2014 Sochi Olympic Journal #15: The Single Greatest Event at the Olympics

download In terms of live events, tomorrow is the single greatest event at the Olympics. Figure skating has artistry and camera work, costumes and color. Slope-style has the dizzying heights, brilliant sun, and amazing gyroscoping of the athletes 3, 4, 5 seconds in the air - for TV these and others are the glamor sports - great on film with awesome replays.

Short track, with its standard uniforms, fluorescent lights and indoor location looks a bit flat on TV. But... In the venue it is all action and mayhem, volume and noise in a tightly contained space where athletes trade spaces of inches and travel speeds in excess of 30mph on razor sharp blades making turns harder than jet fighters, crashing, crashing and crashing again until the winner, sometimes ejected from the mayhem emerges.

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Anyone who has been to an olympics and pretty much anyone else knows that tomorrow is the one ticket for the games if you want to leave having the penultimate olympic experience: "thrills and chills" and the "agony of defeat." Is it unpredictable, often unfair, surprising and full of upset? Of course it is and what does all that do for the drama, the excitement and energy? It drives it, it makes the crowd manic, particularly when the home country (Vancouver/Canada '10) and (Sochi/Russia '14) is a driving force in the results.

The last few days the Olympic park is abuzz - everyone know knows the spectacle of short track now. In about one hour tomorrow night, the men's 500m gold medal, womens 1000m gold medal and the men's 5000m relay gold medal will be decided. There are FIVE teams are in the relay final, 20 men on the ice battling and it will come down to a duel between USA and Russia for the Gold. I expect USA to win but will be close and the Russian fans will WILL Ahn to the victory if they can - he's the anchor for Russia and JR Celski will be the anchor for USA

I'll be wearing earplugs this time... After Vancouver my ears rang for 2 days (and I've been to a lot of rock concerts with no problem).

2014 Olympic Games - Short Track Speed Skating 1500m

Make sure to tune in, or if you are here in Sochi let me know - I MIGHT be able to help you get you a ticket!

2014 Sochi Olympic Journal #14: Days, Rhythm and Places

Friends back home ask "what is it like to be at the Olympics" and so I'll try to describe it. Things have been busier here than the prior 2 Olympics that I worked for NBC - in some part because it is almost entirely a new team - new producer, new "talent," graphics etc. But now that we are in the thick of competition and most of the research and prep has been done things are calming down and I've had some free days to establish my pattern from prior games - specifically, riding my bike, working, walking and talking, watching events and writing when time permits. On race days, my day is pretty set - I wake up 9-ish, dress for riding in the 50+ degree weather, head out for a short 45-60 minute ride along the Black Sea boardwalk and then return to dress for the event.

The Boardwalk: just behind my hotel is a long brick paved path for running and riding along the Black Sea. I typically head out at 9. By 10:30 I return, change, shower and make my way through the heavy security right out front of the hotel and into "the bubble" as everyone refers to the secure area where all the venues are. I arrive to the venue by 11:30. Racing has been starting 1:30 or 2:00 but our production meetings have been at 11:30.

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Production meetings: Our producer is NFL football producer Rob Hyland, and director Pierre Moussa - they are serious and want everything to be perfect. We meet in the trailer in the compound of vehicles and trucks and march through the days schedule. I occasionally pipe in. I've made various graphics and guides for them to know what to expect. I wrote a series of articles for them and then created a set of drawings and powerpoints that they have turned into animatics or graphics that show up on TV. We do the same with the camera and replay crews and I talk more there - I've pushed them to go wide angle w/ 6 laps to go and created a rough sketch of how to know when passes happen. Also, and I think I've definitely seen the fruits of this effort, I've pushed them to zoom in and to capture the "pivotal moment" in the apex of the turn with close-in views of the blades slicing through the ice. My goal is to get all the basics done and add value by thinking of things no one has considered. In general I've been better at the latter than the former. At my first Olympics the executive producer told me as a caution, "John, they are going to scream at you -  call you names, curse you. If and when you get fired, keep working. If you get fired twice, keep working. If you get fired three times, call me." I've been working in that spirit since and so far so good.

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Racing: After the production meetings we head up to the booth. I create spreadsheets of each heat with the racers and all their stats and stories for Terry and Apolo in a rather ungraceful spreadsheet that I'm constantly updating/changing. I send the completed heats to the compound where a runner brings them back to us in the venue - the "iceberg".  During the races my job is seemingly simple: count laps for the producer/director/graphics/rewind crew in the truck, queue replays and rewinds, identify specific contact and potential penalties, identify names/colors/numbers and try to find good "soundbites" for Terry and Apolo. In the relays I also indicate which side the relay exchange is happening. In between races I update all the spreadsheets and resend them down to the compound where they are printed and a runner runs them back up. It is fast paced and hectic. I have not yet been fired this Olympics but did hear one of the graphics guys go off on me when I got something wrong, "that's why I have a f*#@ing stats guy - WTF!" Still it is all short tempers and quick forgiveness.

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The Venues: It is hard to overestimate the sheer scale of the Olympic Plaza - on paper an through the limited perspective of a human eye walking towards them what you see is 7 or 8 large buildings nestled close together but as it turns out it is a 10 minute walk from one to the other and more than an hour to circle the park. The torch itself is of incredible scale - impossibly large and hot - you can feel the heat when you get close, can't imagine the amount of MMBTU's used per hour to keep that thing going. The environment is exhilarating - thousands of people all in a good mood taking pictures and more and more athletes now as they finish up, walking around in their colors. There is a band or music playing in the ampitheater all day and night and dozens of other shows and costumes and attractions, dancers, singers, jugglers, mimes, stilt walkers. On the sunny days I sat and watched people for hours in the sun - I actually have a tan. After racing I usually walk past the cauldron and then head to the USA house...

IMG_4486 IMG_4481 the scale is incredible - they play water fountain tchaikovsky ballet IMG_4477 IMG_4475 IMG_4474  IMG_4391 IMG_4386 IMG_2706 IMG_2704 IMG_2701 IMG_2700 IMG_2687 IMG_2684  IMG_2681

The USA house (and others): This is the gift that keeps giving: make an Olympic team and for the rest of your life during an Olympics if you are an olympian ("never former, never past") you can visit the USA "house". The "houses" are a series of dwellings/spaces - basically hospitality suites - that countries (USA. HOLLAND, CANADA, RUSSIA, AUSTRIA, SWISS ETC) build/buy to have daily meals and receptions and smooze sponsors. I spend several hours a day on average at the USA house. This is also where some of the "secret ceremonies" are held including the Ikkos award. Every few minutes an Olympian (active or retired) walks in and everyone can talk to everyone. Its just a joy to be there and reconnect with old competitors, friends, and meet any and everyone. Even the most famous walk around with their guard down. My crew last time was the active skaters in long track, but this time I often sit with Bonnie Blair during the day (I work, she talks), and then in the evening it is the retired short track crew Alex Izykowski, Chris Needham, Apolo, Ian Baranski, Tommy O'hare, Steven Gough, Steven Bradbury (when we get him in), Wilf O'Reilly. When they are not working, my second crew is Suzie Paxton, Summer Sanders, Josette Persson, Jeremy Bloom, Ariana Kukors who do features (stories around the athletes.)

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Events: being in-venue is cool but the trip up to the mountains is 2 hour each way (despite the high speed train) so other than moguls, I've remained coastal cluster bound. Still, the mountains are gorgeous - I went up 3 times.

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Climate: This is the weirdest winter olympics ever - we should have brought sunblock - last week the temperature approached 70 degrees. People were sprawled everywhere in the olympic park enjoying the music and water show.ImageImage

Sleep: pretty much everyone has given up on sleep - with only a few days left, mountains to the left, 8 venues to the right, the sea, the USA house and work to do, nightly sleep is diminishing as crews finish late and stay up later. Breakfast is at 11am, lunch 3 to 4, and dinner 9 to 10. The entire Olympic park is rocking from about 10am to midnight or later and the fleeting moments of joy and laughter and friendships formed have suddenly regained their fleeting nature and there is now a shadow of nostalgia and melancholy over the conversations.

"Olympic Moments" - in such a special place and time as this conversations begin to turn to questions like "what was your favorite moment?" Over time though, the returning cast and crew start to ask, "what was your 'Olympic moment'?" the implication is clear - at some point in time or place, something tends to happen that has a significant impact on your return to reality. Torino and Vancouver both had clear moments for me, but for now Sochi is holding out. Still with 4 days and nights left a lot could happen.

2014 Sochi Olympic Journal #13: The Greatest Innovation at the Olympics

The greatest innovation in U.S. Olympic History (for Olympians): No, it is not the BMW designed USA bobsled, the Lockheed Martin designed Mach 39 speedskating suits, instantaneous video replays on iPads, or Shawn White’s new frontside double-cork 1440 in half pipe.

No, perhaps the single greatest innovation for the athletes heading to Sochi is “Crowdfunding”. In case you are not familiar with the concept, here’s a definition, “crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.” There is now a suite of relatively new online social media tools that allow athletes, Olympians and potential Olympians to cash in on the largesse provided by the intersection of goodwill and need. By using the power of social media to gather a large number of small donations, athletes are able to find financial support to cover their expenses. Some examples of these sites include GoFundMe.com, IndieGoGo.com, Dreamfuel.com, Rallyme.com

Except for a small handful of  “A-list” athletes like Shawn White, Apolo Ohno or Bode Miller, most Olympic athletes toil in anonymity for more than a decade in order to make an Olympics and scrape by through a combination of parental support, off-season jobs, and small stipends from their sports federations.

For well-to-do athletes or those in high profile sports (snow-boarding, figure skating, skiing) where ample funding is available a single-minded focus on training and preparation is all that is required. This is also the case for many athletes from nations that fully fund their athletes, think Russia or South Korea.

For the rest, a constant ever-present worry is “how will I pay for this?” -be it new equipment, travel, lodging or even food. At its extreme it reaches the levels that Emily Scott, newly minted Olympian in short track speedskating, has faced. With a mother and a sister behind bars and raised by a single father with a blue collar income, Emily, at one point, was forced to rely on foodstamps to feed herself.

One might think that making the Olympic team would finally put these fears to rest, but in reality that success breeds a whole new brand of financial worry. Sure, now their travel and food and lodging are covered to travel to the games, but just as abruptly parents and others who have played significant support roles are faced with massive expenses to try and get to the games.

Olympic qualifying trials are often held close to the date of the Games themselves to ensure the very best team is selected, but this then creates the situation of the parents and supporters of the Olympian having only weeks to find flights and lodging in cities that have been booked solid for months and with flights subject to the supply and demand algorithms of Sabre (the airline yield management software) and hotel pricing often reaching $1000/day or more at the Olympic site.

Even a weeklong trip to a place like Sochi can involve multi-leg flights to save money and then incredibly steep prices to find a place to stay anywhere remotely close to the venues. Craig Scott, Emily’s father IS coming to the Olympics, thanks in large part to crowdfunding, but here’s his flight plan: Kansas City to Chicago, Chicago to Washington DC. Washington DC to Istanbul, Istanbul to Germany, Germany to Sochi. Here’s how Craig Scott will get to Sochi. He will board a plane in Kansas City and go to Chicago. From Chicago he will go to Washington. From Washington he flies to Turkey. From Turkey he flies to Germany.

For middle class parents there is always credit cards, but what about young spouses, fiancés or boyfriends/girlfriends? Often those that participated or sacrificed the most are forced to watch and cheer from afar.

Enter Crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding has existed for years in various forms – be it innovations looking for startup money, patients needing medical treatment seeking support, or artists with a new idea, but this emergent social media platform is potentially at its best in supporting potential Olympians. Finally there exists a way to tap into the general support of the USA! USA! Spirit and collect large numbers of small sums to support the real needs of an athlete and their family.

Emily Scott is perhaps the most direct example. After applying for foodstamps she decided to create a GoFundMe page and at the same time had the luck of a USA Today article to lend visibility to her plight. In particular, other than feeding herself, she was most anxious that her father Craig would join her in Sochi. 24 hours later she had $30,000 in donations – most of them small, but in quantity, and by late January she had $49,000 from more than 650 donors - more than enough to ensure that her father could join her at the games.

Emily's gofundme page

The list of athletes receiving significant support is substantial – from Emily Scott raising over $50K to fellow short track speedskater Kyle Carr raising $14,000 to bring his mother to the games. Lindsey Van, part of the new retinue of women’s ski jumpers, raised $20,000, Sugar Todd a long track speedskater raised almost $6000 to bring her parents to the games, while teen brothers and Danny and Drew Duffy raised over $50,000 on RallyMe to cover their expenses.

Others, though have struggled with getting visibility in order to generate support. Bobsledder Elana Meyers has only raised $738 to date proving that just having a campaign is no silver bullet.

Through Crowdfunding, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised to ensure that those that compete, and those that sacrificed for their success have the support required to share in the experience. This is particularly important given the relatively new tradition of the “Order of the Ikkos” award where each medaling Olympian gives a medal to the one person who supported them the most. Hard to give a medal to someone thousands of miles away because they couldn’t afford to come....

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Epilogue: The Post Olympic Hangover

I am particularly envious of this emergent source of funding. After graduating college I trained full time for eight years and made one Olympic team where I earned a silver medal. Along the way I used credit cards to fund my dream. As a recent college graduate I was able to apply for an receive over 50 credit cards which I used to pick up and rotate $87,000 in debt to by the time I retired from the sport. My parents also spent years paying off their visit to Lillehammer, Norway. Here's a REAL picture of the 50+ credit cards I used to fund my dream. I eventually paid them off...

50 credit cards - to a guy with no job

For olympian Alex Izykowski, the burden fell to his parents, who are still filling in the financial hole they dug to ensure his success and bronze medal in the 2006 Torino games. “My hometown community really pulled together to help fund my family’s expenses to travel to Torino, but the 10 years of debt we accrued leading up to my Olympics is an ever-present burden they are still paying off.” Alex’s dad agreed, saying, “Its like a post-olympic hangover you can’t shake.”

Sadly it is hard to ask for crowdfunding support in retrospect so Alex and his parents have little to no opportunity to tap into this emergent funding source. However, for new athletic hopefuls, crowdfunding fuels an olympic dream while reducing the post-apocolyptic olympic hangover.

2014 Sochi Olympic Journal #10: How To Watch Short Track – Part 2

Tonight, the first set of short track races will be aired on NBC. The men’s 1500m Gold medal race is tonight as well as the women’s 500m heats and relay heats. Since it is tape delayed, here's a picture of us calling the races.  IMG_2635 So, what can you expect tonight? Here’s a summary:

SHORT TRACK SPEEDSKATING – a primer

 Basics:

The logistics of the sport of short track speedskating are easy to comprehend. A simple visual will suffice: inside the nicked and gauged plastic walls surrounding hockey rinks the world over an oval track is laid out using black plastic lane markers: 111.12 meters in length.

The short track rink

Add a half dozen speedskaters in their skin tight multi-colored suits racing for the finish line – like track and field or horse racing – and the simple format is complete.

The logistics of short track speedskating are also straightforward – a fixed number of laps (or half laps) comprising an even distance in meters (500, 1000, 1500, 3000 or 5000 meters), with the first skater across the line being first.

Time on the stopwatch, while an interesting anecdote, does not factor into the results except for the honor of holding a record.

Racing

Yet, like many things in life that seem straightforward, the actual play by play of the sport tends to defy the simplicity of its rules. Crashes, interference, and disqualifications factor into the results at levels unprecedented in any other sport, and even in “clean” races, the dynamics involved with multiple competitors lined up on a tight, short, narrow track of ice going 35 mph on 1mm wide, 17 1/2 inch blades means that the “fastest” skater quite often does not win.

One need only to remember watching the Australian Stephen Bradbury in the 2002 Olympics, who advanced by luck of disqualification in the 1000 meter heats to the semi finals. Self admittedly the slowest skater in those semi-finals, he proceeded to win that race – after all the other skaters crashed, placing him in the finals and into the medal round. Then again in the finals, while pacing off the back of a pack of top ranked USA, Korean, and Canadian skaters, Bradbury managed to avoid disaster and come across the line first – again not through his own merits – rather through the misfortune of the leading skaters. The gold medal was his – even though his efforts in all the preceding rounds suggested those of a non-contender.

Given the seeming randomness of the results, one might be inclined to shake ones head and put the whole thing down as a bit of a lottery. One thing is for sure, in any given race, luck will play a part. It is this unpredictability that makes it the crowd favorite for all the other athletes at the Olympics

Analogies

Short track tends to draw two analogies in sports – first, Nascar – due to the importance of drafting and the critical path skaters must follow to maximize their speed, and second, horseracing, for the relative importance of the track conditions and race length in the final result.

Who will win on any given day? It depends….

  • Is the ice soft or hard?
  • How long is the race?
  • What combination of skaters are are racing? How will it play out?
  • What unforeseen events will occur?

What does it feel like?

Think back to certain winter moments – those times of walking on slick, wet ice – to your car across frozen puddles, or down the sidewalk after a freezing rain.

Then remember that moment when your shoes first touched dry asphalt after sliding across the icy puddle, or the instant when you regained traction after passing back underneath the porch roof. To a speedskater, that is exactly what it feels like to be on ice with our long blades – it is feeling of traction and grip, stability and power.

An 17.5” speedskating blade on perfectly smooth ice is grippier than rubber on asphalt and more stable than a ski on snow. A Nascar can only pull 1 G-force on dry pavement, the space shuttle hits 3 G-Forces in launch, and a short track speedskater hits 2.7 G's at the apex of the corner.

The blade, its sharp edge, and its tracking ability while in motion, are able to smoothly receive every ounce of energy provided by powerful leg muscles to propel the skater forward.

Granted, the motion is sideways – like tacking in the wind with a sailboat – but the 17 inch blade is like yards of canvas gathering wind: the lateral forces are released in a tangential motion and converted to forward speed smoothly yet powerfully. Each stroke on the ice is a combination squat thrust (sheer power) and ballet (no wasted motion, fluid extension to the very tips of the range).

Now imagine that ultimate grip – no amount of effort will result in a slip – and a slow concentrated thrust  through with the legs: massive force passing in liquid slow motion through the blade to the ice.  The strength of the contracted leg is absolute, and the hold of the blade provides a supreme feeling of power. The controlled release of the piston-like skating stroke brings to mind the action of a hydraulic cylinder – a fluid, consistent, and powerful.

If you have ever had the ill-fortune to push a stalled car, and were lucky enough to have a curb or wall as a backstop for your feet, then that incredible slow thrust you were able to deliver to the car to get it moving is the closest thing in life to the feeling of a speedskating stroke: a 1000lb squat thrust.

Now, add to this motion the g-force dynamics and angles of a jet fighter and you have the right combination.

As a skater moves towards the corner, there is a momentary feeling of weightlessness as the body lifts with the final skate stroke, and then falls as the body and center of gravity compresses downward and sideways to enter the corner.

As the direction of the skater changes, centripetal forces cause a 2.7G acceleration to crush the body lower. In order to stay aligned over the center of the 1mm blades, the skater rolls inward, and the upper body leans way out over the blocks at an angle of 65 degrees+.

The powerful motion of the crossovers (corner strokes) then take over and compel the preservation of the momentum carried into the corner. Timed right, you’ll see the powerful transition of the full extension of the left leg underneath the right leg, both blades carving firmly just prior to the apex of the corner (the center-most block).

A smooth transition of the force between the two legs at that precarious moment preserves the integrity of the corner and allows the skater to enter a “pivot” – a one footed change of direction back toward the far end of the rink, and then relax the arc of the corner a bit through the latter half – reducing the G forces and allowing multiple crossover strokes of acceleration into the straightaway. The apex block is also the focal point of most crashes and many disqualifications. At the point of the turn the muscles of the body are stressed to the max – imagine squatting down to a 90 degree bend on one leg… holding it, and then putting on 2 of yourself on your back: the additional pressure provided by the almost 3G acceleration of the turn). Then balance all of that on a 1mm blade, headed toward the wall, on ICE.

As the skater exits the corner, the body decompresses and lifts with the center of gravity returning to vertical. A pair of straightway strokes later, and it starts again.

Is it hard?

This extremely controlled and concise motion is difficult. However – the motions are repetitive – unlike ballet the number of required motions is drastically reduced. The real difficulty of the sport lies in the compression of the body required to form the aerodynamic shape. Wind resistance, ultimately, is the primary obstacle to speed.

If speedskating races were held a vacuum, a skater could stand nearly upright and kick out a series of highly powerful shallow strides in rapid sequence to attain maximum speed. However, with the friction of wind the comes with speeds approaching 30 mph, the skater is required to try and form a teardrop shape, with arms and legs bent in a greater than 90 degree angle. The loss of muscular leverage at these compressed angles is severe – I won’t try to describe the physics, but just imagine these two examples:

1) Imagine if you had someone sitting on your shoulders. Now, in a fully upright standing position, imagine bending your knees slightly and then straightening them again. If you can imagine that situation, you probably can imagine that performing that minor knee bend and subsequent straightening would be very easy. The human body’s power output from near-full extension of the muscles involved is tremendous. Most of us could imagine even jumping a little with that weight on our back. However, this position is ineffective due to the constraints of wind resistance. Instead…

2) Imagine squatting down – all the way down, sitting on your heels. Then extend one leg straight out – kind of a Russian dancer stance. Now, balanced on that one foot try to stand up using only the completely bent leg’s power: nearly impossible for anyone other than an acrobat, Russian dancer, or speedskater. Do that with the weight of another person resting on your shoulders (from the centrifugal force) while traveling 30mph, tilting sideways at a crazy angle balanced on a 1m blade and you have the essence of the sport. (Here’s a rough diagram I put together for NBC with estimates of the forces:)

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The compressed body position required by the aerodynamics of the sport demands high power from the legs in a full range of motion, with an extreme amount of coordination of balance, timing, alignment of weight and effort, and subtle coordination of a series of heretofore unused muscles in the abdomen, hip, knee, and ankle to ensure that the powerful compressed stroke passes evenly sideways without interruption or slippage.

This is why few that have started the sport after age 13 succeed, and how a 25 year old skater with 5 years of experience will look like an awkward novice compared to a 10 year old with the same experience. After some point, the synapses required for this kind of exquisite control wither away and cannot be trained.

The only exception to this hard and fast rule is the relatively recent crossover of in-line speedskating athletes. Not surprising considering the similarities of the two sports.

Why all the disqualifications?

In the relatively recent years since short track speedskating has entered the mainstream consciousness, it has brought along with it the expected perceptions of speed and danger and unpredictability. In addition, there also exists an ongoing element of controversy with regards to the judging system and the calls for disqualification (or lack thereof) that have occurred in many of Olympic races.

As an example we can remember back to 2002, where in the1500m mens final, a disqualification of Korean skater Kim Dong Song led to a gold medal – a first for American men – being awarded to Apolo Ohno who crossed the line second. However, the controversial nature of the call, and the dearth of medals for the strong team of Korean men led to highly publicized death threats from the Korean public. When Apolo returned to Korea for the first time since the 2002 Olympics for the 2005 world championships, he was met at the airport by 100 policemen in full riot regalia – just in case.

Then, of course there was the 1000 meter incident with Bradbury…

One unexpected outcome of all the uncertainty in the sport of short track is cultural in nature. One might expect that with all of the clashes and crashes, disqualifications and controversy that the tensions between rival teams and competitors might be very high: that the close proximity in the races might result in a natural distancing factor between athletes off ice and outside the venue.

Surprisingly, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A look at the sister sport of long track speedskating, a sport with no physical contact, few to no disqualifications, and racers competing almost clinically against the clock (in separate lanes and only two at a time) finds a culture where competitive tensions are at their highest. Long Track speedskaters are, more often than not, solitary, taciturn creatures, with serious countenances betraying the competitive tension embodied in every activity.

Short track skaters, in contrast tend to convivial, open and playful, with the occasional prank between and within teams a long standing tradition – a culture where each emotional explosion at the referees for a disqualifaction (or lack thereof) is equally matched by the off ice hijinks, stories and accompanying laughter between the skaters in their locker rooms, in the shared spaces playing hackysack, and back at the hotel over dinner. It as if the vagaries of the sport, the unpredictability of the results, and the shared suffering of uncertainty over the whims of lady luck has created a common culture of tolerance, humility and respect between athletes of different cultures, languages and perspectives.

There is an oft repeated, little understood phrase repeated consistently by the competitors that ultimately reflects this shared understanding. Apolo Ohno was interviewed on camera after the 2002 Olympic 1000 meter gold medal race where he crossed the line sprawled across the ice belly up in second place after being taken down from behind by a chain reaction four skater crash in the final corner. He had just lost certain gold to the unlikely Australian Steven Bradbury who glided in on the wings of lady luck – well out of contention – yet the winner of the coveted gold medal.

Asked for his views on the events that had unfolded, it would have been understandable if Apolo has been less than charitable: he could have said things such as “it was unfair, I had it in the bag, the Korean skater grabbed my leg, Steven wasn’t even a contender…” but true to the culture of the sport, and out of respect for the dozens, if not hundreds of races that Steven didn’t win under similar circumstances, Apolo merely shrugged, smiled, and uttered those those seemingly innocuous yet significant words repeated over and over in this turbulent and exciting world: “That’s Short Track.”

It sure is.

 

2014 Sochi Olympic Journal #3: Day Two of Olympic Trials and "How to Watch a Short Track Race"

Jessica Smith and JR Celski continued to dominate in the two rounds of 500m quarterfinals, semifinals and finals today - again winning every single race. The races were actually a bit predictable with the exception of Chris Creveling whose luck had turned yesterday with a penalty in the 1500m and today a fall in the first 500m and then a slip in his 500m quarterfinal leading to a 1/1000th of a second miss on making it into the A/B semi finals.

My stats spreadsheet for tracking points

For now Celski and Alvarez have locked up spots, and if the team were selected today, Malone, Creveling and Kyle Carr would join them based on overall standings. Tomorrow should have JR again winning, and if Creveling is back in place and wild cards like Jaynor or Kyle Uyehara don't break through, then that should still be the mens team. For the women, Emily Scott secured the second spot today, and unless a wildcard like Chen or Gehring were to win the 1000m overall tomorrow, Dudek will be the third spot.

 

our very tight broadcast booth

How to Watch a Short Track Race:

  1. Recognize that time doesn't matter - so in the longer races, the pace may be slow in the early goings
  2. Know that drafting is a factor and that taking the lead with more than 4 or 5 laps to go probably means you'll get passed by the skaters getting a 20% increase in efficiency by following in your wake
  3. Know that because of 1 & 2, the laps between 7 to go and 5 to go are where a great proportion of passing and maneuvering happen. Each skater HOPES that with 5 to go they find themselves in second or third place with a skater up front who has the pace high and will fade at the end.
  4. Know that passing on the outside is less likely to lead to a penalty for contact, but a LOT harder - only the best can do it at speed.
  5. Know that passing on the inside is easier, but runs the real risk of contact and if the skater doesn't get 1/2 body length lead will be called for a penalty and be given last place points
  6. Know that passing on the inside and having contact around block 3 in the corner often leads to falls and if so, runs the risk of also causing a yellow card to be issued which means that skater penalized will get no points.
  7. Lap times above 11 seconds are SLOW, lap times of 10 seconds or so are medium. Lap times of 9 seconds are fast, and lap times in the low 8's are ALL OUT - 35mph plus.

So, tomorrow, watch where the skaters line up - JR has been racing from the front because - HE CAN. He's strong enough to do so. That probably won't work in the Olympics, so we may see him sit farther back tomorrow to practice passing from the back. Same goes for Jessica. After the start you'll see the pace go at a medium clip for a couple laps and then watch for skaters swinging wide going into the corner and putting in extra strokes. Their angular velocity will remain the same, but when they come out of the corner their actual speed will be higher and then can then either dive inside for the easier but more dangerous inside pass, or put on the afterburners and try to make it around the outside. Several of these moves will happen from 7 to go until 5 laps to go and then a new paceline will usually emerge as the leader sets a fast enough pace for the following skaters to bide their time. Then with 3 or 2 or even one to go, additional moves will happen by the skaters strong enough to gather the speed necessary.

Inside the production truck where the producer and director and graphics and others sit

2014 Sochi Olympic Journal #2: First Day of Short Track Olympic Trials

Today was the first day of the short track Olympic Trials - for most of the athletes the most stressful races of their lives. I joined a new broadcast team including Jim Carr (producer) and Terry Gannon (commentator) and Apolo Ohno (color commentator). My daughter Katelina demanded that Apolo meet her "Labbit" and he was happy to oblige. IMG_1952

The races were excellent and Terry and Apolo quickly found a rhythm. Jessica Smith and JR Celski dominated the 1500m races and earned the first two spots on the Olympic team in Sochi. I did my best to support the team by helping arrange interviews and answering question as simple as spelling and as complex as the temperature of the ice and humidity in the arena. In the photo below we are watching a replay of a questionable penalty of Chris Creveling in the second round 1500m final.

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My role was to be the subject matter expert for Apolo and Terry and the production crew and get them any information they needed. Below is an edited stream of my emails to the team about the races, participants, and rules that is probably more than anyone would want to know, but the first "soundbite" effectively describes a key moment in the sport and I was happy to hear Apolo using this language tonight.

--------------------- The "pivotal moment" (literally in this case) The pivotal moment in short track (also called a "pivot")is when a 175 short track skater hits the apex of the corner - at that moment thanks to 2G's of centripetal force they do the equivalent of a 350 lb one legged squat from a greater than 90 degree knee bend, while leaning over at 60 degrees, all the while balanced on a 1MM wide 17 inch blade traveling 35mph directly at a wall, on ice. This is where most falls and disqualifications happen as well, and where the ice gets very rutted and unstable.

Olympic Qualifying: Women Three women's Olympic team spots are available. At the games we will have 3 women in the 500m and 1500m and only two skate the 1000. Qualifying goes like this: whoever wins the final points for a distance at trials for each of the distance earns a guaranteed spot. If it is 3 different girls, then that is the team. If the same girl wins more than one event or all three, the additional spots will go by overall classification for the meet. This does create the possibility that "win at all costs - even if it means making a bad pass" may likely take place. In the case of the 1000m, where only two girls will skate, the two skaters selected will be a) the winner of that event and b) the woman ON THE TEAM who had the highest finish in the 1000.

Olympic Qualifying: Men Five Olympic team spots are available. At the games we will have 3 men in each of the 3 individual events, and then the relay team. Similar to the girls, the winner of each distance will have a guaranteed spot on the team. Additional spots will be based on the second place finishers in each event. If there is overlap (likely - JR will likely place in all 3 for instance) then the remaining spots will be drawn from the third place finishers and overall standings.

FYI Only - Olympic Qualifying - Relay, Men: The relay (men only) will also be pulled from these five skaters. It will be coaches decision based on schedule and who is skating the best. A 5th skater MIGHT be used in the heat - if so he will also stand on the podium / earn a medal if the men finish in the top 3. If the heat is easy or if the 4th and 5th skaters are very similar in ability/experience then this will almost certainly be the case.

Referees: Al Gresheim is the chief referee - he makes the final calls. Will likely use replay for anything questionable but the TV timetable will put pressure on him to keep things moving.

Coaches: Stephen Gough (Pronounced like “cough” - Canadian from ’94 short track Olympic team) is the head US coach, Alex Izykowski (Bronze medalist short track from Torino) will be the assistant coach. Jae Su Chun (former US National coach) will attend – not yet certain if he can go down by the ice for the trials – he will be at the Olympics but NOT allowed down by the ice. I'm friends w/ Gough and very close with Alex, so again if we need anything from these guys I can probably help. Of course even more true for Apolo in the case of Alex as they used to room together.

Venue/Ice: Todd Porter will be the facility manager for the rink and Mark Norman is the VP of the Utah sports facilities and his boss. I grew up with both these guys so if we need something from them let me know and I can probably arrange to get it. The ice was shaved down two weeks ago, the lines repainted, and the new water they put down is a mix of the ultra-purified water they use for long track and some city water. This results in ice that breaks less easily and is more “sticky” and faster for the short track skaters. Times should be fast due to that and the 4300 foot altitude.

New Starting Rules: Until recently, one jumpstart was allowed for each skater, with second jump by the same skater and then they are out. This resulted in the possibility of 4, 5, even six jumpstarts which hoses up TV coverage : ) (this happened a couple times in Vancouver) Now the rules are that the first jump by any skater results in the second jump by any skater to be applied to everyone, so on the third jump whoever jumps (even if they didn't jump the first two times) is out. However if the first skater who jumps, jumps again, they ARE out. Example: Lane 1 jumps – is called for it, has one jump, next jump and he/she is out. Restart and Lane 2 jumps – now EVERYONE has a jump, and next jump – no matter who – is out. Restart, Lane 3 jumps – he/she is out.

Judging calls, Penalties and Yellow Cards: Please eliminate the word disqualification from your lexicon – no longer applies to short track. Most judging calls in short track take place during passes that result in contact. This contact will result in a PENALTY for IMPEDING if the following is true: The overtaking skater does not get at least ½ body length ahead of the skater being passed. If they DO get ½ body length or more, then they can essentially cut in front of the skater being passed. Skaters can received a penalty for jumpstarts per the above or for throwing a skate at the line (lifting the skate off the ice to try and gain advantage). Penalties result in getting the last place finish and points for whatever round they are in.

If a skate throw or impeding call are particularly dangerous or rough, the referee will issue a yellow card. Yellow cards can be issued for other poor behavior as well. This is not a penalty – the skater in this case gains NO points for the round they are in – its as if they never skated and everyone below them moves up. Two yellow cards = a red card and the skater (or coach) must leave the competition and premises. If something is serious enough, the referee can issue a red card directly. No one has seen a red card being used (YET)

Controversy etc. You've probably read or heard but speedskating and short track have been plagued by some significant controversies in the last 2 years including the two head coaches being asked to resign last year with 19 skaters signing a petition suggesting verbal and physical abuse, skate tampering (allegedly at former coach Jae Su Chun's suggestion) by Simon Cho on a Canadian team member's skate and Simon's subsequent ban. Sadly this is nothing new to the sport with lawsuits and arbitrations featured many times over the years. I have served on the arbitration panel a couple of times so can provide more color as required.

Quick learnings from Torino / Vancouver: - Names are difficult to pronounce - need to get pronunciations from those who know - Because names are difficult, #'s are hard to see and "skaters all look alike" to the laymen, it is often best to refer to the skater by color / country when not famous/contenders, and name/#/color when they are a contender. Example, "and #14, Apolo Ohno sweeps into the lead over the chinese skater in red. The two Korean contenders, Lee and Lee follow in the medium blue and yellow." Of all these, color is the easiest way for the viewer to know who you are talking about. - I typically count laps over the radio for the producer / announcers - let me know if you want me to do so. - I typically track where falls and disqualifications happen during the race and indicate them by lap and "turn #" but instead of "2 turns" we pretend there are four - with the first half of the first corner from the main Start/Finish being turn 1, the second half of the first corner = Turn Two etc. Again let me know if this is usefull to you James and/or your camera people.

Confusing things we should explain (more on this to come) - Starting procedure - movement of the track (there are 5 "tracks" that help keep the ice fresh - implications of the moving track for the shortest race - the 500m (distance from the start line to the first block of the corner gets shorter or longer depending on which track which creates an advantage for the skater in lane one) - How lane positions are selected (based on seeding from the last heat or event) - the equipment (blade bend, cut proof clothing, neck guards, shin guards etc.) - disqualifications (these are common) and review (officials have the option to review video footage)

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2014 Sochi Olympic Journal #1: Sochi, Here I Come!

Very happy to get this packet today - NBC renewed my contract to support the broadcast team for the next Winter Olympics to be held next February in Sochi, Russia. I'll be joined by Apolo Ohno who will be doing color commentary. The main announcer (formerly Ted Robinson) is still to be determined (Ted will be joining Dan Jansen to do long track speedskating.)

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Vancouver Journal #12: Days, Places and Faces

Vancouver Journal #12: Days, Places and Faces closingA week ago today and I was entering BC place to “work” closing ceremonies. Donning a white jumpsuit and a radio, I was one of just a handful that were allowed on the field with the athletes. My job? A “spotter” – I was to identify where key athletes were sitting for the cameras during the ceremony, and then, during the concert following, bring them over for interviews. I had three main athletes to find: Apolo Ohno, Alex Bilideau (first Canadian Gold medal winner) and Ryan Miller (the USA Hockey team goalie). Fred Gaudelli, our producer, had been selected to produce the closing ceremonies and penciled me in for this role as a bit of a thank you. Fred is awesome.

Again, I couldn’t believe my good fortune – to be on the actual field with the athletes!? Only 3 non-athletes were allowed and I was one of them. During the preproduction meeting, I surprised the director (who didn’t know me from Adam) by just texting Apolo and asking him to join us during Alanis Morrisette for an interview. He replied quickly, “Yes!” so I checked off one of my three athletes off the list.

The three weeks I spent in Vancouver were over in a blink of an eye, yet they left an indelible impression on my mind, again proving out some theories on time captured here: http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/how-to-live-almost-forever/

I’ve been asked over and over what some of the most significant moments and memories are of the games, and there are a host of associated snapshots in my head, some of which I’ll share below, with the most important to follow in my final journal.

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Scene: BC Place stadium – closing ceremonies

At the beginning of the opening ceremonies, I was uncertain where to be – the director had told me to get onto the field ASAP as security was tight and even with my special credential I might still have a difficult time getting on the field, so I lined up with a zillion young snowboarders in white near the east gate in anticipation of blending in and getting onto the field early. What I didn’t know is that a few moments later, these 300 kids were going to sprint onto the field, and their intertia would carry me with them until I was finally able to dodge off to the side and, embarrassingly, walk all by myself back to the edge of the field as they began their dance routine. Here’s a link to video I started taking before I realized the trouble I was in (I almost went down and would have been trampled pretty severely!)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cdG5-4nXXo]

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Scene: The P & G (Proctor and Gamble) house. Johnny Wier is just ahead of me in line to check in and take a photo for his credential. He is wearing what looks to be a full fox around his neck and a great deal of makeup. I try not to stare, but I have to glance over when I see him “tsking” leaning over the computer monitor shaking his head while looking at his credential mugshot saying, “no, no, that won’t do, take another one, take another one.”

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Scene: Grandville Avenue amidst the crowds. I’m hurrying down Granville to make a pre-production meeting and I see a group of Canadian hockey fans wearing jerseys surrounding a fallen comrade bent over vomiting into the gutter. His buddies were all chiding him “Its just a few beers, what kind of Canadian are you anyway?” Time check? 10:30…. in the morning…

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Scene: Pan Pacific Hotel lobby: I’m heading into the elevator bank of the Pan Pacific Hotel where all the “talent” stay (on air personalities and bigshots) but I can’t get past the attendant and into the elevator bank because I don’t have a room key card to show him. I try calling Fred and Andy, but no one picks up. Suddenly Picabo Street materializes beside me. She’s on her cell phone, but doesn’t break stride, jerking a thumb towards me and saying to the attendant, “he’s with me” while she continues talking and walking. I follow her into an open elevator and push 14 to go to our producer Fred’s room, and I start to listen to her conversation. She’s smiling and animated.

“No, no, I can confirm…” “No, listen to me, I CAN confirm what you are saying but its not…”

She rolls her eyes and looks at me, a gleeful smile playing out on her face. “Yes, let me speak. Yes, I can absolutely confirm Lindsay Vonn is sleeping with her coach.

“Yes, yes it is true she went to HIS room last night after the awards ceremony. Yes, yes!”

Her eyes crinkled, and she paused, waiting for the dramatic punchline.

“He’s her HUSBAND!” Picabo cackled and could barely talk. “Seriously there’s no story there…” She winked at me and said, “Tabloids!”. As I was getting off the elevator she was still laughing.

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Scene: The Pan Pacific Hotel Lobby Restaurant. “This relay – it’s a f-ing nightmare – no one understands it.” Fred Gaudelli, our producer, was lamenting one morning before competition about the upcoming relays. As a grunt I wasn’t usually much of a participant in the dialog and was happy to be at the table, but I spoke up “What if I could draw some diagrams that showed the specific roles of each skater, and how it all works?” 10 hours of powerpoint animations later, and I was the proud father of a series of little animatics that made broadcast television after the skilled hand of Charlie Vanacor and others made them TV worthy.

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Teammates - Gabel and FlaimScene: The USA House. Most of my available hours – those not spent at the venue, watching practice, building powerpoint diagrams, doing morning TV, sleeping or riding my bike – were spent at the “USA House.” The USA House is Zeus’s gift to current and former US Olympic Athletes. Open only to current Olympic athletes and “Olympians” (once an Olympian, always an Olympian - you are never a “former Olympian”), it is a refuge for those lucky enough to pass through its doors. Every Olympics has one, but in Vancouver it was a large square building right downtown with three floors. The first floor was the USA Olympic store, the second was the bar, restaurant and big screen TV’s and the third floor, well I never made it up, but I heard it was meeting rooms. With the limited invitees, the excellent catered food and the open bar, conversations in the USA House come easy.

Each night, somewhere around midnight after the official awards ceremonies, many of the newly minted U.S. medalists for the day would make their way to the USA house for a relatively new and important ceremony – the order of Ikkos, where the medal winner would provide a medal symbolizing  the order to the supporter/coach who had helped them the most. Some gave it to a coach, some to a parent. Regardless of recipient, most nights it was an emotional ceremony, and everyone at the USA house would gather around the far end of the vast room to watch the athlete(s) provide the medal and give short speeches to the cheers of the crowd. I loved how it helped focus the athlete’s attention back away from themselves and begin the process of realization that their presence on the world stage was due to the support of many outside themselves.

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Scene: The USA House most evenings. Perhaps my fondest memories of the games are the time spent lounging in the low white leather chairs of the USA house, whiling away the evening hours with old friends, new friends and new aquaintances. Serious conversations about training, philosophy, and sport were balanced by the easy camaraderie and joking banter common to athletes around the globe. Alex, Chris, Ian, Tucker, Nick, and I were a core group and just so happened to all also be on the Colbert show http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/265287/february-24-2010/freud-rage---the-iceman-counseleth/  . Others would join the circle watching the big screen TV’s while telling stories of “the old days” or recent events. It was a safe and special place and the energy in the room, despite everyone being low on sleep, made it all the more memorable. As the elder statesman of the group, I would switch circles back and forth with the “older group” of Gabel, Blair, Wanek, Jansen, Plant and others. The cast of characters:

Chris Needham: skated on the national teams – both long track and short track for a decade, had to suffer through being my roommate in Lake Placid back in the day, but never quite made the Olympic team. Chris is very smart and has a quick wit.

Ian Baranski: like Chris, Ian skated competitively for a decade on various long track and short track teams, but never quite made the games. Ian managed to get a law degree while still skating on the national team, and we have always had a great relationship. Ian is Apolo’s roommate in Salt Lake.

Tucker Fredericks: I just got to know Tucker, but this kid is crazy funny. Apparently during the Colbert show taping, Tucker had Stephen cracking up more than once. As a long track sprinter, Tucker is very unusual being neither tall nor massive. Wicked fast though, he is.

Nick Pearson: I remember Nick as this tiny blond headed kid running around the rink with his cute little red-headed sister. Now he’s this Thor of an Olympian (yes, I’m mixing my pantheons) – 6’3”, legs like oak trees, zero percent body fat. Nick had a phenomenal finish in two Olympics that no one ever saw – 6th in Salt Lake City in both the 1500m and 1000m , and a 7th in the 1000m in Vancouver. None of his races were ever aired…

Alex Izykowski: the boy who wore my silver medal, who became the Olympic competitior with the bronze medal in Torino, who became the injured and retired Olympian who has become a very close friend. Alex has a very kind disposition and a generous soul. I spent much of my free time hanging with him.

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Scene: The USA house: I’m not a huge hockey fan, but the guy in front of me talking in an animated way clearly was. It was the night after I had had dinner with Paul Wylie, Peter Caruthers and Kristie Yamaguchi, and Bret Hedican, the man I was speaking with, was a recently retired NHL player, but those significant credentials did not gain him entrance to the USA house. Fortunately, he was also a former Olympian in 1992, and then again in 2006 for the U.S. Hockey team, and we were discussing training and talent development and we found ourselves in strong agreement in our positions on the topic and talked for the better part of an hour. At one point in the conversation, Mike Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hockey team wandered over and joined the discussion, seamlessly joining in as we had all already met. At one point, Mike looked around and said, “isn’t great to be here?” Bret and I nodded, and then Bret said, “you know, nobody cares how many playoff games or Stanley cups I’ve won, but when they find out I played in the Olympics!, that’s what people remember and care about. It is sort of a magic moment locked in the four year box of time.”

The next night I was talking with Bret again, and when Kristie Yamaguchi came by to say hi, I was just about to introduce her when she gave Bret a kiss. “You’ve met my husband Bret?” They had no reason to know I felt like an idiot.

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Scene: The Pacific Coloseum entrance. On Wednesday, before the fourth day of short track, I finally met Cheryl Davis, my neighbor back in West Bloomfield, Michigan and the mother of Olympian Meryl Davis. She was waiting in the rink after figure skating practice (“figs in the nomenclature of the media crew”) and that part of me that was a child years ago still recognized her. She was tiny, but still steely, with bright blue eyes that belied her size. I remembered, suddenly, being afraid of her as a kid (a feeling her son Clay, corroborated as legitimate). Perhaps I trespassed in her yard a few decades ago and was chastised, but she was all smiles and hugs now. “Meryl and Charlie are in third!” she said, “they can probably move up to silver, maybe even Gold!”

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Scene: The USA house the next night. The following evening I watched the ice dance finale sitting right next to Cheryl Davis and Mrs. White, Charlie’s mom as Meryl and Charlie skated a fantastic program to win silver. It was so exciting to share that moment with her. Then, a few hours later after a call from Cheryl, I met them at the USA house to meet Meryl and watch Meryl and Charlie provide their Ikkos award to their coach (shared by the gold medal team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. A few moments after Meryl came out of the elevator of the USA house, I finally met the little girl who had held the Olympic torch so long ago. I was full of emotions and didn’t quite know what to do or say - I was torn between a desire to be a part of it all (as Cheryl pulled me into photos) and filled with embarrassment for knowing I was just lucky to be there.

Preview, Journal #13: Final Reflections – final thoughts and memories from this amazing 3 weeks.

Vancouver Journal #11: Tonight, "The Best Event at the Olympics"

“So, I heard that short track on Friday is ‘the best event at the Olympics’ – in particular the relay.”  Those words were spoken to me while on-set by NBC morning show anchor Terry Gannon just prior to the show yesterday. Short track, and it signature event the relay are all the buzz throughout town. Wednesday night’s women’s gold medal relay race was just another example of why. In the final laps, the Korean team made a slightly awkward pass on the leading Chinese team, and a bobble from clicked skates resulted in a disqualification to Korea, notching up China, Canada, and a very lucky out-of-contention USA team into the medals. But the drama didn’t stop on-ice. Subsequent to the decision, the organizers have received over 22,000 angry emails from Korean supporters. Furthermore, Jim Hewisch, the Australian referee who made the questionable call has received multiple death threats both here and at home and security at the rink has been beefed up.

Cap all this off with new press airing regarding a bomb threat to the Australian embassy tied again to that race, and the circus continues. Earlier this week I was in the elevator at the USA house with Michael Phelps (who was at the Saturday event) and that was all he and his friends were still talking about – which made a quick introduction and photo op an easy ask:

 I turned to Terry Gannon, nodded and confirmed – “yes, it really is the best event.” His response was, “I have to find a way to be there – sounds fantastic.”

 Tonight Apolo Ohno and Simon Cho will attempt to qualify for the 500m gold medal race against a tough field of Canadians including World Champion Charles Hamelin of Canada, and the Korean contingent including world record holder Sung Si-Bak. The ladies will conclude their 1000m with the gold medal race – hopefully Katherine Reutter will earn a well-deserved medal. Finally, the last race of these Olympics, the men’s 5000 meter relay, with 5 teams and 20 skaters all circling the ice at the same time. Confusing? Hopefully my diagrams airing tonight will help.

Want to know more about the sport? Follow this link: http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/vancouver-journal-7-an-introduction-to-short-track-speedskating

We will be live tonight for the men’s 500’s, and “Elvised” for the womens races and relay (very slight delay). If you watch any events from this Olympics – I highly encourage you not to miss tonight. I’m pretty excited that more of my powerpoint handiwork has been made into on-air animatics – attached are two of the powerpoint animations that you will likely see aired tonight. Ted gave me a shout-out on Wed. night for the relay diagram (see snapshot)

The buzz is in the air here, and the energy tonight will be amazing - I should probably get earplugs, as in Torino the final night had my ears ringing for almost 24 hours. Here’s our full schedule – racing starts at 6pm Pacific – 8pm Central:

 Friday, February 26th   – 5th day of competition

9:00am – Talent Editorial Meeting – Gaudelli, Moossa, Robinson, Gabel, Joyce & Coyle

10:00am – Edit – Vanacore/Schwarz –

12:00pm – Production Meeting @ Pacific Coliseum – all Production personnel

1:30pm – Fax

2:30pm – Lunch

3:30pm – Camera Meeting

4:00pm – all talent arrive

4:45pm – all cams on

4:50pm – Skaters Warm – up (ends at 5:40pm)

5:30pm – rehearse talent

6:00pm – Men’s 500 M – Quarterfinals 

6:14pm – Women’s 1000M – Quarterfinals

6:43pm – Men’s 500 M – Semifinals

6:52pm – Women’s 1000 M – Semifinals

7:13pm – Men’s 500 M  – B Final (places 5 – 8)

7:17pm – Men’s 500 M  – A Final (Medal event)

7:23pm – Women’s 1000 M – B Final (places 5 – 8)

7:28pm – Women’s 1000 M – A Final (Medal event)

7:50pm – Men’s 5000 M Relay B Final (places 5 – 8)

8:03pm – Men’s 5000 M Relay A Final (Medals)

Vancouver Journal #10 - TV debut and racing

I haven’t had much time to write but it has been a crazy and fun week. Katelina and Shannon came in for three action packed days taking in opening ceremonies, the first day of short track, the award ceremonies with Nellie Furtado. Opening ceremonies was a rather significant investment – but worth it. I hope it is something Katelina will remember her whole life and that it lights a little spark for her – more on that to come.
On Thursday I made my broadcast TV debut (with the exception of a very confusing interview in Albania last May:
 
NBC Universal Sports does a morning show live by the waterfront with previews and recaps for the action taking place. Somehow they got my name to help them out on short track and of course I accepted, despite the early wake up (6am).
 
So Thursday morning at 6:45am I showed up to a white tent on the plaza next to the torch and proceeded to "get makeup" which consisted of some airbrushing and powder, and then on to the set with Terry Gannon and Lindsay Soto. We reviewed a video of the night’s races and I provided commentary and answered questions. My face was only on screen for a minute or less and the whole thing was only 5 minutes or so, but if was fun.

Apparently I did OK - they invited me back and Saturday morning and Lindsay and I previewed tonight’s races and I was on air about 15 minutes or so (w/ commercial break). It was fun and I was only a little nervous. After that show the producer sent me an email that said "they loved you and we want you back," so that’s good. It is truly amazing that the little sport that consumed much of my life and saw maybe 2 minutes of airtime in Lillehammer is now dominating the airwaves during primetime. It is the dream we all had hoped the sport would realize.

Saturday night, at 6pm local, and 8pm CST, we went live again with short track. Actually, all of it wasn’t live we "Elvised-in" the men’s 1000 preliminaries before going truly live some time after 7pm (9pm CST). "Elvising" is basically running things on a short delay so that various segments can be better coordinated – apparently an EVS machine does this process. the women’s 1500m heats aired on late-night.

I’ve been doing some diagrams for the producer as well and the first one I did aired the other night – just a simple figure of a tight track vs. a wide track. Here’s some snapshots of diagrams you may see coming up in the broadcast.

Passing patterns for short track
Simple stuff, but they like it. I've spent about 10 hours building another one for the relays - coming soon.
Saturday’s races were phenomenal and Apolo now is the most decorated Winter Olympian in U.S. history. Were it not for 3 slips – one for each American, I think J.R. Celski, Katherine Reutter, and Apolo would have had different placings – Apolo gold, Reutter probably silver and Celski would have been in the final – possibly with a medal.
Reutter was truly amazing in the final, skating near the front, reacting quickly to every move and then sliding a little too far forward and clicking, dropping from 2nd to 8th in the blink of an eye. Fighting fiercely, she staged a furious comeback passing her way back into 4th place, just one spot shy of a medal. No slip and she’s for sure silver, possibly gold.

Next up, the men’s final. The atmosphere in the arena was charged with energy. I don’t know how to describe it – it is different, I think, than a hockey game or other events. Hockey lasts a long time with lots of action. Short track is sort of an extended set of pendulum swings that crescendo into a peak into the final seconds of the medal round.

First, the preliminaries with hometown favorites and the associated nail biting passes and false starts generating nervous excitement and spontaneous celebrations. These were followed by the lull of the ice resurface, and then the semi finals where everything is laid on the line and in split seconds the medal race is decided. Another lull for another resurface, and then this weird hush and then a building energy, a low vibration building into a thrumming and then roaring and chanting as the skaters took their marks for the gold medal round, where in just over one minute fortunes would be made, and lost.

The skaters were introduced, one by one, helmets off, and then the scoreboard suddenly flashed, "Silence!" forcing the 11,000 on their feet in the sold out stadium into a momentary quiet before the gun cracked open the explosion of sound. After that I could no longer hear Ted or Andy – only an overwhelming wave of white noise crushing my eardrums.

With 2 ½ laps to go Apolo was in 3rd behind the Hamelin brothers – both from Canada – and the hometown crowd was screaming. But the crowd didn’t know what we knew – that the train was just about to leave the station with Apolo setting up wide and two Koreans in tow. A sudden stumble and Apolo went backwards as the Koreans streamed by and into the lead. Then with only a half lap Apolo rallied, swinging around the Canadian brothers, and the rest, as they say, is history: 7 Olympic medals in one of the most unpredictable sports in the world.

 

 

  
 
 

 

Vancouver Journal #9: To walk or not to walk?

Vancouver Journal #9: Opening Ceremonies – to walk or not to walk? Monday, February 15, 2010

Years, even decades of training go into an Olympic bid, and most of the millions that attempt this feat fail to join the few thousand that do. Morning, afternoon and evening they suffer, sweating and straining in pursuit of a distant dream – a few remembered snapshots from childhood serving as the glowing grail for this quest.

For most, those images can be distilled down to two mental pictures that have kept them motivated all these years. First and foremost is the vision of climbing the podium, bending down to receive an Olympic medal to the roar of the crown and the tears of joy and relief from friends and family.

There is another dream though, one that is far more realistic for the thousands of Olympians here chasing dozens of medals, and that dream is to march in the opening ceremonies and witness the pageantry surrounding the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.

But this dream is fading: more and more athletes are skipping the opening ceremonies and the parade of nations has become a gentrified walk of coaches and staff.

Why? You might ask.

In pursuit of the primary dream, everything becomes secondary – the vision of that ephemeral medal becomes ever more singular and the lesser, more realistic dreams fall away. To walk in opening ceremonies is to be on your feet for 2 – 3 hours – certainly not on anyone’s list of “best preparation” techniques for an athletic competion. Many simply choose not to attend – which is certainly their right.

However, some are just banned from participating by coaches and staff. At least one team I’m aware of was banned by their NGB (national governing body) to walk in the opening ceremonies – probably dozens.

Then there is the middle ground, some are “guilted” out of going. For the U.S. Short Track team, they were told it would be “selfish” to walk.

Wait, you say, that’s terrible!

Well, perhaps it is not so simple. As a skater in the relay, three other people who have dedicated their life to this sport are relying on YOU to put in the performance of a lifetime – just to make it to the medal round. If a skater were to walk in the opening ceremony and fail to pull his or her weight during the race – and the team were to lose as a result, then yes, perhaps that would be selfish.

Further, there is the mental aspect – everyone is always trying to find that edge, a refrain in the brain saying “I’ll bet the Koreans are not walking,” starts to further frame the issue.

I’m very happy to have the memories of walking in the Lillehammer opening ceremonies and witnessing the spectacle of a ski jumper flying 100 meters through the air while carrying a flaming torch in his grasp…

But, I have to admit I would trade that memory in a second for the silver medal those games also provided.

Is there a solution to this quandary? One solution would be to require every competing athlete to walk in the opening ceremonies in order to even the playing field. This seems unlikely, but the second solution is potentially more realistic – what if they planned the opening ceremonies two days before the first event?

I’m reminded that the Olympic motto is "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle.”

Still, has something gone missing?

Vancouver Journal #8: Prime Time! The Short Track Competition Viewing Schedule

Stephen Colbert is here - somewhere - he'll be at the races on Wednesday.  Who would have believed it - my little sport, little old short track, was broadcast live and in Prime Time on Saturday night to ratings well above the last Olympics where skiing was the headliner. And it did not disappoint - from Apolo's sweeping pass in the heats showing that he's here to race and "send a message," to JR Celski's miraculous return after a major injury, and then the rough and tumble final where at first it looked like Apolo would win, then a near certain 4th, and then around the final corner a crash leading to a silver and bronze for USA - that's short track.

In case you were ever wondering what kind of intense training is involved for these skaters to race like this, here's a great piece done by Time:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdKiY92WE40&feature=player_embedded

I HATED the turn belt, though I rather enjoyed the stair jump workouts - jumps were one of the few workouts I was good at.

I'm a bit behind on posting pictures - haven't figured out how to download from my older camera (can't find the right driver), but opening ceremonies were amazing, as was last night's first medals ceremony. I'm off right now to watch the Long Track 500m races, followed by US short track practice. Here's the current schedule - only the finals are guaranteed to be shown, but it seems likely we will broadcast most of the races:

February 17     5:00 p.m. – 5:12 p.m. Women’s 500m Quarterfinals Pacific Coliseum

Wednesday      5:25 p.m. – 5:57 p.m. Men’s 1000m Heats Pacific Coliseum

                                 6:10 p.m. – 6:17 p,m. Women’s 500m Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                 6:32 p.m. – 6:53 p.m. Men’s 5000m Relay Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                7:06 p.m. – 7:10 p.m. Women’s 500m B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                7:11 p.m. – 7:15 p.m. Women’s 500m A Final Pacific Coliseum

February 20     5:45 p.m. – 6:15 p.m. Women’s 1500m Heats Pacific Coliseum

Saturday             6:28 p.m. – 6:44 p.m. Men’s 1000m Quarterfinals Pacific Coliseum

                                   6:58 p.m. – 7:15 p.m. Women’s 1500m Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                   7:28 p.m. – 7:37 p.m. Men’s 1000m Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                   7:50 p.m. – 7:56 p.m. Women’s 1500m B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                   7:56 p.m. – 8:03 p.m. Women’s 1500m A Final Pacific Coliseum

                                   8:05 p.m. – 8:09 p.m. Men’s 1000m B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                   8:10 p.m. – 8:15 p.m. Men’s 1000m A Final Pacific Coliseum

February 24     5:00 p.m. – 5:32 p.m. Women’s 1000m Heats Pacific Coliseum

Wednesday      5:46 p.m. – 6:11 p.m. Men’s 500m Heats Pacific Coliseum

                                 6:25 p.m. – 6:35 p.m. Women’s 3000m Relay B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                 6:35 p.m. – 6:45 p.m. Women’s 3000m Relay A Final Pacific Coliseum

February 26     6:00 p.m. – 6:12 p.m. Men’s 500m Quarterfinals Pacific Coliseum

Friday                  6:14 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Women’s 1000m Quarterfinals Pacific Coliseum

                                  6:43 p.m. – 6:50 p.m. Men’s 500m Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                  6:52 p.m. – 7:01 p.m. Women’s 1000m Semifinals Pacific Coliseum

                                  7:13 p.m. – 7;17 p.m. Men’s 500m B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                  7:17 p.m. – 7:22 p.m. Men’s 500m A Final Pacific Coliseum

                                  7:23 p.m. – 7:28 p.m. Women’s 1000m B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                  7:28 p.m. – 7:34 p.m. Women’s 1000m A Final Pacific Coliseum

                                  7:50 p.m. – 8:02 p.m. Men’s 5000m Relay B Final Pacific Coliseum

                                  8:03 p.m. – 8:15 p.m. Men’s 5000m Relay A Final Pacific Coliseum

Vancouver Journal #5: Meet Vancouver

Wednesday, February 9, 2010 “Just another big city” I thought to myself during the cab ride from the Vancouver international airport to downtown, a gray mist shrouding the nondescript businesses, offices, and the inevitable glowing string of McDonalds and Starbucks.

 The flight from Chicago was uneventful and I found myself in the terminal with Dan Jansen – who will be doing the color commentary for long track speedskating and our producer Fred Gaudelli. Except for his intensity, Fred was not at all what I expected – tall, broad shouldered and built like a linebacker, with “smart” glasses and shoulder length hair.

  “I like your blog” he said with his east coast accent, and I was a bit taken aback considering my last post had featured assumptions about his working style pulled from my limited experience. “You read about yourself then,” I said carefully, to which he replied with a genuine smile, “I like to know what people are saying about me.” Despite his intensity, he has proven to be very friendly and engaging. In a conversation with Dick Ebersol later that evening, he said, “you are working with one of my favorite people in the world – the best in the business” – referring to Fred.

Not everything is at appears and so it is with Vancouver. Rising early the next morning, this little guest on my balcony began to show me how Vancouver is different. Once you get past the high rises and franchises, its charms emerge

 The view from my balcony reminded me that this is a coastal city. Vancouver boasts a very temperate climate (highs in the upper 40’s or low 50’s each day so far) and a very calm sea due to the “wind shadow” of the massive and moutainous islands offshore. Framed by the sea and the beautiful volcanic cone of Mt. Baker to the south, and the “Canadian Alps” just to the north, Vancouver boasts a well planned urban environment with plenty of green-space. 

I didn’t really fall in love with the place until my Monday cycling foray into Stanley Park – just 1 km from my hotel and within walking distance of downtown. Massive trees, bluffs overlooking the sea and a paved 10K bike loop with a separate running trail. I rode until sunset and watched the calm seas absorb the warm winter sun. 

On Wednesday, after a long pre-production meeting with NBC, I found myself sweating and heaving on my bike up several thousand feet of 10% grade on my way up to Cypress mountain – with a view of all of Vancouver and Mt. Baker in the distance.

 I returned through the park and again caught the setting sun over the bay. Now I understand why the Economist and a number of other magazines rated Vancouver the #1 most livable city in the world. The torch is now only two days away… will Vancouver be ready?

 

Vancouver Journal #4: Meet the Short Track Team

Vancouver Journal #4: Meet the Short Track Team Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Last Wednesday I received a call from the producer for short track. His name is Fred Gaudelli and he knows football pretty well per the snippet I pulled from a sports journal below:

Fred Gaudelli has been presenting football on television since the early ’80s, when he produced USFL games on ESPN.  In ’01, he moved from ESPN’s Sunday night telecasts to ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” and with the shifting of the NFL’s TV arrangement this season, he was recruited by Dick Ebersol to oversee production for NBC’s new Sunday night package.  As Al Michaels considered overtures from Ebersol to join the new Sunday night team, he said Gaudelli, in addition to booth partner John Madden, was key to his decision to do so.  “When Fred Gaudelli was hired ... that was huge,” Michaels said at the time.  

Like the 2006 short track producer, Steve Lawrence, it became quickly clear that Fred is a very direct, no nonsense kind of guy. “I want to know everything, to go to every practice, to get behind every story.” Whatever my day job, the pecking order in this business is clear: unapologetic directives, curse words, and thick skins are the rule.

I still remember 4 years ago when I received my employment offer to join the NBC broadcast team for the 2006 Olympics. My hiring manager, who previously had been quite short and direct, suddenly took on a slightly more conciliatory tone, “look, there’s going to be tempers flaring, and odds are high you’ll get ignored, sworn at, chewed out, cut off – even fired - possibly multiple times. Just keep at it and don’t let it phase you.” In our first production meeting in Torino, the producer looked around at us and said, “Listen, I’ll cut the crap: lets get this sh*% f*@!ng right the first time so we can all go home, no excuses.”

Torino was taped though due to the time change, and apparently everyone is “twice as nice” when taped compared to how things are when they are live, so we’ll see for 2010. I wonder how many times I’ll have to be fired before I get fired?

So, who’s on the short track team and who might you see on TV?

Short Track: Men

Apolo Anton Ohno (27): There was a Time article a while back with a thesis of  “what’s in a name?” comparing the results of an Apolo Ohno with, say, someone with a name like “Amy Peterson,” and questioning whether Apolo would have had the same notoriety with a different name. As it turns out Amy Peterson is a five time short track Olympian with 3 Olympic medals – all long before Apolo but I bet you never heard of her. (Amy and I trained, traveled and raced together for more than a decade and she’s amazing.) But… what makes fame? If it could be designed, if there were easily identified ingredients, then it would be more accessible and less fleeting. “Pants on the ground?” The reality is that Apolo is the face of short track speedskating – between the stories, the drama, the medals, and the “style” elements, Apolo managed to help a cipher-of-a-sport go mainstream.

Sample text last winter to Apolo when I was in Vegas and someone asked me if, as an Olympic athlete I’d been to the Playboy Mansion (No, I have not.)

 “Apolo – you ever been to the Playboy mansion?”

Response? “Yes! 3 times!”

I wrote a funny little piece for Apolo a while back as his self nominated agent that I’m sure he’s been dutifully following (isn’t Jessica Alba single again?)

http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2008/10/22/how-to-make-speedskating-popular

The reality behind the name is that the little guy with the soul patch on his chin who put short track on the map in 2002 is one of the most naturally gifted speedskaters the world has seen. His balance and timing are impeccable, and he wins not through gargantuan "take the lead early" efforts, but through clever movements through the pack, using the draft of the skaters in front and saving his energy for the final bolt to the line.

My experience: Apolo's first national team trials were in 1995 when I was at the top of my form - he was an unknown punk kid of 13. A year later in 1996, he won the trials - at age 14 shocking all of us. In 1997 and 1998 he didn't make the teams despite having all the ability and talent in the world. I joined him on the sidelines in 1998 when I didn't make the Olympic team. In 1999 he got his act together and has been at the top of the sport since. In the 2002 Olympics he won several medals including a gold in the 1000 meters after a Korean skater was disqualified after finishing first, and another gold in Torino in the 500m, 5 medals to-date. He's pretty quiet and shy, but at the same time carries himself with confidence. We know each other reasonably well, and his father and I talk at the races.

 

JR Celski (19): another shy kid, and impossibly nice, JR’s story is pretty amazing. Within the span of a year, JR went from a promising Junior (2008) to World champion in 2009 (in the 3000m) and winning second overall in the 2009 world championships. Andy Gabel, the color commentator for short track in Vancouver, my former roommate, and fellow silver medalist from the 1994 Olympics commentated on his decisive victory in the 3000m at the 2009 world championships this way: “he took off early in the race, then he lapped the field. Then he took off again and dropped everyone like they were standing still.”  JR may very well have won the Olympic trials and was skating a cut above Apolo until disaster – he fell in the 1000m and slashed himself – very badly – a deep wound through muscle that kept him off the ice for 2 ½ months.

Given that he’s only resumed training for a month or so now, it seems quite unlikely JR will be able to have any significant results. However, it was also unlikely for an 18 year old to win medals in 4 out of 5 events in his first world championships (last March in Vienna, 2009).  If he does, he will be a media darling.

Jordan Malone (25): like Derek Parra and Chad Hedrick, Jordan is a crossover from inline roller skating having one national and world titles in that sport. Jordan narrowly missed the 2006 team while skating on a broken ankle. I’ve met him only briefly.

 

Travis Jayner (27): Only met him once or twice – very tall and thin, but wicked fast. Outside shot at the individual events. Very unassuming – hard not to like.

Simon Cho (17): Simon won the 5th spot on the team after a series of mishaps hurt other favorites. That said, he’s  fast and proving himself.

Not making the team were Jeff Simon, who skates some of the fastest laps in the world in a slightly off kilter way, and Anthony Lobello – who was on the Torino team and had been skating well.

Women’s Team:

 

Katherine Reutter (21): Her second year at the helm of the U.S. short track team, Catherine has become a powerhouse in the middle distance events, charging hard and leading from in front, medaling again and again in the world cups. She has possibly the best left leg follow through I’ve ever seen. I’ve talked with Catherine a couple of times and she’s personable, but quite focused – she’ll be skipping the opening ceremonies to ensure she’s ready for the relay semi finals the day after. I know more from her dad, who connected with me via my blog and we’ve been corresponding back and forth for a while. Catherine will likely medal once or twice in the games, though a gold will take a special effort.

Catherine was a guest on the Colbert show a few weeks back and it was a really funny episode. “Let’s trash talk the summer games for a second – Michael Phelps? How easy is it to swim through water – when you run on top of water with samurai swords strapped to your feet.” Even though Stephen knew it was coming, the request to sign a “cute, but too-young-to-professionally-flirt-with” speedskater’s thigh, suddenly had him in a rare flustered moment – he tried to do it from the desk to keep his distance, couldn’t, so circled around and then realized he was now potentially in a worse position considering the very short skirt… his dodging and apologies to his wife were priceless “honey, I had to do this for the Olympic team!” – check it out here:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/258280/december-14-2009/stephen-challenges-shani-davis---katherine-reutter

Alyson Dudek (19): New to the team, Alyson won the short events at the trials and her best hope at the games would be in the 500m. Alyson’s father (who is a lawyer) and I are members of the U.S. Speed skating Committee.

Kimberly Derrick (24): Just a young girl in Torino, Derrick has been around a while now. Notable in Torino was that her grandfather passed away just a few hours before her 1000m qualifier. I can still remember the director/producer in my ear. “I can see it – a tear on her cheek! – zoom in, zoom in dammit! Ted, build the story! Brownie, have the camera on her as she exits all the way to the locker room!”

Allison Baver (29): Another crossover inliner, Baver headed up the women’s team for a number of years, racking up a number of strong results in world cups, but falling short of the medals in her two prior Olympic bids. Allison also dated Apolo on again off again for a half dozen years, and is notable for a number of seeming contradictions: she’s tough – recovering from a series of serious injuries to continue competing at a high level – including a broken leg last season in a world cup in Bulgaria. She’s “high maintenance” – a skater known for wearing makeup to practice, pursuing a side career in modeling, and having a bit of a prima donna reputation, and she’s smart – she finished an undergrad an U Penn and an MBA from NYIT while skating. I’ve had a few conversations with Allison and she chose to show me her studious side.

Lana Gehring (19): I don’t know Lana, though I shared a flight with her mother a year ago back from a world cup I was announcing. It was a dream for Lana and her mother to make the games, and here she is – at the world’s biggest party.

Preview – Vancouver Journal #5: A Short Track Primer – what does it feel like to skate 35mph around a track the size of your living room?

How to Make Short Track Speedskating Popular...in 8 Steps:

I spent the weekend watching some of the world's great athletes participate in one of the most exciting, dangerous, unpredictable and absolutely unknown Olympic sports on the planet. I scratched my head wondering, "How is it that car racing, baseball, figure skating, volleyball, even curling - are so much more popular than short track speedskating?!"

 So, as the action oriented, evil marketing genius that I am I decided I would go ahead and do something about it... Here's my plan:

 How to make Short Track Speedskating Popular... in 8 Steps:

October 22, 2008 - For Immediate Release: I have decided to nominate myself as International Speedskating’s marketing & PR guru, and furthermore have appointed myself as Apolo Anton Ohno’s sole agent and handler.

As these positions are both unpaid and voluntary, my plans to use Apolo’s fame for my own devices cannot be construed as exploitation…

 Following the golden rule of PR (“the only thing worse than bad publicity, is no publicity”), and leveraging the genius of the forerunners like Michael Phelps, David Beckham, John McEnroe & in particular Tonia Harding, who have changed the landscape of their sports, I’m taking the liberty of carving out a marketing and PR strategy for speedskating and its face-man Apolo that I'm certain will be quite successful. That is, assuming Apolo does the decent thing and follows my advice.

 Using the case studies of other athletes and sports as a rule (Examples in parenthesis) we can map out a strategy for making short track speedskating the next NASCAR, the next women’s soccer, the next beach volleyball…

 Apolo, if you could just initial our contract below, here's what I'll need you to do:

 Rule #1: (Example: David Beckham- Posh Spice/Soccer, Lance Armstrong-Sheryl Crow/Cycling.) Apolo, I’m going to need you to please date a major celebrity.

  • It would be best if it were an “on again, off again” affair in order to generate headlines
  • Romantic spats are best played out, resolved, and photographed during major competitions in order to bring more notoriety to the sport – but don’t let it affect your skating.
  • I’ve selected some options: Julianne Hough, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Salma Hayek, Scarlett Johansson. My personal affinities had something nothing to do with this list.

Rule #2: (Example: Selleck/Volleyball, Kobe Bryant/Swimming) I’m going to need you to help us recruit a major celebrity as a recurring and visible fan.

  • Paul Neuman and Rudy Guliani were both fans – too bad they are both dead…
  • This contractual element may combined with rule #1…

Rule #3: (Example: May-Treanor/Beach Volleyball) Apolo, I’m going to need you to wear a skin-tight outfit for competitions, and then appear on Dancing with the Stars.

  1. Check – good job. Finally following directions…
  2. Getting injured might have helped, though I think winning was even better…

Rule #4: (Corollary to rule #3) Apolo, I’m going to need you to become a girl…

  1. Baver or Reutter have to consistently win more races in order to take your place…so for the good of the team...
  2. There is precedence for this in the sport… a short trip to Thailand and… 

Rule #5: (Example: Armstrong/Cycling, Everyone in Baseball/Baseball) Apolo, I’m going to need you to become involved in a doping scandal without a clear resolution 

  1. It all starts with an unfounded accusation. Let me start, “Apolo Anton Ohno uses steroids”. There – its out there – all the search engines should pick this up. We are on our way…Google, do your magic.
  2. It would be best (and this contract will be null and void otherwise) that no truly viable evidence is found to convict – but just enough circumstantial evidence and out-of-context quotes need to be provided at appropriate intervals to keep the conspiracy theories alive.

Rule #6: (Example: John McEnroe/Tennis, Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan/figure skating) Apolo, I’m going to need you to plan an attack on Hyun-soo Ahn's knee (and maybe date Tania Harding and get her to do it? I love combining steps) and also start having tantrums after every referee call. Done properly we could potentially rope North Korea into this somehow for an "international event." 

  1. Seriously – after all that happened in the 2002 Olympics, all you can say is “That’s shorttrack?!”
  2. Is waving your blades around menacingly a jail-able offense? It might be worth the jail time and court case as long as you don’t lose too much training time – lets discuss.(See Simone Velzaboer)

Rule #7: (Example: Michael Phelps/Swimming) Apolo, I’m going to need you to win the most medals -ever - in the sport The most ever in the U.S. for speedskating is Bonnie Blair w/ 6. (Next year, man…finally one up Blair - her humility is so annoying)

  1. The most gold in one winter games in speedskating is Eric Heiden (Um… not an option – you only have 4 events per Olympics – maybe you could moonlight on longtrack?)
  2. The most ever in the winter Olympics is Bjorne Dahle with 12 (8 gold, 4 silver… please continue skating until the 2018 Games... OR... see rule #8) 

Rule #8: (Example, the frozen margerita) Apolo, I’m going to need you to change short track to become a summer sport:

  1. Unlike skiing, snowboarding and a myriad of other winter sports, indoor ice rinks don’t tend to be tourist destinations. There are no skating resort-towns. The reality is we are asking spectators to travel to cold climates only to go into artificially cooled environments – more often than not in industrial parks. A recipe for success? No, I don't think so.
  2. Seriously – when was the last time a short track event was held outside? 1970? Its time to move the sport to its rightful place in the summer Olympics and make it the cool respite from all those other outdoor, sunburned summer sports. If you want crowds, move the season to summer and serve margaritas.
  3. The fact that I personally spent 16 years of my life traveling in the winter to cold climates during the shortest days of the year with no sunlight only to freeze under fluorescent lights has nothing to do with this particular recommendation. Nor does the fact that I still follow the sport and would benefit from taking my breaks from announcing or providing stats outside, say, at the surf break on Biondo beach in Sydney, or the Coliseum in Athens…rather than on the frozen banks of the river Po, or the cold damp skies of Vancouver…

APOLO FOR SHORT TRACK IN LONDON 2012! (AND CHICAGO 2016!)

 

2008 Short Track World Cup Day 1 (October 18)

Speedskating is an odd sport. Teams travel half the globe in order to compete in the world cup, and, if their first races don't go well, can find themselves finished after the first day and only 1 or 2 races. Hence the the repechage round - a sort of "wildcard berth" opportunity was invented to provide these skaters with a chance to move back into the main event.

It was announcing these heats and qualifiers that we spent our time in the morning - from 10am until nearly 2pm. The good news was twofold: Charles Ryan Leveille was the only American in the rep round (everyone else qualified) and he was one of the elite few to make it through all the rounds and back into the main event.

After lunch with Kori Novak (who leads US Speedskating marketing efforts) and Nick Gismondi (NBC Universal Sports announcer/producer) there was time for a short break and then back to the main events - the men's and women's 1000m and 1500m semi finals and finals.

Women's Races:

Baver skated solidly and moved into the 1500m final where she finished fourth after a last minute pass where Yang from Korea took away her medal spot. Kimberly Derrick followed up with a bronze medal finish in the 1000m after Liu from China was disqualified. Both ladies look fit and lean and well trained and skated up front and aggressively. Both seem to miss that special kick the Koreans and Chinese seem to save for those last ditch efforts - but wisely try to control the races to serve their strengths.

In the rely semifinals, the Chinese women destroyed the world record by almost 3 seconds and team USA finished not far behind the old record but more than a half lap down on the Chinese. Nonetheless, they are in the finals tomorrow with China, Korea, and Canada.

Men's Races:

In a rare event I can't remember ever seeing in my experience, team USA had 3 skaters in the men's 1500 A final. Charles Ryan Leveille clawed his way back up through round after repechage round to regain a medal shot in the final, Travis Jayner put on the turbos in his semi to blast for 5th to 2nd with a magnificent move in the semi finals, and Jeff Simon skated some of the most interesting and turbulent races of the day yet still making the medal round.

It was with some dismay we watched and called a race where 2 of the 3 Americans - with an opportunity to dominate the race - sat in the far back. Leveille and Jayner sat in 6th and 7th and wasted their medal opportunity. Simon hung tough and scratched out a rough and tumble bronze.

And then it was Ohno time. I had heard he was fit, I had heard he was fast, I had seen he was lean - slimmer than the guy we used to call "chunk" has ever been. And he was hot - moving through the quarters and semis with those bursts of power and coordination that few in the sport have ever been able to master. Then, suddenly, with 3 or 4 laps to go in the final event, while potentially setting up one of those 'Apolo moves' he was down hard into the boards - perhaps stepping on a block, and it was a Korea  with a 1-2-3 finish.

The evening ended with the men's 5000 meter relay semi finals -my favorite event in sport - and drama abounded in both semis - but team USA put together a solid relay and finished just behind the Korean team. Apolo looked tentative on his right, Lobello and Jayner were solid if uninspired, and Simon continued to be a lightning rod (similar to the individual competition) for danger. Still, he matched Apolo for big moves in putting team USA into qualifying position and, joining Korea, Canada, and a surprise Russia, will be in the finals tomorrow night.

Its now 2:30am and time to get some sleep - up early to announce the heats and repechage for tomorrows events.

2008 Short Track World Cup #1, Salt Lake City: What are the 'rules' of short track?

Flying out this afternoon to announce the first short track world cup competition of the year in Salt Lake City, along with my compatriots from last year Carl Roepke and DJ Paul Helms. Should be a blast. So, you might ask, what is this short track thing all about - seems a very dangerous and unpredictable sport..

Here's a summary of the sport from an insider's perspective:

SHORT TRACK SPEEDSKATING – an introduction

 

Basics:

 

The logistics of the sport of short track speedskating are easy to comprehend. A simple visual will suffice: inside the nicked and gauged plastic walls surrounding hockey rinks the world over an oval track is laid out using black plastic lane markers: 111.12 meters in length.

 

Add a few speedskaters in their skin tight multi-colored suits racing for the finish line – like track and field or horse racing – and the simple format is complete.  The fundamental metrics of short track speedskating are also straightforward – a fixed number of laps (or half laps) comprising an even distance in meters (500, 1000, 1500, 3000 or 5000 meters), with the first skater across the line being first.

 

Time on the stopwatch, while an interesting anecdote, does not factor into the results for the Olympic games.

 

Racing

 

Yet, like many things in life that seem straightforward, the actual play by play of the sport tends to defy the simplicity of its rules. Crashes, interference, and disqualifications factor into the results at levels unprecedented in any other sport, and even in “clean” races, the dynamics involved with multiple competitors lined up on a tight, short, narrow track of ice going 35 mph on 1mm wide, 18 inch blades means that the “fastest” skater quite often does not win.

 

One need only to remember watching the Australian Stephen Bradbury in the 2002 Olympics, who advanced by luck of disqualification in the 1000 meter heats to the semi finals. Self admittedly the slowest skater in those semi-finals, he proceeded to win that race - after all the other skaters crashed, placing him in the finals and into the medal round. Then again in the finals, while pacing off the back of a pack of top ranked USA, Korean, and Canadian skaters, Bradbury managed to avoid disaster and come across the line first – again not through his own merits – rather through the misfortune of the leading skaters. The gold medal was his – even though his efforts in all the preceding rounds suggested those of a non-contender.

 

Given the seeming randomness of the results, one might be inclined to shake ones head and put the whole thing down as a bit of a lottery. One thing is for sure, in any given race, luck will play a part. It is this unpredictability that makes it the crowd favorite for all the other athletes at the Olympics

 

Analogies

 

Short track tends to draw two analogies in sports – first, Nascar – due to the importance of drafting and the critical path skaters must follow to maximize their speed, and second, horseracing, for the relative importance of the track conditions and race length in the final result.

 

Who will win on any given day? It depends….

 

  • Is the ice soft or hard?
  • How long is the race?
  • What combination of skaters are are racing? How will it play out?
  • What unforeseen events will occur?

  

What does it feel like?

 

Remember those times of walking on slick, wet ice – to your car across frozen puddles, or down the sidewalk after a freezing rain?

 

Conversely, remember that moment when your shoes first touched dry asphalt after sliding across the icy puddle, or the instant when you regained traction after passing back underneath the porch roof? To a speedskater, that is exactly what it feels like to be on ice with our long blades – it is feeling of traction and grip, stability and power.

 

An 17” speedskating blade on perfectly smooth ice is grippier than rubber on asphalt and more stable than a ski on snow. The blade, its sharp edge, and its tracking ability while in motion, are able to smoothly receive every ounce of energy provided by powerful leg muscles to propel the skater forward.

 

Granted, the motion is sideways – like tacking in the wind with a sailboat - but the 17 inch blade is like yards of canvas gathering wind: the lateral forces are released in a tangential motion and converted to forward speed smoothly yet powerfully. Each stroke on the ice is a combination brute force (sheer power) and ballet (no wasted motion, fluid extension to the very tips of your range).

 

Now imagine that ultimate grip – no amount of effort will result in a slip – and a slow concentrated push through with the legs: massive force passing in liquid slow motion through the blade to the ice.  The strength of the contracted leg is absolute, and the hold of the blade provides an supreme feeling of power. The controlled release of the piston-like skating strokes brings to mind the action of a hydraulic cylinder – a fluid, consistent, and powerful extension.

 

If you have ever had the ill-fortune to push a stalled car, and were lucky enough to have a curb or wall as a backstop for your feet, then that incredible push you were able to deliver to the car to get it moving is the closest thing in life to the feeling of a speedskating stroke.

 

Now, add to this motion the g-force dynamics of a jet fighter and you have the right combination.

 

As a skater moves towards the corner, there is a momentary feeling of weightlessness as the body lifts with the final skate stroke, and then falls as the body and center of gravity compresses downward and sideways to enter the corner.

 

As the direction of the skater changes, centripetal forces cause a 2G acceleration to crush the body lower. In order to stay aligned over the center of the 1mm blades, the skater rolls inward, and the upper body leans way out over the blocks.

 

The powerful motion of the crossover (corner strokes) then take over and compel the preservation of the momentum carried into the corner. Timed right, you’ll see the powerful combination of the full extension of the left leg underneath the right leg, both blades carving firmly just prior to the apex of the corner (the center most block).

 

Having two feet down at that precarious moment preserves the integrity of the corner and allows the skater to enter a “pivot” – a one footed change of direction back toward the far end of the rink, and then relax the arc of the corner a bit through the latter half – reducing the G forces and allowing multiple crossover strokes of acceleration into the straightaway. The apex block is also the focal point of most crashes and many disqualifications. At the point of the turn the muscles of the body are stressed to the max – imagine squatting down to a 90 degree bend on one leg… holding it, and then putting on a 150lb backpack (the additional pressure provided by the 2G acceleration of the turn). Then balance all of that on a 1mm blade…

 

As the skater exits the corner, the body decompresses and lifts with the center of gravity returning to vertical. A pair of straightway strokes later, and it starts again.

 

Is it hard?

 

This extremely controlled and concise motion is difficult. However – the motions are repetitive – unlike ballet the number of required motions is drastically reduced. The real difficulty of the sport lies in the compression of the body required to form the aerodynamic shape. Wind resistance, ultimately, is the primary obstacle to speed.

 

If speedskating races were held a vacuum, a skater could stand nearly upright and kick out a series of highly powerful shallow strides in rapid sequence to attain maximum speed. However, with the friction of wind the comes with speeds approaching 40 mph, the skater is required to try and form a teardrop shape, with arms and legs bent in a greater than 90 degree angle. The loss of muscular leverage at these compressed angles is severe – I won’t try to describe the physics, but just imagine these two examples:

 

1) Imagine if you had someone sitting on your shoulders. Now, in a fully upright standing position, imagine bending your knees slightly and then straightening them again. If you can imagine that situation, you probably can imagine that performing that minor knee bend and subsequent straightening would be very easy. The human body’s power output from near-full extension of the muscles involved is tremendous. Most of us could imagine even jumping a little with that weight on our back. However, this position is ineffective due to the constraints of wind resistance. Instead…

 

2) Imagine squatting down – all the way down, sitting on your heels. Then extend one leg straight out – kind of a Russian dancer stance. Now imagine lifting the heel of the extended leg up off the ground, and then try to stand up using only the completely bent leg’s power: nearly impossible for anyone other than an acrobat, Russian dancer, or speedskater. Do that with double your weight and you have the pivotal moment of the sport.

 

The compressed body position required by the aerodynamics of the sport demands high power from the legs in a full range of motion, with an extreme amount of coordination of balance, timing, alignment of weight and effort, and subtle coordination of a series of heretofore unused muscles in the abdomen, hip, knee, and ankle to ensure that the powerful compressed stroke passes evenly sideways without interruption or slippage.

 

This is why few that have started the sport after age 13 succeed, and how a 25 year old skater with 5 years of experience will look like an awkward novice compared to a 10 year old with the same experience. After some point, the synapses required for the exquisite control wither away and cannot be trained.

 

The only exception to this hard and fast rule is the relatively recent crossover of in-line athletes. Not surprising considering the similarities of the two sports.

 

Why all the disqualifications?

 

In the relatively recent years since short track speedskating has entered the mainstream consciousness, it has brought along with it the expected perceptions of speed and danger and unpredictability. In addition, there also exists an ongoing element of controversy with regards to the judging system and the calls for disqualification (or lack thereof) that have occurred in many of Olympic races.

 

In the first few Olympics, the din centered around American Kathy Turner and the women’s races. In 2002 the men took on their fare share of the controversies.

 

In 1994 the protest and accusations swirled around American Kathy Turner and her skating en-route to winning gold in the 500m in the face of an early collision with Natalie Lambert of Canada in the heats, and then Zhang Yanmei in the final – claiming that Turner had grabbed her leg en-route to her second consecutive gold medal.

 

In 1998 the women’s 500m final provided yet another interesting footnote in the sport, with Isabel Charest of Canada taking out Wang Chunlu of China and drawing a foul in the process. Wang did not finish the requisite number of laps, so with Charest and Wang out, the bronze medal was awarded to a skater not even in the race – South Korea’s Chun Lee-Kyung – who had won the B-final.

 

Which brings us back to 2002, where in the1500m mens final, a disqualification of Korean skater Kim Dong Song led to a gold medal – a first for American men – being awarded to Apolo Ohno who crossed the line second. However, the controversial nature of the call, and the dearth of medals for the strong team of Korean men led to highly publicized death threats from the Korean public. When Apolo returned to Korea for the first time since the 2002 Olympics for the 2005 world championships, he was met at the airport by 100 policemen in full riot regalia – just in case.

 

Then, of course there was the 1000 meter incident with Bradbury…

 

One unexpected outcome of all the uncertainty in the sport of short track is cultural in nature. One might expect that with all of the clashes and crashes, disqualifications and controversy that the tensions between rival teams and competitors might be very high: that the close proximity in the races might result in a natural distancing factor between athletes off ice and outside the venue.

 

Surprisingly, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A look at the sister sport of long track speedskating, a sport with no physical contact, few to no disqualifications, and racers competing almost clinically against the clock (in separate lanes and only two at a time) finds a culture where competitive tensions are at their highest. Long Track speedskaters are, more often than not, solitary, taciturn creatures, with serious countenances betraying the competitive tension embodied in every activity.

 

Short track skaters, in contrast tend to convivial, open and playful, with the occasional prank between and within teams a long standing tradition – a culture where each emotional explosion at referees for a disqualifaction (or lack thereof) is equally matched by the off ice hijinks, stories and accompanying laughter between the skaters in their locker rooms, in the shared spaces playing hackysack, and back at the hotel over dinner. It as if the vagaries of the sport, the unpredictability of the results, and the shared suffering of uncertainty over the whims of lady luck has created a common culture of tolerance, humility and respect between athletes of different cultures, languages and perspectives.

 

There is an oft repeated, little understood phrase repeated consistently by the competitors that ultimately reflects this shared understanding. Apolo Ohno was interviewed on camera after the 2002 Olympic 1000 meter gold medal race where he crossed the line sprawled across the ice belly up in second place after being taken down from behind by a chain reaction four skater crash in the final corner. He had just lost certain gold to the unlikely Australian Steven Bradbury who glided in on the wings of lady luck – well out of contention - yet the winner of the coveted gold medal.

 

 Asked for his views on the events that had unfolded, it would have been understandable if  Apolo has been less than charitable: he could have said things such as “it was unfair, I had it in the bag, the Korean skater grabbed my leg, Steven wasn’t even a contender…” but true to the culture of the sport, and out of respect for the dozens, if not hundreds of races that Steven didn’t win under similar circumstances, Apolo merely shrugged, smiled, and uttered those those seemingly innocuous yet significant words repeated over and over in this turbulent and exciting world: “That’s Short Track.”

 

It sure is.

 

 

Day Three of the Short Track Worldcup, Salt Lake City, Utah

Men's results: Apolo fans got and eyefull and earful on this final day of racing here at the Utah Olympic Oval. Wearing the usual red bandana under his helmet, Apolo led the team in overall results by winning the men's 1000m final in a finish that can only be described as "typically bizarre" - with 2 of the four skaters going down with 4 laps to go, and then a cat-and-mouse between Apolo and Lee from Korea.  Apolo led as the "mouse" in the final few laps, zigging outside the lane markers and slowing up - luring his prey to take the lead, and then when Lee failed to take the bait, he put on the afterburners and easily made it home to the line in first. Despite the fact that Ahn - Apolo's main nemesis from Korea - was not here, I don't think I've ever seen Apolo skating better - and today he didn't mess around in the back like yesterday - leading out his quarter and passing earlier in his semi to easily qualify.

Rumours of the supposed visit of his dancing with the stars partner Julianne swirled right up until the moment when the national anthem was played by my partner in the booth, Paul "Gain Master" Helms.  Oh, a funny aside - starting day 2, I demanded that every single time Paul Stanley from Great Britain stepped on the ice, that Paul queue up "I Want to Rock and Roll All Night" by Kiss. I'm not sure he ever noticed, but we got a good laugh out of it. Paul was a lot of fun and we got to a point where when I would announce the race results we would have a seemless transition back to the music by using the key word, "Unofficially" - e.g. "...finishing in second, unofficially" - (queue music.)

Jeff Simon continued to wow in the men's 500m - that is until hitting the boards hard in the 500m quarters after taking over the lead, and proceeding to break his collarbone. Talking with team doctor Eric Heiden after, Heiden suggested it would only be a few weeks before Jeff could start skating again - unsure of whether he'll be able to skate at the world championships in March.

Simon Cho and J.P. Kepka skated well, ultimately ending up 3rd and 4th in the B final. Kepka's blades continue to be a problem.

Ladies Results:  Reutter - the young prodigy on the women's team continued to impress, skating probably the single best 1000m race I've ever witnessed on our ladies team in the semis. As things heated up, Katherine displayed a precocious sense of presence, decisively moving into 2nd and qualifying position with several laps to go and then "sensing" movements up the inside and outside, heading them off, while spurring the Chinese lead skater to pick up the pace. To an outsider it was probably a fairly straightforward race,  but as an insider, I can tell you that few have that 'gift' of being able to read a race like she displayed. The fact that they both broke the old world record (unofficially) was another indication of her rising talent.

Again in the final Katherine was tenacious, again following world cup leader Meng to a second place finish - her second silver medal of the competition.

Relays: In the relay finals, our boys went down early (again) and Kepka seemed super tentative. Apolo was working it really hard but they were unable to catch back up to the other teams.

Our ladies team fought well and finished physically in 4th, but earned a podium spot after Canada was disqualified.

 Afterparty:

A large number of the teams, skaters, and ex-skaters met downtown at "Squatter's Pub" before moving on to "The Cove". My teamates from '94 and I had dinner at Macaroni grille and then moved on to Squatters. There we hooked up with the second best U.S. relay team of all time - Rusty Smith, J.P. Kepka, & Alex Izychowski (a no-show on Apolo) and started down the usual path of ever-devolving story telling.

I love that a by-product of the vagaries of the sport of short track speedskating inevitably leads to a balancing act of off-ice pranks and general mischief that continues to this day - despite the increasing professionalism of the events, the training and the athletic regime.  At one point we captured a photo of the 14 years ago silver medal team, with the 2 years ago bronze medal relay team - with a little Scott Koons mixed in the middle (member of the 1998 team)

(picture (left to right) me, J.P., Bartz, Izychowski, Flaim, Koons, Gabel, Smith)

old-and-new-relay-teams.jpg

For me personally, the evening had several "golden moments" - perfect moments of time where time stopped and where the rhythm of the conversation bypassed the usual niceties and turned deeper - first with my teammates at dinner as we discussed our respective contributions to the team, and then later in conversations with Mike Koorman about retiring.

It was 3am by the time I closed my eyes, and 4:30am when the phone rang for my wake up call and my return to the airport for the flight back to Chicago and a full day of work.

Suffering? Yes - of the 'chosen' variety.

Worth it? Absolutely.

 -John

Day Two of the Short Track Worldcup, Salt Lake City, Utah

The racing last evening was fantastic. To the tune of a sold out crowd, every American qualified in their first rounds (500 quarterfinals and 1500 semis) - Jeff Simon, Apolo Ohno, Katherine Ruetter and Allison Baver - and moved on to the next round. Quarters & Semis: The first heat of quarterfinals of the evening set the tone as the women set a new world record time, taking 2 tenths of a second off of Evegenia Radinova's long standing (since 2001) record in that event.

Jeff Simon looked fantastic, winning his quarter with a blisteringly fast time not far from the world record - only a few hundredths off. JP Kepka cranked out a fast one as well and both guys moved into the semis where Kepka moved through to the final, but Simon was disqualifed after a risky move up the inside with one lap to go despite winning his semi.

Same great story in the women's 1500m semis where in a race that when from the gun - a Japanese skater setting a blistering pace as USA (Baver) and a Chinese skater followed at a careful pace closing the gap only with 4 laps to go. By the time they finished, they had surpassed the old world record by over 2 seconds, with 4 of the 6 skaters beating the old record. Allison Baver set a new U.S. record and displayed some significant fitness boding well for the finals.

Katherine Reutter - a young, fresh face from Champaign, Illinois also skated very well in her 1500m semi taking the lead multiple times to secure her spot in the finals.

Apolo hung all the way in the back of his 1500m semi, slotting up one spot with 5 laps to go and then taking the rest of the field an an easy burst of acceleration to win his semi and move into the finals.  He looked smooth, confident, powerful - but I couldn't help but wonder why Apolo doesn't play it a bit safer - perhaps he's practicing for the traffic that will likely always be a part of the finals where the skater's abilities are more even? It certainly creates suspense and is exciting but...

Finals:

In the men's 500 Kepka appeared to be having skate trouble and finished 4th.  The women's 500m had Chinese skaters in lanes 1, 2 & 3, which is also the order in which they finished and also their respective placing in the world cup overall - incredible dominance.

In the women's 1500 m final, when all was said and done both Baver and Reutter skated an amazing race - at one point leading the race 1 and 2 - something I can't remember seeing in all of my years of skating - American women in a distance event leading in a world cup. Things mixed up with about 5 laps to go and Baver got caught up on some traffic that led to a disqualification but put her out of contention for the win.

Ultimately I called to the podium Yang Zhou from China for the gold, Katherine Reutter for the silver and Allison Baver for the Bronze - two Americans on the podium.

 The crowd was very very loud and I think our announcing was lost much of the time - which is fine by me. But it only got louder as Apolo took to the line for the 1500m final. There was a lot of movement throughout the race, with Apolo playing his following act while the Korean skaters Lee and Lee (Seung-Hoon & Ho Suk) moved up earlier and ended up on the front of the race. Apolo was undaunted and waited until less than 2 laps to go, sweeping into 3rd position easily. As the bell rang Apolo set up wide for a double pass on Lee-squared and at the last minute he shut down, drifting back into 3rd and finishing there at the line. On the replays it actually looked like he had the speed to complete the pass - and either way, he was clearly the fastest man in the race and again it calls into question his tactics. Something for Jae-Su - U.S. team coach - to sort out.

Awards Ceremony: Announcing has become easier and more natural - except for the awards ceremonies. Hardly ever paying attention to the ceremony - even when I was in them - I was only given a brief outline of the order of events and was unsure of exactly what to say, or how it was orchestrated - was I calling the shots? Or were there cues I was supposed to be picking up on? I was flying solo on this one as Carl was wrapping up a puck-throw contest sponsored by Samsung.  I didn't want to screw things up and undermine the recognition and rewards for all the hard work of the skaters.

 I seemed to sort it mostly out - only getting one name wrong for the ISU representative (miscued on my cards) and establishing a rhythm to the awards - announcing the award giver, then the winner first, wait, then second, wait, third, then the flowers given by the sponsor and then, "here are your champions!"

I was nerve wracking though and I looked forward to the end of the evening and a chance to hang out - yet again - with my teammates and friends in downtown Salt Lake.

-John

Day One of the Short Track Worldcup, Salt Lake City, Utah

(For those new to short track and the vagaries of this sport - check out my post under Torino Olympic Journal 2006 -  Torino #3 1/2 - its an insider's view into the sport based in some part on Apolo's own ups and downs within this turbulent but exciting world.) Its been a long, but interesting day. I arrived at the Olympic Oval at 8:30 this morning in prep for my gig as in-rink announcer for this 3 day event.

Despite my stint for NBC as statistician for the Olympic games in Torino, I had never done microphone work before and was suitably nervous as I was introduced to my co-announcer Carl Roepke - an accomplished Luger who worked Torino as well doing the commentary for Luge and Bobsled.

 Thank God for Carl - as the first race was called to the line - I froze - I suddenly didn't know the first thing about the sport and couldn't even begin to think of something to say. But Carl, the cool professional read the heat card notes and called out the names of the skaters in the echoey rink.

Slowly but surely Carl and I developed a rhythm - along with Paul the DJ. Carl would call out the skaters names coming out for the race. I would do most of the actual race announcing - passes, laps to go, background on some of the skaters. Carl would ask a few questions during the quiet periods of the longer races - "tell me about the skates, John..." or "what should we expect to see in this relay, John?" and I would respond naturally (I hope) "Well, Carl, what you can expect to see is...."

 I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this - after all, I'm pretty much an introvert - mildly anyway - and I'm a visual, not verbal thinker. But I found, after a time, that there was a pacing to the event - like a waiter knows when their food is ready we knew when it was appropriate to comment or be quiet - when to call the race to the line, when to wait. And in those moments as a good friend Kevin Lowell writes in his book "In the in-between" we, in our support roles, established the rhythm and meter for the event - human metronomes for the music unfolding on ice.

 Apolo looked solid - breezing through his preliminaries and heats in both 500 meter races (they are running the event twice here at this world cup) and his 1000m prelims and heats as well. Team USA qualified in both the men's and ladies' relays into the semi-finals as well. No finals were run today - those are saved for the weekend.

In other news I finally met Kori Novak, in the marketing group for U.S. Speedskating and a former pupil of my favorite aunt - Sharon Shaub.

All my team is here from the 1994 games - from our coach - Jeroen Otter - and Randy Bartz, Andy Gabel, Eric Flaim, and Tony Goskowicz.

 Its 6:30 now and we just finished up the day - 10 hours straight of calling races and learning - me about how to announce and inflect my voice, Carl about the nuances of the sport and complexities of the relays.

 Tonight, now doubt will want to be a late one - and with Bartz and Flaim not needing to work in the morning, will require some discipline on my part to ensure adequate sleep.

 Oh, one other completely self serving note - to be found in the internet tags linked to this blog: Allison Baver and I had a chance to catch up in between races - unfortunately she missed the start of one of her events (1000m) due to a change in race order. She was visibly upset - rightly so. I asked about her an Apolo - whether they were still an item, and the answer was equivocating - "on again, off again". So considering that a good portion of the traffic to this blog appears to be from women seeking the answer to the question "Does Apolo have a girlfriend?" The answer is "sort of."

-John

Friday, February 8, 2008 - U.S. Olympic Oval, Kearns, Utah