Tuesday, August 28, 2007

bekele wins a thrilling 10K

A sane person wouldn't normally run a fast-paced 10K in a hot, humid evening (30C, 65%). Well, but then again, a sane person wouldn't normally face the same situation as Eritrean Zersenay Tadesse did in Osaka last night. You see, he didn't have much options facing the prospect of having to battle out two-time world champion, Olympic champion, and world record holder Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia. Bekele is known for his deadly final kick and for any runner intending on defeating him there's only one option: punish him from the start and pray he's dead at the end (and most importantly that you are still alive).
It's a gamble to see who the best runner really is, not just the guy with the best finish. If everything goes well, every runner will drop off the pace and there'll be only one left at the finish line. Misjudge your hand though and you'll end up dead on the track, defeated. And unlike the comfy seat of a poker game there's only one word to describe this gamble: pain.
That's what Tadesse bravely (some would've said insanely) set out to do on a hot evening in Osaka yesterday. He took the lead and set a torrid pace for the race. In a slow-paced race, contenders run in a packed group, some going wide on lanes 2 and 3. Not here. The contenders quickly spread out in a long line with runners struggling to keep in touch with the leaders.
Tadesse (in light blue shirt) kept pushing and one by one runners started to drop off the pace. Some would just slow down feeling the race was too fast for them. Others simply walked off the track unable to keep going while others still lied on the track in pain. They passed the 5K mark in 13:42 (27:24s pace) with only 10 runners in the leading group (from the initial 24). Tadesse's gamble was paying off.
Bekele, in the meantime, looked comfortable running always in third place. A group of Ethiopians, Kenyans and other African runners followed. Tadesse kept punishing the field lap after lap. Slower runners were overlapped (supreme humiliation for a distance runner).
After a little more than 8km only four runners remained in contention: Tadesse, still in the lead, Bekele, countryman Silesh Sihine, and Kenyan Martin Irungu Mathathi.
But then Mathathi made his move. Everybody went along but Tadesse. Having set the pace for most of the race he paid the price for his gamble and would struggle to the end. Suddenly there were only three runners fighting for the victory and the chase was on. They were sprinting down the backstretch with about 600 m to go and for a moment Bekele seemed to be losing touch as the other two left a 2m gap.
But he soon got in contact again and with 300m to go he was right behind his countryman Sihine as Mathathi fell to third. The race would be decided between the two Ethiopians. They were going on an all-out sprint, incredibly fast for athletes who had already run more than 9K.
Then with 150m to go Bekele hit another gear and, amazingly, unleashed what seemed an impossible last kick. Sprinting furiously, he went around Sihine as they came from the last curve into the homestretch and it was arrivederci! Take a look at the sequence below.

Bekele goes around Sihine and prepares to overtake his countryman

Bekele now leads with a little more than 100m to the finish line.


Does it look like the face of a man who just ran 10K?
Bekele smiles just before crossing the finish line

In the end there was only one runner left: Bekele. World champion for the third time. His time of 27:05:90 is incredibly fast for the conditions. Sihine got the silver and Kenyan Mathathi got bronze. Tadesse bravely hung on to finish fourth, 15s behind Bekele.
What a race! I can't put into words how amazing it is for a human being to be able to run that fast under such hot and humid conditions. Let alone unleash that kind of kick in the last lap (under 56s). It's amazing. Man, do I love this.

gay beats powell

The "World Championship in Athletics" is in full swing at Osaka's Nagai Stadium. Last Monday, in the 100m final, American Tyson Gay defeated world record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica.
It was a thrilling race, one that reminded me how difficult this event is.
The race was being trumpeted as a showdown between Gay, who ran the world's fastest time this year, 9.84s at the American Trials, and Powell, who holds the world record with a time of 9.77s (respectively in lanes 5 and 4 below, taken from TBS Channel broadcast).Powell got off to a tremendous start and 30 meters into the race held a clear lead over the field. The race seemed his to lose.The 100 m, despite looking like an all-out effort, sheer power and adrenaline, is actually a very technical and mental race though. And here some technical explanation is needed. There's no acceleration after about 50 m. The human body just can't produce that amount of power. Sprinters can only hope to maintain or not lose much speed at the end. A sprinter needs to stay relaxed and focused in his own race if he wants to avoid tightening up and losing more speed than he normally does at the end of the race. And that is very, very difficult to do. Especially when you're sprinting for your country, for glory, for your life ("for god's sake"), against seven other guys who are breathing "on your neck". It requires an amount of confidence bordering on arrogance, a belief that whatever happens during the short time span of the first half of the race (little more than 5 sec.), he will eventually come up as the winner in the end. "I will win, I will win", that's what sprinters need to have in mind.
If you don't stay relaxed, you'll eventually end up trying a bit too hard and all will be lost. You'll tighten up. Your stride will get shorter. You'll lose more speed than others.
And that's where Powell failed. He didn't focus on his own race and tightens up, badly. He loses speed. Gay overtakes him swiftly and opens a decisive gap between them.
The race is over.Gay starts to celebrate even before crossing the finish line. His time, 9.85s, is not a world record, but it's a fast time nonetheless. And all it matters is the championship. Powell sees he had lost the race and gives up. Bahamian Derrick Atkins takes the silver. Powell is third.PS: I couldn't go to Osaka (damn...) so I took pictures from the excellent TBS Channel broadcast. For the IAAF official coverage of the event go here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

grant on oprah

Grant McCracken flew all over to the UK just to tell his "Oprah story" on Interesting 2007. Watch the video here (about 16min long).
It's a little out of context, but he first wrote about it in his book, "Culture and Consumption II", as part of the chapter about "homeyness" (if I remember well, his point was that the concept of "homeyness" and "interior design" are frequently conflicting).
Very funny (and damn interesting).
(via Russell Davies)

Friday, August 24, 2007

michell on tokyo

My friend Michell has written a nice post about Tokyo with reflections about his visit here last June. He captures a little bit of the sense of amazement that most visitors feel when visiting this city. Nice reading and pictures. Here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

observations in a tokyo cinema

In all other places where I've been to a movie theater, as soon as the credits start to roll at the end of the movie, lights slowly start to switch on, and people start to leave their seats. Only a few movie buffs stay to watch the credits.
Well, not in Tokyo. Here, the room stays dark until the very end and people wait until all the credits have passed. Only then the lights switch on. The few people you notice leaving the theater earlier are most likely foreigners. Ninety-nine percent of the audience stay put in their seats.
As somebody used to leave the seat as soon as the movie ends, it's kind of unnerving having to wait, even if only for a couple of more minutes, until the credits are over (oh, the stress of modern life). I take this extra time to observe...they all seem to pay close attention to the screen.
Why the difference in behavior?
Is this a country of movie buffs? No, probably not.
Do people feel that the credits make part of the movie experience?
Or is it a case of politeness? For other moviegoers, for the movie makers...
I have yet to find the answer but this is certainly... hmm, different. But very interesting nonetheless.

Monday, August 20, 2007

summer in tokyo

It's been boiling hot in Tokyo with temperature reaching 36 degrees (that's about 97F) and humidity at 80%. This is a country with four distinct seasons but I never expected summer here would be even hotter than in Singapore, where the thermometer reaches 32C (90F) all year long.
To save energy and fight global warming the government sponsors a campaign called Cool Biz that encourages the usually formal Japanese businessmen not to use neckties during the summer. As part of the campaign public buildings keep the air conditioning thermostats at 28 degrees!
However, one thing that puzzles me is how a country so concerned about saving energy doesn't adopt summer daylight saving time. Sunrise during August has been around 5:10AM (way too early) and sunset around 6:20PM (too early as well).
I heard some possible explanations, one of them concerning the stress people who methodically run their lives by the time of the 8:02AM subway train would go through to change their habit. This could be an explanation. One website offers the following explanation: Japan used to adopt daylight saving time in the past, from the post-war years until 1952 when it was abandoned following opposition from farmers who complained they had to work longer hours. Currently though it seems the Ministry of Education is the main opposition to the idea, concerned that lighter evenings would entice school children away from their homework!
So that's the secret to Japan's education system. No outdoor light, more children cranking out their homework.

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P.S.: Moving to Tokyo has taken its toll. I've been too distracted to write anything. There's a unique way to do things here, a system that works pretty well once you understand it (but that's the caveat). You have to understand it first and that requires a considerable amount of energy to sort out even the most simple of things.
I still don't know exactly why, for example, it took almost three weeks to have a broadband connection installed at home. I don't know if I blame it on NTT or if I blame it on the real estate agent. Anyway, at least now I have a fiber optic connection that is the fastest thing I've ever experienced.