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Archive for February, 2010

Johnny Weir and Olympics figure skating

By Elliott Almond

VACNCOUVER, British Columbia – When it comes to men’s figure skating, it might as well be fun. We have Johnny Weir to thank for that.

Weir enters the free skate tonight too far behind to contend for a medal at Pacific Coliseum. Even he admits it.

“When I came in here a medal was pretty far-fetched for me,” he said. “I haven’t been a contender for a couple years now. I was left out of that 10. I have no problem with that. I accept that. I understand it. It’s.”

Weir, whose milky face and nimble body makes him a candidate to replace Johnny Depp as Edward Sissorhands, isn’t one to worry about judging.

“I do my triple flip on the wrong edge,” he said. “I’ve worked on it but I’m old. We try to hide it on the ice from the judges but it’s not hard to see. As long as it is pretty I don’t really care. And as long as I’m not on my ass afterward.”

Asked about one competitor’s Farmer John outfit of overalls, Weir said, “I thought it was very fashion forward and a very big risk –even riskier than a man with cleavage and ruffles.” He then looked down at his cleavage and ruffles.

As far as tonight’s program, the top three will make it interesting, starting with the comeback of defending gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko, who had an Olympic record 90.85 points. American Evan Lysacek is second and Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi is third with scores so close that it is all but a three-way tie.

Lysacek will skate first among the final six skaters in the long program, a distinct disadvantage. Plushenko got the advantageous final spot in the random draw. Takahashi skates third from the end, also a good position.

Plushenko, like Weir, speaks his mind, saying that only real men do quadruple jumps. Neither Lysacek nor Takahashi try the tough rotation. The Russian skater demanded that the men do more difficult combinations. He does so catch him if you can.

When Plushenko finished Tuesday to Spanish music, he drew an imaginary sword, kissed it and returned it to its sheath – not that the showmanship gave him extra points from the judges.

Posted on Thursday, February 18th, 2010
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Husband of U.S. mogul skier detained

WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia — This story seemed to fail to get much attention, but Mike Hormell, husband of U.S. moguls skier Michelle Roark, was detained at Cypress Mountain while trying to get to the training area last weekend. Hormell usually is with his wife in training but access is limited at the Olympics.

One source said Hormell had tried to sneak through the second-growth forest to get to the moguls’ training area. Roark did not confirm that. She defended her husband and said he filed appropirate paperwork to get clearance. Olympic officials said they did not receive any documents.

Roark asked the U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association to help but neither would intercede.

Posted on Monday, February 15th, 2010
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Women ski jumpers and the Olympics

WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia –Of all the events being contested at the 2010 Winter Olympics, one you won’t see is women’s ski jumping.

The women have asked and asked and had the door slammed in their faces for years. The basic reason for rejection is this: the sport isn’t competitive enough yet to be considered worthy of the Olympics.

And women’s hockey — as much as I enjoy it — is?

Two recent scores from the Vancouver Games: Canada 18, Slovakia ; United States 12, China 1. Basically, women’s hockey has four good teams — Canada, United States, Sweden and Finland. And when all is said and done, the gold medal at the Olympics and world championships comes down to Canada and the Americans. So much for spreading the sport to the world after three Olympics.

Women jumpers have petitioned to become part of every Winter Olympics since Nagano in 1998, but have been rejected by the International Olympic Committee — the same group that claims to foster gender equity. In the past couple years Canadian women have forced the issue, taking their complaint as far as they could legally without getting a positive decision.

Ski jumping and the Nordic combined, which is a mix of cross-country skiing and ski jumping, are the only Olympic winter sports that are male only. The IOC reasons the sport is too young, lacking a history of world championships and athletes participating from many countries.

This bothers the male Olympians, too.

“It’s kind of a bull issue they can’t jump where they are accepted in almost all other sports,” said Alpine skier Andrew Weibrecht of Lake Placid. “Lindsey Van and I went to high school and I feel bad for her not to get the opportunities.”

Van, a world champion, was part of the suit to try to get the sport accepted at the Vancouver Games.

The IOC should consider some simple math to promote women’s sports. It’s far easier to groom one competitive ski jumper than an entire hockey team. Given the chance, women’s ski jumping would quickly live up to Olympic standards.

It seemed PC Canada would have been the perfect place to introduce the women jumpers into the Olympic family. It’s a lost opportunity. Perhaps it will change in Sochi, Russia in four years.

But when it comes to the power elite of the IOC, you can’t count on members doing what is right.

Posted on Monday, February 15th, 2010
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Canada appreciates the Olympics

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Canadians gave us a reminder of what’s important Saturday night at the Pacific Coliseum.

During the men’s B final of the 1,500 meters short-track speedskating race, the man in red, Charles Hamelin of Quebec, burst into the lead. And with the sudden move came a roar that echoed throughout the arena. Louder and louder it got as Hamelin circled the icy track ahead of the pack. And when he crossed the line in first flags waved, everyone clapped. Hamelin might have finished only seventh in the Olympic event, but it will be a moment he’ll always cherish.

It wasn’t about medals. It was about performance and Canadian pride.

Unlike Athens and Turin, Italy, where crowds at many events were thin, the Vancouver Games have been filled with people. People dressed in red and white with a big CANADA written on the jerseys, ski caps, shirts and, well, everywhere.

The fans have supported all the athletes just as we expected polite Canadians to do. But the way they showed their appreciation of Hamelin’s race Saturday underscores that this is a country that knows how to exhibit the Olympic spirit.

And that’s something to celebrate, eh?

Posted on Sunday, February 14th, 2010
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Brandi Chastain on luge death

VANCOUVER, B.C. –Brandi Chastain isn’t a Winter Olympian, but the extraordinary San Jose soccer player is a World Cup champion and has won two gold medals and one silver medal in three Olympics. So I thought I’d share her perspective on the tragedy that beset the Vancouver Games on the first day. Nodar Kumaritashvili, 21, of the Republic of Georgia died in a gruesome luge crash during training Friday morning.  

“I am saddened by the death and think that the Olympics need to remember that the competition isn’t about pushing the envelope, but about who is the best on the day,” Brandi wrote in an e-mail. “I don’t think that those tracks need to be dangerous to see who is the most technical and fastest.”

The FC Gold Pride had announced Friday that it had released Chastain, who a women soccer pioneer and one of the most influential athletes in the Bay Area and beyond.


Posted on Friday, February 12th, 2010
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Hey, Steve Nash Fans–Pay Attention To Tonight’s Olympic Opening Ceremonies

This kind of stuff is supposed to be top secret — but I think it’s safe to mention that if you are a fan of Steve Nash, the former Santa Clara University basketball star and perennial NBA All-Star, you will enjoy the torch-lighting ceremony at tonight’s Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Nash is a native of British Columbia and a Canadian Olympic athlete in his own sport. He will not be the final person lighting the torch but in the relay of runners carrying the flame around the B.C. Place stadium . . . well, just tune in.

Posted on Friday, February 12th, 2010
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Serious Luge Injury Today–Could Be Very Bad

We are receiving word here that a very serious injury occurred at the luge run in Whistler this morning. A competitor from Georgia (the Republic, not the USA state) left the track at maximum speed and struck a pole. It’s about the worst scenario for a luge rider you can imagine. Paramedics reportedly applied CPR and the injured luger–no name confirmed yet–was taken to the hospital in serious shape. Makes me remember that even though some writers (I’m guilty) make fun of their sport, this is a very dangerous game. As you may know, the flag-carrier for the USA team tonight at the Opening Ceremonies is a luge athleted, Mark Grimmette. His longtime doubles luge partner is Brian Martin of Palo Alto. If this injury to the Georgia competitor turns out to be very serious, I have to think the Grimmette’s mood will be even more somber as he carries the flag.

Posted on Friday, February 12th, 2010
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Luge news conference

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The luge doubles teams held a news conference in Whistler today but I couldn’t make it up the mountain because I had too much to write in the city.

Here’s the highlights from the Bay Area two lugers.

First, Dan Joye, who I profile in Friday’s Mercury News:

You can kind of say we are like brothers as a family because we hang out lot, we’re roommates a lot, spend a lot of time training together. But other than that, we’re pretty much just friends and that really transfers onto the track. We’re great communicators, we’ve learned off of each other and we both have the strive to do the best we can down the luge track.”

 More Joye: “I lived in Venezuela when I was 1, moved to Dominican Republic when I was 2, moved to America when I was about 3 and a half. I grew up in New York. My dad was very adventurous, he’s a hunter, fisherman. I grew up fishing, hunting. Then when I was about 10, 13, I was 15, I became the youngest paraglider in America licensed. I was very excited. I traveled to France as well to do paragliding and do luge at the same time, during the winter. Now that I’m an Olympian, I also look forward to hopefully live in Alaska someday, living with my brother, be an IT guy. There’s a lot going on for me.”

Four-time Olympian Brian Martin of Palo Alto, whom I will feature in the paper before he competes Feb. 17, was asked if his sport invovles intutition:

 “Yes it is intuitive and no it isn’t at the same time. When you’re going down the track, yeah, it’s auto-pilot. You want to get to the point where every reaction is automatic and you don’t even have to think about. But that being said, no two runs are the same so you always have to be adapted and thinking about what’s happening and thinking what he’s going to be doing in that situation and making so you’re pulling on the same end of the rope, so it’s kind of both.”

He also was asked about where he keeps his two Olympic medals:

 “Both of them live on the coffee table at my mom’s house. I figured, you hear about people putting them away in safety deposit boxes and stuff like that. You never get to see it then. All my friends when they come over to the house usually make a pass by there, check it out. I think that’s fun to have them out and on display. Certainly, I’m hoping that I can just shove them a little bit to the side and put up a gold one next to them.”




Posted on Thursday, February 11th, 2010
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Winter Olympians play danger game

Bobsled medal favorite Steven Holcomb was asked about the safety of his sport the day I published a story about the inherent risks of many Winter Olympic events.

Holcomb’s response seemed to summarize the athlete’s psyche:

“There is no safety line,” he said. ” There is only a winning line and a losing line.”

I had asked Temple professor Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association, about the psyche of Winter Olympians. He researches people who push the limit, such as mountain climbers and Indy car drivers.

“The Winter Olympics capture something about the American spirit that you sometimes don’t get in some other more traditional sports,” Farley told me.  “It is a sports version of the Silicon Valley culture.

“We tend to walk and run in shoes and not on blades. Winter Olympics have a different quality of sport. It seems to have more of qualities that we often see in risky events. There is variety, novelty, uncertainty, unpredictability and change going on.”

Farley, interestingly, had Eric Heiden in a class the year (1980) Heiden won five speedskating medals at the Lake Placid Games.

“Something about the Winter Olympics is almost more elemental; it is more connected to the forces of nature. You’re on mountains, you’re in snow, which is not our normal, every day venue – at least most people in this world. It’s almost more primitive.”

And for those fans attracted to the high-risk sports?

“There is a fascination with the dark side, the death side,” Farley said. “It comes through in all those sports.”

Posted on Thursday, February 11th, 2010
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How Canadian Team Will Use San Jose Sharks

If you’re a San Jose Shark fan, you’ve probably been wondering how the Canadian hockey team will use the four Shark players who will suit up for the Great White North — especially the offensive threesome of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley. Well, I’ve had my boots on the ground for barely 24 hours in Vancouver but I’ve already got the answer. Just call my source deep blade. He says the Thornton-Marleau-Heatley group will serve as Canada’s fourth line. That sounds like an insult, but the idea is that by judiciously putting the threesome out there against the weaker lines of other teams–especially Russia and the USA–the Thornton line will be able to thrive and shine. They might even be the difference in the tournament. Let’s see if my source is right.

Posted on Thursday, February 11th, 2010
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