Archive for February, 2010

Shady Aftermath

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Bomb threats, death threats, just another day in Short Track?  Well, after the South Korean Relay team was unjustly disqualified and robbed of their Gold Medal in the Women’s 3000m event, the Australian judge who made the terrible call received both.

For “Security Reasons” Australian judge James Hewish was pulled from his judging duties at the Short Track tonight.  Who’s security are we talking about here?  NBC Commentator Andy Gabel announced during this evening’s telecast that he disagreed with Hewish’s call as well, so we’re the Olympic organizers thinking about Hewish’s safety or the integrity of the races when they pulled him?  Referees have altogether too much power and this one is going to do a lot less damage in the stands than on the ice.

I do want to make a correction as well.  I said that British judge, Ken Pendrey, looked like an undertaker (true) and he looked like he was just waiting to ruin somebody’s day (he did look like that), but as he approached the South Korean bench to deliver news about their disqualification, he was simply the messenger and was not responsible for the decision.  That all rests on Hewish’s shoulders who, like most refs, appears to have the uncanny ability to live with it.

Ohno Disqualified…Blames Canadian Conspiracy

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Ohno Mug Shot?What’s he going to say now?  In the Men’s Short Track 500m final, where he has won Gold before, Apolo Anton Ohno was disqualified for taking out Canadian skater Francois Louis-Tremblay.  As NBC commentator Andy Gabel kept saying, it looked like Ohno barely touched Francois, but that same less than minimal touch is what Ohno said brought him from Gold to Bronze in the 1000m final.  So I want to know what he’s going to say now because he’s definitely going to say something.

I don’t want to look like I’m on a quest to discredit Apolo or that I don’t support him because I was pulling for him again in the 500m, but as they came around the last lap and he was still out of medal position I just knew he was going to force something to get himself in the race.  I respect that.  That’s why he has seven medals, that will to win.  But I was apprehensive, too, because when you force something in Short Track most of the time you bring someone  down in the process.

Well, it didn’t take long for Cris Collinsworth to catch up with Ohno after his disqualification, and everything went just as expected.  So, Ohno started talking and I was ready to write a glowing report about America’s Silver and Bronzen boy (with a little Gold thrown in) because he sounded good.  Of course he said Louis-Tremblay slipped and that he didn’t push him, but that wasn’t unexpected.  And then.  Well, let me just say, if you give Ohno enough rope he really knows what to do with it and ex-wide receiver or not, Collinsworth is a good enough reporter to play hangman if he wants to.  Here’s the last part of the interview:

Ohno: I’m leaving with no regrets, but we still have the relay and uh, I really want to go out there and make sure our guys get a medal.

Collinsworth: You had your hand on him, but it didn’t look like much of a push.  Do you disagree with the call.

Ohno: I do.  Um, you know my hand is up to basically just protect myself from basically running into the back of him.  So, it’s more, it’s like a cushion, you know, there’s no…I’m not trying to push anybody down or anything like that.  But uh, you know, that’s the, that’s the head Canadian ref out there and we’re on Canadian soil.  But you know, the boys skated very, very well and it’s was a good race.

Collinsworth: Do you feel like that’s a factor, the Canadian ref.

Ohno: I think so, absolutely.  But, you know, in Short Track it’s, everything’s so subjective, so I just have to be faster.

Honestly, if you took a black marker to all the points where he’s making excuses and accusations and only left the words where he congratulates his other racers and blames himself for not being faster, there’d be nothing to write about.  You’d say, wow, that guy is charismatic, or man, that Ohno has really white teeth, but he can’t help himself.  He just needs us to believe he’s the best so much that he sticks his foot in his mouth every time.  And I can’t just sit here while nobody else calls him out and let him get away with it.  Here’s a little secret coming too late to Ohno: You don’t actually need to win Gold Medals to be our Golden boy, you just have to have a little class.

Queen Yu-Na

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Kim Yu-Na is the biggest star in Korea.  Not just the most popular Olympian or even athlete, but the most popular person in the country.  So, she came to the Olympics as not just the favorite in Ladies’ Figure Skating, but the hope and focus of an entire nation.  With the weight of that pressure on her shoulders, it was all the more impressive how she flew tonight, winning the Gold Medal in flawless fashion as only Queen Yu-Na could have done.

In her Short Program on Tuesday, Kim Yu-Na had the best music, wore the best outfit and skated the best performance, which put her just under five points ahead of her greatest rival Mao Asada of Japan.  Tonight, all the same was true for the Free Skate.  Kim Yu-Na was far better than her competition, skating a perfect program, showing herself to be the brightest star in the World tonight, not just Korea.  She seems so much older than her 19 years.  The crown she wears for her country as Queen Yu-Na must be a heavy one, but at the Awards Ceremony tonight, with the Gold Medal around her neck, she floated away.  Wearing a complicated and enigmatic smile, Kim Yu-Na wiped away her tears and whispered the words of her National Anthem.  Such beauty on the ice and off, she’s got such a spark and power.  Is she looking for a king?

Congratulations, Kim Yu-Na.

No Sir. Not a Thing to Celebrate.

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

I don’t punctuate my titles, nobody does, but this post is indisputable.  If you disagree, come and get it.  I am absolutely disgusted.  In the Women’s 3000m Short Track Speed Skating Relay event, the South Korean team turned in a Gold Medal and World Record performance only to have it stolen from them by the judges in a horrible DSQ.

In a Speed Skating Relay event you have to make exchanges with your teammates.  In an exchange you ride up on your teammate and shove them forward, propelling them around the track.  With 5 laps to go, the South Korean team made an exchange on the inside of the Chinese team.  A few meters past the exchange the South Korean and then the Chinese skater set their crouches for a turn around the oval.  At this point, it is clear that the Korean skater is in front.  So, just inches behind her rival, striding to catch up, the Chinese skater reaches forward and steps on the outside of the South Korean’s skate.  With this accident, the Chinese skater slips and falls behind, all but guaranteeing the Gold Medal to South Korea.  But by the judge’s ruling, there was no accident at all.  The judge said that the South Korean skater was breaking the rules by skating where she did.

The thing is, the sport of Short Track is born from tight spaces and jostling for your inches on the ice is integral to the discipline.  The reason for the contact and disqualification is that the South Koreans made their exchange on the inside lane from the Chinese team.  At one moment, the Chinese team appeared to be leading.  But as they approached the exchange point, the Chinese team flared out while the Korean skater stayed on the inside and reached her partner with a burst of speed.  Now, when the South Korean skater pushed her teammate, they caught the Chinese, making for an exchange inside pass.  A few feet on from there was the contact and a few minutes after that, a terrible decision.  What the Chinese skater wanted to believe was that she was in first place while clearly, undoubtedly, obviously and undeniably, the South Korean skater was already there.  Why that should result in a disqualification and four broken hearts I just don’t know.  But I do know: that should never happen.

I’ve watched the replays a dozen or so times, backing up my DVR to the start of the race, the exchange, the contact, the finish, the South Korean celebration.  And I replayed the moment where the “Olympic Judge”, who looked like your worst, most cliched version of an undertaker, skated over to the South Korean sideline just waiting to ruin somebody’s day.  And then I watched again as one South Korean skater, who was so proudly waving her country’s flag a moment before, doubled over in sick and agony and disbelief.  And I watched the four Americans, who were totally out of the race, completely unaffected by the South Koreans, and in fourth place a second before, celebrate their Bronze Medal.  One of them even cried tears of happiness.  Let me say this.  There was nothing to celebrate here.  Nothing.

Hardly an Empty Net

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

The U.S. Men’s Hockey team is undefeated.  They’re two more wins away from a Gold Medal, and they got to where they are now after hard fought wins against Canada and then Switzerland.  They beat Canada 5-3 in their last game of Group Play and they beat the Swiss (who sure didn’t play like a neutral nation Wednesday) 2-0.  In the last seconds of both games the Americans scored empty netters when first the Canadians and then the Swiss pulled their goalies for another offensive player and a better chance at a game-tying goal.  Empty net goals are deceiving though, they make the score seem more lopsided than it is and yesterday it was especially true against Switzerland.

At the end of the second period the game was tied (the Americans missed out on a go ahead goal by a tenth of a second at the buzzer).  In the third period, all within a minute, Switzerland shot the puck past the brilliant goalie Miller only to have the disk strike against the outside post and ricochet back into play.  The U.S. took the puck up the ice and after a couple of passes, they put it into the Swiss net.  The team didn’t celebrate for long, however, as the goal was waved off on a high-sticking call that refs wouldn’t let slide under the less forgiving International Rules.

With a game’s worth of impressive stick work behind them and even more impressive patience, the Americans finally got their goal.  It was forward Zach Parise who slipped the puck past Swiss Goalie Jonas Hiller to put the U.S. up 1-0.  It was Parise, too, who wristed in the empty netter with 11 seconds left.  The U.S. took 44 shots at Swiss Goalie Hiller to get those two goals, but they got them and the Americans advanced.  We’ll have to look out for Switzerland in the future because they were better this tournament than anyone expected, but for now we look to the Semi’s and two games to the Gold Medal.  Hardly a miracle, but it would only be the team’s third Medal in 30 years.  It’s time to get into hockey, baby.  Let’s go U.S.A.

World Records in the Winter Olympics

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, whether it was at the Water Cube with Michael Phelps or the Bird’s Nest with Usain Bolt, we saw World Records being set almost every day.  At these Winter Games in Vancouver, we’ve been lucky if we’ve seen even a handful.

I know the world’s best long distance Long Track Speed Skater, Sven Kramer, set an Olympic Record in his Gold Medal 5000m performance early in these Games.  It was broadcast for just a moment that he did the same in the Dutch revered 10,000m event before he was disqualified based on a coaching mistake that caused the great Kramer to skate less than 10,000m (which made it easier to skate for an Olympic Record).

And nothing against an Olympic Record, but if we’re seeing World Records being broken during the Summer Olympics, we’ve got to ask, “Why aren’t we setting records during the Winter Olympics, too?”

Well, in most cases, the Winter Olympic sports just can’t be compared to the Summer’s.  In most, if not the majority of Winter events, the competitions take place on tracks that are unique to each geography and outdoors in constantly varying weather.  For the Biathalon and Cross Country events, the courses the athletes have been competing on over these last two weeks were designed just for the 2010 Winter Olympics.  These exact courses won’t be used again at the next Games in Sochi, Russia or anywhere else.  The same thing goes for Ski and Snowboard Cross, and all of the Alpine Skiing events.  Even if they were able to copy the courses exactly, they couldn’t replicate the climate we’ve seen in Vancouver, which is known by locals as much for rain as snow.

In Short Track Speed Skating World Records are irrelevant because they don’t skate for World Record speed, they skate with strategy in mind.  A tactician like Apolo Anton Ohno has great speed, but he’s won seven Olympic Medals and in only one of those performances, a very memorable Gold, did he lead the race from start to finish.  Two distinct World Records from these Olympics came during Figure Skating, an indoor event.  Gold Medal winning pair Shen and Zhao set a World Record score in their Short Program and Gold Medal favorite Kim Yu-Na did the same.

In the Winter Olympics so much of the scores and times you see can’t be compared against anything but themselves.  So we don’t measure success in World Records, but in Gold, Silver and Bronze.  The best in the world is the best of the day.  You’ll never get what you want out of the Winter Games if you’re looking for a bottom line.  When it’s about the journey and not just the destination, you’ve just got to watch to get what you want.  Be assured, you’ll see the best in the world every second you do.

A Beautiful Virtue

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

We haven’t known Ice Dancing until tonight.  Finally, in the Free Dance, the last of the three Ice Dancing programs, the best of the teams did away with the Motherboy costumes and pantomime to show the audience what drama a performance can hold.  The three teams that made the podium were so much the best of the competition and it was with them that we saw true skill, class, and beauty.

Canadian pair Virtue and Moir, crowd favorites and leaders, were scheduled between the best American duo (Davis and White) and the Russian power pair Domnina and Shabalin.  Everyone skated their best tonight, no mistakes out of the best in the last group of skaters.  Davis and White were first to skate the final group, performing a brilliant dance to music from The Phantom of the Opera.  They were flawless and when they were done I believed I had just seen a Gold Medal performance.  But sometimes, if you’re lucky, you stop your DVR just long enough to see a Gold Medal performance you can feel.  Virtue and Moir began their dance and it was absolute grace in motion.  I didn’t have a thought outside of their performance, I was in a complete Olympic zone.  No question, not a doubt in my mind did everyone just see the performance of a lifetime.  And not the performance of Virtue and Moir’s skating lifetime, but ours as viewers.  We may not see the likes of that perfection for a time to come.

Domnina and Shabalin for Bronze, Davis and White for Silver, and Virtue and Moir for a beautiful, beautiful Gold.

Ohno He Didn’t!

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

I love class in a champion, but i guess that’s where I’ve already set the mark too high for Apolo Anton Ohno.  Ohno acts like he’s got class, he wants us to believe he’s got class (ballroom class), but just lately he’s showing signs of anything but.

In his interviews, Apolo is smooth and self-assured just like he is on the short-track ice where he earned his accolades.  But in his interview with Bob Costas a day after earning the Bronze Medal in the Men’s Short-Track 1000m he flirted with excuse-making and unreality.  So, back to Saturday night when the event took place:  Partway through the race, Ohno was in the middle of the pack, sandwiched between the Canadian Hamelin brothers and two South Korean skaters.  After he attempted an unclean pass Ohno temporarily put himself in medal position.  In that moment, Francois Hamelin put his hand on the encroaching Ohno and a second later Ohno’s left skate slipped to send him to the back of the pack in fifth position.  After trying to pass someone, anyone, for the next couple of laps, Apolo only had the final lap left to make any progress towards a medal.  With a determined effort, full of brilliant skating, Ohno propelled his way past the Canadians to capture the Bronze Medal, his seventh overall which made him the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian of all time.

Ohno smirked to the fans and confidently swaggered around the rink, throwing up seven fingers to remind us that with that BRONZE medal performance (and he was obviously aware of what ANY color medal would do for him) he would move ahead of Bonnie Blair and six Medals, five of which were Gold.  In the Costas interview the next night, Ohno said that he thought he simply slipped on the ice during the race, but when he saw video of the race he saw that what actually happened was that he got pushed and that’s why he fell to fifth place.  He felt if he wasn’t pushed he would have been in a great spot to win the race.  At that point the South Koreans hadn’t made their move yet so to claim Gold Medal position at that point in the race is illogical and optimistic at best.

What this comes down to is Ohno’s attitude.  If he says the right thing I have no problem with him being proud of his accomplishment.  Seven medals (so far) over three Olympics is no small accomplishment and I would never belittle an Olympian (as long as they maintain the Olympic attitude).  But Ohno was so aware and so conscious that this medal would move him ahead of Blair, regardless of the Gold factor, that I have my doubts about his attitude.  In his interviews I didn’t hear him do anything other than act proud and claim he was interfered with in two events.  At the first chance to make an excuse for his performance in the 1000m he blamed another skater.  Speed skating can be an unpredictable sport, Ohno says, but Jung-Su Lee from South Korea won Gold Medals in the two events he shared with Apolo.  Short-Track all of a sudden doesn’t seem as unpredictable as Apolo Anton Ohno would have us believe.  He would just have us think he’s the best in the world regardless of the results.  And if the results don’t fit, he’ll use his seven total medals to attempt to justify the same end.  I’m a lot more appreciating of a Champion with a little humility and graciousness.  It’s not always about the color of your accomplishments, especially in the Olympics.  But it can’t be coincidental that often times, the best champions show the most class.  What did Bonnie Blair say when she saw that Ohno beat her record?  “I’m very happy for Apolo’s accomplishment.  It’s a great feat for him, U.S. Speedskating, and the United States of America.”  Sounds like Gold to me.

Life Gets in the Way of the Olympics

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

The Winter Olympics have been on TV every day from roughly 12pm to 5pm and 7pm to 11pm CST since last Saturday.  I’ve seen almost all of it with the help of my DVR.  I’d love to watch it all live, but NBC delays half the events anyway.  Well, I feel like I’ve created a monster here.  Every day I’m pushing my friends and family to watch the Olympics and now if I’m ever behind I just have to ignore my phone.  I can’t read a single text if I’m trying to catch up with the coverage and I answer every phone call with, “I’m not caught up, I’m not caught up!”

So, I’m sitting here watching Lyndey Vonn try to hold onto her medal spot in the Ladies’ Super-G with my friend Ryan.  He goes, “Is this live?”

“No, they did this earlier in the day.”

Ryan looks at me.  “So this isn’t even live?  I’m going to look up the results on my iPhone.”

“No, don’t.  If you want to stay friends, don’t do it.”

He laughs and looks over at me, “Whatever, I don’t even know what f*ing sport this is.  What is this…skiing?”

I’m working on him.  He’s my next convert.  He’s going to be a tough one, too.  He’s just asked who Apolo Anton Ohno was.

“Apolo Anton Ohno.  He’s huge.”

“He looks like a cartoon.”  Like I said, tough convert, but short-track gets everybody.  Ryan just saw Apolo Anton Ohno make a second-to-last lap pass to advance into the Semi’s.  We’ve almost got him hooked.

Brave and Reckless – The Winter Olympians

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

NBC’s Brian Williams did a special report a few days ago with Bob Costas about how every day of these Winter Olympics with every race and every run, lives are at stake.  I’m sitting here on a couch in front of a TV and my heart has been pounding hard for days straight because I’m afraid for every athlete I see.

With the Summer Olympics you can see yourself doing the sports.  I’ve played volleyball, even on sand.  I’ve played basketball and I’ve gone swimming.  I’ve run track and even jumped a couple of hurdles.  But I can’t get down the moguls without falling, let along take two jumps along the way.  I can’t slide down an ice track at close to ninety miles an hour and if I tried…Ski down a mountain at upwards of sixty and seventy miles an hour?  Not a chance.  With almost every Winter Olympic sport, not only do you face off with your fellow man or woman, not only do you fight nature, but you try to survive against what man has done with nature.  We create impossibly fast and high and tight tracks and courses only to see the best and most fearless men and women conquer them again and again.  Are they reckless?  Don’t you just have to be brave?

Since the Alpine Skiing events started a few days ago we have seen crash after crash, three in a row for the women, every one causing us to hold our breath.  During the Men’s Super G, Peter Fill Italian skier hit the snow just a few yards short of the finish line only to stand up with a smile, circling his pole in the air with good natured fun.  Not long after that, a Canadian hopeful lost his footing, then forty-year old Swedish family man Patrik Jaerbyn knocked himself out after he hooked a ski tip on a gate.  Last night they had the Ladies’ Skeleton where you take a sled that’s smaller than the luge up to the same speeds, and then go down the track face first.  What will be next?  Well, just one example is the the Large Hill Ski Jumping.  So, the other day when we saw Simon Ammann fly from a 90 meter jump, that was just a warmup for the daredevil because today they jump from 120 meters to compete for Olympic Gold.

They’re brave and reckless, they’re adrenaline junkies, and unstoppable competitors.  They’re athletes, all, these Winter Olympians.