TOPSHOT-FSKATE-JPN-HANYU

On October 31, Evgeni Plushenko stated that Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan would likely win gold in the men’s individual figure skating competition at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

On November 9, Hanyu fell awkwardly after attempting a four-revolution jump during a training session, and announced the next day that ligament damage to his ankle would prevent him from participating in the NHK Trophy competition that weekend, a tournament Hanyu had won the previous two years, as well as the Grand Prix Final, which Hanyu has won the past four years.

You can see the painful fall below at about the 30 second mark of the video below.

 

The question is, more significantly, will the reigning Olympic champion be able to defend his championship at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics? According to this analysis from The Sports Examiner, men’s figure skating has seen a revolution in the quadruple jump that will continue to put pressure on Hanyu.

Yuzuru Hanyu has prided himself on trying to keep up with the recent quadruple jump outburst in men’s figure skating, an explosion in numbers and types of quads since 2015 for which the Japanese star credits China’s Jin Boyang as having been the spark.

When Hanyu won a second world title last year, he alluded to the quad exploits of Jin, Nathan Chen of the United States and Shoma Uno of Japan – all of whom have pushed the jump revolution – when he said, “I am trying to keep up with many of the strengths of the other skaters.”

In this article of Globetrotting, Philip Hersh explains that it may not be necessary for Hanyu to keep pace with the other quadruple jumpers as his overall game has made him a champion in the past, and in fact, his desire to try new things may get in the way of an Olympic championship defense.

The trick will be convincing Hanyu to rein himself in. His desire to meet the quad standards set by rivals speaks to a fierce and admirable competitive spirit.

“Yuzu told me that what motivates and inspires him is trying new things and challenging himself,” Tracy Wilson, who helps Brian Orser in coaching Hanyu at the skater’s Toronto training base, said in a Tuesday text message. “He told me that he wants to push the sport and this approach keeps it interesting for him.

“This has been his stance since the beginning of last season when he decided to add the (quad) loop. He didn’t need the loop last year and did it on his way to record-setting performances.”

Hersh emphasized that if Hanyu is able to recover in time for the 2018 Winter Games, he may need to ignore his competition and their adoration for a particularly arduous technique called the “quad lutz.” If Hanyu recovers his time and finds the right balance of athleticism and form, he could be the first man to win consecutive gold medals in individual figure skating since Dick Button did so in 1952. If not….

Hanyu said at Autumn Classic he was bothered by knee problems that affected his quad loop.  He kept working on the lutz, and it was one of the two quads he landed cleanly last month in Russia (in what International Skating Union fact sheets said were five planned attempts; one became a triple, another a double.)

At this point, apparent risk for continuing with the quad lutz substantially outweighs the reward, which seems essentially to be personal satisfaction for Hanyu. Persisting may not only endanger him but the sport itself, for a 2018 Olympics with Hanyu in subpar condition – or without him entirely – would be diminished.

Girl skiier_love over bias

P&G’s long-running series of “Thank You Mom” commercials have been a powerful testament to the importance of the love and support of parents, particularly mothers. The global consumer goods company has worked hard to make the connection to caring mothers and their brand, and have leveraged sports stories during Olympic cycles to send particularly emotional messages.

Their most recent commercial, “Love Over Bias,” has – at least to me – a more intense resonance.

These are divisive times, with tensions emerging out of the economic dislocations that have slammed the middle classes in developed economies all over the world. The tensions have at times, in my view, manifested themselves in balder declarations of intolerance, in angrier expressions of victimization, and more frequent impulses to violence.

Ooh child, things are going to get easier

Ooh child things will get brighter

Love Over Bias

The message is that children at times suffer unnecessarily from bias, whether they are black with hopes of making it in a sport dominated by whites, or boys in a sport where boys’ sexuality are questioned, or children who have not compete with those who have, or girls of Islamic faith whose hibabs become emotional lightning rods, or disabled children who simply want a chance.

“Imagine if the world could see what a mom sees,” Is the tagline.

The message is universal. And yet…..

Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn, Elisabeth Gorgi on the Downhill Medal Podium at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Vonn, Elisabeth Gorgi on the Downhill Medal Podium at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics
All high performance downhill skiers experience injuries and setbacks and American Lindsey Vonn is no exception.

The three-time Olympian and 2010 gold medalist in the downhill, has had more than her share: season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and broken knee bone in early 2013, re-injury of the ACL later in 2013, which kept her off the slopes for all of 2014, including the Sochi Olympics, a broken ankle in August 2015 followed by a knee fracture three months later, ending her season, and finally a broken arm in November of 2016, which required surgery. She returned to the slopes two months later.

Forbes Magazine recently interviewed Vonn, sensing that her ability to bounce back from adversity time and again features a mindset common to successful entrepreneurs – one complete with a checklist for being resilient. And while high-performance athletes and serial entrepreneurs may appear to push this mindset to levels beyond the average person, there are powerful lessons for us all in this interview. Here is the list of Vonn’s 7 Strategies to Bounce Back From a Setback Even When It Feels Impossible. This is shortened, so go to this link for more:

  1. Prepare: The key to the comeback lies in the consistent, intentional training in advance. Develop personal training routines to keep yourself sharp, strong, and prepared for the next challenge.
  2. Internalize the lesson: If you are feeling stuck, reflect on the lessons hidden in the situation.
  3. Harness pressure to your advantage: Failure can be scary, but Vonn leverages fear to propel herself forward instead of paralyze her progress.
  4. Keep an open mind: Your brain is wired to keep you safe, which is why a setback can trigger stress and strong urge to fight or flee. If you feel stuck and blinded by your current situation, create emotional distance, gain perspective, and see if there are any creative solutions you may have missed.
  5. Define yourself: The story that we tell ourselves becomes who we are. Setbacks can be a catalyst for a new self-narrative that holds you back.
  6. Visualize: During stressful situations, the mind releases cortisol, which inhibits creativity. Practice mindfulness to quiet the mind and imagine a brighter future. Paint the mental picture with crystal clarity.
  7. Keep moving: Approach each situation as an iteration to learn from for the future.

 

Lindsey Vonn
Lindsey Vonn

From a personal and leadership development perspective, there are a number of nuggets of wisdom here: the importance of a development routine to maintain focus, the ability to see ways to improve when you’re doing poorly and when you’re doing well, facing fear and pressure by visualizing the joy and glory of what is possible.

I believe that great leaders, above all else, have an incredible sense of self – one’s strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and most importantly where one has come from and a clear view of where one wants to go. The more self-aware a person is, the more likely that failure, as she said, will not define you.

The fear is palpable.

As mentioned in a post previously, France, Austria and Germany are giving serious consideration to not attending the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea due to concerns of North Korean terrorism, or even North Korean ballistic missiles launched during the Games.

The aggressive tone of words exchanged recently between the leaders of North Korea and the United States have done little to calm the nerves of South Koreans, Japanese and Chinese alike, let alone athletes expecting to attend the Games that start on February 9.

So how do you solve a problem like Korea?

Well, if they join you, they can’t beat you.

Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik
Ryom Tae-Ok (left) and Kim Ju-Sik (right)

On September 29, Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik of The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aka North Korea, performed well enough at the Nebelhorn Trophy competition in Obertsdorf, Germany, which also served as a qualifying event for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. As the New York Times explained, the pair took sixth place in the tournament, but “more important, they finished third among a subset of pairs from countries seeking five available Olympic spots.

In other words, they didn’t necessarily squeak in, or get favorable treatment to earn a spot.

While the final decision is up to the North Korean Olympic Committee to approve their entry to the Olympics, they have up till now funded the pair’s training in Canada, under Canadian coach Bruno Marcotte. It would be hard to imagine the North Korean OC deciding not to give the go ahead after training these promising skaters overseas, seeing them improve significantly from their top 15 finish at the world championships last year, to cracking what is arguably the top ten in the world.

If Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik and other North Korean athletes and coaches are in PyoengChang next February, that may put the athletes, coaches and officials of other countries at ease. The thinking of some is that the North Korean leader may be less likely to attack South Korea if he is cheering on his countrymen and women south of the border, according to the New York Times.

“It’s kind of an insurance policy to have them there,” said Ted Ligety, a two-time gold medalist in Alpine skiing from the United States.

“North Korea is my biggest worry,” Choi Moon-soon, the governor of Gangwon Province in South Korea, where the 2018 Olympics will take place, said in a recent interview. “It’s not because of North Korea making an impact on the Olympics, it’s that if North Korea can participate, then it will make a great contribution for our goal of hosting a Peace Olympics, and it will be a great selling point.”

Will other North Koreans qualify? Will the IOC and the various international sports federations ease up the standards to allow borderline North Korean athletes to compete? Will it matter?

anti terror drill in Tokyo
A police officer practices disposing of a bag supposedly containing an explosive during an antiterror drill at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo on Monday. Photo: KYODO

On September 25, police ran a simulation based on a scenario – what if terrorists planted a sarin gas bomb in an office building during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?

About a thousand people were involved in this massive drill to see whether anti-terrorist plans on paper have any founding in reality. The drill was held not far from where the new national Olympic stadium is being built in Tokyo. Some 800 people were evacuated from the area and a bomb disposal team, using a robotic arm, successfully removed a bag that was said to hold a bomb.

These kinds of drills are important to gauging feasibility of anti-terrorist plans and readiness of relevant security and safety groups. But when it comes to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, which is to commence on February 9, there are nations that are beginning to think no anti-terrorist plans or level of readiness of security personnel that will comfort them.

Thanks to the belligerent talk and the test launches of ballistic missiles by the North Korean government in recent months, France and Austria are saying they may turn down their invitation to the upcoming Winter Games, as quoted here.

  • We will never put our team in danger. If it gets worse and we do not have their security confirmed, our French team will stay here. – Laura Flessel, Sports Minister of France.
  • If the situation gets worse and the security of the athletes is no longer guaranteed, we will not go to South Korea. – Karl Stoss, the head of Austrian Olympic Committee.

Germany is also reportedly mulling a decision to not send their athletes to South Korea.

Cowboys Cardinals Football
Dallas Cowboys players coaches and owner protesting on September 24

After building for over a year, the National Football League in America is being swept up in a wave of peaceful protests, as players, coaches, and in some cases, owners, are finding ways to silently protest what they believe to be an insensitivity to the issues of race, sparked by comments made in September by the President of the United States.

Referring to an athlete who gets on one knee during the playing of the American national anthem, the President said that such an athlete “disrespects our flag,” and is a “a son of a bitch” who should be fired.

When asked on September 25 at a press conference if the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) would support similar protests in at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, USOC CEO, Scott Blackmun, answered in a way that symbolizes the challenge of protesting at the Olympics.

I think the athletes that you see protesting are protesting because they love their country, not because they don’t. We fully support the right of our athletes and everybody else to express themselves. The Olympic Games themselves, there is a prohibition on all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise. And that applies no matter what side of the issue you’re taking, no matter where you’re from. … But we certainly recognize the importance of athletes being able to express themselves.

Scott Blackmun

Blackmun’s words are sympathetic regarding an athlete’s right to express views that are deeply personal and important to them. But he does say that the Olympics prohibits “all forms of demonstrations, political or otherwise.” In other words, we respect your right to protest peacefully. But you need to respect the IOC or a National Olympic committee’s right to kick you out if you do so.

In 1968, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who famously stood with gloved hands raised in fists on the medal podium after their gold and bronze medal victories in the 200 meter finals, were consequently forced to leave the Olympic venue.

In 1972, Americans Vincent Matthews and Wayne Collett, protested in their own way by standing nonchalantly on the medal stand while the American anthem was playing. Their perceived disrespect resulted in their suspension from further participation at the Munich Olympics, and subsequently in the US team failing to field a 4×400 relay team, an event they were favored in.

Collett explained in 1992 his actions in 1972 in a way that likely reflects the feelings of many athletes who are linking arms, removing themselves from the field or kneeling during the playing of the American national anthem:

I love America. I just don’t think it’s lived up to its promise. I’m not anti-American at all. To suggest otherwise is to not understand the struggles of blacks in America at the time.

Indianapolis Colts protesting
Indianapolis Colts protesting on September 24

 

Top Ten Universities for Olympians
Top Ten All Time American Universities for Olympians

 

High school students and their parents in the United States, frankly all over the world, look at the multiple annual top university lists, from US News to Forbes.

A new list is out – American universities or colleges with the most Olympians. The site, Olympstats, published this list a few days ago, after the editors went through the onerous task of figuring out the collegiate affiliations of all American Olympians since 1896.

Question: Which American university is in the top ten for producing the most Summer Olympians, and the most Winter Olympians?

Above is Olympstats list of top ten American universities for producing Olympians since the first modern Olympics in 1896. I’m proud to say that my alma mater placed 9th, although I imagine a bulk of those Olympians were in the early 20th century when Ivy League institutions were the only ones that had students who could afford to go to Europe from the United States.

Top Ten States for Olympians
Top Ten States for Olympians

 

The first four universities are from California. It had always been my running assumption that year-round warm-weather states like California would produce a large chunk of Olympians. But as we can see below, Florida and Hawaii don’t merit top ten mention.

Top Ten Universities for Summer Olympians
Top Ten American Universities for Summer Olympians

Predictably, the top four American universities to produce Olympians also dominate the list of top ten American universities to produce Summer Olympians.

Top Ten Universities for Winter Olympians
Top Ten American Universities for Winter Olympians

When we look at Winter Olympians, the Midwest and Northeast dominate. One to note is #11 on the list below – Westminster College, a college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Since Westminster partnered with the U. S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), this liberal arts school has become a hotbed for winter sports. In fact, Westminster students made up 10% of the US Olympic Team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

 

So, what’s the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this blog post?

Harvard University

  • #5 for Olympians sent to the Summer Olympics
  • #4 for Olympians sent to the Winter Olympics