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 #3: Meet the (long track) speedskating team

Vancouver Journal #3: Meet the Long Track Team Friday, January 29, 2010

According to Dick Ebersol (head of NBC sports and Olympic coverage) the 2010 Olympics have four “breakout stars” to watch. Their names are as follows: Lindsey Vonn (5 events, skiing), Shawn White (1 event, snowboarding), Apolo Ohno (4 events, short track speed skating) and Shani Davis (4 events, long track speed skating.)

If my math is right, that makes speed skating THE sport of the 2010 Olympics. If you add up the # of breakout events, the numbers skew even more favorably for speed skating – of the 14 key “must watch” performances, 8 of them are speed skating, (and I’ll personally be covering four of them.)

However, lest someone think I’m on air or have an “important” job worthy of “talent” (a broadcasting word for those that are on air) I am neither important nor “talent” though I do get the luxury of being in the broadcast booth. My official role is that of the “statistician” which maps more closely to the “subject matter expert” providing stats, clarifications, and color to the two commentators, and coordinating some of the production activity (rewinds, queuing, zooms etc.)

Ebersol was interviewed on the Jan 20th edition of the Colbert report which also featured a “fire on ice” race with Shani Davis (see link below for some funny stuff)

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/262387/january-20-2010/skate-expectations---speedskating-race---shani-davis

One of my hopes during the games would be to meet Stephen Colbert: we have much in common - he’s been granted an position with the NBC Vancouver Olympic team due to his speed skating prowess against Shani Davis, he is also an honorary member of the US speed skating team as the “assistant sports psychologist”, and also happens to be on the board of DonorsChoose.org, a company we are partnering with at work.

OK, the long track team:

Long Track: Men

Shani Davis – skating the 500m, 1000m, 1500m, and 5000m. Shani will win the 1000m for sure – he’s dominated that event for 5 years or more and breaks world records seemingly each time he skates. Shani is not a medal contender in the 500m, but certainly is in the 1500m and 5000m. I’ve known Shani since he was a kid and he’s a quiet and kind – nothing like the occasional news report would let on. These aberrations are sometimes a result of the meddling of his mother who has pushed and protected him for all these years and continues to be an influence in how he is perceived.

Chad Hedrick – In Torino I spent a decent amount of time with Chad’s dad Paul and had some pretty strong feelings about the pressure both Chad’s dad and Shani’s mom put on these two incredible athletes. Subsequent to Torino I was able to find closure with Paul (in the form of yet another bear hug) and in a different form from Shani’s mom (who demanded that I remove her name and her picture from my blog, while concurrently filing suit against Google for the blog posts another (dead) blogger - I quickly deleted her picture and name). Chad had some middling years between Torino and now (getting married and having a child as well), but has recently come on strong in world cups. I put him as an underdog favorite in any event he skates.

Nick Pearson – I know his parents better than Nick (he was a little tow head running around the Petit Center when I was still skating) but Nick’s got some sprinting chops and will be racing the 500m and 100m

Tucker Fredericks - I met Tucker in Torino - he's a nice guy and small for a sprinter - but wicked fast. He's got a decent shot at the podium in the 500m

Brian Hansen – still a junior category racer (18), Brian was on of the “kids” I coached at Park Ridge club the last couple of years. Since then he’s gone on to set national records in most distances and now has made the Olympic team in the 1500m and the pursuit.

Ryan Bedford, Mitchell Whitmore, Jonathan Kuck & Trevor Marsciano - round out the team (I've not met them)

Long Track: Women;

Elli Ochowicz: Elli is an amazing sprinter, and comes from a proven gene pool, and a heritage that links closely with my own past. Her parents are Sheila Young (gold, silver, bronze in 1976 Olympics for speedskating and world cycling champion) and Jim Ochowicz (cycling champion and team lead for Lance Armstrong’s various teams – Motorola, U.S. Postal, and Discovery). Elli’s grandparents were my initiates and coaches that led me to join the sport – see post below:

http://johnkcoyle.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/clair-young/

Nancy Swider Pelz Jr.: Nancy’s mom, Nancy, (yes that’s right) was a mentor to me on and off throughout my years of skating and I’m so happy to see her daughter taking the stage in Vancouver. Like Brian Hansen I worked with Nancy Jr. during the Park Ridge practices I coached over the last couple of years. Nancy will race the 5000m

Catherine Raney Norman: I’ve known Catherine since she was a little girl, and her mom Peggy as well. Her husband, Mark Norman, and I grew up racing bikes and skating together in Detroit Michigan – it is a small world.

Jen Rodriguez: at 34, the elder stateswoman of the long track team, Jen is the Darra Torres of the sport – super fit, super fast and a threat for a medal if things come together.

Jilleane Rookard, Heather Richardson, Lauren Cholewinski, Rebekah Bradford, Maria Lamb - round out the womens team.

 Vancouver Journal #4 Preview: Meet the (short track) speedskating team