A “sport” I’d never have thought of:

Vanessa Tahbone grimaces while competing against Nicole Colbert during the ear pull event at the 49th Annual World Eskimo-Indian Olympic Games July 23 at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, Alaska. (AP Photo/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner/Eric Engman)

Who thinks of these things?  Must be the long winter nights.



Scientists have found the reason why blacks dominate on the running track and whites in the swimming pool: it’s in their belly-buttons, a study published Monday shows.What’s important is not whether an athlete has an innie or an outie but where his or her navel is in relation to the rest of the body, says the study published in the International Journal of Design and Nature and Ecodynamics.The navel is the center of gravity of the body, and given two runners or swimmers of the same height, one black and one white, “what matters is not total height but the position of the belly-button, or center of gravity,” Duke University professor Andre Bejan, the lead author of the study, told AFP.”It so happens that in the architecture of the human body of West African-origin runners, the center of gravity is significantly higher than in runners of European origin,” which puts them at an advantage in sprints on the track, he said.Individuals of West African-origin have longer legs than European-origin athletes, which means their belly-buttons are three centimeters 1.18 inches higher than whites’, said Bejan.That means the black athletes have a “hidden height” that is three percent greater than whites’, which gives them a significant speed advantage on the track.”Locomotion is essentially a continual process of falling forward, and mass that falls from a higher altitude, falls faster,” Bejan explained.In the pool, meanwhile, whites have the advantage because they have longer torsos, making their belly-buttons lower in the general scheme of body architecture.”Swimming is the art of surfing the wave created by the swimmer,” said Bejan.”The swimmer who makes the bigger wave is the faster swimmer, and a longer torso makes a bigger wave. Europeans have a three-percent longer torso than West Africans, which gives them a 1.5-percent speed advantage in the pool,” he said.

via Belly-buttons key to success in sport: study – Yahoo! News.

Referees are more likely to make foul calls when they see the action moving from right to left, or leftward, according to a new study by brain researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

Twelve varsity soccer players were shown identical images of plays, with the only difference being that some viewed the images flipped horizontally, so there were right-to-left and left-to-right versions. The participants that saw the action as moving from right-to-left were statistically more likely to call a foul.

Other studies have shown that the direction in which people read and write leads to a bias toward rightward or leftward action. One study found that Italians were more likely to view a soccer goal as “stronger, faster and more beautiful” when it was presented with a left-to-right trajectory rather than the other way around, and that Arabic speakers showed the opposite bias.

I’m not certain that the studies described really prove the claim — the experiments should be run with actual referees (who may minimize the directional bias by training or practice).  In any case, they’re interesting and a valuable reminder of how subtly biases can exist in our perceptions.

via Wired Science – News for Your Neurons |

John Wooden has died.  Although I haven’t seen anything about him in a few years, I’ll miss him.

He was, of course, a  great coach, a real leader, a disciplinarian in an age of militant indiscipline.

I learned today that he also was among history’s great lovers.  In his column for ESPN the Magazine, Rick Reilley addresses the following to Wooden’s great-grandson (emphasis added):

… he and your late great-grandmother, Nell, had the truest love I’ve ever seen. Junior high school sweethearts, they were married 53 years until Nell died in 1985. To this day, he writes her a love note every month and sets it on her side of the bed.

John Wooden was a class act.  That’s why he’ll be missed.

via Rick Reilly is still in awe of John Wooden – ESPN The Magazine.

A girls’ softball team that hadn’t lost a game in over two years offered to forfeit, rather than beat their inexperienced opponents by a humiliating score.

It happened at a junior varsity girls’ softball game in Indianapolis this spring. After an inning and a half, Roncalli was womanhandling inner-city Marshall Community. Marshall pitchers had already walked nine Roncalli batters. The game could’ve been 50-0 with no problem.

It’s no wonder. This was the first softball game in Marshall history. A middle school trying to move up to include grades 6 through 12, Marshall showed up to the game with five balls, two bats, no helmets, no sliding pads, no cleats, 16 players who’d never played before, and a coach who’d never even seen a game.

One Marshall player asked, “Which one is first base?” Another: “How do I hold this bat?” They didn’t know where to stand in the batter’s box. Their coaches had to be shown where the first- and third-base coaching boxes were.

That’s when Roncalli did something crazy. It offered to forfeit….

“The Marshall players did NOT want to quit,” wrote Roncalli JV coach Jeff Traylor, in recalling the incident. “They were willing to lose 100 to 0 if it meant they finished their first game.” But the Marshall players finally decided if Roncalli was willing to forfeit for them, they should do it for themselves. They decided that maybe — this one time — losing was actually winning.

That’s about when the weirdest scene broke out all over the field: Roncalli kids teaching Marshall kids the right batting stance, throwing them soft-toss in the outfield, teaching them how to play catch. They showed them how to put on catching gear, how to pitch, and how to run the bases. Even the umps stuck around to watch.

“One at a time the Marshall girls would come in to hit off of the [Roncalli] pitchers,” Traylor recalled. “As they hit the ball their faces LIT UP!  They were high fiving and hugging the girls from Roncalli, thanking them for teaching to them the game.”

This was not without risk:

This is the kind of thing that can backfire with teenagers — the rich kids taking pity on the inner-city kids kind of thing. Traylor was afraid of it, too.

“One wrong attitude, one babying approach from our players would shut down the Marshall team, who already were down,” wrote Traylor. “But our girls made me as proud as I have ever been. … [By the end], you could tell they were having a blast. The change from the beginning of the game to the end of the practice was amazing.”

Perhaps more amazingly, Roncalli proceeded to put on a one-day clinic to teach the Marshall team how to play softball, then raised $2,500 to buy equipment, and arranged a retired coach to help Marshall develop further.

Roncalli High’s JV Girl’s Softball Team

And it’s attracted support from others:

A rep from Reebok called Sullivan [the Marshall team’s coach] and said, “What do you need? We’ll get it for you.” A man who owns an indoor batting cage facility has offered free time in the winter. The Cincinnati Reds are donating good dirt for the new field Marshall will play on.

And it’s making a difference:

This could’ve been a thing where our kids had too much pride,” says Sullivan. “You know, ‘I’m not going to listen to anybody.’ But our kids are really thirsty to learn.”

And they are. Marshall never won a game, but actually had leads in its last three games. In fact, it went so well, the players and their parents asked if they could extend the season, so they’re looking to play AAU summer softball.

Those girls and their coaches, on both teams, are a class act.

Rick Reilly: Compassion and Competition – ESPN.

2012 Olympic mascot “Wenlock” (orange)  and Paralympic mascot “Mandeville” (blue)

Clearly, these guys were designed by …

  1. a committee
  2. of one-eyed Smurfs
  3. with bladder-control issues.

That’s all.

via London Olympics 2012: Meet Wenlock and Mandeville, drips off the old block | UK news | The Guardian.

An autistic teenager from the Chicago area has done something almost impossible.

Nearly 48 games into an upset-filled NCAA tournament, 17-year-old Alex Hermann is perfect.

“It’s amazing,” he says. Truly.

The teenager predicted that Northern Iowa would beat the Kansas Jayhawks. He picked Ohio to knock off Georgetown. And Cornell to knock off Wisconsin….

In fact, he picked every game through the first two rounds correctly. The odds of anybody doing that? One in 13,460,000, according to It’s easier to win the lottery. Twice.

“I’m good at math,” Alex, a Glenbrook South High School student, said. “I’m kind of good at math and at stats I see on TV during the game.”

Somehow, you have to suspect that this is going to end up in the “too good to be true” category.  But, if it’s true, good for him.

via Autistic Teen Picks First Two NCAA Rounds Perfectly | NBC Chicago.

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