Posts Tagged ‘Speed Skating’

Kings of the Long Skate

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

At the Adler Arena on a 400 meter oval of pearly white ice the best long track speed skaters in the world battle for Gold. In these distance events, you race against the clock and not the person on the ice next to you. It takes patience, focus, self-awareness and incredible talent. Historically, the Dutch honor this event in their home country like no other and historically they dominate these events accordingly. The distance the Netherlands hoped to lock down today was the 5,000 meters and they fielded a strong team led by the World Record holder and reigning Olympic champion Sven Kramer.

In Vancouver in 2010 Kramer experienced both amazing triumph and crushing disappointment. He won Gold early in the Games in the 5,000 meter and then with a huge lead and little ice left between him and another Gold Medal in the 10,000 meter event, a coaching error caused Kramer to skate into the wrong lane and he was disqualified. It was heartbreak on the Olympic stage, but a champion like Kramer didn’t let it affect him long. Since 2010 he has secured his position as the dominant force in long track speed skating and he came to Sochi with his expectations and the entire nation of the Netherlands set on more Gold.

He started the race with split times slightly off the pace of Russian Denis Yuskov who came out blazing hot with lap times in the mid 28s range. By the mid point in the race though, Kramer overtook the Russian through sheer consistency in his lap times. He built and built his lead and posted an Olympic Record and an extremely challenging time for the final three pairs to overcome. None of them did. Kramer cruised to Gold with absolute power and confidence built on the consistency of his lap times. With Dutch royalty in the stands to celebrate him, Kramer watched from the tunnels under the main floor as two of his countrymen, Jan Blokhuijsen and Jorrit Bergsma, took Silver and Bronze respectively. It was a sweep for the Netherlands in their favorite and most prideful sport of Long Track Speed Skating. This made their Olympics and they’ve only just begun.

A Beautiful Games

Monday, March 1st, 2010

I have a hard time with endings.  After spending over two weeks getting to love these Olympic Winter Games once again, I find they are over all too fast.  From a resplendent and respectful Opening Ceremonies, where Vancouver promised to give the world everything of themselves, to the very last event, a hockey game, where Canada received in return the only thing they ever wanted from us, we experienced the very best of a country and of a people.  And for the world at large, we saw the best of our hero’s, both the unsung and the larger than life, who made their countries proud and made us proud of them.  We talked of new cultures and then again, as we got to know those cultures, we talked of sameness.  I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: There is no place like the Olympics for competition, culture, and pride in all of sports.  So now as I watch the Closing Ceremonies of these 2010 Winter Olympics, (just like reminiscing about a great vacation on the plane ride home) I think back to all the stories that made these such an amazing Games.

This is a day by day recap of the best of what I saw (and even though I tried, I didn’t see everything),  and how I felt about it (I wouldn’t do it any other way).

February 12th

The Opening Ceremonies told of a nation, but welcomed the whole world.

February 13th

* U.S. skaters Apolo Anton Ohno and J.R. Celski find Silver and Bronze while showing the world just how exciting Short Track Speed Skating can be.

* American Hannah Kearney blazes down the moguls in perfect form and just the right time find the Gold Medal she missed out on in Torino.  As there can only be one Gold Medal, the host nation would have to wait one more night for theirs as Canadian Jenn Heil took Silver.

* The Dutch, who love their Long Track Speed Skating, got just what they wanted when national hero Sven Kramer earned Gold in the 5000m.

February 14th

* I spent Valentine’s Day afternoon watching a bunch of guys on skis shooting guns as I got into the Biathalon Men’s 10km sprint where Frenchman Vincent Jay won Gold and the sport’s king, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen proved he was human in his fifth Olympic Games.

* After 86 years (every previous Winter Games) Johnny Spillane earned the United States’ first medal in the European dominated Nordic Combined as he takes Silver two spots ahead of his teammate Todd Lodwick

* Alexandre Bilodeau.  Wow.  The nicest guy in the world won Canada’s long awaited home Gold in the Men’s Moguls with his big brother and inspiration Frederic cheering him on.  And as it was Valentine’s Day, it’s worth mentioning he got a hell of a kiss from his blond girlfriend as his score was posted.

* Shen and Zhao, talk about your perfect pair. They skated together for 18 years, finding love along the way and getting married in 2007.  After taking some time off to enjoy life away from skating, China’s most popular couple came back to the sport to hunt for Gold in Vancouver.  In the Pairs Short Program they broke a World Record and put themselves in a place to find what they came for.

February 15th

* Bode Miller, with a renewed dedication to his sport and a new outlook as a father, earns a Bronze Medal in the Men’s Downhill.

* Seth Wescott let his board run and carved all the right turns to come from behind and win to remain the only Gold Medalist in the sport (he won in Torino as well).

* Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, while not perfect, were Golden in the Pairs Free Skate. With 1.3 Billion and everyone I knew behind them all the way, the great Shen and Zhao got the Gold Medal they came for.

February 16th

* I woke up and watched the cutest girl in Germany fire a rifle with pinpoint accuracy (more like grapefruit-sized accuracy) and ski with an inspiring mix of power and desire as Magdalena Neuner won the Gold Medal in the Women’s Biathalon 10km Pursuit.

* Four years ago in Torino I yelled at the screen when I saw Lindsay Jacobellis try a trick and fail to win a sure Gold Medal.  I tried to forgive her as I rooted her on to redemption in the Women’s Snowboard Cross, but she missed a gate in the semifinal and finished fifth in the event.  After four years and a couple weeks of reflection, I have a new perspective on things.  While I say I appreciate the Olympic spirit over anything, I sure didn’t hold to that with Jacobellis.  All I wanted was a winner, she wanted to stay true to the spirit of her sport.  I’m letting her off the hook.  Here’s to fresh starts (and maybe Sochi in four more years?).

* Things were tight at the top after the Men’s Figure Skating Short Program.  Evgeny Plushenko lead Evan Lysacek and Japanese skater Daisuke Takahaski by a .55 and .60 points respectively.  Plushenko, already a Gold Medalist, demonstrated his power one more time in his Short Program, but also demonstrated a weakness in his dancing that might play out more noticeably in the Free Skate to follow in two nights.

February 17th

* Lyndsey Vonn won Gold and Julia Mancuso won Silver in the Ladies’ Downhill, which gave us our first opportunity to see that teammates don’t always get along during an awkward podium stand hug.

* Shani Davis repeated as Gold Medalist in the Long Track 1000m event, justifying (not to me) his pulling out of the 500m event two days before.

* Men’s Halfpipe finals.  How Shaun White flew…he won the Gold Medal after one run, but saved his very best, and an even higher score, for his second run.  He developed the Double McTwist 1260 so he could beat the best in the world, instead he used it just to show us he already was.

February 18th

* Back to Alpine Skiing for the Ladies’ Super Combined and guess who won?  Lyndsey Vonn?  Nope, she got a DNF while Julia Mancuso collected another Silver Medal.  Vonn probably took some comfort, if not from her teammate’s Silver, from her best friend, Maria Reisch’s Gold.

* Norway loves their Cross Country Ski Team who they call the Red Army.  Well, the Biathalon athletes are not only cross country skiers, but crack-shots with their rifles as well, so Norweigans must have celebrated when Emil Hegle Svendsen took Gold and Biathalon King, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, took a shared Silver in the Men’s 20km Individual event.

* Evan Lysacek skated first and had all the pressure in the world on his shoulders.  He showed what it is to be an athlete and as the most fit and dedicated of all the skaters he brought enough of both gracefulness and power to his flawless performance to hold off the quad-flying Russian, Torino Gold Medalist, Evgeny Plushenko.

* Up against a trio of tricked-out Americans, Australian cutey Torah Bright was the best of all in her second run (after falling in her first) to win a Gold Medal in Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe.

February 19th

* Bode Miller got on the podium again, one spot better this time, to Silver in the Men’s Super-G ahead of fellow American and surprise Medalist Andrew Weibrecht and behind Norweigan Man of Steel Aksel Lund Svindal.

* Red, White, and  Blue caught my attention for a different country as Great Britain put in a showing outside of the curling rink with a Gold Medal in Women’s Skeleton for Amy Williams.

* While the Figure Skating Ice Dancing – Compulsory Dance was skated, I skipped the whole lot.  It was all about G.O.E. Grade of Execution on the same dance, and I just couldn’t do it.

February 20th

* Lyndsey Vonn won Bronze in the Ladies’ Super-G, making for a very successful Olympics by almost any measure.

* Swiss high-flyer Simon Amman won his fourth Gold Medal overall as he soared past his competition in the Ski Jumping Large Hill event.  In his interview afterwards, Simon said that he would be celebrating long and hard and that four Gold Medals is something to celebrate.  Almost as excited as Amman was the Silver Medalist from Poland, Adam Malysz.  His joy at winning Silver was as anything else I saw that day.

* Norweigan Cross Country Skiing took another blow in their rough start to these Games by seeing arch-rivals Sweden claim two podium spots in the Men’s 30km Pursuit.  Marcus Hellner took Gold and Johan Olsson Bronze.

* After slipping/getting pushed into fifth place, Apolo Anton Ohno shows quality by cutting up the Short Track and getting into third place behind South Korean’s Lee Jung-Su and Lee Ho-Suk to win a Bronze Medal and his seventh Olympic Medal overall.  With those seven Medals, Apolo Anton Ohno became the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian to date.

February 21st

* Bode Miller goes Gold in the Men’s Super Combined, making it his third medal of the Olympics, completing his story of redemption.

* Neuner!  My girl does it again, Magdalena Neuner wins the Women’s 12.5km Mass Start.  I love it when she wins Gold.

* All day I watched ski cross and tried to get into it.  I was hoping for as much excitement as we got with the Snowboard Cross, but it didn’t happen.  I was counting the races where the finishing order was determined a third of the way into the race and that doesn’t play well for drama on the course.  NBC rolled the story of Chris Delbosco the U.S. young talent who threw his life away on drugs and alcohol until he sobered up and then decided to ski for Canada instead.  He got to the final and was the only one to make an exciting pass, but it ended up being too exciting even for him and he wiped it on a jump late in the race.  All that about a guy with all the talent in the world who decided to squander it forever while Jamaica’s only representative Errol Kerr came and went too quietly.

* Another night of Ice Dancing…for some.  I skipped it.  Again.

* US v Canada 1.  An empty netter with under a minute to play secured the win for the United States, 5 to 3.  This was the first most exciting hockey game.  A rematch in the finals?  Could these neighbors handle the tension?

February 22nd

* Petter Northug and team take the Gold Medal for Norway and make the Red Army’s supporters happy in the Men’s Team Sprint Free.

* Welcome back to Ice Dancing!  There were two Gold Medal performances, but only Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from Canada wore it around their necks at the end of the evening.  I won’t see another performance like that for Olympics to come, and the Awards Ceremony was magical.  I wasn’t into the previous nights’ skates, but I was captivated by Americans Davis and White who held my attention to the end of the evening.  What a night of and for skating.

February 23rd

* This was a tough day for the Netherlands.  They love their Speed Skating and the longer the distance the better.  The longest distance in the Winter Olympics is the 10,000m, which Dutch superstar and favorite Sven Kramer seemed to have sewn up.  But with a fateful gesture, Kramer’s coach, Gerard Kemkers had his skater switch from the outside land to the inside, incorrectly, which cost him the Gold Medal that went to Le Seung-Hoon instead.

* Team Silver for the United States’ Nordic Combined Trio!  After an 86 year, Olympics spanning drought, Johnny Spillane, Bill Demong, Todd Lodwick, and Brett Camerota jumped second best and skied their hearts out to win the Silver Medal behind the Austrians.

* Kim Yu-Na looked unreal in her golden glittering dress (confident color scheme) and showed all the personality, grace, and skill of a champion in the Ladies’ Short Program while Joannie Rochette, having just lost her mother, needs no superlative to exclaim her performance.  Two medal quality performances from those Women with Mao Asada knocking on the door, under five points away from Kim Yu-Na.

February 24th

* U.S. over Switzerland 2-0.  Another empty netter made this one look even better, but the Swiss played tough and definitely better than expected.  U.S.A. is still on track.

* Women’s Speed Skating Short Track 3000m Relay.  Don’t. Get. Me. Started.  Click the Speed Skating tag and you’ll see what I mean.  Once is enough.  Especially when you say it as definitively this.

* Women’s Freestyle Skiing Ariels weren’t as excited as the Moguls.  The tricks are bigger and the jump is bigger, but the whole thing is over in 3.2 seconds  and there’s just not the drama of the Moguls.  The only thing I’m watching for is to see if they can stick the landing, if they do, then I’m clueless beyond the score the judges put up.  The viewer’s participation is limited.  That being said, what these girls do is absolutely crazy and so athletic.  Lydia Lassila from Australia crazier and more athletic than any of them tonight, Gold Medal to her.

February 25th

* The best most exciting performances out of the American Nordic Combined athletes yet as Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane worked together to hold Austrian Berhard Gruber to a Bronze Medal in the Individual LH/10km CC.  During an interview with Mary Carillo in late night, Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane, Medals around their necks, talked about their success and about how Demong just got engaged to his girlfriend, telling the story together.  At some point they said that they took an individual sport and turned it into a team sport.  How about that for a couple of champions.  Bill Demong Gold Medal, Johnny Spillane his third Silver.

* Queen Yu-Na was crowned as she skated the most beautiful and lasting skate of these Olympic Games.  What an amazing group of women, to see three true champions on the Medal Stand was a stunning sight.  Kim Yu-Na, Mao Asada, Joannie Rochette, I won’t soon forget watching Kim Yu-Na on the podium, crying and smiling and listening to her national anthem.  Beautiful.

* Jeret “Speedy” Peterson put it all on the line again with his second run and the Hurricane in the Men’s Aerials.  If he were to miss the landing like he did in Torino, he would fall out of medal position again, but if he landed it…Well, he’ll have the answer with him forever now, Silver Medal!

February 26th

* Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and team show how good the Red Army can shoot (actually they started out shooting terribly, so really they showed how well they can ski mostly) on their way to the team Gold Medal for Norway in the Men’s 4×7.5km Relay.

* Six goals in the first period was a comfortable enough lead for the United States to blow past Finland and into the Gold Medal Game.  Canada would go up 3-0 over Slovakia only to find them holding off the hot Slavs in the third after being scored on twice in that same period.  After the ice cleared, the matchup for the great North American Face-Off was on.  U.S.A. vs Canada for the Gold Medal.

* A terrible rock in the 10th end by Canadian Skip Cheryl Bernard allows the Swedes to tie and fourth an 11th end where well executed shots by Swedish Skip Anette Norberg get the Blue and Yellow a second straight Gold Medal.

* Back to the Short Track for the Men’s 500m.  Apolo Anton Ohno earned a Gold Medal in this same event in Torino, but in Vancouver he earned a disqualification for his contact with Francois Louis-Tremblay on the final turn.  He accused the Canadian judge of misconduct and bias, which didn’t hold for Ohno’s case, but it might explain why Gold Medalist Charles Hamelin didn’t earn a DSQ for his actions at the head of the pack.  I feel terrible for the South Koreans who “may or may not” have been terribly victimized here in the Western Hemisphere.

* Wang Meng is an ice cold killa on the Short Track and she proved it once again as she crushed the comp in the Ladies’ 1000m ahead of American Katherine Reutter and South Korean Park Seung-Hi, while her teammate Zhou Yang earned an unnecessary disqualification after she finished the finals in last, long back of the rest of the group.

* Ohno finds some sort of redemption by taking the last leg of the Men’s 5000m Relay and leading them to Bronze.

February 27th

* Three amazing athletes and huge favorites to Medal at these Olympic Winter Games, come through for their countries (for the fifth time in the case of Bjoergen).  World number one Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland won Gold, Norweigan Marit Bjoergen Silver, and Aino-Kaisa Saarinen of Finland took Bronze in the Ladies’ 30km Mass Start Classic.

* Steve Holcomb led his American teammates down four runs of the world’s fastest sliding track to win the Gold Medal in the Men’s Four-Man Bobsleigh.  Holcomb named a late turn in the course the 50/50 turn because half of the sleds he saw come down turned over at that turn, but he piloted four clean runs based on fast starts that were enough to get him the top honors.

February 28th

* The first of the two events was the Men’s 50km Mass Start Classic Cross-Country Skiing event, and with all the jockeying and exhaustion and battle of a 30 mile race the finish came down to a sprint.  They talked about the unparalleled pole-push of the world’s best cross-country athlete Petter Northug all week, but there’s nothing like seeing him give it his all after pushing his body long past the point of exhaustion.  Northug rose out of his skies and threw his poles skyward like a Grizzly Bear about to pounce, and then he ripped himself forward, sliding and sliding and muscling past German Axel Teichmann for the Gold Medal, his fourth Medal of the Games.

* What some say was the best hockey tournament in the history of the sport had to come to a close eventually, but it wasn’t at the end of three periods.  Clutch goal-scorer, U.S. player Zach Parise came through again with 24.5 seconds left in the game to find the back of the net against Canadian goalie Roberto Luongo.  It sent two nations into hysterics.  The Canadian’s were in real danger of losing the Gold Medal they wanted so bad and that they’ve wanted for years, but Golden boy Sydney Crosby begged for the puck and got just what he wanted as he ripped it for a goal between keeper Ryan Miller’s legs and ended the sudden death overtime with a Gold Medal slapshot.

* Closing ceremonies and the putting out of the Olympic torch in Vancouver to be passed on to Sochi Russia for 2014.  They were a great Winter Olympics.

*Nodar Kumaritashvili.*

… … …

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ohno, He Did It Again!

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Apolo Anton Ohno skated in fourth place on the last lap of the men’s Short Track 15oom final for all of three seconds before it happened again.  What was “it”?  “It” happened in 2002 and Ohno won Silver.  “It” kept him from the podium in the 1500m in Torino in 2006.  And “it” happened in almost half of the races tonight.  Sometimes ‘it” helps you and sometimes “it” gets you.  “It” is quite simply, Men’s Short Track.  “It” is the big fall.  On a tight oval, up to seven racers try to pass each other on the inside and the outside, using strength, speed, and math to calculate against the laws of physics to maintain their skates’ razor edge against the ice and end the race in first place.

Watching tonight’s final, my heart was pounding and I sat straight up from the couch with 9 laps to go.  Two Americans, a Canadian, and three of the world’s best skaters in the South Koreans made up six of the seven racers who had all raced two previous heats to earn their way into the final.  It was a really deep field and there was brilliance all over the race.  Apolo Anton Ohno had passed and been passed a few times over, he had been in first and then after a move that couldn’t quite bring him to the front, the Koreans fought him off and fought the brilliant veteran back to fourth place.  Then.  And I wonder what it looked like to Ohno who saw it play out in front of him.  Not content with bronze,  Lee Ho-Suk attempted the tightest of inside passes on his countryman Sung Si-Bak and “it” brought them both down to the ice, crashing off the turn into the pads.  Apolo Anton Ohno skated to silver just in front of another great story in American J.R. Celski who took bronze.  Gold went to Korean Lee Jung-Su.

My dad called me just after the race and said, “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”  It’s hard to totally rejoice when a race comes down to a finish like that.  But one racer lost his composure and another didn’t.  Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.  Sure.  But all I know is how lucky we are to have these Games.  I love the Olympics.  What a race!!!