Category Archives: Olympics

Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 Opening Ceremony is Absolutely Enchanting!

Sochi Opening Ceremony 1I finally watched the Opening Ceremony for the 2014 Sochi Olympics and found it absolutely enchanting.  The Russians really stepped up the opening ceremony for the winter games.  I thought that nothing could compare to the Chinese opening ceremony from a few years back and, in some ways, I was right.  However, Sochi was able to create their own unique, memorable experience that was just as mind-blowing and impressive in its own way as the Chinese opening ceremony was.

Sochi Opening Ceremony 2

The music was gorgeous, lush and evocative – it completely swept me away!  The performers were earnest, well-rehearsed and performed very well.  The technology of the stadium was the special piece, however.  I loved the scrolling map on the floor of the stadium when the athletes were entering.  I was enthralled by the three-dimensional scenery with oceans, forests, factories, and more so fantastically portrayed.  The Sochi Olympic Committee really stepped up their game with the Opening Ceremony and it was a sight to see!

Sochi Opening Ceremony 3

I personally found the Sochi portrayal of Russian history from the ancient peoples to the modern-day to be fascinating.  That is not to say that it is accurate, as I am sure there is some artistic license involved and, of course, differences in political opinion.  I appreciated that the Russians were able to incorporate their many fine achievements throughout the performance and storytelling.  In light of our political differences, it is easy to forget that the Russians excel at dance, music, writing and many other artistic pursuits that are celebrated the world over.  The Sochi Opening Ceremony reminded me of all that Russia has offered to us over the last decades and softened the memory of the Cold War a little bit.

Sochi Opening Ceremony 4

I appreciated the brief speeches that the Sochi Olympic President and the IOC president offered.  I particularly appreciated the reminder that the Olympics are about the athletes, not politics or differences between countries.  I hated that NBC started their Opening Ceremony coverage with some lame comment about how, if we lived in a perfect world, we would not have to talk about politics during the Olympic games, but that we don’t live in a perfect world so we do have to talk about it.  Uh, no, we don’t.  Let Putin put on a spectacle and show off his country to the world.  Let the Russians dream of a better future rather than dwell on what they have lost.  Let the Olympics remind us that we are all the same, striving to do our best and fighting to achieve the impossible.  Let us remember that the Olympics were created to let the world forget, for a short time, that there are any differences between us.

APTOPIX Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony

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NBCOlympics.com Website Overpromises and Underwhelms

Screenshot of NBCOlympics Website for Full Replay

It’s been a rocky start to the Sochi Olympics.  I am not talking about the inability to flush toilet paper, the euthanized dogs and cats or even the poor quality of the hotels.  No, I am talking about the bitter disappointment I feel in regards to NBCOlympics.com.  When I initially read about NBC’s declaration that they would be stream every event live on their website, I was thrilled.  Finally, I can watch random sports in their entirety without a TV producer deciding what was exciting and what wasn’t.  Unfortunately, reality has proven to be far less than I was expecting.

On the first day of the Olympics, February 6, I eagerly logged onto NBCOlympics.com first thing in the morning, logged in with my Time Warner Cable information and looked for live streaming of the Women’s Mogul Qualifications.  All I could find was a single video about Hannah Kearney, which included her gold medal run from 2010.  Um, I don’t care.  I want to see the Sochi qualifications.  Okay, maybe NBC is having some trouble with their website.  Perhaps the live streaming isn’t working and I can watch videos of events that have already completed.  I immediately clicked on the Snowboarding link on the top of the website and looked for a video on the Men’s Snowboarding Slopestyle Qualifications, which took place at 10 am in Sochi.  All they had were some pictures and a video of Shaun White explaining what the new Slopestyle event was less than mellow.  I clicked on the other events on their menus at the top of the screen and came up with past medal totals, clips on what athletes do in their spare time and more, but nothing in regards to the actual events that took place on February 6 before I woke up halfway around the world.

After a few frustrating minutes attempting to navigate the NBC Olympics website, I exited to Google and tried to search for NBC Olympics Live Extra.  I was immediately to taken to a video of the Men’s USA vs. Canada gold medal hockey game – in its entirety – from 2010.  I clicked on Watch Video on the menu on the top of the screen and was taken to – gasp! – a video that promised me that I could watch the full replay of the Alpine Skiing: Men’s Downhill Training 1.  I quickly clicked on play and waited impatiently through the commercial only to end up watching a clip about Ted Ligety cooking in his kitchen.  WHAT?!  Don’t get me wrong, I like Ted Ligety.  He seems like a nice guy and he is the Olympic flag bearer, but I want to watch an actual Olympic event!  I exited out of the cooking video and clicked randomly on everything I could on the website, results, schedule, individual sports and the enticing Watch Video menu.  Finally, I was able to come up with a Live Stream of the Ice Skating Team Event featuring the pairs competition (I missed the men’s portion and could not go back and watch it from the beginning).  Don’t ask me how I found this as I am confident that I could not replicate my success.

Once I finally located a video, I was pleasantly surprised to hear some knowledgeable commentators come on and offer some insights as to what exactly the new team event is and how well the skaters were doing in the pairs event.  Commercial breaks were inserted randomly and distractingly in the middle of comments, replays and, most frustratingly, during the results.  Most commercial breaks were brief and only involved 1 or 2 ads, but NBC went all out during the warm ups and re-icing and played solid 5+ minutes of ads.  Fortunately, I located a mute button handily displayed on the bottom of the video and clicked that whenever I saw an ad come on.

Fast forward to February 7 and my second attempt on NBCOlympics.com.  I happily watched the Full Replay of the Alpine Skiing: Men’s Downhill Training 1 and the Full Replay of the Team Figure Skating including the Men and the Pairs by using the Top Highlights and Replays menu on the left of the screen.  Unfortunately, I was unable to determine if there was anything to watch live on the Schedule as the screen featuring the schedule is all messed up and keeps showing me February 8 regardless of which date I click on.

So far, I am underwhelmed with NBC’s online presence.  I don’t know if it was the fact that I set my expectations too high or if I misunderstood their press release, but I am not satisfied.  I find NBCOlympics.com difficult to navigate, frustratingly light on videos of actual events, and a huge memory/space/bandwidth sucker.  Be careful if you leave this website open as it will refresh itself constantly without any intervention on your part.  Accept the fact that you will have to watch a commercial before you can see the length of the video or even know if you selected the correct video.  Be prepared to wait for videos to buffer and for commercials to come up randomly without any timing rhyme or reason. If you are fortunate enough to find an event that you can stream live, make sure you go to the bathroom before it begins as there is no way to pause the action.

nbc sochi 2014 logo

Bottom Line – It is 2014 and I know that we can do better.  NBCOlympics.com may look pretty, but all of its bells and whistles can’t disguise the facts that the videos of the actual Olympics events are nowhere to be found.  The pretty pictures and pop up ads ensure that you will have delays in loading the page, some spacing issues with menus compressing and disappearing off the screen, buffering delays, stop script messages, crash notifications and other random error message I am unfamiliar with.  Everyone is spending their time complaining about the Sochi amenities, but I would give just about anything to be there to actually get to SEE the events when they happen!

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2010 Vancouver Olympics – Day 13 (Feb 24)

Today’s Olympic coverage began with the quarterfinal match between the men’s hockey teams of USA and Switzerland.  The USA won 2-0, but it was a pretty tight match all things considered.  The USA team made 30+ shots, but only managed to get 1 by the goalie.  The other score was made after Switzerland had pulled their goalie to try and tie the score in the final minutes of the game.  So the USA advances, as does the Canadian team, who squashed the Russian Federation with a final score of 7-3.  If both the USA and Canada win their semifinal matches, we could see them competing in the gold medal final.  Finland and Slovakia also advance to the semis.

Women’s Giant Slalom was on the schedule for today.  Lindsey Vonn went down about halfway through the course and skidded off into the netting, where she got tangled up.  Her teammate, Julie Mancuso, started her run about a minute behind her, completely unaware that Vonn was still on the course.  An official gave her the yellow flag, which means to stop skiing (something I have never seen) and Mancuso skied down to Vonn to see how she was doing.  Vonn hurt her hand and it probably would have been fine for Mancuso to continue, but, just in case she went off the course in the same place, they had her stop.  This completely threw Mancuso off and she ended up in 18th place after the 1st run.  Due to the terrible visibility and the snow, the 2nd run was rescheduled for tomorrow.

The men competed in the 4x10k relay on the cross country course and Norway’s Petter Northug finally lived up to the all of the hype I have been hearing about him since these games began.  Norway was all the way back in 6th place when Northug started his final lap and he was able to make up an amazing amount of time to capture the silver medal for his team.  Sweden dominated the race after the first lap, with Olsson and Hellner bringing their team home to win the gold and the Czech Republic hanging on to win the bronze.  This was a very interesting race to watch as it was a combination of the classic & free cross country skiing styles so you had to have a good mixture of both to win.

There was plenty of drama at the short track tonight with the women’s 1,000m heats taking place.  Katherine Reutter advanced out of her heat with a new Olympic record, which keeps her dream alive to end the drought for the women on the short track ice.  Apolo Anton Onho also easily qualified in his heat in the 500m and we will see him skate again on Friday night.  I have a bad feeling that this is Ohno’s last Olympics, and, after 3 Olympic appearances which equates to at least 12 years of serious training and dedication, I wouldn’t blame him if he decided to move on.  He could be a great coach, an interesting commentator or do so many other things.  A classy, fierce competitor, he has really highlighted short track and brought it to the forefront in American minds during the Winter Olympics.  The US women did win an unexpected medal tonight in the 3,000m relay.  They were well behind the lead 3 teams of Korea, China and Canada and weren’t even in the picture to place.  They kept going, knowing that short track is always so unpredictable, and they ended up winning the bronze medal after Korea was disqualified and lost the gold, moving China to gold and Canada to silver.

Then it was off to the Olympic oval to watch some more speedskating, which I personally would like to see more of, but I don’t get to pick and choose what is going to be showcased.  We received an update on Kramer and how he lost the gold last night in the 10,000m race.  It turns out that his coach is the one who told him to go to the inside lane, not Kramer so that was good for Kramer, but bad for his coach.  We saw Kramer on the ice tonight, however, and he was smiling and laughing with fellow teammates.  He apologized for his behavior and said that he and his coach have had too much success to let this break them up.  A costly mistake, no one would question that, but a really classy result and I respect his handling of this terrible accident.  But, we really went to the Oval to watch the women’s 5,000m.  This is a long race so there is plenty of time for the Dans to educate us about speedskating and to identify the strengths and the weaknesses of the athletes on the ice.  I really appreciate this and feel like I learn a lot while listening to them.  It was wonderful to see Canada’s Clara Hughes sneak in for the bronze medal.  Apparently, she had a rough childhood and fell in with a bad crowd, but saw the 1988 Olympics and it changed her life.  She began competing in the Summer Olympics in cycling and then progressed to speedskating.  She is 37 years old and, even though she is one of the oldest athletes in this event, she was able to capture the bronze here in her final Olympics on home ice.   A great achievement for her and a thrilling medal win behind the Czech Republic and Germany.

It was an exciting night out on the bobsled track, with the women’s 2-man sled taking their 3rd & 4th runs.  These women just look like amazing athletes.  I bet they could crack walnuts between their thighs.  I mean, they have these huge, muscular legs, which narrow into thin waists and a toned upper body.  But boy are they bulked up!  I guess you have to be  to push those sleds at the start and I was really impressed with the records being set on the track tonight.  The event was not without its accidents, though, as several sleds flipped over, including one of the German sleds, whose pilot has dominated all year.  Again, a very unpredictable event and everyone is pushing to go as fast as possible to get into medal position.  The Canadian teams took the gold and silver, but the USA’s Pac and Meyers captured the bronze.  With 3 US teams in the top 6, it was a great night for the women’s bobsled team.

The evening was capped off with the women’s aerial finals.  It was amazing that these women were able to push through and land any jump successfully as the visibility was very poor.  There was a lot of fog on the mountain and I had a difficult time seeing anything through the camera!  These women are going 40 mph and shooting up in the air about 35 feet then twisting, flipping, and turning and then trying to spot the landing and land cleanly.  There is no way that I could do this!  These women were real troopers, though, and just went all out.  Most of them were able to follow their coach’s cues and slow down and land cleanly.  I mean, I know that these women are the best in the world, but I was very impressed at the quality, the speed and the precision.  I thought, based on the qualifying rounds, that China had a good chance to sweep the podium and they almost pulled it off.  But an Australian skier, Lydia Lassila, was the spoiler and swept the gold with an outstanding second jump.  The Chinese women held onto to the silver and the bronze and I am sure that their coach, a Canadian, had to be thrilled with the results in their first Olympics after he took over their training.

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2010 Vancouver Olympics – Day 12 (Feb 23)

Today’s coverage started with a soul-crushing loss by the Gold-medal winning speedskater for the Netherlands, Sven Kramer, in the 10,000m.  He dominated his first event earlier in these Olympic games and we all rejoiced with him as he leaped over camera crews to get to his family and share his job with them.  Today’s finish did not bring the same result.  Kramer was so far ahead of the other competitor in his pair that you couldn’t even see him in the same screen. He was over 4 seconds ahead of the fastest time so far and he was skating in the last pair.  But Kramer did not make a lane transfer when he was supposed to and finished in the incorrect lane and was disqualified.  My heart goes out to him as he loses the race due to a simple mistake that you very rarely, if ever, see at this level.

The women’s 4x6k relay in the biathlon was next and it was a very interesting event to watch.  Each woman has to ski one lap and make 5 shots + ski whatever penalty laps you rack up by missing shots.  As always, it seems like the teams traded places several times throughout the race and, truthfully, I can never keep the teams straight and just barely figured out that those who shot clean go to the right while those who didn’t go to the left for their penalty laps.  Still, it was an interesting race to watch and the Russian Federation rejoiced as they won another gold medal with France and Germany taking home the silver and the bronze.  So many of the top individual biathlon competitors came out for this event and it was interesting to see how they factored into the teams – some were an asset and others were not.

Men’s Giant Slalom event was shown this evening, with Bode Miller going down and skidding to the edge of the course during his first run, so he did not factor into the medals.  Ted Ligety ended up in a surprising 9th place so the US did not really have anyone contending for the medals in this event.  Norway’s Svindal took the bronze, to the visible relief of his father and his teammate, Jansrud placed in silver position.  New-kid-on-the-block Janka swooped in to take the gold for Switzerland in his candy-cane striped suit.

My absolute favorite event of the day was the men’s Nordic combined event.  The American men have never won a medal in this event and, as neither ski jumping nor cross country skiing are very popular events in the US, these athletes receive very little recognition or credit.  Johnny Spillane started the team off on a good note by winning the silver on the normal hill in the ski jumping event.  Todd Lodwick came out of retirement to participate in his 5th Olympic games and was ready to put his accident and his medal-less Olympic career behind him.  He was quoted as saying that he was tired of answering the question “How many medals do you have?” and was hungry to win America’s first medal in men’s Nordic combined.  Two other men, Camerota & Demong, joined Spillane and Lodwick to give me a great race to cheer for.  They placed 2nd on the jumping event, placing them just 2 seconds behind the Finland team, and really pushed to keep their skiing in line with whoever was leading to give them the best chance at a medal.  Austria made up a 36 second deficit to take over the lead.  It was a real nail-biter during the final lap as Austria and the US kept exchanging places between the gold and silver, with Austria pushing hard to win the gold.  But what a moment for the USA!  A wonderful, glorious silver medal win as the first time the US has won any medal in the Nordic combined.  For a brief moment, these 4 men became household names as millions of viewers the world over witnessed their hard work paying off in a silver victory.  Germany pushed hard, but they were unable to catch either of the leads, finishing in 3rd place with the bronze from a 6th place start from the jump portion.  Finland finished a disappointing 7th, losing their lead and finishing over 2 minutes behind the lead.  This was a great race and I wish that we could have seen more if it as NBC only showed a bit of the first lap and a bit of the last lap of the cross country race.  I am not sure if this was due to the fact that the US was not supposed to factor into the medals, or if they felt that the could not push any other coverage to late-night, which was really disappointing as they spent an awful lot of time recapping the ice skating in late night.  I will have to go back and watch it online later.

It was the women’s turn on the ski cross course and it was just as intense and crazy as the men’s competition.  The US did not have any competitors in this event, but it is such a crowd pleaser that NBC took quite a bit of time to show us the qualifying rounds, the quarterfinals, the semifinals and the finals.  Most of NBC’s coverage centered around favorite David from France.  She is in her early 30s and has a 10-year-old daughter, but has been quoted as stating that age should not make a difference as to whether you can still participate in sports and have fun.  As another female in her early 30s, I can say that she is right and it does want me to go out and achieve more and try new things.  Unfortunately, David caught some huge air off a jump and crashed on the course, finishing a disappointing 9th place.  This was good news for Canada, though, as they won the 1st women’s ski cross gold medal with Ashleigh McIvor dominating the final run and giving us a great show.

Tonight’s coverage ended with about an hour and 20 minutes worth of the ladies’ short skate program at the ice skating arena.  Korea’s Yu-Na Kim dominated the first night of competition, posting a huge score in response to her James Bond-themed routine.  She landed some incredible jumps, performed some fabulous and creative spins, had a great costume and really presented the attitude of a Bond girl.  Thoroughly enjoyable and a well-deserved first place performance.  Japan’s Mao Asada skated the best short program of her life to end up 2nd behind Kim, but almost 5 points behind the lead.  Her routine was a charming, flamenco-themed event that was good, but no where near the caliber of Kim’s.  Canada’s Joannie Rochette almost brought the house down before she even skated!  Everyone knew that her mother passed away suddenly a few days ago and yet Rochette chose to soldier on and compete amidst a massive outpouring of support.  She did a fine job in her short program, ending up in 3rd place for the evening.  America’s skaters, Rachael Flatt (who performed a 1920s, flapper-themed program) and Mirai Nagasu (who skate to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme) placed 5th and 6th respectively.  So, Scott Hamilton was back to commentate, which made me very happy, and, instead of focusing on the degree of difficulty, as they did with the men, the commentators focused on getting full credit for the elements performed throughout the evening.  With more and more of the top skaters trying for triple/triple combinations, judges have to carefully evaluate a slow-motion shot of the jump to make sure that the skater completed the jump before they landed.  Only 1/4 of a turn on the skate is allowed once you hit the ice.  If it is more than that, you are downgraded to a double jump and given a lower score.  Interesting and informative, as well as helpful in figuring out why certain skaters get lower scores.  Still, it was a night of musical artistry and unbelievable flexibility as the ladies executed some beautiful spins that involved high speed and creative transitions.  It is going to be a tough competition as the top 6 skaters are clustered into clumps of 3.  This might be the first year in a long time that an American skater does not end up on the medal stand.  It will be interesting to see what happens a few nights from now.

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2010 Vancouver Olympics – Day 11 (Feb 22)

We began today’s events out on the cross country skiing course again with the men’s and women’s team sprints semifinals and finals.  While the US did not medal in either event, we did have a team make it to the final in both events, which is an encouraging sign of good things to come in the future.  For the women, it was Germany, Sweden & the Russian Federation who went 1, 2, 3.  For the men, it was Norway, Germany and the Russian Federation going 1, 2, 3.  Unfortunately, the race will be remembered more for the Belarus’s mistake in going to the ski transfer area instead of skiing towards the finish line than for who actually won.

Prime time began with the men’s aerials qualifying round.  Again, you have these amazing gymnastic moves high up in the air, going 40+ mph, then landing on the snow in relatively slushy conditions without having any form breaks or falls.  Wow, kind of an impossible event to even imagine getting into.  Two American skiers, led by Ryan St. Onge, made it into the finals, including Scott “Speedy” Peterson, who was sent home at the last Olympics for his conduct.  He is going to go for some crazy stunt nicknamed “the Hurricane” in the final so that will be interesting to see.  The men struggled just as much as the women to land their jumps, but the Chinese team had 3 qualify, all of them performing very well.  The 3rd American, Bahrke, did not qualify, but, in his defense, he was an alternate called to compete just a few days before the event.

We spent some more time out at the K-120 ski jumping arena with the men’s team event.  The American team was out of the running early and did not qualify to take their second jumps, finishing 11th out of 12 teams.  Austria just flew away with the gold medal, clearly dominating each round except the 2nd one and winning by a massive 34 points overall.  Germany and Norway took silver and bronze, respectively.  It was a pretty awe-inspiring sight to watch these men fly like Superman through the air and then still land clearly and with style.  The announcers constantly talk about this being a mental sport as you really have to override your body’s natural instincts by leaning way forward into nothingness and then riding the air for as long as you can before setting your skis down.  I don’t think I could ever do it.

Most of the focus of today’s broadcast was the final night of figure skating in the ice dance competition.  Tonight it was the free skate, which is worth 50% of the final score and I had high hopes for the American teams.  The American pair, Davis & White, skated first out of the final group of skaters and just did a beautiful job during a Phantom of the Opera routine.  They had so many exquisite moments and really skated together as a team.  The music was moving, well-known and clearly pulled the crowd in as they received a lot of support from the Canadian crowd.  As they left the ice, White commented that they wanted to set the standard and make the other teams work for the gold. I think that they achieved this and did remarkably well at their first Olympic games. I look forward to seeing much more of this pair.  The Canadian pair Virtue & Moir skated a few pairs later and performed an absolutely exquisite and ethereal program.  They just looked like they floated on the ice and I was very impressed.  Once I saw their score, I knew that the gold medal was theirs and I really didn’t think anyone else could touch them.  America’s Belbin & Agosto followed with a weird “Ave Maria”-themed routine that involved a bit too much religious imagery for me.  I also hated their costumes – ugly, overdone and distracting.  I thought that they had a good chance to take the bronze, but they were barely edged out by Russia’s Domnina and Shabalin, who I was not very impressed with.  She wore a corded costume that he used to pull her up into lifts and to keep a hold on her, which I think was cheating and missing the whole feel of the ice dance competition.  Many of the other teams presented creative, lyrical and beautiful pieces making this night of ice skating competition a night to remember.  I felt that each pair skated their best and that the top 2 couples well-deserved their medal wins.

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2010 Vancouver Olympics – Day 10 (Feb 21)

I believe that today marked the final individual biathlon event with the men’s 15k mass start.  The men all started in lines with the front line containing the Olympic medalists and those with the highest placement throughout the year’s standings.  This was another opportunity for the USA’s Tim Burke, a World Cup leader, to contend for a medal and break the long drought for the US in this event, but, once again, we were doomed to disappointment.  With too many shots missed, Burke ended up a disappointing 18th.  This race was a highlight for the Russian Federation, though, who has been so disappointed during this Olympics as Ustygov took the gold with France taking the silver and Slovakia taking the bronze.  There were a lot of missed shots in this event and, what was truly surprising, is that Ustygov, who had been one of the favorite’s in the previous 3 events he competed in, was finally able to deliver.  The women’s 12.5k mass start was held later in the evening, with Germany’s Neuner unstoppable in her quest for gold, despite having missed 2 targets and taking the penalty laps. The Russian Federation took the silver with Neuner’s teammate, Huaswald, who led most of the way, taking the bronze for Germany.

The Russia vs. Czech Republic hockey game was shown in its entirety during the day broadcast, which did not completely capture my interest.  It is just so similar to regular hockey games that it is difficult to remember that it is the Olympics.  I confess that I fastforwarded through quite a bit of it and watched just the ending.  The best part of this game was the special shown at the end about the American win during the 1980 Miracle on Ice in hockey.  NBC had 3 of the original players, as well as the announcer who covered the event, to go over the historic win and it was fun to revisit that moment of glory.  The special was well-made, well-done and enjoyable without being too schmaltzy.

Ski Cross finally premiered at the Olympics with the men’s ski cross event qualifying rounds during the day broadcast on NBC.  It looks almost as chaotic as the snowboard cross, but is not quite as cool.  I think the course was the same for the 2 events (at least it looked the same to me!) and there were just as many blowouts here in the qualifying rounds.  The US did not make it very far, but we did have a half-US competitor make it to the finals in the form of Christopher Delbosco, who skied for Canada, but lives and trains in the US.  His was more of a personal story of victory, as he ended up 4th, having gone down on an aggressive move to pass the skier in front of him.  Chris was a skiing prodigy and was recognized as a great talent at a young age.  When in his teens, he started using drugs and drinking heavily.  This led to multiple DUI arrests and a few life-threatening situations.  Finally, Chris decided to go into rehab, has been sober and clean for over 3 years and is here to compete in the Olympics and to share his story to try and save the lives of others in his situation.  A personal victory and a great story to share.  But it is Switzerland’s Schmid who goes down in history as the first athlete to win a gold medal in this new event.

Men’s Super Combined event was held out on the ski slopes tonight and it was another great event for Bode Miller, who took the gold.  I have to say that Bode has completely changed my opinion of him from the last Olympics in Torino and I am proud to have him representing my country again.  He seems like a different person and so happy to be competing, even though, according to him, he is not in his best shape.  A few other skiers showed their sportsmanship and the camaraderie amongst the small group of elite skiers who compete on this level by welcoming Bodie back as he took his 3rd medal in these Olympic games.  Norway’s Svindal, a heavy favorite and leading until the 3rd to last gate at the bottom of the hill on the slalom, hooked a gate and ended up DQing off course.  His father was devastated, but Svindal has already won 2 medals and has 2 more chances so, while disappointed, Svindal can still hold his head high and move forward.

We popped over to the Olympic oval for a few moments on the track to watch the women’s 1,500m with the 2 Dans.  Canada finally captured a speedskating medal as Groves won the silver with the Netherlands taking the gold and the Czech Republic taking the bronze.  Another big night for the Netherlands and the fans who really push their athletes to achieve their absolute best.

I was enjoying the two-man bobsled runs when NBC abruptly cut off the German run in the middle and hustled us over to the hockey arena to show us the USA team beat Canada 5-3.  Okay, great.  Thanks for showing me the last 1:30 minutes.  Couldn’t this have waited until the German sled made it to the bottom of the track?  Would an additional 20 seconds have killed you?  I thought it was a weird move and really a poor call during the relatively smooth broadcasting we have been enjoying from NBC.  To add insult to injury, NBC stayed at the hockey arena to interview other players after the win and we never really did get back to the two-man bobsled runs during prime time.  Instead, we picked it up in late-night where the US finished in a disappointing 6th place.  The big news in this event was the German sled that placed 1st set a new Olympic record by medaling 4 times in this event.

It was time for the original dance in figure skating in the ice dance event.  I was looking forward to seeing some great skating and I was not disappointed.  The theme for the original dance was a native folk dance, which left the door wide open for personality and interpretation.  We saw a little bit of everything including flamenco (Canada), Jewish (Israel), Canadian country dance (Great Britain), American country dance (USA), aborigine (Russian Federation), can-can (France) and many, many more.  The Canadians skated an intense, passionate flamenco with a lot of lovely moments to pull in a huge score that put them in the lead.  The young American team of Davis & White skated a charming Indian-themed dance with wonderful arm movements and a lot of personality through side-ways eye movement and subtle flirtations, placing them in second behind their Canadian training mates.  Russia really surprised me by placing 3rd in the original dance with a sloppy, simplistic and border-line offensive aborigine-themed dance.  I was not impressed and I felt that the judges rewarded them unjustly.  The original dance is worth 30% of the final score and, with the US teams currently in 2nd, 4th, and 11th, we are sent to have our best finish ever while also paving the way for a great finish 4 years from now at the next Olympics.

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2010 Vancouver Olympics – Day 9 (Feb 20)

Today began with the women’s aerials competition as we watched the qualifying rounds and the battle to be one of the top 12 to make it to the finals later next week.  Firstly, let me just tell you that these athletes are crazy!  They are going app. 40 mph as they come down off this little jump and then they are flipping, twisting and then try to land on their feet!  It was a really impressive event and everyone looked amazing, in my opinion.  The snow was the consistency of sugar and so it was really sucking on the athletes’ skis, which made it very difficult to land cleanly.  Each athlete received 2 jump chances and they did different tricks each time so it was a great event to watch.  Most of the skiers appear to come from a gymnastics background so the aerial part is, ironically, not the difficult section – it is the landing, or the skiing section that they really struggled with.  One of the American skiers had a touching story of the close relationship she shared with her father and his support and care that he gave her as a single parent.  She broke both of her feet a few years ago and yet here she was, back out on the hill.  My favorite skier was the favorite to win, who did not qualify, as she landed and literally ran out of her skis on the bottom of the hill.  The conditions were tough, but the athletes were tougher.  With several surprises who snuck into the top 12, it should be an interesting final Wednesday.

Then we were back out at ski-jumping on the K-120 large hill for the men’s gold medal final.  This is a difficult event to watch and understand as it is very hard for me to be able to tell the difference between the good jumpers and the decent jumpers.  There is so much relying on wind conditions, the condition of the snow, getting the perfect start, etc., that it is very intellectual and not as instinctive.  The commentators really did their best to explain what was going on, how the event was scored, and to point out the differences between the jumpers so the event held my interest, but it was a close thing.  The little skier from Switzerland, Simon Ammann, who won on the normal hill also won gold here on the large hill.   They call him a Harry-Potter look alike, but, aside from round-rimmed glasses, I just don’t see it.  The big story for him was that he won both golds in 2002 at Salt Lake City and then came out with nothing at the 2006 Turino games.  Now he was back and he was on fire.  His country was thrilled and I know that they feel like they have their hero back.  A great performance on the large hill today.

The best part about the day coverage was the men’s cross country 30k pursuit, which, like the women’s race yesterday, is split half-and-half between classic and free style skiing, with 15k of each.  When the race began, I didn’t think that it was going to be that interesting to watch, but it turned out to be a real nail-biter and I was on the edge of my seat to see what was going to happen!  Sweden’s Johann Olsson went out early and alone, leaving a pack of skiers behind.  I thought he would get pulled back in before too long, but his teammate, Marcus Hellner, purposefully slowed down the pace and blocked the pack behind by skiing out in front.  I was astonished at that as it seemed that Hellner, in order to get a medal for Sweden in cross country, a sport they should have dominated at these Olympics, but struggled with, was willing to sacrifice his own personal medal aspirations and take one for the team.  What made the story even better was the ending.  Olsson started running out of gas and Hellner couldn’t hold back Russia’s Legov, who broke away from the pack.  So Hellner joined Legov, staying in 3rd and 4th place as he joined the little secondary pack with Germany’s Angerer.  Olsson was slowly reeled in, Legov started slowing down, and, in a dramatic Olympic finish, Hellner made a huge pass and sprinted forward to take the gold.  Germany’s Angerer took the silver, and Sweden’s Olsson took the bronze.  A really great race with a classic-Olympic-moment finish, this one will be talked about for years to come!

Women’s Super G was competed tonight.  Again, this event is unique in that you are able to inspect the course, but not to practice on the course beforehand.  Lindsey Vonn went down the hill and seemed really pleased with her performance, but she ended up with the bronze behind Austria and Slovenia who went gold and silver, respectively.  Still, the US has taken more Olympic medals with this year’s ski team than ever before and there are still more events to come!

Then it was out to the Olympic Oval, where we got to see Shani Davis try to win gold in the 1,500m.   He took the silver in the Turino games and was the heavy favorite to take the gold here.  Unfortunately, it was not to be, with Shani ending up with a silver repeat, and the Netherlands Mark Tuitert taking the gold.  Of course, the Netherlands was absolutely thrilled and you know that Mark was looking forward to a visit that night to the Netherlands House, where he would be celebrated like a rock star.  One of the sweetest moments of these Olympic games happened tonight when Shani Davis came up behind Mark Tuitert, giving him a hug and offering his congratulations to this skater, who had a great performance.  Again, I was impressed with how classy Shani is and how he has really carried himself in a distinctive way throughout these games.  His sportsmanship and belief in the Olympic creed has been a real standout here.

We finished the evening out at the short track, where Katherine Reutter tried to accomplish her goal of making it to the women’s 1,500m finals.  Unfortunately, she had a really tough draw in the preliminary rounds and did not advance past the semifinals, but ended up with a 4th place position due to a disqualification in the final.  China’s Zhou easily won the gold with 2 South Korean skaters taking the silver and the bronze.  But all eyes were really on Apolo Anton Ohno as he skated for a chance to make Winter Olympic history by winning a 7th medal.  Ohno has won many gold medals in many races, but the 1,000m has always eluded him and here he is, with another chance to win the race.  He was sandwiched between 2 Canadian brothers and 2 dominant South Koreans.  He was in excellent position to take the gold, when Ohno bobbled and the 2 South Koreans slipped ahead of him.  I thought that Ohno slipped, but, in the replay, you could tell that Ohno was thrown off by one of the Canadian skaters.  Unfortunately, this is the finals so there is no interference call, but Ohno was able to control his skates, stay on his feet and beat out both Canadians to take the bronze.  I really think that, if Ohno was not as good as he is, he would have fallen, skidded off the track and perhaps taken the 2 South Korean skaters (who were behind him) with him into the boards, letting the Canadians take gold & silver.  In a split second, the whole race changed.  Legendary Olympians Michael Phelps and Peggy Fleming were on hand to watch Ohno break the Winter Olympic medal record and win his 7th medal with an opportunity to win 2 more at these Olympic games.

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2010 Vancouver Olympics – Day 8 (Feb 19)

Today was a bit of a mixed bag as far as what NBC chose to show.  We began the day with women’s cross country, in the 15k pursuit.  It has been interesting to watch the skiing competitions and to discover that there are 2 different kinds of skiing that they use for competition: classic & free.  This competition was a half and half, with the first 7.5k skied “classic” with a very linear method with your skis staying parallel to each other at all times.  It is particularly fascinating to watch them ski up hill as they literally run up it on their toes with the skis staying on the snow.  Very cool.  After 7.5k, they switch skis, which allows you a chance to gain some time as this is not always a smooth transition, and start skiing in the “free” style, which I am more accustomed to seeing during Olympic competition.  This is where they use a more “V” step to go up the hills and look a bit more ungainly, but I think it is gauged to be the faster method.    A very interesting race to watch, especially since each skier has a bit of specialty as to which method they ski better.

Men’s Super G was competed tonight.  This is an interesting race as the skiers are not allowed to practice on the course.  They are allowed to inspect it for 1 hour and then whoever goes down the fastest wins.  This one was a real nail biter as there were a lot of skiers who ended up tumbling off the course or into the netting on the side.  I don’t think anyone was injured, which was good, but you just had no idea what the skiers would remember and who would be the fastest.  The USA’s Andrew Weibrecht was in the lead for a long time and just had a fantastic run.  He was finally bumped down by Bode Miller, who was bumped down by one of the last skiers, Norway’s Svindal, who took the gold medal leaving the US with the silver and bronze medals.

Men’s & women’s skeleton competitions held their 3rd & 4th runs tonight and awarded the medals.  I am always amazed at the speed that these men and women build up on the track and the guts it takes to go out on the ice with essentially no protection and a dinky little sled on your back.  Great Britain & Germany took the women’s medals, but the real story for the US was the 4th place position, which is where Noelle Pikus-Pace finished, just off the medals stand.  After being hit by a bobsled during a practice run 4 years ago, it was a great triumph for her to be able to come back and have an Olympic experience, even though she didn’t place.  The Canadians had a great night out on the track as one of their own surprisingly stepped up and won the gold medal in the men’s skeleton competition with Jon Montgomery.  Each gold medal that Canada wins is so celebrated and they are so thrilled to have their athletes performing well.  I don’t think Montgomery was expected to be a real contender, but he ended up the Olympic gold medalist and he was just soaking it all in.

Ice dancing began tonight with the compulsory dance program.  Ice dancing is spread out over 3 nights, with the compulsory dance scores counting for 20% of the final figure.  As I hear time and time again, you cannot win the gold by having a great compulsory dance, but you can lose any chance of a medal by skating poorly.  Tonight’s compulsory dance was the tango, which was lovely to watch.  With interesting steps that enabled the skaters to still add some personal flair, the routine and the music were quite enjoyable, even though it got a bit repetitive by the end of the night.  The Russian couple placed 1st in the compulsory dance, with Canada 2nd and the USA in 3rd and 4th.  With marks this close, the race was on for the gold medal and I got caught up in the excitement as NBC repeatedly emphasized the fact that no North American skating pair (Canada or USA) had ever captured the gold medal in ice dancing.  In fact, only 4 medals had ever been won in ice dancing of any color, with Russia and other European countries dominating the event.  The only thing that was missing from the ice dancing competition tonight was some insightful commentary.  I found that the commentators were silent most of the time and this was a perfect opportunity for them to point out some of the differences between the top teams and those who ranked lower.  When I was watching the same routine for the 3rd or 4th time, this would have been useful information and would not have detracted from the performance in the slightest.  I missed Scott Hamilton…

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2010 Vancouver Olympics – Day 7 (Feb 18)

We began today with a familiar site – the biathlon.  This one was the women’s 15k individual biathlon followed in the evening with the men’s 20k biathlon.  So, you would think if you want to become the Michael Phelps of the Winter Olympics and rack up as many medals as you possibly can, you would become a biathlete or a ski jumper as you are given so many opportunities to medal.  Or, I guess, you could do short track, too, as they have lots of chances.  Of course, the reason why you don’t see many athletes completely dominate like Phelps did in the Summer Olympics is that all of these Winter Olympic sports are extremely volatile in their results.  I don’t know how many times I have watched a biathlon in this Olympics where the commentators are stunned that the favorites are at the back of the pack or missed too many shots to figure into the medals and the winners are a complete surprise.  Everyone has a chance and that is what keeps this sport so interesting to watch.  Again, great commentary by NBC on this relatively unpopular event in the US.  They really make this event exciting and fun to watch.

The rest of the afternoon section was taken up with the women’s snowboarding halfpipe qualifying rounds.  It was a tough competition and, although there was a lot of talk about the American women sweeping the medal’s podium before the games, I wasn’t even sure if they would all make it to the final round!  There were so many wipe outs on this event and these wipe outs continued into the final rounds in the evening.  One of the top snowboarders in the qualifying rounds hurt herself too badly to continue on to compete in the finals.  All of the American women went out there and really lived to up to the motto “Go big or go home” and, unfortunately, this didn’t pay off with an American sweep.  Hannah Teeter & Kelly Clark went 2, 3 from the US, which was a good result, but not quite what we were looking for.  Australia’s Torah Bright dominated as she competed more like she was on the men’s team than the women’s.  Gotta give credit to her coach, her brother, who really pushed Torah to try more difficult tricks and to put everything out there.  It was also nice to hear that Torah’s parents flew out to surprise her at the games when she wasn’t expecting them to be there.  Another thrilling night of snowboarding competition!

Alpine Skiing: Ladies’ Super Combined was also featured in prime time as Olympic darling Lindsey Vonn was skiing.  Vonn was leading after the downhill section with a fairly dominant 0.33 second lead over the competition, but she hooked her ski and fell on the slalom section and did not finish.  Her friend, Maria Riesch of Germany, took the gold and the USA’s Julia Mancuso slipped in for the silver.  I feel bad for Mancuso because every medal she wins is treated as a big surprise, but clearly she is an able skier and doing very well at these games.  She would be quite the star if Vonn wasn’t here and, in my opinion, Vonn wouldn’t be receiving so much press coverage without her Sports Illustrated and other provocative photo shoots.  You gotta give her husband credit as her manager for really getting her a lot of press and pushing for more sponsors.  Good work, team!

There was a brief interlude during the prime time section that featured a few moments on the Olympic oval with women’s 1,000m speedskating finals.  I have been a bit disappointed that we haven’t seen more action in this arena.  I know it is because we don’t really have anyone competing for medals, but it is such an interesting sport to watch and the 2 Dans who are commenting do a really wonderful job.  Not to mention the Netherlands’ fans are crazy and so are super fun to watch and I always like to see what they are wearing.  But it was not to be Netherlands’ night as Canada’s Nesbitt snuck in to take the gold with the Netherlands’ skaters taking silver and bronze.

But the night was again dedicated to figure skating with the men’s free skate competition that would determine the medals.  After watching the men’s short programs and seeing the extremely close results, I was expecting to be blown away with the quality and the emotion tonight, but I was destined for disappointment.  My favorite from the short program, Stephan Lambiel, did a decent job, but was just so tight in his skating. He was missing the fluidity and the beautiful touches of musicality and details that he showcased in his short program, but he landed more his jumps.  He ended up the heartbreaker position – 4th – just outside of the medals.  Johnny Weir came out and skated a perfectly lovely program, but it did not have a lot of difficulty.  His routine supposedly showcased his career and he seemed very pleased with it.  Ending in 6th after the free skate, he is getting ready to say good-bye and can leave with his head held high.  Jeremy Abbott, poor baby, really had a rough Olympics.  He could not get either one of his programs together, ending up in 9th, which was too bad as I could tell that he could be a great skater.  Evan Lysacek was the first of the big guns to skate in the final group.  I thought that he looked good and he seemed to be just throwing triple jumps around like candy!  I don’t remember ever seeing so many jumps in the 2nd half of the program.  I did not think that his routine was anything particularly memorable or special, but he was clean, fast and looked very good.  Evegni Plushenko skated last and he landed a huge quad/triple combination, but his routine was lacking for me.  It was slow, relatively boring and the music just happened to be playing in the  background while he was on the ice.  I was really quite disappointed with it and was not at all surprised to see that Evan won as his routine was so much better and appeared so much more difficult.

So, it was a great win for the Americans on the men’s figure skating competition, right?  Wrong!  Apparently, it was a loss by the Russians.  Poor Evan showed up to speak with Bob and I am sure other reporters, and all they could talk about was how Plushenko claimed that you couldn’t be a men’s Olympic gold medal champion without a quad jump in your program.  Like Scott Hamilton, emphasized, this is a figure SKATING event and the best skater wins – it is not the best jumper.  Plushenko came across as a sore loser to me, but the media really played into it by repeatedly asking Evan if he felt like he deserved to win.  Um, hello, yes, absolutely!  What kind of response do they expect?  I was very impressed with Evan’s gentlemanly sportsmanship where he just commended Plushenko’s legacy, commented that Plushenko congratulated him and tried to leave it at that.

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2010 Vancouver Olympics – Day 6 (Feb 17)

Today started off with men’s and women’s cross country sprint.  I can honestly say that I don’t remember ever seeing this sport before.  I don’t know if I just missed it, zoned out or lumped it in with the regular cross country, but this was like seeing a whole new event!  I also had no idea that there are 2 different kinds of cross country skiing and that it is very important to stay in that specific style or you cannot compete.  I believe that this sprint was the traditional style, which had a very specific cadence or rhythm to the steps.  It looks completely different from the more modern style, where skiers pick up their skis and look a bit awkward going up hills.  This event featured several skiers all in a line, all in tracks that were created, and staying in their “lanes” just like they were on a track competing in a running sprint event.  They raced several times today.  NBC lumped them together into a nice 2-hour feature, so I am not sure how much rest time they got in between the heats and the results, but it looked pretty wearing to me, I mean it is a sprint, after all!

Speedskating had a great night with Shawnee Davis defending his Olympic gold medal in the 1,000m, which was a pleasant surprise, even though he was the favorite to win.  I say a pleasant surprise as it seems that it is increasingly difficult to repeat in the medals from one Olympics to the next as the whole field improves.  I also enjoyed seeing Davis win as he seems like a pretty likable guy.  He works out with other athletes and gives advice to competitors.  You don’t see this kind of gentlemanly competitor very often anymore so bravo Davis!

Then we were back to the short track and all of the drama that we see at that arena.  It was mostly qualifying rounds that were shown tonight so there was not a tremendous amount of excitement, but it is always interesting to watch this volatile sport.  Ohno skated in the 5,000m relay semifinal, which was great to see.  He was one of the few headliners who skated in the event as it seemed that most teams sent out their B-team skaters to just get them into the event.  It is a very confusing race to watch, of course, as the ice is literally bristling with  skaters and it is difficult to tell who is the one skating in the race and who is getting ready and who is just staying loose.  To further confuse matters, each skater has to make at least 1 loop, but, after that, you can repeat the skaters as many times as you want.  A really interesting event.  Anyway, the other highlight of the short track tonight was the women’s 1,000m race, which was won by China, with Canada squeezing in for the silver.

Now lets talk about an event that just has crazy written all over it – the double luge.  As if it is not dangerous enough for one person to lay on their back on the ice and go hurtling 80+ mph hour down a narrow half tube of ice, we want you to lay on top of someone and take them with you!  Who comes up with these things!  I just could not believe my eyes as I was watching these men.  I mean, if I had a choice, I would want to be the one lying on the bottom as it seems like you just kind of go with the flow, but then you cannot see crashes coming.  Hmmm, no real winner there for me.  Won by Austria, this was a really interesting sport to watch and you get to hear a lot about foot position, which isn’t something you talk about too much, and watch the lugers literally bouncing around on the ice when they slow it down for you to watch.

The ski events continued with the women’s downhill in Alpine skiing and so we finally got to see the much touted and highly publicized Lindsay Vonn take to the slopes.  I think that NBC made a point of mentioning her sore shin every day of the Olympics and how it was such a great thing that the weather delayed her events to give her much-needed time to heal.  I guess they were right as Vonn took the gold with Mancuso getting a surprise silver.  In a sport that is typically dominated by smaller European countries, it was a big surprise to see the Americans sitting on the medal stand. It was also a surprise to see someone who was supposed to win actually win in their event.  So I guess we accept this win on behalf of Vancouver’s hospitality – thanks for the snow delay!

So I saved the best of the last.  The true standout of today was the men’s snowboarding halfpipe competition.  Wow.  Just wow.  What more can I say?  I heard so much about Shaun White and how he was just going to dominate the competition, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.  And my eyes can tell you that Shaun was faster, stronger and higher than everyone else out on that hill today.  He easily qualified for one of the fast track slots and only had to board once to make it to the finals while others struggled on the hill.  Then he laid down a great routine, which was actually one of his warm-up, “play it safe” routines that kept him in the lead the whole time.  The judges were really rewarding height in the air and Shaun gave them huge air up there.  After already winning the gold medal, there was a bit of a colorful debate (which NBC had to apologize for broadcasting – what, they thought that snowboarders and their coaches kept swear words out of their regular vocabulary?) and then Shaun White showed why he dominates the sport by doing his “A” run and just blowing the field away.  The judges only took away 1.2 points off of the total score and Shaun looked amazing.  He was the favorite coming into the games, he was heavily featured in Olympic coverage to draw viewers in and he really delivered.  I guess it was worth all of that training at his private halfpipe out in the middle of nowhere because his last trick literally took my breath away!

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