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Posts tagged ‘Sports’

Just because they are awesome: MTN-Qhubeka

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MTN-Qhubeka’s distinctive yellow bikes. (Photo credit: acme59)

We got our son his first bike when he was two. It was a Strider balance bike, a tiny little thing with two wheels and no pedals. It let him get a running start, lift up his feet, and start coasting, fully balanced by momentum, no training wheels needed. I remember taking him out on the Strider on the boardwalk in Long Beach, Long Island. It was winter and all you could see of him as he whizzed past was his big blue coat and flame-streaked helmet. “Is that baby riding a two-wheeler?” Power-walkers scooting by turned their heads.

I have never liked riding bikes myself. I didn’t have the necessary freedom to roam in my neighborhood as a kid; a block or two in every direction there was a major road, Sunrise Highway or Long Beach Road, so I could only ride round and round the block, on the sidewalk, as my grandmother watched nervously from the window. Maybe it was because of these limits I still find the action of cycling difficult;  how do you just let go, let momentum keep you upright on two skinny wheels? How do you find the faith to travel at high speeds without touching the ground?

Nevertheless, I have come to love professional cycling over the years. At first, I found TV broadcasts of the Tour de France soothing, watching the bright colors of the peloton, brazen, jostling, and blazing past staggering mountain slopes, small towns, ancient cobbles, all the way to the Champs Elysees. But the more I watched to see the scenery, the more I got to understand, and enjoy, the sport. Because cyclists have to have complete confidence in themselves, and in their teammates, to get up on two wheels and just go, holding absolutely nothing back.

There is too much to admire in cycling to dismiss it because of its demons, whom I will let lie. For instance: have you ever heard of the professional team MTN-Qhubeka? You should. If you’ve read this far into a post about cycling, you probably have.

MTN-Qhubeka is the first African team to compete at the highest level of cycling, and on Saint Patrick’s Day, they were on the start line of Milan-Sanremo, one of the monument races of the sport, along with all of the European powerhouse teams. Just being at the race was a triumph. And then, they won. Their sprinter and captain, Gerald Ciolek, beat out the world’s best in a thrilling sprint finish. Behind him was a team that was a mix of European veterans and African newcomers, like Songezo Jim (read his blog about racing Milan-Sanremo here).

Songezo Jim @ Milan-Sanremo

Songezo Jim @ Milan-Sanremo (Photo credit: Glory Cycles)

Cycling is not much of a priority on American sports networks, like fishing and cheerleading are. So I found a way to watch Milan-Sanremo online, standing at my computer on the kitchen counter while my kids ran around and my husband, who actually does ride a bike, finished a well-deserved shamrock shake.

Milan-Sanremo is called “La Primavera,” the spring race, and careens over mountains and valleys from Milan to Sanremo on the Italian Riviera, and usually finishes with a blistering dash to the finish, with the sport’s top sprinters playing a game of cat and mouse until that final burst of speed makes one of them the winner. It is a dramatic enough race even on the brightest, green-and-pinkest Italian early spring day.

But while Boston was relatively spring-like that Sunday, the Italian Riviera was being pelted with snow and ice, prompting officials to cancel a mountain climb in the middle of the route and send the ice-covered racers further along the course by bus, like that lady who ran the New York Marathon years ago by subway.

It was pretty nuts, to put it plainly. Dozens of racers, including veterans and stars of the sport, dropped out midway, unable to or not willing to tolerate the intensely harsh conditions. Those who stayed in could barely grip their handlebars, or see through the frozen air that came at them along the way, and struggled to keep upright on the whitening, slickening roads.

But in a way, and I can say this because I watched, hot coffee in hand, from thousands of miles away, as problematic as it was, it was a race represented to me what’s pure about cycling: it’s you, and the elements, come as they may. It’s toughness above all. Any winner would have been deserving of heaps of praise and admiration. But it was extra sweet that the win went to a team that is trying to make it on the world stage, representing a corner of the world where cycling is not quite so in the blood, as it is in the chilly north of Europe.

The Qhubeka in MTN-Qhubeka is a foundation, that provides children across Africa with bicycles in return for service to their communities. According to their website, they have handed over more than 40,000 bikes since they started in 2004. And I know I usually write about whiny toddlers, temper tantrums, and the everyday guff of motherhood in the USA, but I just had to write, that I think this is an amazing thing. These bicycles mean freedom, they mean education, they mean independence. And by winning, and racing, and moving forward, their team, MTN-Qhubeka, is only calling more attention to their important mission, not only by their jersey colors but by the way they race.

In our home here, we are lucky enough to get our kids on bikes, walk them down the road to school, ready with everything they need. We take it for granted. Qhubeka knows that no one should. And school and mobility should not be a luxury, but a right. From their website:

Most of Africa’s rural population have no access to transport and people have to walk long distances to access opportunity, education, healthcare, shops and community services. Rural schoolchildren are particularly badly affected by lack of mobility. In South Africa, of the 16 million school going children, 12 million walk to school. Of these, 500,000 walk more than two hours each way, spending four hours getting to and back from school each day. Bicycles are the most effective and economical method of quickly addressing this problem.

Cycling is a great sport because no matter the context, competitive or not, alone, or in teams, in rural Africa or Western cities, it moves people forward [Qhubeka: an Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa) word that means “to carry on”, “to progress”, “to move forward”]. So I want to congratulate MTN-Qhubeka on their success in Milan-Sanremo, and all the other races they enter on the world stage, on moving the sport forward in Africa, on getting young people onto bikes.

They can do it, and my son can do it, and maybe so can I: this spring, now that the snow is receding, I will also get my own bike out of the basement, brush off the cobwebs, and trust myself to find my balance, and lift my feet off the ground.

My bike; the old Robin Hood.

My bike; the old Robin Hood.

This should just about cover it: my rant on NBC’s Olympic coverage

English: Usain Bolt at the World Championship ...

Usain Bolt in Berlin, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we enjoy the second, and final, week of the Olympics, I thought I’d get a jump on my wrap-up. Frankly, my enthusiasm for the Olympics is beginning to wane. Why? Before I get to my planned Olympic tribute: The Greenspan Awards: Candidates for Future Segments for Bud Greenspan’s Firmament of Olympic Glory (which I may or may not get to, let’s be real here), here’s one long, slightly unhinged rant on NBC’s Olympic coverage.

It’s Sunday night. Clearly I don’t have tickets for the Olympics. Husband and I are at home, stateside, listening to the static coming from two baby monitors. We’re in primetime Olympic coverage. It’s nine o’clock. We all know Usain Bolt is running the 100 Meters tonight, probably because my Olympics iPhone apps have been dinging in my ear all day. I have nine apps. I thought all of a sudden I was really popular and getting tons of texts, but no. Usain Bolt!

So never mind that these apps (and NPR!) spoiled me for the result several times over. As they did for Bradley Wiggins’ Time Trial win. (Do I learn? No.) AND never mind I am holding off on watching Breaking Bad for this. I want to watch Bolt win. I am ready. We know it’s already happened, so obviously NBC is going to show it as the centerpiece of the evening’s coverage, right? They can show it whenever they want. Nine o’clock passes…

YET MORE beach volleyball. How much of this sport am I going to have to fast-forward before the end of the Olympics? It’s not even a final, or semi-final. It’s one of about – as far as I can tell, I can’t be bothered to check my app(s) to find out – a hundred million qualifying rounds May/Walsh have played. I feel like I’ve seen about nineteen Olympics worth of THEM ALONE playing beach volleyball, and they keep getting the primest of the primetime spots. Meanwhile, Usain Bolt, running probably the signature event of the entire games, is relegated to the eleven-o’clock hour – that’s practically late night! Why? Is it because Misty and Kristy, or whatever they are called, are American, and he is not? Because there is certainly a bias toward only showing events that the USA is contesting. I was shocked yesterday to tune into a Track Cycling final between France and Team GB (and that’s another thing, addressed to my DVR: if you say you’ve recorded Track Cycling, SHOW THAT. Not more volleyball!). Again, why? Don’t say it’s about the bikinis, because a) insulting and b) too cold for bikinis in London.

To sum up, even with all of the options that NBC claims are available to us for watching any Olympic event, I am pretty much bound to watch whatever they decide to prioritize in primetime. Because really, I don’t have all day and night to watch the Olympics, bouncing back and forth from the computer, to the phone, to the iPad, to whatever live coverage they can show. I really can just pick and choose a few things from the daytime coverage, and hope the DVR records what the guide proclaims (ahem, Track Cycling). And then watch the primetime coverage. Which has turned out to be all-American, all the time, with a huge bolus of beach volleyball stuck in the middle. And if you are watching primetime TV, they force you to the beach volleyball (men and women’s) by not even showing any alternate events on the NBC Sports Network – they’ve been showing poker in primetime! Poker!!! I thought that was the whole point of having a second network; to double your options. But no, Bob Costas needs us to see his taut face, directing us to hang on for more hyperbolic purple prose after commercial breaks. And by the way, Costas, you can chill with the flights of poetic fancy. You are no Greenspan. You are from Commack, you get me? Islander to Islander?

I appreciate that, by and large, people are going to be watching the Olympics to root for Team USA. But the Olympics is an opportunity to let the world into our homes. To appreciate the human, not just the American, spirit. So, in that spirit, O media gods, please, let me watch Mark Cavendish comment on the Track Cycling! I would be willing to pay for BBC coverage of the Olympics just to see this. And anyway, isn’t me funneling more money into media conglomerates also very much in the spirit of the Games? Let us, in the spirit of international fellowship, break down those firewalls!

So, hopefully, tune in soon for these Greenspan Awards I keep threatening you with, highlighting my favorite moments and people from London 2012. Spoiler Alert: Oscar Pistorius is definitely getting a Greenspan. I mean, come on!

English: Oscar Pistorius during 2011 World cha...

Guess who? during the 2011 World Athletics Championships in Daegu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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