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.
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.
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)
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)