Tag Archive | skiing

(Y)Ahn

There was one more experience from the Torino Olympics that I wanted to share – the time that I saw Apolo Anton Ohno skate to a gold medal, complete with one of those weird moments of drama that seem to only happen in the Olympic Games.  However, life inserted a pause in my blogging, and in the meantime I came across a few references to some of the less traditional athletes in the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.  These are the ones who are competing for a country that they have only a tenuous relationship to, whether due to a relative’s birth status, timely marriage, or financial incentive.  The BBC did a fun job of summing them up for us here (along with a couple athletes who are competing with genuine passion for their home countries that also happen to lack facilities (i.e. snow) for winter sport training).

Among these, perhaps the weirdest is the Dominican cross-country ski team.  I say “perhaps” because a new strange fact could easily emerge about any of the others, but this couple seems to be winning so far… though they didn’t come anywhere near a podium, we are all still talking about them – and who here can name the actual gold medalist in that event (what event, even?)?

Gary di Silvestri and Angela Morone are US residents who skied for the small island nation nation of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) in Sochi.  When I say “skied” I mean “signed up to ski” – neither of them finished their races (only one even started).  Deadspin has a long and involved analysis of their citizenship, past exploits, and athletic prowess here.  Is this tale of scamming the system true?  I can’t know, but even if only the most basic details, available to every one of us, is factual, this husband and wife clearly don’t get what the Olympics is really about.

What are the Games about?  This afternoon I finally got around to listening to a podcast from the crew at Pop Culture Happy Hour wherein these critics had a go at the whole concept of watching sports.  They made some good observations, but I would say that they missed some of the most important points in the function of the Olympics.  Is the system corrupt, the event over-commercialized?  Do we spend too much time talking about the back story on the athletes versus showing the competition?  Yes, yes, and yes.  However, this is also the only time, every four years, that these high-level athletes get to show off their skills, and we get to watch this extreme athleticism.

Everyone wants to know the star of the football team, has opinions on their MLB team’s manager, lists their favorite basketball stars.  How many of you could have named a skier, luger, or skater one month ago?  These athletes work and train hard their entire lives.  They go through a rigorous competition season of local, regional, and international races, culminating in a World Cup circuit of some sort.  Every four years, they get a chance to compete in events that the whole world is watching, a place where one run, race, or performance will determine whether they get a big chunk of metal to hang around their necks.  They get to skate under the flag of their country, alongside their teammates who may have been rivals just weeks before.  In some ways, it may make no difference in their overall standings in their World Cup or equivalent – it is a huge celebration of athletics and sportsmanship that is a break from their usual routine.  On the other hand, they may have only one shot at the Olympic Games, and their performances there could make a huge difference in sponsorships and other income, which could in turn determine whether they are able to continue their athletic careers.  When folks make up an athletic past, buy a place on an Olympic team, and then fail to even try to complete a race, they not only mock those individuals who have worked incredibly hard to get there, but they take the spotlight away from them as well, perhaps at what could have been fifteen minutes of well-deserved fame.

Ahn Hyun-Soo, dejected, stands next to Apolo Anton Ohno after his gold medal win in Torino, Italy

Ahn Hyun-Soo, dejected, stands next to Apolo Anton Ohno after his gold medal win in Torino, Italy

Of course, some of the athletes are competing under flags other than their native ones, for completely different reasons.  One that was left out of the BBC’s list above, presumably because it has been so high-profile, is the case of Viktor Ahn, formerly known as Ahn Hyun-Soo.  This guy was the top medalist in both Torino and Vancouver, for South Korea. However, he was injured last season, and was unable to compete in events which served as qualifiers for the Korean Olympic team.  So, he decided to move to Russia, gain citizenship there, and compete as a Russian.  This is also known as defecting.  Some fans lowered their opinion of Ahn as a result, but that didn’t stop him from medaling in Sochi, too.  Personally, I got a little tired of hearing his story over and over.

I saw Ahn compete in Torino, saw him come in second to Apolo

On the starting line in Torino '06

On the starting line in Torino ’06

Anton Ohno in the men’s 500 meter, and lead South Korea’s relay team to gold.  There were 7 initial heats in the competition, followed by 4 quarterfinals, 2 semifinals, and 2 final runs (one for 1st through 5th place, and one for 6th and 7th).  The semifinals and finals took place the day I was there.  In addition, the Men’s 5000 meter relay was also competed that day.  The relay looks pretty confusing on television, or even at some points in person.  However, once you get a handle on what you’re looking at, it is a beautiful sight, and remarkable that more skaters don’t get injured!  What a great experience to see these races in person.  I keep meaning to go to one of our local Midwestern tracks (such as the Petit Center in Milwaukee) to watch some short-track speed skating.

Skaters give each other a push...

Skaters give each other a push…

... during the men's 5000m relay in the Torino Olympics

… during the men’s 5000m relay in the Torino Olympics

The Koreans were great, but the personality and athleticism of Ohno won the day for me.  Seeing his passion when he won the finals of the 500 m was amazing, and witnessing his emotion during the medal ceremony was something I will never forget.  I am not usually a particularly patriotic person, but I even got a little choked up as I watched our flag rise to the strains of the Star-Spangled Banner, in that packed stadium.

Drama... this guy thought he deserved to parade his South Korean flag around the stadium... but it turned out that he had been disqualified, so Ohno carried the US flag around, instead!

Drama… this guy thought he deserved to parade his South Korean flag around the stadium… but it turned out that he had been disqualified, so Ohno carried the US flag around, instead!

 

Apolo Anton Ohno after skating to victory in the Men's 500 m, Torino 2006

Apolo Anton Ohno after skating to victory in the Men’s 500 m, Torino 2006

Medal ceremony of the Men's 500 m short track event, Torino '06 Olympic Games

Medal ceremony of the Men’s 500 m short track event, Torino ’06 Olympic Games

 

 

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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.

Still Winter

It has been warm for the past few days, but today snow fell again, to remind us that winter hasn’t let go just yet.  I’m getting antsy for spring to begin, but in the meantime I’ll continue to showcase the joys of the winter wonderland we live in, here in the frozen North.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a morning to go cross-country skiing on a trail system I’d never visited before, in Niagara, WI.  Afterwards, I headed across the river to Michigan to hike the trail in to Piers Gorge, and check out some more frozen waterfalls.  I thought I’d share some of the experiences of that day.

IMG_0056The trails in Riverside Park feature 17 winding km of groomed classic skiing.  Despite living only 20 miles away, I hadn’t even known that this trail netweek existed, until I went onto SkinnySki to look for some new adventures.  I highly recommend that site for information about trails near home or in unfamiliar locations, at least in the upper Midwest.  The trails lead through some pretty scenery, from IMG_0053recent aspen clear-cuts and red pine plantations, to fields, spruce swamps, marshes, and riverfront.  There are some hills, but most of the terrain is flat (in the Menominee River floodplain), or rolling at best.  Despite being just outside of town, it feels like skiing in more remote parts of the Northwoods (which I’ll get to in later posts).  My only criticism is that it could use some maps.  There are a lot of loops, most of which eventually connect up at some point, but it would have been nicer to have been able to plan the journey better.

A view of the frozen Menominee River from a spur of the Riverside Trails in Niagara, WI

A view of the frozen Menominee River from a spur of the Riverside Trails in Niagara, WI

 

IMG_0074Though tired from skiing, I wanted to see how some of the more turbulent portions of the river were looking in frozen condition.  I crossed over into Norway, MI, and hiked up the snowy trail to Piers Gorge.  It is beautiful in any season, and this was no exception.  It’s hard to capture the intricacies of the ice buildup without more sunlight to provide contract… which should be an excuse for you to come and visit it yourself sometime!IMG_0078

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