Category Archives: Fitness

Olympic Stories

Matthew Syed, a former international table tennis player who represented Great Britain in two Olympic Games, wrote a list for the TimesOnline (7/15/08) of the Top 50 Greatest Olympic Games Moments.  These are some of his choices (in no particular order):

1. In London (1908), Wyndham Halswell from Scotland won the 400 meters as the sole runner.  In the initial “final” race two days earlier, officials declared the race void and ordered a re-run when it was deemed that two Americans had conspired to block him from passing.   In the rescheduled race, all the other competitors refused to run against him, allowing him to take the gold.

2. In St. Louis (1904) US gymnast George Eyser won two golds, a silver and a bronze.  What’s the big deal?  He had a wooden leg.

3. In Munich (1972), the U.S. basketball team, going into the final with Russia, had been unbeaten in 63 Olympic matches.  With three seconds remaining, Russia led 49-48, when a foul was awarded to the U.S.  They nailed the first two shots, but a horn blew during the second shot.  The third shot failed, and the Americans started to celebrate their 50-49 win.  But an official said he had whistled for play to stop after hearing the earlier horn, and the Russians said that they had requested a timeout before the shots were attempted.  The referee ordered the clock to be reset to 3 seconds to replay the inbound.  Russia failed to score.  Then the officials said that the clock was still in the process of being reset when the referee put the ball in play!  The Secretary General of the International Basketball Federation, stepped in and ordered the clock to be reset to 3 seconds and the inbound replayed.  The Russians scored and were crowned champions.  The Americans refused, unsurprisingly, to turn up at the medal ceremony.  The silver medals still sit, unclaimed, in a vault at the International Olympic Committee headquarters, and some members of the American team have written in their wills that no member of their families may claim the medals after their death.

4. At the Games in Rome (1960), Ethiopian Abebe Bikila became the first runner representing an African nation to win gold in the marathon at the Olympics.  He did it barefoot, and set a world record in the process.

For more Top Olympic moments, go to:

It’s Not Over Until …

As I have mentioned on the air many times, I race sailboats.  I’ve won some races and lost some, but the favorite wins have been the ones that I least expected would or could happen.  I remember the time that we were over early at the start and had to do a penalty turn of 360 degrees, after getting out of the way of the other starting boats.  We had a heck of a time starting again, as, by the time we finished our penalty turn, many boats were already in our way. 

This incident happened early on in my sailing training, and I became despondent almost immediately, because I realized we now had absolutely no chance of even a third place finish, let alone a first.  My coach and tactician sternly yanked me out of my doldrums and told me that we were “down but not out,” and we had to work even harder now to catch up.  Frankly, I thought this was philosophically lovely, but hugely impractical, and I could barely see the sterns of the boats in front of us as they had so much distance on us.

Nonetheless, after considering breeze, windshifts, current, direction choices, steering, and crew work, there were enough variables to work with to keep our chins up. 

We pulled together as a team, and worked very hard to maximize every option we had, and we ended up winning the race.  I learned a lot that day.  It’s a lot more gratifying to succeed when it is a righteous challenge than when it seems like more of a slam dunk.

Jason Lezak knew this lesson.  Fifty meters from the finish line in the 4x 100 meter freestyle relay at the Beijing Olympics, Mr. Lezak doubted he could overcome the half-body length lead of his French opponent, Alain Bernard, who also happened to hold the world record in the 100-meter freestyle.

Instead of just accepting the probable loss, a determined Mr. Lezak pulled grit from down deep, and swam the fastest he’s ever done, and touched the electronically sensored wall, winning by eight one-hundredths of a second.  He shattered a world record and won a gold medal. 

And then he heard the fat lady sing…the American national anthem!

If You’re a “Metabo,” You’ll Be Fined

Japan has instituted one of the most serious campaigns in the world to get its citizens to be fit.  This action is motivated by the rapidly aging society’s ballooning health care costs, as most Japanese are covered under public health care or through their employment.

The term “metabo,” comes from the medical concept of “metabolic syndrome,” i.e., the factors that heighten the risk of developing vascular disease and diabetes.  They are:  obesity, high blood pressure, high glucose, and high cholesterol.  The term “metabo” has become the nation’s nickname for “overweight.”

Under a two month-old national law, companies and local governments must measure the waistlines of people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of annual checkups.  That amounts to 44% of the population of Japan.

The International Diabetes Federation’s ( guidelines for Japan of no more than 33.5 inches for men’s waistlines and 35.4 inches for women is being used as the standard.  When folks are over those measurements and have a weight-related ailment, they will be given dieting guidance and education.

The government will impose financial penalties on companies and local governments that fail to meet these targets.  NEC, a Japanese personal computer production company, said to the New York Times (6/13/08) that if it failed to meet its targets, it could incur almost 20 million in penalties.

A survey by the National Center for Health Statistics in the U.S.A. found that the average waist size for Caucasian American men was 39 inches, a full inch smaller than the 40 inch maximum established by the International Diabetes Federation.

Ladies didn’t do as well:  the average waist size of Caucasian American women was 36.5 inches, about two inches above our threshold.  (The differences in thresholds between Japanese and Americans and men and women have to do with height and body type).

Muscles and Longevity

I work very hard on fitness.  I’m 61 and can do about one and a half one-handed pushups.  I’m quite proud of that, and thank my trainer, Jason Baker, and my yoga instructor, Pamela Griffin, for years of helping me get in great condition.

A study from the Unit for Preventive Nutrition at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition at Novum Karolinska Institute in Sweden, presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 55th annual meeting, found that men with increased muscular strength are likely to live longer.

The men with decreased muscular strength had a 60% higher risk of cardiovascular disease.  This study further challenged the concept that walking and regular physical activity are the best for preventing heart disease and increasing longevity. 

Instead, they suggest that men start by incorporating weight or resistance training into a daily routine.  The benefits of “muscles” extends beyond the risk of dying from all causes, as muscular strength prevents disability from injury, thereby keeping you more independent for a longer period in your life.

I’m just going to assume that the same is true for women, and I’ll keep pumping that iron!

Fit, Not Fat

A study by Harvard-affiliated researchers published in the Archives of Internal Medicine challenges the notion that you can be fat and fit.  They found that being active can lower, but not eliminate heart risks faced by women who are fat or obese.

This new study involved nearly 39,000 women, average age of 54, who filled out a questionnaire at the beginning of the study detailing their height, weight and amount of weekly physical activity in the past year, including walking, jogging, bicycling, and swimming.  They were then tracked for approximately 11 years.

Women were considered “active” if they followed government-recommended guidelines, and got at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week.  Women who got less exercise than that were considered “inactive.” Weight was evaluated by body mass index (BMI):  a BMI between 25 and 29 is considered overweight, and 30 or higher is considered obese.

Compared with normal-weight active women, the risk for developing heart disease was 54% higher in overweight active women, and 87% higher in obese active women.  By contrast, the risk for developing heart disease was 88% higher in overweight inactive women and 2 1/2 times greater in obese inactive women.

About two in five American women at age 50 will eventually develop heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems according to the Associated Press report (4/29/08).  Excess weight can raise those odds in numerous ways, such as increasing blood pressure and increasing the risks for diabetes, as well as increasing “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.  Exercise counteracts all three.

If there’s one place in the world where there is no excuse for being inactive, it’s southern California.  Between the glorious weather, the hiking trails in the mountains, marked bicycle lanes and more, it’s almost impossible to excuse or explain being out of shape.