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Links for 3/1 – A memorable Olympics

The Olympics have come to an end, but many moments and stories from these games will stay with us.  From the joyous to the tragic, these 21st Winter Games have been one for the ages.  For two weeks, the world came to the beautiful Canadian city of Vancouver and, for two weeks, we were inspired, amazed and entertained by these incredible athletes.  For two weeks we heard some incredible stories, cheered for people we had previously never heard of and sung along as our national anthems played in celebration.  From countless moments that will live on, here are my list of the top 5 moments.  Some are happy, some are sad.  But these 5 stories will not soon be forgotten.

5. Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn– From Andrew Weibrecht to Julia Mancuso this USA alpine ski team was very impressive.  Their eight medals set them apart and, amazingly, well-above traditional ski powerhouses.  However, the wins by Miller and Vonn are what people will long remember.  For her part, Vonn came into these games extremely banged up, but facing extreme pressure to perform well…and she did not disappoint.  The first American woman to ever win the downhill race, she lived up to the enormous expectations she was facing and is now an Olympic champion.  No one knew what to expect out of Bode Miller after his lackluster performance four years ago.  Disinterest in Torino was replaced by dedication in Vancouver and the results spoke volumes.  With medals of each color, Miller has changed perceptions about him and his legacy is now and forever, Olympic champion. 

4. Bill Demong and the US Nordic Combined teamThese games were the 4th for Billy Demong and, by far, his best.  From winning the first-ever Nordic Combined gold for the Americans, to getting engaged to his girlfriend to being chosen as the US flag bearer for the closing ceremonies, this man, widely regarded as one of the nicest people in the games, had quite the couple of weeks.  But we will not only remember his accomplishments, we will remember and celebrate his class.  In his first Olympic event of theses games he finished 6th, but had this to say about his teammate, Johnny Spillane, winning silver ““I’m ecstatic right now…I’m really, really happy that Johnny got silver.” And, according to his teammates and those who know him well, he truly meant it.  Rather than complain about the jumping conditions that probably put him out of contention, he chose to celebrate his teammate’s accomplishment.  That says it all about Demong and his finally breaking through this year was one of the best moments of these games.

3. Canada wins the hockey gold on home iceThe USA wanted to win the gold medal…but Canada NEEDED to win.  And, in one of the most exciting sporting events of all-time, win they did.  Everything about this game – the energy, the USA comeback and game-tying goal with less than 30 seconds left, the stakes, the passion and, of course, the OT game-winner by the best hockey player in the world – made it worthly of a gold medal game.  You could almost hear the nation-wide sign of relief when Crosby’s shot flew past Ryan Miller – this was the most important medal to them and despite some very good competition, they rose to the occasion and delivered for their country. 

2. The tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili There is not much more that can be said about the extremely tragic start to these games. People will debate for years about whether the track was safe and what caused Kumaritashvili’s accident.  But, regardless of what the cause, the fact remains that a young athlete lost his life pursuing his dream.  The raw emotions this moment produced were evident during both the opening and closing ceremonies as athletes and fans rose as one to honor their fallen friend.  To make it to the Olympics, we ask these young men and women to sacrifice so much – time with their families, friends, money, a normal life – but risking your life should never be prerequisite to competition.  And, when it happens, it is nothing but tragic and devastating. My heart continues to go out to his family and to his entire country.  We will also remember Kumaritashvili and his spirit will forever be a part of these Olympic Games. 

1. Canada’s Joannie Rochette bronze-medal winning performance – There are not words sufficient to describe the profoundly beautiful performance that Joannie delivered in both the short program and free skate.  After losing her mother mere days before her first skate, the world wondered how she would be able to perform.  Not only did she perform exceptionally, she stole our hearts in the process with what she was able to do.  Her skate (especially the short program) is something I will never forget.  From the determination, the beauty of her program and the pure emotion as she finished, she earned our respect and admiration.  No one would have blamed her had she chosen to withdraw…and everyone was applauding her medal-winning performance.  In a time of personal tragedy, she had the world on her side and her performance was one for the ages.

Thank you Canada for a Winter Games we will not soon forget.  Despite the challenges and tragedy, these were a games that brought out the best the world has to offer and reminded us all just how special this bi-annual event can be.

Link for 2/24 – the good and the bad of the Olympics

There are always so many amazing stories that come out of the Olympics, and following them is one of my favorite parts of these two weeks.  Sometimes they are heart-warming and inspiring; other times they are depressing.  As luck would have it we have had, in the past few days, a great example of each. 

On the bad side, Yevgeny Plushenko apparently can not accept that he lost out on the men’s figure skating gold medal to Evan Lysacek.  Disappointment is one thing.  Poor sportsmanship is another and that is exactly what Plushenko has demonstrated.  From his ridiculous assertion that anyone who did not do a quad does not deserve to win – that’s like saying if a team doesn’t score a touchdown or hit a home run they don’t deserve to win – to awarding himself a platinum medal on his website, Plushenko has set a terrible example for all those young aspiring athletes.  One of the great things about figure skating is that competitors have the opportunity to design their program to play to their strengths while calculating what risk is worth taking.  As I understand it, each element has a degree of difficulty and, the higher that number, the more points you can score with the element.  So, while the Quad may have the highest degree of difficulty (and higher scoring potential), Lysacek made up for not having one with other elements.  In addition, from what I’ve read of figure skating experts, his cleaner skate helped him overcome not having the highest degree of difficulty element.  Lysacek won.  Plushenko didn’t.  Get over it.

Contrast  that with the response to the tragic passing of the mother of Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette just 48 hours before Rochette was to start her Olympic games.  Letters, cards, tributes came in from all corners of the globe – American speedskater Dan Jansen who lost his sister just hours before his race in 1988 reached out to her – people just wanted to let her know they were thinking of her and praying for her.  It didn’t matter what country you were from or who you were rooting for, people wanted Rochette to know they cared.  And, I would guess there were not too many, from any country, who watched her phenomenal skate in the short program who weren’t pulling for her.  One needs only read this line from the NY Times, to understand what a moment this was “…the crowd at Pacific Coliseum, seemingly split among Canadian, South Korean and Japanese supporters, got to their feet and began waving Maple Leaf flags, trying to buoy her with their support.”  It wasn’t about what jumps she would do or who they were rooting for – they understood what the Olympics are all about and were doing everything they could to give Rochette a chance to succeed.

Sitting there, watching her skate, I was amazed by how much I was caring about and rooting for this young woman who I had never heard of a week ago.  How much I wanted her to do well.  How nervous I was with every jump.  And how thrilled I was with how she did (Scott Hamilton wasn’t the only one who got emotional!)  This wasn’t about the medals (although I’m sure she would love to win one), but it is about her reaching the pinnacle of her sport and creating a moment that no one who watched will ever forget.

Link for 2/17 and 2/18 – A little harsh Bob…

The Olympics are underway and I am LOVING them!  The opening ceremony was beautiful, some of Bob Costas’ outfits have been terrible, I love Mary Carillo’s Canada pieces, and, oh yeah, the events have been so much fun to watch (and thankfully Canada has won gold, so we can stop hearing about their inability to perform at home!)

Of course, the games started off on a really sad note, with the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run.  As sad as it was, I agree with his coach who said that Kumaritashvili’s death may well have saved others from serious injury or worse.  That track was not safe and, while I was dis-heartened to hear some officials claim otherwise (coming out of a turn late should not cost you your life), I am glad they made adjustments to starting position to keep speeds down a bit.   Kumaritashvili died doing what he loved – may he rest in peace.

The story from Tuesday, was the failure of Lindsey Jacobellis to make it to the finals in snowboard cross.  This was supposed to be her redemption from her showboating fall 4 years ago that cost her the gold medal.  Her inability to perform this year led Bob Ryan, from the Boston Globe, to skewer her in a column which, I think, goes too far.  She fell because she was having fun – something we are always saying we wish our athletes would do more of.  We want them to play with passion, but we also want to see them enjoying themselves out there.  Was it a foolish thing to do?  Yes.  But to take pleasure in her failure this year misses what sports should be about and I encourage Ryan to remember what it is we always tell our little league teams; it’s how you play the game.   Jacobellis, like all the athletes, has worked so hard to get where she is today and I admire her for that.  Ryan is correct that her falling this year reminds us how fleeting success can be and it is important to remember to take advantage of your opportunities because you don’t know when they might come along again.  Here’s hoping in four years, she comes back and wins the gold in London – and continues to have fun as she does it!

In happier news, yesterday was probably the best day for a US team in Winter Olympics history.  To win 6 medals on one day is extraordinary.  When you factor in that the winners were the stars of the team – the ones with the most pressure on them – it makes it even more special.  Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White and Shani Davis were so clearly the best ones in their respective sports – it was incredible to watch them dominate despite having very talented competitors. 

Such a fun time of year!

It is sad that, when picking a category for this entry, I have to choose sports AND politics

Celebrating the loss of the Olympic bid?  Certain Conservatives have really outdone themselves on this one.  It is amazing that we are so partisan where even the merits of an Olympic bid is split down ideological lines.  What they seem to have forgotten is that the Olympics should be a time where people could set aside their differences and compete for athletic glory.  Naive? Maybe.  But the fact remains that this bid was not a Democratic bid or an Obama bid.  This bid represented the American Olympic Committee – it was an American bid.  This was not a loss for Obama or a loss for Chicago.  This was a loss for America.  Celebrating an American loss is not patriotic.  It has been said for many years that big electoral problem that Democrats had was that the Republicans “had the flag.” Well, those cheering this loss lose their right to claim the flag.  The games being in the USA again, and in Chicago, would have been an incredible opportunity for us to remind the world that we are more than an army.  It would have been a fabulous thing for this country.

But don’t take my word for it.  Let’s hear what George W. Bush had to say about the prospect of the games being in this country again. 

They say that the Olympics will come to Chicago if we’re fortunate enough to be selected, but really it’s coming to America, and I can’t think of a better city to represent the United States than Chicago,” Bush said.  He added, “This country supports your bid, strongly.”  You can see the full article with that quote here. 

Sir, I am sad to say that you were wrong.  The country does not support the American bid.  There is a segment of your party that wants Obama to fail at anything.  Even if it means costing the USA the glory (and stimulus) that comes with hosting the games.   Very very sad.

I’m going to give Roland Martin the last word here. 

So, to all the critics happy about us losing the 2016 games, turn in your flag lapel pins and stop boasting of being so patriotic. When an American city loses, like New York did in the last go-round, we all lose. And all you critics are on the same level as the America haters all across the world.  You should be shouted down for not backing your own country. The next time any of you bang out a press release about “Buy American” or “Support our troops,” remember this moment when your cynical, callous and small-minded brains happily rejoiced when America lost the 2016 Olympic Games.