Archive | February 2014

Closing Ceremony

I am sitting here watching the Closing Ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Games, and can’t help reflecting on the ceremony I got to witness in Torino, Italy in 2006 (during the commercial break, of course).

The view from my seats at the Torino closing ceremony in 2006.  It was totally awesome to have the rings in my sight the whole time... but the support pillars blocked the view of the projection screens, so I couldn't see what was going on in the actual program.

The view from my seats at the Torino closing ceremony in 2006. It was totally awesome to have the rings in my sight the whole time… but the support pillars blocked the view of the projection screens, so I couldn’t see what was going on in the actual program.

The view from the seats I purchased for almost $400, direct from the official Torino Olympics nearly a year in advance.  I spent over an hour complaining to the ushers, who were all volunteers and local Italians.  They sympathized, saying, "What do you expect for a stadium built by Mussolini?"

The view from the seats I purchased for almost $400, direct from the official Torino Olympics nearly a year in advance. I spent over an hour complaining to the ushers, who were all volunteers and local Italians. They sympathized, saying, “What do you expect for a stadium built by Mussolini?”

The thing that has struck me the most about the Opening and Closing Ceremonies in Sochi is the way the producers considered the in-house audience in their design.  They did an excellent job of showcasing Russian culture and history, especially in terms of their excellence in performing and visual arts.  The coolest part of their set-pieces-hanging-from-the-ceiling, though, is that they were equally visible to the entire audience in that stadium.  The nose-bleed seats may have even gotten a better look at some of those details!  Of course, they added some little details, especially in the ballet sequences, that were meant for the front-row seats.  However, much of the production was available in equal measure to “the masses” there.  In fact, I wish that they would have given us at-home viewers more broad views rather than close-ups.

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I was eventually moved to these seats, after being advised by the ushers that their previous occupants had complained and been relocated, themselves! I much preferring the view of the back of the rings to the bottom of the balcony!

In Torino, by contrast, there were several portions of the show that were focused on one location on the floor.  In addition, there were some seats (notably mine!) that clearly had an obstructed view… which didn’t stop anyone from charging hundreds of dollars for the ticket.  There were some really cool things about being at the Closing Ceremony in 2006, but the actual production wasn’t part of it.  My Italian host kept texting me during the ceremony, telling me how awesome things looked (on TV where they were watching at home), and jealous that she couldn’t be there… I was so close to just leaving and going to watch it on TV!  But then… I got to see the athletes walk in right below me, and hear the cheers of the crowd.  When I returned to the States the  next day, my friends kept telling me their favorite parts of that ceremony – and I had to explain that I couldn’t see the floor, or any of the four TV screens in the stadium!  However, I had been part of the crowd that was dressed identically, that waved flags at prescribed times, and that generally celebrated International athleticism as one group of anonymous fans.

The line to get in to the venue took about an hour, and wound around the building.  We got a sneak preview of some of the set pieces!

The line to get in to the venue took about an hour, and wound around the building. We got a sneak preview of some of the set pieces!

 

The Olympic flame was located outside of the stadium, a couple of blocks away, but positioned such that those entering the stadium saw it in a central location

The Olympic flame was located outside of the stadium, a couple of blocks away, but positioned such that those entering the stadium saw it in a central location

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching the flags of the 2006 Olympics march in...

Watching the flags of the 2006 Olympics march in…

 

U-S-A!  Watching our athletes march in under the rings in Torino

U-S-A! Watching our athletes march in under the rings in Torino

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet despite the

Every attendee at the ceremony got a "goodie bag" and we all donned matching white ponchos and paper headdresses/masks, and waved our Italian flags on cue.  This guy next to me had true Italian spirit!

Every attendee at the ceremony got a “goodie bag” and we all donned matching white ponchos and paper headdresses/masks, and waved our Italian flags on cue. This guy next to me had true Italian spirit!

drawbacks of that ceremony, I can’t explain the powerful feelings of actually being present there.  The joy and enthusiasm of the athletes, the bittersweet celebration of the fortnight of competition, the sounds and (obstructed-view) sights of a world-class extravaganza were all amazing to witness.  I can’t even begin to imagine what the athletes were feeling during those moments.  We were all able to see the smiles and tears of the Sochi Olympians just a short while ago, simultaneously releasing the stress they’ve experienced and celebrating their victories and newfound friends.  Wonderful!

Italian Alps

After that acclamation that I gave Julia Mancuso in my previous post, you would expect this to be about my experience seeing her race in the 2006 Olympics in Torino (or Turin), Italy.  It’s disappointing, but I didn’t actually get to see her ski.  I indeed had tickets to the Women’s Giant Slalom, but… on the day of the race, I took the train up to Sestriere from the city of Turin – and realized that I had left the ticket behind!  It was a foggy/snowy day, so I couldn’t see the course from outside the barriers.  [The photos here were taken during the men’s GS, on another day.]

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Concessions in the ski village at Sestriere, with the mountains and Olympic course in the background.  I didn't get in to watch the races close up, but I had some tasty chocolate-and-red-wine that is a signature of the Italian Alps, and some polenta stirred in a big vat by authentic Piedmontese.

Concessions in the ski village at Sestriere, with the mountains and Olympic course in the background. I didn’t get in to watch the races close up, but I had some tasty chocolate-and-red-wine that is a signature of the Italian Alps, and some polenta stirred in a big vat by authentic Piedmontese.

I didn’t want to waste my train trip up there, though, so I bought a lift pass at a local resort, rented some gear, and spent the day skiing in the Alps!  It was pretty amazing – at the bottom of one run, I found myself on the border of France and Italy.  I didn’t really understand the whole lift system, though, and in the ever-thickening fog and sleet I took a wrong turn on one of my last runs of the day.  I wound up at the bottom of a lift that had closed for the evening, with no idea how to get back where I belonged!  A few minutes later, a couple of ski patrollers came along, looking for stragglers (i.e., me).  They could tell that I was a “dumb American,” and told me in English, “This lift is closed.”  Well, gee, thanks for pointing that out!  I asked them, in Italian, if they could suggest how I might get out of there.  They barely refrained from rolling their eyes as they glanced at each other, then asked, “Can you ski?”  “Yes,” I said, and they motioned for me to follow them down the hill.  They took me down an un-groomed trail through trees and steep drops, not-so-patiently waiting every few hundred yards for me to catch up.  When we got close to the end, they pointed the way for me to get back to the lodge to return my rental equipment,

True Olympian

In my last post, I highlighted the spirit demonstrated by the women’s skeleton racers in the 2006 Torino Olympics.  This is another story of an impressive display of Olympic Spirit – only this one never seems to stop.

Julia Mancuso is one of the most impressive women that I can name.  Not only has she had a long and tenacious career as a world-class ski racer, but she exhibits more life balance than most athletes of her caliber, and is always positive and supportive of her teammates and even competitors.  Perhaps my favorite thing about this young lady is that she appears to be herself, despite being a very public figure.  When she smiles, it isn’t just with her mouth – her eyes are always involved too!  She also shows disappointment, on the few occasions that it is merited, but it always appears to be disappointment with her own performance, not anger or jealousy regarding another person or the situation.

Julia has been tearing up the slopes in Sochi this month, successfully finishing every course she has attempted.  That is more than many Olympic skiers can claim this year.

Here is what Julia had to say on Facebook after coming in 8th in the Super G yesterday:

“Thanks for all the love!!! It’s about dreaming big, and doing your best:) keep believing. I’m happy for @AnnaFenninger She has been ripping it up in Super G the last few years, and she definitely deserves that Gold:)”

Earlier this week, after taking third in the Super-Combined she wrote:

“Today was amazing, inspiring, surreal. Now I can add a Bronze to my collection of Silver and Gold!”

Julia is truly one of those athletes who appreciates the opportunity to compete at the Olympic level, who gives each race everything she has, and who accepts the results gracefully.  She is thrilled to medal (and at four alpine skiing medals in three Olympics, she is the USA’s most decorated female skier), and happy to finish the course.

It’s no wonder that she feels that way – listen to this clip that NBC posted of the excitement surrounding Julia’s runs in the combined.

I don’t typically follow athletes or other celebrities on Facebook (just as I don’t typically write about them in this blog).  I was inspired to “like” Julia’s page  during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, when Lindsay Vonn was being touted by all media outlets as the Team USA female skier to watch.  As Lindsay pouted her way through a couple disappointing finishes, Mancuso won two silvers, and showed nothing but love and support to her Olympic-favorite teammate.  In the four years since then, I’ve enjoyed reading along as Julia’s bubbly enthusiasm,  understated confidence, and whole-hearted love steer her through her life.  She doesn’t stop with just skiing, either – she spends her off-season surfing in Hawaii, is involved in multiple business ventures, and devotes significant time and money to philanthropic causes.  If you’re looking for someone to be inspired by, I’d recommend checking Julia Mancuso out.

The “Sliding Sports”

IMG_0465As I catch bits and pieces of the televised Sochi Olympics, I continue to reflect on my experiences seeing the 2006 Torino/Turin Games in person.  This week, my thoughts have turned to what they call  “the sliding sports”: luge, bobsled, and skeleton.  I caught a little bit of each of these in Torino, and if you think it’s awesome on TV, you should see the action on the IMG_0487track!  Of all of them, Skeleton would have to be my favorite.  For one thing, it is just hard-core: they are going head-first! down the track! on their stomachs!  Even more importantly, though, the athletes are really about the sport, the team, the camaraderie – in short, about the Olympic Spirit.

 

Italians cheer on their sliders at Cesana Pariol, Torino 2006

Italians cheer on their sliders at Cesana Pariol, Torino 2006

I have always wanted to try luge, and I was SO lucky to catch the men’s luge in Torino, and see Armin Zoeggeler, the hometown favorite, win gold at Cesana.  He was born, grew up, and lives just a “state” or two away, in Sudtirol (South Tyrol), a place that sounds a lot more German than Italian.  (Maybe someday I will write a post on the historical linguistics of the southern Alps, one of my favorite topics.)  Unfortunately, I lost all of my photos from the first week of the 2006 Games in a glitch of international technological incompatibility (i.e., the CD I burned in Italy didn’t work when I got home).  The videos of the crowds cheering were almost as wonderful as the race itself.  How amazing it would have been to see him win a sixth gold at age 40 in Sochi! Albert Demchenko, the Russian who won two silvers earlier this week also came in   second at the Torino Olympics – it’s great to see the same athletes stick around at the top of their sport for so long!  And of course everyone has been talking about the US women’s luge star Kate Hanson, and her free-spirited warmups!  Go luge!

I haven’t always wanted to compete in Skeleton, but only because it hasn’t been around for my whole life!  Men’s Skeleton was only introduced as an official Olympic sport in 2002, and Women didn’t compete in the sport until 2006.  When I saw the final (Heats 3 and 4) in February of ’06 at Cesana, that meant it was the first chance at a Gold medal that any of those

Bronze medalists in Women's Double Skeleton jump for joy onto the podium at Torino 2006

Bronze medalists in Women’s Double Skeleton jump for joy onto the podium at Torino 2006

women had ever had.  Every single one of them was clearly more excited about just having the opportunity to compete than about winning or losing. They were so supportive of each other, even when they didn’t speak the same language, that it was inspiring to see.  If you caught the televised preliminary heats tonight, you saw that they are still all about the sport and the Olympic spirit, though obviously there is a fire to win.  Team USA has two women in the top four, giving us an excellent chance to medal.  I can’t wait to check out the finals tomorrow!

After receiving their medals in 2006, the Gold-winning Women's Skeleton Team invited their competitors to share the top of the podium, in one of the most amazing displays of sportsmanship, or Olympic Spirit, I've ever seen!

After receiving their medals in 2006, the Gold-winning Women’s Skeleton Team invited their competitors to share the top of the podium, in one of the most amazing displays of sportsmanship, or Olympic Spirit, I’ve ever seen!

Having seen so much joy and spirit at that track at Cesana Pariol, I was sad to see that it was dismantled due to the high cost of maintenance.  Maybe if it weren’t such an expensive and obscure sports, little girls like me would have been able to give it a shot.

Olympic Perspectives… Eight Years Later

I really love the Winter Olympic Games – so much that I took two weeks off of work and travelled to Torino, Italy in 2006 to watch them.  It was a fantastic experience, and as the Sochi Olympics gear up this week, the memories are all coming back.

One thing that has struck me this time around is the intense criticism of Russia’s preparations for these games.  This shouldn’t be a surprise to me, yet it is.  Everything on the internet these days seems to be about finding fault with otherwise great items or experiences.  Individuals provide “comments” on everything from news stories, to parenting blogs, to book reviews in order to prove their closed-minded perspective and limited worldview.  Of course, most of us have never been to Russia, and as Americans we are uninterested in truly experiencing other cultures, preferring instead to compare their “barbarism” with our “civilization.”

What do you want Sochi to be?  Do you even know where it is?  Russia is and always has been very different from European countries, being mostly in Asia, and being cut off from both European and Asian civilizations by mountain ranges, deserts, and deep winters.  Sochi, though, is much closer to either Iran or Kazakhstan than it is to Moscow, let alone Paris.  The culture there, the values, the standards should be different from what you and I are used to.  Don’t forget that the Olympic Games are about two things: Athletic Competition, and International Unity.  Can we try to see those things that are unexpected as a means to understand one another, and our diverse perspectives on everything from food to social mores to toilets?  Yes, toilets, you know what I’m talking about.

A public toilet in Torino, Italy.  This is common in many parts of Europe and Asia.  It took a little getting used to, but I actually liked it better than our public toilets... no part of my bare body had to come in contact with a surface in there!  Of course, I am used to using the facilities of the great outdoors, so I might be more accustomed to squatting than some urban American women.

A public toilet in Torino, Italy. This is common in many parts of Europe and Asia. It took a little getting used to, but I actually liked it better than our public toilets… no part of my bare body had to come in contact with a surface in there! Of course, I am used to using the facilities of the great outdoors, so I might be more accustomed to squatting than some urban American women.

The intense competition for hosting the Olympics may be another cause of contention – it is easy to say “our city could have done a better job,” when you will never have to prove that you could have.  In Vancouver, the lack of snow was a major criticism, as was the distance of the mountain venues from the city.  There may have been just as much criticism of Torino, but I don’t really know.

Why wouldn’t I know that?  Well, for starters, I didn’t have Facebook then.  Neither did many of my friends, or many of the athletes for that matter.  News was not disseminated primarily by opinionated lay people on Twitter or blogs – you got it from trained professionals via TV or newspaper.  Of course, I was also in Italy, where they certainly weren’t criticizing themselves.  Or were they…?

In the interest of defending Sochi, here are a couple comparisons to the Torino venues.  I didn’t stay in a hotel, so I can’t comment on the quality of those, but I can say that the city was over five times its normal size for the duration of the 2006 Olympic Games.  Schools and non-essential businesses were closed because they didn’t want to tie up traffic with buses and commuters. The streets, shops, and restaurants were constantly thronged.

Athelte housing at the Olympic Village in the mountains, for the 2006 Torino Olympic Games.  They were certainly "finished" - and had been for several decades!  No flashy new accommodations there.

Athelte housing at the Olympic Village in the mountains, for the 2006 Torino Olympic Games. They were certainly “finished” – and had been for several decades! No flashy new accommodations there.

And if you want to talk about the venues…. more on those next time!