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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Guide to Starting Out in Triathlon


Many people consider triathlons to be one of the great tests of human endurance. A lot of sports-minded folks have seen or heard about the Ironman World Championships in Kona through the tape-delayed broadcast shown around the first week of December on NBC (the race is actually in held in October).

The Ironman, a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run, is certainly a distance that most people can’t relate to, at least not at first. :) However, the good news is that there are several different distances of triathlons that the average person can enter and comfortably complete with only a few months of training. Read on to learn more about the sport of triathlon and the things you should know before you sign up for your first race.

Distances and terrain vary from race to race, however, there are generally four different distances of triathlons:

Sprint

  • 500-800 yards of swimming (pool or lake)
  • 12-15 miles of biking
  • 5K, or 3.1 miles of running

International (Olympic) Distance

  • 1650 yards of swimming (lake, ocean)
  • 25-30 miles of biking
  • 10K, or 6.2 miles of running

Half Ironman

  • 1.2 miles (2,200 yards) of swimming (lake, ocean)
  • 56 miles of biking
  • 13.1 miles of running

Ironman

  • 2.4 miles (4,400 yards) of swimming
  • 112 miles of biking
  • 26.2 miles of running

It’s fairly easy to see what you are getting in to with each distance. Most people opt to start out with a sprint as it offers just a taste of what you can expect from the sport. There are, however, athletes that I know personally that started with the Ironman right off the bat. This is not what I would recommend, but if you are daring, have at it. :) It all really depends of what kind of shape you are in now and what your experience level is with each sport.

Again, check your local rec departments or do a search on triathlons in your area. I guarantee you will find a race that is appealing in proximity, distance, and price of entry. A word to the wise though … triathlon is a growing sport and races fill up quickly. I live in North Carolina and our state triathlon series, the NCTS, opens up its races right at the first of year. So, be attentive to when your local race season starts and be prepared to sign on the dotted line when you see a race that fits your schedule and budget.

Things to Consider

1. General Fitness Level. What kind of shape are you in right now? Are you active, or have you been more watching than doing? :) If you are in reasonable cardiovascular shape, you can complete a sprint triathlon in as little as two to four months of effort, no problem. You will need to work up to about an hour’s worth of steady aerobic activity, be it walking, riding a stationary bike, elliptical machine, whatever. Just get moving and give the individual sports of swimming, biking, and running a try to be sure you like them.

2. Training Plans. There are many books and web sites that offer fabulous training plans that will suit any athlete looking to complete any distance or race. Many of the these are free, some you can buy memberships to, and you could even go as far as hire a coach. Depending on what your goals are, you have decision to make. How much money are you willing to throw at your new hobby? How well do you want to do in your first race? Are you racing to finish, or do you have a specific time goal in mind? All of these will factor in to what works best for you right now. If it were me, I would choose a free plan from a reputable internet source, follow it to the letter, and finish your first race. Once you go through the process once, you’ll be better prepared for the triathlon addiction that ensues. :)

3. Bike. What kind of bike will you ride? Do you have a road bike, a mountain bike, or anything with pedals? :) If you do, you’re ahead of the game. If you have chosen a local sprint or international distance for your first race, the bike really doesn’t matter that much. Many people complete triathlons on all sorts of bike. Do your first one and see if you like it before you go out and buy an expensive triathlon-specific bike. You can find cheap bikes all over Craigs List, eBay, etc., if you don’t have one. You can also simply borrow one from a friend and do some of your training on a stationary bike at the gym. Keep it as simple as possible for your first. You will also need a helmet. These range in price from an adequate one for $30 at Wal-Mart or a sleek $150 model at your local triathlon or bike shop.

4. Swimming. Do you have access to a swimming pool or a nearby lake that will enable you to work on your swimming? Many gyms have small pools that will suffice, as will local ponds, lakes, etc., in warmer months. Swimming is often an obstacle that scares people about triathlon. Rest assured, though, that many folks start out in triathlon without being able to swim, period. They take lessons and often quickly learn to be a more than adequate swimmer. If you haven’t done much swimming in your life, it’s a good idea to take some lessons, or look into one of the fabulous swimming programs like Total Immersion. Swimming is mostly technique, so getting it right the first time will pay huge dividends down the road.

5. Running. How far can you run now? Have you run previously, say, over the last five or six years? The answers to these questions will need to be assessed honestly by you. It is perfectly fine to walk in a triathlon. I have seen many elite athletes walking in short races over the years. :) Running comfortably across the finish line is much more fun, though, I can assure you. Be prepared to work up to about four miles of running. If you can’t cover that distance now, don’t worry. Running is something that is a skill, much more than people realize. You can learn to be a better runner in a few hours by learning about proper posture, foot strike, cadence, etc. A book that I found immensely helpful in improving my running is Chi Running, which teaches you proper form and how to run from your core.

6. Gym Membership. Do you have access to a gym with a pool and stationary bikes or spin classes? This is a great way to train for a sprint triathlon in the winter. Many clubs offer triathlon specific spin classes, swimming classes, etc. You can go to your gym and do mini-triathlons anytime. It also gives you a good sense of how riding on a bike, then running for awhile feels, all in the comfort of indoor heating! A short run on the treadmill following a spin class is an excellent workout, and you have a built-in transition area in the lockerroom. Consider a gym in your area for convenient access to equipment and possibly new training partners.

7. Training Partners. Are you peers in to the sport? If so, you are in luck. If not, you need to get out and meet some like-minded individuals. :) Triathlon is a lifestyle, as you will soon see, and if you surround yourself with people who excel at the sport, odds are you will, too. I would be willing to bet that there are more triathletes in your area than you thought. Do a search on tri-clubs with your city and see what you come up with.

8. Online Resources. There are several online resources which offer excellent tips, advice and other resources that will help make your first race a snap. Visit www.trinewbies.com and www.beginnertriathlete.com and check out the forums these sites offer. Many of the questions you have will be answered right there. Also, to find a race near you, visit www.trifind.com.

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Top Six Highest Paid Premier League Managers

by kevin

We know Jose is the special one, earning a corking £7m per year at Inter Milan but who earns the most in the Premier League?

With the players earning bucket loads of cash, it seems the managers are not doing too badly either. A thumbs up all round..

6. Rafael Benitez - Liverpool - £2.5m
Value for money? Well he certainly thought so when he got Rick Parry sacked. But his mental outburst followed by immediate downturn in form and subsequent exit from the title race is not going to help Rafa up his wage during his much-publicised contract negotiations.

5. Mark Hughes - Man City - £3m

Another who is nowhere close to living up to expectations, even if those expectations were set by your unreasonably optimistic new owners. Excuses can be made about building “his” team but the problem with having a sugar daddy is being able to pick between the players you want and the players you need. So far it’s been a bit of hit-and-miss for Hughes.

4. Harry Redknapp - Spurs - £3m

If Harry keeps Spurs up, he’ll be worth every penny. After that? Well, it wouldn’t be Spurs if there was a long term plan here.

3. David Moyes - Everton - £3.2m

Deservedly #3 on this list. What Moyes has done over his tenure has been nothing short of amazing given his budget, injuries and relatively small squad. Everton are consistently difficult to beat, organized and come ready to win every match. The poster boy for giving your manager time (unless he sucks).

2. Alex Ferguson - Man Utd - £3.6m

The only shock here is that Ferguson isn’t on top of this list, and there isn’t a lot more that needs to be said about Ferguson. So we won’t.

1. Arsene Wenger - Arsenal - £4.5m

Not a good time for Wenger to be topping any “highest paid” lists considering the very strategies and policies that got him here are also proving the undoing of his current side. Blooding youngsters relentlessly was great when there was an experienced spine to his team, but the inconsistency Arsenal are showing now is a result of over-reliance on youth.

Still, Arsene is Arsenal. You’d be hard pressed to find a gunner who would disagree.

So it’s a double thumbs up from Wenger, who do you think should earn the most in the Premier League?

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The Top Formula 1 Teams Named After Their Owners

by Ewan

Eddie Jordan

Now Ross Brawn has his own F1 team, with his name on it, he follows a long line of team owner racing under their own name.

Naming your Formula 1 team can sometimes be difficult. Colin Chapman decided Lotus sounded quite nice, and Tony Vandervell went with the more British sounding Vanwall. but there are an elite number who just went with their own name. As Ross Brawn joins that group, we at The Daily Dust have decided to look back at the great Formula 1 teams that shared their name with their owners.

Tyrrell

Ken Tyrrell

With one constructors championship, and three drivers championship (through Jackie Stewart), Ken Tyrrell’s team was quintessentially British through the 60s and 70s, progressing from Formula 3 and 2 before reaching the top level with a mix of home-grown and bought chassis and the amazing Cosworth DFV engine. Sadly he sold the team in 1997, and it was passed to British American Racing, which then became Honda, and is now Brawn GP.

Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari

Probably the most recognisable name in motoring, let alone Formula 1, Enzo Ferrari’s team was built from the dreams of the ten year old Enzo and his brother Dino racing around the streets of Bologna. From childhood passion, to ruling the world, the mystique of Ferrari is rarely rivalled.

McLaren

Bruce McLaren

British? Well they are now, but Australian New Zealander (whoops) Bruce McLaren wanted to race his own cars, and set up the team in 1963, starting a long and continued successful fixture of F1. Merging with Ron Dennis’ Project Four Racing in 1980, the team continue to remember Bruce (who died testing cars in 1970), running their prototype cars in his favourite Orange colour.

Williams

Frank Williams

After Davros and Stephen Hawking, is Frank Williams one of the best Brits who use a wheelchair? Probably. And while the Williams F1 team might be in a fallow period, they’ve been around since the mid seventies, and were one of the dominant teams in the 80s and 90s, giving both Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell drivers championships. F1 wouldn’t feel the same if Frank wasn’t there.

Minardi

Giancarlo Minardi

Every racing series needs the team with heart. in Disney movies they invariably win, but F1 isn’t a movie (cough… Driven). Nevertheless Minardi is fondly remembered as the team that celebrated every precious points they scored as if they had one the championship. Giancarlo Minardi saw his team run in F1 in 1984 after many years in F2, and while they never won a race, they won over everyone.

And they had the best coffee machine in the pitlane.

Jordan

Eddie Jordan

Eddie Jordan, the Irishman who wanted to race, and probably the last ‘privateer’ who started a team on his own, without help from a car manufacturer. And didn’t he do well, with victories at Spa and an overall third place in the championship their best year. Sold on in 2005, Jordan is now joining the BBC commentary team, while the racing passed through the hands of MF1 and Spyker to now be on the grid as Force India F1.

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Why Golf Needs Tiger So Badly

His return to the links should convince sponsors to stick around despite the downturn.

Tiger Woods


Tiger's back, and none too soon for golf.

No matter that he's out of Accenture Match Play Championship. The return of the king after a year off for knee surgery couldn't come soon enough for the sport, as beleaguered financial giants like Wachovia (nyse: WB - news - people ), Northern Trust (nasdaq: NTRS - news - people )Morgan Stanley (nyse: MS - news - people ) and Royal Bank of Scotland (nyse: RBS - news - people ) cut sponsorship dollars amid dimmed viewership and financial disaster.

With Woods back on tour, golf stands a chance. The game derives most of its revenue from sponsors seeking a television audience, and no other player in any sport--ever--has been as crucial for building an TV audience. Since turning pro in 1997, about 1.6 million more households have watched major tournaments in years Woods has won them than in years he didn't, according to Nielsen.

Ratings for the 1997 Masters, Woods' first, shot up to average of 10.9 million households from 7.3 million the year before. The four Masters tournaments Woods has won since then have averaged 9.8 million households, the eight others have averaged 7.8 million.

For the U.S. Open, it's 8.9 million and 6.3 million, respectively. Throw in the British Open (4.9 million vs. 4 million) and the PGA Championship (6.3 million vs. 4.7 million), and it becomes clear just how much Woods is carrying the sport.

It all explains why Woods' $115 million annual income more than doubles that of his runner-up, Phil Mickelson. Only two modern athletes have transformed interest in a sport at a clip close to Woods: Michael Jordan and Chris Evert.

From 1986 to 1998, Jordan's heyday with the Chicago Bulls, NBA playoff ratings averaged 6.9 million households per year (that excludes the 1994 playoffs, when Jordan was on his minor league baseball hiatus). The number edges up to 7.1 million in the six years the Bulls went all the way to the title. In all other seasons since then (1994 and 1999-2008), the playoffs averaged 5 million households. Kobe and LeBron may be great, but there's only one Michael.

Chris Evert was the first television star on the women's tennis tour. From 1972 to 1982, as Evert grew up in public, Nielsen ratings for the U.S. Open averaged 4.7 million households in years she reached the final, compared with 3.9 million when she didn't. Since 1982, U.S. Open ratings have dropped to 2.9 million households, on average (other majors like Wimbledon and the French Open have had less variance in viewership over the years, so it's safe to say Evert's appeal was mostly American). It's also safe to say that athleticism isn't the only appeal to an audience.

"She brought a glamour and sex appeal," Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert with Baker Street Partners in San Francisco, says of Evert's popularity. Translation: more male fans suddenly gaining interest. Woods' legacy, too, is bringing a whole new set of fans to his sport. Figure marketers to stick with him--and golf--for as long as he's around.

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Base jumpers: the men who fall to earth

What would drive someone to risk life, limb and liberty by breaking into the world’s tallest building and jumping off the top of it with just one small parachute? Ed Caesar infiltrates the secret society of the death-defying base jumpers


Against the Kuala Lumpur city skyline, Jesse Hall of US leaps from the open deck of KL tower (300metres)

In the early hours of April 9, 2008, a 44-year-old Englishman and a 48-year-old Frenchman sat silently on the edge of the windowless 155th floor of the Burj tower — the tallest building in the world — watching dawn bleed over Dubai. From their eyrie half a mile up, they saw the desert turn from blue to pink and heard the muezzins call the faithful to prayer.

In that moment, remembers the Frenchman, “everything below seemed to belong to us. We felt like kings, and this was our kingdom”.

Their reign was short. At 5.30am, the men could see truckloads of workers arriving at the site, ready to start construction for the day. It was time to go. They rose to their feet. The Englishman looked at his friend, counted to three, and launched himself from the building. The Frenchman followed a moment later.

The Englishman fell like a shot pheasant for ten long seconds. He then drew his small pilot chute, which caught, filled with air, and released the blossom of his main canopy. The Frenchman took more time. He was wearing a wingsuit — a webbed overall that allows a parachutist to travel forward as well as down. As he fell, he spread his arms wide, raised his chest to the dawn, and glided away from the building. When he had flown as close as he dared to a nearby skyscraper, he deployed his parachute and descended to safety. The pair had done it — they had pulled off one of the greatest coups in the history of base jumping Why? Why would someone be so stupid as to jump from a building with only a small parachute on their back? An answer (perhaps not the answer, but an answer) is that people have been doing this kind of thing, if not for ever, then at least for 150 years. Ever since Charles Blondin strutted across Niagara Falls on a tightrope in 1859, ever since Houdini first broke from his shackles, ever since the most famous wirewalker of all, the Man on Wire, Philippe Petit, danced between the twin towers in 1974, men — and it is almost always men — have needed to touch the void.

It is no coincidence that the trend for what we now know as “extreme” sport started in the 19th century, the golden age of gentlemen explorers. Just as some Victorians discovered an urge to map the dark corners of the world, others discovered a need to map the edges of physical possibility. This tradition has been carried into the 21st century by skydivers, mountaineers, solo yachtsmen, and base jumpers — parachutists who jump from Earth-bound objects.

One thing sets base jumpers apart from their Victorian forebears: they do not need an audience. Indeed, the first jump from the Burj was secretive, modest, elegantly conceived — everything the building is not. The Burj, despite being an impressive feat of engineering, is profoundly ugly any way one looks at it. As a concept, it stems from a childish urge to be the biggest. Visually, it resembles a game of giant Jenga. And ethically, it stinks. Like much of Dubai, the Burj has been constructed by people from the Indian subcontinent on dirt wages and no union.

It was left to two jumpers to provide the poetry. The first was Hervé Le Gallou, a slight Parisian train driver with a phlegmatic manner and wide, dark eyes. When Le Gallou was a child, he dreamt of flying “like a bird”, and the rest of his life has been spent in an effort to realise his fantasy. He has no family ties (“I would shoot myself in the head if I had a wife and kids,” he says), but he does have more than 1,000 base jumps to his name, including 40 from the Eiffel Tower. More significantly, Le Gallou is one of a handful of jumpers in the world redefining the boundaries of wingsuit flight. He hopes, soon, to be able to land without using a parachute.

The other, who we’ll call Dave Donaldson, is a garrulous IT consultant from Darlington, and the spitting image of the actor Rik Mayall. Married with children, he was once a paratrooper, but now commands a well-paid position fixing the computer systems of blue-chip companies. He is also a relative novice in the sport. The Burj was only the third building he had jumped — an achievement, a friend notes, that is “like a 14-year-old scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup”.

Although there have been isolated incidents of rudimentary base jumps made in the 19th century, its origins as a recognisably modern activity can be traced to California in the 1970s. On August 8, 1978, a Californian parachutist and photographer named Carl Boenish filmed four of his friends make a jump from El Capitan, a steepling rock face in Yosemite National Park.

All landed safely. Word spread.

In 1981, three years, and many jumps later, the sport was officially founded. The story goes that Boenish was staying at the Texas home of a fellow enthusiast, Phil Smith, when he suggested that what he and his friends were doing was not parachuting any more. It was a new thing, and it needed a name. He suggested an acronym —base. It stood for building, antenna, span (bridge) and Earth — the four objects from which it is possible to jump. Jean, Carl’s wife, pointed out that base means “evil or vile”, but was outvoted. Smith and Boenish loved it. To become a base jumper, you would have to complete jumps from all four objects. Phil Smith became base number 1, his friend Phil Mayfield number 2, and Carl and Jean Boenish numbers 3 and 4. Twenty-eight years later, there are still only around 1,250 people in the world who have their base numbers.

Le Gallou is not one of them. Although he has jumped from all four required elements hundreds of times, he does not believe in gaining anything so prosaic as official recognition. Donaldson, however, is number 1,199. He came to base late, and, at first, struggled to find a way into the community — an exclusive and reclusive club of around 50 in Britain. It was only after two years of nagging that Donaldson eventually persuaded a well-regarded Dutch jumper, Vrank Le Poole, to mentor him through his early attempts.

Mentors are important, because base jumping is, for any number of reasons, a perilous activity. The most significant danger comes, of course, from jumping without a reserve parachute. If there is any kind of problem with the canopy, the result can be terminal. But accidents are also common after the parachute has been deployed. Because one is jumping away from a fixed object (rather than into clear blue sky), it is vital that the canopy opens straight. This requires good weather, exact packing, and precise execution.

A wobbly opening can result in the jumper careering back into the cliff or building or antenna from which he has just leapt.

A mentor takes on all this risk. He shows the novice the different ways to pack his parachute (depending on the length of the free fall) and watches his back. If something goes wrong, the mentor bears a heavy load. It is, therefore, a testament to the nit-picking and good practice established by these old heads that so few people have died. In 28 years, there have been around 125 recorded deaths — a significant statistic, but not catastrophic when one considers that around 20,000 to 30,000 jumps were completed last year alone. For comparison, 100 people died climbing in the French, Swiss and Italian Alps last summer.

In the past few years, many novices have chosen to enter the sport without mentors — through professional courses run by gear manufacturers from safe sites like the Perrine Bridge at Twin Falls, Idaho. But although everyone who takes a course is expected to have at least 200 skydives under their belt, and the instruction is professional, some experienced jumpers worry that the proliferation of what they call the “McBase” system will encourage dilettantes — or “tourists” as they call them — and the mortality rate will rise.

Donaldson chose the traditional route. He found his mentor and, with some assistance, jumped from Norman Foster’s spectral viaduct at Millau in southern France. The experience was so terrifying he vowed to leave the sport immediately. But, after a couple of days, he felt an itch to return. He fell in with an experienced group of French enthusiasts. One of these was Le Gallou, with whom Donaldson jumped from a building in Benidorm, Spain, and formed an instant bond.

“I could see he was cautious, he was conscious of problems, he could handle himself,” recalls Le Gallou. This was good news. The novice everyone watches out for is the one for whom base is a jaunt. If they don’t take their own lives seriously, they endanger those they jump with. “There are some people I would not jump with again,” says Le Gallou. “But Dave, I could see he was okay.”

Le Gallou suggested the Burj. The base community had kept its eye on the building since construction was announced in 2004. It was, they all agreed, “the big one”, but nobody had yet plucked up the courage to attempt a jump. Why? The building itself offered no particular dangers. Taller means safer in base — jumping from a 200ft tower block would cause more palpitations. It was the security people worried about. How would they get into the building? How would they escape once they landed? How would the Arab legal system treat them if they were caught?

Le Gallou had a plan. He had been reading about the Burj and had followed its progress on Google Earth. Now, he said, was exactly the right time to go — it was almost finished. It would be possible, he suggested, to dress as an engineer, walk into the building with parachuting gear in a bag, ascend the stairs by foot, reach the top, and jump. “With the Burj, I saw only the building’s height,” Le Gallou says. “There is nothing else like it in the world. I wanted to make a 360-degree flight around a tower in a wingsuit, which no one has done before, and which is impossible from any other building. I saw an amazing opportunity.”

Le Gallou bought a flight to Dubai and e-mailed the details to Donaldson to prove he was serious. At this point, it would have been natural for the Englishman to hesitate. His girlfriend, now his wife, had just told him she was pregnant. He had plans for a wedding. If he were arrested in Dubai, he could be imprisoned. He could lose his job. If he were injured or killed, the consequences for those he loved were not worth thinking about. So, he bought the ticket.

Donaldson got on the plane because base jumping changes a person in ways that skydiving cannot. Skydivers still feel the rage of chemicals on landing, the ground rush. But there is a certain safety attached to jumping with two parachutes on your back and an electronic device attached to your rig that will open your reserve should you fall below a certain altitude.

It’s never like that for base jumpers. They have only one parachute on their back: one chance to do it right. Le Gallou remembers his first time in 1994 feeling “more like a suicide than a sport”. Another jumper describes the sensation as “quadruple espresso”.

Base jumpers are what psychologists call “high-sensation seekers”, people who need regular dopamine and adrenaline hits in order to feel satisfied. These people are wired differently. Take their reaction to sudden stress. While the rest of us would feel our heart rates jump and a feeling of panic come over our bodies if our lives were put suddenly at risk, this minority of extreme sportsmen and women actually feel their heart rates lower momentarily. In moments of high stress, they see the world clearer than ever.

As well as being adrenaline addicts, most base jumpers have a finicky, almost nerdish side. Because what they do is so dangerous, they accept death as a possibility before they start. But they also begin to see the world entirely in terms of risk. Donaldson is a good case in point. Since he started base jumping, he says he has become deeply risk-averse in his everyday life. He drives at 65 miles per hour on motorways.

The paradox at the heart of base is exemplified by Britain’s most prolific urban jumper, Dan “the Man” Witchalls. A roofer, he lives in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, in a tidy detached house, and claims to be 39 (but looks much older). His profession, he admits, allows him a privileged view of London’s changing skyline — “I can’t drive past a new building or crane without thinking, maybe, maybe…” he says. His business cards play on this alter ego. On the one side are contact details. On the other is a photograph of Witchalls, in his trademark jade-and-white jumpsuit, leaping from the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The legend reads simply: “Extreme Roofing”.

At Witchalls’ house, there are two places dedicated to base. The first is a small trophy room, filled with photographs of his most impressive jumps. Every building is named and dated. Witchalls takes pride in objects he has “opened”, but tries not to mention too many sites to me in case I publish their names and “burn them” for future jumpers. Among his conquests are the arch of the new Wembley Stadium, the Hilton on Park Lane and the London Stock Exchange — all jumped at night, without mishap. “There is a bit more of a thrill about sneaking around somewhere you’re not meant to be at night,” he admits. “It does add to the excitement.”

Along the radiator of the trophy room is a row of around six orders of service from the funerals of jumpers he has known. One shows the name of Angus “Gus” Hutchison-Brown, a much-loved British jumper who died last year in Meiringen, Switzerland.

“They were all friends of mine,” he says. “I’ve been to the funerals of too many people. Although you could say, it’s better them than me.”

Upstairs, in the second bedroom, Witchalls shows me his half-packed rig. The canopy is folded at the top end of the room, while the strings stretch towards the rucksack like jellyfish tentacles. “I take more time than most over my packing,” he says. “Some people take 15 minutes, but I’ve got a way of doing it that I don’t want to change. Please don’t touch anything.”

I don’t. I wouldn’t. I tiptoe around the end of the rig, and make my way downstairs, where Witchalls’ Danish girlfriend is working at the kitchen table. They met through skydiving. I want to ask her what she thinks of her boyfriend’s new sport, but he saves me the bother. “She don’t like it, doesn’t like talking about it,” he says. Does that cause conflict? “Yeah, a bit. It’s a hard one to resolve, that.” No, I say, it’s easy: stop. But I can see that for Witchalls, stopping is not easy. In fact, it’s not even on the menu.

Le Gallou and Donaldson arrived in Dubai on a Saturday, hired a car, and checked into a cheap hotel. They had a week to make the jump, and, with plenty of time on their hands, decided to investigate the site. They had brought builder’s helmets and Day-Glo jackets, so that they might pass as engineers. Donaldson carried a clipboard. Le Gallou had even printed a fake ID. It read: “Hervé Le Gallou, Specialiste des Ascenseurs de Descente Rapide” — literally a “high-speed descending elevator specialist”. It was not, technically, a lie.

Thus armed, they approached the Burj’s building site. “No one gave us any trouble,” says Le Gallou. “In Dubai, it was much better for us to look European. All the workers are afraid of white people, because white people always shout at them and tell them what to do. It’s horrible, but for our purposes it was good.”

On Tuesday night, the night of the jump, Dubai was, at 37C and 70% humidity, hotter than a steam oven. But, importantly for the task ahead, it was windless. Le Gallou and Donaldson made their way to the outskirts of the Burj building site, parked the car, and put on their costumes. They crawled through the gap in the fence they had identified two days earlier.

They climbed for 75 minutes, to the top of the Burj. At one point, two-thirds of the way up the building, they came across a room full of sleeping workers. One of them woke up, and stared at Le Gallou, terrified. He thought he was going to be busted for sleeping on the job. The jumpers motioned for him to be quiet, and carried on. By the time they reached the 155th floor, both men were sweating profusely. There was time to recover. They had three hours until the sun came up, and so they waited. Le Gallou was irritated. The jump he had planned, a world-first 360-degree circuit of a tower, looked impossible. The fishing-line cables of the cranes were blocking his route. He thought perhaps those cranes might stop for a break, but they never did.

Around 4am, the jumpers were startled by the sound of a guard jabbering into his radio. He had stopped in the service elevator, on their floor. There were only 10 metres between them and the guard. And, with the game apparently up, both men put on their backpacks, ready to leap from the building should they be approached. But the guard did not see them. His elevator descended. The men exhaled and waited.

At dawn, they jumped. Le Gallou swung gracefully to a designated spot outside the compound, while Donaldson landed within the building site. When the Englishman landed he knew he had been seen, and as he gathered up his parachute, a security guard chased after him. He ran away until he was backed into a dead end, with one security guard in front of him, and one behind. The nightmare scenario had materialised. He thought about what capture and prosecution would mean, and made a bold move. He ran straight at the security guard blocking his exit, who, flummoxed, threw himself out the way.

Outside the site, Le Gallou had picked up the car and was looking for his friend. He eventually found Donaldson, being chased, and opened the passenger door. His grateful friend jumped in with his gear, and they sped away.

Looking back on the jump now, Donaldson and Le Gallou seemed to represent the sport’s past and its future. Donaldson’s leap was made for the thrill afforded by throwing oneself off a building one is meant to be nowhere near.

But the sport is moving on. Base has become a predominantly alpine activity. Indeed, base is changing the way other mountain sports are being approached. Last year, an American, Dean Potter, free-climbed the north face of the Eiger — one of the most challenging ascents in the world — with only a parachute on his back. It was an extraordinary achievement.

Wingsuits are also changing what it means to base jump. In the early 2000s, when the suits first started to be commercially produced, base jumpers used them to travel as far away from the cliffs as possible. Now, the best “pilots” in the most modern suits are interested in “proximity flying”. They can fly for minutes at a time, travelling three times as far forward as down, and are so skilled they can skim cliff faces with their hands.

An American, Jeb Corliss — a man recently awarded 100 hours of community service for attempting to base jump the Empire State Building — is convinced he can land safely using only a wingsuit and no parachute on a specially modified ramp. Le Gallou would rather land on a ski slope. If either could achieve this, the dream of “flying like a bird” will have been realised. But James Boole, who works for Phoenix-Fly, the Croatian company that makes the vast majority of wingsuits, thinks the technology is not yet sufficiently developed. “Imagine taking a commercial airliner, cutting both wings in half and trying to land without the engines,” he says. “It doesn’t make for the softest of touchdowns. To land gently on a ski slope should be possible, but to come to a controlled stop is the problem.”

After Le Gallou had jumped from the Burj, he was overjoyed but impatient, because he could see the site’s potential. “The thing I had come to do — to make this 360 jump — I could not do, so I had to come back.”

Donaldson was having none of it. After the trauma of his near miss, he was happy to be a free man. He had not slept properly in weeks and he was “shattered” physically and emotionally. He just wanted to go home.

But Le Gallou was keen for another shot at his 360-degree jump, and, two days after they had conquered the Burj, he went back. Donaldson agreed to have the motor running on the car for his friend’s escape. But the jump never happened. Le Gallou followed exactly the same pattern as before, but this time he was asked more questions. Eventually, every security guard in the building had been alerted to his presence, and, on the 25th floor, he was apprehended.

Donaldson waited and waited. His worst fears were confirmed when a text message flashed onto his phone, which said: “They’ve caught me. They’re coming for you. Leave the country.”

The Englishman jumped in the car and raced to the hotel, half-expecting the police to have beaten him to it. What he didn’t know was that Le Gallou had managed to change Donaldson’s name in his mobile phone, and had convinced his inquisitors that he had jumped on Tuesday night “with an American I have never met”.

Donaldson sped to the airport and bought himself the first ticket he could find out of Dubai. Le Gallou, meanwhile, was entering what would become a bureaucratic nightmare, during which he was detained in Dubai for three months, narrowly escaping a year-long jail sentence.

For a while, it looked as if Le Gallou might be permitted to leave Dubai within a week, but his prospects deteriorated when, two weeks after his arrest, another Brit, named Darren, infiltrated the Burj and made a similar jump. The officials who had previously been sympathetic to Le Gallou’s story [they had never seen base jumping, let alone punished it] were irritated when this third jumper gave his story to local journalists, claiming to be the first person to have jumped from the Burj.

The resulting publicity put added pressure on the authorities to make an example of the base jumpers. But the judge could not decide what to do with these stupid parachuting Europeans, and released them after extracting a small fine. Le Gallou was greeted like a returning hero at the Paris Metro, where his colleagues presented him with a ¤900 whip-round to cover his legal costs. Darren, meanwhile, returned to approbation from the British base community for claiming a record he did not break.

Le Gallou is now trying to persuade Emaar, who owns the Burj, to allow him to return this year to complete his 360-degree wingsuit jump. For Donaldson, Dubai changed everything. By the time he returned to Britain, word had already spread around the base chatrooms. He became, briefly and reluctantly, a star. He was even congratulated by a group of German teenagers in a pizza restaurant in Yorkshire.

His wife is less starstruck. She has never told him to stop jumping and knows it would be useless anyway. But, having lived through the stress of his near-capture, she has had enough. The experience has also led Donaldson to question his future in the sport. When he stood at the top of the tower in Dubai, he knew he faced the same physical dangers as his French friend. But he also realised, with the kind of clarity that comes after staring down the barrel, what his life is already worth. His reticence to continue is not uncommon among base jumpers.

Nothing, however, will clip Le Gallou’s wings. He has engineered his whole life to pursue his “kid’s dream of flying”. And, when he pinches his fingers together and says “I am this close”, I believe him.

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Don't tell the boss, CBS website again puts NCAA games on demand


CBSSports.com's NCAA March Madness on Demand, and its popular "Boss Button," return with live streaming of opening round games on Thursday, March 19.

Ever year, CBS helpfully provides millions of at-work viewers with a Boss Button that will show a fake spreadsheet if a nosy supervisor is looking over their shoulder. There were a record 2.5 million-plus clicks on the button in 2008. This year, it will be brought to you by its first official sponsor: Comcast.

Given the millions of jobs lost during the recession, Jason Kint, general manager of CBSSports.com, wouldn't be surprised if some worried supervisors reach for the button themselves.

"I bet you a lot of bosses will click it too," Kint says.

Kint's asked frequently if killjoy employers block the free service. Some do that on their own. But he says no companies have ever inquired with CBS on how to block it (although there's information about it on the March Madness on Demand website). That could change during the worst economic climate in decades.

"Even in a tough market we can all use a little break from the grind of the current economy," Kint says. "I'm hopeful that will continue. And people will look at March Madness on Demand as a positive."

Kint estimates the number of unique viewers in 2009 will rise 50% to 7.2 million. In 2008, the number of unique viewers grew 164% to 4.8 million. The total hours of live video/audio consumed grew 81% last year to 5 million hours.

Does March Madness on Demand cannibalize CBS' TV audiences? The network says no. Not surprisingly, the service gets its biggest audience for the Thursday-Friday first round games when many viewers are at work. The numbers then fall steadily while CBS' TV audiences take off.

Barkley starts jail sentence:

TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley began serving his three-day jail sentence for DUI in Arizona on Saturday. Barkley is serving his time in Maricopa County's "Tent City" jail.

Top quotes:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to crew chief Tony Eury Jr. during Fox's telecast of the Kobalt Tools 500 on Sunday: "If my wheel comes off and I hit the fence real hard, I get to whack every one of you with a hammer. Is that a deal?"… ESPN's Michael Wilbon during Friday's Pardon the Interruption on Shaquille O'Neal ripping Stan Van Gundy as a "master of panic" and Chris Bosh as the "RuPaul" of big men: "It's easy to see (Shaq) as a funny, funny guy, I do. Unless you're the guy he's clowning on."

NHL fighting code:

NHL enforcers follow their own code of honor when it comes to fighting. There was an example of sportsmanship during NBC's telecast of the New York Rangers vs. Boston Bruins on Sunday.

During a scrap between the Rangers' Colton Orr and the Bruins' Shawn Thornton, Orr's sweater rode up over his head. Rather than continuing to punch his blinded opponent, Thornton gestured for the linesman to break them up.

"That's part of the (fighting) code right there," said NBC's Pierre McGuire. "Good for Shawn Thornton."

Survivor guilt:

Excellent piece by ESPN's Kelly Naqi on Sunday's Outside the Lines about sole survivor Nick Schuyler — and the challenge he might face from survivor guilt after losing friends and NFL players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith and former South Florida player Will Bleakley in a Gulf of Mexico boating accident.

Schuyler's friend Scott Miller told Naqi in an interview: "I can't imagine what he's going through mentally right now. I mean, he's got to explain to three families why he made it — and they didn't."

No mas:

Is there a mercy rule on promotional ads for ABC's new cop show Castle? I'll make you a deal ESPN: I'll watch Monday night's premiere, if you stop running those show promos over and over. You know the ads. Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion) is the wisecracking novelist enlisted by the New York Police Department. Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) is the tough cop. He asks if she ever gets wild. She chews her lip and asks: "You know I'm wearing a gun, don't you?" Sure, the two Disney networks have to cross-promote. But I feel like I've seen the first episode already.

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Major League Baseball Bans "A-Fraud"

Posted By: Darren Rovell

CNBC.com Photo Composite
















Any fan hoping to make fun of New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez can no longer get a No. 13 Yankees jersey with the word "A-Fraud" on the back.

MLB.com has banned the new A-Rod nickname from the personalization feature on replica jerseys on MLB.com. MLB.com spokesman Matt Gould told CNBC that the league does not allow fans to personalize products with anything that is deemed inappropriate, derogatory or profane.

Fans haven't been able to personalize their jerseys on the site with the word "steroids" since 2005, but as of this afternoon, fans can get A-Rod's drug of choice, "Boli," on the back of jerseys. They can also get "Sucart," the last name of A-Rod's cousin, who has been part of the story.

Critics of Rodriguez have taken a liking to the "A-Fraud" nickname since it was mentioned in Joe Torre's book, "The Yankee Years."

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