Like many, I’ve followed the Lance Armstrong doping case for quite some time now. It has essentially been ongoing in one way or another for many years and I’m sure it’ll keep going. But given that Lance has lost sponsors, titles, etc at this point it probably makes sense to comment at this point. As long-time blog readers may know, I’ve been a pretty big fan of professional cycling at certain points in the past. Here are a couple of posts from several years ago: post one and post two. I’m not quite as big of a fan of pro cycling these days simply because it’s hard to follow in the US and I gave up. I still pay attention to the grand tours but that’s about it. So given that I’ve followed the Tour for a number of years, I have read a number of things about doping and I’ve seen many cyclists come and go because of it.

I don’t know how else to put this but, basically, anyone who thought that Lance wasn’t doping was either ill-informed, naive or an idiot. Anyone who knows anything about sports like cycling knew that the dominance Lance exhibited was not possible without performance-enhancing drugs. Lance OWNED that race. Given that most of the field was doping, how would it be possible for a clean rider to overcome the most determined, skilled, genetically talented and well-trained riders in the world when they are on drugs as well? Let me tell you something: it isn’t. Drugs offer too much of an advantage. There are a lot of naive people, particularly in the Western world, who believe that “grit” and “determination” can overcome chemical advantages all else being equal. Nope. You’re wrong. It’s fine if you want to keep believing that but it simply isn’t true. Of course, a genetic freak who has all of the best training resources and mental strength will overcome a random person off of the street who trains with drugs for a bit. Drugs don’t work magic that overcomes every other advantage. But if you take a big group of people who are all mentally strong, all genetically built for a certain task, all provided with great training resources, etc and then you give drugs to some of them, the ones with drugs will win out. It’s just how it is.

So, armed with that knowledge, it’s quite easy to spot drug usage. Take Lance for example. He went up Alpe D’Huez in 37’36″ in 2004 (source). In the history of the tour, only Marco Pantani has approached that time and Marco Pantani was definitely doping. Everyone on the top of that list on Wikipedia doped. I remember reading an article about the Alpe D’Huez times and the person who was writing the article theorized that it wasn’t possible for someone to go up Alpe D’Huez in less than, at best, about 41 minutes without doping. You can read more about cycling, doping, performance and mountains here, although that is not the article I am thinking of. Point being that as soon as Lance went up that hill in 37.5 minutes, you knew that he was using performance enhancing drugs. Whenever I make statements like that around people (Americans in particular), they usually flip out and say something like “oh, so now everyone who does well is automatically using drugs?” or similar. In a sport like cycling, the answer is, simply, yes. They are using drugs. You might be naive and you don’t want to believe it but they are using drugs if they are doing something that is so far above and beyond what anyone else has ever done.

So I, along with many other people, have known that Lance used drugs. I knew it for many years and, frankly, I was okay with it. He was competing against a field of riders who were going to use drugs also. What else was he supposed to do? He could have stayed clean and been a middle of the pack no-name rider or he could use drugs and become a world-famous champion and do things that no one has ever done before in the sport. I don’t blame him AT ALL for choosing the latter. This is what we as sports fans demand of our athletes. We want them to win and we want them to dominate. We want them to beat people who are on drugs. How do you think the media and public would react if the USA went from winning the most medals at the summer Olympics to winning the 8th most medals? There would be a public outcry, the USOC would be raked over the coals, athletes would lose sponsorships/supporters/funding/gigs, people would bemoan the demise of the USA, Mitt Romney would blame Obama for letting the country’s athletics fall apart, etc. No matter what they say, no one really wants that. People want the USA to win but they don’t want to know the truth of the requirements to win on the world stage. If you truly believe that world-class USA swimmers, track and field and others are not using performance-enhancing drugs and winning on the world stage, you are naive. They are using them. 100%. There is no question about it at all and it’s really not even a debate amongst those who know how these things work. In my mind, it doesn’t take away from their achievements in the least. They are working within the system that exists.

Now, the question about whether drugs are cheating is pretty obvious as well. Of course drugs are cheating. There’s no question about it. The rules say they are banned substances. However, like I said above, you will NOT win at an elite level without drugs in certain sports. So you need to find a way to get around the rules. Whether your tactics consist of micro-dosing (taking small amounts to avoid testing over certain limits), bribing someone, using body doubles (the Chinese are famous for this) or similar, you are finding a way to be competitive. To me, it’s no different from an NBA player hacking someone’s arm when an official isn’t looking. You’re finding an advantage and taking it. Sports are cutthroat. There’s no honor in sports at the top levels. Everyone is going to do what they can to win and that’s just how it is. It isn’t little league where people get trophies for trying hard. If you want to be honorable, enjoy not winning. It’s fine to do that but take note of how much attention sponsors and the media pay attention to honor. Answer: not much. Yes, drugs are cheating but so what? Your choices are winning+cheating or not winning and not cheating. Most of the time, the people who say they would choose the latter are people who never had the opportunity to be a champion. It’s easy to get on your high horse and skewer the people who made the decision to take drugs and have a chance to win. It’s a whole lot harder to train your whole life and say no to the thing that will allow you to compete on the world stage. If you’ve done that, I totally respect your decision.

So what’s the solution to all of this? In my mind, until drug testing is actually effective, out of competition anti-doping should be eliminated. And, frankly, as of right now, it is not even conceivable what effective drug testing would look like because it’s a constant cat-and-mouse game right now and anti-doping officials are losing. In sports like weightlifting, how are you supposed to effectively test North Korean weightlifters when they are training inside of a closed country where it is impossible to test with any measure of surprise? It’s no coincidence that, in weightlifting, North Korea won three golds out of fifteen available at the London 2012 Games. Out of competition testing is wildly unfair and inconsistently applied to athletes around the world. I would keep testing at competitions to keep athletes in line as much as possible but even that sort of testing is pretty unfair and not that useful. Athletes with access to talented chemists are going to be able to find advantages and get a leg up on the poorer athletes without access to the same resources. But, resources and so on are pretty much always spread out unfairly in all aspects of life so that’s nothing new. But at least in competition testing can be applied fairly across the board in terms of surprise, timing and so on.

The reality is that drugs are part of the sports landscape and they have been for a long time now. They are not going away. You will not win on the world level without them. Once you get over that fact, it becomes a matter of how to best deal with it. Many choose to put their head in the sand and pretend the issue will go away or that drug usage is being effectively controlled. It isn’t. It’s estimated that 80-90% of the NFL uses Human Growth Hormone (it isn’t being tested for yet). Even in poker, there is RAMPANT drug usage to help boost concentration in marathon sessions. It may not be against the rules but it’s no different from taking EPO as a cyclist. The rules are really pretty arbitrary and inconsistent. Lance did what he had to do. To me, the recent news about Lance doesn’t change the fact that he DOMINATED the Tour for years against a bunch of the best riders/teams/coaches in the world and all those teams were systematically doping as well. He still won those races and put in years and years of incredibly difficult training, effort, dedication and so on. To me, he’s still one of the greatest American sports heroes of my lifetime and he’ll always hold that spot in my mind. I applaud his decision to be competitive.

Atlanta Trip and Deadlift PR

I’m typing this blog entry from the USAirways Club at the Philadelphia airport waiting for my flight to Atlanta. The internet in this club is beyond awful right now so I guess I will have to post this later though.

So I’m headed to Atlanta mainly for some meetings at Bluff (now a part of Churchill Downs) about a few different things. I haven’t been into the Bluff offices in a few years so it’ll be interesting to be back. I’m also going because I have made it a yearly tradition to visit Atlanta/Athens in the fall. Of course, I was living in Atlanta in the fall of 06 and 07 but in 2008 I came back for UFC 88 (post one, post two, post three), in 2009 I stopped on my way back from South Africa (and I came back again for the Auburn game a bit later on), in 2010 I came back for the Vanderbilt game and in 2011 I came down for Thanksgiving with yellowsub86′s family (they’re awesome by the way). So this will count as my 2012 trip.

In other news, a few hours ago I just finished doing something called the CrossFit Total at my gym. I’ve posted about this before but the basic idea is that you get three chances each at squat, deadlift and standing press. In this case, we did deadlifts first. I warmed up by doing about 6-7 sets with my last warmup being about 375lbs. I then took my first attempt at 404 and made it pretty easily. I then put 20 lbs on to make the bar 424 and I made it again although it was actually a little tough off the floor but I locked it out pretty easily. I decided to go for 15 additional pounds so I was up to 439 which is just under 200kg and was a PR attempt. This time I psyched myself up a bit because I knew that I would need to stay tighter off the floor in order to make the lift. Well, the mental prep worked as the 439 actually felt similar to the 404! I was really excited to make the lift. I asked one of the coaches if I could get one more attempt in order to set a higher weight. He agreed and I put on 10 more lbs to get up to 449 or about 204kg (I really wanted to definitively break the 200kg barrier, which I’d never done). So I waited a few minutes and did the same mental routine with the 449 and, once again, I made it! Pretty awesome. It wasn’t even that hard once I got it about 2 inches off the floor. I felt like I could stand there with it at the top for several minutes (although I didn’t try that). So overall I’m really happy with the 449. This now puts my PR squat at 365lbs and my PR deadlift at 449lbs. I want them to be 400 and 500 so I’m not too far away. Assuming I stay injury free (a big if), both 400 and 500 are less than six months away and possibly a decent amount sooner. I’m excited about it.

So in hookgrip news, things have been clicking along pretty well. The Facebook page is up to something like 6200 likes, I put some shirts up for sale and they’ve sold very well (I’m out of stock in a bunch of sizes so I have an refill order on tap, hopefully I will get it soon), I have a lot of information on old lifting meets that I plan on getting online soon and so on. I’m really excited to see what the site can become in 2013. As of now I plan on attending the following meets: 2013 European championships in Valencia Spain, 2013 Junior World championships in Lima Peru, 2013 US National championships in Cincinnati Ohio and the 2013 World Championships in Warsaw Poland. If I were to drop any from that schedule, the Europeans would probably be the first to go. It’s kind of frustrating but the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) hasn’t even scheduled the European championships yet even though, traditionally, they are held in April. So I haven’t been able to get tickets or hotel so far. I plan on traveling using miles/points so it really depends on what sorts of fares are available for frequent flier seats. As soon as I know the dates I will start looking into things. The Lima event is scheduled but I’m currently waiting until I have enough American Airlines miles to fly down there in first class — it should be another month or two at most. Overall it’s actually pretty cheap to go to all of these events if you’re smart with miles/points and you find good hotel deals. I really enjoy the whole experience so I hope things keep going at this pace. I actually need to get a backup camera body because I’m worried that I’ll end up at one of these competitions and my shutter will go and I’ll be totally out of luck! So I am going to look into buying one in the next month or two.

Well, it’s about time to pack up and head to the gate. Off to Atlanta!

Finishing Up in Vegas

I am currently sitting in the Vegas airport waiting to board my flight back to Philly. I was in Vegas for eight days and I spent basically all of it at Average Broz Gym (which is housed within CrossFit Las Vegas) working on some information collection for hookgrip. I didn’t really spend any time on the strip because I stayed at the Palms and ABG is located around Warm Springs & Dean Martin. So the closest I got to the Vegas partying stuff was driving by on I-15.

Actually, I should comment on the Palms. I can’t quite figure that hotel out. On the one hand it’s a pretty crappy low-end casino compared to the Wynn, Bellagio, Palazzo, Aria, Cosmo, etc. I know it’s older than most of those but it’s been kinda crappy since the beginning. And of course the Palms is not on the strip. It’s not in a better location than Gold Coast, The Orleans, etc. But, for some reason, the people who are there seem to think they are at a real Vegas hotspot. Tons of Jersey Shore wannabes, girls with 50-60% of their ass hanging out, guys walking around with girls who are clearly escorts and so on. You don’t see any of that if you’re at places like South Point, Gold Coast, The Orleans, etc and the Palms is really barely nicer than those places I just listed off. I don’t get how it gets that status except for the Maloofs being good at marketing (my friend thinks it’s all their marketing ability plus things like the Real World being filmed there and so on). The only reason I stayed there was because it was almost the exact same price as the crappy hotel/casinos that I mentioned above and staying at a nicer place was going to be minimum $1000 more for the week. Which didn’t seem worth it when I wasn’t using the pool, wasn’t going to be spending much time in the room, etc. I ended up being put in Palms Place which was pretty spacious and nice.

So, one downside to this trip is that I missed all of the NFL games last week and, because I’m flying during the day today, I am going to miss them all this week too. Of course I catch up on highlights and such but overall this is now A LOT of NFL that I’ve missed this year. This is probably the least NFL that I’ve watched to this point in a season for a very long time. Maybe since high school. I was kind of tempted to do some NFL betting while I was here but, when I looked at the lines for last week (I can’t bet this week, I wouldn’t have been able to collect because I was leaving), I realized I had no idea about which side I liked for most of the games. Usually, watching games allows me to get a feel for a team and their strengths/weaknesses and it’s usually not that difficult to figure out who is for real and who is getting lucky/unlucky. I don’t have that feel for teams this year at all. Oh well, I just need to grind some NFL replays on NFL network, watch some highlights and get caught up as best I can.

In other news, I am possibly planning a trip up to Toronto in a few weeks. I’m still working out the details but I have a few friends up in that area and it still isn’t cold enough for me to be put off of going up there. I am kind of torn on deciding between driving and flying though. We’ll see what happens.

So, moving on from travel stuff. I recently made a pretty awesome purchase. On my flight over to London for the Olympics, I happened to be on the same flight as the President of Eleiko Sport USA — the company that made the equipment for the weightlifting at the Olympic Games. Eleiko is well-known as the maker of the best barbells in the world for Olympic lifting. No one even really disputes their supremacy as far as barbells go. While Eleiko’s plates (ie, the weights on the barbell) aren’t really at the same level as their barbells, the plates are pretty high end as well. So I stayed in contact with the guy who was on my flight and, after about 15-20 emails with people at Eleiko, I managed to buy a full competition set was used at the Olympic Games. A competition set consists of two bars (one 20kg, one 15kg — for men and women) and two of each plate (25kg, 20kg, 15kg, 10kg, 5kg, 2.5kg, 2kg, 1.5kg, 1kg, .5kg) and two collars (the things to hold the plates on the bar — they weigh 2.5kg also). It’s a lot of stuff and it says London 2012 all over it. It’s a very unique set and I’m really excited to own it. It wasn’t cheap but it also wasn’t really too ridiculously expensive given that this stuff is very expensive equipment even when it doesn’t have the added coolness of being used at the Olympic Games. I’ve already agreed to sell the 15kg barbell simply because I don’t have much of a need for a women’s bar and it’s worth north of $1000. So there’s no point in holding onto it. Either way, I should get the set in the next few weeks and I’m really excited to get it!

hookgrip Classic, among other things

This coming Sunday (the 23rd) will see CrossFit Center City (the gym that I go to) host its first Olympic-style weightlifting meet. There have been some quasi-competitions before but no real meets with a real platform, judges, timing rules, bar loaders, sessions, etc. And, in addition to it being the first USA Weightlifting (or USAW) sanctioned meet, it is also going to be called The hookgrip Classic, as I mentioned in my prior post. I’m pretty excited for it, hopefully everything will go well.

Since I know my blog readers want to hear about this: my lifting update is that I have been lifting better than ever recently. For a quick recap of the last year or so, I basically started lifting daily around Halloween of last year. At the time, I was struggling to squat 70kg (154lbs) — which is really bad for an adult male. In roughly four months, I took my squat from 70kg to 150kg/330lbs. Here is the video from Feb 24th where I squatted 150kg. I was quite happy with my progress at this point especially given that I deadlifted 184kg/405lbs on Jan 21st, 2012 (ie, about three months after I started). To go from being really weak to a 330lb squat and a 405lb deadlift in roughly four months is quite good, in my opinion. Here’s the problem — I didn’t progress at all from late Feb until roughly early September. That’s over six months of no progress — even with close to daily workouts (almost every weekday, scattered weekends). That’s not what’s supposed to happen. Of course, eventually it will happen, but 330lb squat and 405lb deadlift is not where progress should level off for a 29/30 year-old who is committed to training.

So, anyway, I had to try to figure out what was going on. For most of the time since March, I had bad left quad pain (also in right, but not as bad as left). It essentially felt like my quad was tearing apart when I got down into a squat. I tried to stretch it, foam roll it, lacrosse ball roll it, get massages, warm it up a lot, get ART (aka Active Release Technique), roll it with “The Stick” (a myofascial release tool), etc. I tried a LOT of things to get my quad better. I even took time off when I went to Guatemala in May but it still didn’t get better. Maybe just mildly but it got worse as soon as I started lifting again. I went to go see a joint doctor and he said that my knee was fine (I had some pain in my knee too, although most of the pain was in the quad). I tried everything I could think of. It would occasionally get better for a day or a few but it always came roaring back — and badly. As I said above, I made no lifting progress during this period. I actually went backwards. I did do a 151kg squat (332lbs) once but that was during a short period in late March when things were oddly good. But other than that period, I was struggling with weights that were easy just a month before.

So, for me, the big moment was when I went to London for the Olympics in early August. About two days into the trip, I woke up with ZERO quad pain. For the prior six months, even during the times when I wasn’t lifting, I still had some quad pain. For instance, in Guatemala it was still pretty bad although it definitely did not hurt as much that week simply due to a lack of lifting. It was actually an amazing feeling to wake up with no pain like that. I had gotten so used to stumbling around that I really felt like a totally new person. The pain didn’t show up again for the rest of the week in London either. I thought things through and realized something. I started taking protein shakes in early March and I’d taken some form of whey protein basically straight through from March until London. Even in Guatemala I’d eaten whey protein bars. As silly as this sounds, I actually began to think maybe it was the protein that was causing the issue. So when I got home from London, I decided to start lifting without any supplemental protein. I would just focus on trying to eat a good amount of protein. And, whaddya know, no quad pain since! I’ve been lifting literally every day for the last few weeks and no pain at all. Of course, my legs are a bit stiff in the morning and when I’m getting warmed up but that’s totally normal. That has all built up to today where I set a bunch of PRs in my squat. I squatted 137.5kg/303lbs for 5 reps (2 sets of 5 actually). And I squatted 147.5kg/325lbs for a set of 2. And I squatted 155kg/342lbs for a set of 1. All of those were personal records. After my terrible last six months as far as lifting goes, I could not have been happier about how today went. Hopefully the injuries will stay away and I’ll be able to keep making progress.

/lifting talk

So, like many others, I have watched all of the recently released Lederer Files videos. Before I get into the whole issue of whether Howard is telling the truth, I have to say that I think PokerNews did a pretty good job overall. I know that Matt Parvis missed a couple of opportunities to really stick it to Howard but overall I think he asked good questions. There were definitely a bunch of times where Howard pretended to forget things that he clearly could have remembered. I don’t necessarily blame him for doing that. He didn’t want to throw a ton of specific people under the bus because they were shitty FTP owners who didn’t care about the site. He just threw essentially the whole ownership into one big category although there were a few exceptions. That’s fine with me although I also get why people out there want to know who said what and at what points. It sounds like there were a bunch of owners who cared more about their distributions than getting the players paid. And that is fucked up. It would be nice to know who those people were, specifically.

Now, in terms of whether Howard is telling the truth. I think, generally, yes. I don’t think he is outright lying about major facts in the post Black Friday time period. There were simply too many people involved for him to lie about what was discussed on member calls, with the DOJ, with PokerStars, etc. I put the chances of him lying about those things at sub 1%. What I do question is how much he knew about the processing issues and the so-called “backlog” prior to Black Friday. I have a hard time believing that it was never brought to anyone’s attention. Now, do I think there are emails and various extensive evidence of the backlog being communicated to Howard? Probably not, no. I don’t think he would go on record saying that he didn’t learn of the backlog until April 7th if there was significant evidence out there to the contrary. But I think he had to know of it. Just my guess and I have nothing to back that up other than it not making sense. One thing that I should mention here is that I knew of a person who had a TON of uncollected eChecks with FTP. To the tune of north of 100,000. I knew a lot of other people with 5,000 to 10,000 in uncollected eChecks. I just can’t believe that I would know about FTP not collecting deposits and Howard wouldn’t. That doesn’t make sense to me. Now, of course, the backlog and the net cash are two totally different issues. I don’t have a hard time believing that Howard wouldn’t have known that the backlog (and even without the backlog) caused a massive net negative cash balance in the company. In order to know that, Howard likely would have needed a significant set of numbers to be pulled from several places (bank accounts, processors accounts, player accounts, etc) and unless there was a specific net cash report that he was getting (which he wasn’t, although he did get other reports) then I don’t see how he would know the net cash. Now, should he have known this? Absolutely. He was negligent as a board member in my opinion. But it’s harder than you might think in a company the size of FTP to just figure out the net cash. It’s not something you can just “figure out” or keep track of in your head or whatever. You need the report to be pulled. So, because I don’t think he would lie about not receiving reports when he was receiving them, I doubt he saw a report that specifically showed net cash.

So that’s my opinion. Overall I’m glad that information is starting to come out about FTP and I look forward to having the brand be run by the one company in the world that has a shot at reviving Full Tilt. It’s amazing how well PokerStars comes out looking in all of this. Not only did they have plenty of money to cover their US deposits, they paid them out quickly, they rescued hundreds of millions of dollars for the poker economy and they are going to re-establish one of the formerly great brands in poker. And, actually, I have a bit of a theory for one of the reasons that Stars is so much better run than, say, FTP. As you may know, the PokerStars ownership is consolidated in the hands of a few. More specifically, it’s consolidated in the hands of the Scheinberg family. Isai Scheinberg was one of the people indicted and he’s generally regarded as the founder, primary owner and brains being the PokerStars operation. And his son Mark, who I assume has a good chunk of ownership as well, is very very involved in the operations of the site. He is referred to publicly as PokerStars’ Chairman. Either way, Isai, Mark and a few others were the primary people receiving money from PokerStars’ operations from 2001 (when they first started operating, although they were quite small then) until 2011 when Black Friday happened. That’s a lot of years to build up profits. And, unlike the many FTP owners who by all accounts are degenerates (obviously not all of them), I assume that Isai and Mark didn’t need anywhere near the amount that PokerStars was able to provide them with. In addition, as owners, they are very involved in the day-to-day from everything that I can surmise from the DOJ documents and just what PokerStars employees have said. So while I definitely heard about uncollected eChecks with PokerStars as well (although not to the same degree, or close to it), PokerStars was simply so far ahead of any backlog of any kind that they may have had. I haven’t read all of the DOJ documents so this sort of thing might be out there — I don’t know. But don’t ever underestimate the value of having professionals run a company. UB/AP and FTP are what happen when poker players start companies. I’m not putting UB/AP and FTP on the same level but at the end of the day they screwed up because of bad management. Both businesses were more than capable of being extremely profitable so it isn’t like they failed because of actually being a poor business or product. PokerStars is what happens when a professional (although Isai definitely has a strong interest in poker from what I know) starts a company. But I think a large factor is how the ownership and management was structured in the two companies, in addition to the types of people in place.

Anyway, that’s my comment on the whole thing. I ended up doing about a four hour interview with Scott Bell from the UltimateBeat documentary project. We’ll see which parts of my comments end up in the final project. It was very difficult to remember a lot of the small details from four (UB) and five (AP) years ago but overall it went pretty well I think.

Have a nice weekend!

UB Documentary and some other stuff

In a couple of days I’m going to be interviewed for the UltimateBeat project (linked to their kickstarter). It’s a documentary about the UltimateBet scandal that took place mostly in 2008 although the cheating spanned a number of years prior to the scandal itself. I’ve always felt like my role in uncovering things at both AP and UB was a bit overstated in the poker community. In reality, I didn’t do most of the work (especially with UB) or spend a lot of time on things. I basically just swooped in at various points and found something or other that was important — and got more credit than I deserved for it. One of the big things in the UB scandal was this post where I realized that it was Russ Hamilton’s house that was listed as the address of record for a number of the cheating accounts at UB. It still didn’t really prove anything but it definitely made people realize that there was a better possibility that Russ Hamilton was involved. Oddly enough, that house appears to have been sold about two weeks ago! Funny timing. I wonder if the guy who bought it has any idea of its history. I won’t write the guy’s name or address on this blog because I don’t want it to ever pop up in search results if he’s ever doing some curiousity googling.

One thing I guess I should explain is why I would do this interview when I turned down 60 Minutes several years ago. The reason is that I didn’t really trust 60 Minutes to present a fair picture for online poker as a whole. I said that I would do the 60 Minutes interview if they would devote half of the segment to covering PokerStars and, as I knew they would, they said no. The mainstream media is generally more concerned with showing the problems with an industry. Of course, UltimateBeat will just cover the scandal and probably not talk about the better half of online poker. So why am I do this interview? First, the main difference for me is that it’s a documentary being done by 2p2ers who know online poker. I can be pretty sure that they won’t condemn online poker as a whole. Second, my view in late 2012 is different from my view in 2008. In 2008 I was more concerned with defending the unregulated (except by dummy organizations) online poker climate because I still believed that online poker sites would be smart enough to run their businesses intelligently. I thought that UB/AP was one lone rogue organization and that the Stars, FTPs, etc of the world were fine and deserved to be cut some slack because they were operating in such a difficult climate with regards to processing and such. Well, things have changed. FTP was exposed, unregulated poker in the US is all but dead and it’s basically now just a waiting game to see what sorts of regulated options pop up. Stars proved itself to be the only professionally run poker site that was operating in the US post-UIGEA. Either way, I no longer really care about protecting unregulated online poker’s reputation. Not only was it proven to be unsafe (although, I think it would have been different if there weren’t so many issues with processing) but it’s all but gone. So whatever. I don’t mind if people are scared off from playing on a random offshore site simply because they don’t really exist in any significant manner anymore. At the time, I really believed that Stars/FTP/etc were safe options and that the US gov’t was to blame for forcing them offshore. I never intentionally wanted to protect some site that I thought was doing something illegitimate.

So, other than UltimateBeat, I’m just doing the usual stuff. Lifting, eating, sleeping, etc. I’ve got a few trips booked. First I’m headed to Vegas in about a month. I’ll be there for a week but I’m mainly going for things related to lifting. My friend John Broz (a really good Olympic lifting coach and a great guy) is based there and I’m going to be lifting at his gym for a week along with doing some things related (my new lifting website that’s launching sooner or later). In addition to the Vegas trip, I’m going out to California in late Nov/early Dec for a lifting competition called the American Open. I’m not nearly good enough at Olympic lifting to compete in it but I’ll go to take pictures and such. I also have a bunch of friends who will be competing so it’ll be fun to support them. And, speaking of lifting competitions, my gym (called CrossFit Center City) is hosting a local Olympic lifting meet on Sept 23rd and they decided to name it “The hookgrip Classic” because I loan the gym a lot of Olympic lifting equipment. Pretty cool! I’ll be in attendance.

I’m also realizing that I have too much stuff. Just too many random possessions that I don’t use. It isn’t like I’m on the level of someone on Hoarders or even close to that but I tend to buy things and try them out and then move on. Sometimes I come across something awesome that I use a lot and I’m really glad that I bought it. But oftentimes I buy something and then realize I don’t actually like it and just stop using it. Just to be clear, I don’t mind doing this. I think it’s worth taking shots with some things because they can improve your life a lot. But at some point it’s time to clear out what I’ve built up and discarded. For instance, I have a $300+ electric razor — but I prefer wet shaving these days. And I have a 20+ hour external Mac battery (used to be called HyperMac, now called HyperJuice) but I really just don’t use it anymore with the battery life on my laptop. And I have MyVu glasses for watching iPod/iPhone video. And a lot more things kind of like that. So I think I need to go on an eBay/craigslist purge over the next several weeks. I’m looking forward to it. I did something similar before I moved from Vegas (I figured there was no point in moving a bunch of stuff that I didn’t really use) and it felt great to cut down on useless (to me) possessions.

Catching Up Etc

I’ve been keeping relatively busy since the Olympics. This past weekend I went to an outdoor retreat sort of thing at a camp called Indian Head in Equinunk, PA. The retreat was being run by a local outdoor adventure company called Trap Door Athletics that was recently started by two of the members from my gym. They asked me to come along and take pictures for them and I agreed because I love action photography, especially outdoors. It would take awhile to write a recap of the weekend because there were a lot of events from Olympic weightlifting to gymnastics to a ropes course to an obstacle course and so on. I didn’t participate in much due to the photography stuff but I did do a little bit of weightlifting on Friday — including a 401lb deadlift in flip flops. It wasn’t a personal record or very tough but it was a personal record in flip flops! Although, except for the excess padding in flip flops, they are not really a bad piece of footwear for deadlifting. Anyway, there are a few hundred pictures (including one of me deadlifting) in this album so you can check it out to get a feel for the weekend. Everyone seems to really like my photography so I’m happy about that.

Speaking of photography, I’ve amassed a nice little lens collection. At this point I have my 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II (my main workhorse), 50mm f/1.8 D (a cheap lens, but good), 85mm f/1.8 D (really good portrait lens) and 17-35mm f/2.8 (one of Nikon’s two top of the line wide angle zooms). I also have the 1.7x teleconverter which I used with my 70-200mm at the Olympics to give myself 340mm of zoom with a max aperture of f/4.8 (using the teleconverter decreases the max aperture of a lens). A few days ago, via Craigslist, I expanded my lens collection in a big way. Literally. I added this beast:

nikon 300mm lens

That’s the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 AF-S II lens. It was manufactured from 2001-2004 and has since been replaced by a lens with VR which is basically something that helps to compensate for hand shake while holding the lens. Outside of the VR addition, this lens is essentially on par with the latest lens that’s being sold today for nearly $6000. I got it for way less than that. And given that high-end lenses tend to hold their value VERY well (think 80%+ value retention) I got a very good deal. In fact, the exact lens that I bought recently sold on eBay for $1000 more than I bought it for. I anticipate using the lens relatively rarely. Maybe once a year. I will use it at weightlifting meets where I need a lot of reach and I need f/2.8 in order to get enough light to stop the action. And if I ever get into indoor action photography other than weightlifting, this lens will be incredibly useful. It’s not quite as big/heavy as it looks. It weighs about 5.5lbs and that big thing on the top of it is simply a hood that’s used to prevent dust accumulation and to keep out unwanted light. The reason the hood is so big is because it’s a super telephoto so it essentially doesn’t need to see anything outside of the field of view that the hood restricts it to. It’s akin to cupping your hands over your eyes when looking at something. Anyway, I am pumped to have this lens in my collection. I will still use the 70-200mm for almost all of my shooting though.

Outside of the weekend in Equinunk and the lens, I’ve just been spending a lot of time with the usual lifting stuff. I have made a bit of a dietary change over the last month and it has worked wonders for me. I have had a lot of bad quad pain since early March. Basically March, April, May, June and July. It had gone on for a loooong time. It would get better and get worse in cycles. A few times I thought I’d found something that was helping but in the end it always came back. I made almost zero progress on lifts during that timeframe. In late February I squatted 150kg/330lbs. To date, I still haven’t done more than 151kg. So from the start of my training in essentially early Nov of last year, I progressed up to a 150kg squat (from basically 70kg, LOL) in four months. Then I made zero progress in five months. While I know that progress slows down, 150kg isn’t heavy enough for progress to stop. Especially considering that the squat is the core of my training programming. My lack of progress is basically attributable to me not being able to train properly because my quad kept giving me problems and messing with everything from my form to my ability to recruit the proper muscles during the lift. Anyway, I thought it over and the only thing that I added to my diet around the time I started to have the quad pain was whey protein. In March I decided that it would be a good idea to have a post-workout shake and I had one after pretty much every workout from March through when I left for the Olympics at the end of July. So I let my quad recover over the nine day period that I had off during the Olympics. And when I came back, I just cut out the post-workout shake. I know how silly that sounds given that you need protein to recover. But the fact is that I went from 70kg to 150kg in four months without whey protein and it was worth it for me to see if cutting it out helped. Well, three weeks later I can say that the quad pain has not come back. At all. My squats feel great and I’ve been hitting 140-145kg squats with regularity and they don’t feel that bad. I did a 130kg (286lb) front squat the other day (video) and as you can see it really wasn’t that hard either. So given that I’ve deadlifted 182kg, squatted 145kg and front squatted 130kg all in the last week, I’m feeling better about making some real progress over the next few months. I really want a 182kg squat and 227kg deadlift. If the quad pain doesn’t come back and I stay relatively injury free, I know I can hit those numbers pretty soon. For right now though, I am going to focus on the next “CrossFit Total” workout at my gym which is happening in October (see my post from the last one, in January). At the last one I did 142.5/184/58 (or, in lbs, 315/405/130 = 850). At the time I was SURE that I would hit 1000 for my total at the next one. I’m not so sure about that now after five months without much progress at all. We’ll see how training goes but it will be close. I definitely want 155/195/70 (or 341/430/154 = 925) at least because I feel those numbers are totally within reach. The next 75 pounds will be tough going in two months or less. I will try my best though!