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Teed off by Trump? Why protests to move the US Women’s Open miss the mark

A campaign calling for Julys US Womens Open from Trump National Golf Club to be moved has reached critical mass. But the author, a former LPGA Tour pro, insists that moving the tournament isnt as simple as it seems

A few years ago, when the United States Golf Association announced that it would hold the US Womens Open at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, it was business as usual.

Except no one anticipated that Donald Trump, who built Trump National just 13 years ago, would be president of the United States. Nor did anyone at the USGA forecast that Trumps infamous grab [women] by the pussy tape would make international headlines. And really, how could they?

When that tape surfaced, people immediately denounced the USGA, asking them to move the US Womens Open to a different course. This led to calls for the Ladies Professional Golf Association to get involved, asking players and the LPGA itself to boycott the US Open and demand a change of venue.

With the US Womens Open less than four months away, UltraViolet, a US-based womens advocacy group, has gathered over 100,000 signatures for their petition to move the tournament, writing: The USGA and LPGA need to send a clear signal to young golfers, including women, people of color and people with disabilities that it stands for inclusiveness, and move the upcoming US Womens Open from Trump National Golf Course.

Most recently, UltraViolet held a protest at the LPGA Founders Cup last week, handing out golf balls that said with the imprint, LPGA: Dump Trump.

So why arent the protests working?

The protests are futile and heres why: UltraViolet and its protesters seem to be unaware of the fact the USGA and the LPGA are do not function under the same umbrella. Specifically, the LPGA serves a different function than the USGA. The protesters are going after the wrong people.

Each organization has its own governing body that makes decisions with respect to to the US Womens Open, just because you play on the LPGA does not mean you automatically get into the US Open. For instance, just under 100 players with status on the LPGA are exempt to play in the US Open without having to compete in a sectional qualifier, leaving about 60 spots open for non-LPGA members.

Those qualifiers are open to any woman or girl who dreams of playing in the US Open, like Lucy Li, who played in the US Open at 11 years old in 2015.

So targeting the LPGA and its players within the organization is a waste of protesters time. Why target players who may not even qualify for the US Open, or better yet the LPGA who had no decision making power in where the tournament was held?

In response to the protests, the LPGA released this statement: Regarding the US Womens Open, the USGA not the LPGA owns and operates the event and we are delighted to have so many of our LPGA members qualify to participate each year. When it comes to decisions regarding venue, purse, TV, etc, those are solely made by the USGA.

So as protesters troll LPGA players online and disrupt LPGA tournaments, what they need to be doing is targeting all female golfers who have signed up for the sectional qualifiers taking place in May and June. In 2015, over 1,800 women signed up to play in the US Open sectionals qualifiers, so it looks like theyll need to enlist more protesters.

Do the protesters understand how golf tournaments work?

Perhaps not all of them do. Moving a major championship to a different golf course is not as easy as finding another restaurant to eat at simply because all the tables are reserved. Putting on a major tournament takes time and a lot of people power. This year, almost 2,500 people will have volunteered to help host the US Womens Open. The USGA is a non-profit organization, so their reliance on people who are flying in from all over the world who have made prior arrangements to help the golfers have a great US Open, is crucial.

Moving a venue would mean losing many of those volunteers, and perhaps having to reimburse them for their plane tickets. It would also mean finding another golf course that meets the standards of holding a major championship. It takes months to prepare a course for a major and involves a lot more than just watering the greens. Play at the host club is limited. Often areas are renovated to host the major at the cost of the club, and getting the putting greens ready takes more dedication and time than outsiders realize.

Moving the tournament could result in 1) not having enough volunteers and 2) a new venue not up to major championship quality.

Who would be most affected if sponsors pulled out of US Open?

While UltraViolet is claiming that theyre doing this for the greater good of women, they would actually hurt women in the process should sponsors pull out of the US Open. The tournament is the largest purse of the year for womens golf, at $5m. For the athletes, the winnings could change their lives.

Heres why.

Players on the LPGA dont make a lot of money unless they finish top 40 on the money list for the year. The breakdown of costs to play golf professionally is as follows:

  • Tournament entry fees: $250 to enter an LPGA event x 30 events a year = $7,500 annually
  • Paying a caddie weekly fee: $1,500 x 30 events a year = $45,000 annually
  • Average flights: $700 x 30 events a year = $21,000 annually
  • Hotel: $100 per night for a week-long event x 30 events a year = $21,000
  • Total: $94,500

This does not include the cost of paying for instructors, trainers, golf course membership fees, food during the week of travel, and also being able to afford to pay your rent or mortgage back home.

The vast majority of players on the LPGA do not have lucrative sponsorship deals, nor do they have their expenses covered by a team like players in the NBA or NFL. They are independent contractors whose living is based on performance. So if some of these players have a good week at the US Open, it could mean earning enough money to play the following year.

If sponsors were to boycott the US Open, the women on tour who work extremely hard to earn their way into the tournament would essentially be punished for something they have no power over.

So the fault is with the protestors then?

Not at all. Golf most certainly has a long way to go in supporting female players. Ive written about this issue in the past, and I anticipate that I will have to continue writing about it in the future. Male-only golf clubs still exist, women golfers continue to receive barely a fraction of coverage in the media, and female golfers earn just under a third of what their male counterparts make.

What golf needs to focus on a whole is how to engage women and make sure they are properly represented in positions of power.

In all honesty, the USGA could have said and done more to decry Trump. The USGA could have said, Hey, we dont like what Donald Trump said in the very least, but we are begrudgingly contractually obligated to hold the US Open at his course, or we will lose millions of dollars and could face a major lawsuit.

The USGA and the LPGA could have come together and proposed to hold a forum at the US Open to discuss what their future plans for womens golf are to help grow the game with women, to make women feel more included, to help close the pay gap, and to help fight sexist attitudes in the sport.

Had the USGA and LPGA been more proactive in finding a way to engage people who had concerns with the US Open being held at Trumps course, they could have shown that they are interested in a better future for women overall, rather than releasing standard PR statements that are surface level at best.

Lastly, what is the dream scenario for the US Womens Open this year?

The best thing that could happen at this point would be for an ultra-feminist golfer to win the US Open this year, and while accepting her trophy and giving her speech, she says, As a feminist, this is a great moment in my life. And to Donald Trump, despite your attitudes towards women, despite thinking were just objects merely to be ogled and degraded when we dont agree with you, I hope that I can use my platform as a US Open winner to elevate and lift women up, and encourage them to fight the patriarchy.

Then Donald Trump will no doubt tweet: This so-called golfer is overrated, and on her best day is not even a 7. SAD!

Nothing would get under Trumps skin more than a woman using her major championship win at his golf course to speak out against him.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/mar/28/us-womens-trump-national-move-protest


The Joy of Six: weirdest trades in sports history

Gabriel Baumgaertner: If you thought the DeMarcus Cousins deal was strange, thats nothing. We look back at the six weirdest player swaps in sports history

Rare are the players with franchise talent, a volatile disposition and thrilling unpredictability, but newly minted New Orleans Pelican Demarcus Cousins checks each of those categories and even thats an incomplete beginning in describing the remarkably talented but mercurial star. Just one week after reports that Cousins was keen on signing the supermax contract (which would have totaled around $200m) with the Sacramento Kings, the team that drafted him in 2010, the 26-year-old star was shipped to the Pelicans on late Sunday night in a trade that stunned even the casual observer.

The return rookie shooting guard Buddy Hield, veteran shooting guard Tyreke Evans, point guard Langston Galloway, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick left pundits flummoxed. Why trade one of the games best players for a collection of unproven and mediocre commodities? Why the make the trade four days before the trading deadline when a more compelling offer could have surfaced? Common consensus is that the Kings were fleeced a familiar refrain for one of the leagues most inept franchises but public opinion seldom sides with the team that deals a superstar.

The most striking element of the trade wasnt that Cousins was dealt his name has been floated as a trade chip for over a year but the strangeness of the timing and the package. Most sports fans can rattle off famously lopsided trades (Reds trade Frank Robinson to Orioles for Milt Pappas, Cubs trade Lou Brock to Cardinals for Ernie Broglio, Nets trade Julius Erving to 76ers for $3m), but what about the truly unusual deals?

As these six trades demonstrate, transactions can delve into the ignominious and the absurd.

1) Boston Red Sox trade Babe Ruth to New York Yankees for $100,000

The trade that triggered the famed Curse of the Bambino is not only the most lopsided trade in the history of sports, but one of its strangest because of how the money was spent. Ruth, long known as the games greatest player and personality, had already established himself as one of the games great pitchers and hitters by 1919 for one of the leagues best franchises in the Boston Red Sox. He set a big league record by pitching 29 consecutive scoreless innings, a record that would stand until 1961. He won two games in the 1918 World Series despite injuring his hand in a fight before Game 4 (before giving up pitching, he finished his career 3-0 in World Series competition). His prodigious talent was a significant attraction in a baseball-crazed country. By 1920, he would join the rival New York Yankees and become an American hero.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, owner Harry Frazee struggled to meet loan payments after purchasing the team in 1916. Facing financial default, he started selling players off to the Yankees (16 total between 1918 and 1923 as well as general manager Red Barrow) because of his close ties to the Yankee owners. He sold Ruth for $100,000 and a loan of $300,000 to be secured by a mortgage on Fenway Park. Where the story gets truly strange is whether Frazee, a theater producer, used the money to finance the production No, No, Nanette, which originated as a non-musical stage play titled My Lady Friends. The play was indeed financed by the earnings from the Ruth deal, but it would not premiere until more than five years after Ruths departure and was part of a larger sum that Frazee had acquired through his other player sales as well as the eventual payment he secured in the mortgage deal for Fenway Park. Researchers have concluded that Frazee actively sought the acquisition of strong players in exchange for Ruth, but his financial trouble stemming from his inability to repay the Fenway Park mortgage, his failing theatre ventures, and an ongoing feud with American League commissioner Ban Johnson forced Frazee to sell Ruth on the open market.

1918
The top officials of the Boston Red Sox, Ed Barrow, left, and Harry Frazee, seated center, talk with Babe Ruth, center top, and Stuffy McInnis about the upcoming baseball season in 1918. Photograph: Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

The subsequent history is known. The Red Sox would not win another World Series until 2004, and the trade of Ruth was often cited as the central reason that the franchise was cursed. The trade, and Ruths legacy, are well-chronicled in Leigh Montvilles The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth, Dan Shaughnessys The Curse of the Bambino and Bill Brysons Summer 1927.

2) Pacific Suns trade Ken Krahenbuhl to Greenville Bluesmen for Player to Be Named Later, cash and 10lbs of Mississippi catfish an unopened Muddy Waters record and 50lbs of pheasant for a second baseman

Ken Krahenbuhl was scuffing his way through the 1998 season in the independent leagues, not affiliated with Major League Baseball, when he learned the Pacific Suns of Oxnard, California, had traded him. Thirty years old and one year away from his eventual retirement, Krahenbuhl was heading from a team in the Western League just 115 miles from his hometown to the Texas-Louisiana League to join the Greenville (Mississippi) Bluesmen. The return for Krahenbuhls services? A player to be named later, cash and 10lbs of Mississippi Catfish.

Those people in California dont know what good fish is, Pacific general manager Mike Begley, who formerly worked in Greenville, said after the deal was completed.

Krahenbuhl, like any reasonable human being, was peeved to learn that hed been traded for catfish a meager 10lbs at that. In a sterling example of converting anger into vengeance, Krahenbuhl pitched a perfect game against the Armadillo Dillos in his first outing for the Bluesmen. I really wanted to do well in my first start, Krahenbuhl said. I wanted to show the Suns they made a mistake. I was upset that I was traded for just some catfish, but Im glad Im here in Greenville now.

Krahenbuhl was mobbed by fans after the victory despite a torrential downpour that started in the ninth inning. His hat was stolen, but generous supporters passed around a separate hat to give him $48 as a reward for his performance. He took the money to go have a celebratory dinner and gambling outing at the nearby Lighthouse Point casino. What did he order to commemorate the career accomplishment?

Catfish.

3) Seattle Breakers trade Tom Martin to Victoria Cougars for a used bus

Tom Martin was an NHL journeyman who played 92 games over seven seasons and whose most notable stat was the 249 penalty minutes he accrued during his limited time at the highest level. His career statistics resemble that of the struggling player trapped in between the minors and NHL and whose name is otherwise forgotten outside of dusty trading cards and statistical archives.

Except Martin had a nickname, Bussey, that was earned by the most improbable trade that the hockey world ever witnessed. A fourth-round selection by the Winnipeg Jets in 1982, Martin opted to attend the University of Denver for the 1982-83 season, but his rights were held by the Seattle Breakers of the Western Hockey League. The Breakers figured theyd never use Martin, so the front office looked to ship him for something they could use. Instead of another player, the Breakers opted to ship Martin to the Victoria (British Columbia) Cougars for a bus. A used bus.

As NHL.coms Evan Weiner tells it, Victoria purchased a bus from the recently-folded Spokane Flyers, but ownership decided it was too expensive to register it in Canada. While the Cougars had an extra team bus stuck in Spokane, Seattles had recently blown its engine on a long road trip. The result? Martin, an unusable prospect for the Breakers because of his choice to go to college, was shipped for, as Martin told Weiner, a fairly new bus. Martin never saw the bus, but he earned the Bussey moniker and would eventually make it to the NHL.

4) Fort Lauderdale Strikers trade Walter Restrepo to San Antonio Scorpions for hotel and transportation accommodations

Most stories of bizarre trades come from eras when professional sports werent as rich as they are now. But gander down into independent leagues and second- and third-divisions of less profitable institutions and youll still find some strange publicity stunts and attempts to save a buck. Just three years ago, Walter Restrepo was one of the most revered midfielders in the NASL despite coming off of a knee injury that ended his 2013 campaign. So it must have come as a surprise when the Fort Lauderdale Strikers shipped the 25-year-old to the San Antonio Scorpions for what was initially called a transfer fee.

Thanks to some dogged reporting by Pedro Heizer of 90minutesstrong.com, that transfer fee was hotel and travel accommodations for the 2014 matchup between the two teams. In a league where salaries are notoriously low and attendance is typically sparse, few would be surprised if a transfer fee amounted to nothing more than a pittance to help pay the bills. Even so, trading a player widely acknowledged as a top asset in exchange for basic functions of a professional club provided an illuminating if bizarre insight into life at the lower levels. The trade also produced a most unusual press release. After the deal was completed, Scorpions president Howard Cornfield issued the following statement:

The Scorpions would like to thank Bill Brendel of the Crockett Hotel and Mark Thronson of Shark Limo, two long-term, great partners, for their incredible assistance. It was only through their assistance that we were able to get this deal done.

When Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl called both clubs, Cornfield acknowledged that maybe he should have simply specified cash considerations instead of thanking corporate sponsors, but that no publicity is bad publicity unless somebody gets murdered or something.

After a brief stint in 2016 with the Philadelphia Union, Restrepo returned to the NASL and has signed to play with the New York Cosmos in 2017.

5) Utah Jazz trade Fred Roberts to Boston Celtics for a third-round pick and two preseason games

A journeyman center with seemingly limited value, Roberts was the unlikely center of a bidding war between the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics in 1986. The Celtics had offered Roberts, a restricted free agent, a modest two-year offer sheet in the range of $400,000. The backup center was of little value to a Jazz team flush with big men (including future Hall of Famer Karl Malone), but since the Jazz wanted a second-round pick in exchange for Roberts, they surprisingly matched the offer sheet. By rule, Roberts was to return to the Jazz unless a trade was executed. Thats when negotiations took a strange turn.

The Jazz wanted a second-round pick as part of the exchange, but the Celtics didnt have one in the upcoming drafts, and the Jazz wouldnt accept the Celtics final offer of a fourth-round pick prior to their decision to match. The trade eventually agreed upon was a third-round pick (which the Jazz used to select current Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan) and an agreement for the Celtics to play two exhibition games in Utah. Boasting a roster of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge and Robert Parish, the Jazz front office must have thought that the draw of seeing so many stars would juice ticket sales and increase gate revenue. If not, it remains the most confounding package in NBA history. Roberts played sparingly for the Celtics for two seasons before he was selected in the 1988 expansion draft by the Miami Heat. (He would be traded to the Milwaukee Bucks before ever suiting up for the Heat.)

Fred
Fred Roberts became the unlikely center of a bidding war between the Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics in 1986. Photograph: Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images

By his careers conclusion in 1997, Roberts logged one of the most successful NBA journeyman careers in recent memory. Ironically, the Celtics trade came after he was traded by the New Jersey Nets to the San Antonio Spurs so the Nets could hire then-Spurs coach Stan Albeck. After joining the Bucks in 1989, Milwaukee head coach Del Harris commented I have promised Fred that if we ever trade him, it will be for a human being.

6) Indians trade Harry Chiti to Mets for Harry Chiti, Blue Jays trade John MacDonald to Tigers for John McDonald

Sometimes youre traded for the Player To Be Named Later. Sometimes you are the Player To Be Named Later. As Harry Chiti and John McDonald can tell you, sometimes youre both.

Harry Chiti was shipped from the Cleveland Indians to the New York Mets in 1962 for future considerations. The 62 Mets are widely regarded as the worst major league team of all-time and were the subject of famed New York writer Jimmy Breslins Cant Anybody Here Play This Game. According to Breslin, the 62 Mets were losers, just like nearly everybody else in life. This is a team for the cab driver who gets held up and the guy who loses out on a promotion because he didnt maneuver himself to lunch with the boss enough. Chiti was every bit as sad as the rest of the 40-win team. The backup catcher, one of seven the Mets used that season, finished the year with a paltry .195 average and just one extra base hit in 15 games. By seasons end, the Mets shipped him back to the Indians, making him the first player to be traded for himself. It was the last hed ever appear in the big leagues.

McDonald suffered a similar fate. The Toronto Blue Jays traded the fan favorite shortstop to the Detroit Tigers for the aforementioned player to be named later. Despite a decent showing as the Tigers backup shortstop (.260 batting average and his typical strong defense), the Tigers sent McDonald back to Toronto along with cash considerations. McDonald would log 16 seasons in the big leagues, finishing in 2014 with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Honorable mention: Players to be traded for equipment

Several baseball players have been traded for equipment. Former Atlanta Braves reliever Kerry Ligtenberg was once shipped for $720 in baseball equipment as a minor leaguer. Former Seattle Mariners reliever Keith Comstock was shipped for a bag of balls and $100, which he had to deliver from one minor league spring training camp to another.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/feb/22/the-joy-of-six-weirdest-trades-sports-history


Does the WNBA have a problem with straight women? The evidence suggests not

Candice Wiggins caused a storm by claiming she was bullied in a league that was 98% gay but in truth, the WNBA is open, tolerant, and committed to inclusion

Candice Wiggins decision to go public with accusations that shed been bullied in the WNBA, partly because she is heterosexual, was guaranteed to create a firestorm.

Since Wiggins said that 98% of the women in the WNBA are gay women and people were deliberately trying to hurt me all of the time. I had never been called the B-word so many times in my life, she hit the sweet spot for media coverage of the WNBA.

The league is seldom considered newsworthy enough when we see things like the creation of a superteam in Washington, with Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics, or when an epic WNBA finals between the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks goes down to the final seconds of an elimination game.

But a player asserting all the most vicious stereotypes about the league? Thats when the big outlets cannot wait to step up. Many believe the timing of Wiggins claims are no coincidence, given that she is currently is working on a book about her WNBA career.

Perhaps more worrying than Wiggins remarks was that the league did little to push back against her claims. The WNBA did not respond to the Guardians request for comment on this story until Thursday afternoon, in a statement attributed to league president Lisa Borders.

The statement read: When I first read the comments I was stunned and disappointed. In my time with the league and as a fan before that, Ive had the pleasure of getting to know a group of highly-competitive women who are driven to succeed at the highest level on the court and constantly striving to help create opportunity for all members of their communities.

Ive found our players to be earnest, heartfelt and eloquent, and clear in their commitment to our leagues core values of diversity, inclusion and respect. Of course, it concerns me if any of our players do not have a positive experience and I hope that anyone who feels uncomfortable would reach out to me or others in the league office.

Beyond how incomprehensible that is to the players why wouldnt the league support its players when the facts are far friendlier to the leagues position than they are to Wiggins? it has ensured that in a rare moment in which the WNBA is in the spotlight, it is being defined by false information about the players and their accomplishments.

But in the absence of guidance from the league, a funny thing happened. The diverse, opinionated and intellectually impressive WNBA players represented themselves and destroyed much of the ignorant stereotyping buoyed by Wiggins alternative facts.

Devereaux Peters of the Indiana Fever made quick work of Wiggins math. WNBA legend and new Hall of Fame nominee Rebecca Lobo got at the issue with the 98% comment as it played in the media, referencing this ESPN piece that pointed out that there is no published data on the number of gay players in the league.

Rebecca Lobo (@RebeccaLobo)

“The WNBA does not release the number of gay players in the league.” As if the WNBA does a census. Or has them (#s, not players) in a safe.

February 22, 2017

As 11-year veteran Monique Currie put it: Wiggins needs to check her privilege at the door, and not group her very unfortunate personal experiences on an entire group of women.

Many others followed. But what Wiggins has done is provide implicit permission for anyone else to categorize WNBA players by their sexuality. It also takes a percentage of media oxygen for a league that drew more than 1.6 million fans to its games last year, saw television ratings jump 11% and attendance by 4.6% during a year with the best overall play and playoffs anybody can remember, and redirect it off the court.

Worse yet, it is a built-in excuse not to cover the league for anyone in media who is looking for one. Even a former player said nobody watches, right? And to those not paying attention, the Wiggins story is one of the few that broke through, garnering ESPN alert status on phones and landing prime real estate in Bleacher Report, among many other places.

All contained within a falsehood, selling out a fanbase Wiggins herself claimed was what kept her going for years as a player.

Imani Boyette of the Chicago Sky explained this eloquently in response to Wiggins: You said: Nobody cares about the WNBA. Viewership is minimal. Ticket sales are very low. They give away tickets and people dont come to the game. And thats simply not true. When you retired in March, you said the reason you stuck around so long and kept fighting through injury was because of the fans. Did you know our ticket sales and viewership increased this year? Did you care to know?

Your article hurt me, Candice, both as your fellow WNBA player and as a little girl who looked up to you. You chose to typecast an entire league instead of speaking your peace, telling your truth. You chose to put all of us down, fans included. How can you turn your back on an entity that gave you your career, your upcoming book, and your worldwide acclaim? I think thats selfish.

Wiggins didnt even have the courage to defend her larger assertions about the league when contacted by Mechelle Voepel of ESPNW, one of the reporters versed in the league and thus able to question her effectively. Wiggins told Voepel she merely wanted privacy and peace, a day after making statements that guaranteed less of both for the players who have followed her in the league.

Wiggins used her platform to denigrate the league, its current and former players, while opening up a sinister new line of attack on a league that, in conversations with players from every era, embraces every woman, regardless of background or sexual orientation, who can shoot or rebound or dish or protect the rim. No one has come forward to corroborate Wiggins claims. And that doesnt invalidate Wiggins own experience. But it certainly casts doubts on the broad conclusions she made about the league as a whole.

And if Wiggins merely did this to try and gin up interest in her book well, shell likely find that she miscalculated. Those who support the league and its players arent interested in falsehoods. And the people she emboldened with her statements, utterly unsupported by the facts or collective experience of others in the league? They arent interested in supporting women at all.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/feb/24/wnba-problem-straight-women-candice-wiggins


What the Williams sisters mean in America today | Derrick Clifton

In an uncertain era, the success of Venus and Serena tells a story of the greatness that already exists in the United States

It was to be Serenas day. But the impact of an all-Williams final at the Australian Open cannot be overstated.

Before Serenas victory over Venus in Melbourne, the 23rd major title of her glittering career, the last time the two sisters went head-to-head in a grand slam final was at Wimbledon in 2009. Serena bested Venus in a tough two-set match. At the time, the sisters had won multiple titles in their already storied careers, which began with family practice sessions on the dilapidated courts of Compton.

Off the court, another breakthrough: Barack Obama had recently been sworn in as the nations first African American president. When Serena was winning Wimbledon, Obama was only months into his first term. As fraught as his legacy may be, history will likely regard him as the most inclusive president the country has ever had.

Obamas presence at the helm of the nation was a newfound symbol of possibility. It was the first time that a man who wasnt white and wealthy occupied the Oval Office.

And the Williams sisters have represented something similar for American tennis, and the sport at large, carrying a legacy that dates back to the triumphs of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. Theyve defied the odds, as a family, and as sisters, to achieve unrivaled excellence on their own terms.

Both sisters, black women, have pushed past abject racism at major tournaments, sexist and misogynist characterizations of their physicality and their bodies, and many other indignities as urban-raised women playing a sport associated with wealthy suburban whites.

And as they moved through the draw in Melbourne, a businessman named Donald Trump became the US president.

His record, and his campaign, ran antithetical to almost anything Obama and the Williams sisters represent. Trump bragged of grabbing women by their genitals; various sexual harassment and rape claims emerged last year. His company faced a lawsuit from the US Justice Department in 1973, which was settled with no admission of wrongdoing, where Trumps real-estate business allegedly discriminated against black people. He advocated immigration bans for Muslims, and rallied for building a wall with Mexico two promises he seems intent on keeping based on recently filed executive orders.

A vote for Trump was a vote to Make America Great Again or so he claimed.

Although the all-Williams final has nothing to do with Trump directly because we can indeed celebrate their latest feat independent of politics their mere presence and achievement in the sport, as two black women, tells a story of the greatness that already exists in America.

For scores of fans, and for up-and-coming tennis players, the Williams sisters have demonstrated whats possible when two individuals, with the support of family, community, and each other, power through adversity and absurdity to reach the highest heights of their craft.

Their stories, and their careers, have inspired a generation including the likes of 25-year-old American pro Coco Vandeweghe, who, before their semi-final match, said shed long counted Venus as a hero. Or even 21-year-old Madison Keys, the heir apparent to Serenas throne.

And on a personal level, although Im far from a professional tennis player, I once dreamed about that possibility. As a kid who grew up on Chicagos South Side, I didnt see or notice much about tennis; I was being pushed towards basketball or football. Thats until I happened upon Venus playing in the 2000 Wimbledon final, against Lindsay Davenport. I remember sitting on my aunts bed, as an 11-year-old, watching the match on an 80s color TV set.

After seeing Venus win, I thought: Maybe I can try and play that sport someday. I do so now. Many of my friends would say something similar after watching the Williams sisters in their youth, and as they aged along with them.

But now, at 36 and 35 respectively, Venus and Serena still appear to have a few more good years left. When they last met at a grand slam, in the 2015 US Open quarter-finals, many fans wondered if that would be the last time theyd see the sisters across the net from each other at a major. Itd become something fans expected during the early-to-mid 2000s, before injuries, health issues, and other life events posed as twists in the sisters tales.

We cant be sure if this years Australian Open will be the last time. For all we know, 2017 could be 2002-03 all over again, when Serena prevailed in four consecutive grand slam finals over Venus, winning her first of two Serena slams.

Whatever happens, however much longer they play professionally, what the Williams sisters have given to fans is more than enough, both on and off the court. Theyve approached their careers with style, humor, aplomb, and even pointed snark when need be.

And they, as individuals and as a family unit, are but one example of Americas promise one theyve achieved for themselves, one theyve presented as a possibility to a new generation, and as part of a larger promise thats yet to be fulfilled for black people, women, and other marginalized people, who now live amid fear and resistance in the age of Trump.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/jan/29/venus-serena-williams-australian-open-america


Will the ascent of Donald Trump make American athletes irate again? | Bryan Armen Graham

If sport is a microcosm of life the ascent of Donald Trump is no different with LeBron James and Tom Brady among those speaking their minds from both sides of the debate

The noise cascaded down from the west end of Madison Square Garden. It started in low. Then it started to grow. Donald Trump had just emerged from a tunnel on to the arena floor during the undercard of the middleweight title fight between Gennady Golovkin and David Lemieux, prompting a crescendo of boos from the crowd of more than 20,000 spectators that stuffed the midtown Manhattan arena to capacity. It was October 2015, four months after the real-estate mogul and reality TV star had announced his presidential bid with a speech that established his nativist bona fides by branding Mexicans as rapists and criminals. Now he had turned up to watch a sport largely populated and supported by the minorities his candidacy would seem to marginalise.

Trump made a half-circuit of the arena floor as the din grew to earsplitting volumes and turned into another tunnel almost immediately. As he made his way to the locker room of Golovkin, a Kazakh whose career has soared to new heights since coming to America and settling in Los Angeles, an aide straight-facedly reassured him the reaction from the crowd was 50-50.

Sport has always served as a mirror of American society, from the way Jackie Robinsons penetration of Major League Baseballs colour barrier pushed forward integration to how Muhammad Alis conscientious objection swayed national perceptions of the Vietnam war. Thats no different today as the reactions within US sport to Trumps ascent to the presidency, with his inauguration on Friday, reflect the deep political and cultural divides of the nation itself.

What it means for the games we watch remains as uncertain as what a Trump presidency will mean for the nation at large, but it has become clear that athletes on either side of the aisle are less inclined to stick to sports than any time in the past few decades.

As the money flowing into professional sports has ballooned to stupefying heights in recent decades, athletes have been drilled into eschewing political discourse. Michael Jordans infamous assertion that Republicans buy sneakers, too a quote of dubious authenticity but undeniable influence prompted a generation of athletes to keep their heads down when it came to thorny issues lest they alienate the consumerbase.

But a contentious election and the proliferation of social media have led athletes to speak out on politics with a frequency and ardour not seen since the high water mark of athlete activism of the 1960s, when champions such as Ali, Jim Brown and Kareem AbdulJabbar risked it all to stand on the front line of the civil rights movement.

LeBron James, who stumped for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, has said he would not stay at the Trump SoHo when the Cleveland Cavaliers made road trips to New York. When asked whether he would make the traditional visit to the White House were his team to repeat as NBA champions this summer, James was noncommittal: Well have to cross that road, I guess.

But for every sportsperson thats spoken out against Trump, there have been just as many celebrating his victory: the Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta, the Buffalo Bills lineman Richie Incognito, the Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer and the LPGA golfer Natalie Gulbis. Perhaps more revealing are those in sports who have shown a silent allegiance to the president-elect while stopping short of outspoken support, a trend that serves to illustrate the disconnect between the polls that spelled Trumps doom and election results that sealed his coronation.

Consider Trumps fascinatingly opaque relationship with the New England Patriots, the most successful NFL team of their generation. The four-times Super Bowl champions hail from the only state in the union where every county went for Clinton, yet the three figures most responsible for the Patriots runaway dominance the owner, Robert Kraft; the head coach, Bill Belichick; and the quarterback Tom Brady have all shown a quiet allegiance to Trump while stopping short of public endorsement.

Kraft held a meeting with the presidentelect in New York shortly after his victory, while Trump made no secret of the most beautiful letter he received from Belichick. When Brady was spotted with a Make America Great Again hat in his locker at Gillette Stadium shortly after Trump announced his candidacy, the two-times NFL most valuable player said it would be great if his friend and golfing buddy won the presidency. I support all my friends in everything they do, said Brady. I think its pretty remarkable what hes achieved in his life.

Trump has always valued sports as an inextricable stripe of American life. He owned a team in the upstart United States Football League in the early 1980s and hosted a series of major fights at his casino in Atlantic City before it went bankrupt, most notably the 1988 blockbuster between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks, for which he paid a then-record $11m site fee.

He has actively courted athlete endorsements throughout his political rise, keenly aware of the power of sportsperson as influencer. Its only fitting his election has awakened that potential in ways not seen for years.

Its too soon to say whether the Trump presidency will usher in a renaissance of athlete activism. That may be unwelcome news for those who turn to sports as escapist entertainment. But if it can promote engagement in a democracy thats seen voter turnout fall to perilously low levels, then surely its a small price to pay.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/jan/14/donald-trump-inauguration-us-sports-activism


Snowman: ‘The Cinderella Horse’ who rode into a nation’s hearts

(CNN)It was a look into his eyes that made Harry de Leyer gamble $80 on a gray horse destined for the slaughterhouse.

De Leyer, who moved to the US with his wife after escaping Nazi-occupied Germany, bought the gelding to teach children to ride, never expecting “Snowman” to become the greatest show jumper of his generation.
    His and Snowman’s story is an equine fairytale that has now hit the silver screen — the documentary Harry & Snowman was released in September, and also looks set to get the Hollywood treatment with MGM Studios having optioned Elizabeth Letts’ 2011 book, “The Eighty Dollar Champion.”
    “I feel happy every day that he was in my life,” De Leyer says from his Virginia farm in a telephone interview with CNN 42 years on from the passing of what become affectionately known as “The Cinderella Horse.”
    “His pictures are still in my room, he’s where I sleep and he’s still in my heart. He’s always still with me, he’ll stay in my mind my whole life and I still think of him every day. He was my best friend as well.”
    Now aged 88, De Leyer still rides and teaches children to ride, living up to his moniker of “The Galloping Grandfather.” given to him when he represented the US at the 1983 World Championships, in the process.
    But his life in the public eye remains defined by his decision to buy a placid-seeming horse for children at the affluent Knox School in Long Island to ride.

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    De Leyer’s own appearance on American soil was unlikely too, making the decision to relocate there with just $160 in his pocket after witnessing a paratrooper being shot down by German troops in front of the brewery that his family ran.
    His first foray into work in the US was to work at a tobacco farm before getting the teaching job he kept for most of his working life.
    Like the story of Seabiscuit, Snowman’s tale was waiting to be retold to a new generation.
    Elizabeth Letts had stumbled across pictures of Snowman jumping and decided to delve a little deeper.
    “I came across it by accident really,” Letts, a former midwife, recalls of the discovery that ultimately spawned her New York Times bestseller. “It’s a remarkable story of a last-minute buy and then the bond of two survivors having both gone through very tough times and a horse that inspired a nation.
    “It’s a bond that’s still there and you can see the tears welling up in Harry’s eyes when he still talks about Snowman.”
    There were others who tried to split that bond, the real estate mogul Bert Firestone telling de Leyer to name his price so he could buy him.
    But having doubled his money once before by selling him to his neighbor and immediately regretting it, de Leyer was determined never to let him out of his sight.
    “I couldn’t sell him,” he says. “He’d given me everything. He still gives me everything even in his memory.”

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/24/sport/snowman-harry-de-leyer/index.html


    Would Johnny Manziel be a good fit for the CFL?

    The former Browns QB doesnt seem to have a future in the NFL. But more and more fans are wondering if a stint in Canada might work for player and league

    Weve reached the halfway point of the 2016 regular season in the Canadian Football League. Its been an eventful year so far, one thats seen the Calgary Stampeders establish themselves as the favorite, the Saskatchewan Roughriders struggle badly, and the East Division look entirely up for grabs.

    The season has served up plenty of compelling storylines to chew on. All of which makes it a little odd that, for a few days this week, the biggest story in Canadian football was a failed American quarterback who isnt playing anywhere right now.

    Thats the power of reputation and celebrity, both of which Johnny Manziel has more than his share of. What the former Browns starter doesnt have, at least right now, is much of a future in pro football. But that could change, and more and more fans are wondering if a stint in the CFL might serve as a starting point.

    Its an intriguing idea. But could it happen? Lets work through the key questions.

    Could Manziel actually come to Canada?

    Technically speaking, sure. Manziels Canadian rights are owned by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and theres nothing in the rulebook that would prevent them from bringing him aboard if both sides could agree to a deal (or sending his rights to some other team that wanted him).

    Of course, Manziel has far bigger problems right now. The former Heisman Trophy winner washed out of his first crack at the NFL thanks to a combination of on-the-field struggles and off-the-field issues. That latter category includes rumors of out-of-control partying, a suspension for substance abuse, and an indictment for assaulting his ex-girlfriend. In recent public appearances, he reportedly hasnt looked like he was in any sort of playing shape.

    So clearly, Manziel has some significant questions to answer before hell be playing anywhere, and its quite possible that weve seen the last of him on a football field. But speculation over his future flared up this week in part thanks to CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge, who appeared to leave the door open to Manziel playing in the league in comments made to ESPN. Orridges words were framed as suggesting that Manziel would be welcome in Canada, a characterization he later denied. And the Tiger-Cats say that theyve had no contact with Manziel of his camp.

    So if all of this is largely speculation and what-if scenarios, why were so many people talking about it? A big part of that is no doubt based on Manziels fame, even if its largely been of the train wreck variety lately. But theres another piece here, and it has to do with some CFL history at the quarterback position.

    Could Manziel succeed in the CFL?

    While Manziel has recently spoken about his desire to return to pro football, were working with a question of if and not when, and the if is bolded and underlined. But if Manziel did manage to play again, could the CFL be a good fit? Theres some reason to think that it could.

    Canadian football is similar to the American version is most respects, but with some key differences. Its a three-down game, which makes a traditional running game less attractive. The field is wider, and the end zones are larger. Theres an extra player on both sides of the ball, and the offense can send all its backfield players in motion before the snap. And, of course, the players simply arent as good as their NFL brethren billion-dollar TV contracts tend to have that effect.

    Add it all up, and the CFL game is one that favors passing, especially from mobile quarterbacks. The leagues history has been filled with athletic QBs who could use their legs to chew up all that real estate, buying enough time and space to find open receivers or just to find the first down market on their own.

    That list includes legendary CFL quarterbacks like Damon Allen, Tracy Ham and Matt Dunnigan. And perhaps more importantly from Manziels perspective, it also includes some players who established themselves up north before going on to stardom in the NFL, such as Jeff Garcia and Warren Moon.

    And then theres the most obvious comparison of all: Doug Flutie. Like Manziel, he was a former Heisman winner. Like Manziel, he had limited success in his first crack at the NFL. Like Manziel, he was a mobile quarterback who some saw as too small to succeed in the American game.

    Flutie headed to the CFL in 1990, and proceeding to rewrite the leagues record book. Over eight years with three teams, Flutie won three championships and was named the leagues Most Outstanding Player the CFL equivalent of MVP honors six times. Hes widely considered to be among the best players in league history, if not the very best, period.

    Flutie didnt enjoy the same level of dominance when he returned to the NFL in 1998, but he made a Pro Bowl and played for eight seasons, four as a starter. When you talk about using the CFL as a stepping stone back to an NFL job, Flutie is the archetype.

    So could Manziel someday do the same? Its tempting to think that he could, given the similarities he shares with Flutie. But as this ESPN article explains, CFL offenses have evolved over the years, and would appear less welcoming to a player like Manziel. Quarterbacks dont run as much as they once did, with game plans now favoring efficiency and accuracy.

    Manziels scrambling style produced highlights in college, but rarely translated to success in the NFL. He wouldnt be facing the same caliber of defenders in Canada, but he also wouldnt have the same line protection of offensive weapons. You can carve the CFL up if youre Doug Flutie, but at this point, theres little indication that Manziel could do the same.

    And again, that assumes that hes even able to sort out his long list of off-the-field problems. Which brings us to our last question.

    Would Canadians even want him?

    Canadians are different from Americans, as youve no doubt already been told if youve ever spent more than three minutes talking to a Canadian. And those differences extend to the sports stars we cheer for. Americans love controversy, attitude and over-the-top antics. Canadians appreciate dull and dreary.

    America is LeBron James throwing chalk, Floyd Mayweather talking trash and Bryce Harper flipping bats. Canada is Sidney Crosby talking about getting pucks in deep. America is about destroying your opponent and then standing over him. Canada is about becoming his new best friend.

    Thats the way we Canadians like to think of it, at least. So its tempting to say that no, Manziel wouldnt be wanted up here. The kid is a bad apple, and he wouldnt be a good fit in a country where youre expected to apologize to people who bump into you.

    But strip away the pretentious back-patting, and Canadians turn out to be a lot like everyone else: well put up with a lot from our athletes as long as you can win games. If Manziel could really be the next Flutie, or even anything close, lots of Canadian fans would forget all about his other issues. Its just the nature of being a sports fan, wherever you are.

    After all, Manziel would hardly be the first troubled ex-NFLer to be welcomed to the CFL with open arms. Dexter Manleys history of failed drug tests didnt stop him getting a shot in Ottawa. Same with Ricky Williams in Toronto. And more recently, controversial receiver Chad Ochocinco Johnson was signed by Montreal.

    None of those players had much success in the CFL, and theres a good chance that Manziel would meet the same fate. But if he found his game, and stayed out of any off-the-field headlines, plenty of Canadian fans would welcome him.

    For now, based on denials from Orridge and the Tiger-Cats, it doesnt seem like those fans will get the chance any time soon. Theres a long way to go before Manziel plays football anywhere; it may never happen. But from time to time, Canadian football fans will at least mull over the possibility, debating it from barstools and tailgates. Manziel wouldnt be the first speedy quarterback to try his hand up north and turn heads, just like he wouldnt be the first American washout to arrive and then quickly vanish.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/aug/26/johnny-manziel-cfl-canada-nfl-football


    Mara Abbott fighting anorexia and financial chasm as she chases third Giro

    The American picks up a fraction of the mens winnings, making for a constant struggle. But, as the Rio-bound cyclist tells Helen Pidd, she must also tackle a more personal battle

    Mara Abbott has won the Giro as many times as Vincenzo Nibali, but most cycling fans have not heard of her. The 30-year-old American won her second edition of the womens race in 2013, the same year Nibali triumphed for the first time in his home country. But while he went on to earn millions, Abbott makes so little money from cycling that she works at a farmers market in her home town of Boulder, Colorado, in the off-season.

    On Friday the two-times US national champion will line up as one of the favourites for the 2016 Giro Rosa, having come second to Anna van der Breggen last year. A climbing specialist, she has also been selected to race for the USA at the Rio Olympics, competing on the hilly course against the current world champion, Britains Lizzie Armitstead.

    I first met Abbott in February at a training camp in Mallorca organised by her team, Wiggle High5. We sat down for a chat after a ride into the Tramuntana mountains, and I admitted with shame that her name was new to me until Rochelle Gilmore, her team manager, pushed me up the peloton to meet her, saying: Talk to Mara: shes won the Giro twice.

    If you were a man I would know all about you, I told her. Does that hurt? She looked a little put out. There are three ways of looking at it. On one level, yes its sad, its kind of depressing, she said. On another level, I think maybe the sadder one, is that after 10 years in the sport you get used to it and it stops hurting. But as a former economics major, she said she gets it: Theres a part of me that understands the economics of it, which is that in terms of sponsorship more people are watching mens cycling so more people put more money into it, and theres a cycle there we havent achieved yet in womens cycling.

    Asked how different her life would be if she were a man with the same palmars, her answer speaks volumes about the gulf between mens and womens sport. Well, she said, sipping an americano, I would have an easier time paying my mortgage, and I would have enough money to go out for dinner, maybe once a month.

    In 2014, the mens Giro dItalia held a prize fund purse totalling 1,378,000. Each stage win was worth 11,000 and a day in the pink jersey was worth 1,000. The final overall winner received 200,000. In comparison, the Giro Rosa held a purse of 17,666 with the eventual winner, Abbotts Wiggle High5 team-mate, Giorgia Bronzini, taking home just over 500. This year there has been a moderate improvement: the overall womens race winner will earn 1,050, compared to the 115,000 for the overall winner of the mens Giro dItalia.

    Abbott, thoughtful and articulate, does not want to criticise the salary paid to her by Wiggle High5. She singles out Gilmore, a Commonwealth gold medallist, as one of the key people trying to improve womens cycling. But she admits that in order to make ends meet over the winter she worked three days a week on an organic farm and two days selling vegetables at Boulder farmers market. She also taught yoga classes and was an intern at her local paper, the Daily Camera (she hopes to become an investigative environmental journalist after her retirement).

    The farm work was awesome, she said, and she appreciated the unlimited free vegetables. But it is not much fun worrying about money and how you are going to pay for your retirement when you are trying to be an elite athlete. Plus if she was a guy she feels she would have a platform to make a difference outside sport, particularly in relation to environmental issues close to her heart.

    It is not so much the money as the lack of recognition which can hurt, she said: When nobody knows what youre doing and you go off to races in the middle of nowhere and nobodys there, at first it doesnt bother you and you think its kind of funny, but after a certain amount of time it becomes depressing. You dont want to complain, and I do want to say there are a lot of people devoting themselves to improving womens cycling and I dont want to demean their work at all. But you can only keep putting your whole heart into something for so long when you feel it doesnt matter to anybody else.

    You dont need to have adoring fans but sometimes when your friends want to find out how you did in a race … and they cant, thats hard and I think that its more hard on a mental level because we all want to feel that we matter, more than on a monetary level. But so often money represents significance.

    Mara
    Mara Abbott leads a breakaway during a race in Santa Rosa, California, earlier this year. Photograph: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Abbott, who turned professional in 2007, quit cycling in 2011 after an unhappy season with the Italian pro team, Diadora-Pasta Zara. She was suffering from an eating disorder and did not know how to handle the pressure. I felt I wasnt in control of the situation and I felt uncomfortable, she said. I was getting better and people were expecting more of me and I was saying I dont know if Im worth it. And as an American in a European culture it was hard for me to assimilate.

    It was particularly hard for me because I grew up in hippy-ville where people are like: Youre great just the way you are, and thats not actually the way you are looked on in the European peloton. It was just a growing-up experience and it was my first real job, things were going fast and things were expected of me. I didnt think I was worthy of them and I needed my brain to catch up with the experience.

    She got so thin that she now refuses to sign photographs of herself taken during the Diadora season. The eating disorder was more about control than weight, she said. It was never about weight for me. When people tell me: Oh youre so thin, youre so amazing, you look so fit, I get so upset about it. For me, the eating disorder was my way out. It was my way of saying: Im not in control. This is how I can take control because if nothing else I can control everything that I eat. If I dont feel good about myself in the world, I can at least perfect what Im eating and make myself feel that Im winning with food.

    For me it wasnt that I was trying to become thinner. I knew it was making me a worse cyclist, I was too thin. I didnt have the power. I was just weak. But at that point I didnt want to be doing cycling and I didnt know how to say out loud that I didnt want to be doing it. So what I was trying to do was take myself out of it but my body was quite stubborn in that and nothing broke. So in the end I did have to take myself out of it.

    There is no escaping the fact that Abbott is still very thin, and during the Mallorcan training camp would turn up to meals with vials of supplements and her own special flask. Does she have a handle on the eating disorder? Yes and no, she said. Because the problem with eating disorders is that they are something of an addiction. So I can still get positive feedback from controlling everything I eat. That still makes me feel good about myself, and thats crazy and it doesnt make you happy.

    Anorexics never really recover, she believes, partly because they cannot avoid food forever. You can tell an alcoholic to go cold turkey and that helps with the addiction. You cant tell someone just dont eat any more, so its really hard in terms of addictive habits. Foods going to come up at least three times a day. People say youre always recovering from an eating disorder but at the same time I know my limits and I know how to keep myself as healthy as I can. I think I know that if I were to get into it really bad I would know how to reach out and help. But at the same time you still have your weird disordered eating habits and like to control your diet and eat specific things.

    She is not optimistic about the future of womens cycling, despite the introduction of the womens world tour this year, and the increased prize money in certain races, such as RideLondon, and the Aviva Womens Tour. Since Ive started cycling, and I started racing professionally in 2007, weve lost races and there have been fewer races to participate in and a lot of races have had less prize money, she said.

    There are changes that may bring better things and when you meet people who are doing so much for womens cycling it really lifts your heart. But on the whole, it does not feel like womens cycling is in a better place than it was 10 years ago, so its a little bit hard to feel optimistic when that has been my entire career.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/jul/01/mara-abbott-womens-cycling-still-faces-an-uphill-struggle-giro-rosa


    Skydiver to jump from plane without a parachute on live TV

    Fox network will broadcast live Saturday night as Luke Aikins aims to land in a 20-story high net in California without crashing through or bouncing out

    Hes made 18,000 parachute jumps, helped train some of the worlds most elite skydivers, done some of the stunts for Ironman 3. But the plunge Luke Aikins knows hell be remembered for is the one hes making without a parachute. Or a wingsuit.

    Or anything, really, other than the clothes hell be wearing when he jumps out of an airplane at 25,000 feet this weekend, attempting to become the first person to land safely on the ground in a net.

    The Fox network will broadcast the two-minute jump live at 8pm ET (5pm PT) Saturday as part of an hour-long TV special called Heaven Sent.

    And, no, you dont have to tell Aikins it sounds crazy. He knows that.

    If I wasnt nervous I would be stupid, the compact, muscular athlete says with a grin as he sits under a canopy near Saturdays drop zone.

    Were talking about jumping without a parachute, and I take that very seriously. Its not a joke, he adds.

    Nearby, a pair of huge cranes define the boundaries where the net in which Aikins expects to land is being erected. It will be about one-third the size of a football field and 20 stories high, providing enough space to cushion his fall, he says, without allowing him to bounce out of it. The landing target, which has been described as similar to a fishing trawler net, has been tested repeatedly using dummies.

    One of those 200-pound (91-kilogram) dummies didnt bounce out. It crashed right through.

    That was not a good thing to see, recalled Jimmy Smith, the veteran Hollywood public relations man who, with his partner Bobby Ware, came up with the idea of having someone skydive without a parachute.

    Chris Talley, who had worked with Aikins on other projects and helped train him for this one, recommended the skydiver to the two Amusement Park Entertainment executives. He told them Aikins was arguably the only guy not only good enough but also smart enough and careful enough to survive this.

    Smith recalled how the three men gazed at each other with a look of foreboding after that dummy crashed through the net. Then they looked over at Aikins.

    Luke just said: No biggie, thats why we test.

    Fox has had little to say about the stunt other than it will be broadcast on a tape delay, as is the case with all its live broadcasts, says network spokesman Les Eisner. It contains a warning not to try this at home.

    That would seemingly be difficult, as Smith and Ware had to scour a good part of the world, from Arizona Indian land to Dubai real estate, before they found what everyone agreed was the best place for Aikins to land.

    Hell come down in a dry, dusty, desolate-looking section of an old movie ranch north of Los Angeles, where not that long ago Shia LaBeouf was battling Transformers.

    The drop zone, surrounded by rolling hills, presents some challenges, Aikins said, noting hell be constantly fighting shifting winds as he falls at 120 mph (193 kph).

    Other skydivers have jumped from planes without parachutes and had someone hand them one in midair. But Aikins wont even have that.

    Why?

    To me, Im proving that we can do stuff that we dont think we can do if we approach it the right way, he answers.

    Ive got 18,000 jumps with a parachute, so why not wear one this time? he muses almost to himself. But Im trying to show that it can be done.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/28/skydiver-luke-aikins-jump-without-parachute-live-tv


    Buildup to Rio 2016 part of a chaotic and shameful tradition of Olympic hosts | David Goldblatt

    Preparations have often been chaotic but Rios buildup may be the most disorderly yet and no matter how special the Games a disaster of unprecedented proportions will have already happened

    The final days of preparation before the first modern Games in Athens in 1896 offered many of the tropes that still structure Olympic coverage a century later. Rumours persisted that the stadium would not be ready on time, leading to a furious exchange of letters in The Times. The New York Times correspondent came to dig for dirt and found it. There were plenty of old tin cans and rubbish scattered where once the silver Ulysses sparkled to the sea: the grove of Academe reminded me of picturesque bits in shanty town.

    The refurbished stadium for the 1920 Antwerp Games, started just 15 months beforehand, was finished perilously late. The French occupation of the Ruhr and the flooding of the Seine in the winter of 1923 put Paris 1924 in question. The architect of the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic complex was harried in the local press for shady practices and sweetheart deals. Los Angeles 1932 was held in the very depth of the great depression. All feel remarkably familiar stories, not just from the distant past but from pretty much every Olympic Games since Atlanta 1996.

    Yet in April 2014 John Coates, a visiting member of the IOC, declared the preparations for the Rio Games the worst ever. Two years later, the already disastrous state of affairs has been conjoined with Brazils sharpest ever economic slowdown, the impeachment of the president by a corrupt parliament, the nations most explosive corruption investigation which is cutting a scythe through the political and business classes, and the threat of the Zika virus. To this has now been added the Russian doping scandal and the IOCs hapless response to it. Coatess case looks strong but how exactly do the Rio Olympics match up to the past?

    Frankly, if Athens could be ready on opening night, anywhere can. Nowhere, even the notoriously late starting Cariocas, have cut it as fine as the Athenians with venues and Olympic spaces. The new Calatrava roof went on to the main arena with just hours to spare in the construction deadline. That said, Rio is doing its very best to compete by planning to open the metro line to the Olympic park just four days before the beginning of the Games. In its favour Rio has avoided expensive iconic architecture, opting for the dull, the functional and the temporary. Consequently it is set to produce fewer and less expensive white elephants than the leaders in this field, Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).

    An
    An aerial view of the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

    The Greek capital has more than a dozen useless or underused venues, and an Olympic village that has become a super-concentrated zone of poverty and decay while Beijings venues for kayaking, beach volleyball, BMX biking and baseball remain entirely unused. London avoided this fate by, in effect, giving its Olympic stadium to a Premier League football club, while Sochis used only for the ceremonies is now, and at great expense, being refitted as a football stadium for a handful of Games at the 2018 World Cup, in a city with no football team of significance.

    On the other hand Rio has not been able to avoid the other pathologies of stadium and infrastructure construction: large scale corruption and forced removals. Again, historical comparisons are kind. Sochi was bedevilled by allegations of corruption and as for forced removals, while Rios record is hardly exemplary, it is dwarfed by the scale and authoritarian timbre of the population movements required by the rebuilding of Seoul and Beijing, both involving up to a million people.

    However, when it comes to using the Olympics as a cover for entirely unrelated but fabulously profitable real estate development Rio is a contender. Considered in all promotional literature to be a central Olympic project, the Porto Marvilha redevelopment of the citys historic dock district is only home to the media village and a small technical-operations centre. Not much, but enough for the programme to acquire the urgency of Olympic projects and a gigantic publicprivate partnership, in which the city government handed over the planning and governance of the citys largest ever development to a consortium of three private construction companies.

    Most Olympic villages have been subject to a short burst of complaint before the Games. In 1908, the World reported that the arrangements which have been provided for the American Olympic team here in London are unsatisfactory. The abrasive head of the American delegation, James Sullivan, appalled by the dismal accommodation available in London, moved the entire team to Brighton. A century later in Sochi, American and European journalists gleefully lampooned the facilities on social media; water, Wi-Fi and heating were often absent, and a German photographer reported arriving to find workers and stray dogs wandering through his hotel suite. In a very similar vein reports have been emerging from Rio of blocked toilets, flooded flats and unfinished accommodation the Australian team refusing point blank to move in.

    Australias
    Australias Olympic team have refused to move into the athletes village. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Irksome as this must be to the visitors, the real tragedy of Rios Olympic village has yet to unfold. Located like the main Olympic complex in the upmarket region of Barra Tijuca, the village is actually a high-end gated community in waiting. Again this is not unprecedented. Rome and Mexico Citys villages were handed out to already privileged civil servants. Both Vancouvers and Londons villages, planned as mixed residential zones, saw their public and social housing component squeezed out by the logic of property markets. Rio, which never bothered with such fig leaves, has taken the process a stage further by allowing the construction of an even more profitable residential complex around the new Olympic golf course.

    The construction programme for the 1936 Berlin Games was, at the time, imagined as a stepping stone to the wholesale transformation of the city into Germania capital of the thousand-year Reich. We can be grateful that this kind of legacy planning is no longer in vogue, though its contemporary form is hardly cheering. Legacy promises are belated attempts to counterbalance the enormous costs of staging the Games with something tangible and long-term for the city and the citizens that have hosted it. London 2012, which made a lot more noise about this than most, has not come close to delivering on the claims that preceded them. Sydneys tourism has not leapt by leaps and bounds. The idea of Beijing as a green city was always risible. Vancouver, strangulated by gentrification and rising rents, is less liveable. Londoners exercise less since the Games.

    Rio at least is not giving us the bother of having to wait a few years before we know whether its legacies have been successful or not, because so many of the most socially useful Olympic investments promised in the bid book have already been abandoned. While the rapid bus transit system and perhaps the metro are permanent legacies, both are primarily designed to ferry rich people between rich areas. The vast majority of the citys population in the Zona Norte, desperate for better transport to relieve their grindingly long journeys to work, will barely benefit at all. Similarly, as the toxic state of Guanabara Bay host to sailing makes clear, the citys plan to renovate its sewage systems, especially in the poor areas, has been completed abandoned.

    Security has been a fraught issue for every Olympic Games since the Munich massacre of 1972, underlined by the pipe bombing of Atlantas Centennial Park in 1996. While Palestinians and US libertarians might be on the organisers radar, they do not explain the fact that Rio looks set to spend somewhere around $2bn on security, deploying 85,000 personnel an Olympic record, more even than the hyper-militarised Sochi with its vaunted Ring of Steel and all for just 17 days of urban peace.

    The possibility of a major terrorist attack has been ever present since 2001, and is part of the reason that security costs for all Games have escalated so sharply. The recent arrest of what appears a rather amateurish jihadi cell in Brazil suggests the organisers continue to take it seriously but for Rio, unlike any recent summer Games, the organisers must also face a small but organised anti-Olympic movement and the disquiet of their own poor.

    Olympic
    Rio will spend almost $2bn on security for the Olympic Games. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images

    Anarchic and provocative anti-Olympic activists present at Sydney 2000 were absent from Athens, Beijing and Sochi drowned by cynicism in the former, corralled by fear of the Chinese and Russian states in the latter. London proved equally quiescent. Where there was protest, the politics and meanings of the Games were primarily contested in the international media and on the internet, rather than in the host city itself. Only the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver have mobilised a serious visible anti-Olympic presence; native American actions against Olympic infrastructure on sacred lands, an alternative protest village downtown and anti-capitalist march on the central business district.

    In a sense Rio has already fought this battle. For almost a decade a small network of Brazilian activists the Comit Popular Rio Copa e Olimpadas has taken to the streets. Their cause was turbocharged in 2013 when huge spontaneous public protest broke out during the Confederations Cup and the corruption and costliness of Brazils sporting mega-events was a key issue for the demonstrators. A massive security operation and the militarisation of sports venues and transport interchanges ensured that they were a very marginal presence at the 2014 World Cup. The same will be true of the Games, with the same deadening consequences for public debate and space.

    Much more worrying for the authorities will be the mood of the citys favelas. Perhaps the most important element of Olympic preparations and one for which there is no historical precedent has been the pacification programme, invented in 2008 and designed to replace the rule of drug lords in the favelas with the rule of law and a modicum of social services. The results have been poor, with limited and often inappropriate investments, widespread human rights abuses by the police and the steady return of street conflict and disorder. Certainly the crime rate in Rio has been rising; the widely reported muggings and hold-ups of foreign camera crews, Olympians and Paralympians, an indicator of what many of Rio citizens, above all its poorest and most vulnerable, have to deal with all the time.

    If all else fails, Olympic cities have hidden their poor and their destitute. In 1964 the Tokyo authorities told the local gangster class the Yakuza whose unmistakable burly street presence was an embarrassment to the organisers, to take a holiday out of town. The beggars and vagrants who made their homes in Ueno Park were swept aside. Stray cats and dogs, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, were systematically exterminated. In 1968 Mexico City told its poor to paint their shacks in blocks of psychedelic colour, while the ominously named Orgcom organisers of the 1980 Moscow Games announced that they would cleanse Moscow of chronic alcoholics and drug addicts, and for a fortnight they did.

    Most thorough of all was Atlanta.

    Soon after the city had won its bid, local soup kitchens started reporting regular and inexplicable drop-offs in client numbers, eventually realising that they always immediately preceded IOC visits to the city. Some homeless people were locked up, some were scared off, and some were put on the bus. A partnership between the police, city hall and an NGO called Project Homeward Bound supplied homeless Atlantans with one-way bus tickets to anywhere else in the country they could plausibly claim a bed or find family members. Redevelopment in downtown erased many of the citys homeless hostels.

    Vila
    A picture taken from a partially demolished house in the Vila Autodromo slum in April, with building work continuing at the Olympic park where the velodrome and aquatics centre have been built in a different location to the main stadium. Photograph: Ricardo Moraes / Reuters/Reuters

    Rio, whose levels of inequality, temporary housing and poverty exceed Atlantas by some way, has not had the luxury of such surgical strikes on the marginal. Operating under these conditions the city has long learnt to screen or ignore its poor. Favelas are rarely included on official maps and the use of Olympic signage on the citys motorways to obscure poor neighbourhoods especially on the road from the international airport is just the latest version of this.

    In the face of such multiple disasters and injustices, history seems to offer Rio wriggle room. It can claim that Athens was more last minute and produced more white elephants, Sochi was as least as corrupt and wasteful, Beijing was more repressive, Seouls displacements were more widespread and viscous and Atlantas social cleansing more thorough. However, Rio is giving all of them a run for their money and adding its own unique injustices and shameful dissembling.

    Does this make it the worst prepared Games ever? Probably. But to this Brazil has added a degree of political, financial and administrative chaos that is its own. South Korea was in turmoil a year before the Games, engulfed in a tectonic struggle against the ruling junta, but by the opening ceremony the streets were at peace and a transition to democracy had been executed. Only the massive student protests of summer 1968 and the appalling massacre of activists before the Mexico City Games comes close to Brazils mayhem, and that was all silenced.

    Rio, whatever its other sins, cannot be faulted in its determination to let it all hang out. Such inadvertent transparency, such a tangible display of the destruction of whatever remains of the myths of Olympic urbanism, and the IOCs political autonomy and moral probity, may be Rios historic legacy. For whatever happens for the 17 days of the Games, however fabulous the spectacular, which it no doubt will be, the disaster has already happened, it is of unprecedented proportions, and it cannot be hidden.

    David Goldblatts The Games: A Global History of the Olympics is published by Macmillan (20) Click here to buy it for 13

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2016/jul/26/buildup-rio-2016-olympic-games-chaotic-hosts


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