Torino #7: Races & Revelry, Winning & Parenting

Newsletter #7, February 23, 2006: Races and Revelry, Winning and Parenting  Travels and Travails: I've developed a morning (OK, early afternoon) routine that I'm quite fond of. After waking up around noon, I go to the commissary at the media village where I have a "breakfast" of a cappuchino, and two glasses of fresh squeezed blood orange juice. These oranges from Sicily have deep red pulp and the juice is like blood but quite tasty.  I then take the #10 tram to the outskirts of downtown and start walking.

Picking a new route each day, and having 2 to 3 "Marochino's" along the way. This is my favorite of the many coffee drinks that they have here - it consists of heated Nutella (chocolate Hazelnut spread) swirled in a glass, then espresso, then steamed milk, then chocolate powder.  It is fantastic. They have an even richer version called "Bicerine" which is all of the above, plus a shot of chocolate liqueur, and trade the steamed milk for very thick and sweet whipped cream. I'll sometimes grab a pizza somewhere downtown as I walk.


As my hobby is to take lots of photos, thats what I do all along the way - the angled eaves, the ornate balconies, the patterns of the cobbles - whatever catches my eye. The light has been terrible (gloomy and grey) most days though. I've been taking about 200 photos a day - most not any good. Its like the blind batter in baseball - terrible batting average, but if he swings 1 million times, he'll have a few hits. I then will end up at the USA house, the Bank of America House, or the Visa house, where I type these newsletters. I usually do them in about 20 minutes, but today I think it'll take a bit longer. Been having some "deep thoughts." 


I'm at the Visa Olympic Reunion Center right now. No wine for me today though - or so far I've held them off. Just now Picabo Street came over and she says, "I have a million questions on short track - I'm the biggest fan and I'll be there Saturday with bells on!"


How much fun is this?...  OK, I'm back.  


Racing - Wed, Feb 22 Last night, while a "light" evening for the TV crew, was quite a show - with Lee Ho Suk from Korea executing what is probably the most fantastic pass in speedskating history during his 500m heat, setting up an outside pass and taking cross over (corner) strokes all the way down the straightaway and back into the final corner to scream across the line in first. Ahn from Korea skated the fastest lap in history at 8.13 seconds, and Apolo looked great - working easily through the traffic to win his heat. Our ladies also made it through to the next round, with Halie Kim and Kimberly Derrick looking solid.  (Picture below – view of the heat box from the broadcast booth) 


The ladies 3000 meter relay final was the rock concert that short track has become - the crowd was absolutely fanatically screaming Italy on to a medal. But the Italian ladies team fell short and after the race they hugged and sobbed in disappointment on the sidelines as China, Korea and Canada celebrated. 

Meanwhile, in the booth I had written down, “DQ lap 20 China - ?!” (Picture – DQ on the relay…)


 2 Minutes later the crowd erupted as China is disqualified and Italy takes the bronze. Never a more dramatic or emotional bronze medal have I seen with all 4 ladies from Italy crying and the noise- just the noise in the place was deafening. The entire crowd stayed the extra 20 minutes singing in unison Italian songs, and waving flags prior to the the "flowers ceremony" (actual medals are awarded in the Plaza Castillo the next night before the concert - Last night was Avril Lavigne, night before, Ricky Martin - not sure who is down there tonight).  

Meanwhile behind the scenes I was trying to orchestrate a "90's short track reunion" at the Heinecken House. The plan was to get the 15 retired olympians in the various broadcast booths, meet at the Heinecken house and tell war stories. The additional plan was to maybe have a "fun race" on the tiny ice rink that the speedskating crazed Dutch have in the middle of their house. Yes - they have a speedskating oval in their house - right in front of the rock stage.  Unfortunately, when I arrived, I discovered that there was 800 people in line and an estimated wait of 4 hours (this is at 11pm). Fortunately we had the "Bradbury" card pulled - he was already inside and got them to allow me to use the press entrance.  

Inside, I then met with Nichole - the head of marketing for Heinecken and I provided her a list of the names that were coming. She was awesome- she grabbed her head of security, made 15 copies of the list, and had it immediately distributed to all the security outside - with the goal of finding everyone in line.  They found many of us. After all was said and done, only 8 of the 15 of us made it in - I would guess that the Japanese and Korean guys took one look at the line and went home.

The inside was exactly like a rock concert... or, actually it was a rock concert - with a band playing and about 1000 crazy Dutch fans all wearing orange acting like lunatics. I don't understand the orange thing... Not even a color on their flag - I'll have to ask someone. Some of the current short track team was there as well - the two girls that are already done - Maria Gonzales and Caroline Hallisey. We sat in the way back of the house where we could hear each other speak and ate Frites with curry mayonaise, Schwarma (lamb Gyros) and some sort of deep fried meat and potato things - typical Dutch late night fare. The subject of Shani and Chad came up and I ended up having a fairly long, detailed conversation with Amanda Barker (Stephen Bradbury's girlfriend) and Robert Mitchell - retired English speedskater - about the roles of parents in sports.  More on that later. (Picture – Nicole – marketing for Heineicken, with her nightly mess) 


Monday, Tuesday, Feb 20, 21 Working backward in time to Monday night - the night I was in the hotel bar with two ex-skaters Wilf O'Reilly and Jeroen Otter and Chad Hedrick's dad. There was a part of that conversation that I left out that actually comprised the meat of of it. It was regarding "winning."   Specifically, Chad's dad kept referring to other skaters, and even his own son as "first loser" (silver medal), "second loser" (bronze medal) and "5th loser" - referring to his own son's 6th place finish in the 1000 meters.  

Willie O'Reilly, Jeroen and I spent quite a bit of time digging into this aggressive, Texas - toned attitude and remarks. I wanted to be charitable in my writeup as Paul (Hedrick) had had a few cocktails, but an occurence the next night -  Tuesday night - has made me reconsider and return to this conversation. 

Short track, ultimately, is a very humbling sport - the best in the world often do not win, and sometimes don't even finish. Long track speedskating is much more predictable, and quite often the best will win over and over again for long streaks. Chad has had a long streak of wins as an in-liner, and a very impressive run in his short career on ice. He exudes a brash confidence (predicting 2 golds at the last world championships - and doing it) that is engaging and interesting to the public. I have never met Chad - I think he is the only member of the team that I have not met, so I cannot comment on him in a personal way. However, I've spent several hours now with his father....  I now believe that there is a darker side to this single minded focus on winning - one tied to parenting.  

Tonya Harding  -  An aside: shortly before I flew out here for the games, my wife and I saw a short special on Tonya Harding, and in the short segment, they had footage of a 15 year old Tonya winning the junior nationals. Tonya has hardly been a figure for pity - especially based on her Olympic and post-Olympic shenanigans. However, after watching this segment, my wife and I were nearly moved to tears.

Specifically there was a video of her calling her mom from a hotel room after winning nationals in the early 80's, and Tonya saying into the phone,  "I know mom - it was just a bobble..." "Yes mom - I know, it sucked." "Mom - I'm NOT a loser, quit saying that - quit saying that."

 "I AM NOT a loser!" 

An on and on the voice on the other side was calling this recently minted champion a loser - even in her victory. Starts to really explain Tonya's current sad state of affairs. 

Chad Hedrick: This now brings me to a street conversation held in the middle of Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle at 2am on Tuesday night with Chad's dad Paul. I was hurrying back to the media village for some long needed sleep after dinner with Ted and Dan (Sushi - very odd in Italy) and I passed Chad's dad Paul in the street - along with a friend of his. He gave me a big bear hug and I congratulated him on his son's bronze medal performance earlier that day in the 1500m (Shani won silver, former Italian short tracker Enrico Fabrice had a suprise gold).  I was in the stands in the front row directly opposite of the flowers ceremony and watched Shani smile and hug Enrico. I got a picture of Enrico 3 feet off the top of the stand jumping up to celebrate.  (Picture, Enrico celebrating, s) 


In the same pictures you can see, and I witnessed, the fake smile on Chad's face, and his immediate departure to the locker rooms after the ceremony. 



If anyone wonders why the Olympic bronze medalist, in one of the great events in the history of the sport would hurry off the awards stand, this next snippet of conversation with Mr. Paul Hedrick might give an inkling. 

(2am, Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle - middle of the street) 

ME: "Paul, congratulations on the bronze medal today - that was probably one of the most exciting finishes in Olympic history - I hope you are proud of what Chad accomplished."  

PAUL: "Son, let me tell you something: 2nd loser is nothing to be proud of. The Hedricks lost today - thats what happened - we LOST. Nothing else." 

Conversation with Amanda and Robert.  So what is it that makes an olympic champion?  Single minded focus. Discipline. Desire. Ability.  These things were provided in spades to Chad, Shani, and Tonya. They are successful, in part, (we decided in our conversations) because of this bizarre family focus.  The difference, we decided, was that the question above, ultimately, is only a piece (albeit a big one) of the more important bigger picture.           

The right question is, and should be for everyone - what makes a great person Those things above are only part of the equation, and can, and in this case, DO, borrow from some of the other required elements in life.  

Wilf O'Reilly was smart in his questions of Paul Hedrick that Monday night. Instead of challenging him on his remarks or phrasing, Wilf paused and said in that "brilliant" english accent, "Yes Paul, but after? - what happens after? After the Olympics, after the career is finished. How well is Chad prepared for life after the Olympics?"  

Paul's response: "My boy's gonna be set for life- he's gonna be a millionaire - he's set for his whole life after this Olympics."  

(Post scipt: a year later, and in a bar in Salt Lake City after a world cup Paul and I sat down and hashed through things. I told him how I felt about what he had said during the Olympics and how I thought it had made Chad feel. Paul is an extremely hard guy not to like and he managed to own up just a little, while burying most of it in a bear hug telling me I worry too much and that "Chad's a competitor - that's what he does - of course he's going to be hard on himself.")

Afterthought: My Olympic career was comprised of only one Olympics and included the less-than-notable finishes of 16th in the 1000m, and 17th in the 500m as well as the momentary glory of winning a silver medal with 3 other fantastic guys in the 5000 meter relay.  

I made exactly $1,500 from my one sponsor - Oakley - for wearing my glasses on the medals stand.  

Friendship, conversation, discipline, love (met my wife while training in Milwaukee), focus, a chance to share in one of the world's great human dramas - these are things I brought away from my time in the sport.

For the last 8 years I also carried a bitter residue of defeat for not achieving my ultimate goal of an individual gold medal at the Olympics.  Was I not focused enough? Was I too distracted by 'other things?' (school, career, hobbies outside skating?)  Did I train too hard or not hard enough?

These were the questions that occasionally surfaced over the years when I was forced to look at my athletic career. Frankly I just tried not to think about it. Moving to Phoenix helped. 

When I was young, my parents pushed me, and they sometimes made me face down some of my poorer decisions. But at one point in my career, they went from "coach and judge" to "unwavering, unconditional loving fans."

As we talked last night, Amanda, Robert, and "last man standing" Steven Bradbury indicated that their parents had made that same transition.  My relay team - the boys from the 1994 - I know all their parents and what this kind of love has done for each of them.  

  • Randy Bartz - graduated from University of Minnesota, former management consultant and now owns his own business. Married Kim, son Aidan. 
  • Andy Gable - graduated from Marquette in Milwaukee. Successful investment banker. President of US Speedskating. Got me this job.
  • Eric Flaim -  Successful Financial consultant, Married to Marcy who is a current member of the U.S. Skeleton team.

Saturday marks the 12 year anniversary of our medal winning relay from the 1994 games - the 13th and final medal from that games, topping the previous best haul of 12 medals. It also marks the approximate start of a 8 year personal game of second guessing starting when I missed the team in 1998 - "what if I had... X? Y? Z?" 

I have analyzed the elements, reviewed the data and put it all together. My days of second guessing are over and as I sit here typing with tears running down my cheeks I have only one final note to conclude:  

Thanks mom. Thank you dad. 


Torino Italy 2/23/2006