Posts Tagged ‘Mexico City’

It’s been nearly two weeks again!  Yikes!  But I’ve got another excuse.  Here goes…

The back trouble I’ve been fighting has taken a more serious turn.  Last week, the pain just wouldn’t go away, even with a couple trips to the chiropractor, who usually fixes me right up.  So we went to clinic and got some stronger medicine, which helped my back a lot.  The next day, I felt much better…until I got into the shower.  After three or four minutes, I could hardly stand up.  I grimaced through and dragged myself back to bed.  An MRI on Friday revealed the bad news:  a badly herniated disk in my lower back is pinching a nerve that runs down my leg.

It’s most uncomfortable except when I’m laying on my right side in bed with my legs curled up…which is where I’ve spent about 90% of my time since last Tuesday.  We meet with an orthopedic surgeon tomorrow morning, and surgery is almost certain.  But if it will get things fixed so I can work from the office (instead of curled up – any idea of how hard it is to type?!?) and get back on my bike again, then I’m okay with it.

Well, it’s either that or “the dog ate my homework.”

When someone mentions “disasters” and “1985” in the same sentence, my mind’s eye immediately sees those barfalicious parachute pants, break-dancing, and those glasses girls wore that looked like they were upside down.  It doesn’t get a lot worse than that.  But those are fashion disasters.  And though the carnage from them was great, I suppose it pales in comparison to a real disaster.

A disaster like, say, the one that hit Mexico City on this day.

The sun had just come up over Mexico’s capital on September 19, 1985, when the calm was replaced by a violent shaking.  Some 220 miles offshore, a strong 8.0 earthquake had rattled itself into existence.  Now your mind immediately jump to the giant quake that hit Japan in March of last year.  That earthquake did very little damage.  The massive tsunami that followed shortly after, however, was a completely different story.  But tsunamis were not the issue in Mexico City.

So now you might think that, due to the distance from the quake (actually quakes, as this particular temblor was a two-headed beast), Mexico might avoid serious trouble.  But, unfortunately, that was also not the case.

The earthquake occurred in an area that’s known for stronger seismic activity, as there are a couple of tectonic plates that conflict with each other.  I have an earthquake app on my smartphone, and this region sees small-to-moderate quakes pretty regularly.  But in 1985, it had been a while since there was a “relieving of the pressure” in this particular place, so the pent-up stresses were released all at once rather than gradually over a series of smaller quakes.

But the real culprit was Mexico City itself, or rather, it’s location.  The city, one of the world’s largest, sits in the Valley of Mexico.  Hundreds of years ago, the area was a large lake.  The Aztecs built their capital (then called Tenochtitlan) on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco.  Over time, the city grew.  Then there was a change of ownership when the Spanish came calling, but still the city grew.  It outgrew the island, so over time, the lake was drained for more infrastructure.

I’m no geologist, but I would guess that lake beds don’t make good foundations, because while it may be dry on top, there’s likely still a lot of moisture underneath.  The soils below Mexico City were volcanic clay…with a high water content.  When the shock waves from the quake hit, those soils actually made the shaking worse.  And of course, those soils also settle, which causes buildings on top of them to become very unstable.   That’s what happened in Mexico City.

Hundreds of buildings completely collapsed and thousands more were heavily damaged.  In addition, the shifting landscape tore up roads and wreaked havoc on underground water, sewer, and gas lines.  Sections of the city were completely devastated.  The number of deaths varies widely depending on the source, but ranges run from 10,000 to more than four times that number.

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Over the years, the Olympics have provided us with some really memorable moments.  Of the various Games I’ve seen, there are some I recall with varying degrees of clarity.

There was Bruce Jenner’s improbable Gold Medal in the decathlon.  Nadia Comaneci, the young Romanian whose perfect 10 stunned the gymnastics world.  Remember the diminutive Mary Lou Retton screaming down the runway and launching herself off the vault?  Or maybe you’re a speed person, and your mind’s eye paints Carl Lewis, working to match Jesse Owens’ 4 track-and-field Gold Medals.  Or maybe it’s the Miracle on Ice…the U.S. Hockey Team’s stunning defeat of the Soviet Union in 1980.

Younger folks might focus more on Michael Phelps’ 8 Golds…a staggering achievement.  Or how about Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man?  Just wait until he really turns it loose.

There are dozens of other moments…those are a few that really stand out to me.  Moments that I actually remember seeing.

But Today’s History Lesson will look at one that I haven’t seen except in replays.  And when it occurred, it rocked the track and field world.

The 1968 Olympic Games were held in Mexico City, and many world records were broken throughout the event.  But more than 40 years later, there’s really only one event that’s remembered:  the long jump.  And to say Bob Beamon won the Gold is to completely miss what took place on October 18, 1968.

At the Olympic level, the caliber of athletic ability is so high and the competitors are so evenly matched that records are generally bested by inches or by tenths (or even hundredths) of a second.

But when the 22-year old Beamon took the 19 steps of his approach and launched himself, it appeared that he had achieved low-Earth orbit.  Reaching a height of 6 feet, he sailed almost to the end of the long-jump pit.  Bouncing out of the pit, he rabbit-hopped a bit and made his way back up the track.  When the distance was announced, 8.90 meters, he didn’t immediately react.  But when a teammate did the metric conversion for him, he collapsed to the ground.  8.90 meters translates to 29′ 2.5″.

Beamon was not only the first man to jump more than 29 feet, he was the first man to jump more than 28 feet.  The previous record, 27′ 4.75″, had not been bested.  It had been shattered…by nearly 2 feet.  In the 6 seconds required to start and complete his record-breaking jump, Bob Beamon had gone from world-class long-jumper to Olympic legend.

Of course, there were detractors quick to point out how Beamon was aided.  Mexico City sits at nearly 7500 feet above sea level, which means there’s a lot less atmosphere when compared with other locations, and he made his run with a significant tailwind.

But in his defense, all the athletes competed in the same conditions and were assisted equally…it was Beamon who set the record.  And his record would stand for 23 years, only to be broken by Mike Powell (by about 2 inches) in 1991.

Bob Beamon would never match his 29-foot effort again.  In fact, he would never even reach 27 feet again.  But on this day, Beamon soared into the record books in incredible fashion.  His jump and reaction to learning he had broken 29′ are one of the great moments in Olympic history.

Recommended Viewing:  Bob Beamon’s incredible leap.

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