Thursday, March 22, 2007

So How Do They Rank

When it comes right down, the only people's who get to have an opinion that is nationally published in a newspaper are those at USA Today. So to call this whole thing a critical deconstruction isn't really so accurate as just a guy killing some time. But if I had to rank the events they chose in my own personal order, I think it would probably shake out something like this:

10. The downhill: Everyone could at least try it. Weather or not it goes well for them remains to be seen.
9. Running a marathon: If they said "Running a competitive time in a marathon" I might think differently. But you could train for it, and at least trot your way through it taking time to walk if you need to. I have admiration for those who do it, but I only give it a 9.

Here is where they get tricky, because in my opinion, these are so close in ranking.
8. Hitting a straight tee shot: Again, incomplete. If you keep swinging, eventually, you'll get one. Do it every single time or include the ability to bend and fade the ball, and maybe.
7. Race car driving: Dangerous, mentally challanging, and physically taxing yes. But you're still sitting down the whole time.
6.Return a serve: Yes the ball moves fast and it's small. But you have a huge surface with which to make contact with that little fuzzy thing. Take a swipe.
5. Hitting a baseball: Like in golf, keep swinging and eventually that learning curve starts to fade away. Eventually, you'll catch up to one of 'em.
4. Save a penalty kick: Total crap-shoot
3. Land a quad: Not necessarily the most exciting thing in all of sports, but it takes a nice combination of know-how and physical training.
2. Tour de France: Long ride, changing altitudes, to chase or not, is Lance coming back again? These are just some of the host of questions facing the massive field of competitors. Yes they too are sitting the whole time, but unlike race car driving, they propel themselves to breakneck speeds. Take that Tony Stewart.
1. Pole Vault: Strong like bull, flexible like gymnast, fast like sprinter. Much love.

So that's what they have to say, and what I have to say about it. But now on a similar note, allow me to present the things that I think are going to be the hardest to achieve in the realm that is pro sports. Or I guess maybe semi-pro and on your way to being pro.

10. Pitch a perfect game: This is a feat so difficult that less than a handful of guys have ever done it. Maybe 5 or 6 in history? Not only do you have to pitch extraordinarily well, but your catcher has to be on his best game, and chances are someone is still going to his the ball at some point. Throwing 9 innings to 27 batters and 81 consecutive strikes would be pretty cool. But it's far more likely someone is going to put the ball in play. So now you enlist the help of the other 8 lads on the field.

9. Run a sub 4.0 40.: In the wide world of sports, speed is always an asset. It never seems to matter what game you are playing. If you can throw faster, move faster, jump faster, drive faster, or in this case run faster, you are a stronger candidate for regards as a better player. More money comes in. You're more famous. So on and so forth. A respectable time in a 40 yard dash is in the mid 4 second range. At this years NFL combine, the top wide receivers ran around 4.3 seconds. That's pretty fast. But there are a rare few people in the world that can cover the same distance in less than 4 seconds. Granted .5 seconds is not a great deal of time. But when we are talking about only 4 seconds or so to start, you're talking about shaving almost 10% off your time. If you were driving 10 hours and made it in 9, I'd say you did well for yourself.

8. Ride an AMA Superbike: Yeah you're sitting down, but there is nothing to protect you from the ground which is incidentally buzzing past you at 150+ mph aside from a helmet. But you are manipulating a 300 pound vehicle requiring you to use both hands and both feet and inconsistant intervals and all in different capacities. A miscue would be disasterous. These guys walk the track to study turns so intensely it would give you a headache. Why? Because at 160 and shifting gears you're in an out of a turn before you can really assess what it is you need to do in order to maintain maximum speed. That ought to make the average joe's eyes bug out a bit.

7. The Ironman: Let's take 112 miles away from the Tour and add it to the Boston Marathon. But before we do those things in consecutive order, let's go ahead and swim 2.4 miles in the open ocean. Oh by the way, we'll also be doing these things under the sun of Hawaii.

6. Tour de France: I totally agree that they original authors got this one right on the money. Now if we can just do something about the annoyed frenchmen who want to whine about steroid use because they can't win their own race. I got you back Floyd.

5. 1-Arm Rewind Cupid: In the insanity that was my collegiate youth, I did have a go at cheerleading. Probably just about the hardest thing I've ever done physically and mentally. A one are rewind cupid means the following: A guy puts one hand in the middle of his sutnt partner's back with her arms down at her sides. She dips to jump and begins to do what looks like a back tuck. When she goes horizontal, the guy uses every muscle in his body to push straight up as hard as possible, allowing her to complete her tuck. Now here's where it gets tricky. She completes her rotation landing with both feet in one hand, incidentally the hand attached to the same arm with which her threw her, above the guy's head. So to review, she goes from standing on the ground, to standing in a guy's hand with her feet being about seven to eight feet off the ground. Oh yeah, there was a flip in there too. A number of physical things have to happen in precise order. But to that, add this; A guy has to say "Hey, let me toss you over my head going upside down and catching you in one hand over my head. Oh yeah, and we're on a hardwood basketball floor in front of 15,000 screaming people." And then the girl has to say "Yeah sure...let's do that."

4. Win the America's Cup: Here's a sport where we are going to put a bunch of guys on a large yacht and cast them off. All of them have to work in perfect order doing a number of things in very specific intervals of time to make the boat go where they want in spite of the ever changing, unrelenting, and unforgiving ocean. Jack Sparrow has nothing on these guys.

3. Pole Vault: Have to agree with the pros on this one again.

T-1. Break the Streak: People always think their records will stand for all time. Well maybe they don't think that, but they'd like too. Shaun Alexander broke and held the single season record for touchdowns just to have Ladanian Tomlinson break it a year later. Barroid Bonds is probably going to catch Hank Aaron, but in doing the math, it took about 30 years. But referred to simply as "The Streak", Cal Ripken played in a record 2,131 consecutive games. Actually, 2,131 simply broke the old streak. His number continued to climb there after. The first game in of his streak was in May of '82, and it wasn't until September of '95 that he his 2,131. That's 13 years at over 100 games a season never missing a game. The man played hurt, sick, tired, on and on. Now a days guys are getting days off "just because".

T-1. Start, play, and finish your career in 1 city: So this is more of a philosophical goal than anything else. But this just doesn't really happen anymore. There are a select few in history that have done so. But even the Ironman Brett Favre got his start in Atlanta, even though Greenbay gave him his home. With the inflating salaries, more inflated egos, agressive agents, salary caps, and free agency all being what they are, it's just does happen very often.

I'm out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hardest Things in Sports: Part 2

4. Hitting a long, straight tee shot.
What they say: "Driving a ball seems to be an easy thing until you try it..."
What I say: Excellent point there. It's not a easy thing. But it would have been a bit more appropriate to say "hit a long tee shot that lands in front of you". Most players who are going to distance will play draw or fade, so by it's very nature, it will not travel straight the whole time. But that's not the point. Yes it's wicked hard. But is it harder than trying to bend a ball around a clump of trees at Pinehurst? Or to play through the winds at St. Andrews? I'm not really sure. I agree driving can be hard, but this almost seems to be too specific.

3. Pole Vaulting
What they say: "Vaulting is a case of redirecting the kenetic energy of the runner's approach upward."
What I say: You have to be strong like bull to pull this off. Fast too. While we're at it, let's add flexible, agile, and just a little bit outside your mind. Props.

2. Race car driving:
What they say: "...rounding the corners is the equivalent of having a 300 pound linebacker push on you for the 3-4 hours it takes to complete a race."
What I say: I say you're siting down the whole time. But there is the redeeming factor of risking death on a regular basis, and perhaps due to no fault of your own. It takes some serious courage yes, but I don't think I could rank it as the second hardest thing to do in the wide world of sports.

And the gold medalist...

1. Hitting a baseball.
What they say: "...reaching speeds of 95 mph, a batter has .4 seconds to track it, decide to swing, and make contact."
What I say: Yes and no. I am a baseball freak. I love it to death. Here is the counter arguement; There's a short learning curve. Put someone on the mound and have them throw 10 straight fastballs, 10 curves, and 10 change-ups against a run of the mill athlete, but not necessarily a baseball player. Let him see and swing at the pitches, and eventually, he's going to find the timing and at least make contact. Now start mixing the pitches on the guy and he hits how many? Two or three out of ten? Yes you are hitting a round object with a round device. And I'm the first to bail out on a good curve. But even still, 3/10 makes a .300 batting average. A .300 average for a career will likely get you a second ballot trip to Cooperstown. Like hitting the golf ball; deceptively hard, but not necessarily #1.

Hardest Things in Sports: Part 1

There is a section in the USA Today newspaper that has always listed the 10 hardest things to do in sports. I will offer the disclaimer that I am neither a world class athelte, nor am I a journalist. But I was intrigued to offer not only what they had to say, and poke some fun while I am at it, but what I think those things might be.

Here they are:
10. Ski the downhill.
What they say: "It's an exercise in balance and control at 80 mph. Blah blah blah... They fight gravitational and centrifugal forces at every stage in the race."
What I say: Yeah it's a cool thing to do, but what is interesting is that the people who have the insance wipeouts are often more remembered, at least in the activity if not in name, then who ever won. In some cases, more so. Can anyone tell me who won the Women's Downhill in Turino? Yeah me neither. But I know Lindsey Jacobellis got recognized for a nasty wipeout breaking bones in her face. God bless her for coming back and finishing the racing inspite of her injuries. I'll raise a glass to that anytime. But a nasty spill that may be remembered as vividly or more so than who won can be done by anyone. If anyone can do it, it ain't all that.

9. Save a penalty kick.
What they say: "...a goal is 24 feet wide and 8 feet high-192 square feet, in which to put a ball that is 9 inches in diameter. The goalie has around .25 seconds to stop a ball often moving in excess of 60 mph."
What I say: A good point there. Soccer is impressive enough to me in so far as no one but the poor fool who has to stand before the 60+ mph shot can use their hands. But don't get it twisted here. Anyone who has watched soccer has seen a goalie dive in complete opposite way the ball is kicked. Pansy. No seriously, anyone who plays will tell you that the goalie takes a guess before the ball is struck. If they guess right, they stop it, if not, they look like an ass. Props for standing there, especially with no pads. But your success is not so much reliant upon sick skills, but an educated guess at best. A world class striker is supposed to beat a world class goalie better than 95% of the time. What that means is goalies are not expected to stop the shot. Get shot on 5 times and stop one, you're the man. But get shot on 5 times and not stop one, better luck next time. Gotta take a pass.

8. Tour de France.
What they say: "...2,500 miles in three weeks... sustained speeds of 30+ mph...15% grades"
What I say: When I was a child, I rode my bike religiously. Not having done in a number of years, I tried to do it on a regular basis in my mid 20's and realized why I was in such great shape as a kid. This required training, and agressive training at that, that is a year round ordeal. I can't think of a great number of sports that require 5-6 hours of training a day, every single day, and then maybe you get to wear the yellow jersey... excuse me le maillot jeune...for an afternoon? And that's assuming Lance doesn't want to do another comeback. Well done lads.

7. Running a marathon.
What they say: "A 26.2 mile race is physically demanding mentally and physically... have to be a well conditioned athlete...blah blah blah."
What I say: It's not as cool as the Tour in my opinion, so I don't really want to give this the props is probably deserves, but it can't be easy. It take am extraordinary amount of training, and is terribly taxing on your knees, shins, ankles, lower back, and so on. The only problem I have with this is that running so much on hard surfaces can do a lot of long term damage to a number of body parts. Of course so does the NFL. Then again, marathoners aren't making NFL cash, and the NFL is no where on the USA Today list. This one is TBD.

6. Landing a quad.
What they say: "During a sucessful quad jump, the skater will be as high as 18 inches in the air and experiences 300 pounds of centrifugal force."
What I say: Cool. What is with these people and centrifugal force? Didn't we talk about that with the skiing too? Seriously, I am certainly impressed. But years back, a tripple was unheard of. When people start working on a quint, they will talk about how a quad was insane. I guess that's probably true of all sports. But this one just doesn't make me go "wow".

5. Returning a serve.
What they say: "... ball moving at 130 mph of 185 feet per second...the returner has about half a second to react."
What I say: Ah yes, some pove for one of my favorite sports. Incidentally, the ball now travels in excess of the 150 mark and is showing no signs of slowing down. 130 has some zip on it though, and make have a multitude of spins and locations. It hardly seems practical to say, but in the next 10 or so years a serve coming across the net in the 170 range doesn't seem impossible. Bravo.