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NTSF 099: Bolt bettered in Stockholm, wider meanings of relegation, Spanish bullfight ban and more…

I am a Non-Traditional Sports Fan by instinct, a writer by trade… and a cook to pay the bills. Unfortunately, working a job in catering has a tendency to throw off my cadence. The summer doldrums — you know, the ones that fans who remain attuned solely to the rhythms of American sport often decry this time of year — are most acutely felt in the way my work schedule lines up. See, this is the golden time of year for a guy like me. With another high-tide mark for the cycling and tennis seasons right on the horizon as we near the Vuelta a España and the U.S. Open, the inaugural IAAF Diamond League providing one dramatic meet after another and the club soccer season about to start in Europe, there is almost too much to absorb at this point.

Unfortunately slow times at work also mean that I’m usually spending my mornings and early afternoons at work instead of at home watching all these great sporting events from around the globe. As they happen in real time, in prime time a third of the way around this orb on which we all float along through the miasma, I have spent my days trying to stay busy on the clock in the summer mornings on the University of Oregon campus — a wage slave doing what he must rather than what he desires. We all succumb to the necessities of adult life sooner or later (though it would’ve been nice to get more of a warning through those formative years that it would indeed suck a good deal of the time), but it is particularly hard on guys like me.

You see, part of the reason I’ve become so enamored with sports across the Atlantic and beyond is that they were always the sports I could watch in the wee hours of the night and the early morning. Sure, these days you can find football or baseball 24/7 with the advent and explosion of satellites and cable and high-speed internet connections. But it already feels like in some ways I’m a relic, that generation that rode the cusp of the technological era and straddled the fence between the way things were and the way they now stand in constant flux. Calculators were a novelty, not a necessity — statistics on the back of cards and, later in adolescence, through the nascent rumblings of the internet provided the opportunity to apply all that knowledge to something that was interesting and translated what I could see during a live broadcast into a means of recording for posterity.

And a lot of those adolescent statistics culled from the internet involved things like Serie A and English football league standings for the past century; or winners of the prestigious downhill ski race held annually on the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel, Austria and other famous World Cup courses; or old open-wheel racing history on both sides of the Atlantic in both Formula 1 and at the Indy 500. Why? Because those were the things I could see for the first time, once we’d acquired a satellite dish for the house as I headed from the local elementary to the middle school in town 40 miles away. As I got ready for school in the early mornings, or sat up late in the clutches of insomnia, I was now watching soccer and rugby and skiing and cycling and all these other sports that had seemed to be the exclusive domain of Jim McKay and the Wide World of Sports for the longest time. I’d read about these in the library and dreamed of seeing a glimpse of them. Now they were all there for the offering. As the years have gone on, the field of interest has only continued to widen.

So to have those mornings taken away — especially in this period of unparalleled access in real time to anything you could possibly desire to watch from halfway around the world — is quite vexing at times. But the beauty of this age is that you can also find highlights and replays with a few simple keystrokes and staying updated is as simple as the ubiquitous phone in every pocket. That technology can be a toy, or it can be a valuable tool… it all depends on how you desire to utilize what you’ve got. I know what I’ve chosen, and not even a long string of shifts beginning no later than 7 am are going to keep me down. A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America always finds a way to find out whatever it is he or she has been itching to follow…


Initially it was a jaw-dropper: Usain Bolt had lost his first 100m race in over two years when Tyson Gay beat him last weekend at the IAAF Diamond League meet in Stockholm. It surprised even the most ardent sports fans who usually focus on sports other than track and field — just take the post Sports Nickel editor Brian Guerra put on the site soon after the result was final in Sweden. In the moment I responded:

It looks like Bolt was fighting problems in his Achilles tendon as well during this race. But whether 100% or not, the fact remains that even the best athletes in the world are prone to have an off day here and there. This was a surprising result, but not necessarily shocking to me. The way Gay has returned from the past two years of himself being at less than optimal physical strength is impressive. And Bolt, who seems to almost be getting bored with the track and recently stated his desire to compete in field events as well, was given the shot in the arm to get his motivation back up…

Frankly, I can’t wait for the final Diamond League event of the year on August 27 in Brussels. Hopefully Powell’s lower back is fit enough to allow him to race against Bolt and Gay, and that Bolt’s tendon and calf problems are healed enough to compete at his normal high level. If all three are present in the final in Belgium… watch out!

Bolt finally beaten at 100m, but still better than all but Tyson Gay in Stockholm despite lower back problems...

Of course, we are now guaranteed to miss out on the Belgian showdown. It turns out more than merely that Achilles tendon has been aggravating Bolt. While tests have revealed the tendon injury to be healed, the Jamaican sprinter has seen his recidivist back problems reemerge once again. I don’t know why it didn’t register with me before, but it was a dead giveaway that his back was bothering him when he said after the race, “I need to work on my shape. I got a good start but there was no power [my emphasis]. I was ready, I was focused.”

The problem is obviously not mental; Bolt, one of the most joy-filled and unflappable athletes in all of sports, might have recently voiced his wish to compete in field as well as track (probably in the long jump and/or triple jump, though that might need to be nixed if he continues to have these back problems) but that hardly means he came to Stockholm unprepared for the competition. With the way the 23-year-old has encountered one physical problem after another this season and the lack of any major international tournament (IAAF World Championships or Olympics) on the schedule, there is no reason why he should be expected to continue pushing himself. Apparently his advisers felt the same way, as he has pulled out of the rest of the races this season.

But that hardly means there’s nothing to get interested about in the world of track and field. Just take the recent resurrection of one man’s career. The summer after I moved to Eugene — Track Town USA — one American sprinter found himself getting popped in a big way. The career of Justin Gatlin, once the most promising male sprinter in the United States, has featured more peaks and troughs in its charting than most will live through in an entire lifetime. As a 19-year-old in 2001, he was nailed for amphetamines in his system… a result of the Adderol he had taken for years to combat medically-diagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That suspension was dropped upon appeal to 12 months from two years by the IAAF. Then, July 2006 rolled around…

It was a summer that would see testosterone in the news for all the wrong reasons. In a matter of days we were bombarded with the news that both Gatlin and his compatriot, Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, had each tested positive in his respective sport for exogenous readings of the omnipresent naturally-occurring steroidal compound. Gatlin received an eight-year suspension, later reduced to four. (I had originally called for his testosterone positive to be viewed as his first offense; while the appeals courts didn’t go that far, the sentence was still reduced nonetheless.)

Justin Gatlin returns to his sport... will he get another opportunity in the future to celebrate a broken record as he did in Doha, Qatar in May 2006?

So now Gatlin is back — and he’s back to winning form. Running in two different meets in Estonia this month, the 28-year-old is still a ways away from his personal best (and former world record) 9.76 seconds at 100m but winning nonetheless. First, on August 3, he took the top honors with a 10.24 in the final; then, bettering his time from the previous meet, he clocked 10.17 to win again in Tallinn at the Ergo World challenge meeting. The 2004 champion in the 100m was once expected to have a hell of a feud brewing with Asafa Powell, who prior to the suspension looked like the next Jamaican poised to sweep the sport.

Of course, both men have regressed and handed the stage to their respective countrymen Bolt and Gay at this point. But a lot can happen in two years before the Olympics journey to England and the site of the main stadium in the Lea River Valley in east London. The shadows might just be good for these two men, Powell and Gatlin. No longer locked in the hubris that saw them throw away a chance at head-to-head confrontation in 2006 at the Prefontaine Classic here in Eugene, they have every incentive to buckle down and reclaim their position as the top representative of their countries. Of course, the way Gay is running (and the way we know Bolt is capable of running despite last Friday’s result), that’s bound to be a tall task. But in track and field, anything is possible once the starting gun fires…


The Copa Libertadores is one of the most prestigious club tournaments in the world. It’s funny to think about how relatively new tournaments like the Libertadores (annually since 1960) and UEFA Champions League (since 1955 as European Cup; began Champions League format in 1992) are compared to the history of international football in the Olympics (1900) and World Cup (1930) as well as the domestic club leagues which have thrived even longer. Now in the first year of its sixth decade of existence, the Copa Libertadores is broadcast into 135 countries and available over the internet through countless portals in multiple languages.

Home side Chivas got the first reason to celebrate in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores final... but will they be celebrating next week when it wraps up?

Yet, unless you frequent the Spanish-language sports networks on television (and the increasing shift in America’s demographics means that it is becoming less and less “non-traditional” for sports fans in America to be watching soccer en Español) or are a loyal reader of this column, you may not have heard that the two-leg home-and-away final was last night. It may have been controversial, but Chivas Guadalajara of Mexico were given passage to the second round this year due to their 2009 ouster not on the field but due to H1N1 flu outbreak in their home country. They reached the final by plowing through Argentina’s 2009 Clausura champion Velez Sarsfield, Libertad of Paraguay (qualified as best aggregate finisher in Clausura and Apertura in 2009), and Universidad de Chile (2009 Apertura champion). They were host for the opening leg to Internacional, Brazil’s 2009 Serie A runner-up, picking up right where they left off when their 2009 campaign was abbreviated.

The winner of this tournament would be headed to the next FIFA Club World Cup, and things got off to a quick start. After the match began fifteen minutes late to work the kinks out of the floodlights in the Estadio Chivas, the new $150 million stadium with the synthetic turf located in the northwestern Guadalajara suburb of Zapopan, it was the visitors who were getting the better run of offensive opportunities in what proved to be a chippy first half. But despite all the chances, nothing was developing on the scoreboard to consummate their efforts. Kleber hit the crossbar in the fifth minute, botching a marvelous chance to go ahead early and deflate the home crowd. Alecsandro put the crossbar to work yet again in the 29th minute, another opportunity squandered.

The misses left the door open for Chivas to take the lead in the first half. After getting his team’s first shot of the game, an off-target attempt in stoppage time, Marco Fabian De la Mora fully redeemed himself right before World Cup referee Hector Baldassi blew his whistle for halftime….   READ FULL ARTICLE HERE

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Zach is a writer and editor who covers a wide array of sports both traditional and non-traditional. Formerly the managing editor of Informative Sports before joining Sports Nickel, Zach has been covering events international and domestic for various publications since 2006. Find him @zbigalke on Twitter.

Zach Bigalke has written 289 posts for SportsNickel.com

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