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Michael Phelps beat Milorad Cavic again, and this time there was no doubt about it.

With a defiant performance in a supposedly inferior suit, Phelps stayed close over the outward lap and rallied on the return to become the first swimmer to break 50 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly.

More here.

I cannot resist the temptation to republishing the statement Phelps ought to have made (instead of that grovelling apology) when he was caught smoking pot a few months ago. Courtesy the inimitable Agitator:

Dear America,

I take it back. I don’t apologize.

Because you know what? It’s none of your goddamned business. I work my ass off 10 months per year. It’s that hard work that gave you all those gooey feelings of patriotism last summer. If during my brief window of down time I want to relax, enjoy myself, and partake of a substance that’s a hell of a lot less bad for me than alcohol, tobacco, or, frankly, most of the prescription drugs most of you are taking, well, you can spare me the lecture.

I put myself through hell. I make my body do things nature never really intended us to endure. All world-class athletes do. We do it because you love to watch us push ourselves as far as we can possibly go. Some of us get hurt. Sometimes permanently. You’re watching the Super Bowl tonight. You’re watching 300 pound men smash each while running at full speed, in full pads. You know what the average life expectancy of an NFL player is? Fifty-five. That’s about 20 years shorter than your average non-NFL player. Yet you watch. And cheer. And you jump up spill your beer when a linebacker lays out a wide receiver on a crossing route across the middle. The harder he gets hit, the louder and more enthusiastically you scream.

Yet you all get bent out of shape when Ricky Williams, or I, or Josh Howard smoke a little dope to relax. Why? Because the idiots you’ve elected to make your laws have have without a shred of evidence beat it into your head that smoking marijuana is something akin to drinking antifreeze, and done only by dirty hippies and sex offenders.

You’ll have to pardon my cynicism. But I call bullshit. You don’t give a damn about my health. You just get a voyeuristic thrill from watching an elite athlete fall from grace–all the better if you get to exercise a little moral righteousness in the process. And it’s hypocritical righteousness at that, given that 40 percent of you have tried pot at least once in your lives.

Here’s a crazy thought: If I can smoke a little dope and go on to win 14 Olympic gold medals, maybe pot smokers aren’t doomed to lives of couch surfing and video games, as our moronic government would have us believe. In fact, the list of successful pot smokers includes not just world class athletes like me, Howard, Williams, and others, it includes Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, the last three U.S. presidents, several Supreme Court justices, and luminaries and success stories from all sectors of business and the arts, sciences, and humanities.

So go ahead. Ban me from the next Olympics. Yank my endorsement deals. Stick your collective noses in the air and get all indignant on me. While you’re at it, keep arresting cancer and AIDS patients who dare to smoke the stuff because it deadens their pain, or enables them to eat. Keep sending in goon squads to kick down doors andshoot little old ladiesmaim innocent toddlers, handcuff elderly post-polio patients to their beds at gunpoint, and slaughter the family pet.

Tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll apologize for smoking pot when every politician who ever did drugs and then voted to uphold or strengthen the drug laws marches his ass off to the nearest federal prison to serve out the sentence he wants to impose on everyone else for committing the same crimes he committed. I’ll apologize when the sons, daughters, and nephews of powerful politicians who get caught possessing or dealing drugs in the frat house or prep school get the same treatment as the no-name, probably black kid caught on the corner or the front stoop doing the same thing.

Until then, I for one will have none of it. I smoked pot. I liked it. I’ll probably do it again. I refuse to apologize for it, because by apologizing I help perpetuate this stupid lie, this idea that what someone puts into his own body on his own time is any of the government’s damned business. Or any of yours. I’m not going to bend over and allow myself to be propaganda for this wasteful, ridiculous, immoral war.

Go ahead and tear me down if you like. But let’s see you rationalize in your next lame ONDCP commercial how the greatest motherfucking swimmer the world has ever seen . . . is also a proud pot smoker.

Yours,

Michael Phelps

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A little more than a year ago, an uncharacteristically off-color Federer faced upcoming star Novak Djokovic at the US open final.  The quality of the match wasn’t great and Federer in particular, found that shots he would normally execute with his eyes closed were going long or hitting the net. Yet, watching the match, one never felt at any stage that Federer could lose. At crucial points, he would summon up some magic from his powers of yore and hit a breathtaking winner. Or, more commonly, Djokovic would double-fault or make some amateurish error that made you wonder if he even belonged to the same stage. 

The truth was that Djokovic simply did not have the mental strength to stare down Federer. More importantly, Federer knew he was great enough to find a way to win even when his game wasn’t tuned anywhere close to it’s best. It was this mental strength that carried him through that day, almost in ridiculous fashion, while the Djoker crumbled. The Federer of then had a self-belief, a knowledge, that he was good enough to beat anyone on any day — except possibly Rafael Nadal on clay.

It was hard not to think of that match while watching last night’s Autralian Open final. The tables had turned in fifteen months, and how!

Rafael Nadal was already a legend then, the greatest clay-courter of all time. But he had never won a grass court event, never even reached the final of a hard-court major and seemed destined to stay number two to Federer for as long as the latter wanted to stay on top.

Yesterday though, Nadal did to Federer what Federer had done to Djokovic and so many others over the last five years. It was not as if Federer played badly. Indeed, there were many times yesterday when his shotmaking was as good as I have ever seen it. It was that mentally, he wasn’t strong enough to beat Nadal. He made six double-faults, all at crucial moments. At the games that counted — the first and last games of the first set, the tiebreaker of set three, the entire fifth set — he simply crumbled. And Nadal stayed on like a rock, unaffected by the moment, hitting ridiculous winners on a consistent basis and never thinking he could lose.

It is not entirely correct to say that Federer no longer believes he can beat Nadal. He would not have managed to stay on for over four hours at the court if he didn’t believe that. The truth is that the mental fitness of Federer no longer exists in its legendary form when he is facing Nadal. One of Federer’s great weapons was his ability to lift his game at the moments it mattered most. One saw few instances of that yesterday. One suspects that the loss of confidence started with the Wimbledon final from two years back when Nadal stretched Federer to the limit. Fed won that match, but could no longer claim invincibility over his great rival in non-clay surfaces. Last year’s demolition in Roland Garros must have dented his confidence further. However, it was Federer’s loss to Nadal in the Wimbledon final last year that took the heaviest toll. And now of course, Federer has lost to Nadal in majors on all surfaces. It is hard to see how he can recover.

And I say that with a heavy heart, for I have been a Federer fan since 2003, when he displayed his magical skills to the world en route to his first Wimbledon triumph. I haved watched every major final he has played and last night was an emotional roller coaster like no other. I badly want him to return to his rightful place, at the top.

For that though, he will have to get Nadal out of his head. 

Finally, none of this is to imply that Nadal is an inferior shotmaker. His improvement over the last few years beggars belief. I have mostly focussed on his superior mental conditioning above but the truth is that even his physical skills, especially over the last year has reached a stratospheric, indeed Federeresque level. He can hit winners from ridiculous positions and cover the court as well as anyone is history. I think there is a fairly good chance that by the time he retires, he will have won more majors than anyone else and be generally regarded as the greatest player in history. However, the truth is this: if Federer can regain the mental strength he used to have, he still has the game to beat Nadal from time to time. Not always and perhaps not on clay, but certainly a good fraction of times on grass and hardcourt. Last night demonstrated that in terms of pure tennis skills, Federer is still a maestro and retains the ability to outplay Nadal. To win another major final against Nadal, he just needs to do it consistently and particularly at the games that really matter.  That will come down to mental strength.

I will hope and pray for that to happen — for the return of the king.

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Of late I have enrolled at a gym for Crossfit and Krav Maga. I will write a detailed post a month or two later, but for now, watch this video of the amazing (and beautiful) Nicole Carroll of Crossfit fame attempting 15 overhead squats of her bodyweight (125 lb). 

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I must say that they look cute together.

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There are many video clips up on the web with excerpts of the amazing Wimbledon final betwen Federer and Nadal. This one, however, is by far the best I have found so far. Around 13 minutes long, it documents most of the best shots played that day. The quality is amazing and the Coldplay music playing in the background complements the tennis perfectly.

I have some minor quibbles — the fourth set tiebreaker should have included in its entirety and the amazing return by Federer on the last game of the match (see this clip at timestamp 3:46) isn’t there at all. Nevetheless, it is a great compilation and a wonderful gift to all Federer or Nadal fans.

Watch the whole thing! (But if you are pressed for time, just watch the segment from 8:05 to 8:30 documenting the part of the now legendary fourth set tie-breaker that led commentator Andrew Castle to exclaim – “The two best passing shots of the tournament without doubt have just taken place on the last two points.”)

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This year’s Wimbledon final was in many ways similar to last year’s– just longer, more gruelling and more competitive. However the outcomes were different. After an epic battle, Federer had prevailed last summer by raising his game in the final set to a stratospheric level that Rafa was unable to match. This time, however, Rafa proved that he had caught up. He had an answer to everything Federer threw at him. Watching the match was like seeing two supermen trading blows. The tennis played was one of sustained brilliance.  And ultimately, the younger guy with the stronger legs prevailed.

Can Federer come back again or have we entered the Nadal era? Time will tell. As for me, I will hope and continue to support my guy.

(Federer photo by flickr user toga, Nadal photo by flickr user mandj98)

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