Sunday, March 25, 2018

Olympic Blurb Wrap-Up March 19-24

I remember as a kid being mesmerized by the change of seasons. Accompanying those seasons was the change in American sports seasons. The end of summer commenced when football camps began. Basketball and hockey snuck in as the weather got colder. Baseball spring training meant the days would be longer and the warmth would return. And before long, football was back again!

I was entranced by the cycle of sports. I knew that sports like golf and auto racing were peppered in here and there, but never realized that they had seasons, too. But nowadays my Olympic mind is realizing that seasons are starting and ending all over the place for many sports - we just don't realize it!

This week marked the end of the figure skating and curling seasons through their world championships. Often American viewers only see the world championships and think that those are the only international competitions these athletes do.

In reality, Olympic hopefuls are constantly competing all over the world. Most events like alpine skiing, track and field, and speedskating have Grand Prix or World Cup seasons, and athletes compete for an overall points championship along with those end-of-season world championships.

Many of these sports have similar season lengths. For example, winter sports seasons start around October and last through March, while summer events begin in April and go through August or September.

Through these seasons, there is always something going on, even if sometimes it only feels like these events get proper screen time at the end of their seasons. Thanks to NBCSN and The Olympic Channel ("Home of Team USA", which I'm thinking of just shortening to HOTUSA from now on), we are able to enjoy more than just end-of-season world championships.

The weekends provide many events to enjoy, since weekdays are reserved for traveling and practice. It may feel like viewers are watching the same event as the previous weekend because everything looks the same, but viewers have to realize that all these athletes spent the week going to another part of the world. One weekend the gymnasts were in Stuttgart, Germany, and the following weekend they're in Doha, Qatar!

Americans complain sometimes about their teams needing to travel from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States to play their sport. Some NFL fans even make an uproar when - agony! - their team has to travel to London, England for a game. But fans of Olympic sports know that travel is simply a part of the game. Having the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang meant that a lot of World Cup/Grand Prix events took place in Asia for a few weeks to allow the athletes to adjust their body clocks. After that, many athletes crossed the continent and are finishing their seasons in Europe. That's just how it works.

I am excited for the return of summer sports to my viewing schedule. Baseball? Yes. But don't forget about swimming, golf, cycling, gymnastics, handball, archery, and of course, track and field!

Tokyo 2020 Prep

Did you know that you can get a rough (very rough) estimate of the Japanese yen to the American dollar simply by taking two digits off the yen price? So if you can't handle how things in Japan cost "thousands" of yen, just take out the last two digits. Japanese rail pass costs 15,000 yen? That's roughly $150. Ramen is 1000 yen? That's about ten bucks. I'm not sure how much the exchange rate will adjust in two years, but this is a good way to start seeing Japanese prices in a more reasonable way!

Mini Blurbs

  • The BlurbWatch:
    • Paralympic snowboarding
    • Paralympic cross-country skiing
    • curling
    • figure skating
    • gymnastics
    • speedskating
    • running 
  • I have lots of notes about the World Figure Skating Championships. Here we go:
  • Two Olympic champions traveled to Milano, Italy for the Worlds - pairs figure skaters Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, and women's figure skater Alina Zagitova. Both had widely different results. Savchenko and Massot crushed the previous pairs' World Championships record and dominated the podium, while Zagitova fell three times in her free skate to finish in fifth. 
  • I blame Zagitova's coaches for giving her a demanding program where she doesn't even attempt a jump until two minutes in, and having her do that same program all season long. It's a gamble for any skater, but Zagitova is just 15 years old and it's hard for any skater to maintain that kind of stamina through the whole season. The Olympics were just a month ago, after all. 
  • Hungarian Ivett Toth did her short program to music from AC/DC again, and it was a joy. She didn't skate as well as she did in the Olympics, but I still watched the whole thing because I adore skaters that perform against the grain. 
  • The Milano kiss-and-cry area was the most beautiful I've ever seen, with a giant ice castle instead of sponsor names. 
  • I'd give American Max Aaron a lot more credit for his short program if he didn't use the music from the film version of Les Miserables instead of the more solid theater cast album versions. 
  • During the men's short programs someone was throwing out Dreamworks Animation plushies to the men after their skates - I saw several characters from Kung Fu Panda and Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon
  • Nathan Chen finally put together a clean short program - I was beginning to think he couldn't! He didn't fall at all this time, and took the lead on the first day. (Personally, I think fellow American Vincent Zhou did better, but Chen just had too many advanced elements for Zhou to pass him.)
  • Chen also was able to just be clean in his free skate, while every single other skater in the final group fell on their first element. But Chen didn't just stay clean - he threw in six quadruple jumps to clinch it by fifty points! I hope that this world championship will provide him a positive offseason (well, pro season, since he's touring with Stars On Ice) and he won't finish with a bad Olympic taste in his mouth.
  • The men's program in Milano was far different from PyeongChang, when the men stepped up and did their absolute best. Frankly, the winner was just going to be the person who didn't fall! (All Chen had to do was hit one quad and not fall over and the championship was his. He did more, to his credit.)
  • Two Chinese skaters - pairs couple Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao and men's skater Jin Boyang - skated to music from Star Wars, but I just couldn't enjoy the performances because the cuts of the music were done so badly! Yu and Zhang skated to "Leia's Theme" but before the gorgeous ending cut to "Duel of the Fates" in an uneven way, only to finish by repeating the "Leia's Theme" all the way to the finish. It was disjointed, and if Star Wars is going to be done, at least find a good music mixer first!
  • Can I be honest and say I only fast-forwarded through the ice dancing short program because I just couldn't take listening to another four hours of Meringue, Cha Cha, Samba, Mambo, Rhumba, Salsa, and/or Bachata. 
  • Okay! On to other events. I caught up on Paralympic cross-country skiing. They can't do mass starts because each athlete needs to compete against adjusted clocks, but they still have to do long races like 20 kilometers. They actually had the standing and visually impaired skiers on the course at the same time, with the standing skiers finishing their starts about an hour before the visually impaired men took to the route. 
  • After watching the standing skiers on the course, I just want to go to able-bodied events and knock the poles out of their hands and say, "I saw Paralympians do skiing with no arms and no poles and if they can do that you can too!" I know the Paralympic course wasn't as demanding as the Olympic course, but I don't care. All those Paralympians are incredible athletes. 
  • I got to watch snowboard cross, where only two snowboarders go down the course at a time. The start gate actually malfunctioned during the competition, and while that might have been a giant Olympic scandal (finger-pointing! internal investigation! costly! ruining the Olympic image!) the Paralympic officials just went. "Meh. Let's use a bungee cord!" And they did! A dude stood in between the gates with two bungee cords held tightly in his hand, and to start the race he let go and the racers went!
  • The dip on the snowboard course was much shallower than the Olympic dip had been - for good reason.
  • I really enjoyed that they did the men's and women's races all together. In one afternoon and evening session four events were going on at the same time, to allow proper rest for all the racers in between their races. That meant that they had four gold medal runs in a row - two for men and two for women based on their level of ability. It was a fun twenty minutes!
  • Speedskating finished up their World Cup last weekend, and Norway's Havard Lorentzen (who one gold in PyeongChang) won the World Cup for all the men - and he only did the sprinting events all season long! Also notable: the World Cup scores resulted in zero Dutch men in the top 3.)
  • Miho Takagi of Japan won the World Cup for the women - she won every single 1500m event in the World Cup season! 
  • I also learned that the Japanese team imported Dutch coaches. I'm sure it was a mixture of talent and coaching that meant the Japanese did much better in speedskating, but coaching probably did have a positive impact. 
  • There are many new gymnasts showing up in these World Cup events, showing even more that there will be a changing of dominance between Rio and Tokyo.
  • During the competition - literally while the athletes are doing their routines - the arena in Stuttgart was playing this calming music that was very distracting to me. I don't know if it was meant to inspire the athletes, but it didn't work on me! I would much prefer silence - or, if it was a women's competition, to have music from someone's floor routine that pumps out the beat. (Plus it's about six songs repeated - give a little more variety!)
  • Anyone ever seen a three-way tie for first in an event? It seems easy to do in something like long jump or archery, but I saw it in women's gymnastics! In the floor exercise this weekend, three women tied for first place: Belgium’s Axelle Klinckaert, Italy’s Elisa Meneghini and North Korea’s Kim Su Jong. Each of them scored 13.333 in their floor exercise. The tiebreaker is usually the execution score, but all three ladies had the same execution score, too! (I would love to see this happen someday at and Olympics!)
  • I watched the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, and both the women's and men's events had records challenged or beaten. Now I start to ask: how much of the distance running records are advancements in training, and how much of them are...something else?
  • I guess I could say the same thing about all track and field. I saw video today of New Zealander (and indoor world champion) Tom Walsh recording the season's best shot put of 22.67 meters. I have kids that can't throw that far. When does consistent world record-breaking require a little more scrutiny? (This might have to return as a longer post someday.) 
  • Big news: I purchased my tickets for Stars On Ice in April! My dad (who I suspect is basically going because the event is in downtown Detroit and he doesn't want me to go alone) is going to come with me, and I'm looking forward to seeing many American Olympians skate! Since many of them train or have lived in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, I'm expecting a good turnout of skaters. Downside: Ticketmaster tacked on twenty-five dollars worth of fees when I bought the tickets and parking pass! I was not pleased. But I am pleased to be able to write you an article all about my in-person experience!
  • I see that there is a gymnastics competition called the U.S. Classic that's taking place in Columbus, Ohio at the end of July. I'm thinking about going, but I have to see how the TYR Pro Swim Series goes in May before purchasing gymnastics tickets, too. (I wish I'd taken advantage of the American Cup in Chicago a few weeks ago - that's much closer than Columbus.) We'll see!


My name is Claire Nat! You can follow me on Twitter @CeePipes for lots of Olympic comments, or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/blurbmusings. Check out my blog for other articles!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Olympic Blurb: March 12-18 Wrap-Up

Today, we finally said goodbye to PyeongChang as the Paralympics came to a close and the flame was extinguished once again. (At least, they tried to extinguish it. The thing kept trying to start up again!)

While the Olympians from Team USA may have had a lackluster Winter Games compared to previous years according to the media, you couldn't say the same thing about the Team USA Paralympians. They had a total of 36 medals - a whopping 12 more than the second place team of the NPA. (AKA Russia.) Thirteen of those medals were gold, while the NPA and Canada followed up with eight.

Many people got excited last night over Michigan's last-second win over Houston in the NCAA Tournament. Personally, I don't think it should have gotten to where a last-second three pointer was even necessary! So my highlight of the night was Team USA's win over Canada in the sledge hockey gold medal match.

Canada scored in the first period, and then it was a defensive battle the rest of the way. Team USA must have felt a little out of sorts because they'd won their previous four Paralympic matches by a combined total of 38-1!

It did honestly look like it was all over with one minute remaining. Just like in standing hockey, you can pull your goalie for an extra man, and that's what Team USA did. I don't see it work too often, but it did here! Declan Farmer pulled off a goal with 36 seconds left in the match and sent it to sudden-death overtime, where Farmer scored once again to seal gold for Team USA.

Honestly, it was way more exciting than the Michigan basketball game probably was. (By the way, Mom and Dad: I DVRed the sledge hockey gold medal match for you so you can watch it when you get home and see how cool sledge hockey is. You're welcome.)

I've had a crazy couple of weeks, so I'll be catching up on the Paralympic events for a while yet. One thing I haven't been able to see is snowboarding, so I'm looking forward to checking that out.

I'm just going to spend my last paragraph here mentioning how amazing the OBS English commentators have been the past Olympics and Paralympics. One of them has an Australian accent and was nothing short of stellar. He gave information without being pushy about it, and kept things light. I wish he could commentate everything!

Tokyo 2020 Planning

Have you checked out the mascots for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics? They narrowed it down to three pairs and then let the schoolchildren of Japan vote for the winners!

I prefer these two over the other choices, and I love the anime-style. It fits so well! I look forward to seeing these two in action - in giant mascot and tiny plushy forms!


No Mini-Blurbs this week! Next week is the Gymnastics World Cup and the Figure Skating World Championships, so there's no rest for us viewers!

My name is Claire Nat! You can follow me on Twitter @CeePipes for lots of Olympic comments, or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/blurbmusings. Check out my blog for other articles!


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Olympic Blurb: March 5-11 Wrap-Up

This week's Olympic Blurb takes us to the Paralympics, which started on Friday! NBC is offering more coverage of the Paralympic Winter Games than ever, plus they offer even more on their live stream.

I am enjoying the things that I watch - especially because I did a little bit of research before the Games began. The Paralympic Winter Games has a ton of events, but doesn't branch into speedskating, bobsled, or figure skating. However, most of the events offered are competed in three different categories: standing, sitting, and visually impaired.

They have really been able to use technology to help those with more limited disabilities be able to compete at the same level as those with less limited disabilities. Each athlete is categorized before the Games, and once they have been put into categories they adjust the clock so it counts faster or slower. (It's called "Factored Time" if you're watching some events this week.)

I know that when I watched the Rio Paralympics it seemed like there were different events for every single category (especially when it came to the running events). However, this may just have been because I was a novice at the Paralympic Games and hadn't been properly educated.

Visually impaired athletes compete with a guide in front of them, shouting directions as they go. The broadcast feed has picked up on these conversations during the alpine skiing events, and some exclaim directions while others yell gate numbers. One of the standing skiers who was by herself was almost screaming in pain before she crashed; I hope she's okay!

I sit and watch in amazement as standing athletes compete. Some are dealing with cerebral palsy and others have entire limbs amputated. I have seen two or three athletes who are standing with one ski and one ski pole because their other limbs are completely gone! They are amazing people, because not only are they moving on one leg, they are also skiing down a large mountain!

The Paralympic Winter Games are taking place all next week, so I would encourage you to try to watch a little bit of it. Events are airing on NBCSN and the Olympic Channel and streaming online at nbcolympics.com.

Tokyo 2020 Planning

There are so many amazing tourist opportunities in Japan that I honestly thing that I won't be able to do any of them! Even though I adore Japan, my time there will be devoted to viewing Olympic events and getting around the city.

This probably means that I will have to take another trip to Japan after the Olympics in order to see all the amazing stuff that they have. So in the end, being unable to tour Japan during the Olympics is a good thing!

Mini Blurbs

  • The BlurbWatch:
    • gymnastics
    • speedskating
    • paralympic alpine skiing
    • paralympic biathlon
    • paralympic cross-country skiing
    • paralympic sledge hockey
  • I had a bit of a snafu with my DVR and thought I'd missed the first half hour of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony! Turns out they had a replay of the stream online so I just watched it at school while grading papers!
  • I used the online website Kahoot! to make a game for my kids and parents to play on Parents' Day last Friday. Some of my questions included:
    • Which country won the most medals? 
    • Who is the most decorated winter Olympian? (I put Shaun White on here to throw them off and about half the class guessed him instead of Marit Bjørgen just because they recognized the name!)
    • Ester Ledecka is from what country?
    • What is the name of the 2018 Olympic mascot?
    • What do the 5 Olympic rings represent?
    • And more!
  • Many of the top athletes in figure skating are skipping the World Championships at the end of March. I didn't even know they had World Championships in Olympic years! In some sports don't the Olympics just take the place of World Championships? I guess in Track and Field the World Championships are just in odd years - at this point they would never overlap with the Olympics. 
  • Sledge hockey is insanely fun. If you love hockey, this is twice as much fun. The skaters go around on sleds and use two smaller sticks to shoot the puck and move themselves around. It takes stick handling to a whole new level!
  • One of the women starting the biathlon race on Saturday completely got dislodged from her skis right at the beginning of the race and toppled over! I felt so sorry for her because she'd barely been on the course for five minutes and her race was already done. 
  • Two events are coming to my area in April and May that I am thinking of attending. The first is the figure skating Stars on Ice tour featuring a lot of the U.S. Olympians (including the ShibSibs!) and the second is the TYR Swimming tour with many Olympic athletes from 2016. I posted a poll on Twitter; which one do you think I should see? Vote here!
Get ready for a little more Paralympic fun next week! (Make sure to do your homework!)

My name is Claire Nat! You can follow me on Twitter @CeePipes for lots of Olympic comments, or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/blurbmusings. Check out my blog for other articles!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Olympic Blurb: February 26 - March 4 Wrap-Up

I used to think that athletes that competed at the Olympics only competed at the Olympics. It didn't help that way-back-when the Olympics were the only time that these athletes were put on television, and then they proceeded to go on a national tour with their medals and do a bunch of commercials. The next time we saw them, it was the Olympics again!

Thanks to cable and NBC's Olympics deal, we now have several channels that are able to broadcast the rest of the Olympic sports' seasons as well as World Championships that aren't up to NBC's standards. One of them is even called "The Olympic Channel." 

So this week I was able to catch up on my favorite sport of all time, track and field (AKA athletics) as it entered the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, Alabama England. I had been able to watch a few of the indoor events and knew what to expect: 
  • The track is only 200 meters long instead of 400, and banks in the curves like a NASCAR track. 
  • The sprinters and hurdlers run a 60-meter track in the middle of the oval, and the only thing stopping them from running into the crowd is a plastic barrier. 
  • Some of the field events don't take place because there just isn't the space or time: discus, javelin, hammer throw, 5000 meters, 10,000 meters, and steeplechase. 
  • Because of the elimination of those events, the men's decathlon and women's heptathlon are whittled down to the men's heptathlon and women's pentathlon. 
Many outdoor track and field athletes participate in the indoor season to help them prepare for the much more rigorous outdoor season. It surprises me that more people don't connect with track and field athletes because they are always competing!

A big benefit to the indoor season is that there are no weather issues. England is dealing with snow and frigid conditions they aren't used to, but it only affected the transportation to the event, not the event itself. 

When I finally discovered the indoor track season - it was only a couple of years back - I was thrilled and confused. Thrilled that I could see many of my favorite track and field stars in the wintertime, but confused at the idea of a 200-meter track. I know that a long time ago indoor tracks were made because the larger format couldn't be built and supported indoors, but really? Can't we build a large 400-meter indoor track now? 

It's not the point. The point is to create a more intimate atmosphere with a smaller playing field and a crowd that is basically on top of the action. If anything can draw more fans into a sport, that is it. (Kind of like arena football, I guess.)

People usually aren't known for being "world indoor champion," but I am seeing a lot of outdoor world champions get just as excited for their victories this weekend. The venue (and audience) might be smaller, but the stakes are just as high. 

Mini Blurbs!
  • The BlurbWatch: (trying this out to see if it's a thing that will stick - what do you think?)
    • track and field (indoor)
    • gymnastics
    • swimming
  • The Olympic Channel was showing a lot of PyeongChang coverage this week before returning to live or recorded coverage of this weekend's events. Since I watched a majority of the Winter Games on the OBS feed it was interesting to listen to the NBC commentators when I happened to flip by. 
  • And just like that, the Russian Olympic Committee is reinstated. They had two failed doping tests in PyeongChang, but I guess they made changes because there weren't fifty? Is that how it works now? (This was just for Olympic competition. The main track and field group - IAAF - still hasn't reinstated Russia and they compete as Authorized Neutral Athletes.
  • I watched a bit of gymnastics featuring a completely new set of women gymnasts in the Nastia Liukin Cup (any other gold medalists have a competition named after them not ten years after they've won gold?). To say that USA Gymnastics has had a challenging year would be the understatement of the year - it has been horrible. Frankly, it's deserved since they allowed so much to happen by Larry Nassar to female gymnasts for so many years. Now these new gymnasts are entering a world where many of the gymnasts above them are dealing with the trauma of sexual assault while they are starting out in a new order of things. It has to be difficult. I think this is going to really affect the showing by Team USA gymnasts - both male and female - for the 2020 Olympics. 
  • Not surprisingly, at every single commercial break of the Nastia Liukin Cup, as well as the following day's American Cup, there was a commercial for Safe Sport Gymnastics, which according to its website, "seeks to create a healthy, supportive environment for all participants." They have 30 seconds intended for young athletes to report things that don't feel right, and another 30 seconds for adults to speak up. No sound - just words on a white screen. It almost feels more like punishment for USA Gymnastics rather than being proactive. If they would have been proactive earlier, they wouldn't be in the mess that they're in. 
  • Swimming is in the middle of the TYR Pro Swim Series, with this weekend's meet taking place in Atlanta. Many of the top athletes in Team USA were involved, including Nathan Adrian, Madisyn Cox, Ryan Murphy, and Hali Flickinger. The meet was fun to watch because it took place in the same arena where they swam in the 1996 Summer Olympics - the first Olympics I ever watched!
  • What a benefit for swimmer Chase Kalisz and track sprinter Christian Coleman. Both of them are turning into the most dominant athlete in their sport, and are doing so thanks to the efforts (and retirements) of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. 
  • Did you hear there was an entire heat in the men's 400-meter preliminary race that was disqualified? It wasn't like they worked together or anything - they all just committed some sort of lane violation at some part of the race. (That banked track is really tricky!)
  • Jarrion Lawson, the US athlete who competed in the indoor long jump, had some hurdles to conquer before his jump - his South African competitor Luvo Manyonga was practicing his own sprint right behind Lawson during several of Lawson's attempts. He would always pull up early, but I'm sure that was a distraction for Lawson. (He ended up in fourth.) I did notice event officials preventing Manyonga and other athletes from doing that after a few attempts. 
  • In both men's and women's shot put, the winner was declared before he or she did their final throw. As a result, New Zealand's Tomas Walsh and Hungary's Anita Marton threw with no pressure and absolutely obliterated their previous best of the day. It was fun to see!
  • Some of the winter sport athletes are still competing this weekend in their sport's world cup events, but others are enjoying the spoils back home, like men's curling and women's hockey. They're everywhere!
That's it for this week. I can't guarantee all my articles will be this in-depth, but it's a start! I'm also keeping an eye on some events coming close to home in the next few months. If I'm able to make them, I will have trip reports to include, too!

My name is Claire Nat! You can follow me on Twitter @CeePipes for lots of Olympic comments, or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/blurbmusings. Check out my blog for other articles!