Lamar Odom or how to excite fans with just a signing

Some teams fall into depression when a bad streak creates a climate of uneasiness and takes fans out of the venue. Although they have being loyal during seasons, there is a point where it is not worth attending to matches as now better times are gone and only melancholic memories of a glorious past remain.

Managers need to react and try to involve people again by creating excitement, passion. The objective, to fill again the empty seats.

In that sense, Laboral Kutxa’s CEO Josean Querejeta made a master movement signing the NBA superstar Lamar Odom. Querejeta, one of the smartest sports managers of the world, became Santa for a day and brought a present that no Baskonia fan could imagine. There was no gossip about the signing in the days before and suddenly, fans saw the two NBA tittles winner Lamar Odom landing in Vitoria and turning up for his presentation.

It was absolutely shocking for both the team’s fans and sports lovers from all over the country. “Lamar Odom” was trending toping in Spain and the news sports sections talked about Laboral Kutxa. It was almost a social event, with the city major attending his presentations and receiving him as a political personality.

The team, a serious contender for Euroleague Championship some years ago and used to win trophies in Spain, has suffered a spiral that  brought the team into mediocrity. They have  win nothing since 2010. From then on major teams in Europe signed the best players and due to financial cuts, the Basque team could not sign top-class players. Real Madrid and Barcelona established a bipolar dictatorship and Baskonia lost his high status.

In this season the situation seemed even worse, as they had to struggle hard for getting the Cup quallification, although they only need to be eight, and they are virtually eliminated from the Euroleague, where they have suffered several painful defeats.

In that context of pessimism and uneasiness, with fans booing the team after matches, Josean Querejeta signed Lamar Odom and since he arrived at Victoria, future seems brighter for the team. Fans are now hopeful about the remaining challenges of the team this season and there is no more resignation in the atmosphere surrounding the club.

Florentino Pérez, back in the middle 2000’s,  used this strategy when year after year the great Real Madrid endured disappointing seasons. He signed players like Bechkam, Figo, Michael Owen and more recently Gareth Bale that attracted people back to the stadium, sold out the stars’ t-shirts and in some way made people proud of their team again, despite the lack of tropies.

Sport is about feelings, emotions and mood and some smart CEO’s have discovered that signing a super-stars can turn pessimism, conformism and apathy into hope. And there is no other feeling that fills sport venues more than hope. The hope of watching your team regaining his former glory. That is really exciting.

Odom will debute tonight at 20.45. Laboral Kutxa will face Unicaja in a vital game if they want to keep on fighting for the Euroleague Quarter finals.

Here is a link for the game: http://goatd.net/71915/watch-laboral-kutxa-vitoria-vs-unicaja-malaga

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Cheating in sport

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

Winning is something great. People like winning, surely you love winning. Even when we are playing cards or videogames we try to do our best in order to win. The victory is the shaft of the sport, but it is not only about to win. Is it worth winning at any price? Why does our  society tend to praise the winners and forget those ones that albeit making great efforts and overcoming themselves in an outstanding way, they fail in holding a trophy or being the first to cross the finish line?

Many athletes cheat because they suffer a great pressure to win and if they don’t, they become unworthy. This lack of reconnaissance of the no-winners makes them take the decision of gambling and acquiring products for enhancing their performance. They do it because in professional sport only winning matters.

But I would like to take a look back. More than a century ago some countries were struggling for being the firsts to set foot on the North Pole. We still do not know who really was the first man to reach the Pole, as many thought or pretend to have reached it, but later it was demonstrated that they did not say the truth.

Frederick Cook claimed that he reached the Pole on April 1908. Now we know that he lied, as at the pace that he stated to have carried on in his way to the Pole was not possible for an early 20th century explorer. To take Cooks version true we will need to believe that he walked 60 kilometres a day, what is absolutely impossible under those conditions (heavy baggage, rough surfaces…). In those years of controversy the Royal Geographical Society considered that Robert E. Peary was the first to reach the North Pole, a year later Cook had claimed to do so. However, nowadays, it supports neither Cook nor Peary, although it is widely believed that Peary did it first.

Cook at the summit of Fake Peak. He told that it was Mc Kinley’s summit.

But there are many evidences that put into trouble Peary’s version and albeit he probably got very close, surely closer than anyone before, it is unlikely that he got his aim. And, furthermore, many suspicious gaps where found in his journals.

Both Peary and Cook had fight during years for something that had become and obsession for them. Reaching the North Pole was their ultimate goal and who knows if their cheated to their own and, of course, the American society, which expected them to conquer that uncharted land and rise the countries glory. In fact, Cook had cheated some years before when claimed to have surmounted Mountain McKinley. To demonstrate his feat Cook took a photograph of himself on the summit of a mountain that, years later, was discovered that it was a much lower mountain (15.000 feet lower). Now it is called the Fake Peak.

Since them, many other great feats are believed to be false, like Maurice Herzog’s climb to Annapurna. The book he wrote after going down the mountain, while recovering from his serious injuries, describes a magnificent and epic adventure in Nepal. First, it was a great challenge to explore the lands and try to find the possible ways up to the mountains and, then, going up an eight-thousand mountain was also quite challenging.

After finishing the World Was II, countries started some kind of race to conquer the still uncharted places of the world. France was one of the countries that invested more to put their flag on the top of the highest mountains. The goal was clear: to find and reach the top of an eight-thousand mountain. They invested money and hired the most skilful mountain climber from the Alps. Herzog lead that expedition.

In some way, all the country hoped tthem to reach the summit and, this way, raise the countries glory and gain international respect. There was much more on game than just surmounting a peak. Herzog and company brought in their rucksacks the expectancy of a whole country. To fail meant to disappoint a nation. And with that pressure, they left towards the unexpected.

The picture that supposedly show Herzog on the summit of Annapurna. Source: ambafrance-es.org

The fact is that although Herzog claims that he reached the summit, and so he described in his book, after some years his version has been dismissed many times. Lachenal, the one that escorted Herzog in his way to the summit, died just a few years later they come back from Himalaya. Maybe too soon to feel sorry about their big lie and to confess.

I don’t want to state that Herzog cheated and that he was a liar, but it seems unlikely that when people still die climbing that mountain and the death probability at Annapurna is so high, he reached the top in 1950. He had just two evidences to certify his success: his word, and we know by experience that people uses to lie when such feats are called into question, and two photographs of him supposedly on the summit of Annapurna. I say supposedly because we can not say that the pictures show the summit of the mountain and thus his epopee has been questioned during many years. In fact, we have just Herzog’s word as a proof of his success and, unfortunately, he also died a few months ago. And, once again, some suspucious gaps in his journal put into doubt his succesful story.

Precisely at Annapurna, in the race to become the first woman reaching the fourteen eight-thousand mountains of the world, Miss Ho, the South Korean alpinist stated having reached the summit when she did not. On 27 April 2010 she became the first woman to get that feat, as Edurne Pasaban got his fourteen mountains on 17 May. But Miss Ho’s climb was under suspicion since the beginning and some months later the Korean Mountain Federation didn’t recognise Miss Ho’s ascent. Formerly, some Sherpas told Edurne Pasaban that she neither reached Kachejunga’s summit.

Imágenes de la televisión coreana KBS en las que se ve a Miss Oh en la cima del Annapurna.

Miss Oh supossedly on the summit of Annapurna. Source: KBS

To have the first woman climbing the fourteen eight-thousands would be a reason to be proud for Korean government and that is why the Korean alpinist had a wide support from the authorities. She climbed the mountains at a frenetic pace but, at the end, become a victim of her own ambition. Alpinism is not a speed sport. It is much more than climbing mountains as fast as possible. She probably never understood that, she cheated and shamed the world of sport and alpinism.

More recently, Lance Armstrong leaded the greatest cheating story in the world of sport. He confessed afterwards and thanks to that we all know now that, certainly, his sport career was so successful thanks to performance enhancing drugs. I am not saying that Armstrong was not the best rider of the moment, as many other rivals of him also admitted having doped and thus he won in equal conditions. But he cheated and lied. And he is paying for it.

Doping is probably the most used way to cheat in sport. Diving, flopping and pretending injuries are another.

The society is sending a clear message to the world of sport: we only care about winners; we do not care about effort, overcoming stores or so one. We love the ones that get the ring, hold the trophy or reach first to the finish line.

The way of avoiding cheating in sport is changing the values of our society. If we praise an athlete that trains 8 hours a day and overcomes difficulties, but does never win, he will not have the temptation of cheating, as this public reconnaissance might be enough prize for him.

Of course, winning is great and winners deserve to be praised. But is not only about winning at any price. He must not only focus on the goal but in the way. Probably media is guilty for creating this kind of society that only praises winners. If we do not want cheaters we must promote other type of values.

A minute’s silence for Thatcher is out of place

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

The recent passing of Margareth Thatcher has create a debate about whether she deserves a minute’s silence or not in this weekend Premier League football matches. Wigan’s chairman requested a tribute for Baroness Thatcher at his side’s FA Cup semi-final against Millwall on Saturday but the idea was rejected. The FA, as institution, will not honour the former Prime Minister, but teams, as individuals, are allowed to keep a minute’s silence if they wish.

The fact is that with such a controversial personality been honoured, both loved and hated at the same rate, it is easy to imagine that the detractors would probably whistle during the minute’s silence. A demonstration of respect could, this way, turn into a demonstration of hate or any kind of negative feelings that have nothing to do with a football match.

But I want to go further. Why should a football field, or even other sport field or stadium, pay tribute to a politician? Does that personality have anything to do with sport? Did she represent  the values of sport? The answer is no. In our modern society it is usual to use big gatherings of people for political purpouses, making an ideological use of crowded places. I could understand a football field paying tribute to a recently dead legend of sport, but to a politician? What is the real sense of that?

Sport represents equality and, in some way, unity. Every person is equal when joining a football team, they are valued for their sport talent not for any other feature that  society uses to separate and discriminate human beings, as ethnic origin, religion or purchasing power. In this sense, politics mean division: the ones who think one way against the others. Perhaps in England and some cultures politic parties are just rivals, but in other countries, like Spain or Italy, we can consider them enemies, as they come from a non-democratic history. And thus de division is even greater.

Margareth Thatcher, as many other political personalities, does not represent those sport values of fraternity and there is no sense about paying tribute for her. Even when supporters of two different teams tend to discuss and row there is always something that joins those supporters who  strongly hate the rivals colors: the love for football and sport, and it’s values. They are rivals, no enemies. Unfortunately, Thatcher created many enemies during his mandate.

I always  thought that mixing politics and sport is disgusting. Politicians have many times tried to use crowded gatherings to support their interests, but sport does not deserve to be stained by their vile deed, giving ideological meanings to social meetings that represent just love for sport. Minute’s silence for Margareth Thatcher are out of place in football stadiums and if any club decides to pay her tribute I would not understand people critizing the ones that decide to boo, as it would be a democratic expression of their feeling towards someone that, probably, did not benefit them during his mandate. An it is their right to express their disagreement.

The cannibal queen

Source: Cyclingnews.com

In cycling the nickname “cannibal” is usually given to those outstanding riders who are dominant during a long period in which no victory seems to fulfil them. They keep winning over and over again until their rivals get absolutely hopeless. Eddy Mercks and Sven Nys where nicknamed this way when they started winning endlessly and established a sport dictatorship in their respective period.

At 25, Marianne Vos already deserves to be given that nickname. If it possible Vos is a more complete cannibal that the before mentioned two riders, as she has dominate the whole women’s cycling: cyclo-cross, track and road. Just taking a look at her list of relevant victories can you realize who is Marianne Vos, without a doubt one of the most dominant athletes of the history of sport. To compare her with Eddy Mercks is more than right, moreover at this point I try to think whether the Belgian would have ever won titles in other disciplines of cycling and, at the same time, be so dominant in road cycling. And that  seems quite unlikely.

Vos has demonstrate not only having talent and physical capacity to beat their rivals, but to be capable of overcoming her own limits to get victories that for any reason offered her more resistance. That is the case, for example, of the Giro Donne, a race that she was determined to win and has already won twice. She had to lose weight to improve her climbing skills and perform better in the tough roads of Italian ascents. So she did, and she won the race.

She neither gave up when she seem to be incapable of winning the rainbow jersey again, trying to repeat her succes in 2006. Until last September 2012, she waited patiently although winning the silver medal five times in a row. She waas obliged to be close to the rider that every year during a five-year period was taking the world best rider’s jersey, just a step higher than her in the podium, when everyone believed the victory must be hers. She end up retaking the jersey thanks to a impressive attack climbing the Cauberg, an acceleration that will remain for many years in the cycling lovers’ memory.

When the winter comes the temperature drops down and most of the riders, both women and men, tend to hibernate, hiding from the flashes, selecting a good place for recovering and then start training for the next season, but she doesn’t stop at all. It is cyclo-cross time, the discipline in which Marianne has won more world champion titles, five, in overall 6 participations. Thus during winter Vos increases her number of victories, with her distinctive smile and those appealing blue eyes in her muddy face, hands up, and her first rival more than a minute behind. That is the most repeated image in the races that Vos takes part.

Source: cxmagazine

As said before, Vos has dominated road, cyclocross and track cycling. I haven’t mentioned the other great discipline of cycling, the mountain bike, because she only competed in mountain bike in her early years. And, of course, she won the national championship. But this discipline will not miss Vos’s talent any more, because she stated that she will compete in Rio 2016 for trying to win a medal. She has already won Olympic medals in both road and track cycling and if she accomplishes her new goal, she will achieve an unbeatable feat: no other rider has ever won 3 medals in three cycling disciplines. And, certainly, many years will pass until any other is near of such a feat, as it seems unconceivable, at least in men’s cycling, where is impossible for any rider to combine succesfully such different disciplines.

Where are her limits? She is now 25 and if she continues in the way of the last years, maybe in 5 years to come we will be talking about one of the greatest athletes of the history and the best female athlete ever. She is not as highly regarded as she deserves due to two main reasons: she is a woman and, unfortunately, our society doesn’t take much into account female athletes and she is a cyclist, a sport that due to doping scandals has been despised by the world of sport and media.

In any case, I believe that Vos deserves to be mentioned in this humble blog due to her contribution to the world of sport and I think there was not a better way to show my respect  and my admiration that dedicate her a post.

Operación Puerto, a cover-up operation

It’s true that what is been judged in the famous trial OP is a crime against public health. But considering that about 200 athletes (and not only cyclists, as Eufemiano Fuentes admitted) have been involved, at least that’s the number of blood bags that where found when Fuentes where arrested, its seems that the trial should go far beyond whether Fuentes put at risk his patients health or not.

Doping was not a crime when the OP was released, but it’s clear that many athletes doped during that time and so few have been punished for it. Spanish politicians claim that there is no a doping problem in the country, but new revelations don’t let room for doubt: while other countries hunt their cheaters and don’t take into consideration whether they are big stars or not, Spain protects the athletes and avoids to reveal wide doping scandals.

Among the witnesses of the trial no Spanish rider (Beloki, Unai Osa, Nozal, Vicioso, Marcos Serrano …) has ever admitted taking drugs, except Jesús Manzano, whose testimony to the newspaper “AS” encourage the Police to start an investigation. But the foreign riders testimony was quite different. Jorg Jaschke and Tyler Hamilton claimed that Eufemiano Fuentes supply them with performance enhancing drugs and made them blood transfusions in his office. Both of them and Jesús Manzano stated that Eufemiano created a doping web comparable with the one that, as USADA has revealed, helped Armstrong in his sport success. On the contrary, Spanish rider Vicioso stated that Fuentes provided him only with painkillers and Serrano told the panel that he used the doctor as a translator, due to his language skills in Italian. All the Spanish witnesses repeated the same motto: “No, never”. They are lying.

Isidro Nozal (Libertaddigital.com

At this point, the question is: ¿why isn’t the Spanish justice able to uncover all the truth of the OP? ¿what’s wrong with a society that when a positive case is revealed prefers to cover his eyes and turn his back? Provided that USADA’s Reasoned Decision states that US Postal and many other teams used to come to Spain for his training camps because doping and prohibited substances control was looser than in other countries, ¿why doesn’t Spanish government investigate and try to reveal whether Spain is the paradise of dopers or not?

Spanish political and economical situation is catastrophic and sport is the only aspect in which Spain has been a world power recently. Revealing that apart from the main cycling riders, most of the big athletes, tennis players and football teams have been involved in Operación Puerto and other doping web cases would be an enormous punch in the face for the Spanish society. That’s why in Spain a cover-up strategy has been chosen to avoid bigger damages. The media has tried to focus the doping problems into cycling and making people think that only riders doped and that the teams involved in OP disappeared, pretend that the doping scandals where solved.

When Real Sociedad football team’s initials appeared in Eufemiano’s papers, readily media tried to cover-up the case blaming a rowing team that had a doping scandal in the past. Real Sociedad former president, Iñaki Badiola, stated that a due diligence revealed that the club paid medicines with dirty money that didn’t appear in the official documents of the club and El País corroborated that the quantity of the money spent by the team and the one that appeared in Eufemiano’s document matched. Of course, now one talks about doping scandals in football and almost no one knows that FC Barcelona tried to sign up Eufemiano about 10 years ago, that Athletic de Bilbao’s player Carlos Gurpegui tested positive due to the team’s doctor Sabino Padilla’s experiments with young players and that Dr. Del Moral, banned by USADA for his involvement in Armstrong’s doping system was the former doctor of Valencia CF and the tennis player David Ferrer.

Marta Donínguez, involved in Galgo and Puerto cases (El País)

And I could continue linking banned and dubious doctors with some of the most successful episodes of Spanish sport, but I think that there is a case that reveals more than any other at what rate Spanish authorities don’t want to hunt down dopers: Marta Dominguez, involved in both Operación Galgo and Operación Puerto, who worked with Fuentes since she was 22 years old and has developed a successful sport career probably thanks to doping, is now a senator for the governments party PP and earns her living with public money.

Politicians, justice and media are trying to cover-up any evidence of doping scandals in Spain. Many athletes where involved in Eufemiano’s doping system and only few of them have been punished. In fact, some riders as Alberto Contador, Luís León Sánchez or Joaquím Rodríguez rode for ONCE team, whose director Manolo Sainz is being also judged, but they didn’t ever appear neither in the press nor in the trial, although there is no evidence that they didn’t took part in the doping web when all they team mates did. High profile athletes seem an untouchable target for the sport authorities and the only Spanish rider who was suspended due to his connection with OP was Alejandro Valverde. Curiously, he was not banned by any Spanish authority: the Italian Olympic Committee did it.

Cyclo-cross, the most amazing non Olympic sport

backontrackproductions.com

It’s considered as the “poor brother” of cycling, the most unknown modality, but many cycling lovers that can’t wait to the road cycling season calm down the bike angry with cyclo-cross and after become fanatic. This is the main feature of cyclo-cross, the season starts in October and finishes in February, five months of races. Thereby, when there is no road cycling, there is cyclo-cross.

It’s a winter sport and it’s not a Olimpic modality. That’s why its not as known as road cycling, track cycling, BMX or Mountain Bike. Unfortunately, cyclocross is mainly focussed in Belgium. In fact, the first 8 riders in the past World Championship were born in the centre-European country. There are also cyclocrossmans from other countries, especially from France, Nederland, Czech Republic and Germany, but the best no-Belgian riders use the cyclo-cross to gain a good reputation in the world of cycling and join a road cycling team. The former World Champion Zdenek Stybar or Lars Boom did it recently.

Niels Albert in a crowded circuit. Slimbweg.be

The most attractive feature of this sport is that during an hour you see the riders riding full-gas along the circuits, mainly meadows, where the ground becomes muddy and to cycle is highly complicated. The start of the races is spectacular, with the riders placed like F-1 cars and trying to get the first curve in a good position. After the start, the circuit uses to become narrow and in almost an hour race is important to be always in the front of the race.

The sinuous circuits use to have obstacles, as steps, and sometimes riders need to get off the bike and run, carrying the bike on the back or dragging the bike by the side. Sometimes, the have to go up so hard slopes that there is not other way that dismounting and going up walking. Furthemore, sand is usually used to make the circuit harder. Watch here an example:

There are three main competitions: the World Cup, the Superprestige and the B-Post Bank Trophee (the former GvA). The World Cup is the most important one with races all over Europe, including France, Italy and CzechRepublic.  The Superprestige is considered as the second, but to win it gives you a wide reputation in Belgium. All the races take places in Belgium. B-Post Trophee is the third, with a different competition format, by taking into account the chrono of every eight races. Each competition has 7-8 races from late October to early February. 4 months of competition, a short season for the riders that need to be in good shape from the start to the finish, so as to have chances to win in any 3 competitions.

Niels Albert

Every year, usually in early February, this sport chooses the World Champion. This year, the World Championship will be held in Louissville (USA). It’s the first time that the rainbow jersey’s fight will take place in a no-European country. This sport is growing up in USA with many races and increasing number of riders, so the UCI is looking for wide the boundaries of this monopolised by Belgians sport.

Cyclo-cross most important races are usually won by the same riders. Three or four of them share out the main victories. Nowadays,  Sven Nys is the “number one”. The “Cannibal”, as its known, has dominated this sport for many years. He is now 35 years old but he is still the man-to-beat in every races. There is also Niels Albert, the current World Champion, an irregular rider that can dominate a race from the start to the finish or have a bad start and suffer to get the front of the race. He uses to have injuries during the season that, for the moment, have not allowed him to complete a full season in a good shape. The third rider that is always on the front is Kevin Pauwels. An “ice-man”, almost imperturbable,  improving his performances in the most complicated and muddy circuits and dominant in the most flattened and easy ones.

The “big three” will be fighting until now to February to get the glory in this sport. Races are usually streamed by Sporza and links provided by Cyclingfans.com. The most of the races schedule is Sunday at 15.00. I advise you to open your mind to this sport and enjoy one of my favourite sport events.