Biathlon 20

There were flags of many different nations: Norway, Japan, Russia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, France and many others. And despite the fact that the biggest flag I saw at the Biathlon Men’s 10k Sprint during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics was an American flag, Team USA has never medaled in a biathlon event. In fact, it is the only winter sport Americans have been shut out of.

This is a sport of the Europeans, with its roots deep in the ice and snow of Norway, where Norwegian soldiers since the 18th century would stay in shape by competing in a combined cross-country skiing and rifle shooting contest. While the biathlon appeared at the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix France in 1924, it didn’t become an official event for men until 1960, and then for women until 1992.

 

Alpensia biathlon venue
Alpensia Biathlon Centre Course

 

There are several Olympic types of biathlon events: the individual, the sprint, the pursuit, the mass start and the relay. At the Alpensia Biathlon Center on Sunday, February 11, I saw the Men’s 10k sprint event. At -11 degrees Centigrade, it was bitingly cold. But the enthusiasm and constant noise of the spectators kept the biathlon arena warm and engaging.

Still, I had no idea what was going on. Everyone around me was following their countrymen in the event. I could not for the life of me tell what was happening, other than the skiing in front of me and the shooting I could see on the screen. It must be like a person who has never seen an American football game from a stadium seat trying to understand what is happening on the field in front of them.

But at least a football novice could see the field and the direction the offense was going in. Only after I got back home could I see the extensive track behind the arena where the competitors huffed and puffed their way over the hills and through the woods. Halfway through their trek, they stopped at the arena for two rounds of shooting, one standing and one prone (even to the ground). The shooting was viewable on the big screen and is a significant part of this competition, and yet I couldn’t tell exactly where the shooting was taking place.

 

Biathlon 21
Vancouver gold medalist Tarjei Boe of Norway missing five times, adding another 750 meters to his race.

 

Clearly, when you’ve been pushing hard aerobically on the skis, settling yourself down for a good shot is a challenge. I imagine that calming your heartrate and mind down enough to shoot accurately is part of the challenge of this competition. And if you miss, it’s not good. With every shot you are off target in the sprint, you have to ski a penalty loop of 150 meters, which of course, adds to your time. Miss two or three shots, and your time continues to inflate.

As Finnish veteran biathlete and competitor in PyeongChang, Kaisa Makarainen, noted in this interview:

Even though you can have favourites, you never know what the result will be. You never know how the athletes will cope with the shooting, and then some of the best shooters are not so good on the skis, so it’s really dramatic.

So the skill and the variation in results comes from that moment between decision to fire and firing. And while you can have favorites in the biathlon sprint, (in this event, Martin Fourcade of France and Norwegian Johannes Thingnes Boe,) you can never really be sure who will win. The Germans in front of me were not the flag waving sort, one of them appearing a bit irritated with the large Russian flag that a fan a row ahead of him was waving.

But in the end, it was a German, Arndt Peiffer, who won the gold, Michal Krcmar of the Czech Republic who won the silver, and Dominik Windisch of Italy who took the bronze. The shooting proved decisive, as Peiffer and Krcmar were the only biathletes to hit all ten targets, and thus raced only 10 kilometers.

Biathlon 4
Pre-show entertainment at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre. It’s -11 degrees centigrade and they’re dancing in mini-skirts.
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Opening Ceremony Swag 1The evening of Saturday, February 10 was freezing cold. The bone chilling cold and skin-shearing winds the organizers were anticipating for the opening ceremonies on Friday, February 9. The cold did not chill, nor the winds destroy during the opening ceremonies. In fact, with enough layers and a little help from the organizers, spectators were able to watch without a thought to the cold.

Thanks to the swag.

On each seat, there was a vinyl bag packed with things to keep us warm and to help us cheer.

Opening Ceremony Swag 2

As you can see in the above photo, we had a blanket, a hat, and most importantly, a seat cushion and a heat pad that could be slipped into the cushion. Other heat pads, packs of squishy chemicals that warm up and stay warm as you hold and squeeze them.

I had unfortunately lost my hat that afternoon only to find a hat in the bag, which I immediately put on. Together with my boots, a thermal undershirt and underpants, a shirt, a vest, a ski coat, a neck/face warmer, I was sitting pretty on my heated cushion. I didn’t need the blanket, and thankfully, there was no precipitation to require the rain poncho.

Opening Ceremony Swag 3

One of the gifts was to be used during key moments in the program, when the lights would go down and everyone could turn on their mini-torch, a replica of the PyeongChang Olympic torch. During one of the most powerful moments in the program, when performers launched into a moving rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine, spectators waved their torches, imagining that one day, the world will be as one.

PyeongChang Winter Olympics Newsletter KTX

I’m sitting in seat 5A of the third train in the KTX and after kilometer of kilometer of open spaces, ice-pocked rivers, massive housing blocks, we’ve entered darkness. And it’s a long darkness.

But that’s OK, because I have my handy dandy PyeongChang Winter Olympics Newsletter in the pocket in front of my seat, and it has the facts I need. The KTX is the new high-speed train line from Seoul to Gangneung, which will make it fairly easy for Koreans and visitors alike to get to the Olympic venues. And in answer to the question “Would you introduce the newly launched KTX railroad line connecting Seoul with Gangneung?” there is a nugget of trivia that I needed at the moment I read it – that part of the engineering marvel of the new KTX line is a 22-kilometer-long tunnel in Daegwallyeong. That’s the longest tunnel in Korea, and the eighth longest in the world.

This newsletter is intriguing, at least to me. There is a bit of the normal evasive mumbo jumbo that bureaucracies spin. For example, in answer to the first question – “What do the Korean people think about Korea’s hosting of the Olympics, the world’s premier sporting event?” the answer starts off with a 90 degree turn.

KTX

Let us begin with a brief introduction to the Republic of Korea. The country became a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1996, and its economy now ranks near the global top 10. Surprisingly, however Korea was the most impoverished country in the world 70 years ago. It gained independence in 1945 but went into war in 1950……

It goes on like that for another three paragraphs without answering the question. Maybe the attitude of the Koreans towards the Olympics are like citizens in so many countries – mixed to negative.

But I suppose that answer would be a downer at the start of a newsletter promoting the pride Koreans have in showcasing the biggest Winter sports event in the world.

This four-page document is not all sugar and spice, however. In companies I’ve worked, in the face of intimidating change, corporate communications will often suggest creating a set of FAQs called “Rude FAQs.” In this case, the effort is put into thinking of the most direct questions an ordinary employee would think of (the directness of which can seem rude in the genteel world of let’s-all-get-along corporate cultures.)

So after the first nine, rather bland questions in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics newsletter come three fairly direct questions, real questions:

  • Q9. South Korea’s “Peace Olympics Initiative” led to North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. Is there any concern about the possibility of the North’s exploiting the Games as a propaganda opportunity?
  • Q10. Isn’t the North trying to gain time for its nuclear armament by participating in the Games, and doesn’t its participation constitute a violation of the sanctions imposed by the international community on North Korea?
  • Q11. Aren’t some South Korean media outlets and politicians worried about North Korea’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics?

And the answers were on the whole pretty solid. Here’s the response to the last question, #11:

Considering the fact that North Korea’s latest missile test was held just months ago, their sudden change in attitude is surprising, and indeed, voices of concern have been heard in some quarters.

The government is paying keen attention to these concerns out of the belief that they all emanate from a wish for the successful hosting of the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. The government is convinced that the North’s participation in the PyeongChang Olympics will contribute to the success of the Games for the following reasons:

  • First, the PyeongChang Olympics will aid the promotion of inter-Korean reconciliation as well as ease tensions and build peace on the Korean peninsula.
  • Second, there were concerns a few months ago over whether the PyeongChang Olympics could be peacefully held, but those concerns have now evaporated. Moreover, global leaders are supporting inter-Korean dialogue and the participation of North Kore in the PyeongChang Olympics.
  • Third, the North’s participation has further increased international interest I the PyeongChang Olympics, adding to its potential for success.
  • Fourth, efforts for detente on the Koran Peninsula will mitigate geopolitical risks, providing a boost to the Korean economy.

Athlete Anatomy Olympic Channel

You’ve done it. Admit it. All those surveys that tell you which Beatle you are, what famous portrait in the world’s museums you most look like, and what your mental age is.

The Olympic Channel has another one “Athlete Anatomy – Which Sport Suits You?” Through a series of questions that asks you about your gender, body shape, agility, power, reaction times, preference for summer or winter sports, land or water sports, sports with or without equipment, etc., you get a result.

For me, a person who is short, not so strong, and average in many ways physically, I ended up with two sports that surprised me momentarily, and then didn’t.

Olympic Channel My sport match is wrestling.jpg
My match for summer sports.

My anatomy apparently fits the profile for a wrestler, or for a ski jumper.

I was surprised at first because I have no interest in either sport. But perhaps if I were in an institution that demanded I be placed in a sports activity, perhaps that is where people of my type go.

When I think about it, wrestling requires no equipment, and the thinking is that probably anyone can do it. Now, with all due respect to the great athletes who are wrestlers, the point is not everyone can do it well. But I suppose with training and practice, I could become OK.

Olympic Channel My sport match is ski jumping
My match for winter sports is ski jumping.

As for ski jumping, that sport definitely requires buckets loads of courage, to go flying down a mountain at speeds that could send you flying into a spin that breaks many bones in your body. But with the example of Eddie the Eagle still fresh in many of our minds, the short, stocky, average-body type guys like me might see a bit of ourselves in Eddie.

How about you? What sport suits your anatomy?

Madison Rae Margraves gives her impact statement as her parents and sister Lauren listen during the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar, in the Eaton County Court in Charlotte
Madison Mangraves gives her impact statement as her parents and sister Lauren listen. February 2, 2018 REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

It was a sentencing hearing for former USA Gymnastics sports medicine doctor, Larry Nassar. Judge Janice Cunningham was presiding over the hearing in Eaton County Circuit Court in Charlotte, Michigan, where victims of Nassar’s abuse testified to the pain and suffering at his hands. Nasser was sentenced to 40 to 175 years for molesting 7 girls, although hundreds have said they had been molested by Nassar.

Two sisters, Lauren and Madison Mangraves, had just testified at Nasser’s sentencing hearing in Eaton County, and their father Randall Mangraves asked to speak as well.

“I can’t imagine the anger and the anxiety and the feeling of wanting retribution, and if you need to say something to help you,” said Cunningham to Randall Mangraves. “I’m more than willing to let you say something, but in a courtroom we don’t use profanity. If you have some words you’d like to say, I would like to give you the opportunity to say something.”

Mangraves then took the opportunity.

“I would ask you as part of the sentencing to grant me five minutes in a locked room with this demon. Would you do that? Yes or no.”

The young women behind the left shoulder of Randall Mangrave, were his daughters, Lauren and Madison. As their father began his request, you can see Madison react with surprise, her somber and tearful face suddenly smiling involuntarily, pleased that her father was sticking up for his daughters, perhaps thinking he was being even a bit playful when he suggested he have “even one minute” with Nassar.

But Randall Mangrave wasn’t playing. Madison’s face turned to shock as she watched his father dash across the room and lunge at Nassar. Security quickly wrestled him to the ground, Mangraves failing to get anywhere near the sexual predator. You can hear weeping in the background, presumably one of the daughters who had gone through a roller coaster of emotions, even in the previous 2 minutes.

Randall Mangraves attacks
Randall Margraves lunges at Larry Nassar in court as his sentencing continues REUTERS

After security determined he was cuffed and not going to resist, they let him get up. Before he was taken away, there was a pause as he stared at the security men in disbelief.

“What if this happened to you guys,” he said to the officers who took him away.

There was no reply.

 

PyeongChang Weater Feb 1

It’s a week away. I’m so excited. I’m getting chills.

I will be in South Korea for the opening ceremonies of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, with the world’s best winter sports athletes, world leaders, celebrities, the North Korean cheering squad and 35,000 other participants….freezing our butts off.

I routinely look at the weather app on my iPhone for the temperature in the area of the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, and it’s always minus-something celsius. In fact, over the past ten years, the average temperature of this northern part of South Korea is -5.8 Celsius.

And because the Olympic Stadium was built without a roof – to save costs – there are fears that the cutting winds of that area will give the “lucky” spectators a chance to sit for 4-5 hours in a wind chill of -12 degrees. This may not be healthy. According to this article, six people were treated for hypothermia at a concert they attended in the Olympic Stadium in November, 2017.

In order to prevent the mountain winds from sweeping through the stadium, organizers have built a wall 3.5 meters high, that circles around the stadium for 350 meters, which they hope will keep the wind chill down. They will also hand out blankets and heat packs to each of the participants. You can bet I will have those little instant heat packs all over my very layered body.

Here is one of a great set of FAQs on the PyeongChang Olympics from the Associated Press:

Q:  What’s the weather like?

A:  Bundle up. Gangwon Province is one of the country’s coldest places. The wind is brutal, and the stadium for the nighttime opening and closing ceremonies is open air and has no heating system. Locals make it a matter of pride not to complain about daily wintertime life, but visitors risk misery if they’re unprepared.

Fortunately, misery loves company…and maybe 35,000 people together can bring the heat!

Chloe Kim
Chloe Kim

Someone in Seoul recently wrote to me that many South Koreans are not so excited in the Winter Games to be held in their home country because there are no Korean superstars like Yuna Kim at these Games. I’m sure that will change if it hasn’t already.

Having said that, one of the biggest young talents coming to PyeongChang is a first-generation Korean. She will, however, be competing for the US. Her name is Chloe Kim. She is one of the best snowboarders in the world, becoming the youngest gold medalist at the Winter X Games at the age of 14. A year later she became the first person under 16 to win three gold medals, as well as the first woman to complete back-to-back 1080 spins in a competition, the only person other than the legendary snowboarder and teammate, Shaun White, to do so.Kim began snowboarding at 4

Born in California to Korean-born parents, Kim began snowboarding at 4. According to this SI article, she moved to Switzerland, where her parents met, for a couple of years of elementary school, where she added French and learned how to ply the halfpipe.

A Korean who won’t be returning is Viktor Ahn. With 3 gold medals and a bronze at the 2002 Salt Lake City and 2006 Torino Olympiads, Ahn (formerly known as Ahn Hyun-Soo) is one of the most decorated Olympians in South Korean history.

Unfortunately, following the 2006 Torino Games, the relationship between Ahn and his coach of the very successful Korean short track men’s team became tenable at best. Eventually, Ahn was put in a different group coached by the women’s track team, and the relationship became, apparently, unrepairable.

In 2008, Ahn fractured his knee while training, taking him out of action, and making it impossible for him to defend his world championship titles in 2008 and 2009. So when trials began for the 2010 Sochi Olympics, Ahn was not able to qualify due to the lack of points from not participating in the prior World Cups, so Ahn, somewhat surprisingly, was left off the South Korean squad heading to the 2010 Vancouver Games.

President Vladimir Putin Honours Russian Olympic Athletes
Putin and Ahn

In a tremendous shock to Korea, Ahn became a Russian citizen, and joined the Russian national team in time for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he had a successful comeback – three more gold medals and a bronze.

It goes without saying, with the Russia team under the dark cloud of state-sponsored cheating in addition to his “defection” to Russia, Koreans may have been looking forward to welcoming or heckling their for me star back to Korea. Unfortunately, that dramatic storyline never emerged.

While the IOC has approved over 160 Russians to compete at the Pyeong Chang Olympics, that list did not include Ahn, the taint of Russian medal winners who trained during the height of the state-sponsored doping machine prior and during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Ahn is despondent, as he explained to RT:

This is really a very difficult situation. The IOC hasn’t specified any reasons for my exclusion from the Olympics. I don’t understand why they have made such a decision. I really can’t say anything right now. I’m still waiting, but if the situation is not resolved we will take action. During my entire career journey in short track, I’ve never given a reason to doubt my honesty and my integrity, especially when it comes to my victories which I achieved with nothing but my strength and dedication.

Pita Taufatofua on skis

You may not remember the name, but you surely remember the body.

When Pita Taufatofua walked into the stadium at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Rio Olympics, carrying the Tongan flag at the head of his delegation. And in the doing, he, as they say, blew up the internet.

The taekwando competitor was dressed in native Tongan costume, from the waist down. From the waist up, Taufatofua was shirtless, his muscular upper body slick and shiny with oil. Men stared and women swooned the world over. Jenna Bush, the daughter of President George W. Bush, was one of three NBC anchorwomen filmed rubbing oil over the arms and chest of the Australian born native of Brisbane.

As a fighter, Taufatofua lost his first match in the heavyweight competition at Rio, and that was it.

But once bit by the Olympic bug, it’s hard for some people to walk away. So Taufatofua did the unthinkable, and found a way into the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. And while there will be a taekwondo demonstration team from North Korea, this Tongan will be competing in cross-country skiing. That’s amazing since he didn’t start skiing until 2017.

As you can guess, Taufatofua has not been around snow all that much, but he caught a break when the International Ski Federation changed their eligibility rules allowing skiiers to employ points gained in roller skiing competitions (more commonly organized in warm-weather countries).

As explained in this article, Taufatofua had to work hard to learn a new discipline and spend a lot of money to boot. He formed a ragtag team of experts who coached him in his new discipline, moved to Austria to get his training on snow, and worked to make the minimum time to make the Olympics on the Tongan national team.

“I’m the brokest I’ve been in my life,” he said. But he’s back in the Games.

Can’t Miss Prediction: He won’t go shirtless in the PyeongChang Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Pita Taufatofua on skis 2

 

Hyon Song Wol
Hyon Song Wol of the North Korean delegation

K-Pop’s really popular all over Asia. But how about NK-Pop?

Thanks to a recent rapprochement by the two Koreas, North and South Korea will unite under the name “Korea” at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. In addition to a figure skating duo which had actually qualified for the Games, an additional 22 athletes will be added to the roster of participating athletes.

A stunning turn of events only weeks before the commencement of the Games, the governments of North and South Korea are working to de-escalate the tension that has risen in the second half of 2017, as test missiles from North Korea flew menacingly close to Japan, and antagonistic words between the American and North Korean leaders were exchanged.

South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, has been actively seeking to bring North Korea to the table, and to the PyeongChang Olympics. On January 18, 2018, weeks before the Winter Games start on February 8, the two sides negotiated the presence of not only athletes and officials in PyeongChang, but also a wide variety of teams that would serve to promote North Korean arts, sports and of course, the government leadership. That includes a team of taekwondo athletes, which of course won’t compete because it’s not the Summer Games, but instead will perform in demonstrations.

Participants at the PyeongChang Winter Games will be graced by the presence of the so-called “Army of Beauties,” a hand-picked cheering squad of 230 women who will chant, sing and cheer at the Games opening ceremonies, among other events.

The Samjiyon Art Troupe, an all-purpose group of 140 singers, dancers and orchestral members will also perform during the Olympics. This particular group is led by Hyon Song Wol, who is the leader of the Moranbong Band, an all-female band that is more well known, and has been performing pop rock since 2012. It is reported that North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, helped establish the band.

Hyon is no ordinary musician. She was a member of North Korea’s delegation visiting South Korea for the rapprochement talks, and is perceived to be close to Kim Jong-un. There have even been rumors that she was romantically involved with Kim before he became North Korea’s supreme leader.

Rumors don’t stop there regarding Hyon. It was believed in 2014 that Hyon was dead, executed by the hand of the State, for the charge of – wait for it – starring in a pornographic films. The rumors of her demise were apparently greatly exaggerated. Today, Hyon appears to wield significant political influence. And at the opening ceremonies of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, Hyon and the Samjiyon Art Troupe will take the spotlight on the biggest stage in sports.

It was to be a chance to shine, they told him. A chance to get out from under the long shadow of his wife, The Queen of England.

It was 1956, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, took off on a trip to Australia to participate in the opening of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He and the Queen had actually attended the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, and two years later, went to Australia as that country was gearing up for the Melbourne Summer Games. According to this article in the Daily Telegraph, the Queen accepted an invitation to return to Australia to open up the first Olympics in the southern hemisphere.

 

Prince Philip at the Melbournce Olympics
Prince Philip at the Opening Ceremonies of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

 

As Queen Elizabeth’s schedule would not permit, Prince Philip stepped in. On board the HMY Britannia, the Prince was on an extended tour of the British empire, including New Guinea and nearby islands, as well as a trip to Antarctic, the first member of royalty to travel that far south.

But as is portrayed in the wonderful period series, The Crown, it was not all smooth sailing. The Daily Telegraph stated that the Prince “arrived at the MCG in a Rolls Royce, resplendent in naval uniform, to open the games,” which helped smooth over the rumors of infidelity. But the rumors would gain momentum when it was reported that his close friend, Mike Parker, was being sued for divorce by his wife for adultery among other things. Parker, who was the Prince’s private secretary, resigned on the Brittannia, and the Prince returned home to rumors of worsening relations between he and his wife.

So what was supposed to be a moment of pride for the British empire turned into tawdry tabloid fodder.