TIME Athletes

Here Are 8 Bizarre Yet Beautiful Photos of Women’s Rhythmic Gymnastics

Gymnasts are known for their incredible flexibility, but rhythmic gymnasts take it to new levels, wrapping their bodies around ribbons, clubs, balls and hoops—all with a dazzling smile.

The secret to their rubber-band like contortions? Hours and hours of training, including more time spent in splits—hanging from bars or stretched across foam blocks—than the rest of us would consider humane. These athletes, competing at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, represent the eight top-scoring qualifiers in mind-bending acrobatic routines in the individual all-around finals.

TIME health

NCAA Proposes $70M Concussion Fund To Settle Lawsuit

NCAA President Mark Emmert News Conference
NCAA President Mark Emmert speaks to the media during a press conference at AT&T Stadium on April 6, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. Jamie Squire—Getty Images

The settlement includes funding for testing current and former college athletes

The National Collegiate Athletic Association will pay $70 million for concussion testing as part of a proposed settlement over an ongoing head-injury lawsuit, the organization announced Tuesday. The money would pay for symptom identification for current and former college athletes.

If accepted, the proposed deal, which would also offer $5 million for concussion research, would put an end to an ongoing class-action lawsuit facing the NCAA in federal court. According to the plaintiffs in that case, a 2010 NCAA internal study showed that almost half of college trainers put athletes with signs of concussions back on the field. The suit has been riding a wave of accusations that the NCAA and college teams across the country have put players at risk of brain injuries.

“Student-athletes — not just football players — have dropped out of school and suffered huge long-term symptoms because of brain injuries,” the lead plaintiff’s lawyer, Steve Berman, told The New York Times. “Anything we can do to enhance concussion management is a very important day for student-athletes.”

The settlement would affect men and women across all NCAA divisions. In addition to football, ice hockey and soccer squads, the settlement also affects basketball, wrestling, field hockey and lacrosse teams. All current and former athletes in the NCAA would be eligible for concussion screening and possible damage claims under the proposal.

As part of the deal, college athletes will be required to take a baseline neurological test at the beginning of each year, which will help doctors monitor the effects of potential concussions during the season. Concussion education will also be required for coaches and athletes.

“We have been and will continue to be committed to student-athlete safety, which is one of the NCAA’s foundational principles,” said NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline in a statement. “Medical knowledge of concussions will continue to grow, and consensus about diagnosis, treatment and management of concussions by the medical community will continue to evolve. This agreement’s proactive measures will ensure student-athletes have access to high quality medical care by physicians with experience in the diagnosis, treatment and management of concussions.”

TIME celebrities

And America’s Highest Paid Athlete Is…

Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Marcos Maidana
Floyd Mayweather reacts to his unanimously decided victory over Marcos Maidana during their fight on May 3, 2014. Harry How—Getty Images

Boxer Floyd Mayweather tops Fortune‘s and Sports Illustrated‘s Fortunate 50 list of the America’s highest paid athletes for the third time.

Mayweather, a 37-year-old five-division world champion, earns a total of $105 million from his salary alone—he doesn’t even have endorsement deals. The staggering sum comes from a mere 72 minutes of fighting time against Canelo Alvarez and Marcos Maidana, Forbes reports.

In second is Miami Heat’s LeBron James with $57 million total earnings, and in third, Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant with $50 million total earnings.

Tiger Woods, who is ranked 7th with $35 million total earnings, had occupied the no. 1 spot every year from 2004, when the list debuted, until 2011.


TIME South Africa

Judge Orders Pistorius to Undergo Mental Examination

Oscar Pistorius Is Tried For The Murder Of His Girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
Oscar Pistorius leaves North Gauteng High Court after the judge ordered tht he should undergo mental evaluation on May 14, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

Athlete's trial will be postponed until June 30, as mental health experts determine whether he can be held criminally responsible for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp

Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee champion runner, will check into a state psychiatric institution in South Africa next week, a judge ruled Tuesday, where a panel of experts will determine if he can be held criminally responsible for killing his girlfriend.

Judge Thokozile Masipa ordered the former Olympian to report to Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria Monday through Friday of next week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The ruling will postpone the trial until June 30.

ABC News reports that the decision comes after the defense team’s expert witness, Dr. Merryll Vorster, testified that Pistorius suffered from generalized anxiety disorder which might have caused him to panic in a threatening situation.

Pistorius maintains that he thought intruders had broken into his house when he fired shots through a closed bathroom door, killing his 29-year-old girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013.

TIME Crime

Aaron Hernandez Faces New Double Murder Charges

Aaron Hernandez Murder
Aaron Hernandez sits in the courtroom of the Attleboro District Court during his hearing on Aug. 22, 2013 in North Attleboro, Mass. Jared Wickerham—Getty Images

Hernandez is accused of killing two people before he played in the 2012-2013 season.

Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez was indicted on two new counts of first-degree murder Thursday, a year after he was charged with the shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd and released from the New England Patriots.

In the new indictment, Hernandez is accused of killing Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado in Boston on July 16, 2012, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley said at a news conference Thursday. The two men were stopped at a traffic light in a car with three others, Conley said, when an SUV drove up and someone in the back seat shot at them.

Hernandez, 24, had an encounter with the victims at a club the night of the shooting, Conley said. The former tight end was also charged with three counts of armed assault with intent to murder.

Hernandez is currently being held awaiting trial on charges that he and two accomplices shot Lloyd last June. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.

TIME Athletes

4 Dead in Fire at Tennis Star James Blake’s Mansion

James Blake Fire
Flames engulf a house owned by former tennis pro James Blake in this photograph provided by the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office in Tampa, Fla. on May 7, 2014. Reuters

Police say a fire was intentionally set at the Florida mansion of the retired player on Wednesday, killing two adults and two teenagers who were renting out the $1.5 million property in a neighborhood north of Tampa

A family of four was found dead in a Florida home owned by former American tennis star James Blake after a fire that police say was intentionally set, the Associated Press reports.

Blake was renting out the mansion and was not there at the time of the blaze, officials said.

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Col. Donna Lusczynski said that two adults and two teenagers were found dead at the home outside Tampa Bay, according to the AP. She called the scene “unusual” and said authorities do not know how the fire was set. The victims have not yet been positively identified.

Firefighters were still fighting the blaze hours after it was first reported Wednesday morning, in a neighborhood north of Tampa known for its mansions and heavy security. Neighbors reportedly said it has been a long time since Blake had lived in the home, which he bought in 2005 for $1.5 million.

Blake was ranked fourth during the Association of Tennis Players world tour in 2006. He retired last year.


TIME Athletes

Olympian Tyson Gay Suspended for Doping, Returns Silver Medal

FILE: U.S. Sprinter Tyson Gay Receives One-Year Ban For Doping
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has announced that U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay has received a one-year suspension for testing positive for an anabolic steroid May 2, 2014. Christian Petersen—Getty Images

Tyson Gay, the American 100 meter record holder, has been suspended from competing for one year and has been forced to return his 2012 Olympic silver medal. Gay is tied for the second fastest man in history

U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay has been suspended for one year and forced to return his 2012 Olympic silver medal after testing positive for a banned substance, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said Friday.

The USADA said Gay accepted a one-year suspension that began June 23, 2013. He was also disqualified from all results since July 15, 2015, according to Reuters, when he first used the product that contained a prohibited substance.

Tied for the second fastest man in history, Gay holds the American record for the 100 meter race. At the 2012 London Olympics, he won the silver medal with the U.S. 4×100 meter relay team.

He admitted in July that he failed a doping test, and the USADA said his punishment was reduced because he cooperated with their investigation. He’ll be eligible to compete, including in future Olympics, beginning in June.

“We appreciate Tyson doing the right thing by immediately withdrawing from competition once he was notified, accepting responsibility for his decisions, and fully and truthfully cooperating with us in our ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding his case,” USADA CEO Travis T. Tygart said in a statement.

TIME Football

Heisman Trophy Winner Jameis Winston Cited for Shoplifting

Jameis Winston Heisman Shoplifting
Jameis Winston, quarterback of the Florida State Seminoles, speaks to the media during a press conference after the 2013 Heisman Trophy Presentation at the Marriott Marquis on Dec. 14, 2013 in New York City. Jeff Zelevansky—Getty Images

The Florida State University quarterback allegedly stole $32.72 worth of seafood from a local Publix

Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at Florida State University, was suspended from the school’s baseball team Wednesday after being issued a citation for shoplifting seafood.

Winston, who plays both football and baseball for FSU, was not arrested for the incident, but was instead issued an adult civil citation. USA Today reports the citation requires 20 hours of community service.

“As a result of his citation last night, we are suspending Jameis Winston from the baseball team,” said FSU Baseball Coach Mike Martin said in a statement. “I am confident he will complete his community service obligation and the situation will be resolved soon.”

Florida State University’s football coach Jimbo Fisher, said, ““I fully support Coach Martin’s decision and will also make sure that Jameis meets all obligations, which I know he will.” The redshirt sophomore is known chiefly for his prowess on the football field, having led the team to a BCS national championship in 2014, but plays for the school’s baseball team out of season.

On Tuesday, Winston was allegedly caught stealing $32.72 worth of crab legs and crawfish from a Florida Publix grocery store, according to CBS12 News. Winston told local officers that he forgot to pay for the seafood after placing an order at the seafood counter.

The shoplifting incident is only the latest trouble for the student. Winston was accused of raping an FSU freshman in late 2012, though he wasn’t identified as her attacker until January 2013. The Department of Education is investigating the school’s handling of the rape accusations under the Title IX amendment of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX requires schools to respond swiftly to any and all allegations of rape. Prosecutors found there was insufficient evidence to bring charges, and Winston has denied any wrongdoing.

Florida State’s discipline policy allows students with civil citations to practice and compete in athletic events, but the final decision rests with the team’s head coach.


TIME Science

The Science of Peak Human Performance

Crimson Tide Invitational track & field meet featuring some of the area's top track athletes.
Crimson Tide Invitational track & field meet on April 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images

The "runner's high," or "flow," the term for our optimal state of consciousness, is real.

The science of ultimate human performance has a bad name–literally. “Flow” is the term used by researchers for optimal states of consciousness, those peak moments of total absorption where self vanishes, time flies, and all aspects of performance go through the roof.

Unfortunately, even though research in this area holds considerable promise, unless you’re studying toilet bowl dynamics or lubrication theory, “flow” doesn’t sound like a sober scientific topic. And who hasn’t used the term colloquially, thinking that “going with the flow” was more hippie holdover than a technical description of actual experience.

Yet, it was University of Chicago psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who selected this term, and he did so for a reason. In the 1970s, Csikszentmihalyi embarked upon what would soon become one of the largest psychological surveys ever, running around the world asking people about the times in their life when they felt their best and performed their best.

He started out with experts—chess players, surgeons, dancers, etc.—and moved on to the everyone else: Italian farmers, Navaho sheep herders, Chicago assembly line workers, elderly Korean women, Japanese teenage motorcycle gang members…this list goes on.

And everyone he spoke to, regardless of culture, class, gender, age or level of modernization, felt and performed their best when they were experiencing the state he named “flow.” Csikszentmihalyi chose this term because, when interviewing research subjects, “flow” was the word that kept popping up. In the state, every action, every decision, led seamlessly, fluidly to the next. In other words, flow actually feels flowy.

The bigger issue was why—but that’s not a new question. Flow science dates back to the early 1900s, when researchers like Harvard’s William James began documenting the ways the brain can alter consciousness to improve performance, and legendary physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon, James’ student, discovered a link between mind and body—the fight-or-flight response—that helped explain this amplified performance.

The great psychologist Abraham Maslow prodded the topic again in the 1940s, finding flow states (which he called “peak experiences”) a shared commonality among all successful people. The theories got a little fuzzier with the human potential movement of the 1960s, but seemed to land on much firmer ground with Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970s. Unfortunately, this solid foundation didn’t last.

Flow was a black box, an astoundingly intriguing phenomena accessible only through subjective recall. Certainly, psychologists made a good show of it. Csikszentmihalyi identified three causes for flow and seven characteristic features of the state. A blizzard of other researchers came in and validated and extended these ideas, but no one really figured out how to replace the anecdotal with the empirical. The neurobiology of the state remained a mystery. And, in many cases, these early attempts at unpacking this mystery only exacerbated the problem.

Perhaps the best example is the endorphin question. In the 1980s, as “runner’s high” replaced “flow” as the hip descriptor of peak performance, researchers were certain that endorphins were the secret sauce behind the high. But endorphins are damn tricky to measure in the brain and no one could prove the point. This frustration reached a crescendo in 2002, when then president of the Society for Neuroscience, Huda Akil, told The New York Times that endorphins in runners “is a total fantasy of the pop culture.”

In the wake of Akil’s statement, researchers began to shy away from the field. The New Age/self-help movement rushed in to fill the vacuum. Flow, an already turbulent topic, became nearly taboo. And, as far as most are concerned, that’s where things still stand today. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Over the past decade, scientists have made enormous progress on flow. Advancements in brain imaging technologies have allowed us to apply serious metrics where once was only subjective experience. We have learned plenty, including the fact that Csikszentmihalyi was dead-on in his word choice: “flow” is the exact right term for the experience.

The state emerges from a radical alteration in normal brain function. In flow, as attention heightens, the slower and energy-expensive extrinsic system (conscious processing) is swapped out for the far faster and more efficient processing of the subconscious, intrinsic system. “It’s an efficiency exchange,” says American University in Beirut neuroscientist Arne Dietrich, who helped discover this phenomena. “We’re trading energy usually used for higher cognitive functions for heightened attention and awareness.”

The technical term for this exchange is “transient hypofrontality,” with “hypo” (meaning slow) being the opposite of “hyper” (i.e., fast) and “frontal” referring to the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that houses our higher cognitive functions. This is one of the main reasons flow feels flowy—because any brain structure that would hamper rapid-fire decision-making is literally shut off.

In 2008, for example, Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Charles Limb used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the brains of improv jazz musicians in flow. He found the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain best known for self-monitoring, deactivated. Self-monitoring is the voice of doubt, that defeatist nag, our inner critic. Since flow is a fluid state—where problem solving is nearly automatic—second guessing can only slow that process. When the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex goes quiet, those guesses are cut off at the source. The result is liberation. We act without hesitation. Creativity becomes more free-flowing, risk taking becomes less frightening, and the combination lets us flow at a far faster clip.

Changes in brainwave function further this process. In flow, we shift from the fast-moving beta wave of waking consciousness down to the far slower borderline between alpha and theta. Alpha is day-dreaming mode—when we slip from idea to idea without much internal resistance. Theta, meanwhile, only shows up during REM or just before we fall asleep, in that hypnogogic gap where ideas combine in truly radical ways. And, of course, both effects grease the decision-making skids that much more.

Finally, there’s the neurochemistry of flow. A team of neuroscientists at Bonn University in Germany discovered that endorphins are definitely part of flow’s cocktail (so was Akil wrong) and, as other researchers have determined, so are norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, and serotonin. All five are pleasure-inducing, performance-enhancing neurochemicals, upping everything from muscle reaction times to attention, pattern recognition and lateral thinking—the three horsemen of rapid-fire problem-solving.

In other words, Csikszentmihaly was more right than he could have known. Not only does flow feel flowy; neurobiologically, it actually is flowy.

And beyond settling the terminology question, what all this neurobiology tells us is that—for the very first time in history—we have begun to crack the code of optimal performance. This is a big deal. Researchers credit flow with most athletic gold medals and world championships, major scientific breakthroughs and significant progress in the arts, but this might only be the very beginning of the revolution. As flow science finally has a mechanistic toe-hold, the same level of incredible performance now possible for the few may soon be in the offing for the many.


The 2014 TIME 100: The Athletes Matter

The five athletes on this year's list exemplify excellence, perseverance, and a pioneering spirit.

Whether you’re in the stadium cheering like crazy for them, or sitting on the couch screaming in disbelief because someone just pulled off the seemingly impossible, great athletes can inspire you. They can move you. Sometimes even to tears.

The influence of the five athletes in the 2014 TIME 100 extends far beyond the playing field. Jason Collins, center for the Brooklyn Nets, finished the 2013-2014 NBA season averaging 1.1 points and 0.9 rebounds per game. Despite the unimpressive stats, he’s a pioneer. This year Collins became the first openly gay athlete to play in a major U.S. sports league. “Jason has always maintained that he’s first a basketball player,” writes Chelsea Clinton, Collins’ Stanford classmate, in the TIME 100 issue. “He is. But he’s also a leader and inspiration.”

Richard Sherman, of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, isn’t just the best shutdown cornerback in the NFL. His smack-talking rant during a post-game interview, immediately following the NFC championship game, sparked a national conversation about race, stereotyping, and sportsmanship. Critics were quick to label the dreadlocked star a “thug.” But Sherman, a Stanford grad raised in Compton, Calif., engaged in the debate — most athletes flee social questions — and wondered if that term is really today’s way of calling him the N word. In a heartbeart, Sherman altered the discourse.

Serena Williams is back on the list — she last made the TIME 100 in 2010 — which is a testament to her staying power. Williams is still the number one player in the world. Remember, years ago, when skeptics wondered if she was focused enough on tennis, given her passion for fashion and other interests? Plenty of tennis stars burned out. Serena remains a dominant force — and a joy to watch.

“Serena is a warrior,” writes her friend, Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade. “An aggressive and competitive nature combined with passion, drive and skill make her a formidable and fierce opponent.”

The young golf phenom Lydia Ko, who turns 17 today, has the potential to help grow the women’s game around the world. “She is responsible for sparking increased interest in our sport not just in her native South Korea and adopted homeland of New Zealand but also among juniors across the globe,” writes eight-time LPGA player of the year Annika Sorenstam.

Around a billion people watched the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. Soccer’s influence exceeds its beauty. This summer in Brazil, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal — the world’s best player — will try to lead his country to its first-ever appearance in the championship match. “I wish him the best this summer at the World Cup in Brazil,” writes Pelé. “But if Portugal goes to the final against Brazil, I’m sorry, Cristiano, but I want to Brazil to win.”

Pelé will be cheering. And the world will be watching, enjoying the kind of shared cultural experience that sports, and sports alone, can deliver.

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