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!

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