Archive for Thursday, August 21, 2008

The eephus pitch

August 21, 2008

To temporarily step away from the fantasy column, the Olympics have a way of bringing certain stories to light that reflect on greater lessons in life.

This is probably because of the gathering of the greatest athletes on earth and the diversity of their countries and backgrounds.

Jesse Owens' performance at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, a black sprinter dominating in the face of a Nazi regime, is one example of this, although it had a far more political message than anything that has occurred during the 2008 games. Such performances grant the world's best athletes the opportunity to represent something more than athletic achievement.

This year, the one performance that represented something greater, to me, was Michael Phelps and his unprecedented eight gold medals in swimming events. If you missed it, well, you had to be trying to miss it.

This performance signifies a few things. On the most basic level, jealousy and political hatred can be overcome. As Phelps broke world record after world record, he drew countless ovations from a predominantly Chinese arena.

The respect and love foreign athletes and fans gave Phelps in a contest that breeds a nationalistic feeling shows, among other things, in the spirit of honest competition - more on that in a minute - all world citizens like great athletic achievements.

One uplifting thought is that if Phelps were a Chinese swimmer, and the '08 Summer Games were in the U.S., it's hard to believe any less respect would have been shown. That's fantastic, and one reason that the Olympics are so important.

Another idea that I took away from all this is that records will always fall. Whether it's evolution, better training, better coaching or something else, athletes will always get better. The old saying "records are made to be broken" proves itself over time.

And, the most important part of that to me, athletes will surpass previous standards without performance enhancers.

Phelps volunteered, probably because he knew what he was capable of accomplishing, to be tested more than other athletes. He agreed to take part in "Project Believe," a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency volunteer program that requires athletes provide additional testing than what the Olympic committees mandate that is more frequent and more sophisticated than the usual testing procedure.

Phelps was tested after each race.

But, in this day in age, anything can happen. I realize a dirty test could still surface, but that seems highly unlikely at this point. Dirty tests should have already surfaced before he ever competed. Others have been busted already, and his testing procedure is more rigorous.

So what this becomes is an issue of the evolution of the athlete. Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven golds has fallen, and other records will eventually fall too, without enhancements. Barry Bonds' records, 73 home runs in a season and 762 in a career, will fall whether at the hands of Alex Rodriguez or some athlete yet unborn.

A young man will eventually climb upon a bike and race to seven consecutive Tour De France victories.

Phelps' record, hard as it is to believe right now, will one day fall. That's refreshing, to know that however bad certain sports have screwed up in controlling doping and illegal enhancement, clean athletes with integrity still prevail.

That became evident as the 2008 Games unfolded.

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