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Dispatches : Athletes

Danny MacAskill vs. San Francisco

Or maybe that should be Danny MacAskill vs. Remington. Look, I'm not criticizing the Scottish trials prodigy for selling out—mountain biking's a tough way to earn a buck, and you gotta make a living where you can. I am, however, laughing uncontrollably at the copywriters and creatives at Remington. "Superior Power. Unbelievable Precision. Unique Touch Control." I mean, somebody thought these seven words were a good reason to try and link their boring men's grooming product to MacAskill's insired riding? Don Draper would not be pleased.

—Aaron Gulley

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Young Kayakers Paddle to Save Chile's Endangered Rivers

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Chilean Patagonia is home to some of the wildest and most stunning rivers in the world. The largest, the Rio Baker, is renowned for its clear, turquoise water and Class V rapids and has become a magnet for expedition kayakers from around the world. But perhaps no one knows it better than a group of young, local kayakers who are lucky to have the Baker in their backyard. For the past 13 years, the Club Náutico Escualo has been teaching kids ages four to 18 to surf, roll and run the Áysen region’s most pristine rivers. Many of these children are first-generation kayakers, the sons and daughters of ranchers and farmers in the remote village of Cochrane.

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Now these young paddlers have become the rivers’ most ardent, persuasive advocates. The Spanish electric company Endesa is proposing to build five hydroelectric dams on the Rio Baker and Pascua, as well as the Futeleufu, and transport power 1,200 miles away via high-tension transport lines, turning wild rivers into lakes and forever changing the landscape and way of life in the Áysen region. Not surprisingly, according to the National Resources Defense Council, 74 percent of Chileans oppose the project.

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Every President's Favorite Athlete of the 20th Century

MuklukU.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

“Best athlete” discussions always make for an interesting debate in the sense that they’re always totally stupid and pointless and boundary-less, so you’re basically arguing about completely different things and no one ever gets anywhere. More than anything, if even anything, your idea of the best-ever athlete says something about you rather than anything about the history of sports.

So, the idea of Mitt Romney calling Jack Nicklaus the greatest athlete of the 20th century—which he only sort of did—would say a few things about the Republican presidential hopeful: he is sort of old, he is white, and he is rich. Which, check, check, check. But this didn’t actually happen, so it doesn’t really matter. Still, it got us wondering. If all American presidents had to pick their Best Athlete of the 20th Century, who would they choose?

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Daniel Coyle on 'The Secret Race,' Tyler Hamilton, and Lance Armstrong

978-0-345-53041-7[1]The Secret Race. Photo: Courtesy of Bantam Dell

During the two years Daniel Coyle spent reporting and writing The Secret Race, he interviewed Tyler Hamilton 60 times. That’s a remarkable number, but it doesn’t really give an accurate picture of the amount of work that went into the book. Some of those interviews lasted eight hours. Not included in those numbers were marathon Skype sessions in which the pair hashed out the manuscript. One of those sessions lasted 10 hours and 45 minutes.

Coyle also interviewed dozens of other racers and cycling experts, traveled to hotel rooms in Europe to double check the accuracy of Hamilton’s stories, and read lots of scientific studies and doping articles to make sure he had the science and history of drugs in cycling down. He added those details into the story as footnotes, which freed him to concentrate on Hamilton’s voice in the main text. “One of the comments I’ve appreciated the most is that people who know Tyler really well say that the book really captures his voice,” says Coyle. “I’m grateful for that. We really tried to make sure that we did.”

I called up Coyle to find out a bit more about the process, whether he and Hamilton ever clashed, and what he thinks the future holds for Lance Armstrong and cycling.

In the first chapter of the book you go into detail about how you first contacted Hamilton and then went back and forth with him. Was there one moment when you knew you had to write this book?
There were a bunch of moments. It’s such a cliché, but every book is a journey and this one had some big checkpoints early on. The first one was in our first conversation, which was on the phone, before we met in person. I was content with the projects I was working on and I wanted to challenge him. I did not want to hear, Yeah, I have an interesting story to tell. What I said was, I’m not interested in going 80 percent. I’m not interested in going 95 percent. I am only interested if you are going to go with 100 percent disclosure with no boundaries. When he responded and said he had an openness to that, it was a big moment. You realize, OK, this is a doorway to a place where I don’t know that any journalist, certainly not I as a journalist, had gone.

The next doorway was spending two days at a Marriott Residence Inn in Boulder where we just turned on the tape recorder and started going into it. Tyler talks about it as the Hoover Dam breaking. From the point of the view of the person standing at the base of the Hoover Dam, and watching the river kind of roll over, that’s a pretty good metaphor. Everything just came out, one thing after another, with a lot of emotion and a lot of detail. You know these experiences are so intense for these athletes, these memories they have. They’ve kept them a secret for such a long time. It comes out in Technicolor.

I came home from that trip, and my wife asks me, How’d it go? I tell her and I see her eyes getting bigger and bigger and I realize. I transcribe all the tapes, about 16 hours worth, and it ends up being about 40 pages of stuff, at 10-point font. Reading through that, I was just kind of like, Holy Mackerel. This isn’t just one story or two stories. This is a whole fabric of a landscape that nobody had ever explored.

I guess the next moment was when we went to Europe, to these places that evoked a whole other layer of memory and story and connection. I remember we were driving through Valencia and he made some comment, that was kind of a joke, but, it was, Hey, I think some of my blood bags are being kept in that clinic over there. It was sort of that idea, that, Oh my God, we’re driving past these things that are still around.

So it was sort of a series of a journey where you set foot in a landscape, and then you explore a little bit, and then you get into a city and you explore that, and then you get into a room and you explore that, and it just kept building and building until it was done.

There was a little sense of unfinished business after the other book too (Lance Armstrong's War). There were aspects of that world that were not explored more at that time. I was partly reluctant to go back in, but there was also a sense of, OK, this is an opportunity to complete that project.

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Tragedy in Skateistan

As parents, it’s easy to get caught up in the saga of our own children. Their all-consuming schedules, school, sports, our own fraught expectations. We want them to be smart, kind, and game. We want them to play outside and be healthy. We want them to remember their manners, read books, eat their vegetables, have adventures. In short, we want everything. Kids force us to think beyond ourselves, but often we focus so closely on them that our world shrinks even as it expands: We forget that these concerns of ours are luxuries, that many families in many countries aren’t nearly so lucky. 

Like the families of four children killed on September 8 in Afghanistan in a suicide bombing. Khorshid, Nawab, Mohammed Eeza, and Parwana were street kids, and they were skateboarders. They were rippers, or wanted to become rippers. Now, after a backpack bomb detonated on a busy street, they’ll never get the chance.

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