17 Days of Olympics, 7 Days Too Many

I’ve enjoyed watching the Vancouver Winter Olympic games but they’ve gone on for long enough, about a week too long in my opinion.  So how could the games be shortened?

I was watching some of the 4-Man Bobsled runs last night and was thinking, haven’t they already done this?  In fact, the night before they had.  They do four runs over the course of two days.  That’s two runs too many.   I propose that all Bobsled events occur on one day – two runs per event.  As is, the 2-Man and the Women’s 2 and 4 take 7 days to complete.

I’d eliminate the week-long Biathlon events.  Those guns creep me out.  Someone is going to shot their eye out; it’s a miracle no one was hurt.

Curling is silly, even absurd.  12 days worth of shuffleboard.  I’d rather see a snowball throwing event, or an ice-sculpture competition.  How about ice fishing?

Ski-Cross.  Boring.  Snowboard-Cross is infinitely more exciting to watch.

Luge and Skeleton, one or the other but not both. I’d actually like to propose a new sliding event called Sliding.  It’s a sprint to a line to see who can slide on their feet the longest distance.  No skates, just smooth-soled shoes.

Ice-Dancing.  Better for an exhibition, not an Olympic competition. Something I’d rather see during the intermission of a hockey game.

I love Short Track, but the Relay, like Curling and Doubles Luge is silly.  Cut that event out.

Too many skiing events.  Downhill, Super-Combined Downhill, Super-Combined Slalom,  Super G, Giant Slalom and Slalom.  6 events here.  Pick two, maybe three.

With the reductions proposed, a Winter Olympics need only last 10 days.

Ohno DQ’d After Trembley’s Tumble

Did you see the 500 meter Short Track final in which Apolo Ohno finished 2nd?  He should have been on the medal stand with a silver around his neck but instead was disqualified for making contact with Canandian Francois-Louis Trembley, who fell, but appeared to just flop, to take himself out in a strategic move to medal and enable his teammate Charles Hamelin to win the race.  And it worked.  Trembley was awarded the bronze for his efforts.  Experts agree that had Trembley not whipped out, Apolo would not have been DQ’d.   If you look at the replay of the skate, you will see that Ohno neither pushed nor tripped Trembley.   The contact was little more than a touch as Ohno tried to keep his line, a tactic that is routine in Short Track.

After the race, with a smile on his face, Ohno intimated that he was the victim of a Canadian referee, who made a patriotic decision to please the crowd.   He did not criticize Trembley, or accuse the Canadian team of orchestrating the victory.   Ohno knows and frequently commented that in short track, anything can happen.  That Hamelin won was no surprise – he was the favorite and the fastest skater on the ice.  That Ohno did not medal was a disappointment, especially when it was clear that he did not cause Trembley to fall.  But that’s short track, which is probably the only skating event where you don’t have to stay on your feet to medal.

Apolo Ohno In Perspective

Apolo Ohno is the now the most decorated American winter olympian, but are his 7 medals – two gold, two silver and three bronze more impressive than Bonnie Blair’s 6 medals, 5 of them gold or the 5 individual gold medals Eric Heiden won at Lake Placid? Is the comparison even fair? All three are speed skaters, but only Ohno skates short track, an unpredictable sport more like roller derby than pure racing. In fact, it’s not pure speed or pacing that wins, there is a fair bit of strategy and improvisation involved. Heiden swept the golds in all the individual speed skating events he entered at Lake Placid, pure dominance the likes of which only Americans Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps have ever achieved at a single games. Blair and Ohno might be a better comparison because they both medaled in 3 games. This level of endurance and consistency is quite impressive, perhaps even more so in the case of Ohno given that so few, perhaps none other than Ohno have competed in short track over the span of three olympic games.

Ohno is the most decorated American winter olympian ever in terms of medal count. Is he the most dominant winter olympian ever? I submit that both Blair and Heiden should retain that title. Is it possible to dominant the sport of short track? No, but I think it is safe to say that Apolo Ohno is the greatest short track racer in history given his longevity and consistency. It will be hard for another racer to match his medal accomplishments on the short track ice.

Lysacek Putin Praise Plushenko

Bob Costas tried to get Evan Lysacek to respond to the controversial comments of Yevgeny Plushenko. Plushenko if you remember believes an Olympic champion figure skater must be able to execute a quadruple jump and as much as said that Evan Lysacek who edged him out of a gold medal was not worthy. Plushenko fueled the controversy during the medal ceremony by stepping on the empty gold medal platform en route to his silver medal perch. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin added a squirt of lighter fluid by saying that Plushenko “performed the most accomplished program on the Vancouver ice”. But did he? The judges didn’t think so and I didn’t either, not that I know much about figure skating, but it was clear that Lysacek skated better. Accomplishment cannot and in fact is not measured simply on the planned and executed elements. The program components matter too. Choreography, interpretation, performance and skating are also important elements that judges evaluate. But even looking at the planned and executed elements, Lysacek’s jumps, landings and spins were cleaner. Lysacek deflected the controversy by saying that Plushenko is a nice guy and a skater he had always looked up to. He said Pluchenko congratulated him after he won the gold medal. Lysaecek said he knew Plushenko was disappointed and should be proud of the silver. The silver that Vladimir Putin said is “as good as gold”.

Stay On Your Feet And Medal

While watching the Olympics last night I saw a lot of athletes fall on the ice and snow in HD.  Over on the Women’s  Halfpipe, the gold medal went to the snowboarder who stayed upright, Australia’s Torah Bright, and not to the competitor who threw down the coolest and trickiest tricks.   Speaking of tricks, I like the names of some of them – the switch-backside 720, the double cork, the McTwist and many more.  A whole new language only  snowboarders know.

And those figure skaters.  Well, the gold and silver went to the two guys who stayed on their feet.  Gold medalist American Evan Lysacek skated a little more cleanly than his  Russian rival Yevgeny Plushenko. The bronze went to Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi who couldn’t get around on a quadruple, but did get around to a great performance.

If I could give some advice to the athletes, I’d say this:  don’t fall…and figure skaters: tie those laces good!

I’m Still Watching the Winter Olympics

I’m still watching the Winter Olympics and that’s saying something because I’m not much of a winter sports fan.  NBC must be doing something right.   And I’m looking forward to watching Apolo Ohno race again, and to seeing Lindsey Vonn race for the first time.  Her injured shin should be on the mend after nearly a week of delays due to rotten weather conditions.  I’m also hoping to see Bode Miller win another medal.  He took the bronze in a downhill event a couple of days ago.   Those downhill racers are the toughest of the lot it seems.  I keep hearing stories like “coming off a broken back” so and so is back for another chance at Olympic gold.

Speaking of gold, it was sad to see Lindsey Jacobellis lose her chance as she skied off the course in Snowboard Cross and out of medal contention.  She did win the B Final and place 5th, but it must have been no consolation.  NBC did not interview her – she may not have wanted to talk to anybody, but we’d all like to hear her describe what happened in due course.

The Men’s Figure Skating short program was interesting.  Takahiko Kozuka who finished 8th skated to Jimi Hendrix – now that was cool.  And Stephane Lambiel, the amazing Swiss spinner who spun himself into 5th place, pleased the crowd but not the judges.

I’ll be watching, even though I’m not a big winter sports fan.  Hey, I can barely stand up on skis – maybe that’s why I’m not a fan.  But I am a fan of the Olympics.  I’ll be watching. How could I not – Sean White has yet to drop in from the half pipe.

The Bobsled Log Ride

After the Vancouver Winter Olympics, they ought to convert the luge track at Whistler into a log ride or a water slide.   It’d be a good way to attract new talent to the field.  They could even fashion those logs as bobsleds.   Pick your country and hop in for a thrilling ride.  Fun for the whole family.

The Canadian Connection

If it hadn’t been for the Vancouver games, I’d never have known that Steve Nash was a Canadian, or Donald Sutherland.  And I remember seeing Brian Williams, who I know is not Canadian and thinking he was CNN’s Brian Roberts who is – I always get them mixed up.  And did you know that gold medalist Hannah Kearney’s grandparents are Canadian?  They are.  And her aunt.  Dale Begg-Smith the silver medalist free style skier representing Australia was born in Vancouver.  Apolo Ohno learned to skate in Vancouver, though not Canadian, Vancouver is like his second home.  Local Boston NBC news reporter Amanda Grace is a native of Vancouver.  And Greg Duncan, the guitar player in the house band, the Jason Palmer Experience at Wally’s Cafe is Canadian.

I may be Canadian.  You may be too.  Who knows?

Highs And Lows At The Winter Olympics

Certainly the weather has presented some challenges to the athletes and the organizers. Too foggy, too hot, too snowy, too slushy. Some events have been postponed. For American alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, who is recovering from a shin injury, this has been a blessing. The question is will her timing be there when she finally competes?

The luge competition may prove to be the low point of the Vancouver games. The death of the young Georgian slider raised doubts about the safety of the course, prompting organizers to shorten it and build a safety wall at the site of the fatal crash to provide an extra layer of protection for the luge competitors. As a result, the track is slower and some of sliders are not happy with the adjustments.  An Austrian luger called the new male start the “old lady’s position” and a German female slider called the women’s a “kinder” start, meaning appropriate for children.

And there have been lots of medal costing spills. In the Individual Men’s Nordic Combined 10 km Cross Country, Finland’s Janne Ryynaenen leading with only a few kilometers left, fell going into a slushy turn. The Finn finished 26th. In Short Track speed racing, the Koreans were a second away from sweeping the medals when on the last turn, one turned sharply into the other and they both went down, allowing American skaters Ohno and Celski to sneak in for medals. In the Men’s Moguls Finals, American Nathan Roberts over-rotated on his last jump, and nearly landed outside the course taking down a flag marker as he tumbled down the mountain. And there were 6 falls in all during the Pairs Short Program for Figure Skating on Sunday night.

Maybe the biggest highlight so far has been Alexandre Bilodeau’s gold medal run in Men’s Moguls.  And like Hannah Kearney’s gold medal dash the day before, his run was fast, furious and flawless and his country’s first ever gold in a Canadian hosted games.   Every gold medal won is a highlight though not all are highlighted.

Which brings me to another point.  Why hasn’t NBC interviewed more international athletes?  Wouldn’t you like to hear from the gold medal German Luge champion?  Couldn’t somebody have interviewed Frenchman Jason Lamy-Chappuis  the Men’s Nordic Combined victor?  Surely someone on the NBC staff speaks French and most of the athletes are multilingual, except perhaps the Americans, and I don’t mean that disparagingly, but I thinks it’s a fair statement.  I wanted to know what Martina Sablikova from the Czech Republic thought about her gold medal performance in the Women’s 3000 m.   Didn’t the Olympic committee plan for interpreters to be available to the press?

I’d also like to see more feature reporting on Vancouver.  I still don’t have a sense of the place.  But all in all, NBC is doing a good job with the games.  Bob Costas and Al Michaels are solid anchors and know how to put an athlete at ease in an interview.  Bob’s interview with Hannah Kearney was a highlight as was her voice over of her own run down Cypress Mountain.   Al is more a football guy and I keep hearing the Monday Night Football theme song every time I see him, but he’s smooth enough to be credible no matter the sport.

Falls, spills, slips, crashes, injuries, and bad weather are all part of the Games, but so is the thrill of victory – and not just the victory of winning a gold medal but the triumph of making it to and competing in an Olympics game; for most Olympic athletes, a dream come true.

Thrill Seeking Winter Olympians

Speed.  That’s what it’s all about.   Crossing the finish line on a sled at 90 miles an hour.  “Dropping in” on bumpy Cypress Mountain at full speed doing crazy aerial tricks like “helis” and backflips off two strategically placed jumps en route to the finish.  Vermont native Hannah Kearney won the USA’s first gold of the games in Women’s Mogul.  Speed. Turns. Air. Daring. Execution.

Risky business these games.  NBC’s Brian Williams presented a terrific report on the risks athletes take to compete in winter sporting events.  He suggests that winter Olympians are cut from the same DNA cloth; that they share a common gene which predisposes them to risk taking.   And the risks are enormous.  A young luger, Nodar Kumaritashvilia from the Republic of Georgia was the first and I hope only fatality at the Vancouver games – a horrible tragedy, which may have been preventable.  His father said that a mistake should never cost an athlete his life.   NBC aired the video a number of times on the day of the opening ceremony, with appropriate warnings that the footage would be difficult to watch.   And on opening day, Bob Costas announced that they would not show the video again.

And it’s not just the sliders who put themselves at risk of injury or worse.  Did you see the short track speed skating races?  Speed.  Spills.  In every race, somebody goes down.  This is part of the thrill of watching speed skating.  It’s not the fastest who always win, but the racer who outlasts the others, whose strategy prevails.  America’s most decorated skater, Apolo Ohno, now with 6 medals in his Olympic career, took the Silver in the Men’s 1500 meters short track speed skating final, a race in which he nearly finished 4th.  With seconds to go the 2nd and 3rd place Koreans whiped out allowing Ohno and fellow American JR Celski to sneak in to medal.

But I think downhill skiing is the most dangerous event of all.  Flying down a hill on skinny skis at break neck speed is just insane.  Skiers seem to suffer the most serious injuries of all.  And yet they can’t stop racing.  Just ask American alpine skiers Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn.  Both know the risks.  Both have suffered severe injuries in downhill crashes.  And both, though less than 100% are back for more.  It is in their blood.

And it’s in my blood to watch these thrill seekers we call winter Olympians.