Monday, February 24, 2014

Closing Ceremony of the Sochi Olympics

Day 16 is last day and the Closing Ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, 23 Feb 14 Sunday:

It is the final day of competition at the Sochi Olympics.  And the last day proved glorious for the host nation and some of the very last athletes to compete on this final day.

In four man bobsled, Alexey Negodaylo, Dmitry Trunekov, Alexey Voevoda and Alexander Zubkov deliver Russia the gold.  And they did it by maintaining an impressive lead over the other sled teams.  This is Alexander Zubkov's second gold of the games, having won the two man bobsled earlier with Alexey Voevoda.  They also won medals from Torino 2006, a silver in 4 man bobsled, and Vancouver 2010, a bronze in 2 man bobsled. 

Latvia's Oskars Melbārdis, Arvis Vilkaste, Daumants Dreiškens, and Jānis Strenga slide to silver. 

The US make the podium to earn bronze, with Steven Holcomb (bronze in 2 man bobsled in Sochi, gold in 4 man bobsled at Vancouver 2010),  Steven Langton (bronze in 2 man bobsled in Sochi), Curtis Tomasevicz (gold in 4 man bobsled at Vancouver 2010), Christopher Fogt (US veteran who competed at Vancouver 2010 in the second US sled and was deployed to Iraq right after the end of Vancouver 2010).

In the men's hockey gold medal game, the Canadians successfully defend their Vancouver 2010 title, beating Sweden 3-0.  Sweden settles for silver.

Of all the games the host nation was hoping to medal in, hockey was the one they had high hopes for.  But there is controversy over the International Olympics Committee mishandling and amateurish, possibly politically motivated actions that forced Sweden's forward Nicklas Backstrom to sit out the gold medal clash against Canada for a doping offense.  Except it wasn't a doping offense. 

It was the stimulant pseudoephedrine, which showed up in elevated levels in Backstrom's tests, because he was taking the over the counter sinus med Zyrtec D for his sinuses.  It is an allergy med he has taken over the years for his sinus condition and he did inform the drug testing officials that he was taking it, so they were aware of it.  Even Sweden's team doctor had given the okay for Backstrom to take the sinus med.  What makes the IOC's decision to keep Backstrom out of the gold medal final so suspicious was that they had the results two days prior, yet waited just 2 hours before the final to reveal their findings, making it impossible for Sweden to appeal and clear Backstrom. 

A similar case occurred in Vancouver 2010 when a player also took the over the counter sinus med and showed an elevated level of pseudoephedrine.  The International Ice Hockey Foundation was able to get the IOC to retest the player the next day to show the levels had gone down to the acceptable range once more.  That player was allowed to play in his matches.  The IOC's serious mishandling of Backstrom's case is very offensive and suspicious to Sweden, with the International Ice Hockey Foundation and the National Hockey League coming out to support Backstrom, declaring he had done nothing wrong, and criticizing the IOC for their very questionable and offensive actions in a game where Backstrom could've made a difference.  There are all ready threats from the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association to stop participating in the Olympics due to the IOC's poor mishandling and incompetence in handling the case. 

I hope the IOC gets their act together, because on the world stage, their incompetence and mishandling of this case not only makes them look stupid and hurts the players and fans, it also makes them look suspicious and probably corrupt in eyes of the hockey world.  Don't hold on to possible positive test results for two days, then reveal them only two hours before a gold medal game, causing a team to lose a good player, jeopardizing their chances to get gold.  Get your crap together, IOC!

Finally, in the last outdoor event of the games, Russia sweeps the men's 50km mass start cross country skiing race for the first time.  Alexander Legkov. who won silver in the 4x10km relay, was the first Russian out of 3 in the lead group coming into the stadium to cross the finish line first.  Maxim Vylegzhanin takes the silver, adding to the two he won in the 4x10km relay and team sprint.  And Ilia Chernousov holds off Norway's Martin Johnsrud Sundby for the bronze.
And with this medal sweep, Russia wins the medal table for most medal and most gold medals.  It is a glorious finish for the host country.  It may not be the hockey gold they wanted, but it's still an impressive win.

And so we come to the Closing Ceremony:

Let's give it up for the Russians, who followed Canada's lead in how to handle Opening Ceremony glitches with humor.  If you recall, during the Sochi Opening Ceremony, there was a glitch in the Olympics Rings light show, when one of the rings failed to open.  The Russians embraced that mistake and repeated it in the fantastic Closing Ceremony floor show, where one group of dancers imitated the glitch, then successfully complete the rings.

My favorite performers where the birds flying over the ocean:
A flock of seagulls:  And  I ran, I ran so far away!

I've always wondered what happens to tinsel after the holidays:
Shiny Happy People

This being Russia, of course they would showcase ballet:
Hey, baby; want to go on a magic carpet ride?
The ballet was okay.  But I much prefer the circus:
Where do I apply to be her assistant?

And the fireworks.  I love the fireworks:


I think it's quite appropriate that Sochi's cauldron looks like a penis on fire.  It's very symbolic of how Russia is like a penis with herpes, trying hard to be prominent and noticeable, while its track record of suppressing dissension and minorities is a painful reminder that all is not well.  And while everything looks fine and seems to work on the surface, the occasional flare up and painful eruptions that breaks to the surface is a warning to always be cautious and safe when dealing with Russia.

The Olympics flag has been passed on to South Korea for the next winter Olympics at PyeongChang 2018.  In two years, the summer Olympics will be held for the first time in South America at Rio de Janeiro 2016.  And I can't wait to see what incredible feats the Olympic athletes will accomplish and I look forward to seeing what Rio does to welcome the world and show us what Brazil is all about.

There were fears about safety and concerns over whether Sochi would be ready and how to keep the games safe.  I say, well done, Sochi!  Thank you to all the thousands of volunteers, staff, and organizers who worked very hard to prepare the games and maintain the venues to put on a spectacular winter Olympics.  Thank you athletes, for your hard work and for being ambassadors of your countries on the world stage.  Thank you to all the armed forces and law enforcement for protecting the athletes and fans and keeping the city safe.  You welcomed the world to your home, and we are very thankful for a great Olympics experience. 

Bol'shoe spasibo (Большое спасибо); Thank you very much, Sochi!.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Day 15 of the Sochi Olympics

Day 15 of the Sochi Olympics, 22Feb14 Sat:

The Olympics is winding down, but the excitement continues on Day 15.

It is a good day for host country Russia.

It was a spectacular competition over at men's biathlon 4x7.5km relay.  Norway was heavily favored to win the gold and defend their Vancouver 2010 title.  With Tarjei Bø (Vancouver 2010 4x7.5km relay champion) and his younger brother, Johannes Thingnes Bø, with winter Olympics legend and king of the biathlon Ole Einar Bjørndalen (winner of the most winter Olympics medals with 13 medals, 2 golds at Sochi in 10km sprint & mixed relay), and Emil Hegle Svendsen (winner of 5 winter Olympics biathlon medals, 2 golds at Sochi in mass start & mixed relay), the Norwegians looked unbeatable in the contest for gold.  And by the time Ole Einar Bjørndalen handed the final leg of the race to Emil Hegle Svendsen, the Norwegians had a huge lead in the field.  But at the last round of shooting, Svendsen misses 3 at the shooting range, and he has to do a penalty loop, opening the door wide open for Germany, Russia, and Austria to surge ahead!

Germany takes the lead!  Russia follows with Austria on its heels.  And in the final kilometer of the race, in front of the cheering home crowd, Russia's Anton Shipulin kicks it up in high gear and outsprints Germany's Simon Schempp for gold! 

Russia's team of Alexey Volkov, Evgeny Ustyugov (Vancouver 2010 gold in mass start and bronze in 4x7.5km relay), Dmitry Malyshko, and Anton Shipulin (Vancouver 2010 bronze in 4x7.5km relay)  deliver Russia's only gold in biathlon.  Germany's Erik Lesser (silver in individual at Sochi), Daniel Böhm, Arnd Peiffer, and Simon Schempp win silver.  Austria holds on with Vancouver silver medalists Christoph Sumann, Daniel Mesotitsch, Simon Eder, and Dominik Landertinger (silver 10km sprint Sochi) claiming the bronze.  Such a disappointment for the Norwegians to finish off the podium in 4th.

It should be noted that Anton Shipulin's older sister is Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia, who won gold in women's 7.5km sprint, defending her Vancouver 2010 gold in the same event (becoming the first female biathlete to successfully defend an Olympics title) and earned a silver in Vancouver 2010 in the pursuit. 

Gold medalists Anastasiya Kuzmina & younger brother Anton Shipulin
Anastasiya is married to her coach, former Israeli cross country skier Daniel Kuzmin, and they have a son and live in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia.  Back in 2008, the Russian team would not let Kuzmina take her child with her to the training camps.  So, Kuzmina, wanting to be close to her husband and child, and still compete, decided to take on a Slovakian passport through the marriage with her husband and compete for Slovakia.  The Russian team shot themselves in the foot with their poor decision not to accommodate her and I bet they regret it now.  With their incredible endurance, speed, and spectacular shooting, the Shipulin Kuzmin clan is definitely one of the most talented (and deadly accurate) families on skis!

Vic Wild, American expat, delivers Russia another gold, this time in men's parallel slalom, after winning the parallel giant slalom earlier in the week.  Zan Kosir of Slovenia takes silver, adding to his bronze in the parallel giant slalom, joins Vic Wild as the only 2 athletes to win more than one medal at a single Olympics in snowboarding.  Benjamin Karl of Austria wins the bronze over Aaron March of Italy.  With Vic Wild's win, Russia leaps to the top of the medal table.

On the women's side of the parallel giant slalom, Julia Dujmovits of Austria comes from a 0.72 seconds deficit and overtakes Anke Karstens of Germany by 0.12 seconds to take the first Olympics gold awarded in the event.  Karstens settles for silver; and fellow countrywoman, Amelie Kober beats Corinna Boccacini of Italy for bronze.

The Norwegians can celebrate an incredible women's cross country 30km freestyle skiing race.  Norway sweeps the podium for the first time!  Marit Bjoergen, Therese Johaug and Kristin Stoermer Steira all earned the gold, silver, and bronze respectively.  Bjoergen was able to pull away from Johaug and out-sprinted her to the finish; Steira couldn't hold on the top two as they climbed the final hill, but she held on to fight her way to finish 3rd.  This makes it Bjoergen's 10th overall Olympics medal!

Over in the mountains at men's slalom, it's a one two finish for Austria, as Mario Matt put in an incredible two runs to take gold.  Marcel Hirscher comes from a 9th place 1st run to a spectacular second run to earn him the silver.  In his second run, Henrik Kristoffersen of Norway moved up from 15th places to claim the bronze.  The podium finishers were able to survive a tough second run, after weather conditions wreaked havoc on the course, causing the first run leaders to tumble in their second run.

Back indoors, Finland crushes the US in men's hockey bronze match.  Just 11 seconds into the second period, Teemu Selanne and Jussi Jokinen scored two goals to take the wind out of the American sails. 
The US men fall apart as the Finns put in a rousing performance, scoring three more goals in the final third period, winning bronze 5-0 over the US.  The Finns played an aggressive and fast game, able to whittle at the Americans defenses and capitalize on the Americans missed opportunities.  It was an impressive effort from the fighting Finns and quite a disappointment for the Americans, who couldn't match the intensity the Finns dealt out to take a medal home.

The Dutch dominate again in speed skating.  In the women's speed skating pursuit, the Orange crush sets an Olympic record time of 2:58.05; Ireen Wust, Marrit Leenstra, and Jorien Ter Mors with Lotte van Beek (who helped the team qualify for the final) deliver the Netherlands its first ever gold in this event.  Poland's Katarzyna Bachleda-Curuś, Natalia Czerwonka, Luiza Złotkowska, and Katarzyna Woźniak take silver; and Russia's Olga Graf, Yekaterina Lobysheva, Yekaterina Shikhova, and Yuliya Skokova add bronze to the home country's medal haul.

On the men's side, the Dutch dominate again. And matching their female teammates, the men deliver the Netherland's first gold in the event and also set an Olympics record.  Jan Blokhuijsen, Sven Kramer, and Koen Verweij set a new record of 3:37.71.  South Korea's Joo Hyong-jun, Kim Cheol-min, and Lee Seung-hoon take silver.  And Poland's Zbigniew Bródka,
Konrad Niedźwiedzki, and Jan Szymański take bronze.

Sunday is the last the day of competition and the Closing Ceremony.  The only events left are the gold medal men's hockey game, men's 50km cross country free style skiing, and the four man bobsled.  I'll post about these events as soon it's tape delayed broadcast is done tonight.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Day 14 of the Sochi Olympics

Day 14 of the Sochi Olympics, 21Feb14 Fri:

It was another spectacular day of exciting competition on Day 14 of the Sochi Olympics:

First off, what a spectacular semifinal match between Canada and the US in men's hockey.  It may not have been a gold medal match, but it sure felt like it with the way the two rival teams fought each other.  Speed, power, physical, aggressive, it was quite an explosive match between the powerhouses.  Scoreless and evenly matched in the first period, Canada would score a goal in the second period, then fiercely hold on to that one goal lead through the final third period, winning the match 1-0 and move on to the gold medal final against Sweden.  The US has to face Finland and battle for consolation bronze.

And good news continues for Canada:

In the unpredictable, chaotic, high flying, crash prone sport of freestyle skicross, the Canadian women survived the hectic elimination qualifying runs for Marielle Thompson to edge out teammate Kelsey Serwa, to take gold and silver respectively.  Sweden's Anna Holmlund won the bronze.  With this gold win, Canada now has sets a record of 4 golds in freestyle skiing at a single winter Olympics--women's freestyle skicross, women's ski slopestyle, and men's and women's moguls.  Add the two silvers from the men's and the women's moguls, the bronze in women's ski slopestyle, the silver in men's ski halfpipe, and silver in women's skicross, it makes a record 9 medals for Canada in a single discipline, becoming the powerhouse in the freestyle skiing discipline.

The good news continues for Canada as the Canadian men successfully defend their Vancouver 2010 title and take their third consecutive Olympics gold in curling.  The Brits take silver, and Sweden overcomes China to take bronze.

In women's slalom, 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin puts up 2 fantastic runs to win the gold, beating out Marlies Schild of Austria, who finishes in silver.  Another Austrian, Kathrin Zettel, takes the bronze.  Shiffrin delivers the US the second gold alpine medal at these Olympics, after Ted Ligety won earlier in men's giant slalom.

Inside at the fast and chaotic world of short track speed skating, Victor An, former South Korean Olympics champion, delivers his adopted country Russia another gold medal in the men's 500m.  And he did it by proving why he was still a powerful competitor after all these years of racing.  The race started with An in 3rd, but he planned his move and in the last lap of the race, found the gaps, avoided a crash, and made his move and took the lead, beating out Daijing Wu of China.

China gets silver and Charle Cournoyer of Canada takes bronze.

Meanwhile in the women's 1000m, South Korea's Seung-Hi Park took the lead and held it all the way to gold.  China's Kexin Fan comes from 4th to overtakes American Jessica Smith and Suk-Hee Shim of South Korea for silver.  Suk-Hee Shim takes bronze.

It looked like a disappointing shutout for the Americans in short track speed skating this Olympics, but the American men finally break through and win the silver in men's 5000m relay, with Eddy Alvarez, J.R. Celski, Chris Creveling and Jordan Malone.  With gold medal favorites South Korea and Canada out of the semifinals, the strongest team was Russia, led by Victor An, and consisting of Semion Elistratov, Vladimir Grigorev, and Ruslan Zakharov.  Right from the first lap, China and Netherlands crashed, leaving the race for gold between Russian and the US.  And the US knew it could not keep up with An, so they knew they had to skate their fastest and cleanest to hold on to silver.  China recovers for the bronze.

It has to be a strange feeling for An, 28, to win all these medals for Russia (2 individual golds-500m & 1000m, relay gold, a bronze-1500m) and see his former countrymen, South Korea, leaving Sochi with no medals in short track speed skating on the men's side.  No doubt, there is all ready controversy in South Korea about An's accomplishments here vs the failure of the South Korean men's team.  Victor An held a press conference, where the shy speed skater tried to clear the air.  After winning golds in Torino 2006, he went on to win numerous times on the world circuit until he was injured and took time off to recover.  By the time he was fit for competition, he was passed over for Vancouver 2010, as the South Korean federation believed they had better skaters.  The South Korean speed skating organization favored splitting up their teams to train under separate coaches, leading to a lot of fierce competition and infighting, creating animosity and a very contentious atmosphere, that caused An to feel uncomfortable and consider quitting.  After Vancouver 2010, An's short track speed skating club was disbanded, and all the other teams were full, no one wanted to give An a place among them.  But still feeling he had more in him to compete at the Olympics and in pursuit of that dream, An took up Russia's offer and became a Russian citizen to compete for Russia.  Since South Korea doesn't allow dual citizenship, he made the difficult choice to give up his South Korean citizenship.

Since then, the normally shy skater had to bear the media frenzy over his choice.  But at the press conference, he made no disparaging remarks towards South Korea's male team, out of respect to them.  This is the worst performance of South Korea's men's speed skating team ever at the Olympics, leaving the Olympics with no medals on their side; the women doing much better.  There is no doubt that Victor An has elevated the sport of short track speed skating in Russia, with tickets sold for the first time just for practice event and live television carried the sport for the first time.  Russia has embraced its newest hero and adopted son, as the crowds cheered and chanted for Victor An, even louder than they did for Adelina Sotnikova when she won Russia's first gold in women's figure skating in the same building just the night before.

I am happy for Victor An, who made a difficult choice to leave his homeland and find a new place that would allow him to follow his dreams.  I wonder though, if he will continue to race, with the next winter games at PyeongChang, in South Korea 2018.  I hope to see him there, but I wonder how the South Koreans will treat him.  I would hope they would welcome him home and respect his choice to find a way to achieve his dream and follow his heart.  It's never easy to leave one's home but it's even harder to leave one's dreams.  And I congratulate An for overcoming so many challenges in order to achieve his Olympics dream.  He is truly one the best short track speed skaters to ever come out of the sport.

The most emotional win today belonged to the Ukrainian women who skied and shot their way to the top in the biathlon 4x6km relay.  Olena Pidhrushna crossed the finish line first to allow her country to claim the top podium spot.  Twin sisters Valj and Vita Semerenko, and Juliya Dzhyma completed the Ukrainian team, who out skied Russia to take the gold.  The winning credit belongs to Juliya Dzhyma, who started the 2nd leg of the race with a 6.7 second deficit, that grew to 15.8 seconds; but by the time she finished her leg, she had given the Ukraine the lead, a lead they would hold on to finish on top! 

Russia's Yana Romanova and Olga Zaitseva had the lead through the first and second legs; but Ekaterina Shumilova third leg wasn't so smooth, putting Russia back in third, before Olga Vilukhina put in a great effort to secure Russia the silver.  Norway's  Fanny Welle-Strand Horn started the first leg, and it was Tiril Eckhoff who put in a great effort and worked up from eighth to third in the second leg; Ann Kristin Aafedt Flatland maintained that spot, and then Tora Berger finished to secure the bronze.

This was Ukraine's first ever gold at Sochi, a second medal after Vita Semerenko took bronze in the women's sprint earlier.  It came at a time when Ukraine is aflame with rioting and the deaths of anti-government protesters at the hands of the government.  More than half of the Ukrainian delegation has returned home to support the protesters.  Those that remained behind hoped for peace.  And as the Ukrainian women won gold, their celebration was tempered with thoughts of the people back home, struggling for peace and standing up for a better Ukraine.  They remembered those who've lost their lives and held a minute of silence during the press conference, to honor the memory of those who were lost in the struggle.  It's hard enough to win an Olympics medal, let alone a gold medal, but it must be so much harder to do it when your home is aflame with rioting and death.  I congratulate the Ukrainian women on their win and I offer them my sincerest hope that the turmoil and suffering back home comes to a peaceful end soon.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Day 13 of the Sochi Olympics

Day 13 of the Sochi Olympics, 20 Feb 2014 Thursday:

What a dramatic and explosive Day 13 of the Sochi Olympics!

Without a doubt, the most exciting and thrilling event was the women's hockey game for gold between the US and Canada.  The US had made it all the way to the final third period, leading 0-2 and looked solid for the win.  But this is the Olympics.  You don't count your chickens until they hatch,  And with only 4 minutes left in the game, Canada pulls off an amazing 2 goals to tie the game!  And for the first time in Olympics history, the women's gold medal hockey game goes into overtime!  Then six minutes into overtime, Canada pulls off a stunning goal, winning the gold medal and successfully defend their Vancouver 2010 title!

What a spectacular comeback for the Canadians, who fought to the very last few minutes of the game to be able to turn a certain defeat into a magnificent comeback to gold.  Heartbreak for the US women as they once again come second to Canada, who's won the event in 4 straight Olympics now.

Meanwhile in the women's bronze medal match, Switzerland comes from a 0-2 deficit to tie the score in the 3rd period against Sweden.  Then the Swiss would get an intercept and score a third goal, followed by an empty net goal to take the lead 4-2.  But Sweden scores one last goal in the final minute, to close the gap and end the game at 4:3.  It is Switzerland's first medal in women's hockey.

The drama continues over in Women's Figure Skating, where 17 year old Adelina Sotnikova delivers an energetic and passionate performance in front of the home crowd to win Russia's first ever gold in the event.  Defending Vancouver 2010 champion Kim Yuna of South Korea was awarded the silver after a serene and beautiful performance.  And Italy wins its first ever medal in the women's figure skating with Carolina Kostner taking the bronze.  It is a wonderful bronze and end to the career of Kostner, a world champion who's competed unsuccessfully in the Olympics since Torino 2006, to Vancouver 2010, and finally, make it on the podium at Sochi 2012.  Caroline skated a fluid and fast program and executed 7 jumps perfectly.  Of course, this being ladies figure skating, there is controversy as to whether or not the right person won the gold.

My personal thoughts are that Kim Yuna was significantly underscored in the short program.  She performed the best--graceful, exquisite, and more importantly, flawless--no mistakes.  She was also once again underscored in the free skate.  She had no mistakes.  Adelina Sotnikova, however, wasn't as flawless in her short program, and she stepped out of a landing in her jumps in the free skate.  But the judges were very generous and awarded her a higher score.  It could be because more than half the judging panel were former Russian block countries--Estonia, Russia, Ukraine, Slovaki; no American or South Korean judge; and Alla Shekhovtseva, the Russian judge, is the wife of the Russian skating federation president, Valentin Piseev.  But most disturbing of all, is that the Ukrainian judge, Yuri Balkov, was the same judge who was suspended for the score fixing at Nagano 1998!  Yet, somehow, the ISU let him come back and start judging again at Salt Lake 2002!  The same Salt Lake 2002 where the infamous skating scandal in pairs figure skating occurred.

If you recall,  the French judge revealed she was pressured to score the Russians higher, after an investigation into why the Russian pair, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze made a serious technical error and stumbled in their program, somehow scored way higher than the Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier who skated a flawless program!  As a result, the Canadians were upgraded to gold; the Russians were allowed, embarrassingly enough, to keep their gold; and the ISU tossed out the old judging system and created the current one.  The goal of the current system is to balance the technical (difficult elements, like jumps and spins) with the artistic elements (skating skills and choreography), to balance out the athletic and artistry in figure skating, as well as keep the judges individual scoring secret from the public to prevent undue pressure on the judges.

Right now, the International Olympics Committee is downplaying any scoring fixes at Sochi.  But when the 9 member judging panel in the final program are made up of 4 Russian block countries (including the wife of the Russian skating federation president and the cheating Ukrainian judge from Nagano 1998), with no American or South Korean judge, there are bound to be serious questions and conflicts of interest.  It doesn't matter if  ISU believes that these judges would act impartially, it looks very questionable and very sketchy to see that kind of lopsided congregation of judges from countries that share historical and cultural ties and are known to have been involved in score fixing scandals.  You don't put foxes in a hen house and expect no one to raise an eyebrow.  If you want to avoid controversy and integrity inquisitions, then don't put together a judging panel that looks suspicious!  Make an effort to at least appear fair and balanced in the judging panel.

Adelina Sotnikova does deserve recognition for her lively performance, especially given that she is a great skater in her own right.  She did have 7 jumps compared to Kim's 6, but execution wise, Kim's were perfectly executed.  Looking at the final standings off the podium, it doesn't seem fair to see skaters who fell somehow stand higher than the skaters who didn't fall.  Seriously, it doesn't look right to see someone who falls somehow score higher.  But the argument is, if they managed to incorporate and execute more difficult (higher scoring) elements in their program, then they should be rewarded.  A fall is a fall, and I think there should be a bigger penalty for falling, because when you fall, you basically failed your element.

As a sport where the judging is subjective, there will always be controversy in ladies figure skating, especially since there is no accountability in judging, with the individual scoring by judges now kept secret, because the International Skating Union believes it protects the judges from undue pressure from the public or countries to vote a certain way.  Yeah, right.  I find that hard to believe, especially since certain judges who were caught in score fixing scandals, are now back to judging!  The new scoring system needs to be retooled to balance out the judging panel.  I say, at least in the old system, when you see an American judge give a low score to an East German skater or a Russian judge give a low score to an American one, you know it's because the skater just landed her jumps on the wrong side of the iron curtain.

Getting off my soapbox, let's get back to the skating.  As wonderful and talented the top 3 finishers were, for me, the most beautiful and magnificent performance belonged to Mao Asada of Japan.  The Vancouver 2010 silver medalist, former world champion, the only woman to successfully land the difficult triple axle in the Olympics, came to these games as her last farewell performance and make one final run for the gold.  Alas, in a shocking short program on Wednesday, she suffered a devastating fall that took her out of medal contention and down to 16th!  It was a stunning disaster for a skater so revered and admired for her grace and talent. 

As horrible as it was to witness Mao Asada take that terrible tumble, it really pissed me off to hear the chairman of Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, criticized Mao and attacking her when she is at her lowest.  That woman is a two time world champion and Olympics silver medalist! She has performed gracefully under so much pressure over so many years, her mother passed away in 2011 and though she pulled out of Grand Prix Finale to rush home, her mother had passed while Mao was still on the plane on her way there.  The fact that she hasn't had a mental breakdown from the intense scrutiny the Japanese media heap upon her at such a young age is a testament to her courage and her grace.  I'd like to see Yoshiro Mori's raggedly, rude, non talented ass try to squeeze in a sequined tutu and do a triple axle jump in front of the world audience on the Olympics stage!  Stick to politics with the rest of the windbags and leave figure skating to the professionals you pompous, classless, jack ass!  And if you think attacking your own athletes is the way to get the Olympics in Tokyo 2020, think again!  The Olympics is about a celebration of athletes and the human spirit's ability to be better and rise up to overcome the challenges; it's not the time to attack people when they are at their lowest!  Mao doesn't need you or your stupidity to define her career.  Her amazing body of work is a testament to the amazing legacy she created, a legacy of beauty, strength, and talent.  So suck it, you bastard!

But enough of my rant, back to Mao.  Mao Asada's free skate was the most exquisite and ethereal of the night.  She landed that triple axle and became the first woman to successfully do so at two Olympics.  It was a very moving and marvelous performance, and, if it is her final performance, a wonderful and magical way to say goodbye.  I hold out hope that Mao will be around and hopefully compete at PyeongChang 2018, South Korea.  I also hope that since it's in South Korea, it might be enough to lure Kim Yuna, who has all ready said Sochi was to be her final performance also, comes out to compete on her home turf in PyeongChang 2018.  I will miss Carolina Kostner, who stated she does end her long career here.  There's something about the way these three women skate that cannot be taught or replicated by new skaters.  The grace and joy these women exude is a trait that is acquired and blossoms from years skating and maturity, from being on the ice for so long, just for the pure love of the sport.  I wish them all well.

Back to the other exciting events that occurred Thursday:

The Canadian women are golden today.  In addition to hockey, the women also avenged their Vancouver 2010 loss by beating out Sweden for gold in curling.  Defending Vancouver 2010 champions Sweden settle for gold.  And Great Britain comes from behind and overcomes a two point deficit to beat out Switzerland and earn the bronze, making it the third medal the Brits have won at Sochi.  With men's curling today, Friday 21 Feb 2014, the Brits are guaranteed one more medal in the games as the men face Canada for the gold.

In the debut of women's freestyle skiing halfpipe, the women ski up and down the sides of a halfpipe to make high jumps and twists and turns to score points.  Best of two runs wins.  American Maddie Bowman put on a stellar show in two amazing runs to land the first ever gold in the event.  Her first run put her in 1st with 85.80; the second explosive run earned her a  89.00. Marie Martinod of France also put in two fantastic runs and soared to silver, with a 84.80, and a 85.80.  Ayana Onozuka of Japan took the bronze medal.

Over in the exciting Nordic combined large hill 4x5km country team event, teams of 4 people compete.  First, they all jump the large hill; then their combined scores determine the start order for the second part, the 4x5km cross country relay; each skier races the distance of 5km in the relay race.  The winner  the is team who's final skier is the first to cross the finish line.  And it was a glorious battle! 

The Norwegians had taken the 1st and 2st place in the individual nordic combined large hill events earlier in the week on Tuesday.   Joergen Graabak won gold in the large hill 10-kilometer race, Magnus Hovdal Moan took silver behind Graabak. Magnus Krog won the bronze in the normal hill 10-kilometer event.  Haavard Klemetsen was the 4th member of the team.

The Germans had Eric Frenzel, who won the gold medal in the normal hill 10-kilometer race, and Fabian Riessle, who took bronze in the large hill 10-kilometer.  Bjoern Kircheisen was 4th in the large hill 10-kilometer race and Johannes Rydzek was the fourth team member.

Defending Vancouver 2010 champions Austria had Christoph Bieler, Bernhard Gruber, Lukas Klapfer, and Mario Stecher on their team.

After the ski jump, the Germans were the only team to jump over an incredible 125m, earning them a 7 second lead over Austria and a huge 25 second lead over Norway.  Germany's Eric Frenzel was the lead skier, followed on his heels by Lukas Klapfer of Austria; but it was Norway's Magnus Moan who made up the 25 seconds deficit and caught up with Frenzel and Klapfer at the end of the first leg.  And Germany, Austria, and Norway would stay the lead pack all through the race.  But in the final 100m, Norway's Graabak kicked it into high gear and outsprinted German rival Fabian Riessle to a photo finish, winning the Norwegian team gold by 0.03 seconds (47:13.5)!
Germany settles for silver (47:13.8), and Austria's Mario Stecher followed 3.4 seconds behind to claim bronze(47:16.9). 

Finally, in men's skicross, how do you say 1, 2, 3 in French?

It was an exciting race where the skiers thrash and crash as they sped and jumped down the curves and hills of the winding course.  Jean Frederic Chapuis led a French sweep in Olympics skicross, taking gold while Arnaud Bovolenta, the silver, and Jonathan Midol, the bronze. A fourth finalist, Canada's Brady Lehman, briefly moved into the third position but wiped out two-thirds of the way down the mountain.

In more serious news, Bogdana Matsotska of the Ukraine withdrew from the women's slalom in response to the death of anti-government protesters.  She said, "I don’t want to participate when in my country people die," and wants to leave immediately to join the protesters camp known as Maidan in Kiev's Independence Square.  Fighting for an Olympics medal is a great and honorable pursuit.  Fighting for freedom, even more so.  Sometimes, it's more important to stand up for freedom than it is to stand up on a podium.  Whatever happens, I wish her and the protesters well, and I hope no more people die in the government violence. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Day 12 of the Sochi Olympics

Day 12 of the Sochi Olympics, 19 Feb 2014 Wed:

It was another spectacular day on Day 12 of the Sochi Olympics.  There were so many thrills and spills that punctuated the stellar rise and agonizing fall of the athletes who fought today for Olympics glory.

First up, the bad news for the host nation, Russia.  In men's hockey, Russia's hope of ending a 22 year gold medal drought came to a crushing halt by the formidable Finland in the quarterfinals.  Early in the first of 3 periods, Russia scored a goal and led the game 0-1.  But then the Finns rallied and attacked, coming from behind and scoring 3 goals!  Then the Finns held off the Russians for the last 2 periods, ending the game with a victory of 3-1!  It is a crushing blow to the hopes of the host nation, as this was the sport they had hoped to win the gold.  And they were considered a top contender.  But the truth is, Finland has always done better than Russia in international competitions.  Part of the reason is that while both teams are stacked with professional players in the American National Hockey League, the Finns train and play together as a team, while the Russian stars do not play as a team, rather, just a collection of stars.  The Finns move on to battle top seeded Sweden in the semifinals.  The Nordic countries are set to play each other on Friday, 21 Feb 2014.  The winner will advance to the final to fight for gold.

Meanwhile, Canada survived a scary encounter with Cinderella story Latvia in their quarterfinal match.  Latvia was not expected to make it this far, but the tiny nation's team pulled off a stunning win against Switzerland on Tuesday.  With no break, the Latvians faced defending Vancouver 2010 gold medalists powerhouse Canada, and managed to come from a 1-0 Canada lead and score a goal to tie Canada 1-1 in the first period!  The Latvians incredibly hold off the Canadians through the second period, and keep fighting through the third period, right up until the Canadians manged to score in the last 7 minutes of the game in power play.  The Canadians sigh relief and the Latvians come away with pride and admiration for the amazing fight they put up against Canada.  Canada moves on to the semifinals on Friday to fight the US, who won over Czech Republic 5-2 in their quarterfinal match.  The Friday semis are looking to be very exciting as both teams are the heavy favorites for gold.

Moving on to the other sports that were contested today:

Oh, what a stunning race in the men's cross country team sprints.  Of all the winter games events, the cross country sprints are the hardest and most demanding!  Why?  In the team sprints, the teams are made up of two skiers; the first skier does one lap around the course, then he taps the second skier to run his lap; and they continue doing this until they both have done it 3 times, for a full 6 laps for both skiers.  And each course is 1.4 kilometers for women and 1.6 kilometers for men.  That means each skier has to ski that distance 3 times!  The first one across the finish line wins.  What makes the sport incredibly difficult is that the skiers have a qualifying semifinal in which the top 5 teams advance; then after only a 30 minute break, they race the final.  That's crazy!  That means the teams have to balance out speed and endurance, try to make it in the final by finishing in the top 5, at the same time, hope they have saved enough energy to race the final in half an hour!

Think about this:  At the summer Olympics, 800m track sprinters race to qualify for a spot in the finals; then they take a day off to rest and race the finals the next day.  Or think of 4x100m medley relay in swimming, consisting of 4 swimmers, 1 does the backstroke, 1 does the breaststroke, 1 does the butterfly, and last 1 does the freestyle/front crawl.  Now imagine the first swimmer just got done with the 1st leg doing the backstroke, now gets out of the pool and cheers as the second swimmer does the breaststroke; but guess what, when that second swimmer comes back, the first swimmer has to jump back in the pool and do the butterfly, and when he comes back, the second swimmer has to finish with the front crawl.  That's the craziness that is cross country team sprints!  The two skiers have to ski fast enough in the semifinal to make the top five and qualify for the final.  Then they have to hope they have enough energy left over to race the final that starts in just 30 minutes after the qualifying race!

It's a very demanding and exhausting sport!  If you look at the skiers in the finals, you'll notice that they shake their arms and legs during the race.  That's because the skiers are feeling the burn and exhaustion.  Have you ever worked so hard, doing something so physical and tiring that your muscles burn and your body slows down and you can't move fast?  That's the lactic acid build up in the muscles from working hard and so fast that the body's usual aerobic energy supply via oxygen can't keep up with the body's energy demands, so the muscles rely on anaerobic energy production by converting pyruvate to lactate to allow for glucose breakdown for energy production.  It is a temporary measure, usually meant for emergencies and heavy lifting, and lasts anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes, before the lactic acid build up disrupts the cellular and metabolic activities, causing the body to slow down; it's necessary to protect the muscles from permanent damage from extreme overexertion.  It's a defense mechanism evolved from the days when man had to evade predators, say suddenly coming up a saber tooth tiger and having to scramble up a tree or flee really fast. 

In the men's cross country team sprint, the drama began when the Russian team took the lead; Nikita Kriukov and Maxim Vylegzhanin were expected to win gold. But Norway's Petter Northug stepped up the pace and took the lead.  Then as Petter Northug was going up a hill, his right ski pole breaks, and he just dropped that broken ski pole down in the way of the following skiers, as soon as he was given a replacement ski pole!  And while it looked like the Norwegians were on their way to gold, right before the last exchange,  Norway's Ola Vigen Hattestad, who won the gold in the individual sprint, lost energy and could not keep up the increased pace of the race.  Petter Northug of Norway  would make a valiant effort to chase down the lead pack of Russia, Finland, and Germany, with Sweden just slightly behind the top three. 

And as the racers started coming down the final hill in the last lap, Finland's Sami Jauhojaervi pulls ahead and crosses the lane coming downhill right in front of Germany's Tim Tscharnke.  Tim Tscharnke's momentum caused his skis to bump into Jauhojaervi in front of him, causing Tscharnke to lose his balance then fall over and almost knock out Russia's Nikita Kriukov, who has to slow down to avoid crashing!

Man down!
Finland pulls ahead and Russia has to catch up.  But Finland crosses first and takes the gold; Russia ends with the silver; and Sweden's Teodor Peterson rushes past Germany and claims the bronze!  Norway ends up in fourth; Switzerland in fifth; US in sixth; and Germany falls back to 7th! 

Naturally, the Germans protested, but the jury ruled in favor of Finland, stating it was not an intentional trip by Finland, just one of those things that happens in the race; Russia grumbles because they want Finland disqualified so they can get the gold, but the jury and International Ski Federation ruling stands.  Oh, the agony for Germany!  Kazakhstan is eigth; Czech Republic is ninth; France did not finish the race.  So Finland's Sami Jauhojaervi and Iivo Niskanen take gold, Finland's first gold at Sochi. Russia's Maxim Vylegzhanin and Nikita Kriukov settle for silver; and Sweden seizes the moment and Emil Joensson and Teodor Peterson claim the bronze. 

And with this bronze win, Sweden's Emil Joensson is the luckiest and cleverest athlete at the Sochi Olympics, because he all ready won a bronze last week in the individual sprint, when a fall also took out the top three competitors, allowing him to find the energy and power through the pain to get bronze!  It's not enough to be the strongest; you have to be smart too and adapt to the challenges and seize the moment and make the most of it.

Over on the women's side of the cross country sprint, it was a Nordic sweep, as Marit Bjoergen and Flugstad Oestberg pull ahead and deliver Norway the gold.  Finland's Kerttu Niskanen and Aino-Kaisa Saarinen take the silver.  And Sweden’s Ida Ingemarsdotter and Stina Nilsson won the bronze medal.  It is a relief for Norway, and Bjoergen adds this gold to her skiathlon gold won at the beginning of the games.  Marit Bjoergen also took the time to credit the Norwegian ski waxing team for her and her teammate's success and defend the ski waxers against the unfair criticisms they've received over Norway's poor performances over the last cross country events.  It's not the ski waxers fault if the weather changes and if the athletes don't match the stength and health of their competitors.  A bad workman blames his tools. 

Meanwhile, American history is made in the men's giant slalom, where the skiers make two runs racing downhill and zigzag around poles, and the fastest combined time wins.  Ted Ligety became the first American to win gold in the men's giant slalom at the Olympics.  His first run put him 0.93 seconds ahead of  next skier.  And even though his second run placed him as 14th fastest, his combined time with that huge lead in the first run was enough to get him the gold.

Ligety won a surprise gold in men's combined at Torino 2006 and is the current world champion in the giant slalom.  France's Steve Missillier, who skied the fastest second run, wins silver, and his fellow countryman Alexis Pinturault takes bronze.

The Americans picked up more medals in women's bobsled that put the US at the top of the medal board.  Lauryn Williams and Elana Meyers put in a spectacular run to get the Americans to the top spot.  They were poised to finish in first, but in the end, they hit the walls on the way down the final run and it landed them in silver.  Canada's Kallie Humphries and Heather Moyse, current world champions, successfully defend their Vancouver 2010 title, taking the gold.  The American team of Aja Evans and Jamie Greubel win bronze.  It is the first time two American women bobsleds have medaled in the Olympics.  Even more impressive, with her silver win, Lauryn Williams becomes the first US woman and fifth athlete overall to win medals in different sports at the both the Summer and Winter Olympics--having won a 4x100m relay gold at London 2012 and a 100m silver at Athens 2004.

At the parallel giant slalom, the snowboarders make two runs racing downhill around gates/poles; two snowboarders race side by side along two parallel courses down a hill; one course marked with red poles; the next with blue.  After the first run, the racers switch courses.  The winner of first run determines the start time of the second run; in the second run, the person with the fastest time from the first run starts first, and how much time that person beat the second person is added to a delay start for the second person in the second race. That means if racer 1 beat racer 2 by 3 seconds in the first run; then in the second run, racer 1 starts first and racer 2 has to wait 3 seconds before starting the final run. 

In the women's side, after surviving the long qualifying elimination rounds, Patrizia Kummer of Switzerland beats Japan's Tomoka Takeuchi for the gold.  Takeuchi slides to silver and Alena Zavarzina of Russia beat out Ina Meschik of Austria for the bronze.

Meanwhile, just minutes later on the men's side, Alena Zavarzina's husband, American expat Vic Wild, delivered Russia, his adopted country, the gold, beating Switzerland's Nevin Galmarini, who fell in the final race and ended up with silver.  Zan Kosir of Slovenia beat out Patrick Kussler of Germany for the bronze.

There is buzz on the husband and wife team of Vic Wild and Alena Zavarzina winning medals in the parallel giant slalom.  How did this American end up representing and winning Russia the medal?  Simple:  Funding and Love.  He did not have the support and resources needed to compete in his sport, and he considered quitting the sport he loved.  The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association deem alpine snowboarding events a low priority, focusing the most of the funds to X Games sports like halfpipe and slopestyle.  To compete on the circuit, Wild had to rely on funding from family and supporters, especially since there was no real financial support from the USSA. 

The only American entrant in the event, Justin Reiter, didn't make it out of the qualification round, agrees that there is no support for the alpine snowboarders; Reiter himself has to find his own funding to compete in his sport and has to live in his car to save money!  So it was very mixed emotions that Reiter experienced, very happy for his long time friend and fellow alpine snowboarder to win gold, but also frustrated with the lack of support from the USSA.  Vic Wild met his wife and married her in 2011, and he was approached by the Russians to compete for them.  In Russia, he found not only a new family, but a country that actually supported his efforts, and he repaid that support by delivering his adopted country the gold.

I am quite happy for Vic Wild.  It isn't the first time an athlete has represented a different country to have a chance to medal at the Olympics.  No, I am happy for Vic Wild because he found the support he needed to compete and win and he found a partner to share his life with, even if it is in a foreign country.  And I hope those people at USSA pay attention, because it's embarrassing to realize that the lack of support cost them a medal and it continues to hurt other athletes who can do so much better if they got the attention and funding they need to compete.

Back to the field, the biathlon mixed relay competition made its Olympics debut.  In this event, a team of 2 women and 2 men compete together.  The order is woman-woman-man-man.  The women ski 3 loops of 2km then stop twice at the shooting range to fire at 5 targets, firing prone the first time, then standing the next time.  The men ski 3 loops of 2.5km and also stop twice to shoot.  And like the regular biathlon, athletes can reload up to 3 times and a missed shot costs a 150m penalty loop.

Norway's team of Tora Berger and Tiril Eckhoff got off to a great start; giving the men, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who skied the third leg of the race, and Emil Hegle Svendsen, a great lead to win the gold.  This is Bjoerndalen's historic 13th medal, making him the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time; this gold adds to the 10km sprint gold he won on the first day of the games.  The silver was claimed by the Czech Republic team of Veronika Vítková, Gabriela Soukalová, Jaroslav Soukup, and Ondřej Moravec.  Italy's team of Dorothea Wierer, Karin Oberhofer, Dominik Windisch, and Lukas Hofer take bronze.

Back inside the women's 5000m speed skating, Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic successfully defends her Vancouver 2010 title, beating off the Orange Crush.  Ireen Wust of the Netherlands, who edged out Sablikova in 3000m race for gold, took the lead when the pair started their race; but towards the end, Sablikova finished stronger and Wust settled for silver.  Carien Kleibeuker of the Netherlands took bronze.

And finally, after the ladies figure skating short program, Kim Yuna of South Korea, defending Vancouver 2010 champion, tops the leader board, followed by Russia's Adelina Sotnikova, then Italy's Carolina Kostner, all separated by less than a point.  Many doubted whether Kim Yuna would skate well here, given that she skates so rarely after Vancouver 2010.  But she came, she skated, and and she set the bar high for the other ladies to follow.  She did have the most beautiful and flawless program; followed closely by Carolina Kostner; Adelina Sotnikova was aggressive and didn't have the same level of difficult jumps Kim Yuna had.  But she was rewarded for her invigorating performance in front of the home crowd after overnight Russian teen sensation ,15-year-old Russian, Yulia Lipnitskaia fell in her program.  The most disappointing and shocking fall of all was Vancouver 2010 silver medalist, Mao Asada of Japan, who fell and did not complete any of her jump combinations, landing her in 16th.  The long program starts Thursday, 20 Feb 2014, and will determine the winner.

Finally, I'd like to spotlight the great work the volunteers and staff have done to ensure the Olympics are safe and enjoyable.  I particularly enjoyed the creativity of the organizers at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center, where the ski jumping and nordic combined events take place.  If you look at where the athletes land after their jumps, the organizers got creative and had a little fun.

On sunny days, they arranged a coconut tree!


On Valentine's Day, there was a heart.  But my favorite was the rainy day one, where they put out a dolphin!
Thank you for the all the hard work, volunteers and staff!  More Olympics excitement to come as we wind down the last few days of competition. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Day 11 of the Sochi Olympics

Day 11 of the Sochi Olympics, 18 Feb 2014 Tues:

It was another action packed day on Day 11 of the Sochi Olympics as the winter athletes fought hard and furious for a chance to be on the top and make it on the podium.

First, let's begin with the events that were postponed to today due to fog:

Finally, after two postponements, the men's biathlon 15km mass start got off with a bang and ended with an explosive photo finish!  It was the most exciting race ending  in the biathlon events so far.  Even with the snow falling and some of the competitors crashing, heavily favored Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway battled France's Martin Fourcade, who'd all ready won 2 golds from the 12.5km pursuit and 20km individual event.  And right before the crowd, Svendsen pulled ahead of Fourcade, creating a space between them, and he crossed the finish line, raising his hands up, celebrating what he thought was a clear victory.  But he celebrated too early because he failed to see that right beside him, Fourcade had lunged forward and his skis crossed the finish line the same time as Svendsen at 4 minutes 29.1 seconds!  It was a tie!  The crowd goes wild!  A photo finish! 

So how do you decide the winner of when both skiers skis cross the finish line at the same time?  The rule is the first person's boot to cross the finish line gets the win.  And Svendsen's boot crossed first by a very tiny margin!  Svendsen can sigh relief for getting gold and putting the Norwegian fears and conspiracy theories of ski wax troubles to rest.  Fourcade is awarded silver for his mighty efforts.  And Czech Republic's Ondrej Moravec finished 18.3 seconds behind the leaders, claiming the bronze.  What an exciting end for the race that's been postponed twice due to fog and unfavorable conditions.

I am particularly impressed with Fourcade because he was ill with sinusitis, but decided at the last minute to compete anyway.  And he overcame a rifle problem at the first shooting, where he had to reload 3 times before his rifle would fire correctly.  Fourcade has two more chances to medal at Wednesday's mixed relay and Saturday's men's relay.  He is on track to match or break a record set by fellow Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy, who won 3 golds at Grenoble 1968.

The other event contested today after the fog delay was the fast and furious sport of men's snowboard cross.  Like short track speed skating, this is a very unpredictable sport, as the snowboarders race down a course navigating turns and hills and trying to avoid slips and falls that are ever present in the race.  Right out of the 1/8 finals, the medal favorites were knocked out by either crashes or falls.  That meant the way to the podium was opened to the relative unknowns in the sport.

And by the time the final race arrived, Nikolay Olyunin of Russia had dominated the elimination rounds and was leading the race.  He was a clear leader all throughout the race, right up until the last turn, when Pierre Vaultier of France overtakes Olyunin and uses that momentum to cross the finish line first, taking the gold medal.  Nikolay Olyunin crosses to silver.  And in a bold and clever move, Alex Deibold of US seizes an opportunity at a turn and edges out Paul-Henri De Le Rue of France, moving himself from 4th to 3rd in the last quarter of the race, earning the US the bronze.

I am particularly thrilled with Alex Deibold's bronze, because he wasn't considered a medal contender coming into these games.  He isn't even on the USA's top tier Snowboarding A team, which gets financial support from US Snowboarding sponsorship.  Four years ago, he was at Vancouver 2010, not competing, but working hard and long hours as a wax tech, getting the boards ready for the A team.  And while the top American snowboarders had sponsorship, Deibold had to work long hours in the summer to make enough money to compete on the snowboarding circuit.  It is very uplifting and satisfying to see someone work so hard and finally come so far to land on the podium.  And when he won his bronze, his A team fellow Americans dog-piled on him to cheer his victory, knowing just how hard and how far he has come.

The weather continued to play havoc for the athletes.  In the women's giant slalom, rain slowed the first run; then snow and fog affected the second run of women racing downhill while going around gates.  Rising above the challenging conditions, Slovenian Tina Maze wins with her combined time, taking her second gold, after having won the downhill event earlier.  Austria’s Anna Fenninger, wins silver, adding to her super G gold win.  Germany's Viktoria Rebensburg, defending Vancouver 2010 champion, skis to bronze.

The rain also made the course slippery at the men's nordic combined large hill event.  Here, the men ski jumped off a large hill first to determine their start times.  The highest points winner gets to cross country ski the 10km first, and every point he scores higher than the next person adds a 4 second delay to the start of that next person.  There was another scary crash on the large hill during the ski jumps.  This time, it was Japan's Taihei Kato, who landed awkwardly and lost his left ski, then fell hard and broke his left arm in crash in front of the horrified spectators.  He was taken to the hospital.

Normal hill nordic combined gold medal winner Eric Frenzel of Germany had the best jump, but he was suffering from a virus.  Even though Frenzel started the ski race first, he couldn't keep pace with the other stronger, healthier skiers.  There was some drama, as some of the medal contenders crashed or slipped and fell on the slippery course because of the rain.  And in the exciting last 100 yards of the race, Norway's Joergen Graabak hit the gas and broke away from the 5 man lead group!  Graabak finished the 10km race at 23 minutes, 27.5 seconds to win gold, edging out fellow Norwegian Magnus Hovdal Moan who follows behind by 0.6 seconds to win the silver; and Fabian Riessle of Germany was 1.6 seconds behind Graabak and took the bronze.

Heavy snow plagued the Olympics debut of the men's freestyle skiing halfpipe, affecting visibility and making conditions difficult to ski on in the halfpipe.  The accumulation of snow made it very difficult for the skiers to gain speed needed to make their high jumps and spins.  Consequently, a lot of the top contenders crashed and the skiers had to dial back the high flying spins and flips that defines the sport.  There were several serious crashes, including American Lyman Currier who crashed on his second qualifying run in men’s ski halfpipe and slid down the pipe grasping at his left knee, moaning in pain as the crowd watched in horror and the medical staff rushed to his aid.  At the hospital, it was reported that he suffered a left knee injury--he tore his left ACL.


World champion David Wise of the US held nothing back and skied a fantastic 1st run in the final that put him at the top of the pack.  Which was a good thing, because in his second and final run, he crashed!  He would have to wait anxiously as the rest of the skiers completed their second run.  The highest scoring of the two run wins the event.  And when the other skiers crashed or failed to score higher at the end of the second run, David Wise became the first person to win gold in the men's freestyle skiing halfpipe.  Canada's Mike Riddle landed a respectable run to silver.  And France's Kevin Rolland jumps to bronze.

Meanwhile in the indoor sports where weather had no effect, there was much excitement and disappointment and tears of joy and anguish.

Always chaotic and unpredictable, short track speed skating was contested in the women's 3000m relay.  The Chinese and the South Koreans were heavily favored to battle for gold.  The Canadians and Italians would have to race for bronze.  Four years ago at Vancouver 2010, the South Korean women crossed the finish line first, but were disqualified, so they were left in tears as the Chinese women were upgraded to gold.  This time, the top ranked South Korean women powered through laps cleanly and traded leads with China during the race.  But at the last turn of the final lap chaos erupted! 

Shim Suk-hee of South Korea overtakes the lead from China's Li Jianrou, who wasn't supposed to race the final leg.  The Chinese women fell apart at the critical last moment!  The last exchange for China was supposed to be Fan Kexin, but she wasn't ready, so Li had to push ahead and scramble for a second place across the finish line!  However, Zhou Yang of China lingered too long on the ice during one of the exchanges after pushing one of her teammates, causing a South Korean skater to go around her.  That meant a disqualification for China!  They are off the podium and Canada advances to second and Italy makes the podium to third!  Oh, the shock and pain and agony for China!  Li Jianrou, Fan Kexin, Li, Liu Qiuhong and Zhou Yang of China are disqualified! 

And what joy for the South Koreans, Canadians, and Italians who make the podium!  South Korea's Shim Suk-hee, Park Seung-hi, Cho Ha-ri, and Kim Alang take a hard fought gold; it is a wonderful additon to him Suk-hee's silver that she won in the 1500m after surviving a crash in that race last weekend.  Canada's Marie-Eve Drolet, Jessica Hewitt, Valerie Maltais and Marianne St-Gelais score the silver.  Italy's Arianna Fontana, Lucia Peretti, Martina Valcepina and Elena Viviani earned the bronze; this bronze makes it the 3rd medal for Fontana, who won the silver in the 500m and the bronze in the 1500m.

Finally, in long track speed skating, the Orange Crush sweeps the podium in the men's 10,000m event.  This is the 4th sweep of all medals for The Netherlands.  The Dutch haul of all three medals elevated the Netherlands to the top of the medal board today.  Of all the speed skating events, the 10,000m has been the most dramatic for the Dutch.  At Vancouver 2010, heavily favored Sven Kramer finished the race first, but was disqualified  for a lane violation, in the infamous mistaken call made by his coach; Kramer was heading in the right lane but his coach mistakenly convinced Kramer to change lanes and Kramer had to hop over to get in that wrong lane.  Kramer holds the world record at the event and was heavily favored to take gold here.  This race here at Sochi was hailed as his redemption from that blunder four years ago in Vancouver.

In the lead up to the record setting 10,000m  race, the first Dutch skater to set the bar was veteran Bob de Jong, 37, in his 5th Olympics, skated a 13min 07.19sec, that ended up winning him the bronze.  This de Jong's 3rd consecutive Olympics medal in the 10,000m, having won gold in Torino 2006 and bronze in Vancouver 2010; he also won a silver in Nagano 1998! He also becomes the oldest speed skater to win an Olympics medal in 86 years.

Jorrit Bergsma was the next Dutchman to skate and he skated an incredible pace that shattered the old Olympics record and set a new sea level track record.


Jorrit Bergsma broke the Olympics record and set a new track record at sea level with a time of 12min 44.45sec, less then 3 seconds off the 12min 41.69sec high altitude record Sven Kramer set in 2007.  And then Bergsma had to wait anxiously for Sven Kramer, the last of the Dutchmen to race. 

In an ironic twist of fate, Kramer was paired with Lee Seung-hoon of South Korea, the same man he was paired with at Vancouver 2010; the same man who ended up second to Kramer at Vancouver; then was elevated to gold after Kramer was disqualified; the same man who finished 4 seconds slower than the disqualified Kramer and whose Olympics record of 12min 58.55sec set at Vancouver 2010 was just shattered by Bergsma!  Either the sports gods have a wicked and twisted sense of humor or someone was trying to recreate the events of four years ago.  The stage was set for Kramer to redeem himself and finally get the gold that was cruelly denied him the last Olympics.  The greatest comeback story of the Olympics was about to unfold and the whole world was watching and cheering for Sven Kramer to finally reach his dream.

Alas, it was not to be!  Kramer was unable to match Bergsma incredible final lap kick.  In the last laps, Kramer faded in his pace, and ended the race with a time of 12min 49.02sec, fast enough for silver, just not good enough for gold!  Oh, the disappointment and anguish for Kramer and his supporters!  The fairy tale ending everyone expected did not go as planned.  But Kramer admitted that Bergsma skated better and truly earned the top spot on the podium.  Kramer said that he was beaten by someone better; and however bitter, he accepts that.  It was quite obvious that Kramer looked uncomfortable on the podium and didn't stick around for the interviews and the victory parade.  He had been complaining of problems with his back and thighs earlier in the week.  And he really looked like he was hurting in the last few laps of the race.

But the day belongs to Jorrit Bergsma whose incredible Olympics performance was truly worthy of gold.  He now can add his gold to his 5000m bronze from earlier last week.  And just an aside, Lee Seung-hoo finished the race in 4th place. 

What a great day of competition.  And tomorrow, the ladies figure skating competition begins!  The short program promises to be exciting and I can't wait to see how the veterans fare against the rising new stars.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Day 10 of the Sochi Olympics

Day 10 of the Sochi Olympics, 17 Feb 2014 Mon:

It was another spectacular day of sports on day 10 of the Sochi Olympics.

Darya Domracheva is the queen of the Sochi Olympics!  She won the women's biathlon 12.5km mass start--where the athletes line up and start racing the course at the same time, stopping 4 times to shoot 5 targets (2 times while prone/laying down and 2 while standing), and the first one across the finish line wins.  And with this win, Darya Domracheva becomes the first athlete to win 3 golds at Sochi, and the first biathlete to win 3 golds in the same Olympics.  
Bow down before me!  I am your Queen!
It's an amazing performance, especially in light of how she won the 10k pursuit and the 15km individual race golds earlier in these games.  Darya Domracheva of Belarus proved dominant on the field on a course that was tough and slippery and took out some of  the competition.  Pre-race gold medal favorite Tora Berger of Norway  was in second position at the start of the race, but she slipped hard coming downhill and slid off the course and into the safety net only two minutes into the start.  Two other racers crashed:  Olga Zaitseva of Russia crashed making a sharp right turn, then she ended up being run over by  two other skiers, losing her ski pole; Switzerland's Elisa Gasparin also crashed. 

But Darya Domracheva was the fastest and most nimble skier on the field, managing to pull ahead of  the pack four minutes into the start of the race.  Even after missing one shot in the final target, she still had a lead of over 14 seconds; by the time she crossed the finish line, she had increased that lead to over 20 seconds!  Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic wins silver after missing a shot and having to also do a penalty run.  She is very happy with her silver, as it matched her mother's silver medal in the women's cross-country relay for Czechoslovakia, 30 years ago at Sarajevo 1984!  And in the exciting and fierce fight for bronze, Tiril Eckhoff of Norway beat out Germany's Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle by 1 second!

And Belarus picks up another gold in men's freestyle skiing aerials, where the men ski launch off a ramp 50 ft in the air and do amazing flips and turns.  China was heavily favored to do a sweep, but Anton Kushnir of Belarus, pulls off an upset and manages an incredible 5 twists and 3 head over heels flips and lands on gold.  Belarus has dominated in this event, winning this event at Vancouver 2010 with Alexei Grishin--who didn't make the finals here-- and Alla Tsuper winning the women's side gold here at Sochi last Friday. 

But the best surprise win goes to Australia's David Morris who wins the silver, beating out the heavily favored Chinese team by landing his jumps.  And with Lydia Lassila taking bronze in the women's aerial side and Torah Bright taking the silver in the women's halfpipe, Australia now has a total of 3 medals in Sochi.  The two Chinese finalists, who no doubt had the most stunning jumps, unfortunately, crashed their landings, thus, they walked away with Jia Zongyang taking the bronze.  I am particularly impressed with Australia's wins, especially since they don't have the training facilities and equipment the other winter Olympics countries possess to ensure their athletes win medals.  So, get right on it, Australia!  Put up those winter sports training facilities if you want to compete on the world stage.  If your athletes can medal here without the proper training facilities, imagine how much better they can be with the right preparation and training centers for the winter Olympics!

Two events on the men's side were postponed due to heavy fog.  The men's biathlon 15km mass start is postponed once more, this time for tomorrow, Tuesday.  The men's snowboard cross is also postponed to tomorrow.  And because of the delay, there will be no qualifications for the men's snowboard cross.  Hey, there's only so much time left in the Olympics and people do have to return to work and normal life as soon as the Olympics are over.  So, instead of qualifying runs, the racers will be seeded according to world ranking.  Sill, there are no guarantees for gold.  Look for excitement in men's snowboard cross, because it's where the snowboarders race down a course at the same time to cross the finish line, and in the mad scramble, people slip and fall, just like short track, causing chaos and you never know who's going to win.

Back to the events that were contested today, it's a historic day over in two men bobsled (or bobsleigh as the Europeans call it).  Russia's Alexandr Zubkov comes out of retirement and completes his Olympics medals collection, winning gold with partner and world arm wrestling champion, Sochi native son, Alexey Voevoda as the incredible brakeman.

My Popeye forearms crushed the competition!
Alexandr Zubkov has won a four man bobsled silver at Torino 2006 and a two man bobsled bronze at Vancouver 2010.  In the lead up to the final today, Alexandr Zubkov and Alexey Voevoda maintained their impressive lead to take the top spot with a total 4 runs time of 3:45.39.  Switzerland's Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann trailed the Russians  by 0.66 seconds,  at 3:46.05, taking the silver.  And Americans Steven Holcomb and Steven Langton make history by taking the bronze, earning America's first two man bobsled medal in 62 years! 

And the history making continues with the US winning its first ever gold in ice dancing.  The top two teams clearly demonstrated why they were the best in the world, having dominated the sport in the past five years.  Vancouver 2010 defending champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, skated an exquisite performance, breaking the world record for the long program with the a score of 114.66.
Then they had to wait for the American ice dancing pair, their rivals and training partners, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, to finish the last round of skating.  The Russian pair, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, scored a 110.44 in front of the home crowd who gave them a standing ovation, settling for the distant bronze.  And Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Vancouver 2010 silver medalists,  put on a spectacular performance that broke the new record with a long program score of 116.63, taking the gold, the first ever for the US in ice dancing.

Ice dancing looks fun and the most talented pairs often make it look so easy.  But it takes a lot of strength and coordination and timing to move in sync and exhibit grace and power so beautifully and flawlessly.  And while the top three on the podium certainly deserved their win, I was actually very impressed by Canada's Kaitlyn Weaver (of Houston, Texas!) and Andrew Poje, who placed 7th.  Their scores should've been higher with their very powerful and intense tango.  Some ice dancers play to the audience and judges, and depending on their routine and songs, it works; sometimes, not, especially when it comes off as hammy or disingenuous.  I've always been drawn to performances where the dancers are completely focused on telling their story through their captivating movements and expressions.  Weaver and Poje performed much better than the other teams who were ahead of them at 6th, 5th, and 4th. 

Just as synchronized swimming is the jewel of the summer Olympics, ice dancing is the most dazzling and fashionable of all the winter Olympics sports.  Let's take a moment to marvel at the most fabulous and eye catching athletes of the Winter Olympics:
The circus is in town!
The mime is on his way to put on his make up.

The swan prepares to lay an egg!

And in the team ski jumping event, the Germans soar to the heavens, higher and further than their competitors.  Severin Freund delivered an astounding final jump that landed him and his teammates Marinus Kraus, Andreas Wank and Andreas Wellinger to the top of the podium, ending the Austrian dominance and winning Germany the gold.

The Austrians have won every team event world championship since 2005 and took gold at Torino 2006 and Vancouver 2010; and today, the team of Michael Hayboeck, Thomas Morgenstern, Thomas Diethart and Gregor Schlierenzauer trail by just 2.7 points to settle for silver.  Japan's Reruhi Shimizu, Taku Takeuchi, Daiki Ito, and large hill silver medalist Noriaki Kasai, won bronze.  The bronze team win makes it the second medal for 41 year old Kasai at these Olympics.

Finally, in women's hockey, Canada overcomes Switzerland and the US won over Sweden in the semifinals.  The stage is set for the gold medal match on Thursday between Canada vs US!  It's the grudge match of the Olympics and I can't wait to see these two fierce rivals battle it out for gold!