This was my father’s identity card for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Through his work for NBC News, and NBC’s sustained relationship to the Olympic Games, I was a fan of the greatest sports competition in the world. I was only one years-old at the time of the Tokyo Olympic Games, and of course remember nothing of it. But come 2020, when the Summer Games return to Tokyo, I will be there.
Hey, there’s Bonnie Blair, the speed skater. Grab that seat near the screen – ice hockey’s up. Oh look, Michelle Kwan’s in the house! Oh, cool, the burgers are out! I hear Shaun White’s coming tonight.
USA House in PyeongChang. It’s kinda like the bar in Cheers!, where everybody knows your name.
For Americans, many of whom have been to many Olympics, USA House is an oasis Americana in PyeongChang, a place where Team USA athletes, friends and family, sponsors, donors and staff can be at home.
Dmitry Feld, a retired luge coach for Team USA, said “at USA House, you meet friends and family, Olympic athletes. You eat American food, and watch the American TV broadcast. It’s like being back home.”
For Kathryn Whalen, it’s the end of a long great ride of working the Olympics in her meetings and events role in corporate communications for McDonald’s. She’s grateful for USA House, “especially if it’s in a foreign culture you’re not used to, because you have everything from strong internet, to American food, to the NBC feed of the Olympic Games broadcast.”
Getting in USA House is part of the charm. “It’s hard to get in,” said Whalen, “so this place has prestige, which is cool.”
Cookie and Kate Reed-Dellinger are Olympics super fans. He’s been to 16 Games, while she’s been to nine, and they always enjoy the hospitality at USA House. “When I get back to my hotel room,” said Cookie, “I can only watch the Games only in Korean, and only what the Koreans want to see. But here, we can watch American television, eat American food, and see Team USA athletes here all the time.”
Shortly after, Cookie pointed out figure skater and two-time Olympic medalist, Michelle Kwan, and went up to her to shake her hand.
Peter Zeytoonjian, sr. vice president of marketing for the United States Olympic Committee, has organized USA House for the past six Winter and Summer Olympic Games. The former marketing leader for the NFL, Zeytoonjian said that USA Houses in the Olympic Winter Games are usually on the smaller side to accommodate the size of the winter delegation and expected number of visitors. USA House in PyeongChang is a full-service 2,000 square meter structure which holds about 100 people at a time. It has an admittedly great view of the mountains where alpine ski events were held.
He said that Tokyo American Club will be a significantly larger venue for USA House at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Tokyo 2020 is shaping up to be a great Olympic Games and we think that USA House at Tokyo American Club has the potential to be one of the best houses we’ve ever organized. It’s an incredible building in a great location, perfectly suited for welcoming Team USA athletes and supporters during the Games. We are already well into planning – and excited about what’s to come.
“Doko ni mo Nai Kuni” is a two-part drama and is the incredible and true story of how three men escaped war-torn China at the end of World War II and convinced General Douglas MacArthur to repatriate over 1.5 million Japanese abandoned in Manchuria. One of the three men is the father of Olympian, Paul Maruyama, a judoka who competed at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. If you’re in Japan, tune into NHK at 9PM on Saturday, March 24 and 31, 2018.
In the end, it’s always about the athletes.
The breathtaking height of the snowboarder’s leap off the halfpipe lip.
The exquisite marriage of athleticism and artistry of the figure skater.
The inexhaustible drive of the cross country skier.
The lightning quick reflexes of the short track speed skater.
The champion’s habit to shrug off mistakes and bore down.
The unbridled glee of a personal best on the biggest stage in the world.
The swell of gratefulness that settles like balm over years of pain and sacrifice.
The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympiad was a success. For the athletes showed us again, as they do every two years, that striving to be the fastest, highest, and strongest is symbolic of our own everyday hope to be the best we can be.
The PyeongChang Games are over.
But the countdown to the Tokyo Games continue.
878 days to go!
It went, miraculously, to overtime.
No one thought it would. No one believed the Germans, 66:1 bet to win gold in PyeongChang, would stay competitive with the Russian men in the ice hockey finals. In the end, in sudden-death overtime, Russian forward Kirill Kaprizov took a pass from Nikita Gusev and blasted a shot into the net to end Germany’s incredible run, and take the game 4-3.
Team OAR won gold. Team Germany won silver….a most unexpected silver.
After losing their first two games in the tournament, Team Germany started winning, and then defeated Sweden in overtime 4-3, and Canada 4-3 in the semifinals, setting up their improbable match against the Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR). Germany had never been to a finals before, and were happily aware that a silver medal was still all gravy.
But they realized early on, they had a chance for gold. At 16:44 of the third period, Jonas Muller took a pass from Yasin Ehliz, held the puck looking for an opening, and then rocketed a shot into the net. Germany led 3-2. All they had to do was hold on for a little over 3 minutes to achieve their first ever gold medal.
Thirty seconds later, Russia got called for a penalty. Could it really be that easy? Did they really believe in miracles?
With only a minute 11 seconds left in the game, the Russian goalie, Vasili Koshechkin, went to the bench. Players on the ice were five on five, but the Russian net was empty. Then, at a most inopportune time, the Germans had a brain cramp. As they approached the Russian blue line, the Germans dumped the puck, essentially handing the puck back to the Russians. They could have passed it back towards their own zone, and killed off more precious seconds, but instead, the Germans gave up control of the puck to the Russians.
And they took advantage.
The Russians carried it into the German zone, and you could feel an opportunity building. The puck came loose to the left of the German goalie, and the Russian forward, Gusev swatted at the puck, somehow knocking in a shorthanded goal, with only 55 seconds left in the game to tie the match.
As NBC analyst Mike Milbury intoned, “Just when you thought it was destiny for Germany….”
When the game goes to overtime, they play four on four, which is thought to be an advantage for the better skating, better passing team. That would be the Russians. And while Team OAR did not dominate, they made the great passes when they needed, the final snap pass to Kaprizov putting an end to an incredible ice hockey finals.
So for a second time in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympiad, we saw the raising of the Olympic Flag in place of the Russian flag, and the Olympic anthem playing in place of the Russian anthem.
But you could sense that the crowd and the players were singing a different song.
The Russians didn’t care. They won one of the most incredible Olympic ice hockey finals ever. And they were the champions.
It’s an embarrassment of riches. Norway has dominated the medals table at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, easily eclipsing Germany, Canada and the US in the medal count.
In fact, in the cross country skiing event called the skiathlon on February 11, 2018, a first-time Norwegian Olympian, Simen Hegstad Krueger, gave the entire field of skiers a huge advantage, and still won handily.
To be honest, there is nothing easy about cross-country skiing, which is a grueling sport that requires tremendous levels of endurance. In the skiathlon, competitors have to ski 15 kilometers in the classical technique (similar to a walking motion), and 15 more kilometers in the freestyle technique (similar to a ice skating motion).
And Krueger, who was in the middle of the pack of 68 competitors, was given an even greater challenge. Tripped at the start of the 30-kilometer race, only 200 meters into the start, he fell to the snow, taking down two OAR athletes who fell on top of him. In the fall, one of his poles had snapped, and he had to get another one from his coach.
Suddenly , Krueger was dead last.
A fall like this would demoralize a large number of athletes. But Krueger took it one push of his poles at a time. “I was completely last in the group,” Krueger said in this NBC article, “so I had to start the race again and switch focus to catch up with the guys. When I did it, I was (saying to myself), ‘OK, take one lap, two laps, three laps and just get into it again.”
As Business Insider showed in this pictorial of Krueger’s progress, the Norwegian put together an amazing come back, passing 62 other skiers over the next 22 kilometers, moving into 5th place with 8 kilometers left.
Finding another gear, Krueger all but forgot his spill and last-place re-start, and moved into the lead, and built it. As Business Insider put it, “In a performance that can best be described as some combination of awesome, courageous, and (Katie) Ledeckian, Krueger put distance between himself and the rest of the field.”
Krueger won the 30-kilometer skiathlon 8 seconds ahead of Martin Johnsrud Sundby and almost 10 seconds ahead of Hans Christer Holund, making it a podium sweep for Norway.
“It is an indescribable feeling,” Krueger said. “It is an amazing day, but it started in the worst way with the fall after the first 100 meters and a broken pole. I was thinking this is over.”
Krueger was in it for the long haul, and as they say, it isn’t over until it’s over.
I saw him flipping through the air on the big screen at USA House to win gold for USA in the men’s slopestyle snowboarding contest on Sunday, February 11. Then I saw him again 13 days later (this morning), competing in the inaugural Olympic men’s Big Air snowboarding competition.
And on the train ride home, I saw him again on a clip from Jimmy Kimmel Show, wearing his gold medal.
Red Gerard is a 17-year-old snowboarding phenom, but can he defy the laws of physics and be in two geographies at the same time? No, but he has not stopped moving since he stepped off the medal podium last week.
According to this Washington Post article, Gerard and his agent saw this 10-day gap between events as an opportunity to hit the US talk show circuit during the Olympics. He flew 13 hours to Los Angeles and spent time with Kimmel on his show, with Ryan Seacrest and Kelly Ripa on CBS This Morning, and with People Magazine. After three days in LA, he got back on a plane to head back to South Korea.
And if we learned anything from the interview on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, Red Gerard is a poster child for snowboarding culture: nonchalant cool, humble, and eager for fun. The night before his gold-medal run in the slope style competition, he watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine in his room, overslept and proceeded to slay the slope.
Kimmel seemed surprised, saying “You were relaxed.” Gerard replied,
“Yeah, pretty relaxed. I’m pretty good with nerves before a contest. I try to treat it like any other day.”
For a high school kid, Gerard looks amazingly comfortable on the big stage. He took Kimmel’s praise and kidding with aplomb.
JK: This is unbelievable. You’re 17 years old. You got many, many years ahead of you….of disappointment by the way. It’s not going to be as good as this.
RG: (without missing a beat) I know I’m peaking here (he said with his right hand over his head). After this it’s going to be steady downward.
I doubt it. The sky’s the limit for this kid.
When the USA upset the Soviet Union in the semi-finals of the men’s ice hockey tournament at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, it was dubbed “The Miracle on Ice”.
Maybe we can call the 2018 version “Das Wunder auf Eis”.
Germany shocked Canada 4-3 on Friday, February 23 at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. It was the first time that Team Canada, both men and women, failed to win gold in an Olympiad since 1998.
“Crazy, just crazy,” said German coach, Marco Sturm. “It’s unbelievable, what the team achieved. We had never before been in a situation in which we had been under positive pressure before. We had to stay cool. This is unique. The lads need to savor it.”
Equally shocked were Canadians. Here’s the first line of The Vancouver Sun’s article, “Dark Day for Canadian Hockey.”
The worst possible outcome for an Olympic team without NHL players landed like a spear to the gut in an embarrassing night for Canadian hockey Friday at the Gangneung Hockey Arena.
Canada has won gold in ice hockey three of the last four Winter Olympics. In the past 29 meetings between the two nations, Germany had won only once, and had lost the previous 11 matches. Ice hockey is essentially Canada’s national pastime, and there are over 630,000 registered hockey players in that country. By contrast, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation, there are only some 20,600 registered hockey players in Germany.
This was a huge upset.
As German defenseman, Christian Ehrhoff, said in his interview with Pierre McGuire of NBC, “It’s unbelievable. I am out of words. Right now, it’s such a huge day for German hockey. So proud right now.”
“Is it fair to say this is the German 1980?” asked McGuire.
“I can agree with that,” replied Ehrhoff. “No one really had us on the list. For us we’re just living a dream, day by day right now. The ride continues. It’s just amazing. Everybody is already so proud of us already. Everything that’s coming now, it’s just a bonus. For us to guarantee ourselves a medal, it’s….wow.”
Germany was an overwhelming underdog, but they took advantage. And in hindsight, the circumstances that brought the men’s hockey players to the PyeongChang, may have worked in Germany’s favor.
The second biggest hockey league in the world is the KHL, and the bulk of the Russian squad is made of KHL players, which allowed their players to participate. That is probably a good reason why the Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR) squad is in the finals of the men’s ice hockey championship.
The NHL, the biggest and best professional hockey league in the world, forbade their players from participating in the Olympics this year. That heavily impacted most of the other competitive hockey nations, particularly those from North American and Scandinavia. Germany, which is far from being considered an ice hockey power, which did not even qualify at the Sochi Olympics, only had 10 Germans in the NHL. So, as this article states, perhaps “the absence of the NHLers has not hurt the Germans as much as most.”
A lot of credit is given to the German coach for raising the level of play of the German team. Sturm, who played nearly 1,000 games in the NHL over 14 seasons with 6 teams, took over the German national team in 2015. According to this DW article, written after Germany upset #1 seed, Sweden (4-3), the German players have responded well to the retired NHLer who had lived in the States the previous 20 years. As they began to win, they began to attract more and better players, and come together as a team.
Compared to many of the teams that had previously relied on NHL players, like the Canadian and American squads that came together only weeks before, the German players, on the whole, have played together for years leading up to PyeongChang.
The Canadian team members were announced on January 11, a little less than a month before the start of the PyeongChang Olympiad, so there was little chance for the team to gel. Even though Team Canada had some momentum into the match with Germany, having shut out both Korea and Finland, anything can happen in short tournaments. Even miracles.
Ice hockey coaches are trained to be emotionless when talking about their teams, unmoving anchors in the shifting winds of a storm, particularly before their teams have won it all. But when McGuire ended an interview of Coach Sturm, saying, “We’re going to see you on Sunday afternoon in a gold medal game. Marco Sturm, Congratulations,” Sturm’s face exploded in glee, and he wrapped his arm around McGuire in a big hug, giggling like a schoolboy who just pulled off the greatest practical joke of all time on his teacher.
Germany is no joke. They play the Russians for gold.