Every few people can claim to be the best in the world at what they do… and back it up with empirical evidence. Which is just one reason why the Olympics are so compelling. Run, jump, swim, lift weights — even ride horses — if you do it there is only way to be the best in the world. Win an Olympic Gold Medal.
More than 13,000 athletes will compete in the Olympics (Winter and Summer Games), representing more than 200 countries, virtually every government in the world. The modern Olympics have become nothing short of a world spectacle, continually drawing the world’s biggest television audiences. The games began in 1896, a re-birth of the ancient tradition that took place in various Greek city-states from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD.
The modern games have developed into one of the world’s greatest spectacles, overcoming a couple of World Wars and a boycott or two. In July and August, the world will again focus its attention on the games of the 30th (modern) Olympiad in London from July 25 through August 12.
Run for Your Life
Running is perhaps the oldest competition known to man (other than boxing, perhaps). And its beauty is its simplicity. Start at point X… run to point Y… first person there wins. But running doesn’t have to be a competition. Drive down any roadway or park trail on a sunny day and you’ll see people running for the simple joy of running. It’s hard to think of an activity that is better for you physically. It will build endurance, improve your cardio-vascular system and strengthen you aerobically. Even if you’re a casual runner, or thinking about being a casual runner, good shoes are imperative. You can wear an old t-shirt and 20-year-old Bermuda shorts, but don’t scrimp on your shoes. Your feet will thank you for taking care of them.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Shopping for shoes is like shopping for a car — you have hundreds (thousands?) of brands and models to choose from. Where to start? Even if you’re not a real runner, running shoes may suit your lifestyle, anyway. “What we’ve seen over the last few years is that running shoes have taken the place of basketball shoes or cross-trainers as kind of a ‘be-all’ shoe for casual wear,” says Tom McLaughlan of Nike. “People like them because they are light, comfortable and provide a lot of support for your foot, no matter what you are doing.”
Light weight is a definite trend in running shoes. “Probably the biggest trend in running shoes over the past few years is that they have become lighter,” says Brian Laumeyer of Reebok. “Technology has let us use lighter materials, especially in the uppers, that provide just as much support, but with a lighter weight.” Shoe representatives agree that you can find very light shoes these days, and that light weight does not necessarily increase the price of the shoe.
If the Shoe Fits…
Finding the proper fit for any shoe is important, but with running shoes it is an even bigger issue. You will be pounding your soles on pavement and wherever-else, so you need to not just protect and cushion your feet, but you have to have the right fit. So how do you know if the shoe fits? “I know it sounds like a cop-out, but the sales associate in the store is probably your best source of help in fitting the shoe to your foot,” says Mike Prock of Asics. “The associate can tell how much you pronate, and find the right shoe for your foot.”
Pronation has traditionally been a big deal in running shoes. The pronated foot is one in which the heel bone angles inward and the arch tends to collapse. It flattens the arch as the foot strikes the ground in order to absorb shock when the heel hits the ground, and to assist in balance during mid-stance. If habits develop, this action can lead to foot pain as well as any number of foot and leg-related ailments.
However, there’s some controversy over pronation in the shoe industry these days. “For years, the prevailing wisdom was that pronation had to be corrected by the shoe,” says Prock. “But now, a minority school says essentially ‘pronation — so what?’ That theory says that as long as the foot is protected against the elements and that there is support and cushioning, that’s what’s important.”
Of course, your running mileage is also a factor. “A marathoner obviously has different needs than someone who is wearing the shoe for casual use,” says Brian Laumeyer.
So You’ve Always Wanted to Dunk a Basketball
In time for the London Olympics, Nike is introducing a new basketball shoe called the Hyperdunk. You’re 5’7” and you’ve always wanted to dunk a basketball? Well, stepladders aside, this may not realize that dream for you, but Nike says it will definitely help your “verticality.” Nike says the new shoe is light, more supportive, durable and breathable, and is expressly designed “to meet the demands of elite basketball players worldwide.”
The upper of the Hyperdunk uses high-strength cables for support and stability. These responsive cables are loose when at rest and dynamic when in motion, tensing to help stabilize the foot. A synthetic heel clip enhances lockdown, as the engineered foam and mesh of the upper reduces weight while further increasing breathability, strength and durability. Simultaneously, the collar of the shoe wraps lower in the back and higher over the front, increasing flexibility and lateral stability in the heel and ankle.
If that all sounds complicated, it probably is. But then basketball players need all the help they can get. “Basketball is one of the most demanding activities anywhere for the human foot,” says Nike’s Tom McLaughlan. “Think of all the lateral movements and quick cuts a basketball player makes while running. This shoe will definitely help support the foot and lessen the chances of blisters that are so common for these players.”
Less Drag in the Water
For swimming, Speedo introduced its Fastskin line in time for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It uses tiny triangular projections that point backward so water spirals off the swimmer’s body. It must work, because 83% of the medals and 13 of the 15 world records in Sydney were set by Speedo swimmers. Now, in time for the London Olympics, the company is introducing the Fastskin3 — a complete system that integrates the suit, cap and goggles.
Miniscule reductions in body drag are critical for a world-class swimmer, but Speedo spokeswoman Audra Silverman, says for the recreational swimmer, it’s not all about speed. “Increased comfort is what most people are going to notice about our products — either in the Fastskin or the Elite line, which is geared more for the casual swimmer.”
A Sport for Every Player
There are hundreds of sports in the Olympics — and hundreds of sports you can try to get yourself off that couch. Want a family sport? How about table tennis? Perfect for a basement, and you don’t need as much room as the Olympians who sometimes seem like they’re in the next room when they play. Don’t have a partner? Try the Joola Ipong Topspin Table Tennis Robot to give you practice time.
Of course, there’s regular tennis, too, and a beginner’s racquet is surprisingly affordable — ditto for a can of balls.
Football (not soccer, but football, as the rest of the world calls it), is also an Olympic sport, and while the Olympics may not have the cachet of the quadrennial World Cup, it will still get plenty of attention world-wide. It’s another sport that won’t cost you a lot — $15 for an entry level ball, though you can pay up to $70 for ‘thermal-bonded seamless surface(s)’ and ‘valve counterweights to improve flight characteristics.’
Want to try something a bit more exotic? How about boxing? No, you don’t have to slug it out with a family member or your neighbor (unless you want to), because there is a lot of boxing paraphernalia to keep you in shape without getting your head bashed in. Boxing gloves, a heavy bag and punch mitts can all give you an excellent workout in the comfort of your basement.
The Olympics will once again attract the largest television audiences of the year. But it seems a waste to just sit on the couch and watch. Even if you’ll never win a medal, Get in the Game!
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