Otto F. Warmbier
Otto F. Warmbier in North Korea
22-year-old American, Otto Warmbier, was released in mid-June, 2017 from a North Korean prison in a coma, only to die a few days later after returning home.

Test missiles routinely take off from North Korea, much to the alarm of Japan, China and the rest of the world.

It appears no one really knows how to deal effectively with the North Korean government, and so the world is in a sudden state of panic every time North Korea makes noise.

And yet, South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, is thinking out loud, wondering why we can’t just all get along. As South Korea will be hosting the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in early 2018, President Moon is looking for opportunities to bring North and South Korea together.

One idea is to have North Korea host an event, since there are skiing and skating venues in the North. One of the places that could host skiing events is Masikryong Ski Resort. About a 3-hour drive East of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, Marikryong was established by the North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un.

According to the Telegraph, the Masikryong Ski Resort was criticized internationally for employing child labour to keep this largely underused resort available to service the elite of North Korean society. Click on the image below to see a video created by the North Korean government promoting the site.

Marikryong promotion video

Another idea is to have a joint North and South Korean team. “I believe in the strength of sports that has been brokering peace,” President Moon said in this Channel News Asia article. “If a North Korean delegation takes part in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, I believe it will greatly contribute to realizing the Olympic values of friendship and peace.”

Currently, no one in North Korea is eligible for the upcoming Winter Games. There is hope that the two Koreas could field a women’s ice hockey team for the PyeongChang Games.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to thaw lingering tensions as we try to bring North Korea on board,” said Do Jong-hwan, Minister of culture, sports and tourism, according to the Korea Herald. If the North Koreans participate, he believes the PyeongChang Games could be one day known as “The Peace Olympics.”

usain bolt mcnuggets

After the 2012 London Olympics, one of the most famous people on the planet revealed in his just-released autobiography something that likely made the hearts of MacDonald’s executives flutter with pride and joy.

In his book, Faster than Lightning, Jamaican Usain Bolt, sprinter nonpareil, said that at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he essentially lived off of Chicken McNuggets, consuming an estimated thousand of the fried chicken chunks during his time in Beijing. Bolt won gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter sprints, as well as the 4×100 relay. You can be sure that McNuggets were on his menu for his subsequent triumphs at the London and Rio Olympics.

By virtue of being a TOP Sponsor of the Olympics, MacDonald’s had exclusive rights to market itself as a global Olympic sponsor, preventing any other food provider of associating itself with the Olympics. This privilege provided MacDonald’s the opportunities to create the biggest and best MacDonald restaurants in the world right inside the Olympic Villages over the past decades, a favorite dining area for athletes.

But after 41 years as an official sponsor of the Olympics, MacDonald’s and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided it was time to part ways.

Perhaps there was a persistent hum of discontent within the IOC that fast food should not be seen as the fuel for so many healthy world-class athletes, which may have needled the executives of MacDonald’s. “The brand relevance is simply not there anymore,” said Patrick Nally, one of the of the architects of the IOC’s revamped marketing model established in the 1980s. “At every games you see a storm of criticism in the media about McDonald’s being present at the Olympics, and that’s just gotten worse.”

Perhaps it was a matter of the bottom line. According to Business Insider, the CEO of MacDonald’s, Steve Easterbook, has been working on a plan to revamp its menu, employ greater digital innovation to its business processes, and cut costs by about half a billion dollars by the end of 2018. The TOP sponsorship is a hefty USD 25 million per year. MacDonald’s exited it’s contract with the IOC three years before the contract’s completion, so that’s a saving of USD75 million in the next three years.

MacDonalds in Olympic Village of 2012 London Games
Athletes Binging on MacDonalds in the Olympic Village After Completion of 2012 London Games

Perhaps it was a revision to Rule 40. This rule was established by the IOC to prevent over-commercialization of the Olympics by anyone who could draw the five Olympic rings or a close approximation of them. By creating a rule and a process for protecting the Olympic brand, the IOC has been better able to ensure TOP Sponsors that they would truly have exclusive marketing rights within their particular industry category.

However, as a concession to athletes, who are heavily supported by their own sponsors, and who have grown increasingly irked by the hammer hold the IOC and TOP Sponsors have on the ability to prevent their own sponsors of even a splinter of exposure around the time of the Olympics, the IOC decided to relax Rule 40. As explained in this Sports Illustrated article, in February 2015, “the international Olympic Committee decided to relax its guidelines to allow ‘generic’ or ‘non-Olympic advertising’ during the Summer Games. This also allows for athletes to tweet and post on social media about non-official sponsors as long as they do not use any Olympic properties or references. The U.S. Olympic Committee has to grant approval to American sponsors and brands.”

Rule 40 enforces a blackout period for the above-mentioned marketing of personal non-official sponsors, that extends from 9 days prior to the Olympic Games to three days after its completion. However, this did not seem to please MacDonald’s. According to Reuters, John Lewicki, the man who oversees MacDonald’s TOP Sponsorship relationship with the IOC, was reported to say last year that “the company would reevaluate its Olympic relationship after changes to a rule that ended a marketing blackout for companies that sponsor athletes rather than the event itself.”

So while athletes won’t have Big Macs or McNuggets to chow down at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, skiers and skaters will be able to enjoy their fast food fix at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea. MacDonald’s still has an agreement with the South Korean national olympic committee, providing them with marketing rights and access to the Olympic Village. If they can convince Bolt to start a career as a bobsledder like his famous countrymen from of the 1998 Calgary Winter Games, he can be a one-man-marketing machine for MacDonald’s, one last hurrah for a long-time Olympic sponsor.

Apolo Ohno Salt Lake City Games

I lived in Belltown, Seattle and would often walk by Yuki’s Diffusion on 4th Avenue, where Yuki Ohno ran his hair salon. I always quietly hoped that he would be cutting his son’s hair when I passed by, but I don’t think I ever saw the salon open.

It’s possible, when I was in Seattle in 2009-2011, Yuki may have been preparing his son for one last push, one last hurrah. For Yuki’s son is Apolo Ohno, three-time Olympian and American speed demon of the short track. In 2009, he was gearing up for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where he would garner two more bronze medals to complement his six medals from the 2002 and 2006 Winter Games, including two golds.

But years before Apolo Ohno exploded onto the scene at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, he was just a rebellious teenager. His mother had left the family when he was one, so the always-on, rambunctious boy was raised by a single father who knew, according to this Seattle Times article, only the way he was raised, with strict discipline and a clear message about hard work and respect.” Young Apolo knew how things were at his friends’ homes, where “their parents are their servants, kids’ fingers snap, there’s the food,” Yuki said.

One thing Yuki noticed was that Apolo was athletic, and encouraged his son to swim, then roller skate, before eventually picking up roller blading. According to this ABC News article, Yuki would drive Apolo hundreds of miles around the United States so Apolo could race in rollerblading competitions, this while working full days at the hair salon. After watching the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics together, they were amazed to discover that Olympians were racing around on blades, on the ice. After getting Apolo skates, they soon realized that the kid was very fast on ice skates too, fast enough that he was asked to train with other promising speedskaters at the U. S. Junior Olympic Development Team in Lake Placid, N. Y.

Suddenly, Apolo was on the fast track to the Olympics. And yet, while Apolo was physically ready for the challenge, his head wasn’t there yet. As explained in the ABC News article, after Yuki took his son to the airport and left him to wait for his flight for New York, the son slipped away, crashing at the homes of friends in Seattle for two weeks. The father eventually found his fugitive son, and got him on the plane to Lake Placid. At the 1997 trials for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, Apolo was likely a 15-year-old ball of confusion. Out of 16 competitors, Apolo finished 16th. That’s when Yuki insisted that Apolo take the time to think about what he wanted, by himself, by banishing his son to an isolated cottage by the Pacific Ocean where it was cold and rainy.

“My dad and I, we were still battling back and forth,” Apolo said. “He said, ‘Okay, you need to go to the ocean and contemplate, what are you gonna do?’ “

For days, Apolo did little but run and think. It was a tough time for Yuki, too.

“I had to tell him,” ‘You have to do this alone, all by yourself in the cottage in a very rainy, cold isolated area,’ ” Yuki said. “It’s very hard for me to tell him, but, ‘You have to take this path to come to the decision on your own.’ “

On the ninth day, Apolo called his dad and said simply, “I’m ready.”

From that point on, focused on becoming great at speed skating, Apolo Ohno began a long and very successful Olympic career. And his father Yuki was there practically every step of the way, travelling with his son during competitions, the training sessions and of course the Olympics. After all the fighting, the long trips in the cars, the highs and the crashes, Apolo today realizes that his father has always been there for him.

“I have certain times that I have to myself, I’m on the plane or I’m in a hotel room and I think like, ‘Wow’ You’re very grateful — you know, that I was blessed to have such great dad. And he is so supportive.”

Apolo and Yuki Ohno
Apolo and Yuki Ohno

Eri Yamamoto and Yamawaki

Eri Yamamoto-MacDonald navigates the world in a wheelchair. No matter how fast this para-athlete swims, or how many goals she scores as an ice sledge hockey competitor, or how many kilograms she pushes into the air as a competitive powerlifter, when people see her, they see someone who needs help.

At an American Chamber of Commerce Japan event on June 2, 2017, Yamamoto-MacDonald of The Nippon Foundation told a fairly typical story, for her, of going to a store to buy rice. When she got to the cashier to pay for a 5kg bag of rice, the person working there took notice of her wheelchair and asked her, “are you able to carry that bag of rice?” She understood the person was not acting mean, but she was frustrated that as a power weightlifter, who lifts 50 kilograms in competition, is seen as so helpless that she can’t lift 5. “They are not seeing me as an athlete. They are seeing me as a disabled person.”

For joint speakers, Yamamoto-MacDonald, as well as Yasushi Yamawaki, also of the Nippon Foundation and president of the Japan Paralympic Committee, it is their mission to change the perceptions of people regarding individuals with impairments. “It’s not about disability, it’s about ability,” said Yamawaki. “We take the word ‘impossible’, and add an apostrophe between the ‘I’ and the ‘m’, because we like to say ‘I’m possible’. To us, nothing is impossible.”

Yamamoto-MacDonald, who has not had the use of her legs since birth, has been working in the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center with a goal of bringing social change to Japan. It’s important to change the tangibles, she said, designing infrastructure and venues to make it easier for people with impairments to navigate and take advantage of their surroundings. But it’s more important to deal with the intangibles. “Changing peoples’ minds is more important. Having them watch high performance para-athletes can change people’s perceptions towards people with disabilities.”

Nippon Foundation produces an Education Toolkit, called “I’m Possible”, which they distribute to schools throughout the country. So far they have handed out 23,000 toolkits nationwide. Nippon Foundation has organized visits by para-athletes to over 100 elementary, junior high and high schools last year. The plan is to visit 250 schools in 2017 and 1,000 by 2020.

The education is important because it is often the social environment that highlights the disability of an individual, as Yamamoto-MacDonald explained. If the work environment of a person with an impairment allows that person to move about and do the things he or she wants or needs to do, the so-called disability can be rendered unnoticeable. But if the physical environment caters to so-called able-bodied people only, and the surrounding individuals consciously or unconsciously behave or speak in a way that ignores or demeans those with impairments, then as Yamamoto-MacDonald observed, the social environment creates the disability.

She explained that at her workplace in the Nippon Foundation, everyone works to chip away at both the tangible and intangible barriers people with impairments face. However, while her workplace allows her to live a relatively normal life, she finds Japanese society less accommodating. “Japanese people are very polite. But in public, they are not. If I’m traveling by train, I need to use the elevators. But people who have the option of stairs and escalators push their way in front of me to get into the elevators.” She said that in contrast, while London still needed to make improvements to infrastructure, they had a better mindset, even back in 2012.

Yamamoto MacDonald and Roy

At the London Paralympics, I worked at the Japan House to build awareness for the Tokyo 2020 bid. To get to the venue I had to take public transpiration. I got off at a station where there were no elevators. The officers told me that I had to get off at the station before this one. But they made sure I got to the venue. The people’s mindset is very important, even without all of the infrastructure. I got to where I needed to go in London. Tokyo doesn’t have that mindset. People need to care a little more. It would be better to have more accessibility, but it is accessibility in the heart that is more important.

Yamamoto-MacDonald talked about how important it is for companies to expose themselves more to people with impairments, and to understand that engaging with a wider variety of people is an opportunity. In fact, she said that CSR, which stands for Corporate Social Responsibility, should really be re-labeled CSO, or Corporate Social Opportunity. It’s an opportunity for corporations and wider society to understand the power of diversity and inclusion. But it is also a way to expand opportunities for people like her. This is key for two reasons: to motivate those with impairments who feel different and isolated, as well as to unlock the potential abilities in the disabled.

I never got asked about my hobbies, or what sports I like. When I was 9, I was so shy. I couldn’t say “thank you”. Why is it only me who has to say “thank you” all the time, I thought. I couldn’t say “thank you” back because I felt I couldn’t help anyone. But when I began swimming, I gained confidence. I swam faster, faster than even able-bodied swimmers. That’s when I started saying “thank you”. As I grew more confident, I began to dream of being a Paralympian, going to the Paralympics. Since I began having that dream, it has become my identity.

An injury at 16 made it difficult for Yamamoto-MacDonald to continue her swimming career. She went to Canada and became proficient at ice sledge hockey, but she also understood this kind of hockey was not yet a Paralympics event. When she returned to Japan, she did not have a specialization that could focus her training for 2020, until she stumbled upon powerlifting.

Last year, the Tokyo Metropolitan government sponsored a special event – a power-lifting exhibition. I saw big guys lifting hundreds of kilograms. My boss told me to give it a try. I grabbed 20kg and it was light! It was fun! I saw other women stop at 20kg but I was able to lift 40 kg. Since then I have been powerlifting.

She explained we rarely see powerlifting on television or live. There are very few events and opportunities, and the opportunities for people with impairments to see para-athletes is very low. “You have to meet the right people for the right chance to come around.” And that is something Yamawaki explained is key to driving societal change – the need to create greater exposure of para-athletes to society to show what is possible.

Yamawaki ended the talk with a video from the International Paralympics Committee. As you can see in the video below, there is a strong push to bring sports opportunities to youth with impairments, that motivating them earlier in their lives will lead them to greater choices and fuller lives.

“It’s not about what people can’t do, it’s what they can do,” he said.

Reminder: If you have a design for a mascot you believe is killer kawaii, and would be perfect representing the Tokyo2020 Olympics, start working on it now! The design contest is on, and the submission period lasts from August 1 – 14. See this link for details!

As a benchmark, here are two you should be able to beat.

Schuss the mascot

Schuss – 1968 Grenoble Winter Games Mascot

You would think that Japan would have had a mascot for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. But the first mascot to represent an Olympic Games appeared at the Grenoble Winter Games in 1968 was “Schuss”.

This cartoonish representation of a skiier, whose outsized head with large eyes wide apart, sits on an abstract blue body of plastic bent in two places, connected to skis. The first word out of my mouth – creepy. (That’s probably why it got the nickname “The Skiing Sperm”. )

The word “Schuss” actually means a fast and straight downhill run, but it might as well be the sound other’s make when you try to bring up this mascot in conversation.

Wenlock and Mandeville

Wenlock and Mandeville – 2012 London Mascots

Here is a case where intuition goes out the window. Wenlock and Mandeville were the mascots of the 2012 London Summer Olympics and Paralympics. Just looking at them, I don’t know what to call them except walking eyeballs. The names refer to two places in England: Much Wenlock in Shropshire and Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.

Much Wenlock was where Dr Penny Brookes organized a rural fair in the mid-19th century that included a variety of sporting events loosely based on ancient Olympic ideas. Stoke Mandeville Hospital was the site of the first Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948, often cited as a significant precursor to the Paralympics.

And yet, what do I see? Two walking eyeballs.

South Korea Koreas Tension

Tensions between North Korea and South Korea are high. With multiple missile tests in 2017, North Korea is believed to have the capability to drop nuclear bombs on South Korea and Japan today.

The symbolic and real divide between North and South is the demilitarized zone, aka the DMZ – a 4-km wide no-man’s land that serves as a buffer between highly armed military forces on both sides. Families have been reunited through this land route from North to South. But in the times when athletes travel to events where both North and South Koreans compete, they have done so by sea or by air. Most recently, a South Korean women’s soccer team went to North Korea, and a North Korean women’s hockey team went to South Korea for respective tournaments.

When the PyeongChang Winter Games commence in February, 2018, North Korean athletes will walk through the DMZ for the first time, according to Lee Hee-beom, head of The PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG).

South Korea will welcome North Korea and when they decide to come, the South Korean government will allow them to come by road. And when they have supporting teams, the (South) Korean government will allow them to come by ship. All nations are very welcome, including North Korea and Russia. We want it to be the peace games.

No North Koreans have yet qualified for the PyeongChang Games, so it likely would not be a parade of athletes marching through the DMZ. But as Lee has said, the optics are the key. “Symbolically, to maintain peace in the Korean peninsula, their participation is very important, and for the success of the Olympic Games.”

I don’t know what it is like at the DMZ. But in June, 1985, I walked through a highly secured border checkpoint separating East and West Berlin, a place known then as Checkpoint Charley on the West Berlin side. I remember white walls and towers, military men with machine guns, and deathly silence. As a typical 22-year-old wise-cracking New Yorker, who liked to joke about everything, I found myself in a state of intense suppression, as I see in my diary of that time.

Checkpoint Charley on the eastern side is hardly intimidating in appearance, but you feel the intensity of the situation. You can’t take pictures, and for me the hardest part, you keep your snide remarks to yourself. There is dead silence as you walk through the cement corridors. A single watchtower glances at the grounds, but the electricity of the moment prevented me from snapping a noisy picture. The guard inside the customs office joked with Fenz, and that helped ease the tension, but the sensation of freedom was never so exhilarating when you realized that you were through. Violently spattered with graffiti, the wall (on the West Berlin side) remains a moving testament to the shackled human soul.

The Wall 3
Roy after walking through Checkpoint Charley to West Berlin and freedom

 

Koebe Bryant high school
Kobe Bryant

The Players Tribune is a internet forum devoted to the athlete’s perspective. Hounded and misquoted by the press, Derek Jeter believed athletes needed a place for them to tell their story in their own words.

One of the features of The Players Tribune is Letter to My Younger Self, an opportunity for athletes to reflect on their youth, and what their current self would have told their younger self.

Kobe Bryant‘s advice to the high school prodigy that he was is interestingly of a financial nature, and somewhat insightful. He explains that giving your friends and loved ones things, nice things, expensive things, is not doing your friends and family a favor. In fact, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and five-time NBA champion, Bryant would tell his younger self that giving things away is an act of selfishness, and not a responsible way to take care of those you care for.

You love them, and they were always there for you growing up, so it’s only right that they should share in your success and all that comes with it. So you buy them a car, a big house, pay all of their bills. You want them to live a beautiful, comfortable life, right? But the day will come when you realize that as much as you believed you were doing the right thing, you were actually holding them back. You will come to understand that you were taking care of them because it made YOU feel good, it made YOU happy to see them smiling and without a care in the world — and that was extremely selfish of you. While you were feeling satisfied with yourself, you were slowly eating away at their own dreams and ambitions. You were adding material things to their lives, but subtracting the most precious gifts of all: independence and growth. Understand that you are about to be the leader of the family, and this involves making tough choices, even if your siblings and friends do not understand them at the time.

When you’re young, you’re care free and often pain free. But the aches and pains of the full-time athlete can take its toll. To world-class athletes, it’s often the mental stress that is the bigger test.

According to three-time Olympic medalist between 1996-2004, Brandi Chastain of the US women’s soccer team, and four-time Olympian, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, managing pain and injury is a key to maturing as an athlete.

Brandi Chastain portrait outside Spartan Stadium
Brandi Chastain

The mental and physical challenges of rehabbing your body will test your patience. Have faith in those moments — they will define your future perseverance. No athlete knows what’s on the other side of significant injuries. Live all of your questions and trust the process. You’ll return a better player, a better teammate, a better person. – Brandi Chastain in The Player’s Tribune

Yes, your leg will be black and blue, and the torn muscle will bring pain unlike anything you’ve ever felt before. Yes, you’ve never been seriously injured before. However, it will be essential that you listen to your physical therapist when they tell you that you’ll be OK. The only thing that will hold you back is a lack of mental toughness at the time.Jackie Joner-Kersee in The Player’s Tribune

And finally, if these athletes were to tell their younger selves to give pause, it would be for their parents, who unconditionally and thanklessly chauffeured them to practice and back, practice and back, practice and back.

Caroline Wozniaki
Caroline Wozniacki

2012 London Olympic semi-finalist, Caroline Wozniacki, wrote about the early morning drives to tennis practice, and how she wished she were more in the moment, more appreciative of those moments in the car.

He’ll wake up early to drive you to the tennis club at 6 a.m. so you can practice before all the matches start. Then, at eleven at night, he’ll jump back in the car with you and take you back to the club so you can practice after the day’s matches have ended. Appreciate everything your family does for you during your childhood. They will sacrifice so much for you. Do yourself a favor and make the most of those car rides. Soak in all the lessons and guidance that Dad provides you — and not just the stuff about tennis. Pay attention to what he is trying to instill in you about life. He and Mom will always stress the importance being a good person, of treating people right, of being respectful and kind. Let that sink in. Allow it to shape who you become.Caroline Wozniacki in The Player’s Tribune

Henrik Lundquist kid

My favorite player on my home team ice hockey team, the New York Rangers, is goalie Henrik Lundquist. The two-time Olympian and gold medalist from the 2006 Turin Winter Games, Lundquist also remembers the long hours his parents drove him through all kinds of weather so he and his brother could play hockey.

Starting tomorrow, your parents will begin their journey, too. They will drive you and your brother hours and hours across Sweden to play hockey. They’ll drive through huge snowstorms. They’ll drive after long days at work. And their reward at the end of those drives will be to sit in cold rinks for hours — helping you get dressed, then watching you play, then helping you get undressed. Years later, when you think back on this time in your life as a grown man with a child of your own, you will finally appreciate what an incredible sacrifice your parents made for you and Joel. – Henrik Lundquist in The Player’s Tribune