Sunday, August 10, 2008

Andrade survives in opening round

emetrius Andrade avoided a disappointing exit Sunday.

The American gold-medal favorite in the welterweight division, Andrade held on for an 11-9 victory over Georgia’s Kakhaber Jvania in the opening round.

Andrade held just a 2-0 lead after the first round and could never pull away, maintaining a 10-6 lead after three rounds.

“It was pretty good for my first fight but I was a little rusty,” Andrade said.

Jvania won the fourth round but not by enough points as Andrade moves on to the round of 16 where he will face Russian Andrey Balanov.

“I always pick it up,” Andrade said. “The third and fourth rounds are my rounds. I’m just going to pick it up so you better watch out.”

A native of Providence, Rhode Island, Andrade won the gold medal at the 2007 World Championships.

China’s Silamu Hanati put on an impressive performance in front of the home crowd, dominating Zambia’s Precious Makina, 21-4, in other welterweight action on Sunday.

Hanati jumped out to a 6-0 lead after the first round and seemingly scored at will, wobbling Makina with combinations. The 23-year-old Hanati also outscored Makina, 13-1, over the final two rounds.

Other welterweight winners advancing to the round of 16 included, Great Britain’s Billy Joe Saunders, the Bahamas’ Toureano Johnson, Cameroon’s Joseph Mulema, Olexandr Strets’kyy of the Ukraine, Kazakhstan’s Bakhyt Sarsekbayev, Vitalie Grusac of Moldova, France’s Jaoid Chiguer, John Jackson of the Virgin Islands, and South Korea’s Jungjoo Kim.

United States light welterweight Javier Molina could not make it a perfect day for the Americans as he fell, 14-1, to Boris Georgiev of Bulgaria.

Georgiev, who won the bronze at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, jumped out to a 6-0 lead after the first round and cruised throughout the rest of the bout.

Other light welterweight winners Sunday were Russia’s Gennady Kovalev, Mauritius’ Richarno Colin, Driss Moussaid of Morocco, Roniel Iglesias Sotolongo of Cuba, Ireland’s Johnny Joyce, Felix Diaz of the Dominican Republic, Iran’s Morteza Sepahvandi, Romania’s Ionut Gheorghe, Munkh-Erdene Uranchimeg of Mongolia, Great Britain’s Bradley Saunders, France’s Alexis Vastine.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Attraction -- and Terror -- Of Climbing Frozen Waterfalls

Along the South Fork of the Shoshone River, Wyo.

I was less than halfway up the steep frozen waterfall when I lost all feeling in my hands. This was not a welcome development, considering that the main thing keeping me from falling was the grip I had on the two ice tools I was holding above my head.
[frozen waterfalls]
Keith scales Carotid Artery, a climb that left him bloodied but beaming.

Putting a screw into the ice and clipping my rope to it suddenly seemed like a great idea. Unfortunately this also requires the ability to feel your fingers. My last screw was at least 10 feet below me, which meant that if my wooden hands slipped off the tools I was going for a 20-footer, assuming the screw didn't rip out.

The technical term for a long, scary fall is a "whipper." Detailed contemplation of a whipper is called "being gripped" -- as in gripped by fear.

Part of the attraction (and no little of the terror) of climbing is problem-solving, figuring out what to do in a situation where there are no great options and no little peril in making a wrong move. Ice climbing, especially, is all about managing fear and pain -- which perhaps explains why there aren't more ice climbers.

I began breathing deeply, trying to rush oxygen to my blood. I carefully let go of the tool in my right hand, hung the arm as low as it would go and started waving the hand vigorously, trying to stimulate the flow of blood back into the fingers. "Shaking out," it's called.

Counting to 10, I tried to resist the urge to grab the tool too soon. I counted to 10 again as my circulation returned, marked by an intense, shooting pain like nails being driven into my fingertips. Grabbing the right tool, I repeated the process with my other hand.

Then I calmly placed a screw and continued climbing to the top, bringing my partner, Keith, up on the rope.

We were climbing in the South Fork, a wide river valley 35 miles outside of Cody, home to more frozen waterfalls than any other place in the Lower 48. On an average year you can find 150 pitches of ice along both sides of the river; on a good year -- and this was a very good year -- that number probably doubles.

This day, for example, Keith and I climbed a succession of five frozen waterfalls -- a route called High on Boulder, the last pitch of which is the aptly named Pillar of Pain. Long, hard climbs with big approaches in a remote wilderness area -- this is the essence of South Fork climbing.

The vastness of South Fork climbing is matched by the scarcity of people. In more populated states, such as Colorado, routes of this quality would have lines most days. In a couple of weeks' climbing here, we rarely encountered other climbers -- and days went by without seeing anyone except for big horned sheep, pronghorn antelope, immense herds of deer and elk and the occasional fox or ferret.

Getting to the ice isn't easy. You drive to the end of a dirt road, look for an ice bridge over the river and then start slogging up hillsides, wallowing in glue-like muck and deep patches of snow, navigating through prickly underbrush and scrambling up piles of slippery scree. You're also sharing the valley with grizzly bears and mountain lions -- neither of which we saw, although a dismembered and well-cleaned deer carcass strewn about the approach to one climb was evidence of large carnivores.

The South Fork, given its inaccessibility, is not a place to make mistakes. Unfortunately, they sometimes happen. As Keith and I were rappelling High on Boulder, he told me about the time he was climbing the route and something fell past him: It was a pair of climbers -- one experienced, one a novice -- who were roped together without any ice screws securing the line. Keith is a doctor, but by the time he got to the climbers both were dead.

A few days later Keith and I ran into a local who was walking his dog at the end of the dirt road where we were sorting our gear. "I saw two men die up there," he said, pointing to the distinctive, V-shaped flow of High on Boulder. It turns out he had been there the same day Keith witnessed the fatal fall.

"You didn't stop climbing ice?" he asked Keith in disbelief.

"Nope," Keith said.

Explaining the allure of the sport is hard to do. Sheer beauty is part of it. One day Keith and I spent the better part of two hours hiking upstream to where the canyon's walls become steep and narrow and an ice flow drops out of a thin side canyon. The setting was spectacular, the climbing compelling.

Halfway up the ice became as clear as a windshield, and beneath it I could see water flowing in wavelets over rock features. I could have stared at the scene for hours. Higher up the canyon, I found myself facing a vertical wall of featureless blue ice as smooth as glass. I felt like a vandal defacing the perfect surface by swinging my tools into the ice, which was nearly as hard as concrete, making for a challenging, exciting climb.

The variability of the medium, even on a single day, is amazing. Another time Keith and I ventured up a gulley system full of falls called Broken Hearts. The weather was sunny and warm, and I thought I might die of heatstroke on the early pitches, where the ice was aerated by its southern exposure, making it overly sticky. Tools went in easily and securely but were almost impossible to pull out.

Up the gulley, we entered a vast rock amphitheater, where two dramatic flows poured over opposite sides of the rim, falling 150 feet. On the right was My Only Valentine, which most years is a wasp-waisted column of ice rising from a smooth cone. This time it was wide and fat in the middle, while the bottom was a forest of ice mushrooms -- weirdly shaped forms that are challenging to negotiate. I found myself pulling a series of overhanging gymnastic moves to climb the mushrooms, before working my way up the steep main section. And then the sting-in-the-tail: Running out of screws, my arms weak with fatigue, I swung into the last few feet of ice, my tools bouncing off like bullets on Superman's chest. Somehow, I scratched my way up.

The flow on the other side is called Carotid Artery, and in more than half-a-dozen trips up this canyon Keith had never seen it reach all the way to the ground. This time only a few, arm-wide sections of the fall touched down, but that was enough for Keith, who could hardly wait to start the climb, which is rated WI6. In English that means Really Hard.

Keith started swinging into a skein of overhanging icicles, most of which crashed, shards flying in all directions, littering the base of the climb like a chandelier factory hit by a hurricane. From high on the cliff, a stream of water was dripping, drenching Keith. Placing protection was tricky, requiring him to batter away pounds of brittle ice until he reached a surface firm enough to twist a screw into. Toward the top, Keith stopped moving. We were now in the shade and I stamped my feet and shook my free hand (the other was holding the rope) to stay warm. I had no idea why he stopped just when the climbing looked easier.

Finally, Keith resumed climbing. I followed the rope up. Water had frozen a quarter of an inch thick on the carabiners attaching the screws to the rope, forcing me to bash the ice off before removing them. The climbing was extremely strenuous, tool sticks tenuous, crampon placements even worse. Toward the top I started seeing blood on the ice. Not the usual small dribbles caused by ice nicks but large, running splotches like you'd see at a crime scene. Now I knew why Keith had paused. I began to fear that the climb was living up to its name.

Pulling over the lip of the fall, I saw Keith. Blood washed his entire face and soaked his clothing. He explained that a chunk of ice had whacked him above the eyebrow, the blood gushing over his glasses so copiously that he couldn't see. Luckily he could feel around for a water drip and rinse his lenses and finish the climb.

Keith is usually laconic, as if words mean too much to waste. Battered but beaming, he summed up the ineffable appeal of ice climbing.

"It was worth it," he said with a smile.

Striking While the Iron's Hot

The goal: a woman's golf club that wasn't like anything else out there. The result: the i-brid.
n the past couple of decades, most everything about golf clubs has grown: size, cost, and certainly the technological know-how that goes into building them.

A set of golf clubs is meant to give the golfer the right club for every situation, and big advances have been made in almost every type of club.

New materials let golfers tee off with drivers that can send balls far beyond where they could go before. Researchers have dedicated endless hours to reshaping putters to make golfers more effective on the green.
For the in-between shots, many golfers now carry four wedges, each designed for a different trajectory and whatever spin on the ball the situation calls for. Irons for long shots have been replaced by hybrids -- part wood, part iron -- that allow golfers to hit the ball more solidly and give it a higher flight and a softer, more controlled landing.

But there is a group of clubs meant for intermediate-range shots -- mainly the four, five and six irons -- where the improvements have been less radical. And that's where Callaway Golf Co. saw an opportunity.

The result is its new line of Big Bertha irons for women, using a design it calls the i-brid. To come up with the design, the company sent people out to talk to a range of women golfers and watch them play the game before it built a single prototype, then kept them involved throughout the design process.

Beyond Pink

Callaway has long been the leading seller of women's golf equipment, but it wanted to expand its lead in this growing sector of the golf market, says Jeff Colton, the company's senior vice president of research and development. To do that, he says, the company figured it couldn't settle for an attitude of "OK, let's paint it pink, cut the shaft down by an inch and a half, put a woman's grip on it, and we have a woman's club."

While the technical people at Callaway's Carlsbad, Calif., headquarters knew what could be done with the design of a golf club, they didn't know exactly what women needed and wanted in their clubs. Women golfers, meanwhile, didn't know the technical aspects, but they certainly knew what was lacking in their clubs. Cece O'Connor, a Callaway product-development official, says a woman golfer asked her at one point, "Do they know our irons don't work for us?"

What was needed was a way to bring the technicians and the golfers together. So about three years ago, Callaway used its contacts at golf courses around the country to find 40 women golfers of various abilities in 10 locations from California to Florida to Nantucket, Mass. Then it dispatched a team of researchers, designers and golf pros to visit them.

The women's ages ranged from 17 to 76, and they played on country-club, semi-private and municipal courses. Callaway focused on women from each end of the playing spectrum -- more-recreational players who had recently taken up the game and might be playing with their husband's old clubs, and experienced golfers who played to win and wanted the latest in equipment. Callaway officials figured that these two ends of the spectrum had been largely ignored as equipment makers focused on the middle-of-the-road golfers who make up the largest segment of the market. By focusing on the underserved extremes, Callaway thought it could expand its market reach and learn enough to serve the middle of the market as well.
BULKING UP The i-brid's clubhead is fat with a wide sole, so the golfer is much more likely to hit the ball cleanly

Ms. O'Connor, one of the leaders of the nine-member team that visited the women golfers, says they started out without any prototype clubs for the women to try. They just observed the women playing and listened to their comments and complaints.

The women had input to offer on every aspect of a golf club -- the feel of the grip, the length of the shaft, the size of the clubhead, the weight of the club and more. Several sets of prototypes were made based on the team's observations and conversations with the women. The prototypes were then tried, more conversations followed, more prototypes and so on.

The process of testing and retesting the prototype clubs led to the sole of the clubhead getting fatter. This lowered the clubhead's center of gravity and widened the area that interacts with the grass while striking the ball, which proved to be more forgiving of errant strokes. The women were given traditional shaft lengths to start, but because the industry was using 1950s Census data and women are taller and more athletic now, a trial-and-error process found that a longer shaft length was optimal.

Faster Process

The final word had to come from the women themselves; when they said the irons worked, Ms. O'Connor says, the research was over. The entire design process, from prototypes to tweaked prototypes to the final product, took less than a year, she says.

Mr. Colton, the head of research and development, says computerized design has had a big impact on the speed of product development. One advantage, he says, is that instead of designing each club in a set of irons individually, Callaway was able to get the design of the six iron right and then leave it to the computer to design the rest of the midrange irons, based on about 150 specifications programmed into the computer for how the irons should differ from each other. Designers then take a "bunch of numbers for the club, and a bunch of numbers for the ball" -- data like the mass and center of gravity for each club and the ball's weight and aerodynamic properties -- "virtually collide them, and we can predict how the ball will fly," Mr. Colton says.

Each type of iron still has to be tested to make sure it performs as expected, he says, "but we're talking about a factor of 200% to 300% faster" for the design process.

Up in the Air

The biggest issue for the women Callaway studied was that there wasn't enough of a difference in the shots they were hitting with their various midrange irons. A six iron, for instance, should produce a higher and shorter, but more controlled, shot than a five iron. Bur amateur golfers, especially women, generally lack the swing speed necessary to loft the ball up into the air, Mr. Colton says. So the shot with the six iron flattens out and goes farther, behaving more like a shot with a five iron.

Also, he says, because a five iron has a longer shaft than a six iron, golfers tend to make less-solid contact with the five iron. That decreases the distance of the shot, making the five iron behave more like a six iron should. Indeed, Mr. Colton says, amateurs will often hit the ball farther with a six iron than they do with a five iron, which is frustrating because that's the opposite of what they're trying to achieve.

Callaway addressed those problems in several ways with its i-brid design. The clubs' center of gravity has been shifted lower, which can help give the ball the appropriate loft, restoring some differentiation among the irons. They're also lighter, making for faster swing speeds, which also helps loft. And the club faces are designed to produce greater differences in loft from one iron to the next.

In addition, the clubhead isn't a skinny iron blade, it's fat with a wide sole, so the golfer is much more likely to hit the ball cleanly. The bigger clubhead also allows weight to be distributed farther back from the club face and away from the center of the club face. That puts more force behind balls that are hit off-center, making for a more consistent strike. In theory, golf is fun again.

Of course, part of the problem in getting the right clubs into women's hands has little to do with the clubs' design. Ms. O'Connor says her team found that husbands, boyfriends and other "helpful" people "were telling the women things that weren't true" about what clubs would be good for them -- things these people "truly believed and thought they were saying in the best interest [of the women], but they weren't right."

A Knight's Tale: Modern Jousting Sees Renaissance

It's Belgium vs. France
At League's Tourney;
Mr. Piraux and Squires
LIÈGE, Belgium -- Fred Piraux has been grooming his horse Thorgal three hours a day, polishing replica 15th-century armor and taking lessons in medieval dancing.

Next month, the 38-year-old Belgian police instructor will level his lance at a fearsome opponent, Frenchman Tino Lombardi, in a bid for the top spot with the International Jousting League.
WSJ's Max Colchester reports on how jousting, the blood sport of the Middle Ages, is staging a comeback. He speaks with jouster Fred Piraux, who is preparing for an upcoming tournament.

"It's not about the prize you win. It's about hearing your rivals' wives weep," says Mr. Piraux. A squire helps the chevalier squeeze into a metal breastplate. Mr. Piraux hoists himself onto his chocolate-brown steed and gallops through the fields on the outskirts of this industrial Belgian town.

The advent of firearms ended the medieval sport of jousting in the 17th century. But the Internet has resurrected it and, today, mounted men in full armor charge at each other for glory and global rank.

About 1,000 people world-wide take part in this sport, estimates the International Jousting Association, though only 200 have the equipment and expertise to joust competitively. The International Jousting League, a separate organization, has 47 jousters from San Diego to Paris who compete at castles and fields around the world.

A far cry from the mock re-enactments at Renaissance fairs, competitive jousting is not for the faint of heart or the impecunious.

On the field, jousters are judged on their ability to smash a lance against a crest the size of a dinner plate located on an opponent's left shoulder. The lances weigh 7.7 pounds, are 10 feet 5 inches in length and have screw-on balsa tips that shatter on impact with armor. To win points, the knights have to break their lances. They often also fracture hands in the process. Many jousters are tossed off their horses, but, to date, nobody in these recent contests has been killed. The most high-profile death was that of King Henry II of France, who died jousting in 1559.

As in medieval times, there are no universal jousting rules. At some competitions organized by the Jousting League, knights win points for their success in wooing damsels with a post-joust speech and medieval dance.

This year, Mr. Piraux bought a new $600 medieval dance outfit -- a red embroidered pleated coat with puffed shoulders, a matching doublet, hosiery and black riding boots. Despite his new duds, Mr. Piraux was outdanced by a U.S. competitor at a recent competition in Belgium.

Mr. Piraux has also spent about $39,000 this year in housing and upkeep for Thorgal and his second horse, Organdy, and on new steel-plate armor and a yellow-and-red wooden crest with a tower logo.

Loyal Servants

In addition, Mr. Piraux pays for the services of a team of loyal servants, including a herald who announces him at tournaments and two squires who are always on hand to help their master.

Olivier Aujer, a 22-year-old Belgian student, helps look after Thorgal and helps Mr. Piraux to dress. Mr. Piraux says he sometimes asks a friend to infiltrate opponents' camps to get them drunk before tournaments.

Since there's glory but no prize money in winning tournaments, Mr. Piraux moonlights to finance his jousting activities. A Belgian company recently hired him to joust before a group of visiting colleagues from Norway. Mr. Piraux has also appeared, clad in full armor, in an ad for a Dutch insurance company.

Sixteen jousters are expected to compete July 12 at the tournament near the Castle of Filain in eastern France. Many fans expect the 6-foot-tall Belgian police instructor to carry the day.

"He's one of the best in the world," says Callum Forbes, a 48-year-old personal financial planner from New Zealand, who has jousted with Mr. Piraux. "He puts full energy into it...[but] is really calm in the saddle."
[Fred Piraux]

Mr. Piraux is hungry for revenge against Mr. Lombardi. The 43-year-old French former judo instructor beat him last year at the same competition. "Fred Piraux doesn't scare me," says Mr. Lombardi, who is now employed as a state social worker in Vesoul, in eastern France. "I've won this tournament three times in a row. Why should this year be different?"

"I let Lombardi win," scoffed Mr. Piraux, as he set off for another practice round in the countryside near Liège. "I didn't want him to start crying."

Thorgal, Mr. Piraux's horse, is named after a Viking character in a comic-book series. On this recent morning, Mr. Piraux steered him energetically as he jabbed his lance through large white hoops held in a squire's hands. Speeding up to full gallop, the Belgian jouster then directed his lance at sparring partner Luc Petillot. From a standing start, the contestants ride between about 100 and 130 feet toward each other before they meet. Each pass takes about 10 seconds and there are usually three per match. A tournament is likely to go on for two days.

"It's about proving that you have still got what it takes," Mr. Piraux said as he unbuckled a pair of knee-high black leather boots after dismounting.

Later, enjoying a hot dog with his two squires, Mr. Piraux explained how the Jousting League, of which he's a board member, is trying to expand the sport's popularity. For example, there has been a growing effort to recruit women, said Mr. Piraux. The league now has six women knights in its ranks.

Tournament organizers would like to lure more Asian jousters as well, but competitions in such places as Hong Kong and South Korea have been problematic because the local horses are too small to carry men in armor.

Drawing More Fans

To attract more viewers, the league is also considering moving contests away from castles and into town centers. More than 3,500 people turned up to watch a joust Mr. Piraux organized near Liège recently, so he's now thinking about hosting a competition in an indoor ice rink.

As the sport draws more fans, there is talk of introducing a knightly game of chess to competitions organized by the league.

Speaking in medieval dialect, however, is out of the question, says Mr. Piraux.

"It would just descend into farce."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chinese Physical Education Lessons

Here is how Chinese kids are being "prepped" for future Olympics. They will either grow up to be a formidable contestants, or simply snap their spines in the process:-