Vernon smiles and then, as motivation is one of her key themes, she continues. “Looking back, I didn’t motivate myself in a good way for that race. I motivated myself by imagining the Chinese flag going up the Olympic flagpole. They were our main rivals and that was how I pushed myself. Then I’m standing on the podium in Beijing. The Chinese flag is in the middle and I’m living my nightmare. Since I’ve retired I see things differently – but a part of me will always think: ‘That was your chance, and you blew it.’”

Fascinated by this Guardian piece on Annie Vernon and her book, Mind Games: Determination, Doubt and Lucky Socks: An Insider’s Guide to the Psychology of Elite Athletes.  Pumping yourself up by visualizing your worst nightmare does sound kind of depleting.

We had one meeting several months later where we analysed our splits and established that the Chinese had a phenomenal last 500m. Did we ever confront exactly what went on the year before? No. This week was the first time Fran and I spoke in detail about it. I asked Fran: ‘How do you feel about Beijing? How do you explain to yourself what happened?’ My take was that we were so desperate to win we arrived there terrified we might mess up. That tension affected us.”

Vernon is at peace now and able to see a fresh outcome. “In lots of ways Beijing led me to Mind Games because I wanted to do something in elite sport that left me feeling positive. I didn’t want that to be the defining feature of my career or my life. Maybe one day, rather than the woman who stood on the podium in Beijing wishing she was anywhere but there, I’ll be known more as the author of Mind Games.”




Jaguars at Redskins 9/14/14

Reader Tabitha in Marin County, CA writes:

Always love your writeups on the Super Bowl coaches.  What do you think of Boy Wonder Sean McVay?

Thanks for writing Tabitha!  Most of what little I have to say about Sean McVay I got out on this week’s Great Debates feat. Mina Kimes.  To be honest, much like the Rams themselves, McVay seems to be: good but not interesting.  A sense of his vibe in this article by Michael Silver:

As he greeted McVay in a room that would soon be vacated by Demoff, Snead and the other Rams officials present, Goff didn’t know what to expect.

“They left us alone for half an hour, maybe a little longer,” Goff recalls. “Afterward, I remember texting my dad, ‘If they decide to hire him, I’m all in.’ ”

Goff also texted an NFL Network analyst who, nearly a year later, would write a very long feature story about the league’s leading Coach of the Year candidate: “Loved him. Mini Gruden haha. Everything revolves around the QB… If McVay is the guy I’d be fired up”

Full disclosure: A few minutes later, I also got a text from McVay (who, incidentally, is not a huge fan of punctuation): “I loved him bro he is awesome”

This WashPo article compares him to other young leaders (profitlessly imo).

McVay’s grandfather John coached the New York Football Giants in the ’70s.

McVay’s girlfriend is Ukrainian model Veronika Khomyn, but a quick scan of her Instagram reveals no real insights into coaching philosophy.

Gonna give the edge here to Belichick, a special, unique weirdo.  We predict a decisive Patriots win.

Let’s hope both teams control their A. P. E.s

For philosophical consideration of the Super Bowl, we return once again to the remarks of Deadwood creator David Milch on the Super Bowl and Kierkegaard:

Sunday Scrapbasket

  • Work by Ai Weiwei at Marciano Foundation:
  • down the docks, San Pedro:
  • Good illustration of Satan in the Wikipedia page for him:

from Strange Tales From A Chinese Studio (1740) by Pu Songling

  • Looking into the history of the USA and Chile, found this.

  Declassified notes Richard Helms, CIA director, took at a September 15, 1970 meeting at the White House

game plan

make the economy scream

  • This is a take I didn’t know I had until I saw it expressed:

of course.  these rascals hired her and they knew who she was.  it didn’t work for them like it did for Fox so they threw her under the bus, but they’re no more principled than she is.

  • moving books around:


  • happy fate to be in attendance at the longest World Series game ever played.  Beginning:



John Madden, Vince Lombardi

source: this medium article.

In 1962, John Madden, then an assistant coach at San Diego State, emptied his savings account to go to a Vince Lombardi coaching clinic in Reno, where he listened to Vince speak on a single play for eight hours.

My source for this: this Intelligent Fanatics article.

Sir Garfield Sobers, by Mighty Sparrow

Two cool names.  From the 1966 album This Is Sparrow.


Update on Kentucky Derby times

The Darley Arabian

Much stimulating discussion ensued after Saturday’s post about why Kentucky Derby winners aren’t getting much faster.

Reader Avin D. sends us this 2014 Deadspin piece by Roger Pielke Jr. which has much better stats and looks at whether we’ve neared peak speeds in animal races:

One possibility, advanced by Denny and others, is that thoroughbred race times may have leveled off because the narrow genetic diversity of racehorses limits the genetic diversity in the pool of potential thoroughbred champions. Modern thoroughbreds are descendants of a small number of horses (less than 30 in the 18th century), and 95 percent are thought to trace their ancestry to a single horseThe Darley Arabian. Today, there are fewer than 25,000 thoroughbreds born each year in the United States. Compare that with the more than 7 billion people worldwide.3 The size of the human population may simply lead to a greater number of potential athletes with extreme speed.

Very cool.  Imagine if every current human runner was descended from, like, Guto Nyth Bran.

The Darley Arabian sired Flying Childers:

It is said he completed this race, over the Round Course at Newmarket, in 6 minutes, 40 seconds and that he reached a speed of 82 1/2 feet per second or 1 mile per minute. This was claimed to make Flying Childers the only horse on record as having matched the top speed of the unbeaten Eclipse. By way of comparison, this would be nearly 40 seconds faster than the unbeaten Frankel ran the Newmarket Rowley Mile in his famous 2,000 Guineas victory of 2011, over 30 seconds faster than the current mile track record and very close to the five furlong track record set by Lochsong in 1994.

As for Eclipse:

Eclipse is still remembered in the phrase “Eclipse first and the rest nowhere”, snowcloned as “[name of competitor] first and the rest nowhere,” referring to any dominating victory. This phrase is occasionally seen in American print media (most often in newspaper sport sections) but is more common in Britain.

A new one to me.  If Flying Childers could keep his alleged top speed of 82.5 feet per second he’d finish the Kentucky Derby in a minute twenty.

Why aren’t horse races longer anymore, the way they were in the Stewball era?

Anyway, congrats to Justify:


Why haven’t winning Kentucky Derby times improved more?

is it interesting that the winner’s time on average hasn’t improved that much over 121 runnings at the current length?

The winner of the 1896 Kentucky Derby, the first run at the current length, was Ben Brush.  He ran in 2:07.75.  Only 4.16 seconds off the most recent winner, Always Dreaming.

Always Dreaming ran in 2:03.59.  Crummy conditions, it’s true, but in 2015, on a nice day, American Pharaoh’s still only at 2:03.02.

Four seconds ahead of 1896.  Would’ve lost to 1931’s Twenty Grand.

Twenty Grand finished in 2:01.8, which would stay the record until 1941, when Whirlaway shaved off .2, coming in at 2:01.40.

Whirlaway’s 1941 time that would’ve beaten 62 of the 76 winners since then.

Whirlaway and the great Barbaro in 2006, champions from sixty years apart, put in times less than .05 seconds off from each other.

source: KYbluegrass on Wiki

The winning time for the Kentucky Derby has hovered around 2:02 for sixty years.

In 1973 Secretariat broke the two-minute barrier.  A special horse.  It’s still the record.  Monarchos cracked two minutes in 2001.

In the Kentucky Derby, the top ten all time fastest finishers represent six different decades.

Compare to humans:

A world champion human mile runner from 1941 could not hang with any serious Olympic miler of the current era. Champion human mile times have improved by about thirty seconds.

Maybe that’s the wrong comparison.  The Kentucky Derby is a sprint and tiny differences are significant.

OK.  Say like the 100 meter dash?

Usain Bolt would beat any 100 meter dasher from the 1940s.  He’s a special case, the best ever, but even the sixth place finisher at the 2016 finals would’ve been breaking the world record from ten years before.  Nobody from the ’80s would’ve come close, let alone anyone from the ’40s.

The world record holder in the 100 meter dash from the 1940s wouldn’t even make the finals at the 2016 Olympics.

You have to go down into the 200s of fastest Olympic times  before anyone from before 1990 shows up:

Olympic gold medal times have improved by about 10% on what they were in the early 1900s.  That’s in a race that lasts around ten seconds.

The human race that timewise is the closest to the derby, around two minutes, is the 800 meter dash.

Again let’s use the Olympics.  Edwin Flack of Australia won in 1896 with a time of 2:11.  By the 1930s he would’ve been smoked.  By then, Tommy Hampson could run 1:49.7.

By the 1980s Hampson would’ve barely made the finals.  By 2016 David Rudisha of Kenya is finishing at 1:42.15, a 29 second improvement over Flack.

Rudisha is very special of course.  But even Yiech Biel of the Refugee Olympic Team, last finisher in his early heat, put up a time of 1:54.67, a healthy 17 seconds ahead of Flack.

Maybe that’s the wrong comparison.  The Kentucky Derby isn’t a world record, it’s a specific race under changing conditions that can be favorable or unfavorable.

Fair point but aren’t Olympic finals conditions variable?

But the Kentucky Derby’s a one-off, you only run it once (when you are three years old)

That might be interesting but also so what?  Shouldn’t that mean even more variance?

More: the Derby-length (1 1/4 mile) world record run by a horse hasn’t broken 1:57.  Closest was in 1980.

The world record time for a horse running this distance hasn’t improved in thirty-eight years.  Meanwhile human 100 meter dash times progress pretty neatly.

So here’s my question:

Has human running improved more than horse running? 


One theory: horse racing reached peak times quickly and stayed there because there’s more money in it.

Are my assumptions wrong?  Very open to that, maybe average racehorse times have improved, I don’t know and I’m not sure I’m gonna bother finding out!

Please, weigh in if you have a take.

Here’s my second question:

is this interesting?