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2011 in Sports: Bud Shaw's Weird Year in Review

© Louis Lopez/NewSport/Corbis

Denver quarterback Tim Tebow's pastor reportedly said the reason for the Broncos' success in 2011 wasn't luck or teamwork. "It's favor," Wayne Hanson said. "God's favor."

In college basketball, the St. John's Red Storm recruited the son of a Nigerian minister. The player's name? God's Gift Achiuwa.

Texas Rangers' star outfielder Josh Hamilton said God told him he'd hit a home run in Game 6 of the World Series. Despite Hamilton's two-run homer, the Rangers lost in extra innings.

"There was a period at the end (of the sentence)," Hamilton clarified. "(God) didn't say you're going to hit it and you're going to win."

The wife of baseball slugger Albert Pujols said she initially blamed God for an unsatisfactory offer from the St. Louis Cardinals but she forgave Him. After all, Deidre Pujols said, the story ended happily with her husband signing a $254 million deal to play in sunny California.

"It's just like God to put us on a team called the Angels," she said of the Pujols' new team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Manny Ramirez, one of the greatest hitters and biggest flakes in baseball history, retired in 2011 after another positive steroid test meant he'd face a 100-game suspension. Said Ramirez, "God knows what's best (for me)."

Despite so much divine intervention, the sports world in 2011 was filled with the usual bad behavior, head-scratchers, chaos, hypocrisy and grand overstatement:

• Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter donated a kidney to a freshman player but only after Todd Hairston, the school's associate athletic director for compliance, made sure with the NCAA that a donated kidney didn't qualify as an "extra benefit."

• Harvey Updyke, an Alabama fan accused of poisoning Auburn's century-old oak trees at Toomer's Corner, called a radio station and owned up to his crime. Sort of. "I'm extremely sorry for what I've been accused of doing," said Updyke, who named his children Bear Bryant and Crimson Tyde.

• Baseball announcer Tim McCarver said during a broadcast, "It's a five-letter word. S-T-R-I-K-E." When the mistake was called to his attention by radio host Dan Patrick, McCarver said, "That's why I'm bad at Scrabble."

• A man who threw a hot dog at Tiger Woods during the Frys.com Open claimed the movie Drive inspired him to do something "courageous."

• The 1-4 Philadelphia Eagles locked the doors on the media one day after practice. The show of unity by the struggling 1-4 team left something to be desired when they discovered they'd not only locked out the media but also starting quarterback Michael Vick.

• The Lingerie Basketball League announced it would launch an inaugural season with teams named the Beauties, Glam, Starlets and Divas. League rules include a 60-second opportunity to score a bonus point called -- you might have guessed -- the "Red Light Special."

• "We're bringing 53 men to the Apocalypse and we ain't bringing flowers." -- Baltimore Ravens LB Terrell Suggs prior to a Sunday night game in Pittsburgh. Suggs' statement raised a burning question for Miss Manners: "What exactly is the appropriate host gift for an Apocalypse?"

• Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush (D) said the NCAA, the governing body for college athletics, was like the Mafia. He called the organization "one of the most vicious, most ruthless ever created by mankind."

• Reporter Guan Weijia of China's Titan Sports, called NBA commissioner David Stern "the demon of all demons and he is Satan who is the king of demons in this labor dispute."

Note: Probably not a good idea to ask Bobby Rush or Guan Weijia to deliver your eulogy.

• A sign that the Apocalypse is coming -- with or without flowers: promoters matched disgraced former baseball players Jose Canseco and Len Dykstra in a celebrity boxing match, but only because Dykstra was a late-minute replacement for White House dinner crasher Tareq Salahi.

In a women's bout, Nadya "the Octomom" Suleman was scheduled to fight Amy Fisher.

Other losers: anyone who paid $19.95 to watch.

• A Wyoming high school football coach gave his players a sarcastic questionnaire in an attempt to make the point that there are no excuses for not showing toughness at all times. The questionnaire topic: possible reasons for getting their feelings hurt. One choice: "I have woman-like hormones." Others choices included homophobic and more sexist language.

Coach Pat Lynch's survey also asked for the name of the "little sissy filing (the "hurt feelings") report. There was a place for a "girly-man signature."

Lynch resigned as coach but kept his teaching position.

He's a guidance counselor.

• "I hate (ESPN's) Skip Bayless more than any person in the world." -- Charles Barkley, interviewed on The Dan Patrick Show...at a time when Kim Jong Il was still alive.

• The Irony Award: a Canadian beauty queen faced criminal charges for her part in the Stanley Cup street riots in Vancouver last summer. Sophie LaBoissonniere, charged as a part of a group that broke into a drug store, earned a title at the Miss Coastal Vancouver pageant.

Miss Congeniality.

• Overreaction of the Year (to an event that offended one person and one person only: Jets' defensive tackle Sione Pouha objected to a TD celebration in which a Buffalo receiver mimicked an airplane crashing to make fun of Jets' receiver Santonio Holmes' own "airplane" touchdown celebration:

"...That airplane thing, in my opinion, was kind of a dagger considering the circumstances of remembrance of what we just had on Sept. 11. That’s a sacred moment for a lot of people and it’s a very sobering moment.”

• The NFL fined Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu $10,000 for using a cell phone on the Steelers' sidelines during a game against Jacksonville. His crime? After suffering a concussion, he called his wife to let her know he was OK.

• Former Mets' pitcher Doc Gooden admitted in an interview with ESPN's E:60 he missed the Mets' World Series parade in 1986 and instead watched it on TV. Not with a friend. With a drug dealer he barely knew.

• "Tweet is for losers. And what I mean by that, if you wake up in the morning and you're worried about what I'm doing, you a damn idiot." -- Charles Barkley.

• Hank Williams Jr. likened President Obama and John Boehner playing golf to "Hitler playing golf with Netanyahu." Williams lost his affiliation with Monday Night Football because of the controversy. Later he said, "I have always respected the office of the President."

• Baltimore Ravens' offensive lineman Michael Oher tweeted: "Can somebody help me out? Who was Steve Jobs!" after Jobs' death in October.

Oher Tweeted that on his IPhone.

• A race car driver was fined $30,000 for losing his composure and making an obscene gesture. His name? Will Power.

• Basketball player Ron Artest changed his name to Metta World Peace.

• Actor/comedian Albert Brooks tweeted this shortly after: "(L.A.)Dodgers file for bankruptcy. (Owner) Frank McCourt changes name to Metta World Bank."

• “You’re a hater, and you’re just unattractive inside.” -- Tennis player Serena Williams to a U.S. Open umpire.

• Steelers' linebacker James Harrison said of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, "If he were on fire, I wouldn't (urinate) on him." Harrison apologized. No clarification on whether the apology means he would.

• Bryant Gumbel on his HBO show said NBA commissioner David Stern has always seemed "eager to be viewed as kind of a modern-day plantation overseer, treating NBA men as if they were his boys."

He did not explain why anyone would be eager to do so.

• Wide receiver Roy Williams sued an ex-girlfriend for the return of a $76,600 engagement ring he mailed along with a DVD after she turned down his marriage offer. Who proposes by DVD and UPS? Roy Williams.

• "Honestly, I’m not saying this to disrespect him in any way." -- Ravens' receiver Derrick Mason, who called NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a "joke" in a radio interview, then appeared on ESPN's First Take wearing a T-shirt that said "A JOKE."

• The Peoria Chiefs, the Chicago Cubs Class A team, staged a "LeBron James NBA Championship Replica Giveaway" after the Miami Heat fell short in the NBA Finals against Dallas in part because of James' poor play in fourth quarters.

When anyone affiliated with the Cubs is calling you a loser, you've hit rock bottom.

• Former baseball player and sometimes celebrity boxer Jose Canseco partnered with MyFanLine.com to charge people $50 a minute to talk to him on the phone.

• When St. John's scouted 6-9 forward God's Gift Achiuwa, recruiters were careful not to confuse him with his brother.

God's Will.

• Worst Tweet of the Year: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall apologized in a blog post for a tweet following the death of Osama bin Laden.

"It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side..."

• A San Francisco Giants' equipment manager testified in accused steroid user Barry Bonds' perjury trial that Bonds' hat size grew from 7 1/4 to 7 3/8 between 2000 and 2002 despite him shaving his head.

• "If you look at Trump's record, he is only interested in things he can control." -- Donald Trump, on why he would only become a partner in the New York Mets franchise if he could call the shots.

• “I really believe that the NFL would fall apart without me. That may sound cocky, that may sound arrogant, but I am telling you the truth.” -- agent Drew Rosenhaus to 60 Minutes.

No. It doesn't sound cocky or arrogant. It sounds like a case of mistaken identity.

He must think he's God.

Related: Bud Shaw's Year in Review (2010)

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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olympics
The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
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Big Questions
How Do You Steer a Bobsled?
 Quinn Rooney, Getty Images
Quinn Rooney, Getty Images

Now that the Olympics are well underway, you might have developed a few questions about the games' equipment. For example: How does one steer a bobsled? Let's take a crack at answering this pressing query.

How do you steer a bobsled?

Bobsled teams careen down an icy, curving track at up to 90 miles per hour, so steering is no small concern. Drivers steer their sleds just like you steered your childhood sleds—by manipulating a pair of ropes connected to the sled's steel runners. The driver also gets help from the rest of the crew members, who shift their weight to aid with the steering.

Why do speed skaters wear glasses?

speed-skating

Speed skaters can fly around the ice at upwards of 40 mph, so those sunglasses-type specs they wear aren't merely ornamental. At such high speeds, it's not very pleasant to have wind blowing in your eyes; it's particularly nightmarish if the breeze is drying out your contact lenses. On top of that, there's all sorts of ice and debris flying around on a speed skating track that could send you on a fast trip to the ophthalmologist.

Some skaters also say the glasses help them see the track. American skater Ryan Bedford recently told the Saginaw News that his tinted shades help him focus on the track and filter out distracting lights and camera flashes from the crowd.

What kind of heat are the biathletes packing?

Getty Images

As you might guess, there are fairly strict rules governing what sort of rifles biathletes carry on the course. They are equipped with guns chambered for .22 LR ammunition. The gun must weigh at least 3.5 kilograms without its magazines and ammunition, and the rifle has to have a bolt action or a straight-pull bolt rather than firing automatically or semi-automatically.

Is a curling stone really made of stone?

Getty Images

You bet it is, and it's not just any old stone, either. Curling enthusiasts swear by a very specific type of granite called ailsite that is only found on the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig. Ailsite supposedly absorbs less water than other types of stone, so they last longer than their competitors.

Ailsa Craig is now a wildlife sanctuary, so no new ailsite has been quarried since 2002. As a result, curling stones are incredibly expensive. Kays of Scotland, which has made the stones for every Olympics in which curling has been an official event, gets prices upwards of $1,500 per stone.

What about the brooms?

The earliest curling brooms were actual brooms made of wood with straw heads. Modern brooms, though, are a bit more technologically advanced. The handles are usually made of carbon fiber, and the heads can be made of synthetic materials or natural hair from horses or hogs. Synthetic materials tend to be more common now because they pull all of the debris off of the ice and don't drop the occasional stray bristle like a natural hair broom might.

What are the ski jumpers wearing?

Getty Images

It may look like a ski jumper can pull on any old form-fitting bodysuit and hit the mountain, but things are a bit more complicated than that. Their suits have to be made of a spongy material and can't be thicker than five millimeters. Additionally, the suits must allow a certain amount of air to pass through them; jumpers wearing suits without sufficient air permeability are disqualified. (This rule keeps jumpers from wearing suits that could unfairly act as airfoils.) These rules are seriously enforced, too; Norwegian skier Sigurd Petterson found himself DQed at the 2006 Torino Games due to improper air permeability.

Those aren't the only concerns, though. In 2010, judges disqualified Italian jumper Roberto Dellasega because his suit was too baggy.

What's up with the short track speed skaters' gloves?

Gloves
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

If you watch a bit of short track speed skating, the need for gloves quickly becomes apparent. When the skaters go to make passes or careen around a turn, they need the gloves to keep from cutting their hands due to incidental contact with other skaters' blades.

There's more to the gloves than just safety, though. Since the skaters' hands often touch the ice during turns, they need hard fingertip coverings that won't add friction and slow them down. The tips can be made of any material as long as it's hard and smooth, but you've got to give American skater Apolo Ohno some style points for the gold-tipped left glove he broke out in 2010.

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