Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sports news before 2012 Olympics

1. A news piece about many American Olympians facing hardship at http://money.cnn.com/2012/07/10/news/economy/olympic-athletes-financial/index.htm.

This is true in the US as well as in other countries as well, e.g., China.  Chinese government provides funding, but the salary is quite low for most athletes.  The only big difference is that active athletes in China can claim to have a governmental job, even though they earn very little (at about the same level as most other people), which is even less than the "poor" Americans, and they typically don't have another job.  The minority, the famous ones, like those in the US, earn more money through other channels, such as sponsorship.  And once the athletes retire, they usually get a buy-out money from the government and then they are pretty much on their own.  There have been more efforts to help them through education and others, but the situation can improve only as the country becomes richer.

2.  A legal battle between Lance Armstrong and USADA, which accused him of a major doping conspiracy.

Hopefully this is the finale of the Armstrong saga.  This doping case and suspicion is the most significant in the history of sports because it involves the most accomplished winner ever in a sport for so many years, dwarfing those in MLB, 1988 Seoul Olympics, etc.  The evidence is overwhelming, if following the case for > 5 years, so one has to wonder why he was able to deny and evade positive tests for this long?  It is possible that Armstrong, because of his health history, has complicated prescriptions to mark the use of drugs or procedures.  It is entirely possible some of the drugs have legitimate medical applications for his treatments of disease.  But from the news reports of the USADA's accusations, the whole Armstrong riding team were involved in the doping scheme.  

On the other hand, a danger is to overstate the effects of drugs.  Not about the legaility of drug use, it is about how drugs affect your performance itself and against competitors who might also use the same drugs as well.  Cycling is like sports such as track and field, baseball, and weightlifting in which steroids and other drugs clearly improve performance.  But if everybody uses it, then you only hold your ground and do not gain any advantage, unless your chemist is better than others'.  Additionally, drug use in other sports does not entail a clear, real advantage.  For example, in shooting, concentration-enhancing drugs are not what they claim to be and have variable, even negative, consequences.  Using drugs in the more skill-oriented sports may even be counterproductive and has at most placebo effects.  But often people view all drug use in all sports as the same.

3.  Wimbledon 2012.

Unlike in most other sports, tennis players do not suffer from pre-Olympics fatigue because Olympics is at best the fifth GS.  At the ladies' side, Serena Williams won her 14th GS.  Radwanska played probably as well as she could, cleverly using Serena's power against her for much of the match, but Serena is truly the tennis Queen for the last 10 years.  She is old and fatter now, and her ground strokes are no more powerful than some other hard hitters in WTA.  She can run all over the place for a few points, but no longer for a game, less so for a set or match.  Then, how did she win?  Her serve is still the best.  This saves her a lot of energy and gives her confidence.  She also hits her ground strokes close to or inside the baseline, while others prefer a couple of meters behind.  This makes the opponents run a lot more than her.  Like Agassi playing.  At the end the younger Radwanska was more tired.  The most important factor, however, is that Serena is a smart player.

A frustrating aspect in watching women's tennis is that you know someone can play much better than this, yet she is making one silly errors after another and loses by 6:0, 6:1.  Men rarely do that.  There are some GS winners that are definitively not very smart, like China's Li Na.  But you can't be stupid to play at this level.  So the reason is likely that women can't control their emotion as well as men and this greatly affects their performance in court.  Serena is smart because she controls her emotion well.  By no means perfect, as there are instances that she lost it, but during Wimbledon 2012, even when she was behind, she played calmly and rarely made mistakes that were costly.

One has to wonder what if Serena has dedicated more to tennis?  Will she accomplish more than Graf?  Serana is a bit like Agassi, only that she seems to be in and out of tennis more often.  Purely speculatively, this has good and bad.  Good is that her tennis age is shorter, and she is physically better than her real age.  Bad is that she missed many GS chances.  Throughout her career only her sister (earlier days and in Wimbledon), Henin (in 2007), and Clijsters could give her real troubles, but she still has a good record against all of them   This is in contrast to Monica Seles.  Seles missed a year and a half to the stabbing instance, less than Serena's combined off-time, but her GS and rival head-to-head records are worse.

On the men's side, Federer won his record 17th GS.  Federer has technical superiority over everybody else except Nadal, so it is not an upset that he beat Novak at the semi.  Andy Murray, like his old self, played conservatively as the match progressed.  Some points he was obviously in the upper hand, but chose to play safely, handing Federer the opportunities.  This cost Murray too much energy to win just a point.  His only reliable weapon was his first serve, but his second serve was below 100 mph. At the end Murray was too tired, like Radwanska, while the 30-year-old Federer was much fresher.

The questions now are how long can Federer keep it up, which Djokovic will return, and what is wrong with Nadal?  Rosol didn't play like world #100 when he beat Nadal, but Nadal was very flat even when he beat Bellucci in the first round: Nadal came back on that match only because Bellucci could not handle underspins.  Rosol plays like Soderling, whose style innately troubles Nadal, but Nadal usually still beats it.  The rain delay after the 4th set likely hurt Nadal, but his form was definitively not enough to win Wimbledon.  It may be that Nadal aimed to beat Djokovic at GS, and once he did that in Paris he was like a balloon with the air let out.  There may also be an injury issue.  Comparing to Nadal 2008 or earlier, he runs around and uses his forehand more and more now.  Being more aggressive is all good and well, but perhaps the downside is that he uses his backhand less and less, reflecting either less match practice or less confidence.  Djokovic's constant attacks of his backhand perhaps creates a phantom insecurity in Nadal's mind such that he tries to overcompensate with his forehand, which then has too much pressure and makes too many errors.  Nadal needs to stand his ground with his backhand and returns serves more aggressively.  

It will be interesting to see how they perform in London 2012.  Federer will have his 4th and likely last chance for a singles' gold.  If Djokovic wants to be a real king, he needs to beat an in-form Federer, which is now.


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