February 27, 2005

Kids' Fitness in the News

Last week in my local paper there was a good editorial by Chris Cochrane concerning the Nova Scotia government's committment to youth health and fitness. Cochrane is the Herald's front-page sports columnist and writes most days about the biggest game in town — university football or the Halifax Mooseheads. Living in a town without a major professional franchise means that amateur sport gets better coverage than it does in bigger cities. Still, it's unusual (and refreshing) to see a keynote columnist addressing public health on the front of the sports section.

Some more positive local news emerged last week on the public health front, as a study found that students at certain Nova Scotia schools were significantly less obese than their contemporaries. Those schools were participating in a project, partially funded by Health Canada, that encouraged healthy eating and physical activity. This is welcome news indeed amid the doom-and-gloom about the poor physical health of our youth. You can read about the policies in this 2002 document.

Of course, you win some, you lose some. Offseting the good work done by the fat-fighting schools, certain high schools in the same region still have designated on-campus smoking areas for students, despite the fact that tobacco possession is against the law for anybody under the age of 19.

February 24, 2005

Note to CTV: Skilled Announcer for Hire

A week ago I wrote about CTV's recent successful bid to broadcast the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games in Canada. One of my concerns about the CTV/TSN package is that their play-by-play announcers and analysts are poor compared to the staff at the CBC.

Yesterday, the CBC let one of their good ones go, announcing the surprise termination of Chris Cuthbert's contract. The official story is that there isn't enough work for Cuthbert, now that the NHL season has been officially cancelled. Yesterday on CBC radio there was some speculation that the real reasons may have been more personal, as Cuthbert apparently had a rocky relationship with boss Nancy Lee. William Houston at the Globe and Mail reports that Lee notified Cuthbert of his dismissal through his agent. The Toronto Star is reporting that the employees' union at CBC is investigating the circumstances of the termination.

Assuming that Cuthbert is done with the CBC, he could be a significant upgrade to the CTV team. Aside from his high-profile hockey duties, Cuthbert was also CBC's top announcer for CFL broadcasts, and (more relevant to my topic) played a high-profile role at the last few Olympics. He covered figure skating at the winter games in Salt Lake City, and did an excellent job at the rowing and flatwater canoe/kayak venue in Athens.

For the moment, Cuthbert's profile is still available on the CBC web site.

February 23, 2005

Lady Stanley's Cup?

Our outspoken Governor General has made news again, this time suggesting that the best women's hockey teams in the world should compete for the Stanley Cup.

This would be a delightful revenge against the greedy people (read men) who have forced the cancellation of this year's NHL season. Of course it will never happen, and our women's team would probably not appreciate being treated as a one-time novelty act, anyway.

A much better idea, I think, is being advocated at FreeStanley.com. If you haven't heard of this yet, go on over and take a look. The idea looks doomed, unfortunately, barring a legal turnaround, but can you imagine a British FA Cup-style challenge tournament for the Stanley Cup? That's much closer to the original intent of Ms. Clarkson's predecessor.

February 22, 2005

More Funding for Canadian Amateur Sports

The Canadian Press has leaked this news about tomorrow's federal budget (a Canadian tradition). According to the CP's sources, the Sport Canada budget will be increased to $140M CAD for the upcoming fiscal year.

If I have my facts straight, last year's Sport Canada budget was $90M, which was then boosted by a "one-time only" $30M infusion in May of 2004. So the new total could be interpreted as an extension of this $30M, plus $20M in new money. It falls significantly short of what the COC was pitching to Parliament earlier this month, but is still a significant increase.

As discussed previously here, the "excellence" portion of the Sport Canada budget, targeted at the programs that produce high-performance athletes, will not be distributed evenly to all sports. The high-performance programs of all summer and winter sports are currently under an in-depth review, to identify those sports where Canada's medal chances are best.

Bring Back the A Card!

As part of the budget increase, the CP is reporting that the monthly living allowance given to Canadian national team athletes under the Athlete Assistance Program will rise from $1100 to $1500. This will be a nice increase for our athletes, who have now seen the maximum monthly stipend go from $650 to $1500 in the last eight years. At the beginning of that period, Sport Canada did away with the "graded" carding levels (A, B, and C) that rewarded the top performers on the national team with a bigger allowance. Personally, I would like to see that come back, so that athletes who have proven podium potential get a bigger piece of the pie.

February 20, 2005

Bid Evaluations in Full Swing

Lots happening in the 2012 bidding wars in the past few weeks. The IOC's evaluation committee is in the middle of its site tour, having just arrived in New York. The committee has already completed their inspections of Madrid and, most recently, London, where the Queen did her part by waving.

Earlier, I wrote that we could probably write off New York's bid, and not a lot has happened to change my mind. There is still a lot of public negativity about the bid (see NewYorkGames.org for some of the details), and the U.S. is going to be a long shot anyway. There will probably be a bit of a bounce in optimism after the visit, but I still think that the real chances are pretty slim.

The odds on London have improved since the committee visit, but early favourite Paris hasn't had theirs yet. The IOC's decision will be made this summer. Meanwhile, you can follow all the press releases at GamesBids.com, if you're interested.

February 17, 2005

Rogers/CTV Win Olympic Rights

Last week, Canadian broadcast rights for the 2010 and 2012 Olympic games were awarded to Rogers/CTV. The bid group includes english broadcasters CTV, TSN, OLN, and the regional Rogers SportsNets, which makes the possibilities pretty intriguing:
The plan is for CTV to carry the opening and closing ceremonies, plus the major sports events on its free, over-the-air channels. Sportsnet's four regional cable channels plus TSN will have the ability to show entire events, from start to finish. "The tastes are changing in sports," said CTV president Rick Brace. "People want to be able to watch the events they want to see and they want to be able to watch them in their entirety and they want to be able to watch them live."

All true. Not mentioned, however, is the fact that people also want to watch the events with decent commentary and analysis! According to past experience, this is much more likely to occur on CBC than it is on CTV (all my previous complaints about Brian Williams aside ...).

It's possible that I am being unfair to the on-air staff at CTV/TSN/OLN/Rogers. Maybe they are not nearly as bad as I remember from the last time CTV hosted the games. At the very least, I will look forward to the increased coverage of the events — even if I have to watch with the sound turned down!

February 10, 2005

FINA Gets Their Way. Man Dies.

So I guess it was just an extreme pressure tactic, after all.

Today FINA announced that the 2005 FINA World Championships will be held in ... Montréal. This after cancelling the same event — scheduled for July — in January, and convincing three other cities to present their short-notice bids.

Of course, Canada's athletes are thrilled that the championships are back on, and they should be. In fact, this decision is probably the best one for the competition, as honourary co-chairman Dick Pound has pointed out:

I've always thought that the best thing for FINA and their world championships would be to take advantage of the two years of preparation that Montreal's already put into this rather than take their chances on what a totally new city, with only five months to prepare, might be able to cobble together.

FINA has publicly agreed, stating that it would be a logistical headache to move the championships with such little notice.

In addition to getting the right venue, FINA also has finally secured the financial assurances they feel they need. Apparently, those assurances are mostly being borne by Montréal's long-suffering taxpayers, but we'll wait and see.

So, was it all a bluff? Here's a segment from the CP Online story on the re-award to Montréal. (Cornel Marculescu, quoted here, is executive director of FINA.)

... when [FINA] met with the [Montréal organizing] committee in January ... [Marculescu] felt the championships were not taken seriously by the committee or the various levels of government. When they pulled the event from Montréal, he said it "gave us a chance to show that this is an important event and that lots of cities want to have it."

Everybody at FINA must be feeling absolutely fabulous, since this worked out just the way they wanted it to; they don't have to move their championships, they extorted their financial guarantees, and they got to feel more important, all at the same time. Meanwhile, a man is dead, after organizing committee chairman Yvon Desrochers killed himself in his car last week. Of course, as Marculescu was quick to point out, "we don't know if it was connected to the championships," even if Desrochers was facing a barrage of public criticism over the failure of the organization he led since 2002. I wonder if FINA feels better now that they're being "taken seriously?"

February 07, 2005

FINA World Championships Headed For ...

The president of FINA has told Around the Rings that a decision on the new host site for the 2005 FINA World Championships will be made this week at a meeting in Frankfurt.

The FINA World Championships are a multi-sport event, encompassing swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, water polo, and open-water swimming. In case you haven't been following this bizarre story, the event was previously awarded to Montréal, but was withdrawn by FINA due to a lack of funding. A media battle of blame, accusation, and whining has surrounded that decision.

There is unanimous agreement that the organizing committee was millions of dollars short on the revenue side of their budget, but sources disagree over the cause of the shortfall. Various parties blamed the three governments involved (Canada, Québec, and Montréal), FINA itself, and the private sector.

Since the decision, some of the deficit has actually been made up, with various parties stepping forward. There seems to be hope in some quarters that the cancellation is only an extreme pressure tactic by FINA, and that the event will still go on. However, Montréal is not listed among the official candidate cities on FINA's web site, and FINA has publicly insisted that Montreal is out of the running.

Adding a human tragedy to the political drama, the embattled CEO of the Montréal organizing committee, Yvon DesRochers, died on February 2nd at the age of 60-ish (reports vary). The death has received hardly a mention in the English-Canadian press (an exception is sportsnet), but the French-Canadian and European media are widely reporting it as a suicide.

Some have speculated that the withdrawal will hurt Canada's chances at winning host bids in the future. Personally, I don't put too much stock in that; surely the recent successful events in cycling, athletics, triathlon, and rowing won't be completely discounted? Montréal, on the other hand, probably won't benefit from this very public failure.

February 05, 2005

Many Victor Contes?

Victor Conte, in his infamous interview on 20/20, claimed that there are many more out there like him, making sure that all of the world's best athletes are pumped full of illegal and undetectable drugs. He is not alone in that assertion; even some in the news media are sure that this must be true.

This week, those speculations have been somewhat justified, with the announcement that doping authorities have discovered another designer steroid specifically developed for athletes.

Figure 1

Figure 1 — History of 100 m times

Figure 1 — history of performances in men's 100 m (click to enlarge).

In an earlier post, I commented that I don't buy Conte's self-justification that only doped athletes can be competitive in athletics. I have been wanting to go back and take a look at this issue in some more detail.

Figure 1 (inset right) shows the history of performances in the men's 100 m dash. Of particular interest is the block of green bars on the right-hand side of the plot. These represent the best 10 sprinters in the world for each year since 1975. There's no way to know, of course, which of these performances have been illegally enhanced. But it's "common knowledge" that today, all of the best athletes are on drugs.


  • The "Statistics" section compiled by Rinaldo Zocca has some interesting analysis of trends between 1975 and 2000, including the lists of the top 10 performers in each of those years. (If you want to see something fascinating, take a look at the men's shot put.)
  • The lists of top performers after 2000 were obtained from the IAAF's top lists.
  • The chronology of the world record came from BiblioSports.
  • The times for the Olympic finalists came from The 100 Metre Zone
  • This graph at Athletics By Numbers shows that in 2004 only 26 athletes in the world ran faster than 10.10 seconds, and only 7 ran faster than 10.00 seconds

Happily, I don't think that the numbers support this conclusion, unless steroid use has been going on much longer than we thought. Looking at the graph, we can see that the tenth-best sprinter in the world today is roughly as fast as the world record holder in the mid-1960s.

In 1964, at the Olympics in Tokyo, "Bullet" Bob Hayes set a world record of 10.06. So if all of the top ten sprinters in the world today are cheaters, then that would imply that Hayes and his contemporaries (Jim Hines and Charles Greene, to name two) were also on drugs, wouldn't it? Conte claims that you have to dope to compete today, so therefore this kind of sophisticated doping must stretch back at least to the sixties.

Now, it's possible that the best sprinters from the sixties were cheating. We know that Hayes had his problems, later in life, with narcotics. But I've never seen any accusations about steroids in this era.

I think that the opposite conclusion is far more likely, even if it runs contrary to "common knowledge." I am convinced that at least some of the world's ten best sprinters are actually clean. And that's assuming that forty years of advances in training and technology have counted for nothing.