February 24, 2014

A Cuban windsurfer sailed from Cuba to Key West last week, the first such reported crossing in two decades.     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Windsurfer Crosses Florida Straits

From Cuba to Key West

A Cuban windsurfer braved treacherous currents, sharks, and fickle weather to successfully cross the Straits of Florida last week.

Henry Vergara Negrin, 24, left Havana Tuesday morning with two companions. Nine and a half hours later, he reached Key West after navigating the 105-mile stretch of open water. He’s the first reported Cuban windsurfer to make the crossing in 20 years.

Negrin carried only a water bottle and a picture of his girlfriend, according to Surfer Today. “In those minutes, in those hours, you cannot get tired. You have to be very strong,” he said. 

During the past few decades, thousands of Cubans have braved the dangerous waters to escape the Communist-ruled Caribbean island. Most don’t reach their goal, but Negrin is one of the lucky ones. Thanks to the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that states Cuban migrants who reach U.S. soil can stay in the country, Negrin won’t be sent back to Cuba.

The U.S. Coast Guard found one of Negrin’s companions Thursday adrift at sea. The next day, they spotted the final windsurfer near the Marquesas Keys, uninhabited islands about 20 miles west of Key West.  

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Fireworks explode over Olympic Park at the end of the closing ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics on Sunday, February 23, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.     Photo: Pavel Golovkin/AP

So Long, Sochi

Russians pay $1.54 billion per medal

After years of hype and more than $50 billion spent, the costliest Olympics in history have come to a close. Despite all the negative press, ranging from the now-ubiquitous #SochiProblems (which seems to have been deleted) to rumored mass canine exterminations, the games themselves turned out strikingly, almost alarmingly, normal.

As usual, compelling storylines filled the games: Shaun White's shocking collapse on the halfpipe, Mikaela Shiffrin's historic victory in the slalom, Canada's total dominance in the hockey tournament. Not everything went as planned: A ring failed to open at the opening ceremony, broadcast legend Bob Costas got an eye infection, and protests in nearby Ukraine introduced political unrest to the games—but focus largely remained on the athletes.

Athletically, Sochi established some new narratives that'll surely carry over to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro and the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang. Russia came out on top in the medal count with 33 total medals—that's the first time the United States hasn't "won" the Olympics since Torino in 2006. More important, Russia hasn't topped the medal count since the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, when the Berlin Wall still stood and the country still called itself the Soviet Union.

Sochi, in a sense, marked the culmination of Russia's two-decade journey following the USSR's dissolution. Despite a few more crises than usual—will the IOC ever decide to award the Winter Games to a subtropical climate again?—Russia proved it could hang with Olympic host stalwarts such as the United States, China, and Britain.

But Sochi's positive outcome didn't come cheap. Analysts generally agree that the games carried a $51 billion price tag for Russia. Another way of looking at it: Russia paid $1.54 billion per medal. That's a lot of cash to fork over in the name of national pride.

Other than Russia's jump from sixth at 2010's Vancouver Olympics to first at Sochi, and a few other rises and falls in the chart, the usual suspects mostly dominated the games. The top 10 finishers from Vancouver and Sochi include eight of the same countries; South Korea and China dropped from the list, while the Netherlands and Switzerland took their spots. Asia hasn't been shut out from the top 10 since the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and you can bet South Korea will want to remedy that when they welcome the next Winter Games to their home turf.

It's also safe to assume that whether or not the Under Armour suits are to blame, Americans will want to have a better showing in Pyeongchang than Sochi, where the United States earned its fewest Olympic medals since Torino. Plus, jockeying for victory in the next couple Olympiads may transcend numerical superiority for the United States. Olympic host cities have been chosen through 2020, and with a field of finalists for 2022 that doesn't include a U.S. representative, the country might want to end its longest Olympic hosting drought since going 28 years between Los Angeles in 1932 and Squaw Valley in 1960.

If you're suffering from Olympic withdrawal, the next big Olympic news will come on July 31, 2015, when the IOC will choose from Krakow, Poland; Oslo, Norway; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Lviv, Ukraine; and Beijing, China as the host city for the 2022 Winter Games. Until then, read our December feature about Sochi to see which of our predictions came true—and start working on your tan for Rio.

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Dog owners in Naples, Italy, could be fined up to $650 for leaving "little presents" on the sidewalk.     Photo: bahadir-yeniceri/Thinkstock

Naples Plans to Eliminate Dog Poop

DNA tests determine dog and owner

Naples, Italy, has implemented a canine DNA testing program—but not to learn more about which breeds are most popular in the coastal city. Rather, Naples hopes to rid its sidewalks of dog poop.

The plan is for every dog in the city—an estimated 80,000—to be given a blood test, which will ultimately be added to a database of dogs and owners. If a sample collected on the street matches a dog in the database, the owner can face a fine of more than $650.

“I know some people find it funny that with all the problems the city has we would focus on dog poop. I know that,” Tomasso Sodano, the vice mayor of Naples, told the New York Times. But although the program hasn’t begun testing samples, public behavior is already starting to change.

Other cities have tried similar initiatives, including mailing poop back to the owners, publicly shaming owners, and even offering free Wi-Fi in exchange for plastic bags, according to the Times.

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The Fitbit Force.     Photo: Courtesy of Fitbit

The Rise of the Fitness Band

More than 17 million expected to ship in 2014

Wearable bands are seeing dramatic sales growth, according to a new report from industry researcher Canalys.

During the last six months of 2013, 1.6 million smart bands were shipped worldwide, and more than 17 million wearable bands are forecast to ship in 2014. Fitbit leads the market in basic wearable bands after launching the Flex and Force bands last year.

Samsung dominates the smart wearable band category with its Galaxy Gear smart watch. Canalays forecasts that this technology will only gain popularity in the next five years, growing to 45 million units shipped by 2017.

"The wearable band market is really about the consumerization of health," analyst Daniel Matte says in the report. "There will be exciting innovations that disrupt the medical industry this year, and with the increased awareness about personal well-being they will bring to users, having a computer on your wrist will become increasingly common."

Companies such as Sony, China-based Huawei, and Apple are expected to enter the fitness band world in the immediate future. Sony unveiled its Core fitness tracker and SmartBand accessory at CES last month and expects to release the device globally next month. Rumors are also circulating that Apple will make a big push into the market with the next version of iOS, with the upcoming iWatch in mind. This wearable device could be capable of tracking blood pressure, hydration, heart rate, and steps, according to 9to5Mac.com.

Yet, despite their increasing popularity, fitness bands aren't for everyone. Some customers using Fitbit Force have compained that the device causes a skin rash. The company has issued a recall and halted the sale of its Force wristband on Friday.

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    Photo: Twitter.com

Nude Ocean Swim Draws Hundreds

At the second annual Sydney Skinny

Nearly 1,000 naked people plunged into Sydney Harbour National Park on Sunday for the Sydney Skinny, the world's premier—and largest—nude ocean swim, the New Zealand Herald reports.

All of this hullabaloo is meant to promote "greater self-acceptance" and a positive body image. The ticketed event, which allows participants to choose between 300-meter or 900-meter swims, also raises money for Australia's National Parks and Wildlife Projects.

Creator Nigel Marsh told PerthNow.com that the Sydney Skinny is a chance to “be utterly authentic and stick two fingers up at all those ludicrous, airbrushed images of bodily perfection in the magazines.”

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