Marit Bjørgen

Only three women have won ten medals in the Winter Olympics: Russian cross-country skier Raisa Smetanina, Italian cross-country skier Stefania Belmondo, and Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen.

But only Bjørgen is sill sking, and she’s gunning to become the most be-medaled female Olympian in history. A four-time Olympian, Bjørgen started her Olympic career at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where she won silver in the 4x 5km relay for Team Norway. In Turin at the 2006 Winter Olympics, she battled through bronchitis and stomach pains to manage silver in the 10k classical.

And with age, Bjørgen keeps getting better and better. At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, she increased her distance by winning silver in the 30k classical, and dominated the shorter races by winning gold in in the individual sprint (1.5k), the individual pursuit (15k), and the 4x5k relay. The 2014 Sochi Games also saw her capture another three gold medals. Whether it was a sprint of 1.5 k of a long haul of 30k, Bjørgen emerged victorious.

Since Sochi, Bjørgen had a baby in December 2015, and maybe her competitors thought she would lose a step or two. But apparently Bjørgen has maintained her winning ways, taking four gold medals at the 2017 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland.

On February 10, 2018, we’ll find out the day after the Opening Ceremonies, in the finals of the Ladies 7.5k + 7.5k Skiathlon, whether Bjørgen makes history with an 11th Olympic medal. I wouldn’t bet against a women who can lift a ship’s anchor.

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Shaun White might be back to the Olympics. But Ayumu Hirano has arrived.

The 19-year-old from Niigata, Japan, Hirano slam-dunked his ninth and final round to win gold in the superpipe event at the Winter X Games in Aspen Colorado, on January 28, 2018.

Hirano had taken the lead on another favorite, Australian Scotty James in his third round run where he scored a very high 96.66. He held the lead until his ninth and final run, where it was Hirano’s to win or lose. And based on the reaction of the two ESPN announces, Hirano won emphatically, with an amazing string of 1440’s, which I presume means four 360s, also known as 14s.

Brandon: Have you ever seen a run like that in a pipe final Craig McMorris?

Craig: No because it’s never been done anywhere on earth. How are you going to out-do yourself, Ayumu Hirano! Look at this! Jump man. Jump man. Jump man. I’m speechless.

Brandon: I need you to say something, Craig.

Craig: Ayumu Hirano. Front 14 double. Cap 14 double. Front 12 double. Back 12 double. And a backside air right off the top that’ll just drop your jaw. What planet are you from? Not earth, Brandon. Not earth.

Brandon: That’s the first time we’ve ever seen back to back 14s ever. Period. Exclamation point.

Hirano won the silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, falling to Iouri (iPod) Podladtchikov of Switzerland. But with his triumph at the X Games, expectations for Hirano gold In PyeongChang are now sky high.

Ayumu Hirano
Ayumu Hirano
Sochi Olympics Ski Jumping Men
Noriaki Kasai celebrates winning the silver medal Saturday after the ski jumping large hill final at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. | AP

Noriaki Kasai has qualified for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics as a member of Japan’s ski jump team. And in one respect, no one has ever flown higher. Kasai will participate in his eighth Winter Olympic Games. No one has ever done that.

There are actually 11 other Olympians who have participated in 8 or more Olympics, but they all have been participants in Summer Olympic competitions like equestrian, sailing, canoeing, rowing and shooting events. Tied with him at 7 Winter Olympiads was Albert Demtschenko from Russia, who could have joined Kasai as an 8th straight winter Olympian, but was banned for life from the Olympics in December, 2017 for doping.

That’s what happens when you put skill and longevity together. “Legend,” as Kasai is called in Japan, has not only won 2 silver medals and a bronze medal in the Olympics, he has two Guinness World Records for appearances in international ski jump events.

Most interestingly, he has been immortalized in a song called “Mr. Noriaki Kasai,” by the Finnish punk rock band, the Van Dammes.

That is indeed the stuff of legends.

Erin Hamlin
Erin Hamlin, women’s luge

I enjoy talking to Olympians, people who have dedicated a good chunk of their lives to unlocking the secrets to even higher performance. The TeamUSA site published this article that shares the insight of American Olympians who have competed in multiple Winter Olympics or Paralympics. The way I would summarize their advice:

  • Learn from Experience and Your Mistakes
  • Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss
  • Don’t Let the Moment Define You

 

Learn from Experience and Your Mistakes

Successful athletes will often view failures and mistakes as positives. Thomas Edison famously responded that he never failed when developing the light bulb. “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

Erin Hamlin is a three-time Olympian in the women’s luge at the 2006 Torino Olympics, 2010 Vancouver Olympics and, finally stepping up to the medal podium with a bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics had this to say about failure. “The more bad runs you have, the more ways you know how it didn’t work,” she said. “You can take that and figure out how to do it right.”

Ted Ligety_alpine skier
Ted Ligety, alpine skier

Sometimes Ignorance is Bliss

At some point, you can get too much advice on how to succeed at the Olympics, or in any high-pressure moment. Two-time gold medalist in alpine skiing, Ted Ligety, thinks that it’s important for people to not think too much, and trust in yourself and abilities may be the best advice for athletes stepping on the big stage for the first time.

“I wouldn’t have that much advice for myself,” said Ligety when asked what he would say to himself if he could go back to 2006. “Being a little naïve back then was a good thing.”

Don’t Let the Moment Define You

Oksana Masters
Oksana Masters

 

Oksana Masters is a summer and winter Paralympian in nordic skiing, rowing and cycling, and felt the pressure early in her career. “Oh my gosh, everyone single person is watching, and it’s the biggest race, and if you mess up, it’s over.” But her advice to others would be to just treat the big race as just another training session.

Kelly Clark is a four-time Olympian, who has won gold and two bronze medals in the halfpipe since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, said that the competition in the Olympics is merely one moment in your long life. “We can get wrapped up in four years of intensity for 30 seconds [of performing on the Olympic stage], and we make it into something that defines us, we make it into a destination,” she said. “You don’t need to make it a destination or something where you need a T-shirt that says, ‘I survived the Olympic Games,’” she said. “Instead, think, ‘I got to do this wonderful sport.’”

Perhaps the most practical advice came from Masters about packing so much clothes for the Olympics. “You’ll never use them.”

Kelly Clark snowboarder

Akwasi Frimpong

He slept on the ground of his crowded home as a child, his grandmother working hard to get food on the table for nine grandchildren. Akwasi Frimpong grew up in a village called Kumasi in the Republic of Ghana, and while he aspired to a better life, he probably had no thought of becoming an Olympian in the speed sliding sport of skeleton.

Skeleton Olympic champions have emerged from only 8 countries in the world, including the US, Great Britain, Canada, Russia and Switzerland. Certainly, running full speed into an icy track of twists and turns, head first on a tiny sled, is not the first thing 99.99999% of the world’s population would try to do, let alone think, particularly in a country where the coldest it gets is about19 degrees Celsius.

And yet Frimpong defied the considerable odds, and has put himself in a position to become Ghana’s first ever Winter Olympian representing his country at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics in the skeleton competition. To become an Olympian, he has to qualify at the skeleton world cup in mid-January of 2018 by getting into the Top 60 in the world. If he does, he’s going to South Korea.

Perhaps Frimpong’s first big break was leaving Ghana at the age of 8, and move to the Netherlands where his mother had emigrated to. In a more developed economy with more opportunities, Frimpong was shaped by his coach at his junior high school into a track star.

His second big break was having Sammy Monsels as his junior high school coach, a man who competed as a sprinter at the 1972 and 1976 Summer Olympics. According to this article on Olympic.org, Monsels created a vision for Frimpong.

“It was Sammy who really instilled the dream of the Olympics in me. Within two months, I went to the Dutch Junior Indoor Championships and missed out on the 60m final by 0.01 seconds. That summer, I missed out on the 100m final, again by 0.01 seconds… I asked my coach what I needed to do to become a gold medalist. He spoke to me about self-discipline and it all started from there.

Frimpong went on to become the 200 meter Dutch junior champion. But because he was still an illegal alien, he could not benefit from any international competition. What if immigration would not let him back into the country? Competing overseas was too big a risk. And his illegal status stopped him from asking to enter any high school. Fortunately, there existed an institution that looked beyond Frimpong’s legal status – the Johan Cruyff Institute. Named after Holland’s (and the world’s) most famous soccer player, Johan Cruyff, this school is designed to develop the abilities of students, athletes as well as business professionals.

Frimpong’s third break was to have a neighbor who cared. The neighbor was a writer, and she wrote so persuasively, even explaining Frimpong’s illegal status, that the Johan Cruyff College took a chance on the Ghanaian. Frimpong enter the school and earned his school’s international student of the year award. The award was to be presented in Barcelona, Spain, but because Frimpong was too scared to leave the country, Johan Cruyff himself flew to Holland just to present the award to Frimpong.

Eventually, in 2008, at the age of 22, Frimpong became a Dutch citizen. He got an athletic scholarship to study in America at Utah Valley University, and dreamed of making the Netherlands track team for the 2012 London Games. But he was not able to qualify, hampered by an injury.

Entering the second half of his 20s, his dreams of running track in the Olympics was fading. But he got a visit from the Dutch bobsleigh team, and was asked to try out as their brakeman for a World Cup race in Utah. Frimpong showed enough promise that he progressed to make the Netherlands national bobsleigh team. Unfortunately, his results were just under the cut, and Frimpong missed out on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

At the age of 28, failing to make both a Summer Olympics and a Winter Olympics, Frimpong could have ended his pursuit of an Olympic Games. And that’s when he discovered skeleton. And for some reason, this sport clicked.

I set myself the goal of becoming the first African to win a medal in Winter Olympic history. I knew it would take me four to six years to become really good, so initially my target was the 2022 Games. But when I started racing in 2016, I surprised myself. A lot of coaches said that I was sliding like someone who had been doing the sport for several years.

And so Frimpong is at the door of his long journey to make the Olympics. If he does qualify for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, he will be first black skeleton athlete in Olympic history.

 

Note on February 2, 2018: On January 15, 2018, he got his wish and is headed for the Olympics.

Alexander Zubkov (L) and Alexey Voyevoda
Alexander Zubkov (L) and Alexey Voyevoda of Russia team 1 celebrate on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Men’s Two-Man Bobsleigh on day ten of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Medals Plaza on February 18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Unfortunately for Voyevoda, Zubkov was DQ’ed.

After finishing 11th in the medal standings at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, with a total of only 15 medals and 3 gold medals, Russia made a commitment to do better in their home country for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. In fact, Russia, finished at the top of the medal table with 33 total medals, including 13 gold medals.

Flash forward to 2017, and the table has turned.

After a review of the McLaren report on Russian state-sponsored doping prior to the Sochi Games, the IOC on December 5, 2017, banned the Russian National Olympic Committee from its participation in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. This decision means that no official team can represent Russia, but individuals from Russia can apply to participate in PyoengChang as a member of the Olympic Athletes of Russia (OAR), assuming it can be shown they were not part of the Russian doping machine.

As you can see in these tables from an NBC Sports article, Russia has suddenly plummeted in the Sochi medal tables from first to fifth. In the current standings, the USA is at the top of the overall medal count at 28, while Norway takes the lead in gold medals with 11.

Sochi Medal Rankings Top Five

This may not be the final revision. The IOC could decide to move other competitors up the medal ranks to replace the disqualified athletes. While the possible revisions below are dramatic, they actually would not have any further impact on the top five standings, although Latvia would move up from 23rd overall to 20th, thanks to the addition of 2 bronze medals.

  • Biathlon (women’s sprint): Russian silver medalist, Olga Vilukhina, was disqualified. Vita Semerenko of the Ukraine and Karin Oberhofer of Italy could move up to silver and bronze.
  • Biathlon (women’s relay): Members of the silver-medal winning Russian team, Olga Vilukhina, Yana Romanova and Olga Zaitseva, were disqualified. Norway could move up to silver, Czech Republic to Bronze.
  • Bobsleigh (two-man): Alexandr Zubkov was disqualified and stripped of his gold medal, which was unfortunate for his teammate Alexey Voyevoda, who was not disqualified. In this case, Switzerland could move up to gold, while the US could end up with a silver. Latvia might win bronze in this case.
  • Bobsleigh (four-man): As three of the four members of the Russian bobsleigh team, Alexandr Zubkov, Alexey Negodaylo and Dmitry Trunenkov, were disqualified, again Voyevoda appears to get stripped of his gold without being disqualified. Latvia and the US could move up to gold and silver. Another Russia team could have taken bronze, but they also had disqualified members on the team, which opens up the possibility of fifth place Great Britain taking bronze.
  • Cross-country skiing (men’s 50k freestyle): As written in an earlier post, Alexander Legkov and Maxim Vylegzhanin were disqualified, allowing Russian country man Ilia Chernousov to potentially trade his bronze medal for gold, with Martin Johnsrud Sundby of Norway and Sergei Dolidovich of Belarus moving up to silver and bronze.
  • Cross-country skiing (men’s team sprint): Like the 50k freestyle, Vylegzhanin’s DQ results in the stripping of Russia’s silver medal. Sweden and Norway could move up to silver and bronze.
  • Skeleton (men’s): Gold medalist, Alexander Tretyakov, was disqualified, leaving the door open for Martins Dukurs of Latvia to take gold, and American Matthew Antoine to take silver. Another Latvian, Tomass Dukurs, finished in fourth so is hoping for a medal as well.
  • Skeleton (women’s): Bronze medalist Elena Nikitina was disqualified, opening the door for a new bronze medalist, Katie Uhlaender of the US.
  • Speed skating (women’s 500-meters): Olga Fatkulina, was stripped of her silver medal, which means that Margot Boer of the Netherlands could claim silver, and Zhang Hong of China could be awarded a bronze.
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

DAVID AND RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH - 2001
Richard and David Attenborough, 2001; photo by N Cunard/REX (336048j)

 

His older brother, Sir Richard Attenborough was known for playing iconic roles in blockbuster films, like Squadron Leader Roger Bartlett in The Great Escape, or John Hammond in Jurassic Park. But Sir David Attenborough is known for the iconic voice of nature films, that lilting, authoritative tone which brings a cheeky gravitas to the serious drama and dramatic silliness of all creatures great and small.

As a teaser to promote the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Attenborough was brought on board by the BBC to provide a cultural anthropological assessment of the ice-bound homo sapien known as the “curler”.

Click on the video below to see nature and all its rituals, as if you are a fly on a barren tree in the frozen tundra.

Our planet, the earth, as we know it, is unique. It contains life even in its most barren stretches. In all my years of exploration, these are the creatures I find most curious. For the first time ever, filmed over the course of three afternoons in deepest Russia, using the world’s most state-of-the-art cameras, this…is…curling.

Here we have a pack of sliding curlers. Watch as the Alpha female displays her dominance over the herd by tapping the end of the frisking broom to check for rogue insects. This is a precise exercise. Off she goes, gently but flamboyantly launching the oversized walnut down the frozen river. The Alpha female’s job is now complete. It’s down to the herd to frantically follow the walnut down the river, gently frisking the foreground.

Past the red line the walnut goes. This is nature at its most vulnerable. You’ll notice a group of other walnuts are already near the flat, round nest. These are from other sliding curlers who thrust their nuts down earlier. This is to mark their territory. The aim of this ritual is to land your walnut in the center of the nest. The frisking is frantic and often futile, making no difference to the success of the net thrust. But it’s playful and all part of what makes this game the sliding curlers play so magical. Look how happy it makes them!

To see an authentic narration by Sir David Attenborough, watch this fascinating clip called “Flight of the Dung Beetle”.