Torino Newsletter #3, February 5, 2006: Departure
Travels and travails:
I finally received my tickets and credential just a week in advance of my trip. I was beginning to wonder if NBC had changed their mind as I had not received any communications from for a couple of months. Meanwhile, I finally gave in and committed to the egregiously overpriced apartment in downtown Torino for my wife, daughter, and friends. It appears to be just a block or two from the medals ceremony plaza, right across from the hockey rink and only a mile to the short track rink. When they are not there I’ll be staying at the Riberi media village which appears to be close by as well.
My friend Bill is coming over on the 18th and we have not yet found any housing for him. He didn’t seem all that worried and I figured out why last night when he sent me an email, “I guess I’ll have to sleep on your floor.” I wrote back with the daunting news, “You have to have a credential to get into the media village…” I’m sure I’ll find him something in the two weeks I’ll be there before he arrives.
LONG TRACK UPDATE: Men: Derek Parra (Gold, Silver 2002), Kip Carpenter (Bronze 2002), Chad Hedrick, Casey Fitzrandolf (Gold 2002 – from Verona, WI), Joey Cheek, Casey Boutiette, Tucker Fredericks, Shani Davis (not pictured),Women: Chris Witty (Gold 2002), Catherine Raney, 3, 4, 5, Amy Sannes, Jennifer Rodriguez, and Elli Ochowicz
A little detail on some of the athletes – in order – the ones that I know: (Not pictured) Not pictured here is a good friend of mine Chris Callis. Chris was 5th at the Olympic trials for the 1000m race, bested by Casey Fitzrandolf (gold medalist), Shani Davis (last year’s world champion and world record holder, Joey Cheek (this year’s world champion), and Chad Hedrick (world record holder in 1500m, 5000m, and 10,000m). Chris is a medal contender, yet didn’t make the team – that’s how tough the competition is, and how strong this team is.
Derek Parra: Derek is an anomaly in the sport in many ways: small (5’ 4”) in a sport of giants, old (well, 35), and from Florida. Derek was the golden boy of 2002, with a surprise victory in the 1500, and a silver in the 5000. Derek barely, barely made the team this year. He is in an apparently very painful divorce with his wife. I wouldn’t count him out though – he has a lot of heart, and slower ice probably will favor his stature. Derek and I know each other reasonably well. I remember a party I went to once with him and his then fiance’. He was dressed as a pimp and she, well, she had her role as well. They were hysterical.
Kip Carpenter: Kip skates the fastest laps in the world – hands down. And he looks really cool doing it – he has a leaned over, stretched out style that really captures your attention – he just looks fast. If Kip had a faster “opener” – the first 100meters of the 500m race, he’d be winning everything. I’ve known Kip, and older brother Cory forever – they are from Michigan and I used to hang out with him and his brother on occasion starting when Kip was this tiny little fast thing – at age 7 or so. Kip skated short track for a couple of years, and I actually coached him and his brother (and Casey Fitzrandolf) on the same short track team for a U. S. Olympic festival back in the 90’s. At that meet, Cory crashed, got shook up, and started skating the wrong way on the track and collided full speed, head to head with another skater and was knocked out cold. It was really, really ugly – you could hear the skulls crack together and the whole place (Houston Astrodome) went silent. Their mom went absolutely hysterical, and I had to physically keep her from moving Cory’s limp body while the paramedics took control. It was the worst crash I witnessed in all my years of short track. After that year, Cory switched to long track and Kip followed the season after that.
Chad Hedrick: Chad is a convert from inline skating and is just a motor. His technique still is not 100%, so he’s only going to get faster as technique is almost everything in the sport. I don’t know Chad very well – I think he converted from inline my last year skating. Chad is favored in the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m for gold and has an outside shot in the 1000m. He also qualified in the 500m but does not have a chance for a medal – no Heiden repeat here – no one will ever be able to do that again…
Eric Heiden: Speaking of Heiden, he is the team doctor for both long track and short track. Apparently, in order for me to use the workout facilities anywhere in Italy, I need a doctor’s note – I’ll be asking Eric for mine. In terms of what Eric did back in 1980 – I feel quite confident in saying that no one will ever do it again. Winning the 500m – an explosive sprint event lasting just over 30 seconds, and winning the 10,000m – a grueling 6 mile endurance event – and everything in between is just, well, impossible. It would be like Carl Lewis winning the 100m, and then going on to win the 800m, the mile, the 5K and the 10K. Can’t be done. Eric and I go way back to 1980 – where I met him for the first time when we both competing at the national cycling championships in San Diego (I was 11), and then on to the mid 80’s, where we both raced for the 7-11 cycling team (which became the U.S. Postal and now Discovery team). In 1986, Eric was at Stanford getting his doctorate, and the University placed me with him in the “pro-fro” (prospective freshman) program for a week visit at the end of my senior year in high school. He had (and still has) a house in the hills above campus, and for 9 days, we rode mountain bikes with his 7-11 cycling team cronies, watched movies, talked Hollywood dirt with his then girlfriend Tracy Kristofferson (daughter of Kris Kristofferson) and even took a 5 mile “jog” into Candlestick Park football stadium at the end of a game for an “errand”, holding a meeting with a solitary Joe Montana out back of the lot where Eric dropped off whatever he had to give him (can’t remember what it was). Of course, this momentous occasion was lost on me because I didn’t know anything about sports – I vaguely knew the name, and it wasn’t until I watched a late night “football highlights” program a couple years ago that I realized that I saw a very, very famous Joe Montana at the height of his game in a darkened gravelly parking lot right after a game. I’m sure I struck a suitably unimpressed posture…
So my parents called on the last night during my visit with Eric back in 1986 and asked me how I liked campus and they were oddly infuriated when I mentioned we hadn’t quite made it over to the Stanford campus yet. We took a quick drive through on the way to the airport the next morning and it all worked out when I started as a freshman the following fall.
Casey Fitzrandolf: Better know as “Fitz” as all the skaters call him, Casey is just a regular real nice guy. Somewhere inside must be a competitive fire, but he’s all calm and quiet when you talk to him. He actually reminds me of Paul Deutsch in many ways. Casey was a decent short track speedskater, but when he made the switch back to long track in the mid 90’s, he exploded onto the long track scene. Casey won the gold in 2002 for the 500m. He has a medal shot in the 500m and the 1000m but given the fact that the margins between 1st and 10th will be only a few hundredths, it is hard to predict a repeat. He recently placed 4th at the Sprint World Championships. Casey is from Verona, and his dad is a referee.
Shani Davis: Shani is an incredible athlete – winning the overall “all around” (multi distance) world championships last year and second the year before. Where Kip always looks like he is going fast, Shani manages to look like it is all slow and easy – even as he goes on to win again and again. Shani is not the first black speedskater on the international level – but he certainly is the most famous. Shani is fairly shy and retiring – and is very good friends with Apolo. Most won’t remember it, but Shani, Apolo, and Rusty Smith were involved with a fairly controversial situation with another skater – Tommy O’hare in the Olympic trials for short track in 2002. Basically what happened was that in the final race, Apolo and Rusty chose not to pass Shani in the fading laps of the last race, guaranteeing a spot on the team for Shani, and taking Tommy’s Olympic spot away from him. There were lawsuits and arbitration (I sat on the council) but ultimately the case was “unprovable” and the results stayed the way they were and Tommy did not get to go to the Olympics.
On a side note, as some of you know, I had two contracts for the Olympics offered to me – one with the camera crew, and one in the broadcast booth. Utimately, I chose the broadcast booth, and immediately called Tommy, who took the camera crew job. Certainly not the same as competing, but at least I could help provide Tommy a route to the Olympics in another function.
Joey Cheek: I know Joey a bit – we trained together a little at the Petit Center my last year skating. Joey won the 500 meters and the overall World Sprint Championships last Sunday in 35.09. He’s going to be a medal threat.
Chris Witty: I’ve known Chris for a long, long time. She was at my first Colorado testing camp in 1990 – I particularly remember one time we climbed a hillside of loose shale together – no one else was willing to “risk” it, and we “skied” down it. I was impressed as she was very young (14?) at the time. Who knew she was going to become the lean mean fighting machine she is today. Chris won the 1000m gold in 2002. Her brother Mike and I are old friends, and the family has been in skating forever – they live in the Milwaukee area.
Elli Ochowicz: I don’t know Elli very well – I’ve talked to her a couple of times. What is most notable to me about Elli is her lineage, and how closely tied her roots are to my skating and cycling history. Elli’s mother is Sheila Young – gold, silver and bronze medal winner in 70’s Olympics. Sheila was also a multiple world champion winner in cycling. Elli’s father is Jim Ochowicz – team manager for the 7-11/U.S. Postal team that I used to race for and that Lance raced for in the tour. Jim is featured prominently in Lance’s book It’s Not About the Bike. Jim was my cycling team manager from 1985 – 1987 when I quit the team to attend Stanford.
One step back though – Sheila’s parents, and Elli’s grandparents, Dorothy and Clair Young, were riding a tandem bike on a 100 mile tour back in 1976, and saw an 8 year old struggling to finish his 10th or 13th “century” ride of that summer (me). They suggested I race, and helped me register for my first bike race that August of 1977 in Dearborn Michigan. Clair remained a coach and friend of the family – to this day, and Dorothy designed and made all my uniforms until I made my first traveling team in 1985. Clair Young and Mike Walden (of the “race your strengths, train your weaknesses” fame) were great friends, former competitors and contemporaries.
Elli shares Sheila’s fast twitch muscles and will be world and Olympic champion some day I suspect.
Preview - Newsletter #4:I have not quite finished my short treatise of the sport of short track – hopefully I’ll finish that for the next newsletter and before the racing starts. I’ll also try to write about what it is like preparing for my role and some of the personalities. Also if I have any athlete celebrity run-ins I’ll capture that as well (there have been several already : ))
john k coyle