opening ceremonies 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games
Opening ceremonies 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games

The Olympics could be back in Japan in 2026.

Eight years after the Summer Olympics were held in Tokyo in 1964, the Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo. It’s possible that Sapporo could become the host again of the Winter Olympics, this time only 6 years after the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Sapporo hosted the 8th Asian Winter Games from February 17 to 24 in 2017, and by many accounts, was a major success. A record 32 nations, and over 1,200 athletes attended the nine-day Games. And despite the cloud of doping over every major sporting championship, the OCA’s Medical Committee and Anti-Doping Commission gave the Asian Winter Games a huge stamp of approval – no positive drug tests.

2017 Asian Winter Games logo“The Medical Committee and Anti-Doping Commission of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) is delighted to announce the absence of any adverse analytical findings for doping during the recent 8th Sapporo Asian Winter Games,” Tan Sri Dr. Jegathesan, chairman of the OCA Medical Committee and Anti-Doping Commission, said in a statement. “This allows the Games to earn the accolade ‘Clean Games’. All lab reports were negative,” he confirmed.

IOC President, Thomas Bach, also welcomes a bid from Sapporo, and was not concerned that a Sapporo selection would mean a succession of Olympics in Asia (ie: 2018 in PyeongChang, Korea, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan, and 2022 in Beijing, China).

“We have always in the IOC a kind of informal rotation of Olympic host cities, but we also have to see in the past this was very much Europe-centered. And now with the real globalization of the world, the growing importance of Asia, not only in sport but in all areas of life, I think it is more or less normal that we have more Olympic Games taking place in Asia.”

Kate Hansen wolf twitter
The famed Kate Hansen tweet

Apparently, President Trump is not the only world leader who has to deal with fake news. During the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, Russian President, Valdimir Putin also suffered such attacks.

Jimmy Kimmel, American comedian and late-nigh talk show host, pulled a fast one on the American public by playing up the problems in Sochi. He referred to stories of packs of dogs “roaming the streets, even spotted in the hotels.” He then showed a video that US Olympic luger, Kate Hansen, posted on her Twitter account the previous evening – an animal, presumably a wolf, walking through the hallway outside her Olympic Village dorm room.

As we learn in this Kimmel segment, the press went wild.

  • “A wolf in the hallway! And I’m not talking Blitzer!”
  • “You’ve heard of the Wolf of Wall Street. How about the Wolf of Olympic Village.”
  • “Oh god. It gives me chills.”
  • “I think it might have been a dog, but it’s definitely wolf size.”

But then Kimmel let us in on the prank. Kimmel produced the video on their Los Angeles set, re-creating a replica of a Sochi dorm hallway, and Hansen agreed to allow Kimmel to momentarily take over her Twitter account.

Happy April Fool’s Day everyone!

Kate Hansen on Kimmel

Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics
Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics

For the hottest game on ice, the players and owners have entered into a cold war of sorts. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently told the press that no meetings have been arranged with the International Olympic Committee regarding the possibility of NHL players competing in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in early 2018.

The NHL schedule and the Winter Olympics schedule overlap every four years. In order to convince he NHL to release its players in the middle of the NHL hockey season, the IOC agreed to pay for the insurance, travel and accommodation of these professional hockey players. The insurance is a key component because it protects the NHL teams against an injury to a star player who could impact team success and/or team revenue for years to come. For the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the IOC sent some USD7 million to the NHL, something the IOC does not do for other sports leagues. The IOC has done so for the past five Winter Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, but this year the IOC announced they would not pay the NHL for players to come.

Bettman stated that without IOC financial support, it’s unlikely the owners would support. “We don’t make money going [to the Olympics]. I can’t imagine the NHL owners are going to pay for the privilege of shutting down for 17 days. I just don’t see that.”

However, the star players in the NHL view the Winter Olympics as a matter of prestige and pride. The very best players like Canadian Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Russian Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals have said they intend to go, Ovechkin going as far to say he would go without the NHL’s permission. And as mentioned in this Ottawa Citizen article, the owners will listen to their stars.

When Alex Ovechkin said he was going to the Olympics, with or without the NHL’s blessing, it didn’t take long for Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis to stand behind his star. And why wouldn’t he? Ovechkin is the face of the team. He not only helps the team win games, he puts fans in seats.

Major League Baseball stands in contrast to the NHL. Currently, the World Baseball Classic, an international baseball championship series taking place in March, 2017, has the full commitment and support of MLB. And while the major league players from big-time baseball nations of Japan, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Korea are heavily involved in the World Baseball Classic, Team USA is bereft of its stars. In contrast to the NHL players, the Americans have little to no interest in participating.

Now, the World Baseball Classic is not the same at the Olympics. And when baseball returns to the Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will likely want to ensure his league’s best players are at the Summer Games. Growing the international market for baseball will be a big priority for Manfred. But he has yet to gain consensus with team owners on how to make it work for the MLB when the Olympics will take place in the middle of the 2020 MLB season. Injuries and lost revenue to lost games will certainly be in the minds of the owners.

Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner
Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner

According to this Sports Illustrated article, there are two possible options to make it work: allow the season to continue without interruption, and just free up the players selected to their respective national teams, or shut down the MLB season for, say two-and-a-half weeks, like the NHL has done in the past.

The NBA, on the other, other hand, has had the distinct advantage of holding a primarily Fall-Winter-Spring season, while the Olympics tend to fall in the summer, the basketball off season. Traditionally, the NBA has promoted its brand and players globally, and have been a model for building a global business. Their commitment to the Olympics is thus considerable. The issue has been ensuring that the richest and greatest athletes in the world stay motivated enough to train and risk injury during their time off.

The US men’s team took bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and were dubbed “The Nightmare Team”. It didn’t bode well when the superstars of the league, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett begged off of the team, and Ray Allen and Jason Kidd were out with injuries.

After the team’s embarrassing finish in Athens, Team USA appointed Jerry Colangelo to take charge of team selection. His job was to persuade the NBA’s best American players that it was their duty to restore pride and glory to men’s basketball in the international arena.

Colangelo convinced such stars as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade not only to join Team USA for the 2008 Seoul Olympics, he got them to commit to playing together for three years leading up to the Olympics. Under Colangelo’s leadership and the coaching of Mike Krzyzewski, Team USA dominated at the 2008 Seoul Olympics to easily win gold. They’ve done so ever since.

Summary:

  • NHL: League and Owners not committed; Players committed
  • MLB: League committed; Owners not yet committed; American players not committed, but world players committed
  • NBA: League committed; Owners committed; Players committed

Janine the Machine. All Janine Shepherd knew was athletic success, winning national titles before she turned 10. She was such a promising skiier that she trained to be a cross-country competitor at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

But one crisp cool day in 1986, cycling on the roads of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia, her life and her dreams changed in an instant. A truck smashed into her, resulting in injuries in almost every part of her body possible: broken neck and spine, broken ribs and arm, broken collarbones and feet, head injury, internal injury, massive loss of blood.

As she deadpans in this very popular TedTalk presentation, “I was having a really bad day.”

But of course, TedTalks are often about inspiration, and Shepherd’s story is nothing but.

She talks of her out of body experience, seeing her body from above, torn apart, and the verbal battle she had with herself, whether to stay or go:

Come on. Stay with me.

No, it’s too hard!

Come on. This is our opportunity.

No, that body is broken! It can no longer serve me.

Come on, stay with me. We can do it together.

After ten days on the razor’s edge of life and death, she chose to “return to her body”, and begin the process of recovery. As she was counselled, she would go through depression, asking herself the inevitable question, “why me?” She was told she would never return to the life she had before, let alone walk again.

janine-shepherd-piolot

“I was an athlete. That was all I knew. That’s all I had done. If I couldn’t do that, then who was I?”

There was a point, at rock bottom, she realized she really did have a choice. That she could embark on the greatest creative act of her life – reinventing herself. Shepherd’s talk is spellbinding, as you hear of her deciding that since she can’t walk, she can fly. She took flying lessons. She began to will herself to walk. She continued to advance her flying skills, learning how to fly bigger planes, and then how to fly planes acrobatically, and then teaching others to fly.

As Shepherd explains at the end of the presentation, “I knew for certain although my body might be limited it was my spirit that was unstoppable.”

1984-united-states-hockey-team

They met the President of the United States even before the Olympics began. Before they set foot in Sarajevo, the 1984 Men’s Ice Hockey Team were treated to festive events and meals, honored in so many towns where they played exhibitions as if they had already won the gold medal.

It’s hard for me to recall, but I suppose I and many other Americans had very high expectations for the 1984 squad. Our memories of the “Miracle on Ice”, proclaimed so emphatically by play-by-play announcer Al Michaels, were seared into our mind’s eyes. We can still today see the team throw their sticks and gear into the air, leaping into each other’s arms as the crowd (and an entire nation) exploded in unrestrained glee.

The 1980 team crept slowly into our consciousness with an amazing buzzer-beating goal to tie Sweden in their first game in Lake Placid, an amazing upset of the Soviet Union in the semi-final match, culminating in yet another come-from-behind victory for gold against Finland. This team proved that David could slay Goliath, assuming David was American. So, of course the 1984 team was destined for greatness and glory.

And the 1984 team sported a few great players, now Hall of Famers, like center Pat LaFontaine drafted by The New York Islanders, goalie Tom Barrasso drafted by the Buffalo Sabres, center Eddie Olczyk drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks, and defenseman Chris Chelios drafted by the Montreal Canadiens . They even had two players from the 1980 Miracle-on-Ice team, John Harrington and Phil Verchota.

As Bob Brooke, a forward on the 1984 team wrote for the New York Times, “We rode the crest of a media wave all year, basking in the sunshine of little boys and girls tugging at our coattails for autographs, drinking in the prospects of appearing in commercials and [on] posters.”

But the expectations were too great for the 1984 team. How could they possibly replicate the story of the 1980 team, their rise from nowhere to become a rallying cry for Americans, pained by the beatings they were getting internationally (hostage crisis in Iran) as well as domestically (an economic “malaise”).

Even their coach, Lou Vairo, a virtual unknown who had more experience with roller hockey than ice hockey, thought that equaling the 1980 team’s success would be an even bigger miracle, according to this great article by Jeff Pearlman, called “A Miracle Put on Ice“.

“How can you replicate that magic?” Vairo says. “You can’t.”

Those are not words Herb Brooks, head coach of the 1980 team, would ever have slipped from his lips.

Team Canada
Team Canada celebrate a goal during hockey action against the United States at the 1984 Winter
And yet, Brooks was not there to exhort the 1984 team to greatness. While it’s true the American team was routing the opposition in the exhibition matches leading up to the Sarajevo Games, once the Olympics began, the Team of Great Expectations faded immediately. First, they lost to Canada 4-2. Then to Czechoslovakia 4-1. And that was essentially the end of any Miracle redux. The team fought on, managing a 3-3 tie with Norway, routing Austria 7-3, before finishing weakly with a tie against Finland.

There would be no banquets. There would be no visit to the White House. Instead, there would be scorn, as Pearlman wrote:

The players were branded “disappointments,” “slackers,” and “overrated.” In a scathing piece for the Dallas Times Herald, columnist Skip Bayless wrote, “It wouldn’t have been quite so embarrassing if our kids had been half as good as their hype.” Vairo, in particular, caught most of the heat. He was in over his head. He was no Brooks. His style was too basic. He was an amateur. “I can tell you it didn’t hurt,” he says. “But it did. Of course it did. I’m human.”

What will people be wearing for Halloween? To be honest, sports is not the greatest well from which ideas spew. But here are a few ideas, which are clearly influenced by pop culture in America.

Be Ryan Lochte: Jimmy Fallon did it. You can do it. Go to this website for the items you need to be the great American Olympic swimmer, who turned into an overnight PR disaster….for a little less than USD500.

Be a Gymnast: Little girls all over America will dress up as The Final Five, no doubt. Just don’t try to buy an original Final Five leotard. The leotards, with their glittering Swarvorski crystals, cost anywhere from USD700 to 1,200 to make each one. My guess it’s easy to find replicas for cheaper. One of the more popular people to honor with a Halloween costume was Fierce Five gold-medal champion, McKayla Maroney, whose look of disappointment on the medal stand turned into a internet meme. Three years ago, a woman with Bell’s Palsy dressed up like Maroney because “It was the first time in months I got to look like I was intentionally making a face and it has helped me deal with the slow recovery a little better.”

leslie-barrett-and-mckayla-maroney-halloween

 Be Original: Paralympian Josh Sundquist, who lost his left leg due to cancer, has competed in the Paralympics as an alpine skiier, and is a popular motivational speaker. He is also known for his one-of-a-kind costumes for Halloween. See him put together his outfit as “Lumiere” a character (essentially a talking candle stick) from the film, Beauty and the Beast.

Be a Kid and Have No Choice: Shaun White is a two-time Winter Olympics gold medalist in the halfpipe, but when he was a kid, his parents put him in prison for Halloween – old-school lock up  style that is. Here he is, with his two older siblings, in a TBT Halloween picture from three years ago.

shaun-white-halloween-tbt
Shaun White center
tatyana-mcfadden-in-rio
Tatyana McFadden in Rio

She was born in cash-strapped Russia just before the fall of the Soviet Union with spina bifida, a situation that in Tatyana McFadden’s case left her paralyzed from the waist down in a broken-down institution in Leningrad known as “Orphanage 9.” Without funds for a wheelchair, Tatyana got around walking on her hands.

As fate would have it, her eyes locked with a visitor from America, Deborah McFadden, who in 1995 was visiting in her capacity as Commissioner of Disabilities for the US Health Department. Deborah and her partner decided to adopt Tatyana and brought her to Baltimore, Maryland, where Tatyana got the medical care and the family support she was not fated to receive in her home country.

And thanks to the opportunities and clearly her indomitable drive, Tatyana would go on to become one of the most successful athletes in the world. Over a span of four Paralympics since 2004 in Athens, Tatyana has garnered 16 medals for TeamUSA, including 7 golds, in wheelchair racing. Not only that, she has shown incredible range, winning over the entire spectrum of track distance. At the Rio Paralympics, she took silver in the 100 meter sprint and silver in the 42.2 kilometer marathon, as well as gold medals in between in the 400 meters, 800 meters, 1500 meters and 5000 meters.

tatyana-mcfadden-and-nina-pilevikova_bbc
Tatyana with her biological mother_BBC

 

 

Tatyana has enormous capacity not only to train and triumph, but to forgive. She set her sites on returning to her homeland and competing at the Winter Paralympics in Sochi in a completely different sport – Nordic skiing. Part of her motivation to learn a new sport was to see her biological mother, Nina Pilevikova. In front of her adopted and biological mothers, Tatyana incredibly took silver in 1K sprint for those who skied while sitting. Her capacity for triumph was matched by her capacity to empathize, as she related to the BBC in Sochi.

“It is of course hard as a mother. You carry a child for nine months, but if you think about it, knowing you can’t take care of your child, what do you do? Do you selfishly keep it, knowing you can’t have the medical….I needed a lot of medical treatment. And I needed attention quickly. That’s the toughest decision she has to make.”

Said her biological mother, “I am very proud of Tatyana. I am very happy to be here with all our family. I think people look at Tatyana and they have hope.”

tatyana-mcfadden-in-sochi
In Sochi

Tatyana, like many Paralympians, do not aim to be inspirations. In fact, some often feel patronized by the label. Tatyana had to fend for herself in the orphanage and was brought up by parents who value perseverance in the face of difficulty and self-sufficiency. Her adopted mother, Deborah, understands that as she herself was also confined to a wheelchair for years due to a condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Here’s Tatyana in her own words, highlighted in “The Mighty“, a site devoted to telling the stories of people with disabilities, diseases and mental illness.

People have commented that they are “inspired” by my story. But these compliments, made with the best intentions, can sometimes miss the point. “Inspired” often means they feel sorry for my condition and what I went through in my early life, and feel they should count their own blessings for what they have. But what they are missing is that I am who I am today not in spite of my disabilities, but because of them.

All of us competing in the Olympics and Paralympics have had our own unique challenges, our own strengths and talents that we have nurtured, and our own weaknesses and disabilities that we have overcome. The games in Rio are a test of our ability to push physical and mental limitations, and a testament to humanity’s indomitable spirit to adapt and excel.