PyeongChang National Stadium removed_August 2018
This Aug. 25, 2018 photo shows a view of the dismantled stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which was designed as a temporary stadium. The same can’t be said for the other major venues built for the Winter Games. (Yang Ji-woong/Yonhap via AP)

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.”

IMG_6275

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.

USA House 24_Michelle Kwan
Michelle Kwan at USA House.

North and South Korean leaders are talking. The momentum today is in part due to the opportunity the PyeongChang Olympics presented to the Koreans. Fingers are crossed for future talks of peace.

Chance Meeting with the North Korean Cheering Squad
Chance meeting with the North Korean Cheering Squad at the end of the Opening Ceremonies

And of course, it’s all about the athletes.

Savchenko and Massot 4
Massot and Savchenko in their amazing long skate to win gold
USA House 11
Peter Zeytoonjian of the United States Olympic Committee

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.

USA House 12
Me and Dmitry Feld

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.”

USA House 1

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.

USA House 25
Cookie and Kate Reed-Dellinger with Michelle Kwan in the middle.

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.

USA House 22

 

Yuzuru Hanyu victorious
Yuzuru Hanyu victorious.

 

In the end, it’s always about the athletes.

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.

The PyeongChang Games are over.

But the countdown to the Tokyo Games continue.

878 days to go!

USA womens ice hockey team victorious
USA women’s ice hockey team victorious

 

Russian wins ice hockey gold
China Xinhua News

 

It went, miraculously, to overtime.

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.

Red Gerard with medal
Red Gerard, Photo by Marianna Massey / Getty Images

I saw him flipping through the air on the big screen at USA House to win gold for USA in the men’s slopestyle snowboarding contest on Sunday, February 11. Then I saw him again 13 days later (this morning), competing in the inaugural Olympic men’s Big Air snowboarding competition.

And on the train ride home, I saw him again on a clip from Jimmy Kimmel Show, wearing his gold medal.

Huh?

Red Gerard is a 17-year-old snowboarding phenom, but can he defy the laws of physics and be in two geographies at the same time? No, but he has not stopped moving since he stepped off the medal podium last week.

According to this Washington Post article, Gerard and his agent saw this 10-day gap between events as an opportunity to hit the US talk show circuit during the Olympics. He flew 13 hours to Los Angeles and spent time with Kimmel on his show, with Ryan Seacrest and Kelly Ripa on CBS This Morning, and with People Magazine. After three days in LA, he got back on a plane to head back to South Korea.

 

And if we learned anything from the interview on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, Red Gerard is a poster child for snowboarding culture: nonchalant cool, humble, and eager for fun. The night before his gold-medal run in the slope style competition, he watched Brooklyn Nine-Nine in his room, overslept and proceeded to slay the slope.

Kimmel seemed surprised, saying “You were relaxed.” Gerard replied,

“Yeah, pretty relaxed. I’m pretty good with nerves before a contest. I try to treat it like any other day.”

For a high school kid, Gerard looks amazingly comfortable on the big stage. He took Kimmel’s praise and kidding with aplomb.

JK: This is unbelievable. You’re 17 years old. You got many, many years ahead of you….of disappointment by the way. It’s not going to be as good as this.

RG: (without missing a beat) I know I’m peaking here (he said with his right hand over his head). After this it’s going to be steady downward.

I doubt it. The sky’s the limit for this kid.

Ester Ledecka on skis

She’s pulled off the upset of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. Ester Ledecká, a world champion parallel snowboarder jumped into the Super-G alpine event with little aspirations of winning. She just wanted to have a great run.

Ledecká did, and to the surprise of everyone, the Czech snowboarder, ranked 43rd in the world in the Super-G, won the gold medal. How did she do it? In a rush to explain, there was very little expert commentary. The assumption was that snowboarding and skiing are very different – a lot was made about how Ledecká was the first person ever to appear in two different Olympic events in the same Olympics, and that the skills for both were quite different.

And yet, according to ski and snowboarding coaches I talked with, that is not necessarily the case.

Jon Casson, the director of sport education for U. S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), was in PyeongChang to cheer on the numerous Olympians he has coached, thought that skiing and snowboarding, on the whole, are quite similar.

My personal opinion is that I don’t think they are truly as dissimilar as the experts make it out to be.  In the end, it’s about pointing your equipment downhill and going as fast as you can. You stand on the equipment and you move your body.  Those movements put pressure on the ski or board and make it do something.  In this case, it’s maintaining as flat a base as possible and taking as direct a line down the hill as possible.  As the most dominant athlete in her snowboarding discipline, she understands this innately and can make her equipment do those things. 

In other words, if you say you’re super at skiing, and you feel you need to prioritize your training, you will only focus on your skiing skills. But someone like Ledecká comes along and shows that under the right conditions, your skills in one sport are transferable in others. This is when cetain other skills can make a difference.

Jon Casson
United States Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) Sport Education Director Jon Casson leads a coaching class at Copper Mountain.

According to wax technician extraordinaire Andy Buckley, who was also in PyeongChang, Ledecká had a skill above and beyond the other skiers. Buckley explained that in Super-G alpine skiing, racers do not get to do trial runs. Once the course is set, the skiers are given ample time to examine the course, but they can’t ski it until the competition. What Buckley said is that Ledecká had superior capability to “read the terrain, find the right lines, know where to go high or low on a gate.” a skill she picked up from both skiing and snowboarding.

And as Casson added, “Ester not only has the athleticism, she has the confidence to go fast or go big, and that transferred to skiing.”

Ester Ledecka on snowboard
Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka wins gold in the women’s parallel slalom snowboarding at the World Championships in Spain.

So how did Ledecká seemingly come out of nowhere to win the Super-G?

  • She had mastered the movements of a snowboard, and how to manipulate it with her body, arms, legs and feet in perfect harmony to the snow-covered ground, and more importantly, she was certain in her belief that these skills transferred directly to skiing. And let’s not forget, she was indeed a skier, someone who came to PyeongChang with an intent to compete in both disciplines.
  • Ledecká was an expert at reading the terrain, a highly critical skill for a race that does not allow competitors to have trial runs, and thus feel and know the course in advance. She read it, kept it in her head to visualize, and executed.
  • And she was confident, with nothing to lose. She was in PyeongChang for the parallel snowboarding race, so why not go for broke on Super-G?

For Ledecká, the conditions were the perfect storm. And that storm begs a name.

Let’s call it Hurricane Ester.