On a day when Osaka had 1,161 infections, it’s fifth day in a row over 1,000, skaters from six nations competed in that city at the Maruzen Intec Arena.
On April 15, 2021, the first day of the four-day ISU World Team Trophy in Figure Skating, 48 skaters from six nations, along with coaches, team staff, referees and tournament staff all tested negative for coronavirus, allowing them to enter the competition bubble and perform in front of a live audience.
On Saturday night April 17, Team Russia won the competition, with Team USA and Team Japan finishing second and third. As the International Skating Union (ISU) determined that this event would have Beijing Olympic implications, some of the world’s best figure skaters came to Osaka, including potential 2022 individual gold medalists, Nathan Chen of the USA and Anna Shcherbakova of Russia.
In November 2020, Skate Canada expressed concern about competing in Japan as they wondered if COVID-19 protocols were sufficient enough. In the end, teams from Canada, Italy and France joined Russia, America and Japan in the ISU bubble.
The Maruzen Intec Arena seats about 10,000 people. Watching the event on TV Asahi one could estimate that attendance was probably less than a thousand, with spectators sitting every other seat, with no one in front or behind.
With fewer than 100 days to go, this is the first major example of an international sporting event taking place this year in Japan with spectators, more evidence that Tokyo2020 will likely happen this summer.
Some people describe it like being kicked off a cliff in a trash can, akin to the worst turbulence you ever felt while flying.
That’s how Lauren Gibbs described the experience of the bobsleigh in her compelling online program, A Day in the Life, Olympic Bobsledder. Her live program is part of Airbnb’s newly launched online experiences, a growing list of programs you can join via Zoom, a great way to fill the time during your COVID-19 home isolation. On the day I participated, people from New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Quebec and Tokyo gathered to listen to a bona fide Olympian.
Gibbs is a native of Los Angeles, California, which she points out is “far from being the Mecca of bobsledding.” Unlike Breeja Larson profiled in Part 1, Gibbs didn’t dream of being an Olympian since the age of 4. She went to college (Brown University) where she played volleyball, got her MBA (Pepperdine University), and then worked in sales for 12 years. She was working in Denver, making good money overseeing a team of 200 across 5 states. But she wasn’t happy in her work.
One day in 2014, while working out at Front Range CrossFit in Denver, Gibbs had one of those accidental meetings that in hindsight, changed her life. Jill Potter, eventual captain of the US women’s rugby team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, trained at the same gym, and asked Gibbs a series of surprising questions: How much do you back squat? How about dead lifts? And can you sprint?
Gibbs answered, but had no idea why she was being asked these questions until Potter came back and said, “I think you should bobsled.” Gibbs, who sprinkles her talk with laugh-out-loud remarks throughout the online session said, “which of course is something every 30 year old thinks they’re going to hear on a random Wednesday.”
But Gibbs actually took the idea seriously. She had experience being unemployed during the sub-prime crisis and promised herself then that she would always give every new opportunity a serious look. So she did some digging. She learned that since women’s bobsledding was introduced as an Olympic event in 2002, Team USA had medaled every time. She learned that the USOPC had a training center in Colorado Springs and that there happened to be a try out that weekend. She thought, “What do I have to lose. At the very least, I can enjoy the food at the cafeteria, maybe meet some Olympians. It will be a cool story to tell at the office.”
After the try out, she got an invitation to rookie camp at Lake Placid in New York, and found out what it was really like to ride a bobsled down an actual sliding course.
I’m standing over the edge and it looks like an iced-over water slide, a death trap. I’m standing at the top of the mountain and I’m terrified. I’m staring down at the dark abyss, because it goes right into a corner and you can’t see what’s coming next.
Gibbs demonstrating what it’s like to be a brakeperson in a 2-person bobsleigh.
Gibbs made it down the track, and she screamed “Heck yes! I’ve got to do that again!”
And so the sales executive quit her job and embarked on a path of potential glory, but also great uncertainty.
Following your dream is an amazing thing, but it is also painful. The harder you work and the closer you get to your goal, the more terrifying it becomes. You start to realize that as you get closer to your goal, you have more to lose. There is so much uncertainty. And a lot of times, there’s nothing you can do about it as so many things are out of your control.
Spoiler alert – Gibbs would eventually make Team USA on the 2-person bobsleigh team, joining then two-time Olympian and medalist, Elana Meyers-Taylor. The pair would take silver in their event at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
Today, Gibbs is training to make Team USA for the 2022 Beijing Olympics. She is making less money, but she is saving more as she has become more focused in her goal and more disciplined about what she needs and doesn’t need. And she is happy.
In her online program, Gibbs shares three of her life’s lessons, one of which is how to say “no,” something easier to do when you know what you want. She knows it. And she’s going for it.
Do you want to feel that passion? Do you want to ask her yourself how she does it? Then sign up for her program.
There was the “Miracle” on Ice, 40 years ago. On February 22, 1980, a squad of underdog American university students defeated what is commonly cited as the greatest hockey team of all time – the 1980 Soviet Union Team. When ABC broadcaster, Al Michaels, shouted “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” and the American team won 4-3, my household erupted with tens of millions of Americans across the country.
But it was the “miracle” on ice on February 12, 1980, a day before the start of the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, that stands in my mind as one of my biggest Olympic memories, and made Bill Baker a household name, at least in my household.
I was 17. At that time, my father and two younger brothers were huge New York Islanders fans and I was a New York Rangers fan. My Rangers had lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Montreal Canadians in 1979, and the Islanders would go on to end the Canadians 4-year championship reign to win four consecutive cups of their own from 1980. So it was natural for all of us to watch the live broadcast of Team USA’s first match against Sweden.
Team USA was ranked #7 of the twelve teams in the Olympic tournament, and they had Sweden (#3) and Czechoslovakia (#2) as the first two matches in their preliminary round bracket. All of America’s and Canada’s greatest hockey stars were playing games for the NHL during the Olympics, while every other national team had most or all of their country’s best players on the ice in Lake Placid. Team USA coach Herb Brooks reportedly told his team that any chances of a medal were lost if they did not win or tie against the Swedes and Czechs.
We watched the ABC broadcast in our living room, although the rest of the country weren’t. The arena at Lake Placid was half filled, and the Olympics hadn’t even officially started – the opening ceremonies wouldn’t happen till the next day. But we didn’t care. We were watching, and we wanted Team USA to win.
What would become a trend at the 1980 Olympics, Sweden scored first when Sture Andersson scored midway through the first period. But first evidence of Team USA’s resilience emerged when Dave Silk (eventual New York Ranger) knotted the game with a nifty shot over the shoulder of Swedish goalie Per Lundqvist with only 28 seconds left in the second period….a harbinger of sorts.
In the third period, Team Sweden pushed ahead 2-1 when Thomas Eriksson scored early in the third period with a tap in, unchallenged in front of the American goal. Goalie, Jim Craig kept USA close with great saves as Sweden outshot USA in the third period, but despite a number of chances, the Americans remained behind 2-1 as the minutes melted away. And in the final minutes, the Swedes dominated play in the American zone.
Finally, Team USA cleared the zone allowing Brooks to pull the goalie, Craig, to give them a one-player advantage, but leaving their own goal empty and vulnerable. The Americans got the puck into the Swedish zone, and after the puck flew into the stands stopping play, the Americans set up for a face off to the right of the Swedish goalie with only 41 seconds left. If they lose the face off, the Swedes could end up clearing the zone and flipping the puck into an empty net. But the Tomizawas in their living room had hope. Nothing but hope.
Mark Johnson won the face off, with the puck kicking back to Mike Ramsey, whose slap shot was blocked by a diving defender. Ramsey retrieved the puck and slid the puck to defenseman, Bill Baker, who pushed the puck into the corner. With Americans and Swedes vying for the puck behind the net, Buzz Schneider emerged with the puck and slid a gentle centering pass that Baker stepped into. With a mighty swing, Baker shot the puck between the legs of Lundqvist, with only 27 seconds left in the game.
For us in the living room, it was a miracle.
“It may be the most important point of the tournament because that one point will make a difference in their medal aspirations,” said the color commentator for Canadian broadcaster CTV at the end of the game.
Of course, the rest is history.
Team USA would go on to destroy Czechoslovakia two days later, and unpredictably win every game in the tournament to break USSR dominance and win their first ice hockey gold since 1960.
But of all those incredible games, it was the first one – the small-caps miracle on ice – that gives me goose bumps to this day.
Much to the relief of the IOC, Sweden has thrown its hat into the ring, and submitted a plan to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. Stockholm-Are will now join Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy as the only two areas left to bid for 2026.
In November of last year, Calgary, Canada withdrew its bid after Calgarians voted no in a thumbs-up, thumbs-down referendum to host the Games. This was after Sapporo, Japan (September, 2018), Graz, Austria (July, 2018) and Sion, Switzerland (June, 2018) pulled out of the 2026 bid process.
Calgary actually had the facilities required for a Winter Games as this Albertan city hosted the 1988 Winter Games. However, not only are ski jumps, bobsleigh and luge sliding tracks and speed skating ovals costly to build, they are expensive to maintain. For example, as CBC explains, the not-for-profit organization that operates the venues of the Calgary Olympics have stated recently that they may have to close their sliding center down as repair costs and annual operation costs are in the tens of millions of dollars.
At least Calgary kept these facilities open in order to create a year-round place for athletes to train. Only one year after the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the six sports centers built for the Games in the northern rural and seaside towns of South Korea are hardly used, according to AFP. The sliding center, built at a cost of USD100 million, has been closed due to the maintenance cost of USD1 million per yet, and the Gangneug Oval where speed skating events were held, and the ice hockey arena remain open but unused.
“The government should have had a long-term plan to use the Olympic venues,” said Han Hyung-seob, 37, a startup founder who took his family on a visit to PyeongChang. “After they invested a large amount of money, abandoning these facilities because it costs too much to maintain is beyond understanding as a South Korean.”
February 9, 2018 was the first day of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and I have so many memories of my 10 days in Korea.
.…how cold it was – minus 10 degrees centigrade with a wind chill of “can’t-feel-my-face” degrees. And yet, as if cooperating with the Gods of Olympia, no snow fell, no winds blew, and no need for all the heat packs I brought with me to the stadium.
…how Trump made an appearance and the Olympics great again.
…how confusing it was, in those early days when the bus operators were moving the bus stops and changing the times, making me 100 minutes late for a ski jump competition despite leaving 90 minutes early.
…how nice it was to grab a burger at USA House and McDonalds, which was taking a bow at its last Olympics as a sponsor.
…how surprised I was to note that Korea had to import zamboni drivers.
…how enthusiastic the North Korea cheering squad were – their synchronized movements, the sameness of their uniforms and faces, their enthusiastic cheers and singing – they were the must-take photo op of the event.
I still have chills thinking about my first Olympics – and it wasn’t just because of the minus-ten degree weather. I stood meters away from North Koreans. I met Olympic legends. I witnessed feats of athleticism and artistry amidst crowds of amazed spectators. I felt like a newspaper reporter again, writing over 30 articles in my 8 days in PyeongChang. Here are some of my favorites:
The Olympians is three years old! Thank you all for your support!
I was happy to attend the Olympics for the first time at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. And what an amazing time I had. I felt like a newspaper reporter again, and generated close to 30 articles while I was there from February 8 to 18. I hope you like these select articles from 2018.
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.
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.
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.