Hannah Beech, our Southeast Asia bureau chief, spent part of her childhood in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where her hero was Cal Ripken Jr., the legendary shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles. (In her Bangkok office, Hannah has a framed copy of the Baltimore Sun commemorating the day in 1995 that Ripken beat Lou Gehrig's streak of consecutive games played.) Girls couldn't play baseball, so Hannah, let's say, overcompensated. At softball she played shortstop ("just like Cal," she says). She ran track, did the high jump and, having been taught how to box by her father, boasts a mean left hook that, she tells me, she has found useful in both Inner Mongolia and Morocco. Oh, and she's played cricket. Twice. In Cambodia and China.
With that pedigree plus her experience covering three Olympic Games for TIME Hannah was the obvious person to anchor our annual Summer Journey double issue. In this Olympics year, we chose as our topic the games people play, and the ways in which sports and pastimes enjoyment of which is an essential part of our humanity have migrated from their places of origin to fields far away. Hannah contributed two pieces: a stunning look at China's obsession with Olympics gold and the discipline with which children are drilled in their assigned sports, and an uplifting story on the way that boxing has been a source of redemption among Thai prisoners. "It's an awe-inspiring experience," she says, "to meet women half your size who can kick your ass and then demurely bow to you afterwards."
In all the years we've been doing a Summer Journey issue, I can't remember one in which our correspondents so threw themselves into the reporting. The stories spanned the ages: Liam Fitzpatrick looked at video-game contests in South Korea, while William Green profiled the man in the British Museum who knows all there is to know about the ancient Royal Game of Ur. They put a girdle around the world, from the rutted football fields of Cameroon to the urban basketball courts of China. Their work was, as usual for our Journey issue, shepherded by our Asia editor Zoher Abdoolcarim, ably assisted by Simon Robinson, our India bureau chief and a sports nut as only a Sydneysider can be. International art director Cecelia Wong and Nilanjan Das, TIME Asia's deputy art director, handled the design, while our wonderful picture staff, led by Maria Wood and her deputy Wei Leng Tay in Hong Kong, made sure the stories looked as good as they read. You can see more photos we took for the issue, as well as audio slideshows and video features, at time.com/2008/journey.
Hannah, for her part, is getting ready to cover the Beijing Olympics. But she can't rest on her laurels. Her sports performance, and her sports journalism, is always at the risk of scrutiny by her husband, Brook Larmer. One of those people who (in Hannah's words) is "annoyingly good" at sports, Brook was a top-ranked collegiate tennis player and is the author of a tremendous book on Yao Ming, the Chinese basketball star. We pressed him into service, too, to write about a town in Ethiopia that produces many of the world's top distance runners. (Brook took a side trip there when he and Hannah were on vacation; they're that sort of family).
Hannah and Brook's son Dashiell, 8 months old, naturally has a size zero Baltimore Orioles shirt. In 25 years or so, I wouldn't be surprised if you find him in the Summer Journey issue, too. Meanwhile, my thanks to his parents and to all our staff for once again producing a summer double issue that is as enlightening as it is fun. I trust that you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed putting it together.