Going for Gold – Feeding my Olympic Addiction

gold

I love the Olympics and just can’t get enough of it. Over the past week and-a-half I have fallen into a rhythm of following every moment of the PyeongChang Games. As I watch athletes fly in the air and speed down the hill I am amazed by what the human body can do. Whether an Olympian competes for gold or for a personal best, a big kudos to them all.

There’s only a few days left of the Winter Olympics, and I know that on February 26th I will have to go through a tremendous withdrawal. I will admit it: I’m obsessed. I just can’t stop watching, listening, reading and checking my CBC Olympics App (which by the way is fantastic). The wall-to-wall 24-hour-a-day coverage fills my addiction, and I love it.

I, like so many other people around the world, suddenly become a huge fan of sports and sub-sports that I would normally ignore. I have watched hours of competition and feel like I have become an expert on everything from Snowboard halfpipe to two-man Luge to twizzling in ice dancing. Here are some of my favourite moments so far:

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir win gold in ice dance

How can you not love this pair? They have become the darlings of not just Canada but of the Olympics. With their gold medal win in the ice dance competition, they have five medals from three Games and are the most decorated ice dancers of all time. This team’s unique style and connection with each other is something special.  Even though the free skate was just 4 ½ minutes long, I could have watched them for hours. Smooth. Silky. Confident. Amazing.

Snowboard Halfpipe

This event is just crazy. I don’t understand how a human being has the ability to fly up and down this gutter-looking path. And they go many feet into the air, often upside down, flipping and contorting. We were excited to watch this event in my family as the lone Canadian competitor, Derek Livingston, trained early on in his career where we ski, at Alpine Ski Club. The person who first taught Derek on the halfpipe is now my son’s snowboard coach. No, I don’t encourage Matthew to pursue a career in halfpipe. These guys are nuts.

Two and Four Person Bobsleigh

If I am going to travel down a curvy icy track, I will choose bobsleigh any day over luge or skeleton (don’t get my started on this one which terrifies me). At least the pair or foursome is protected inside a giant metal tube.  I will admit this event looks a little fun. I don’t think I’m interested in traveling the speeds these athletes do as they go for gold, but I would consider jumping in a bobsleigh and testing it out.

Short Track Speed Skating Individual and Team Relays

This is a roller derby on ice. It’s every man or woman for him or herself. You have to be aggressive and fast. A bunch of skaters jump on the ice and go around in circles over and over again, almost making me feel dizzy. Sometimes you win because everyone else was disqualified or fell. I can’t stop watching.

It goes on and on. Ski jumping. Speed skating. Aerials. Ski Cross. When an athlete performs at his or her best and wins gold I feel the excitement with them. And I just want to watch more and more. What am I going to do next week when it’s all over and the athletes have gone home? Do I go back to House Hunters and Top Chef? I guess so. Well, at least I have a few more days to enjoy the Olympics and cheer on a few more elite athletes as they go for gold.

PyeongChang 2018 has Arrived

pyeongchang

The 2018 Winter Olympics are here, well almost. As I write this, the opening ceremonies, in PyeongChang, South Korea, are hours away. Thousands of athletes, coaches, trainers, journalists, volunteers and spectators from around the world have arrived in this northeastern, mountainous community on the Korean peninsula. And as I see on the official website for these Olympic games, formal training events have already happened for certain sports, such as Biathlon, Luge and Ski Jumping (I love watching ski jumping, or experimenting with it on my Wii, but you won’t catch me trying it for real!).

The Winter Olympics is a key event on my sports calendar, something I look forward to every four years. I become a terrible TV junkie and become addicted to sports like bobsleigh and short track speed skating that I basically ignore in the years between the Olympics. Somehow watching a person flying down an ice-covered track is only exciting to me when it’s in the context of this massive multi-sport international event. And I doubt that PyeongChang will disappoint.

With the 14-hour time difference between PyeongChang and Toronto, at times it will be a challenge to watch all my beloved Olympic sports live. But I will try. First up are the opening ceremonies, which are scheduled to begin Friday evening in PyeongChang, or, if you do the math, early morning in Toronto. Canadian networks start their live opening ceremonies coverage at about 5:30 am Friday morning, February 9th.  I will set my alarm so that I can watch it all unfold, live. I most probably will be warm and cozy in my bed and watch in a semi-conscious state, but I won’t miss it.

One advantage of the Olympics happening in PyeongChang, half a world away and 14 hours ahead, is that the live events don’t interfere with my day, for the most part. I don’t have to sneak away while at work and check results. On the other hand, if competitions like the Men’s Alpine Combined Slalom event only starts at 1:00 am my time, I may not get much sleep over the next couple of weeks.

While I am an Olympics junkie, I will admit that there are some sports I just can’t don’t have the patience to watch. I respect all athletes who compete and train for these high calibre events, but no matter how hard I try, I just can’t catch on. Some examples:

Biathlon

To put it simply, this is two sports (hence “bi” in the title) combined, in which a person straps on a pair of cross-country skis, follows a set course, and at certain points, the athlete shoots a gun at a target. The more targets the athlete misses, the more loops around the set course that person must make. While I am sure it takes great skill to be an expert at two events at the same time, I just don’t see the attraction to it.

Curling

I am Canadian, and I don’t like to watch curling. This event involves throwing a rock on ice, hoping to get the rock into a specified zone and knock the opponent’s rocks out. I just don’t see the joy in watching it. Many people around the world, particularly in Northern communities, like to participate in curling. At its most amateur levels, all you really need is some ice and rocks, which are easy to find in Canada in the winter. At the competitive level, you need a beautifully smooth ice surface, and the rocks aren’t really rocks.

Skeleton

This one I have trouble watching simply because it gives me nightmares. Would you want to put on a skin-tight body suit, lie face-down on a board, then fly down a frozen path head first, at high speed? There are many people who seem to enjoy doing this, and I just can’t understand why. This sport made its debut back in St. Moritz in 1928 and again in 1948, and it’s been a permanent part of the Winter Olympics since 2002.

I don’t have a favourite sport or event, but I am looking forward to a few specific races which include participants from my family’s ski club, Alpine.  Roni Remme will be competing in Ladies Alpine events and Derek Livingston, who is part of the Canadian Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe team, is there too.

I am looking forward to watching, discussing, analyzing and sharing my thoughts about the Olympics over the next couple of weeks. As the world’s attention focuses on PyeongChang, I am sending my best wishes to all the athletes (especially Roni and Derek!), and I hope the 2018 Winter Olympics is fair, fun and memorable.

Countdown to the Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics

It is 2018, so that means the world will come together this year for the Winter Olympics. Or at least most of the world. I am not ashamed to say that I love the Olympics, in particular the sports celebrated in the winter. Every four years I become an addict. I just can’t stop following it all during those two special weeks.

In the age of technology, I can follow every sport at every moment of the day. I switch between my television, computer and my phone. I download the latest app to keep me up-to-date at all times so that I don’t miss anything. With the Winter Olympics this year in PyeongChang, which is fourteen hours ahead from where I live, I know it won’t be easy.

If the Winter Olympics happen from February 9-25 this year, should I become nocturnal during those two weeks? For example, the opening ceremonies start at 8:00 pm local time on Friday, February 9. That’s 6:00 am in Toronto. I can start my day early for that. No problem.

But once the opening ceremonies are over I will need to go back to sleep for a while and be ready to watch the first snowboarding competition that starts (my time) at 8:00 pm on Friday night. So what if it’s only the Men’s Slopeside Qualification? I need to watch it.

The first Winter Olympics I remember well was back in 1988 when the games were hosted by the great city of Calgary, here in Canada. There were so many great moments that I recall from the Calgary games, but my favourite one was when I watched Elizabeth Manley perform the skate of her life in the women’s free skate. When she raised her arms high at the end of that long skate she knew the night was hers.

 

For junkies like me, it was great in 1994 that I only had to wait two years between Winter Olympics. With the six-hour time difference I watched as much as I could of the games in 1992 in the Savoy region of France, then a short time later enjoyed them again in Lillehammer, Norway.

One of my favourite Winter Olympics moments actually came on a day in the summer, when no games were happening. It was July 2, 2003. I worked at the Assignment Desk at Rogers Sportsnet at the time and was handed the job to bring in the live feed and manage the content for the announcement of the host city of the 2010 games. Vancouver was in the running, so as a national sports network we had to be ready.

The announcement happened at a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Prague, Czech Republic. It came at 8:41 am local time. That means it was 2:41 am in Toronto.. I stayed at work all night. We had to be ready to watch the announcement live and be ready to bring in any relevant material.

We were a small group who worked all night, and we felt elated when Vancouver was announced as the winner. The Winter Olympics were returning to Canada. It was an incredible moment.

 

When the Winter Olympics finally arrived in Vancouver almost seven years later it was the culmination of years of excitement for me. I watched round-the-clock coverage. The three-hour time difference didn’t bother me. Staying up a bit later was no big deal for me. I was six months pregnant at the time and wasn’t really sleeping anyway.

The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang begin in just 37 days. I am very excited. I will watch as much of the competition that I can on TV, read about it on the internet and follow on social media. And for those of you who live in Toronto, you may not see me for a couple of weeks in February. Unless of course you are an Olympics addict too and will also become nocturnal. In that case, come watch with me.

There’s Doping at the Olympics. Really?

doping

Were you as shocked as I was yesterday when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) publicly admitted that there’s a doping problem in Russia? Didn’t you always think, like I did, that the Olympics are where clean and honest sport comes together in a show of strength and fair play? Now I know the truth: there’s doping at the Olympics. Really?

My apologies for my rather sarcastic comments above. Honestly, I am not surprised at all by yesterday’s announcement from the IOC that Russia has been banned from the 2018 winter games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It’s not because a few Russian athletes were found guilty of doping. Doping is a state-run industry in Russia, and after years of investigation the hammer has finally come down.

I have been reading stories about just how deep doping is entrenched in Russian sport. There is some sick desire to always win. Young athletes must be living in a culture where they are forced to break the rules and destroy their bodies just to be number one. It saddens me to know that there are probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of talented young Russian athletes whose dreams have just been crushed.

Do 16-year-old skaters and 21-year-old skiers deserve to be thrown out of the Olympics before they even have a chance to compete? Did these athletes scheme and plan behind the scenes so they can stand on the podium in February? I doubt it. Unfortunately, they are part of a very broken system that demands cheating in order to win.

And the IOC made it clear this must stop. Doping is unacceptable, ever. It’s terrible that hundreds of young, hard-working, talented Russian athletes will not be allowed to compete at the Olympics in a few months. They are caught in what may seem like an unfair system. But the IOC had no choice. The Russian Olympic Committee didn’t just break the rules for years, it laughed at them and stomped on them.

I am intrigued by the IOC’s attempt to reach out to individual athletes from Russia, to separate individuals from their country that sponsors doping. I see this as a message to these young athletes, in particular those who have managed to stay out of the doping controversy (dare I say, are verifiably clean?) that they are welcome at the 2018 Winter Olympics. If these individuals qualify to compete (based on criteria outlined by the IOC), they are welcome, but not as Russians.

These athletes won’t see a Russian flag and they won’t hear the Russian anthem. They will participate as athletes who do not represent any country. But if they agree to these rules and compete using only their abilities and relying on hard work, then I believe they will be warmly accepted by the Olympic community.

IOC President Thomas Bach said it well yesterday, when he noted that the long-time Russian doping represented an “unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games.” So, I hope that integrity returns to the Olympics. This is just a start.