Alternate Olympic medals

Posted August 25, 2016 on 12:41 am | In the category Sports | by Mackenzie Brothers

Gold Medal – for stupidity beyond the pale – Ryan Lochte, USA
Silver Medal – for unrelenting boorishness – Hope Salo, USA
Bronze Medal – for outstanding chutzpah – Justin Gaitlin, USA

 

Any pattern here?

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Can pro sports survive?

Posted January 27, 2016 on 3:22 am | In the category Russia, Sports | by Mackenzie Brothers

This is obviously a rhetorical question. In many ways pro sports has never thrived more.  The big events, especially among elite participants in team sports – the World Cup of Soccer, Super Bowl of US football, NBA basketball, NHL hockey, even cricket and rugby world cups are more popular and profitable than they ever have been and betting on them is very big business. Although there have been some recent exceptions, most games at the highest level are  beyond the reach of the plague that is now tearing apart all individual sports and second and third rung team sports – results fixed through gambling.  It is  hard to see how a successful offer can be made to convince the extremely high paid stars of the elite tournaments to purposely lose a game.  They are paid too much to be interested in such deals, and in any case, just who could guarantee a loss for such highly talented teams, unless the whole team signs on, and that is not going to happen.

But this is not true of the players and the teams that lurk below the elites, and plenty of bets are made on their games, nor does this theory work as convincingly when it comes to individual sports.   Tennis is only the latest sport to come under serious suspicion, especially with regard to matches played just below the elite level, for which much betting takes place in any case.  Needless to say it is much easier to unexpectedly lose a match in tennis – a bunch  of bad returns, double faults, or sudden injuries will do the trick – than it is for a high-level football, rugby, hockey or basketball team to suddenly collapse.

And soon  we will  have the Olympics,  making its every fourth year stop, this time in Rio.  Poor track and field, the heart of the Olympics and once the mark of the pinnacle of individual performance, has been really seriously, if not fatally damaged by the other kind of cheating – the use of illegal substances to help you win, not lose as is the case in being paid to throw the result.  And the elite athletes in this are no longer anything like the amateurs who once performed.  Great amounts of money are at stake and the Olympic governors have been unable or unwilling to get unlimited doping under control.  This time it seems like the entire Russian track and field team may be banned  for drug abuse, and just about everyone in the know thinks that is just the tip of the iceberg.  The real victims here are the honest athletes who are playing by the rules.  Some of them may even be Russian.  Good luck to them!

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At last, now let the real season begin

Posted April 12, 2015 on 3:20 pm | In the category Canada, Sports, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

It’s been a long dry spell for sports – a Marx Borthers so-called Super Bowl, a good Grey Cup after a Marx Brothers season, overhyped US semi-pro (i.e.)  college football and basketball tournaments, and now the US tv moguls  are trying to add semi-pro hockey of all things, of zero interest in real hockeyland, no soccer of note except when the Faroe Islands beat Greece in the European Championship prelims, baseball struggling almost pitifully  with  drug abuse, and with  a potential  summer race of interest a long way off,  And all the while an overly long regular season NH L hockey agenda , half to it played in southern or near southern US cities with little or no interest in ice, and then – poof – suddenly the premier playoff schedule blazes forth  in today’s papers.  The real season of hockey begins – and finally a playoff scenario for the next 6 weeks is in store  that will be terrific..  This time lady luck played its hand beautifully in forming the schedule.

Some of the usual suspects are present:New York Rangers have won the President’s Cup as the league champions, and their former world’s best goalie is just coming back from a lengthy injury (watch out!), the Detroit Red Wings, after a scare, are right in the middle of things, where they always show up at a  minimum, and they are always welcome.  They may be a bit old, but they have tons of skill and some young studs are working there way in nicely with the big boys (watch out!).  Ditto for Chicago.  The Pittsburgh Penguins, should by all rights be out of the playoffs, after a complete collapse,  but just managed to stagger in  as the last team on the last day, despite the fact that they think they have the best star players in existence – they’re wrong and will make a quick exit.  The untalented but ruffian Boston Bruins are out and deservedly so – too old, too tired, too unskilled.   And the incomprehensibly incompetent Toronto Maple Leafs outdid even their own seemingly endless disappointing seasons with  a total turkey.  Their supposed big scorer scored one goal after new year. Most of the rest of the country began  to feel sorry for them.  But not very.  What is with that city?  Maybe the endless snow got to them.

But look who is in and how they got there.  Mordecai Richler can look down from above with delight on  his beloved hometown Montréal Canadiéns .  With the current best goalie on earth, an inherently modest  First Nations chap from the splendid wilds of the Chilcotin plateau of  British Columbia, and with  plenty of help from a sassy Torontonian, of all things, this team has brought real excitement to the wonderful city where hockey really  counts (watch out!!).   And  Vancouver, destroyed last year by self-destructive coaching, replied this year with a minor-league coach with major league talent, and a return to game-changing form by their superlative Swedish twins (watch out!!!). And this time no less than five Canadian teams are in the playoffs who will  all be chomping at the bit, the last three after breathtaking final runs – none more than the Ottawa Senators who thumped Boston  out of contention behind a supposedly mediocre minor-league  has-been (or never was) goalie who was an injury call-up and  then won 19 of the last 22 games.  No matter what now happens, this team will be the sentimental favourite, but they shouldn’t be able to get past Montreal in the first round this year, though the do have the best defenceman in existence and home team support will be tremendous, but it also will be down the road.  It is in any case easy to predict that this will be a great opening round series.  Winnipeg hasn’t played a playoff game since 1996, so their new  arena  will be hopping, and their bigness and toughness may give Anaheim more trouble than they should expect from the eighth place team.  And Calgary was picked for last by most pre-season experts, and came through in the end in  hair-raising fashion game after game with a bunch of young guys who will make them a real contender in the future. The start against arch -rival Vancouver, and that too will be a sizzling series.  Prediction, Vancouver vs Montreal in the final.  Anybody’s series then, but the weather will be nicer in Vancouver.    Bring it on!!!

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Where Juniors become Seniors

Posted January 5, 2015 on 7:59 pm | In the category Canada, Sports, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Mackenzie Brothers

In the great world of men’s ice hockey, the results in the World Junior (Under 20) Championship that is now going on in Toronto and Montreal both confirm and rattle the previously  understood natural order of things among elite national teams.    While it is true that three of the four teams that will meet in the semifinals  have long belonged to that elite (Sweden, Canada, Russia), it is the surprising rise of new entrants to the quarter finals – Denmark, Slovakia, Switzerland –  and  the quick exit  of former occasional pretenders to the throne  that has  hockey fans reflecting on the future.  There seems to be no obvious reason other than ongoing decline for the collapse of last year’s champion, Finland, as well as formerly perennial challengers, the  Czech Republic  and the USA in this tournament that can be used to predict the future of the upcoming men’s national teams..   Suggestions   by veteran US hockey commentators that  the Yanks, who were quite easily knocked out in the quarterfinals for the second straight year by a pretty  unconvincing Russian squad, may have been  because the largely college-based players   felt sorry for their Russians because of the sad state of their country at the moment must be taken with a grain of salt.  The more likely reason is that the attempt to turn hockey in the US into a college-based minor league, much like football, playing out of  hockey-mill colleges, particularly in the Boston area, is a failure for obvious reasons.  Hockey demands well-trained team work and students at Boston College, Boston University, Tuffs, Harvard, etc  (which seem to make up a serious percentage of the US payers), can’t spend all of their time practicing,as football players can .

The Russians traditionally play unpredictably in early relatively unimportant matches (they tied Denmark), but not in the ones that count against Sweden or Canada.  So don’t be surprised if the Russians  look like a different team against Sweden in the semi-final and face a Canadian squad in the final that has been untouchable so far.  Most commentators still believe that Canada has too much depth  to be considered an underdog to Russia this time, but it is a virtual guarantee that this final would be one of the best hockey games played this year.  And don’t put too much  money against Russia.  If Sweden meets Slovakia in the bronze-medal game, don’t be surprised if the totally undervalued Slovaks, who have the best goalie in the tournament and have been playing with great passion, don’t upset the rather  lackadaisical-seeming Swedish squad.

Who would have thunk it?

 

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Skip the NFL, Turn on the Grey Cup

Posted November 24, 2013 on 3:49 pm | In the category Sports, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Here is a tip for the many Yankee readers of this column, and it is of interest  only to real football fans.

Do yourself a favour  in 3 hours.  Turn off whatever boring slugging match you are watching on the NFL Channel , and pull in that signal coming from Regina, Saskatchewan, and watch the only real old-time football game scheduled in snowy minus 30 C (who knows what that is in  Fahrenheit)  conditions  as the oldest trophy in sports, the 101st Grey Cup, goes to the winner of the Hamilton Tiger Cat /Saskatchewan Rough Rider game.   Don’t miss it, it will be the way the NFL games used to be played.

In any case, the only skilled NFL game on today (New England/Denver) has been cleverly scheduled to follow up on the Grey Cup game and pick up the few exhausted  football fanatics, who want more.

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Dada Politics and real sports

Posted April 6, 2013 on 5:18 pm | In the category Canada, Sports, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Lost among the general brouhaha about Mr. Obama mentioning that a good-looking woman was indeed a good-looking woman, that poor Canada has taken its $300,000 annual grant and run from the UN council to combat drought in Africa, becoming the only country in the world not in it, apparently satisfied that it has enough water to supply the whole world itself so why should they help those who don’t, that North Korea threatens to attack the USA (not to mention South Korea) at a time when it gets most of its scarce food as a gift from increasingly unhappy China, that that great American film genre, the Western, is finding new relevance in Texas and Colorado as the rule of the gun wipes out the rule of the law, that three prominent New York politicians have been caught red-handed trying to buy their way into a mayoral candidacy,  and that Pierre Trudeau’s late-in-life mistress, Mme Coyne, is one of the six candidates still standing in the race to become head of he Liberal Party of Canada, thus confronting head-on Pierre’s son Justin, who is going to win, and then will have to attempt to explain how he understand his familial relationship to Mme Coyne and her daughter, who is also Justin’s father’s daughter.

And all this in the straight-laced true north strong and free.  As stated above lost in all these Dada developments is the fact that the real excitement in the spring is sports.  The baseball season has started, the basketball season is wrapping up its March madness – many people hope that Wichita State will win – and the professionals in both  basketball and hockey are approaching the only weeks that really count.  Even soccer has begun to roll, at least in those places where all eyes will be on Rio about a year from now.  Not to mention curling.  It’s a great time to  to pour yourself an Augustinerbräu or a Schneider Weisse, find yourself a place in the sun under the flowering cherry (or chestnut) trees, if you are really lucky in the Hirschgarten, and watch Bayern München humiliate their opponents (9-0 against poor Hamburg), the Habs, Jets, Senators  and  Canucks make a run for it, the Blue Jays and Cubs start off strong, and the Heat show what heat is.  Go for it!

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London Olympics 1948 and 2012

Posted July 29, 2012 on 2:53 pm | In the category Politics, Sports | by Mackenzie Brothers

London 1948.  The last World War had only been over for three years.  To a significant  extent London still lay in ruins as a result of that war and it was a daring idea to ask a country that had been bankrupted and almost destroyed by an aggressive enemy  to host an Olympic Games.  And yet the United Kingdom welcomed  the choice by an Olympic committee that had not yet become  a group of old boys, most of whom had dubious  expertise in the area of amateur sports.   After all, this was not an overly expensive event and  the UK deserved the chance to show that it had survived the war with its basic values intact.    Thus London hosted the Olympics and  put them on in venues which, for the most part, had survived the bombings well enough to be used for sporting events.   All the participants were really amateurs, were asked to bring their own  personal items for the dormitory rooms that they slept in, were fed fn large part by donated food, and of course received no money for any medals they might win.  Security was provided by the Boy Scouts.  Film of the opening ceremonies capture the excitement when  a single runner ran up a staircase with a torch and lit the  flame which seemed to carry the hope that the future would be better than the immediate past.

Skip ahead 64 years to the spectacle witnessed on  tv by several billion people on the weekend.  It cost something like 30 million dollars, had 10,000 extras milling about in what apparently was meant to be the history of the British isles , featured an  Irish actor, dressed like one of the sleazy doctors or lawyers  from an Ibsen play and surrounded by rising polluting smokestacks while quoting from The Tempest of all things and waxing on about the edenic isle of Blake.  This eden was then highlighted by a 20 minute segment set in a gigantic hospital ward full of dancing nurses and hopping sick children.    British culture was represented by Sir Simon Rattle and the London Philharmonic attempting to play the theme song from Chariots of Fire with Rattle playing straight man to Mr. Bean.  Unfortunately the designers of this apparent nod to the British bureaucracy and humour failed to include a nod to the Ministry of Silly Walks.  Where are the Pythons when you need them?  Even the queen who was a princess soon to become a queen in 1948 agreed to make her acting debut in  a comic role with James Bond that involved her jumping out of a helicopter.   And later was that really Daniel Barenboim carrying in one section of the Olympic flag?   My how the mighty  lowered themselves for this spectacle.

In the Parade of Nations that interminably followed, athletes making many millions of dollars walked in alongside amateurs making nothing who had no chance of competing even half-serioiously with the millionaires.  Cannon-fodder.  How that will work out can be witnessed tomorrow when the so-called US dream team plays basketball against Tunisia.  No odds were being given by the ubiquitous gambling spots that the Tunisians would beat the US multi-millionaires.  Even at a million to one there was no chance.  Whatever happened to the Olympics of 1948?  As if to answer this question, the Olympic flame was lit this time by an enormously expensive and technically  impressive machine that  ignited a cauldron of fire that cannot be seen from outside the stadium into which almost no mortals succeeded in buying  a ticket.  That’s what has happened. The Olympics have been turned into a celebration of money and kitsch, and cannot be saved if its organizers don’t turn it back over to the amateur sportspeople and the general public who would like to see them compete beneath a flame that has a completely different meaning than it has today.

 

 

 

 

 

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The decline and fall of the beautiful game

Posted May 12, 2012 on 5:56 pm | In the category Sports | by Mackenzie Brothers

Exactly forty years ago a 22-year old kid from Parry Sound, Ontario, launched himself vertically 5 feet above the ice after scoring the winning goal for the Boston Bruins in the 1972 Stanley Cup championship game.   The splendid photo that caught Bobby Orr in mid-flight on that spring evening, also caught the thrill of the fastest of all sports which back then  rewarded the most-skilled skaters and shooters with names that are remain legends in the world of hockey, which at the time extended across Canada and in some major cities in the US northeast.  Bobby Orr was by most calculations the greatest of them all, but  he wasn’t the last.  Guy Lafleur, Bobby Hull, Phil Esposito, Wendell Clark, Bobby Clarke, take your pick and add the Europeans that followed Bure, Mogilny,  Näslund, the Sedin twins.  Now try to add the name of anyone playing in this year’s playoffs.  40 year old Jaromir Jagr is the only name that might show up on the list (goaltenders excluded), and he too is now gone  after returninng from several years in Russia.

In his place we have the no-name behemoths who are willing to throw themselves in the face of dangerous pucks and hit and try to stop anyone who enters their half of the ice.  And the formula works if the only things that counts is winning.  If any puck manages get through the crowd of big men standing in front  of oversized goalies with grotesquelly-oversized equipment, it may well prove to be the winning goal in an otherwise goalless tie.    However for the paying audience it is a real trial to actually sit through 60 minutes of skaters plodding around in glue, rarely even getting a shot on a bored goalie.   As the semifinals now begin all the leading teams have been eliminated – Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose)  and the semifianls  will be played by no one you ever heard of in the hockey hotbeds of Nashville (Tennesee), Phoenix (Arizona), Newark, (New Jersey),  Los Angeles and Washington or New York.  It is now perfectly possible that for the first time in the history of major-league sports, the finals will be between two bankrupt teams (Phoenix and New Jersey), and nobody will be watching.  It is the consequences of letting the league be run by people who do not come from the places where hockey counts and insist on setting up teams in places where few want to see them.  In these places it is not a question of watching skilled fast players flying down the ice and outguessing a superbly-trained goalie.  The point is to  not let someone who can do that get anywhere near the goal. Take another look at Bobby Orr flying like a bird 22 years ago, because you won’t see it again, at least not until players like Orr, Lafleur or the Sedins (or for that matter the still-active Ovechkin) can fly down the ice and score rather than being   dragged into the muck or even concussed and driven out of the sport, by large players who are unlikely to ever score a goal.  Hockey runs the risk of becoming unwatchable if someone doesn’t do something about it – and fast.

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Trudeau in stunning upset

Posted April 3, 2012 on 2:11 pm | In the category Canada, Sports, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

In the biggest upset in boxing since Pee Wee Hermann scored a TKO on Cassius Clay in that famous fight in Lewiston, Maine, Pierre Trudeau Junior (aka as Justin), a  3-1 underdog, brawled his way to a TKO in the third round of a charity challenge fight over tough-guy aboriginal Tory senator Patrick Brazeau.  By accepting the challenge of the toughest guy in Ottawa, despite dire warning that he risked serious injury, the slight 40 year old son of the greatest Canadian Prime Minister of modern times, risked his career as a potential future Prime Minister which was long threatened by a reputation as an over-intellectual type who took after his rather sensitive mother rather than his black-belt father.

As it turned out it was Brazeau who was in danger, stunned by haymakers leading to three standing 10 counts, before the ref stopped the fight in the third round. In less than ten minutes of real action Trudeau demolished his reputation as a wimp who could not stand the rough stuff of Canadian politics and emerged as someone to fear in future national elections. An amazed Brazeau admitted defeat to the new tough guy on the block and asked for a rematch. The fight Canadians would really like to see is the one with the arrogant current Prime Minister Stephen Harper who would probably also go in as a 3-1 underdog. Stay tuned.

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The CFL at 99 and counting, what Canadian football could teach the Yanks

Posted November 28, 2011 on 1:14 am | In the category Canada, Sports | by Mackenzie Brothers

So the big game is over, the Grey Cup has been  presented in its ninety-ninth year to aVancouver team that lost its first five games and won nine of its next ten, including today’s down to the wire victory at home against Winnipeg.  56, ooo people sold out its new half billion dollar upgraded stadium, to watch he best young quarterback in football (think Doug Flutie, Warren Moon, Joe Theisman if you want to recall the kind of players who preceded Travis Lulay in the CFL) lead the Lions to a deserved narrow victory .  It’s true that for Canadian sports fans this can’t replace the loss by the Canucks in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup championship  to Boston, but virtually the whole country watched it and it was a reminder, if one was needed, of how much more exciting  Canadian 3-down  football games are compared to US 4-down ones.  With  4 minutes to go and the team with the ball leading by a touchdown in the US, the game is basically considered over as you can run out the clock with a steady diet of four-yard runs.  Paint dries faster.

In Canada that game is just beginning at that point.  Winnipeg scored two touchdown in the last three minutes to come within 8 points of Vancouver and were driving again as the game ended.  Even more exciting was the Canadian university championship game played two days before the pro championship in the same stadium, during which the favoured rouge et or of Laval came back from 23-0 half-time deficit to pull ahead of McMaster by one point with  a couple of minutes to go only to see themselves go ahead by a single, get tied by a rouge and apparently lose by one point when McMaster missed a field goal with  no time left, but any ball that is kicked into or out of the end zone without it being returned or kicked back out results in  one  point in Canada, enough  to win the game in this case.  But the ball didn’t go over the end zone line as a Laval player caught it before it passed the  line and made it back out to the one–yard line after faking a drop kick as a return.  Eventually the winner was decided by an overtime that   had everyone standing and defies explanation.  These are rugby rules, and the NFL should send someone up to see how they add excitement in places where the NF L offers nothing but  dead air – fair catches, no reward for kicking balls into or out of the end zone, no possibility of returning kicks with kicks, ridiculous ways ways of breaking ties, etc.

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