By Ken MacQueen - Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - 0 Comments
The billionaire co-creator of Twitter wants to change the world again—this time, rethinking the way we shop
It’s a Wednesday, so Jack Dorsey is sipping tea in a 20th-floor lounge of Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, chatting with a Maclean’s reporter about the Canadian launch of Square Inc.—a mobile credit card reader and business management system—and the second revolutionary idea he has helped create in his 35 years. Canada is the first stop in Square’s global expansion. “We want to carry every transaction in the world,” he’s said, never one to dream small. Wednesdays are reserved for marketing, communications and growth. As chairman and co-founder of Twitter, the ubiquitous 140-character micro-blogging site, and CEO and co-founder of Square, he’s learned to compartmentalize.
The rhythm of his San Francisco-based business week goes like this: Mondays are for management issues at the two private companies with multi-billion-dollar evaluations. Tuesdays it’s engineering and design. Wednesdays are for evangelizing the brands—tools, he believes, of a new world order. Thursdays are for outside business partners and suppliers. Fridays he tends to employees, performances and goals, and recruits talent for companies undergoing exponential growth. Sundays are for strategic thought, and job interviews. On the sixth day he rests. He remains an influential force as chairman of Twitter, but he’s more engaged in the day-to-day operations of Square. Continue…
By Ken MacQueen - Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 1:57 PM - 0 Comments
A subpar performance in London and being on the brink of bankruptcy means it’s game over
The troubled Canadian Paralympic Foundation is folding its operations, surrendering its charitable charter and turning over its few remaining assets to the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) by year end, Maclean’s has learned. The decision was forced on the foundation—created in 2003 to help fund the national Paralympic committee—after the charity teetered near bankruptcy in the months leading up to Canada’s subpar performance at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.
Relations between the two groups—both independently managed organizations created to support Paralympic sport—deteriorated as they fought over where and how foundation funds should be spent. Fundraising costs at the foundation soared while revenue plunged. An internal report by Ketchum Canada Inc., a consulting agency for the philanthropic sector, concluded that foundation priorities often conflicted with the CPC’s position that it receive all funds the foundation raised. In fact, the CPC got less than half, with the rest going to other organizations supporting disabled sports or activities. “Over time, this has become a confrontational environment with issues of misalignment and lack of trust,” the Ketchum report said in 2011.
By Ken MacQueen - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 11:20 AM - 0 Comments
MacLeod’s Books—and its overflowing shelves—has a run-in with the fireman
Somewhere in the shelves or tottering towers of tomes at Vancouver’s MacLeod’s Books there has to be a copy of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s bleak tale of book burning and misbehaving firemen. The title refers to the apparent ignition point of books, and it is that flammability issue that now bedevils Don Stewart, owner of one of the most amazing, eccentric and, um, well-stocked bookstores in Canada.
Early last year, the Vancouver fire department announced it was radically increasing its annual rate of fire inspections from 13,000 to 20,000 commercial, industrial and multi-unit residential buildings. Among the businesses now lavished with attention is MacLeod’s, an early-20th-century building stuffed to the gunwales with books, or “fire load,” as inspectors call them. The fire department is also applying a $100-an-hour fee for buildings that require re-inspections.
Stewart had a peaceful relationship with fire inspectors for most of the four decades he has owned MacLeod’s, a downtown haven for bibliophile, browser and tourist alike. Now he’s had repeated visits from inspectors and once even a veiled threat of thousands of dollars in fines. Stewart says he has no quarrel with inspectors’ concerns that exit aisles are kept clear and that there’s access to electrical panels. “The one thing we’re having difficulty with is that they consider books to be a fire load. Even though we’re sitting in a sprinklered building, there is a perception that we represent a danger to everyone around us.”
By Ken MacQueen - Monday, October 15, 2012 at 12:40 PM - 0 Comments
Signs of hope and renewal in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood
For decades it was an acknowledged, if largely unspoken fact: if you lived in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside odds were you lived a Third World life and died a Third World death. Twenty years ago women living in what was called Canada’s poorest postal code died 4½ years sooner on average than those living in the rest of British Columbia. They died almost 6½ years before residents of suburban Richmond just a few kilometres to the south, which has the longest life expectancy of any city in Canada. Men in inner-city Vancouver died almost 11 years before those in the rest of B.C.; they lost 14 years of life compared to men in Richmond. Health officials declared a public health emergency in the Downtown Eastside but the problems seemed intractable: poverty, addiction, homelessness, an epidemic of HIV-AIDS, drug overdoses and a host of chronic diseases. “There was nothing else like it elsewhere in Canada or North America,” Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, says of her arrival in the city 15 years ago. “The rates of HIV in that population were the highest reported in any city, I think, anywhere in the developed world at that time. There was despair. Overdose deaths were unbelievable. It seemed overwhelming.”
By Ken MacQueen - Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 10:15 AM - 0 Comments
Teaching kids to snowboard in Whistler, Trudeau found a place to emerge from his father’s shadow
He said his name was Justin—just another itinerant snowboard instructor at the Whistler-Blackcomb resort, there in the winter of 1997 for the crappy pay, occasional tips and the all-important mountain pass. He was assigned to Sean Smillie’s Ride Tribe boarding classes. Lord knows Smillie could use the help. “We’d juggle 100 little kids a day on the mountain, running round, chasing after them,” Smillie recalls 15 years later over a coffee in Vancouver’s Gastown.
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“If you can imagine, learning how to snowboard is about one of the funniest things in the world for a kid, so I had to have a really particular kind of staff,” says Smillie. This Justin guy, a student at the University of British Columbia, was studying to be a teacher. He was great with kids, was a gifted, if chaotic, boarder and clearly knew the terrain. Strange thing was this Justin boarded in a fireman’s jacket, at least until he got his official instructor’s uniform, which was . . . unusual. But, whatever, it’s Whistler, right?
Smillie and his instructors were all of similar age and disposition. Loved the kids, loved the social life, loved above all the downtime carving tracks on virgin snow on the most extreme runs on the two mountains. Smillie’s job was to cruise the classes, and help out where needed. “Justin always got the wild, crazy kids who were running all over the mountain. He was perfect for that, so I ended up working with him a lot, riding with him and the kids. We became buddies out of that.” Still, says Smillie, “I had no idea who he was, not for months and months. No clue.” When you’re young and you work at a resort like Whistler, you tend to live for the moment and the weather forecast; the past is parked outside the bubble. Finally someone mentioned that his buddy was the eldest son of ex-prime minister Trudeau. That Trudeau? “I kind of did the sudden stop—wait a minute!” Smillie says. “I just kind of asked him one day: ‘Is your father Pierre?’ And that was it.” Life went on as before.
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, September 28, 2012 at 5:10 AM - 0 Comments
B.C. premier suffers a wave of defections while pre-election poll numbers continue to lag
One can’t help but think that Christy Clark, the former radio talk show host, would have a field day with B.C. Premier Christy Clark and the constant game of musical chairs among her staff and cabinet table. For all her personal charm, her leadership has inspired an organizational chart rather like a typical B.C. weather forecast. Don’t like it? Wait five minutes, it’ll change.
Clark’s Liberals are a distant second in opinion polls and, with an election looming in May, the recent weeks have seen a host of dispirited caucus and cabinet colleagues discover a crying need to leave politics “to spend more time with my family,” as the saying goes. Among those not seeking re-election are two of her high-profile rivals for the leadership, former finance minister Kevin Falcon and former education minister George Abbott. Colin Hansen, the finance minister under Gordon Campbell responsible for imposing the toxic and brief-lived HST, is also bailing out of politics, though he’ll work on the Liberal election campaign.
On the staff side, she’s working on her third press secretary in her 19 months as leader and now, in a troubling turn of events this week, she’s had to make an emergency substitution to the all-important role of chief of staff. When Clark controversially called political Victoria “a sick culture” best to be avoided, you have to think she was referring to days like Monday, the day she announced she’d blown up her chief of staff, Ken Boessenkool, due to “an incident of concern” that came to her attention in early September.
By Ken MacQueen - Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
Eating less, a lot less, may not be the secret to a long life after all
The quest for eternal life is as old as death. Searching for the fountain of youth fired the imaginations of explorers and writers for centuries, to no avail. Today, in a variation on a theme, scientists pour their energies into exploring the idea of life extension: living longer by eating drastically less. Calorie restriction (CR) is the buzz phrase: a theory that a nutritious, but extremely low-calorie, diet will extend the life of lab mice, research monkeys and perhaps humans. It gained much of its popular public acceptance through the work of Roy Walford, a California researcher, gerontologist and author of the bestselling Beyond the 120-year Diet: How to Double Your Vital Years.
Walford espoused the idea that you, like him, could live a more vigorous life on just 1,600 well-chosen calories a day. He began linking food to longevity in the 1960s when he restricted the diet of mice by 40 per cent. He reported their lifespans doubled. Walford wasn’t as lucky. He died at 79 of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
For more than 20 years now, the poster primates for CR have been two peckish troops of rhesus monkeys, one at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a second group of involuntary dieters at the U.S. National Institute on Aging (NIA) in Baltimore. At best, the results of these experiments are mixed and the latest news suggests the fountain of youth is as elusive as ever.
By Ken MacQueen - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 5:35 PM - 0 Comments
Bobby Jack Fowler incriminated by ‘the oldest DNA match in Interpol’s history’
Her name was Colleen MacMillen, and in 1974—a more innocent time it seemed—the pretty 16-year-old thought little of hitch-hiking from her family’s lakeside home to visit a friend in the central B.C. town of Lac La Hache. Her body was found a month later south of 100 Mile House on a logging road off Highway 97. Her unsolved murder was swept into an RCMP investigation of 17 other tragically similar cases of girls and women who vanished from highways 16, 97 and 5 in central and northern B.C. between 1969 and 2006. On Tuesday, RCMP announced that advances in DNA technology had identified her murder as Bobby Jack Fowler, an Oregon man who died in prison in 2006 at age 66, while serving a 10-year sentence for kidnapping, attempted rape and assault.
Fowler had an “extensive violent history” in several U.S. states, and travelled and worked, in B.C. in the 1970s and possibly in the 1980s and 1990s, RCMP Insp. Gary Shinkaruk, head of the major crimes special projects unit, told a news conference in Surrey Tuesday. He said that the U.S.-born Fowler is “an incredibly strong suspect” in two other of the 18 murdered or missing women in the so-called Highway of Tears cases. He has been eliminated as a suspect in only eight of the 18 cases, Shinkaruk said, but investigators are also looking at other unsolved cases elsewhere in B.C., and in other provinces and states. Fowler is also “a person of interest” in at least two sets of murders of teen girls in Oregon in 1992 and 1995 and his movements in the state show a possible link with three other unsolved cases with similarities to the B.C. murder, Lincoln Country Ore., District Attorney Rob Bovett told the news conference.
By Ken MacQueen - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 11:33 AM - 0 Comments
Stanford University’s cooling glove speeds recovery and improves athletic performance drastically
Ice baths were all the rage at the London 2012 Summer Games as a way for Olympians to reduce inflammation, speed muscle recovery between events—and make funny faces during the exquisite agony of immersion. Rowers used them, cyclists used them; British distance runner Mo Farah, looking profoundly chilled, took the plunge, and delivered back-to-back gold medals in the gruelling 10,000-m and 5,000-m races. Now, researchers at Stanford University have devised a faster and less cringe-worthy way of cooling the body, speeding recovery and delivering a performance boost “substantially better than steroids.”
The device is a rigid plastic mitt that forms a slight vacuum and circulates cool water to extract heat from the palm of a hand, where blood vessels act as a high-efficiency radiator for the human body. The device, developed by Stanford biologists H. Craig Heller and Dennis Grahn, can alter a person’s core temperature within 10 minutes, raising temperature with warm water for a person coming out of anaesthesia, for instance, or dropping it to speed muscle recovery in athletes.
Use of a single cooling glove between sets of chin-ups turned fellow researcher Vinh Cao into a near superhero, erasing muscle fatigue so much he was able to boost his daily capacity for chin-ups to 620 from 180. Stanford sports teams as well as the local San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders football teams have used versions of the glove, which will soon become commercially available. “The work capacity of muscles was greatly enhanced by palm cooling, and when this benefit was applied to strength-conditioning regimes, the rates of gain were dramatic, exceeding what has been observed through the use of anabolic steroids,” the authors say in a research paper.
By Ken MacQueen, Aaron Wherry, and Patricia Treble - Friday, September 21, 2012 at 2:50 PM - 0 Comments
Will and Kate fight back, Bill Clinton reveals the secret to his presidency and Putin ’fesses up
Sarah calls in her chits
Practise your music scales and maybe one day you too can play the White House. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton ﬂew to Vancouver to help out Sarah McLachlan, who assembled a stellar crew for her Voices in the Park concert to raise funds for her music school for at-risk youth. Among those performing at her behest on a perfect September Saturday were Jann Arden, Bryan Adams and Stevie Nicks. Clinton, who left his sax at home, delivered a short, sweet message about the importance of music in fostering creativity and brain development. “It is very unlikely I would have ever become president had I not been in school music from the time I was 9 until the time I was 17,” he told the audience of 11,000. McLachlan, he added, has helped his various causes for 20 years “She did it when I was up. She did it when I was down. Politics—it’s a contact sport, in case you hadn’t noticed.” He was honoured to return the favour.
Keep calm and carry on
Talk about awkward timing: Prince William and his wife, Kate, were visiting a mosque in the predominantly Muslim nation of Malaysia when topless photos of the duchess of Cambridge hit newsstands. The blurry shots show the pair poolside at the Provençal retreat of the Queen’s nephew, Viscount Linley. While Kate maintained her smiling public facade, her husband, who is fiercely protective of his wife, took on a “look of absolute thunder,” according to the BBC royal reporter. Royal lawyers launched an all-out attack to stop the photos from spreading further—publications in Italy and Ireland reprinted the snaps before a court-ordered ban. The couple, on a royal tour of the Paciﬁc, pressed on, taking the stiff-upper-lip advice of an aide to “stay calm and carry on.”
By Ken MacQueen - Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Aug. 30-Sept. 6, 2012: A Paralympic scandal, what Paris Hilton will do to earn $1 million, and Elisha Cuthbert’s act of ultimate fandom
Blade in mouth disease
South African double amputee Oscar Pistorius has issued a half-hearted apology to Brazilian Paralympic runner Alan Fonteles Oliveira, who beat him Sunday in the 200-m final at London’s Olympic Stadium. Pistorius, who had never before lost a Paralympic race, complained that Oliveira’s carbon-ﬁbre prosthetic limbs were too long, giving him an unfair advantage. His comments seemed particularly insensitive because he’d faced criticism that his own carbon-fibre limbs gave him an advantage in racing able-bodied athletes when he competed earlier in the London Olympics. Pistorius said later he still believes he raised a valid issue, “but I accept that raising those concerns immediately as I stepped off the track was wrong.”
This hurts me more than them
Bob Fawcett wore a frozen smile, a mismatched brown suit and did his best to avoid angry protesters as he pleaded guilty in a North Vancouver court to causing unnecessary pain and suffering in the killing of 56 sled dogs. The former manager of a sled-dog touring company based in Whistler, B.C., said little during the court appearance, in a case that made him an international pariah and generated outraged headlines around the world. Judge Steven Merrick ordered a psychological report on Fawcett, who has claimed to suffer post-traumatic stress after killing the dogs with guns and knives and dumping them in a mass grave to cull the pack. He faces up to five years in prison and a $75,000 fine when he is sentenced Nov. 22. Crown spokesman Neil MacKenzie wouldn’t say what sentence prosecutors will ask for, but that it will reflect the seriousness of the offence and “the circumstances of the offender.”
By Charlie Gillis, Ken MacQueen, and Jonathon Gatehouse - Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 10:22 AM - 0 Comments
Turning a Winter nation into a Summer nation isn’t a short-term project.
In the quiet moment before his race began, Adam van Koeverden reached down to the hull of his kayak and used his finger to trace out the name: Simon Whitfield. His friend and long-time inspiration—Canada’s flag-bearer at London 2012—had wiped out on his bike on the triathlon course the day before, breaking his collarbone and ending his dream of a third Olympic medal to go along with the gold he collected a dozen years ago in Sydney and the silver from the last go around in Beijing. Watching it all unfold on TV, the man they call Van Kayak had cried. But now, early in the morning on the waters of Eton Dorney, he was determined to do something about it. As Whitfield had done four years before when he scrawled the name of gold-medal-winning rower Adam Kreek on his handlebar tape on the way to his own silver medal, he would take up the torch.
Heading out fast, as is his custom, van Koeverden led for most of the final of the men’s 1,000-m race. It was only over the last quarter that another friend, Eirik Veras Larsen of Norway, caught up and edged by. The difference between the top two steps of the podium was just over seven seconds. But for once, the intense 30-year-old Oakville, Ont., paddler wasn’t that gutted by second place.“This one is for the Whitfield legacy,” he said, looking down at the silver medal hanging around his neck and smiling. He had paid it forward.
Coping with the pressure on a global stage, and the weight of national expectations, is no small thing. The Olympic fields of play are littered with medal favourites who fall agonizingly short of the podium, or sometimes altogether fail to show up when it counts the most. Heartbreak that is multiplied by the four long years the athletes must wait for a second chance.
By Ken MacQueen - Tuesday, August 21, 2012 at 10:45 AM - 0 Comments
In conversation with Ken MacQueen
Battered and bruised, Canadian flag- bearer Simon Whitfield sat down with a pint at a London pub to reflect on the close of this, his fourth Olympic Games. It wasn’t how the script was to end: a bloody bike crash during his race; a public spat with Triathlon Canada and the subpar mental and physical race preparation leading to a tearful last-place finish for fellow triathlete and friend Paula Findlay. But he saw far too many glorious moments in London for anything to tarnish the “Olympic ideals” he lives by.
Q: How are your war wounds? I see a few scabs.
A: Yeah, I’ve a good one on my knees. I have a cracked collarbone. I have a large gash under my big toe. I’ve a bump on my noggin, but everything is going to heal.
Q: Backstage at the opening ceremonies, what’s going on around you?
By Ken MacQueen - Monday, August 13, 2012 at 3:57 PM - 0 Comments
From athletes and fans to politicians and young royals, the Games united a nation
It’s no exaggeration to say many Britons dreaded the start of these $14-billion Olympics, tallying the cost of a potentially disastrous exercise in bread and circuses as if disapproving partners in the accounting firm of Scrooge, Whinge, Grumble and Sneer. When exactly that changed is hard to say, but it’s dead certain Danny Boyle’s exuberant and cheeky opening ceremonies played no small part. Nothing quite says “party hearty” like having what looked like a parachute jump by 86-year-old Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith. It sets a tone at the highest level. It says: “We are amused; this will be pulled off together with style and grace and wicked good fun.” And so it was.
The British public “has cast off its often grumpy carapace and taken to the Games with spontaneous Latin exuberance,” intoned the Times of London. “No one in London,” diagnosed Boris Johnson, the city’s gloriously verbose mayor, “is immune to this contagion of joy.” The four-minute miler and Olympian Sir Roger Bannister, writing in the Mail on Sunday, recalled the austerity Olympics of 1948, “a feat of courage and optimism” in a war-scarred London. “How thrilling it is to see that we have done it again, and have risen to the occasion.”
Overnight, Union Jacks sprouted from car aerials, faces were painted, and the 70,000-strong army of volunteers pointed the way to a happier time with their giant purple foam fingers. Or better yet, sang their directions reggae-style as one dreadlocked chap did at the rail stop outside the venue for wrestling, judo and weightlifting. “ExCel Centre, go to de right,” he sang in endless loop. “Yes you muss go to de right.”
Of course, British athletes winning gold medals by the bucketful across the full spectrum of sport didn’t hurt the mood one bit. It was amusing, if a bit unsettling, to watch BBC’s normally staid “presenters” leap from their seats with orgasmic intensity with every Team GB win to whoop and high-five and do little interpretive dances of joy. When U.S. broadcasters start to mutter about jingoism run amok, a subject in which they are expert, it’s clear a corner has been turned and the Brits have shed—for a time—their weary cynicism to embrace a shared adventure.
The sporty young royals took a cue from the head of the firm. William and Catherine, the duke and duchess of Cambridge, abetted by Prince Harry, booked in something like 30 sporting events among them, from rowing to field hockey, to the silver medal team equestrian eventing won by their cousin Zara Phillips. Catherine, flying solo, cringed her way through a boxing match, hiding at one point behind her laminated credentials (“HRH DUCHESS OF CAMBRIDGE HONOURED GUEST”), celebrated the bronze medal the women’s field hockey team won, and cemented her reputation as a national good luck charm: 10 medals in 19 events she attended.
The search for legacy and higher purpose began as the Games raced to a close. Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Olympic organizing committee, called for it to spur a greater emphasis on sport and exercise in schools. British Prime Minister David Cameron—a bit of a bad-luck charm if his medal-to-attendance ratio is analyzed—heaped rather too much on the event. He lauded, in no particular order, its value as an economic stimulus, the boost Olympic volunteerism gives to his utopian view of the Big Society where all selflessly contribute to the greater good, and declared Team GB pride to be an antidote to Scottish nationalism. Even at that, he knows the high can’t last much longer than the flame in the Olympic cauldron, “though I can see why Roman emperors wanted to have perpetual games.”
Come the morn, there’s a faltering economy to consider, the euro crisis and bills to pay. Even that was covered off in the British way of “taking the piss” out of matters. There was Eric Idle at the closing ceremony singing the darkly ironic Monty Python classic: Always Look On The Bright Side of Life.
By Ken MacQueen - Sunday, August 12, 2012 at 8:30 PM - 0 Comments
Will Canada’s most successful rowing coach be welcomed back?
There’s no easy path to glory in coach Mike Spracklen’s world, as Rowing Canada knows to its great discomfort. There is only toil and pain, and finding the limits of your endurance. Finding those limits and continually pushing beyond, until the ultimate breaking point becomes the last stroke of the race. “The body will adapt,” he says. “In theory there is no limit to how far the body can improve.” But first a coach must win the hearts and minds of his athletes, and of the bureaucrats and bean-counters who so try his patience.
What do you do with one of the most successful coaches in international rowing history, when he’s also seen by critics as a cantankerous Brit: outspoken, uncompromising and divisive? At age 74 he’ll never morph into the preferred Canadian coaching model: a nurturing sort, heavy on science, innovation and the new ways.
A total review of the Canadian rowing program will be launched, said Peter Cookson, high-performance director for Rowing Canada, after a subpar performance at the 2012 London Summer Games. “Our boats, our equipment, our coaches. Everything we do right now we’re going to look at.”
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, August 10, 2012 at 2:38 PM - 0 Comments
Especially the cyclists, much to the surprise, and annoyance, of the French
The French, who know a thing or two about cycling, have taken an intense and suspicious interest in Great Britain’s extraordinary success in all things bicycle at the London 2012 Summer Games. Well, if they’re upset now, they’d better brace themselves for what Britain’s geek squad of sports engineers has planned for the future. Spray on clothing, anyone?
Britain’s medal haul prompted the French newspaper L’Équipe to commission a poll on the issue. The result: 70 per cent think the British must be cheating, somehow.
When Jason Kenny won gold in the sprint, back when Britain just had a lowly five golds in track cycling alone, it was all too much for second-place Grégory Baugé of France. He turned the resulting news conference into an inquisition. Peppering Kenny with questions about his preparation, and why British cyclists always seem to peak at the Olympics.
France’s cycling team director Isabelle Gauther questioned how the British were gaining so many valuable tenths of seconds? Are they using “magic wheels,” she wondered in one interview. That prompted a typically understated response from Chris Boardman, the British cycling team’s head of research and development. “The main thing about the wheels,” he said, “is that they are round.”
Ah, but it’s not nearly that simple. The magic is in the science, and no sport has benefited more than cycling.
There’s the wind tunnel work that Canada among other countries also do to tweak bike, helmet, riding suits and rider positions. There’s carbon fibre bike frames and cranks, special saddles and handle bars and silk tires for the velodrome bikes, inflated to massive pressure. It’s the little things that count; witness one member of Britain’s cycling science team with the title: “head of marginal gains.”
But all that is old-school compared to what the British engineers have on the drawing board. They offered a tantalizing peek in a paper recently published by Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Herewith a sample:
Developments in nanotechnology mean ‘spray on clothing’ could become a reality within a matter of years. A liquid-repellent coating would keep the rider dry, and thus lighter, while a protective coating could make helmets tougher without adding weight. Triathletes could use ‘spray chambers’ to change clothing instantaneously between the swimming, cycling and running events, tailoring their outfit for each event.
Phase change’ tyres
UK engineers are beginning to develop materials that, using nanotechnology, are able to change shape depending on certain conditions. This could have a transformative impact on sports equipment. Oars could bend as they hit the water to improve their hydrodynamism, ship hulls could naturally bend into corners or bicycle tyres could vary their tread depending on terrain.
3D printing, is set to revolutionize manufacturing in the coming decades. Sport will be no exception. Engineers could produce virtually any piece of equipment, including shoes, minutes before the event to suit the exact weather conditions or even the athlete’s physical condition, compensating for any injuries they may have.”
The report touches lightly on the ethics: do such advances give an “unfair advantage” to those that win the technological arms race, it asked. Not surprisingly, the teckkies aren’t inclined to think so. Engineering, it notes, “has gone hand in hand with sporting success since the ancient Greeks first turned a lump of stone into a smooth, aerodynamic discus.”
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, August 10, 2012 at 1:41 PM - 0 Comments
Synchronized swimming is one of the rare smiling sports at these the London 2012…
Synchronized swimming is one of the rare smiling sports at these the London 2012 Summer Games, which are usually more about pant, sweat, grimace and grunt. Smile when you win, smile when you lose; smile at the judges and pray they didn’t decide the results two weeks ago over dinner.
There was Canada’s all-Quebec synchro team after a stellar, acrobatic performance Friday, smiling in their beaded, neon-hued swimsuits and their waterproof makeup, excited and proud that they’d given their all in a joyous, technically demanding program.
They’d been in fourth Thursday after their technical routine. Their free routine Friday, inspired by Cirque du Soleil, moved them to first, but they must have known, standing in a nervous pack in the bowels of the Aquatic Centre, that it wouldn’t last. The judges had left plenty of point room for the powerhouses of the sport who had yet to perform.
In the end, to the surprise of no one, there was no change from Thursday. Russia won the gold, as Russia does—the fourth consecutive team Olympic gold and sixth straight overall gold. China finished second, with Spain taking bronze. It would have required an epic failure by one of the top teams to get the judges to move Canada beyond the fourth it held Thursday and the fourth it finished in Beijing. That didn’t happen.
Tracy Little, one of the nine-person Canadian crew, said afterwards that she was “pretty down” after the fourth-place ranking Thursday. The team awoke Friday, determined to make this “a good Olympic moment,” come what may. She thinks they delivered that in the pool. “I didn’t care what the scores were for the first time in my synchro career,” she said.
Whether the judges ever move the team beyond fourth is not something the swimmers can control, she said. “If we swim perfect or not, who knows if they’re going to give us the same marks?” She only knows how hard they worked to deliver in that pool. “They can’t take that away from us. This moment of being proud right now, no matter what I finish I’m going to have this forever.” She said that, of course, with a smile.
By Ken MacQueen - Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 3:52 PM - 0 Comments
It takes a great team to know it’s being beaten, and not get beat
John Herdman, the English-born coach responsible for the rebirth of Canada’s national women’s soccer team, has a motivational picture in his home office. It’s a photo of team captain Christine Sinclair after last June’s soccer World Cup. She has her head in her hands, and there’s anger and despair on her face.
He made himself a promise, when he came from the New Zealand women’s program to join the team last September. “I said to the girls, this will be my motivation. I’ll never see a player of that quality in that state after a tournament.”
And, well, it came close after the last-minute larceny of losing to the Americans Monday with an extra-time goal that bumped Canada out of contention for the gold medal match at the London 2012 Summer Games. Sinclair, with those deep-set eyes was flashing her laser beam look of doom, not so much with despair, but certainly anger. There was outrage at some of the calls by Norwegian referee Christiana Pendersen, especially one against goalie Erin McLeod, for holding the ball too long. Outrage in Canada, too, at the loss, and the waste of Sinclair’s brilliant hat trick and of an overall level of play that showed this was indeed a world-class team.
Which brings us to the bronze metal match against France at a lovely new stadium in Coventry where the Canadians played most of their Olympic games. They’d come to think of it as their home turf, but they’d so wanted to play their last game in London, where the gold medal game was decided. No such luck so it was back to Coventry for bronze.
They had three days to restore their battered souls and bodies, swallow their disappointment and square off against the very difficult French. France whipped then 4-0 in the World Cup last June, the most humiliating loss of a humiliating tournament, where the Canadians lost every game. Herdman and his crew drafted their usual meticulous game plan, with one addition: a presentation in slides and video of the avalanche of goodwill, outrage and support that had piled in from every corner of Canada after their U.S. loss.
But, it soon came clear that loss had taken a physical and emotional toll on the team. “I think heading into the game we thought the emotions of being in the bronze medal game would sort of take us through it,” Sinclair said afterwards. “But most of us realized, I think partway through the first half, that we were absolutely gassed.”
The Canadians were flat. There were more than a few mental errors, wasted throw-ins and missed passes. The French, meanwhile, built the sort of impenetrable defensive wall that would have served them well circa 1939. Fortunately for the Canadians, the French were also the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Their forwards rang balls off the goal posts and crossbars, and to the left, to the right and overtop. The shots that did hit the net were handled by McLeod, who played brilliantly, and by midfielder Desiree Scott, who deflected away a dead-certain goal inches before it crossed the line.
By any measure there were at least ten golden—well, bronze—scoring opportunities that eluded France.
Even a good team knows when it’s being outplayed. “I’m absolutely sure,” Herdman said, “everyone at home put a force field along the goal.”
But it takes a great team to know it’s being beaten, and not get beat.
For the second game in a row the Canadians fought for their lives in injury time, and in the 91st minute midfielder Diana Matheson was playing far forward when all logic dictated she should be back at centre awaiting another French attack. The ball came to her, she doesn’t even recall how, and she went through one of those slow-motion Chariots of Fire experiences where she placed the ball exactly where it needed to be, which is to say the back of a largely open net.
There it was, not only Canada’s first Olympic medal in soccer since the men won gold in 1904, but the first medal by the country in a team summer sport since the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin. “I was just in the right spot at the right time,” she said. She broke into a beautiful smile at the biggest goal she’s ever scored, and grabbed at her game jersey to kiss the Canadian team crest. “It felt like a dream,” she said. “It feels unreal right now. I’m just so happy for the team, the staff and all the Canadians that have been supporting us.”
The thing of it is, it was a total team effort, not the Christine Sinclair show. She had a strong crew on the field, in the support team, and, to hear the women tell it later, in every Canadian that rallied to their side over the past three days. Sinclair can finally relax, the team around her is at a new level, Herdman said.
The game ended about 10 seconds after the goal. Within minutes, Canadian Olympic rowing champion Marnie McBean tweeted the perfect post-game analysis: “Why do you train that hard? So you can win on the bad days!”
One can’t but feel a tug of sympathy for the French team, who left the field gutted. Their coach, Bruno Bini, slumped before the microphone in a perfect Gallic funk. “Sometimes you can give everything, and at the end it’s just not enough,” he said. “It’s just like a love story, and afterwards, the person is still going away.” The melancholy moment lacked only a smoldering Gitanes, a carafe of red and a violin.
Football can be cruel, Herdman said. But not Thursday. Not when the team captain is at his side, looking as though a massive weight was lifted off her, barely a year after a World Cup humiliation that sank the team to its lowest point in all her years on the team.
“It was great to see Christine smiling,” were about the first words out of Herdman’s mouth. He had to be thinking how good that photo is going to look on his office wall.
By Ken MacQueen - Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 4:51 PM - 0 Comments
Another bronze for Team Canada
There are any number of rude jokes that can be made about how freestyle wrestler Carol Huynh won her Olympic bronze medal Wednesday night in a raucous, steamy arena at the London 2012 Summer Games.. We shall not rise to the temptation.
Rather we will celebrate the fact that she glowed with joy, quite content with her third-place finish in the 48kg class, even if it is two steps down the podium from the gold she won in Beijing.
Still, we must explain the “clinch” because it is a curiosity of the sport.
If a period ends without either opponent recording a score, then a 30 second overtime is called. At that point a ball is drawn from a bag. The wrestler wearing the singlet corresponding to the colour of said ball then has the advantage of grabbing the opponent’s leg. Huynh was wearing blue, and blue was the colour of the ball chosen after the first scoreless period. That allowed Huynh to got on the offence, and she was able to dump her opponent, Isabelle Sambou of Senegal.
By Charlie Gillis, Ken MacQueen, and Jonathon Gatehouse - Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 8:20 PM - 0 Comments
Our most dramatic summer games may prove to be our best.
The circumference of the outer track at London’s Olympic Stadium is about 500 m, which is fine for a runner, but much longer than Derek Drouin anticipated when he snatched up a Maple Leaf flag Tuesday and set out on a victory lap. By the time he had worked his way from the high-jump pit, past the media tribunes and on to the stadium’s northwest side, where his family sat beaming, five precious minutes had slipped by. Impatient TV producers waited to get the show under way.
The clock-watchers could wait. In what may go down as the sweetest surprise of Canada’s Summer Games, the 22-year-old from Corunna, Ont., ended his country’s track-and-field-medal drought in London with a bronze, giving Canada its first podium finish in high jump since Greg Joy took silver in Montreal in 1976. Drouin would have to share: Mutaz Barshim of Qatar and Robert Grabarz of Britain jumped the same height of 2.29 m in as many attempts. But as he faced the media in the stadium’s lower concourse—more media than he’d seen in a dozen years of competing—the weight of his accomplishment started to sink in. Joy was “an incredible jumper,” he observed, adding: “It feels good to be in his company, and to be the first one to do it since a long time before I was born, that feels great.”
Canada’s path to Olympic glory is seldom simple, and never predictable. China loads up on medals with its swimmers and gymnasts. The Americans rule track. But as the London Olympics move into their final phase, Canadian athletes are doing what they have for decades: grinding out podium finishes here or there, in many cases to the astonishment of the sports punditocracy, yet invariably to the delight of underdog-loving fans back home. Drouin is a case in point: raised in a tiny town outside Sarnia, Ont., he could stand in for the Canadian actor Michael Cera, famous for playing lovable doofuses in Hollywood comedies. Yet almost without notice, Drouin has quietly become a force in his sport, winning three National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) high-jumping titles for Indiana University and winning last June’s Olympic trials in Calgary with a jump of 2.31.
By Ken MacQueen - Sunday, August 5, 2012 at 3:26 PM - 0 Comments
Boris Johnson, the curiously coiffed and floridly worded Mayor of London, is hanging around…
Boris Johnson, the curiously coiffed and floridly worded Mayor of London, is hanging around everywhere during these 2012 Summer Olympic Games. And, of course, I do mean that literally: at events, on Twitter and, famously, high above Victoria Park.
The British papers continue to make a meal of Johnson, stranded and dangling from that zip line, flapping two Union Jacks in a failed effort to take flight. Thanks to Photoshop, he’ll live forever as a pair of swingy earrings, a marionette, and an automobile air freshener among other novelties.
“If any other politician anywhere in the world got stuck on a zip wire it would be a disaster,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron. “For Boris, it’s a triumph. He defies all forms of gravity.”
By Ken MacQueen - Saturday, August 4, 2012 at 3:19 PM - 0 Comments
A bronze medal for Canada, and Sir Paul McCartney singing in the stands
In the end, it came down to three Canadian women in their skin suits and Buck Rogers helmets trading leads with the Australians and racing the clock, racing for bronze. It came down to the Canadians being on the right side of a 0.181 of a second differential: a twitch, a blink, an eyelash.
Most Canadians have never seen a cycling velodrome, with its 42-degree banked turns so steep you’d drop like a stone if speed wasn’t pasting your bike to the Siberian pine track. Such tracks are a rarity in Canada. Not so in Britain, where cycling is a religion, and where it has delivered a pile of medals for the home team at the London 2012 Olympic Summer Games.
No surprise, then, Saturday night that the Brits took the women’s team pursuit gold here ahead of the Americans. The Canadians—Tara Whitten, Gillian Carleton and Jasmin Glaesser—had raced the British in the first heat Saturday and the roar of the crowd almost lifted the roof off The Pringle, as it’s become known, because it swoops like the potato chip.
You could let the ear-bleed noise be a distraction, Whitten said later, or you could feed off the energy. They kept the energy, thanks, and made it theirs’. “You could just take that and think, they’re cheering for me, they’re cheering for me,” said Carleton. “You’re just thinking there are 10,000 people cheering for me.”
That race lifted them into contention for the bronze, and a race later that night with the Australians that was microscopically close. All it would have taken to lose was one tiny mistake as the riders exchanged leads with their teammates, hanging out too long up the banked track, for instance, before rejoining the slipstream behind their mates.
“We definitely had to focus on the little things that were going to make the difference,” said Carleton. “During the last three laps I was seeing stars, I probably had my eyes closed half the time.”
After God Save the Queen was played, the women stood on the podium with their medals, basking in the sort of adulation Canadian cyclists rarely get at home. Suddenly the strains of Hey Jude played on the sound system, cutting through the noise.
The crowd began to sing, and the velodrome cameras zoomed in on a chap in a white shirt, waving a Union Jack. He was singing, too, having written the song.
It was that sort of night. A bronze medal for Canada, and Sir Paul McCartney in the stands, singing only to them.
By Ken MacQueen - Saturday, August 4, 2012 at 10:37 AM - 0 Comments
‘I was thinking about all my friends back home…and my family here.’
Paula Findlay approached the Olympic triathlon finish in 52nd and last place Saturday, running and crying, and crying and running. She wanted to quit so badly, to walk off the course, away from this mess of a race that began and ended in London’s Hyde Park, that tranquil oasis in the midst of a frenetic city.
She wanted to quit, and she didn’t want to quit, dammit, because she’s Paula Findlay, 23, from Edmonton, and she’s a triathlete: a one-time world champion, tough as the soles of her pink Nike runners; a ferocious competitor, all 121 pounds of her.
So, she cried and she ran, alone now on the course with her thoughts. She glanced up into the stands. Her family was there somewhere; come all the way to see her run in her first Olympics. This mess of a race where she crossed the line 12:21 behind the thrilling photofinish that saw Nicola Spirig of Switzerland edge Lisa Norden of Sweden by a margin as thin as British coffee.
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, August 3, 2012 at 3:10 PM - 0 Comments
To: Canadian Olympic athletes
Veneration of Dear Leader Harper (lack of same)…
To: Canadian Olympic athletes
Veneration of Dear Leader Harper (lack of same)
Emulation of Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPR) as praise-model for Canadian athletics.
It has been noticed at the Highest Levels of government that there has been a distinct lack by Canadian medallists of spontaneous displays of affection and gratitude directed at the Canadian government, which is to say the Harper government, which is to say in Most Dear and Supreme Leader Stephen Harper.
Inasmuch as money flows through said government under the benevolent leadership of The Great Sportsman it is strongly suggested that said athletes ‘get with the program’ during pre- and post-event interviews and in all electronic communication. (#weSweatforGr8Leader)
To assist said athletes the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has collected, through its association with the Canadian Olympic Committee, excellent examples of gratitude as freely expressed at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games by actual North Korean athletes.
Any of these quotations can be ‘Canadianized’ by our triumphant athletes with the simple substitution of Dear Leader Harper at the appropriate point in the praise-model template.
Kim Un Guk upon winning gold in (63kg) weightlifting:
“I had a back injury before, but thanks to Kim Jong-Il (DPR’s late leader) I was able to overcome it and win the record.”
Kim Un Guk on future plans:
“Kim Jong-Un is waiting for the news so I will be pleased to get the news to him. The whole country will be happy, and the father of the country will be very happy too.”
Kim Un Guk on the resurgence of weightlifting in the DPR:
“The secret is the best support of our General and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un. He expects the highest performance from all our athletes.”
Om Yun Chol (56kg) weightlifting on becoming the fifth man in history to lift three times his bodyweight in the clean and jerk:
“I an very happy and give thanks to our Great Leader for giving me the strength to lift this weight.”
Om Yun Chol on his surprise at such an accomplishment:
“How can any man lift 168kg? I believe the Great Kim Jong-Il looked over me.”
Om Yun Chol on his supporters:
“My parents were not here. I am here only with my coach. I believe Kim Jong-Il gave me the record and all my achievements. It is all because of him.”
Rim Jong Sim on how she will celebrate her gold medal in (56kg) weightlifting:
“It is not good to celebrate anything. It is just to please our leader Kim Jong-Un.”
Rim Jong Sim on where she finds her motivation:
“Even when the training was really tough, as an athlete I give joy to the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un. That was my motivation. As an athlete I needed to know how to please the General. The only thing I want to do right now is run to our Dear General with my gold medal in my hand.”
Sin Ui Gun, DPR women’s team soccer coach, on how his players spend their free time at the Games:
“As you might well know, our players did not find any free time since we arrived here . . . Some of you will have seen our team players enjoying their free time in the hotel. There is a hall with some games machines and table tennis and they love to spend their time there inside.”
As you can see, a few simple words of gratitude can go a long way toward building a successful national sports program and a joyous and responsible athlete. We are watching your response to these suggestions with great interest.
On behalf of the PMO,
Yours in sport,
Eric Arthur Blair.
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, August 3, 2012 at 2:20 PM - 0 Comments
Canada’s team is on a recruitment drive. Do you have what it takes?
If you’re young, tall, strong, oblivious to pain, and have a hankering to visit Brazil four years hence: Rowing Canada wants you!
“You can go on the Rowing Canada website If you want to row, and you think you’re a talented athlete we will actually have people go out and test you,” says Peter Cookson, its high performance director. “We’ll determine if you have the basic characteristics to be a high-performance athlete, and then we’ll get you into a club, get you into a program.” he said.
The team is on a recruitment drive as it sets about rebuilding its national and feeder crews in advance of the Rio 2016 Summer Games. Talent identification coaches will be scouring university and high school sports programs among other potential sources of raw talent in a bid to emulate the potent recruitment tactics of teams like Great Briton, New Zealand and Germany.
Those countries have had talent ID program in place for 10 years and longer, while the Canadian program, just two years in, is still finding its feet, says Cookson. Own the Podium, the funding arm for high performance sport, has committed resources to the search. “By 2020 you’re going to see this Canadian team like the Aussies, the Brits and Kiwis are right now,” he said. “If they’re out there, bring them on, we’re ready for them.” So far they’ve found about a dozen athletes with the potential to be part of the Brazil-bound crews, he said.
His comments, made beside the Olympic rowing course at Eton Dorney, came Friday after a disappointing sixth place finish by David Calder and Scott Frandsen in the Olympic final for the men’s pair. The Canadian Olympic Committee had been looking for the two to repeat their silver medal performance four years ago in Beijing.
Cookson said there will be a thorough review of the program after Canadian rowers delivered two silvers and just three racing finals from seven Canadian boats at the Olympic course. While pleased that the women and men’s priority eight-boat crews rowed to their potential, the smaller boats fell short. Cookson admitted. “You should be disappointed if it doesn’t go according to plan,” he said. In Beijing, Canada’s rowers raced in five finals and won four medals, including a gold for the men’s eight.
“Everything is up for review,” said Cookson. “The way we row, what we’re doing with all our rigging. Our boats, our equipment, our coaches. Everything we do right now we’re going to look at,” he said. “We want to go from a good team to a great team.”
Notably, Mike Spracklen, whose uncompromising coaching methods triggered a review by Rowing Canada last year, guided the men’s eight boat to silver at Eton, and came close to repeating the gold medal performance the eight delivered in Beijing.