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Category: Sports (Page 1 of 6)

Excellent Climbing Documentary: ‘Valley Uprising’

2018-11-11VU

I love 1) sports/crazy athletic achievements, and 2) documentaries, so the 2014 film “Valley Uprising” had long been on my list of movies to watch.

I finally checked it out on Netflix. I really liked it. It outlines the emergence of climbing icons and the techniques they employed from one generation to the next in California’s stunningly beautiful Yosemite Valley.

There are brash climbers, philosophical ones, stoners, alcoholics, crazy parties, plane crashes, run-ins with park rangers, a beloved homeless guy and more. The soundtrack is great. And there are some cool animations of still photos pulled from various archives.

I knew that Yosemite was a climbing mecca — when I was 18 a friend and I did the day hike up the back of Half Dome, which is like 0.01% as daring as what the stars of “Valley Uprising” undertake — but I  never knew about its history.

Certainly worth a watch, perhaps as a prelude to “Free Solo,” the new documentary about Alex Honnold (who features in “Valley Uprising” as embodying the newest generation of Yosemite stars) and his rope-less Half Dome summit that seems to be generating some buzz.

Loris Karius and the Existential Pain of Goalkeeping

Catching a cross, back in the college days

When the soul suffers too much, it develops a taste for misfortune.

— Albert Camus, goalkeeper and philosopher

When I was eighteen years old, during the fall of my freshman year, I started in goal as my college soccer team faced off at home against a particularly difficult opponent.

I can’t remember the scoreline. We lost either 3-1. Maybe it was 4-1. Or 5-2.

But I certainly remember the two disastrous goals I allowed.

On the first, a teammate played a back pass to me on the left side of the goal, from close range. I was being closed down by an attacker.

Rather than use my stronger right foot to simply play it out of touch, I struck it with my left foot and played a poor, low clearance not far into the midfield.

It went straight to one of their players, who passed it to another, who then scored into the empty goal.

On the second, later in the game — probably still rattled from the first error — I let a well-hit shot slightly to my left squirm under me and over the goal line. I should have saved it.

Near the end of the match I also saved a penalty, diving to my left and steering the shot around the post, but by then it was too late.

The game was lost.

And it was because of me.

Today, more than two decades later, those two errors are still fresh in my mind. They’re right there on the surface of my memory, as if I’d committed them only last week. The many other saves I made over the years, rescuing points for my teammates or winning matches in penalty shootouts, and buried deep down below.

For perspective: I made those howlers my freshman year in front of 21 other players, our coaches and subs, and the students, parents and other members of public sitting in small grandstands.

A few weekends ago Loris Karius, Liverpool’s 24-year-old German goalkeeper, made two mistakes that were technically worse than mine.

And he committed them on the biggest stage in club football and in front of an audience of millions, in the Champions League final against Real Madrid. (To be clear, Karius is approximately 1000% better than I ever was. I am in no way comparing myself to him in terms of skill!)

On the first, he was too casual in rolling a ball out of the back, allowing Karim Benzema to stick out a leg and redirect it into the goal.

I think Liverpool wanted to play it quickly out of the back, Karius got the ball and looked to distribute it quickly, and just didn’t expect Benzema to get to him as rapidly as he did.

But rule number one when you have the ball in your hands is safety first; never relinquish possession in the back. He could have just waited a few moments for Benzema to drift away, or he could have faked the throw first to see what Benzema did.

On the second error, Karius let a long-range Gareth Bale shot that was basically coming right at him squirm through his hands and into the goal.

On this one, Karius was attempting to catch it, and the swerve on the ball deceived him. But he could easily have patted it down or just pushed it away rather than trying to hold it. Perhaps he was (understandably) shaken from the first goal, and this shot from distance gave him too much time to think. Hence the mental error.

Liverpool lost 3-1, with the difference being the two poor goals Karius allowed.

(It has since emerged that Karius may have suffered a concussion earlier in the game, which could have affected his performance. At first I dismissed the idea that a head injury may have affected him, because it didn’t seem like an earlier collision with Real’s Sergio Ramos was especially severe, and didn’t seem outwardly wobbly. But I’ve since read that concussions can manifest themselves in various ways.)

I really feel for Karius.

Such were the magnitude of his errors that the final will be remembered more for his mistakes than for Real’s second goal — an overhead Bale kick — that may go down as the best ever scored in the competition.

(It was, truly, an excellent game. There were injuries, fouls, play acting, everything.)

I bet that Karius has played his last game for Liverpool. He obviously has all the physical tools to play at the very highest level, and I’m sure he’ll have a productive career (perhaps outside of England).

But unless he goes on to win the Champions League with another side, or lifts the World Cup with Germany — both of which are extreme long shots — he will be known the rest of his life for his meltdown in Kiev.

If nothing else, goalkeeping builds character. It teaches you, often at a young age, to deal with failure and humiliation in front of your peers and the public, whether it’s a few dozen people at a college game or a global audience of millions.

Cryptocurrency Mania Comes to the Premier League?

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File under: Life in 2018, cryptocurrency edition:

My favorite Premier League team, Arsenal, now shows ads at its grounds for Cashbet Coin, which bills itself as the club’s “official cryptocurrency partner.”

I did a little digging.

Apparently I missed this Reuters story from January:

English soccer team Arsenal is entering the cryptocurrency world by signing a deal to promote new digital tokens being sold by an American gaming software company.

California-based CashBet said on Wednesday that the Premier League club had agreed to become its “exclusive and official Blockchain Partner” ahead of the upcoming “initial coin offering” (ICO) of its new cryptocurrency, “CashBet Coin”.

The partnership makes Arsenal “the first major team in world football to officially partner with a cryptocurrency”, CashBet said in a statement.

Who knew?

Alexis Sanchez just scored a panenka in the 98th minute to secure three points for #Arsenal and move into second place — after Arsenal gave up a foolish penalty just a few minutes earlier in stoppage time. 

Chelsea have a five point lead with a game in hand. 

But still. 
But still:
Could this be our year? 

UPDATE: Naturally, Chelsea won and the gap is back to eight points. As you were. 

England Lose to Iceland — But Then, You Expected That

Were you shocked the other day when England lost 2-1 to Iceland?

Of course not, because you read my post just a few hours before kickoff.

Just saying.

Why You Shouldn’t be Surprised When England Lose

2016 06 27 england iceland euro

In about five hours England play Iceland in a Euro 2016 final 16 game. England may not lose this match, but they will almost certainly not win the tournament.

Here’s why you shouldn’t be surprised that the England national team aren’t more successful than they are.

Are you ready?

Here it is:

They’re actually not a global footballing power.

Now, this may come as a surprise, given that the guy who coached the soccer team at your high school had an English accent, as do many of the pundits who commentate on football games on TV. And yes, England is home to world’s most popular league.

2016 06 27 england crest

In addition, as British people may remind you, England invented the game and in 1966 won the World Cup — though it was at home in England and the team benefited from a dubious refereeing decision.

In the half century since then, however, they have won…not a single title.

The closest they came was making it to the World Cup semi-final in 1990 — a benchmark even the U.S. nearly achieved in 2002, when Gregg Berhalter* would have scored had it not been for a Torsten Frings handball that went unpunished.

But I digress.

Among the factors I have heard people give for England’s failure to win tournaments:

  • The Premier League is too fast-paced and physically demanding
  • There’s no winter break, so players can’t recuperate properly
  • There are too many foreigners playing in the Premier League, so English players don’t get a chance to develop
  • Highly paid players are more devoted to their clubs than to England
  • The youth team coaching isn’t good enough, so players don’t reach their full potential
  • Previous coaches, like Fabio Capello, were too strict or didn’t understand English culture or communicate with their players
  • English players typically play their best in cold weather; they can’t win in the heat.
  • They’re just so unlucky, with inevitable pre-tournament injuries
  • Penalties! They’re a crapshoot!
  • The English media are too hard on players, who then crack under the pressure of carrying a nation’s weight on their shoulders
  • Wives and girlfriends coming along to tournaments distract the players

And I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if another reason is added to the list after this tournament: Brexit somehow distracted the players, or sapped the fans of their enthusiasm.

But, as some have pointed out, England only under-achieve if you think they should do better.

I don’t. They do about as well as you could expect.

When you think England, don’t think Brazil, Germany, or Italy.

Think Portugal.

In other words: pretty good, but not absolutely top-tier.

Let’s look at their Fifa world rankings since 1993:

2016 06 27 england fifa ranking

So, they’re now ranked 11th in the world, and their average ranking since 1993 is ten. That’s pretty good! But it doesn’t make them elite.

Other sides that have won the World Cup once, like England, include France, which won in 1998 and have an average ranking of nine, and Spain, which won in 2010 and has an average ranking of five. Both are better than England.

What about the big boys?

Brazil have won five World Cups. This is what their ranking — which averages out to three over the years — looks like:

2016 06 27 brazil fifa ranking

Germany (average ranking: five) and Italy (average ranking: seven) have won four times each. This is what their rankings look like:

2016 06 27 germany fifa ranking

2016 06 27 italy fifa ranking

Portugal, which have an average ranking of 11, are much more like England:

2016 06 27 portugal fifa rankings

So, again: England don’t underperform. They perform as they always have.

They’re basically Portugal, except they won the World Cup fifty years ago. And they don’t have a Cristiano Ronaldo.

*My own personal footballing claim to fame: In a college game against the University of North Carolina, Gregg Berhalter scored a penalty on me. I dove the right way, guessing the left footer would blast it to my left, and came absolutely nowhere near it.

2015 Media Picks: My Favorite Book, Album, Movie, TV Show — and Goal and Save

2016-01-04harrisjpgBook: “Waking Up”

I read a lot of really great books this year, most of which were published prior to 2015.

The one that comes closest to qualifying for this list, however, since it was published in late 2014, is Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.

Harris, a neuroscientist, illustrates that our perception of the world quite literally dictates the quality of our lives. He discusses eastern and western religions, consciousness, the illusion of the self, meditation, gurus, and psychedelic  drugs.

“Our minds are all we have,” he writes early on in the book. “They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others.”

Highly recommended.

Album: “Meamodern Sounds in Country Music”

2016-01-04_sturgillAgain, I’m kind of cheating here. Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” came out in mid-2014. But it’s too good to ignore. I blogged about it back in February.

Unfortunately, it’s not available on Spotify — my current pick for music streaming given Rdio’s demise and my brief but ultimaely ill-fated dalliance with Apple Music — but you can listen to it on Amazon or YouTube.

Movie: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

2016-01-04SWSerious “Star Wars” nerds may have their quibbles. But as a casual fan — as in, I like the movies, I really do, but I don’t live or die by them — I found “The Force Awakens” to be thrilling and fun.

It’s great to have the crew back again.

TV show: “Fargo”

2016-01-04fargoHoly shit, “Fargo.”

Season one was fantastic. And so was season two, which just concluded.

It seems crazy, the idea of replicating, for TV, the setting (mostly) for one of the finest films ever made. But it works. And there’s more to come!

Goal: Messi vs. Athetic Bilbao

Okay, so a goal represents the greatest achievement in the world’s greatest game (except for saving a penalty), and isn’t a piece of media, exactly. But it kind of is, when it’s reproduced. Like it is here. I don’t care.

THAT MESSI GOAL against Atheltic Bilbao, which I mentioned back in June, was outrageous:

Save: David De Gea vs. Everton

Again, we have to go back to late 2014, but it’s worth it.

As I blogged at the time, De Gea was exceptional against Everton. The save he pulls off at the one minute mark here is just…I’m speechless.

What a year.

Solving a Rubik’s Cube in 4.9 Seconds

This video is crazy.

FiveThirtyEight has the backstory.

Mesmerizing Vine: Levandowski Scores 5 Goals in 9 Min.

I’m, like, nearly a fortnight late in pointing this out, but still: It’s incredible.

You may have seen the news that Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski recently scored five times in nine minutes against Wolfsburg. This link shows all of the goals in the run of play.

I also found, embedded above and online here, a mesmerizing Vine showing all five stitched together.

Video: Italians Try to Pronounce Wojciech Szczesny’s Name

With the recent signing of goalkeeper Petr Cech — see my previous post and bold prediction — it looks like Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny is heading to AS Roma on loan.

This tweet from football writer James Horncastle alerted me to an excellent video in which Roma fans try to pronounce their new Polish goalkeeper’s name.

The video is embedded above and online here.

For the record, here’s how you say his name:

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