July 22, 2010

"MORE AIR, MORE ERROR" (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Perfection in the Horseshoe Pit (JOHN BRANCH, 7/20/10, NY Times)

DEFIANCE, Ohio — From behind a neat, ranch-style house on Melody Lane came the clinking and clanking rhythm of iron striking iron.

Alan Francis stood more than a dozen long-legged strides from an inch-thick stake drilled deep into tacky clay. Perhaps the most dominant athlete in any sport in the country, Francis lifted his right arm, swung it behind him and forward again.

He launched a horseshoe toward the target 40 feet away. It weighed a little more than two and a half pounds and spun slowly, sideways. It rose and fell in an arc until its narrow open end, three and a half inches across, caught the stake with percussive perfection.

Clink.

Francis, satisfied but expressionless, pitched another.

Clank.

“Those are the sounds you want,” he said, smiling.

Built narrow like a stake, with a mustache and a crew cut, Francis is widely considered the best horseshoe pitcher in history. He has won 15 world titles, including the past seven. He hopes to extend his streak in early August at the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association world tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

But the number that most impresses those whom the 40-year-old Francis routinely beats or who gather to watch him pitch is the key statistic in horseshoes: ringer percentage.

Get a ringer 70 percent of the time, and you are in a shrinking class of world-class pitchers. Get one 80 percent of the time, and you are probably in the top two.

Get one 90 percent of the time, and you are Alan Francis. [...]

In the championship game of last year’s world tournament, which had more than 1,300 participants, Francis fell far behind Vermont’s Brian Simmons, a two-time world champion and Francis’ only viable rival. Francis pitched ringers on 25 of his final 26 shoes to win what some call the greatest match in the sport’s history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 22, 2010 6:26 PM
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