Torino #5: Racing and Working

Newsletter #5 February 19, 2006: Racing and Working 

Travels and travails and eating: Public transport it ubiquitous over here, but you still end up walking a lot. I probably end up walking at least 2 hours a day just to/from the venue, the media village and dinner etc. and on non-race days I've been putting in more like 6 hours. My second night I did a tour of the downtown and sights and walked solid for 5 1/2 hours. The next day my shins were so sore that my feet were flopping like dead fish. 

My wife Shannon and daughter Katelina and friends Julia, Anya and Lyida made it over unscathed, and we checked into our apartment in a working neighborhood not far from the short track venue. We have enjoyed some of the best meals of our lives in couple local restaurants. The first night, we showed up to our favorite - Andromeda - at 7:30 and they had to unlock the door for us as  we were their first customers. By 10pm it was full inside, with families and their children seated at long tables - extended families of 10-12 people comprised most of those inside.

The food was fantastic - fresh pasta with homemade sauces of olive oil, cheeses and seafood. We finished eating at about 10:30, but stayed until 12:30 having several rounds of local liqueurs on the house as well as other appetizers on the house. When we left it was with hugs and double kisses on the cheeks. The question over and over... "Tutto Bene?" (everything good?)  our response - "Si", "So contento!"   

On Shannon and Katelina's last night, both restaurants presented us with gifts of some fine wine, and actually had tears in their eyes during the extended goodbyes. Andromeda put up a picture of Shannon and Salvatore - the padron - on the wall along with a host of famous people that have visited the restaurant.  

Working: As of yet, we have not done any on-camera work, so Dan and Ted are only “voices” calling the races. So my chances of being seen on TV are marginal at best. We get to the venue at 3pm on race days for racing that starts at 7:30. We meet in the commissary where the producer (Steve Lawrence) and director (David Michaels) walk us through all the "features" that will accompany the live action calls. Features are the little vignettes that accompany or break up the racing (i.e. interviews with Apolo, pre-recorded race footage etc.) 

There is a lot of lingo that I don't understand regarding "tosses" and "lobs" and "resets" and a host of other cryptic words that describe the type of introduction or handoff that Ted is doing with Bob Costas and the other on air personalities.   Ted is an amazing professional. As we sit in the booth and he describes the action live, at the same time Steve is shouting things in his ear the whole time - "what color jersey? Tell her race number! Get it f-ing right this time!" Like the trading floor of my previous work experience at Goldman Sachs and Enron, there is no room for thin skins in the broadcast booth. I have to turn the volume of Steve down on my headset because he is so distracting but somehow Ted can take it all in even while commentating - it is truly amazing. (Picture – the short track broadcast team)  

The production crew

Dan is doing an excellent job of providing skating specific detail and even has used the "telestrator" a couple of times (drawing on-screen.) (Picture – the “Telestrator” in action)   I sit next to them and for a while I was typing notes on my computer, but have switched to paper because it was too hard for them to turn their heads away from the action. I write about 30 notes in the 3 hour session and they probably use less than 1/4 of them. Ted gave me a mention the other night - not sure if anyone heard it or if it made air. During the races I also take calls from the research room - usually answering questions - "who was disqualified - why", but occasionally getting some stats from them as well that I feed to Ted and Dan. 

Using the telestrater

My job is actually quite easy and so far Steve has not yelled at me yet - only 2 race days left so we'll see. After the races are over, the waiting game starts. There a huge # of trucks and trailers with all sorts of video equipment where they mix and master the final videos that air on NBC. (Picture – one of the just many rooms of monitors – for what reason? I don’t know)   A huge staff works feverishly after the races end to assemble all the bits and pieces for prime time airing. Ted and Danny have to sit around and wait for hours and hours to provide snippets of voice over commentary and/or corrections. The first night I hung around for a couple hours but it was quite clear that I was not needed and they sent me on my way.

Wires and more wires

They sit for 6 hours until 4am to do 30 seconds of voice over work.  Again I have an easier job. Apolo's bronze last night was a great race - he played his cards just right and frankly just got beat. I think he is 3rd best in the world right now in that distance. The 500's will be unpredictable. I look for Canada and USA, as well as Korea to have a good shot at the medals. Slow starts by the Koreans may limit their chances to repeat their medals haul. Korean women went 1, 2, 3 in the 1500m final last night, but #3 was disqualified. Jin - the gold medalist is said to be #3 on their mens team if she were male. She is so much better than the other women - I've never seen someone win so easily. Their coach is a guy named Park - we traded team jackets back in the 1993 world championships and I occasionally still wear it.  

Stephen Bradbury: Some of you may remember Stephen from the 2002 games - I wrote about him in my sport summary. Well, he is quite the famous man back in Australia - he just finished a book which he gave me that I finished in one sitting - an excellent story. We've been hanging out together on off nights along with his girlfriend Amanda. Last night, oddly enough, we ended up eating Chinese food at about midnight after the races. Stephen is calling the races for Australian TV. It is crazy how well known he is in Australia (he was the first gold medalist ever from that country).  

Stephen Bradbury & I

Shannon and Katelina, Julia, Anya, Lydia: Shannon, Kat, her friend Julia, and her 2 daughters Any and Lydia arrived last week, and I met them at the airport and then we made our way to the apartment. The apartment was large, but ultimately really a large studio - which meant not a lot of privacy and no alone time. This made things a little stressful as there was not way to "get away" from all the close physical proximity - especially in an echoey apartment with two  5 year old girls and an 8 month old.  But we enjoyed a week of coffee and Panini's in the morning (OK around noon), fantastic dinners in the late evening, and some long walks and shopping on non-race days. Katelina was an absolute gem - with no time outs or tantrums the whole week nor on the plane over.

Our coffee bar - run by a Romanian girl named Irina - found us receiving free treats for the little girls daily (hot chocolate, or a sucker, or a chocolate egg), as well as another free treat for one of us - a "Bicerine" - espresso, coffee liqueur, chocolate, and sweet cream, or a host of other unique regional tastes.  She also provided gifts when the girls left - 2 bottles of Romanian wine.     

Outside of the downtown, every visit to a restaurant, bar, or coffee house has resulted in some of the most personable, friendly, and generous service we have ever received. I am in love with Italy.

Houses and Parties: I never had any idea of the "other" infrastructure behind the Olympics. On one side you have all the media trucks, equipment, crews, wires, towers, and temporary buildings. NBC must have 5000 people here working for them. Then you have catering, housing, and transportation for all these people. (Picture – wires, and more wires – in the rain)  On the other side, and even more interesting, is the series of "houses" and associated hospitality and parties associated with them. Each country has a "house" - usually a large old house or "palazzo" that they have rented and have food, drinks, TV's and internet for "VIP's". (Picture – Casa Italiana)   Also many of the sponsors have them as well.

Italian House

As an athlete I never even knew these existed. The USA house is a big old house on the river Po  and right next door to it, with a secret back entrance is the "Budweiser Pyramid" - a plexiglass dome that houses the biggest party in town every night. (Picture – the “bud dome”)  Apparently Bud has teams to go out and select the "beautiful people" to enter the club and they serve, well, Budweiser and thats it. Pounding music, lights, dancing - no longer my scene - but fun to go to.

Bud Dome on the River Po

I went last night with Stephen and Amanda, and a pair of Swedish skaters I used to race with. It was kind of fun being a "VIP" as we shouldered our way through about 100 people outside and I went and asked if we could get in. They looked me up in their computer and said, "silver medalist - how many passes do you need?" We got right in - even without pulling the Bradbury trump card. (Picture – inside the “Bud Dome”)   

The USA house has excellent food and great wines from Italy as well as the states. The Visa house - where I am right now, is a rowing club right on the river Po and has the same. I'm sitting typing with a nice glass of Barolo, and some excellent Italian cheeses.  The Bank of America house is more of the same, but closer to downtown. The Dutch have the Heineken house, which all of of "old" retired speedskaters are going to go to after the races on Wed. night. They have an ice rink inside, and someone has thrown out the idea of an on ice race between all of us (on foot though). We'll see what happens.. 

Preview - Newsletter #6:  Two more days of racing - the 22nd, and the 25th. The night of the 25th will see the mens' 500 meter final and 5000 meter relay final. It is the hottest ticket in town and it will be so so loud.  Our boys made the final in great form and look to win a medal - even gold, though Canada's team is probably better. The Italians were inserted based on a disqualification of the Japanese team in the heats, so there will be five teams in the final - with 20 skaters on the ice. I've skated a couple 5 team relays and it will absolutely result in some crashes. In the 2002 relay final, every team fell once, so it is a crapshoot. Our boys are experienced and solid - but so is Canada. I expect Korea to go down - their #3 and #4 are very young and inexperienced.  

 -John K Coyle

john coyle

Torino #4: Arrival and first days

Newsletter #4 February 14, 2006: Arrival and first days  Travels and travails: The flight was uneventful and I even had my own row on the plane to lay down. I got about 2 hours of sleep before arriving in Milan. There were a number of NBC people on my plane (showing their credentials) and I began speaking to one of them as we walked out of customs toward the lady holding the “NBC” sign. He looked familiar as did a couple others – I recognized one of the lugers from 1994 – so I figured he was someone just like me – a retired athlete returning to work for NBC in some function or another.

I told him I was with short track and a little about what to expect – what with the Apolo/Korea battle returning from 2002 etc. I then asked him what he was in for and he said he was with the Tonight Show. I paused, realizing his familiarity was not from a previous acquaintance, and he saved the awkward moment by extending his hand and saying, “Tom Green – and your name?”  He was so “normal” I didn’t put it all together.  

We rode the bus over to outfitting together and collected our standard issue NBC/Nike apparel – a light and heavy coat, a couple of backpacks, hats, gloves etc. and then said goodbye as he headed up the mountain to Sestriere, and I headed to the Riberi media village. (Picture – former military barracks, now the media village) 

 Riberi media village

The village is a converted military compound – but nice enough, with tiny single rooms with tiny shower/bathrooms. After unpacking, I put on a couple of jackets and headed out. The short track venue – “Palavela” was about 2 miles as the crow flies, so I figured I’d walk rather than take the bus. As it turned out, it was more like 4 – 5 miles due to the Athlete Village creating an obstruction en-route and it took me about 90 minutes to get there. On the way, I stopped for my first European coffee and Panini – it was everything I expected.   

my room at Riberi

 I had last been to Torino in 1991 – 15 years earlier – and it remains the same – beautiful downtown of old buildings, surrounded by working class apartment neighborhoods with Café’s, Wine Bars, and family run restaurants every block.  

FIRST DAY OF WORK: I arrived at the ice rink just in time for short track practices and immediately found Ted Robinson (the NBC announcer), Dan Weinstein (ex-skater and color commentary) and Lesley Visser – a woman who I did not know who was our reporter.  (Picture below – Danny and Lesley)  

Lesley Visser: Lesley was very chatty and engaging, and as we walked and talked, we discussed our history snapshots. She mentioned 30 years in the NFL as a reporter (odd as she only looks 40) and I mentioned my skating history and growing up in Michigan, and that I went to college in California. She paused, looked at me slyly and said, “Is that like Dan saying that he went to school “in Cambridge?”. Without pause I blandly said “yes” and starting walking again, with another sly smile - (Dan went to Harvard.) 

She thought this was great fun and has told the story over and over since. As we started watching the practice, Lesley starting getting very… scattered. She was clearly upset over how little she knew about the sport, and how much there was to learn. She kept starting sentences and then stopping, and then proclaiming how overwhelmed she was. I was ready to write her off, and headed off to the food tent to have another coffee. Dan joined me, and we looked at each other with knowing smiles. “Good luck with her” I said to Dan. 

A couple hours later I changed my opinion. Lesley hunted me down and we huddled over coffee for about 2 hours and I described everything I could about the sport – the basics, the rules, what it felt like, and why all the DQ’s – a lot of the stuff in the attached summary. She was very focused and took probably 20 pages of handwritten notes. I started drawing a couple of times, and at one point, she grabbed the pen she had loaned me and put it quickly in her purse, saying, “I work with words John, not pictures – no cheating.”

She was really able to draw it out of me and I was suitably impressed with her questions. Lesley has a unique way of making you feel important, and it wasn’t until the next day, when walking through NBC and finding out that EVERYONE knew her, and that she knew people like Michael Jordan, John Madden, Brett Favre and Mick Jagger that I realized that she was quite famous – being married to someone else I had never heard of named Dick Stockton. 

Leslie Visser and Dan Wienstein

After spending time with Ted, Danny, Lesley, and Steve Lawrence, our producer, I headed into the rink for the U.S. practice. It was a weird de ja vu to be back in that environment – the big rink, the lights, the pressure evident on all the skaters faces. I felt some of the old tension return, even finding myself starting to stretch over the rail like the old days until I caught myself… 

Eric Heiden: Eric was at the rink and we starting reliving my visit with him back in 1986. We talked about his work at University of California in Sacremento (Eric is a doctor and specializes in sports medicine, and in particular, in testing.) I asked him about advances in testing and in particular about the V02 and max power test I had to undergo back in my days. He, predictably, stated that testing was now possible without bringing the athlete to the black edge of maximal effort. 

He then chided me about my hill climbing ability when I visited him, and I shared a bit of my story about strengths and weaknesses. We ended up having a fairly intense discussion about training and optimizing preparation for athletics. I talked about “race your strengths, train your weaknesses” and he talked about how they are trying to use testing to develop programs based on testing to do exactly that. It was really rewarding to be able to bring my work life back to skating, as I’ve been doing so much of the reverse of late. 

Race #1: Apolo and Ahn…  What a disappointment. Day one was supposed to be a big one for NBC with Bode Miller, Apolo, and Shawn White (snowboarding) all going for, and hopefully winning gold. Unfortunately Bode finished 6th or so, and then Apolo was eliminated after a slip in the semi final.  Only Shawn pulled through the first day.  

My job is pretty low key – I sit in the booth next to Danny and Ted and type notes on my laptop that they almost never read – they are too busy and in the moment. (Picture – Notes)   

Working the booth - myself, Dan Wienstein, Ted Robinson

  I also note any activity for replays, but again, the camera crew usually has that ready to roll. Probably in the 3 hours the first night, maybe 5 or 6 things that I noted made air.    

Keeping stats for shorttrack

Subsequent to day one, I’ve had a lot free time for the family – walking around, eating, drinking coffee, walking more, eating more and so on. 

Preview - Newsletter #5: coming soon! 

 -John     

john k coyle

john coyle