Friday, January 31, 2014

Olympic Blurb: My Visit to the U.S. Olympic Training Center

Today I had the chance to spend some time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Ever since I knew I’d be teaching in the Denver area, I knew that one of my field trips was going to be there.

There wasn’t a special tour for us; we simply joined in a regular tour group that starts every hour. My group arrived half an hour early, which gave us plenty of time to look around the outside entrance and inside the visitor’s building.

The outside is known as a “sculpture garden” with various statues. Some of these include the five large Olympic rings set in a white wall. (I’ve had my picture on this many times.) Another includes two men and two women jumping for joy - this is a cool one because the two women aren’t even touching the ground, yet the sculpture is perfectly balanced. The final large scuplture is four athletes holding the globe on their backs - very similar to the Atlas sculpture.

Inside the visitor’s building are several displays of paraphernalia from past Olympics: torches from the 1984, 1996, 2002, and 2006 Olympics, coins, tickets, shoes and uniforms worn by athletes, and more. Some of the items - including a bobsled from 2002 - are available to touch and get inside. But the coolest thing I saw were the two petals from the 2012 Olympic cauldron - you know, the one that had several hundred petals that all moved up together to create the cauldron? Each country got two petals, and I got to see them in their charred, burned-out glory!

The kids got to have fun on some hands-on equipment, like the aforementioned bobsled, some exercise bikes, two rowing machines, and some barbells that weren’t as heavy as they looked (but don’t tell the kids that).

The tour starts with a movie. Each time it’s been different - that’s because the movie looks back on the most recent past Olympics (Winter or Summer, depending on which is coming up) and looks forward to the closest future Olympics. This year, the “looking-back” video focused on the 2010 Vancouver Games, which was great, since my class had just spent the past week watching NBC’s highlight DVD from Vancouver, so they recognized many of the athletes and events. In true heartstring-tugging-style, they used the theme music from “Remember the Titans.” If you don’t tear up from that music, you have no soul.

Then they had a montage of athletes who are competing this year - it was kind of an older video, since both Evan Lysacek and Lindsay Vonn were in it, and both of them had to pull out due to injury. But it was still fun to see.

After the video, our tour guide - likely a college student from one of the local colleges or universities - started us on the tour. Most of the tour is outside as we walk down a long concourse. On the concourse are signs talking about many of the Olympic events, as well as cutout silhouettes of athletes doing various events that you can pose next to. (Fun fact: in 2005 next to the hurdling silhouette I posed like I had tripped on the hurdle and was going down. I pulled a Lolo Jones three years before she did it!)

The flags of the participating Olympic countries are also displayed in alphabetical order. Some of them were missing on this trip because they are busy constructing a new strength and training center. They need it - their current weight room is ridiculously small (more on that in a bit).

We went inside some of the buildings and stood outside others. We got the chance to go into Sports Center 1, where an international Greco-Roman wrestling tournament was taking place. Our guide took us up the stairs, and we could look down from the mezzanine onto the four mats that were placed on the gym floor. The kids were really good at this part, mostly because they were mesmerized by the sport and had lots of questions. Our guide pointed out Steve Fraser, the head coach of the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics (and who went to the University of Michigan!).

Because of this event, there were many international athletes all over the place in their gear. We saw athletes from Switzerland, China, Honduras, Kazakhstan, and more. That was really cool.

We next went into the shooting building, where our U.S. shooting team trains. In the facility was athlete Sarah Scherer (I believe that’s what the guide said), who competed in London in 2012.

After the shooting facility, we went into the weight training building. In this area there were many athletes, but the one closest to the observation window was Lopez Lomong, who is a 1500m and 5000m runner for the U.S. and carried the flag for the United States in the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Summer Games! He competed in both Beijing and London, and is still training hard. It was very cool to see him there.

We saw the basketball courts and swimming pool from the outside before wrapping up our tour in front of the athlete residence center. If I ever get to know a U.S. athlete, I’m going to beg to eat in that dining facility, because it sounds amazing.

After the tour we moseyed back to the visitor’s center and took a look inside the gift shop, full of incredibly overpriced clothing and other merchandise with the Olympic and U.S.O.C. logos on them.

I enjoyed taking the kids to this Olympic Training Center. I don’t think it makes a good full-day tourist stop, but I think it could be easily combined with other wonderful Colorado Springs tourist areas for a great day. Start with something like Pike’s Peak or Garden of the Gods in the morning, and follow it up with a tour of the Olympic Training Center in the afternoon when the normal afternoon clouds start rolling in!

And who knows - you may see a famous Olympic athlete during your visit!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Return of the Olympic Blurb!

I was asked a couple of weeks ago, “Which do you prefer, the Winter or Summer Olympics?” At first I just responded with “Both!”

Unfortunately, the guy wasn’t satisfied with that answer. He pressed more. “No, really. You have to pick one.”

I thought that was silly. Choose between the Olympics? Aren’t they the SAME? Or at least like two children? How dare he make me choose between my children! You just don’t do that. At least, not to me.

I finally muttered out “Summer,” simply because he wanted an answer. But it did make me consider why I love both Olympic events equally.

1. They each have their signature events.
When I say “Summer Olympics,” there are a variety of events that automatically flash across the brain: swimming, running, gymnastics. These events are highlights, and usually bring the biggest spotlight on the nights they are featured.

Well, the same goes for the phrase “Winter Olympics.” There are also several signature events that flash across the brain when that is heard: figure skating, speed skating, skiing. Lately, snowboarding has also become a very prominent sport (almost more than skiing, in my opinion).

It’s not like it’s hard to think of significant Winter Olympic events. As a matter of fact, it might actually be easier to think of Winter events, since the Summer Olympics cover a much wider spectrum of sports. (Archery? Really?)

2. They have crossover appeal.
Like gymnastics? Meet its snotty little sister, figure skating!

Enjoy track and running events? Well, ask Usain Bolt to try that...on speed skates!

Prefer the great USA-dominated team sport of basketball? Here is the great team sport of hockey, dominated by...Canada? Well, we’re trying. (We put in NHL players to help!)

Hate all sports? Then snowboarding must be for you!

3. They make you guilty.
I’m pretty sure you’ve given the excuse of “It’s too hot!” or “It’s too snowy and cold!” to avoid working out. Well, these athletes endure the elements and do fancy footwork and look amazing doing it.

So what are you waiting for, you lazy bum?

4. The whole world is captivated, no matter what the national media might tell you.
It happens EVERY YEAR. We spend the four weeks leading up to the Olympics hearing about how terrible they’re going to be, how the host city spent way too much money, how no one is going to watch, blablablah.

Then we get two weeks of pure, (mostly) unadulterated joy. Incredible performances go viral. Unknowns become household names. We yell at our TVs to “Stick the landing!” Grown men cry. And the national media forgets what it said four weeks earlier and spends a lot of time talking about everyone is watching it.

Every. Year.

5. It’s a great break from the monotony.
With winter comes bowls. With spring comes basketball and hockey playoffs. With summer comes lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of baseball. With fall comes football and baseball playoffs. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Throw in some golf tournaments and tennis matches and sports can get a bit lethargic.

Thanks to the Olympics, every two years we can spend some time watching something completely different. Skiing becomes the event to see if anyone crashes. Biathlon makes you wonder how anyone would have thought to combine cross-country skiing and shooting into ONE event. You spend way too much time rooting against the Chinese in table tennis and badminton and diving, just to see a different country on the podium for once.

The Olympics are that breath of fresh air that sports so desperately needs every now and then.

6. The music is the same!
Never fails: I hear that theme, and I smile. And I get really, really excited to get back to the Blurb with all you fine people!

Coming up: I will introduce you to the second snowboarding event, talk about how I may actually prefer Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski’s figure skating commentary over Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic’s, give thanks that Lindsay Vonn isn’t competing, mourn that Apolo Ohno isn’t either, and try to figure out a good sleep schedule that will allow me to still competently work during the day and watch the moguls’ final live on the Internet at 3:00 a.m.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Broncos are Going to Lose

I am pretty convinced that the Broncos are going to lose on Sunday. I’m not really sure why, but here are a few passing thoughts that are convincing me:
1. Cold!
The Broncos are based in Denver, and the weather is always changing. For most of the Broncos’ games, however, it’s been sunny and relatively warm. When they’ve had to play in the cold (Sunday night at New England, Sunday night at home, and Thursday night at home), they lost two of those games.
Quarterback Peyton Manning has told reporters to “Shove it” when discussing how he can’t perform in the cold. I’m less inclined to say that Manning can’t perform in the cold, than the fact that the team has a hard time in the cold.
Looking at Seattle’s home weather conditions (cool and moist), they are much more inclined to perform better in colder weather.
2. Injuries
Running back Knowshon Moreno is nursing bad ribs. Kicker Matt Prater has been sick. Manning has had ankle issues in the latter half of the season. Linebacker Vonn Miller is gone, as are center Dan Koppen, tackle Ryan Clady. Receiver Wes Welker is just coming back from a concussion.
All of these guys were/are very important to the team. It is great how much depth there is to the team, but is it Super Bowl depth?
3. Defense Wins
I am a huge believer in the phrase “defense wins championships.” I tend to root for teams that have a stronger defensive presence than offensive. (2004 Pistons, anyone?) It is rare that I want the strong offensive team to win.
As you might have been aware, this Super Bowl matchup is the Number One Defense (Seattle) against the Number One Offense (Denver). Although I’m rooting for the offensive team, I still believe that the defense will win.
4. Letdown
This is an all-sports-related – not just football. I have gotten so used to my team making it to the championship and then losing. 2006 Tigers. 2009 Red Wings. 2012 Tigers. 2013 Michigan basketball. It’s been six years since I’ve been able to revel in a championship (oh, woe is me, sarcasmsarcasmsarcasm), and I haven’t had much to celebrate. So it might just be my personal mindset that convinces me that the Broncos will lose.
I will be rooting for the Broncos to crush it on Sunday night. (Or Saturday. Or Monday. Or whenever they play the game.) I will be going to a party, likely full of other Broncos fans (and a few Packer fans, I’m sure) and cheering my socks off. My classroom is having a “Sports Day” on Friday, where they are all encouraged to wear their favorite team colors – and I will wear my Broncos t-shirt.
So here we go – let this be a good one!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Recipe for Success

I live in Denver now, so the Super Bowl this year is kind of a big deal.

I have seen many of the Broncos' games this year, and I know many of the players, rejoice in the wins, mourn in the (few) losses, and know that this is kind of a boring team.

Peyton Manning has the tendency to create a boring team. And that's not a bad thing: Boring teams are teams that work hard, keep their noses to the grindstone, talk kindly about their opponents, and win without much fanfare. The only reason the Broncos were even discussed in the later parts of the 2013 season was because Manning was having such a stellar season, and he's the poster child for...every single product known to man.

If anything, this Super Bowl was bound to be ManningFest 2014, and one of the most dull, boring, and painful Super Bowls known to man.

And then Richard Sherman showed up.

Suddenly, this Super Bowl got reeeeeally interesting.

Sherman's postgame comments after an exciting 49ers-Seahawks created fodder for media outlets and social media everywhere. Reporters got the scoop and filed tons of reports. Fans tweeted their rage towards Sherman's unkind words, calling it "unacceptable" and "classless." I doubt that some people even remembered that the Seahawks won the game!

I am not as outraged as some people. I am actually thankful! Now we have the potential for a great Super Bowl matchup: the outspoken cornerback versus the stoic quarterback. You know that Sherman is just going to be begging Manning to throw it in his direction, and challenging whatever receiver - Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, or Trindon Holliday - to do their best and fail.

The Broncos can take on their mantle as "good guy" and post anything said by Sherman on their bulletin board. I'm sure John Fox will make sure his players will keep their mouths shut and focus on beating Sherman in six different ways.

I embrace Sherman's antics, because it provides a good subplot for the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, creating excitement and - if anything - support for the Broncos!