
Though they’re not seeded, I’ve listed them in the order I assume the selection committee had in mind, with Yale playing #8 seed Penn State in the opening round, Cornell playing #7 seed Duke, and so on. The last two had records below .500, earning bids only because they were conference champions, thereby squeezing stronger teams out of the tournament.
There you have it. A tournament missing the three teams with the most championships after Syracuse. A tournament reflecting the westward shift of the game’s center of gravity. A tournament with only three of the traditional seven seeded. A new order.
I couldn’t convince Gail to head to Philadelphia for Memorial Day weekend. We’ll have to settle for TV. I’ll be watching as much as I can.
[Gene Puskar/Associated Press]
It’s been a while since I’ve written about college hockey. I’ve explained before that I used to be a big fan. That happens when your older brother goes to school at one of the great hockey powers out west (which wins the NCAA title his junior and senior years), and then you head to school at one of Boston’s four great hockey powers—ranked #1 frequently during your time there—only to watch another of the Boston powers win two titles in a row, with the championship games played in Boston three consecutive years.
Starting sophomore year, I never missed a home game or a game in that best of all Boston sporting traditions, the annual midseason Beanpot tournament. Boston schools continue to dominate, BC having won three championships in the five years prior to this one and BU another. Harvard, though, has fallen on hard times, with former doormat Yale becoming the best Ivy team of late.
Well, none of this is germane to the point of this silly post, which I’ll soon get to.
In recent years, I haven’t followed college hockey so closely. There was a bit of a revival of interest when Joel attended one of Boston’s big four schools. I followed their hockey fortunes more closely than he did. And at the same time, a good friend of mine became president of a new hockey power, Miami University in Ohio, which lost the championship game way too painfully four years ago after leading BU 3-1 with just under a minute left.
So I keep up. A little. Enough to have learned that the NCAA tournament has come to be run in two parts. Sixteen teams are selected. On the same weekend that the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments reach their sweet sixteen and elite eight stages, hockey’s first two rounds are played, producing the four teams that go to the Frozen Four. (Get it? Frozen Four, not Final Four?)
Then something incredibly annoying happens. The four finalists are in top shape and eager to go at it. But the next weekend, what does the NCAA do? Okay, get ready. This post is not about hockey. It’s about a pun, one I used in explaining the situation to Gail two weekends ago, when basketball was on but not hockey. Here’s what happens:
The NCAA puts their hockey tournament on ice!
Yes, they put it on ice! Instead of letting hockey get lost amid the basketball, they postpone the Frozen Four a week, as if delaying will focus more attention on the hockey games. I just don’t get it.
But how about that pun? I was proud of it, as you can see, proud enough to devote an entire post to it.
As for this year’s tournament, the championship game was played two days ago, Yale playing another hockey upstart, Qunnipiac. (Imagine that! Suddenly Boston isn’t the epicenter of college hockey. Greater New Haven is, with two schools just six miles apart, though much farther apart in their histories.) Quinnipiac was ranked #1 in the country and had beaten Yale three times already this season. Through almost two periods, the game was scoreless. With seconds to go in the second period, Yale scored, adding three more goals in the third to shock Quinnipiac 4-0. Yale, national champions of hockey. I never would have expected the day to come.
With work and travel, I haven’t been posting, being content instead to add to my coming attractions list (here and here). One more time, with catchup scheduled to begin tomorrow, if I can tear myself away from final-round Masters coverage.
The list so far:
1. Lunch two Fridays ago at La Grenouille, one of the great restaurants of New York.
2. Andrew Delbanco’s College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be , which I started reading on the plane flight to New York two Thursdays ago and finished last Monday.
3. Hockey on ice. A silly little post about a pun.
4. Our flight to Atlanta last Sunday, views of New York and Delaware Bay and the Chesapeake and downtown Baltimore, and my inability to come up with a clue to the Delta flight magazine crossword puzzle clue “New York’s ____ Island” even as I looked down on the very island and pointed it out to Gail.
5. Last Monday at the University of Georgia.
6. Dinner Monday night at Athens’ great 5 & 10.
7. Last Tuesday at the Masters. A dream come true.
[Photo by Dan Nakano]
8. Wednesday visit to the University of Georgia sports museum (Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall).
9. The subsequent visit to the Georgia Museum of Art (the state museum, on campus).
10. Wednesday lunch at another great Athens restaurant (who knew they had so many?), The Grit.
12. Our flight home Thursday in a 767 set up for international travel, with a change in the weather.
Hmm. Maybe I won’t get through all of this. But doing so is the plan.
13. Oh, and one more post, on yet another long history book I need to add to my ever-growing list: William Dalrymple’s Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, due out Tuesday and reviewed today in the WSJ. It came out in January in the UK, to strong reviews. And Dalrymple has an op-ed piece on Afghanistan in tomorrow’s NYT.
The Olympics end tomorrow. Whenever possible over the last week, I’ve spent lunchtime watching the live internet feed of the track and field finals. With that done on any given day, I didn’t have much reason to tune to the NBC primetime production. I had no stomach for their endless teases and dragging out of events.
One unintended consequence of my viewing pattern has been that I’ve hardly seen any Olympic events other than track lately. What I know about them comes mostly from reading. Fortunately, some of the gaps in my viewing have been filled by excellent videos at the websites of The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal. If you have gaps too, I highly recommend their work.
The full list of Guardian videos can be found here. I was particularly pleased to see their coverage of the weightlifting final for the highest weight class. And, having missed so much of the rowing during week one, I was able to catch up on the men’s coxless four final, a thrilling matchup of Great Britain and Australia (above). Another highlight in their series is the men’s track 100 meter race:
The WSJ has their own compelling series of Homemade Highlights, including the women’s beach volleyball final:
One can never watch the transcendent Usain Bolt too often. Here is the WSJ’s coverage of his 200 meter victory.
Finally, moving outside the arenas, I can’t resist including the video from opening day that made Londoner Rachel Onasanwo an unexpected Olympics star.
Two nights ago, I announced that it was put up or shut up time. After years of complaining about the difficulty of following Olympic rowing on TV, I now had the option of watching any event I wanted live through NBC’s internet feed. If the men’s eight race was so important to me, all I would have to do is get up at 2:30 the next morning (yesterday) and watch it. But would I? I promised an update, and here it is.
Some background first. The traditional setup in a major rowing event is to have heats in which the winners advance to the finals, but the others have to row again in a “repechage” round to fill out the field. I hadn’t followed closely enough in recent years to know who was in good form, but I’d read that Germany was favored. True to form, they won their heat, in a very fast time of 5:25.52. The other heat, was won by the US in a time of 5:30.72, slower than the times of Great Britain and the Netherlands in the Germany heat. The repechage was won by Great Britain, followed by Canada, the Netherlands, Australia (all qualifying for the final), Poland, and Ukraine.
I set an alarm on my iPad to go off yesterday morning at 2:22. I figured that would give me enough time to open the Olympic live feed app, find the rowing, and get the feed started by the listed 2:30 AM start time. I awoke at 1:45 AM and wondered if I should just stay up. But I didn’t. I awoke next at 2:32 AM. The alarm never went off. Or I never heard it. Then again, maybe it did go off, which might be the only reason I even awoke at 2:32, by which time the alarm had stopped. I don’t know.
What I do know is, I got up, took the iPad out of the room so as not to awake Gail, opened the Olympic app, started the rowing — everything working perfectly — and there were two boats racing away. I didn’t know how far down the 2000 meter course they were. I didn’t even know who they were. And had they really opened such a huge lead over the rest of the field that the camera would focus on them alone?
Here’s the thing. What I didn’t know was that Poland and Ukraine were to compete in a runoff for 7th place. And that’s what I was watching. Maybe 20 seconds after I joined the coverage, the screen had a graphic identifying who was who, and I was totally confused. After all, they weren’t even in the final. Were they?
The race ended, I learned that Poland had just won 7th place, it all made sense at last, and I realized I had lucked out. Despite oversleeping, I was in time to see the real final after all.
Except that the camera switched to the starting line and the boats maneuvering into place weren’t eights, they were quadruple sculls. We were moving on to the next event. I had missed the final altogether!
That’s the story.
I don’t know what I did wrong, or what was wrong with the schedule. But the men’s eight final didn’t start at 2:30 am after all. I went back to bed disappointed.
On awakening a few hours later, I checked the results to find out what I missed. Germany had won the gold with a time of 5:48.75. Second was Canada, in 5:49.98. Just .69 seconds separated the other four shells, with Great Britain getting bronze in 5:51.18, the US fourth in 5:51.48, Netherlands fifth in 5:51.72, and Australia sixth in 5:51.87. I know nothing more. Whether Germany was in control all the way or Canada challenged, whether the US was closing on GB for a medal or rather was in a medal position but lost out at the end — no idea. I’ll catch the race online at some point.
Last night I had to decide what to do about the women’s eight. It took place this morning, 4:30 AM local time. Should I set the alarm again? I didn’t. I was too discouraged. And I missed what no doubt was a good race, won by the favored US crew with Canada second, Netherlands third, Romania fourth, GB fifth, and Australia sixth.
Maybe four years from now I’ll have this figured out. It helps that Rio is only four hours ahead.
Meanwhile, having finished writing this post, I decided to look up the coverage of the men’s race in The Guardian. Tim Adams fills us in, from a British perspective:
In an emotional final, Britain’s men’s eight held on to win a thrilling bronze medal behind the world champions Germany and the defending Olympic champions Canada. With the Eton Dorney crowd still ecstatic from witnessing the first British triumph of the 2012 Games in the women’s pair event half an hour earlier, the men’s boat was roared along the 2km course from the start.
With five hundred metres to go it still looked possible that the men’s crew would add to the triumph of Helen Glover and Heather Stanning; at that stage they were matching the German crew stroke for stroke and were half a length up on Canada. In the final quarter of the race, however, the Germans pulled away, and by the end the British men, having given everything in an explosive start, only edged out the fast-finishing American crew by 0.3sec to hold on to a medal.
Up against a German crew undefeated for four years, and a Canadian boat boasting the fastest time in history, the odds had been stacked against Britain’s men, and to come so close was a triumph of will in itself.
[Tom Jenkins for The Guardian]
Guardian columnist Marina Hyde had a hilarious piece yesterday from the Olympic equestrian venue in Greenwich. Mind you, I understood only about half of it, between obscure references best understood by residents of the UK and obscure references best understood by the horse set. At least I know that wellies are Wellingtons, the famed rubber boot of British country life, and that Hunter has made them for decades. That got me started in the passage below. You’ll find my chosen line of the day in the third paragraph, but it’s all well done. (Hat tip: Geoff Shackelford.)
To Greenwich Park, home of the prime meridian line, where it was officially Country O’Clock for the equestrianism on Monday. To give you a handle on the crowd, no one was wearing the wrong shoes. During Sunday’s rains at the Olympic Park, all manner of error-strewn urban footwear planning was on show, with punters slipping and slopping around in sandals and flip flops.
At Greenwich, despite the sunny skies, there were innumerable pairs of Hunter wellies, for the simple reason that you never know how it’s going to turn out. Empty seats scandal in the morning, shepherd’s warning.
Even more clearly in evidence were the hundreds wearing riding boots – a bit like those spectators who wear golf shoes to championships, giving them the air of people who imagine they might be called on to the greens at any time and asked to replace Tiger Woods if he goes to pieces.
Then again, Greenwich feels like a more-than-usually expert crowd. “Those surface changes made a big difference to the arena at the weekend,” one man was observing to his neighbour as they watched the cross country, which saw horses clearing jumps shaped like tractors, in a park from which you can see the City of London.
Where many 2012 venues give the impression of a mixed crowd of sport-watching novices, dedicated tourists, and diehard fans, much of Monday’s Greenwich bunch seemed like they knew each other instinctively – and possibly socially.
And speaking of the equestrian events, the hurdles for the jumping competition are a wonderful bit of whimsy. Be sure to see the Guardian’s slide show here.
[Andrew Boyers/Action Images]
It’s one of those rare moments in life when I can quit complaining and take control.
Every four years, with Summer Olympics coverage in the US focused on track and field, swimming, and gymastics, I bemoan the absence of rowing. You might not guess, with all the attention given to cycling on Ron’s View, but rowing was once my sport. Come the Olympics, I want to see the races, preferably live, at least the men’s and women’s eight finals. What one gets instead is the odd race broadcast at some obscure time, provided the US medals. Four years ago, with the US women’s eight taking gold, I never did figure out when a replay was shown.
This year, though, everything is available online as it happens. If I care so much, I can see all the rowing I want. And so, put up or shut up time arrives in six and a half hours. The men’s eight final will begin at 2:30 AM Seattle time.
How serious am I? I’ll let you know.
By the way, for some background, here’s an excerpt from Gary D’Amato’s article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The U.S. men’s eight, which had to qualify for the Olympic Games in a last-chance regatta, scored a minor upset by easily winning its heat Saturday and advancing directly to the rowing final.
Can the eight, a crew put together just a few months ago, pull off a much bigger surprise and win a medal on the 2,000-meter course at Eton Dorney on Wednesday?
“Absolutely,” said Chris Clark, who coached U.S. team members Grant and Ross James at the University of Wisconsin. “Whether or not they’ve got enough to win a gold medal, I don’t know.”
Germany, favored to win gold, won its heat with a time of 5 minutes 25.52 seconds, more than 5 seconds faster than the 5:30.72 posted by the U.S. boat.
The heat winners advanced to the final. Great Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia also advanced through the repechage.
Clark said the Americans’ best chance to medal would be to get off to a fast start.
“In the eight, it’s so much about confidence,” Clark said. “You have the advantage because you can see the boat behind you. If the slightest doubt creeps in, a (trailing) boat can fall apart.
In recent years, we have had the annual privilege and pleasure of heading to Nantucket for a few days. I’ve given up trying to make sense of why we so enjoy our time there. Or why, by going every year, we thereby postpone visiting they many other places on our wish list. I suppose it comes under the heading of doing one thing well rather than many poorly, though I wouldn’t say we do such a good job of visiting Nantucket. For one thing, we have only the narrowest of perspectives on real life there. We always make it a point, when we find ourselves chatting with year-round residents, to ask them about the winters, which we have yet to experience. We gather that essential activities are reading, knitting, and drinking.
Come Tuesday, a book will appear that promises to offer additional perspective, James Sullivan’s Island Cup: Two Teams, Twelve Miles of Ocean, and Fifty Years of Football Rivalry. The blurb from the book’s website:
Before “Friday Night Lights” was a bestseller and a Hollywood franchise about high school football in Texas, author Buzz Bissinger had a different setting in mind: a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts. We may think of Nantucket as a resort destination for CEOs and senators, but it really belongs to a legendary coach named Vito Capizzo. After the tourists and jetsetters leave and the cold weather descends, for narly a half-century Capizzo and his Whalers have readied themselves for the main event: a spirited and unforgettable rivalry with the high school team from the neighboring island, Martha’s Vineyard.
For decades, these two teams have shaped their seasons around their fierce head-to-head matchups. They play for pride, a coveted trophy—the Island Cup—and quite often a shot at a state Super Bowl title. Despite their tiny year-round populations, both islands are perennially dangerous on the football field.
This far-reaching book tells the story not only of the unique Whaler-Vineyarder rivalry, but of two places without a country. Dotted with empty houses nine months of the year, Nantucket and the Vineyard have long, strange histories that include an attempt to secede from the United States, two traditionally diverse populations and lasting connections to the vanished whaling industry. Delving into the rich culture and sometimes hard realities of both places, Sullivan paints a picture of a bygone New England, a place that has never stopped fighting for its life—and the rights to the Island Cup.
Island Cup might have passed me by if not for Tony Horwitz’s Wall Street Journal review yesterday. I suspect the audience for it may be limited, but within that limited audience is us.
Horwitz, a distinguished writer, lives on Martha’s Vineyard with his wife, fellow writer Geraldine Brooks, and their sons. Here’s the opening of his review:
On a raw day last November, I rode a packed ferry from Martha’s Vineyard to Nantucket to see my son play in a high-school football game. The 1,500 passengers poured onto Nantucket’s cobbled streets like a marauding horde, waving purple banners and screaming from painted faces, “Harpoon the Whalers!” That night, we returned across the water to be greeted at the dock by fire-engine sirens and flashing lights as a raucous throng cheered its victorious warriors.
A newcomer to the Vineyard—to locals, a “wash-ashore”—I was stunned by this primal display from my normally taciturn neighbors. I knew my island took its sports seriously and disliked Nantucket. But I had no idea that football games between the two islands were blood feuds out of “Braveheart.”
The history of this New England rite is the subject of James Sullivan’s “Island Cup: Two Teams, Twelve Miles of Ocean, and Fifty Years of Football Rivalry.” Turns out, the frenzy I witnessed in 2011 was tame compared with earlier years. Visiting players used to stay overnight with families on the host island—until 1966, when police had to break up a brawl involving two Vineyard linebackers and Nantucket locals well after the team’s 9 p.m. curfew. Hotels proved no better; home-team fans blew air horns all night to deprive the visitors of sleep. Nantucketers once left a broken pipe seeping water on the sideline so that during the game, the visiting players and coaches stood deep in mud. Vineyarders replied by burning a mock coffin and declaring that the Nantucket coach was inside.
Island inhospitality has extended to other teams, too, with rocks and eggs thrown at visitors’ buses. One coach from a mainland team told his players after games on Nantucket: “Maybe we lost, but we’re lucky—we get to get off this damn island.”
All this may surprise summer tourists, who associate Nantucket with the homes of whaling captains and with sunburned WASPs in salmon pants. The Vineyard is likewise known for its affluent ease, a retreat for the Clintons, Kennedys and Obamas. But as Mr. Sullivan observes, these crowded resorts have a very different character in fall and winter. They’re small communities, mostly middle- and working-class, with large immigrant populations, isolated by fog and water from what islanders call “America.”
Sunburned WASPs in salmon pants? Is Horwitz talking about the famous Nantucket reds from Murray’s Toggery Shop? I’m no WASP, that’s for sure, but I happily wear them. And I never thought they were salmon.
In any case, I’m eager to find out more about what goes on there when we’re not around.