10-13-12 - Sports

Random thoughts from someone who doesn't know much about sports.

1. Of course Lance Armstrong was on drugs; if you didn't know that, you're a moron. He completely dominated a field which was full of dopers, winning in the mountains and on the flats; if he could do that naturally he would be some kind of super-human abnormality, which of course he wasn't. It doesn't diminish his amazing achievements at all. Everyone he was competing against was on drugs too, so it was a totally level playing field. Everyone in cycling has been on drugs since maybe the 30's or so when they took straight amphetamines. (so did most atheletes in those days). You do know that Eddy Merckx was on drugs, right? And pretty much every TdF winner ever. Everyone in every sport in the world has been on drugs for roughly the past century, it's bizarre to act like it's a scandal. It's sort of like a man admitting that he thinks about women other than his wife and everyone gets all upset about it (harrumph and drops their monocle); it's fucking retarded to have these societal faux-pas that publicly we decry and nobody can admit to, but anybody with a brain knowns that everybody does it.

Even if you have perfect drug testing of pro athletes, it wouldn't diminish the importance or usage of drugs in sport. eg. say you tested every single day and the tests could detect everything so no doping was possible. That would just make it even more important for the kids to dope in high school before going pro and getting into the testing regime (which is what happens in NFL football these days; to be a football player you must use steroids in high school).

(The French obsession with taking down Lance for doping is particularly ridiculous; they're upset that Lance beat all their French stars so badly, and just generally upset that French cyclists all suck so bad these days, but of course the only French cyclists who have had any success at all recently (eg. Richard Virenque) were huge huge dopers (which is inevitable when you are carrying the expectations of a nation))

2. Sebastien Loeb was probably the greatest racing driver of all time. Unfortunately for him, the WRC format has just not been very interesting during his reign, and he didn't have the fortune of a good foil - he needed a rival to seriously challenge him and make it interesting for the fans, but nobody ever could. (it also didn't help that the cars are so boring now; historic rallies are probably the best rallies to watch now; I love to watch the old Ford Escorts in the 2wd historic rallies hanging the tail around every corner).

Obviously 9 straight championships speaks of his dominance, but if you actually watched some of the races you would appreciate that his supremacy was at a level even beyond what the numbers show. You could tell that he was playing it safe most of the time, that he always had a little more speed in the bank. Of course that's smart, and part of what made Loeb the greatest of all time, that he was not only skilled but crafty and good at managing the risk and percentages. He would drive just fast enough to win and no faster; sometimes he would fall behind in an early stage of a race, and then he would push a little harder and just rip time out of the competition, showing how much speed he really had.

3. The current Spanish national soccer team is a real joy to watch; one of the best international teams I've ever seen (but I don't watch a lot of soccer). The thing that makes them so great is they play a dynamic style with lots of movement (their movement off the ball is particularly good; they run great "give and go's" in basketball lingo), and they make goals from the natural flow of play. Way too many international teams use on a very boring defensive style, where they just randomly launch the ball forward or rely on set pieces (corner kicks, penalties) for goals. It's so much nicer to see goals come out of the flow of play rather than set pieces. The German teams in particular are always very effective but just agony to watch. Even the great Brazilian teams have fun individual flair but actually play a pretty defensive configuration most of the time and rely on just a few forwards to make something happen.

Soccer, like most sports, is clearly broken. By "broken" I mean that the rules of the game do not encourage beautiful play; in fact they punish it. A well designed game system makes it so that playing smartly (eg. to maximize the chance of winning) also causes you to play in a way that is elegant and nice to watch and in the spirit of the game. I don't think that playing 8 defenders and winning on penalty kicks is in the spirit of the game and the rules should not let that be such a profitable strategy.

4. I've been enjoying watching F1 recently, mainly as a nice way to zone out (it's very boring, a bit like watching golf or something, just a nice bit of mindless background).

One of the very annoying things about it is that all the video feeds are provided by the F1 organization (not each TV channel) and they are just terrible. The director seems to have very little clue about what is interesting to watch in racing. They're constantly showing cars in 20th place (HRT or whatever) going into the pits; oo 20th place pitted, better cut away to that, fascinating. And of course they cut away from the leaders right when they are setting up for a pass.

F1, like almost all sports, also has just terrible announcers. There are lots of interesting things happening all the time that you would not have any clue about unless you really know racing, because the commentators don't tell you. For example smart drivers like Alonso are very clever about how they interact with other cars; if he's trying to make a pass, he will pester the car in front in areas of the track where he is not planning to pass; this makes the leading car use up its KERS unwisely, meanwhile Alonso is saving all his KERS for the spot where he is planning to make the pass. Sometimes a tough pass is set up with fakes (bluffs) over the course of several laps; you show that you want to pass in one part of the track, so that the leading driver starts going defensive in that spot, then you actually make the pass in a totally other section where you have previously bluffed that you don't have pace. Good commentators should be telling you about these dynamics, as well as just constantly telling stories about the drivers to give you some background on how they interact with each other. If you actually stop and think about how good commentating could be, and how shitty it actually is, the gulf is massive. We've been kind of inured to just atrocious sports commentary, so much so that it is the expected norm (it doesn't feel right to watch football without some commentator saying "they need to get more physical").

I feel like Red Bull is actually way way better than all the other teams, but it doesn't seem that way on the surface because they keep getting torpedoed by the FIA. Every time they make another advancement that lets them run away with races, the rules get changed to make their innovation illegal. Certainly the racing is more interesting if the teams are close by, but constantly changing the rules to hinder the leader is not a good way to make a sport competitive.


Apophis said...

Praising the spanish play style, then commenting that soccer is broken as it doesn't reward beautiful play is kind of inconsitent given the success of the spanish team lately. But in general the soccer comment sounds like it was written 10 years ago.

cbloom said...

Yes, well, the point was that the Spanish team is an outlier in the general trend; hopefully more teams copy them. I pretty much only watch soccer for World Cups or the Euro cups and the play almost always sucks; I hear that club games are actually more fun to watch.

Thatcher Ulrich said...

Re doping being part of the sport, I kinda think it relegates cycling to the level of pro wrestling hypocrisy, but without the big wink.

Speaking of hypocrisy, I'm not aware of doping being a problem in soccer (or F1 for that matter), but I would love it if they managed to crack down on the fake time-wasting injuries and foul pouting.

old rants