Monday, January 23, 2012

So much for democracy

This morning my alarm went of at 5 a.m.  Time for a run. 
I took a democratic poll of my body on whether or not to run.

YES: 0
NO: every fiber in my being.

Giving in to the consensus, I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep.
Looks like I may have to impose martial law to get out of bed tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

One Month

That's how long I have gone without running.  I ran with my brother at Dana Peak Park the weekend before Christmas, and since then, not a step until this morning.  I am definitely going to have to readjust to getting up an hour or two earlier. . . .

After this little respite, I now have one month to prepare for Cross Timbers on February 18.  Like last year, I will admit that I'm not up to a 50 miler right now, so I'll be running the marathon again.  A month is certainly not much time to prepare for a trail marathon; I'm counting on having retained a bit of fitness from the end of last year.  Besides, Cross Timbers is a great place for a guy like me to take it slow and easy.
Cross Timbers trail.  Take it slow.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics, by Jeremy Schaap

Considered by many the greatest Olympian of all time, Jesse Owens took center stage at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, winning 4 gold medals and doing his part to shatter Hitler's myth of Aryan supremacy. Triumph follows his story, from his first informal races as a boy in Ohio, to his unprecedented performance at the 1936 Olympic Games.  Jeremy Schaap tells Owens' story in the context of the history and controversy leading up to and during the Olympics, bringing the reader into the passions of the day.
Owens loved to run as a boy--no surprise there.  His gym coach noticed him in class, primarily because of the perfect form of his legs.  Throughout his career, his physical form was noted by many coaches and admirers.  When, as a pre-teen, he ran an impromptu 100 yard dash in world-class time, the coach thought his stopwatch must have malfunctioned, but recognized the talent he had on his hands.  Starting with the great raw material of Owens's natural form and perfect body, he worked around Owens's school and work schedule--young Jesse's earnings were a major contribution to the Owens family budget--and helped him gain the attention of college coaches.  Owens attended Ohio State, where he set multiple records and led the track team, working toward qualifying for the 1936 Olympics.

Schaap spends a lengthy section of the book discussing the American movement to boycott the Berlin Olympics.  The Germans were turning somersaults keeping Jews off their Olympic teams.  Many Americans wanted to boycott the Olympics as a protest against the German's racism.  The hypocrisy of the American position is laughable in retrospect.  Jackie Robinson was still a decade away from playing in major league baseball.  Consider Jesse Owens: the star of the OSU track team, he was not even permitted to live on campus!  When he traveled to meets, he couldn't stay in the same hotels and eat in the same restaurants as his white teammates.  Yet the Americans wanted to call Hitler on the carpet for his racism.

Coincidentally, I recently watched Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia, which documented the 1936 games.  Schaap gives details of Riefenstahl's experiences during the filming.  In spite of Hitler's desire to feature Aryan supremacy in the games and in the film, Riefenstahl made Owens the star of her film, just as he turned out to be the star of the games.  Schaap gives some interesting background on Riefenstahl and her film, which was a much bigger deal than I realized.

Schaap presents Owens as a remarkable natural talent who remained humble about his accomplishments, yet always wanted to do more.  When the press and others were famously talking about the snub from Hitler, who didn't formally congratulate Owens after his wins, as he did many of the white athletes, Owens refused to fall into the fray.  He noted that Hitler waved at him after he won.  In fact, he later cheekily went on to say that Hitler hadn't snubbed him, that FDR had by not sending Owens a congratulatory telegram.

Few have ever run as fast or as well as Owens.  Winning 4 gold medals at the Olympics is a rare feat.  Breaking 3 world records and tying a fourth in under an hour at a college track meet, as he did in 1935, may never be done again.  He was truly a one-of-a-kind runner.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Olympia (Documentary of the 1936 Olympics)

In 1936, Hitler wanted German, and German/Aryan superiority to go on display for the whole world to see.  Hosting the Olympics gave him the stage, and, to the credit of the Germans, they did raise the bar for the Olympics, elevating the games beyond a sporting event to a spectacle.  German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl was there to capture it all on film.
The diving scenes are among the most famous.
The greatest contribution Olympia gives us is the extent to which Riefenstahl documented the events themselves.  The games were broadcast on television, but in a very limited way.  The massive coverage we enjoy of every Olympic event today was unheard of then, of course.  Unlike sports coverage today, Riefenstahl does not emphasize the names, countries, or back stories of the athletes, but the form of their bodies and the mechanics of their feats.  She includes little dialogue or commentary, but focuses on the beauty of motion and athletic skill.  You definitely see more glory than agony of defeat.  Even on decades-old film, Olympia captures the speed and grace of the athletes beautifully.
See how the runners had to dig out their "starting blocks"?
We, of course, have the benefit of historical hindsight watching this today, but I think surely even objective viewers at the time must have been put off by the fawning over Hitler.  Overseeing the games as the grand host, Hitler appears as the almighty game master.  Tens of thousands of citizens in the stands gleefully salute the Fuhrer.  He smugly celebrates the victories of his Aryan subjects.  But--hah!--when that African-American superstar, Jesse Owens, wins medal after medal, beating out Hitler's chosen ones, what did he think then?
The opening ceremonies would have been better without all the goose-stepping and heil-ing.
Riefenstahl's Olympia is considered one of the great sports films and pioneered several filming techniques.  I know nothing about making a movie, or about the technical requirements of certain kinds of filming.  I do know this: most of this movie can be done better today with a low-cost, commercially available, hand-held video camera.  This is not to slight Riefenstahl, but to say that the modern film watcher is spoiled by what we see in theaters and what we're able to film on our own.

As an historical artifact, Olympia is valuable and important both for the Olympics and for the filming of sporting events.  But for purposes of entertainment and enjoyment, you might be left wondering what's the big deal.