Sunday, April 29, 2018

Olympic Blurb: Stars On Ice and Weekly Wrap-Up

Vlogging is hard work!

(We double the g, correct? It's a single-syllable, short-vowel, v-c ending, so we double the g?)

I decided to put a vlog together that covered my experience going to Stars On Ice, a Scott Hamilton production featuring Olympians from the past two Winter Games. 

In all honesty, it's because I wanted to type fewer words. I had a really busy weekend and am putting this up late already because of everything that happened. However, I can delete words when I realize that I typed something wrong. It's much harder to edit all the "ums" and "sos" out and remember all the correct names off the top of the hat! 

For example, you'll notice that I mention Charlie Davis and Meryl White in the vlog. Newsflash: there are no such people in ice dancing. It's Charlie White and Meryl Davis. 

I also kept forgetting that the couples featured in Stars On Ice were ice dancing couples - there were no pairs couples there!

So please forgive me for those flubs, but enjoy my review (and my dad's review!) of Stars On Ice!

Tokyo 2020 Prep

Does eating ramen count? Because I ate ramen at a restaurant called Ramen-san in Chicago, and it was delicious! I ate tonkotsu ramen, which is a pork-based broth, and it had the best pork belly I have ever tasted ever. Melt-in-your-mouth goodness! 

Mini Blurbs
  • This week's BlurbWatch:
    • baseball
    • track and field
    • curling
    • figure skating (live!)
  • I have fallen into an Opening Ceremony black hole, and this week I watched the London 2012 ceremony - one of my favorites of all time. Is it because I enjoy British culture and liked how it featured a lot of stellar British actors and musicians? Probably. 
  • I was so into Opening Ceremonies that I looked on YouTube and found the Montreal 1976 Opening Ceremony! Spoiler alert: Opening Ceremonies didn't get interesting until the 1990s. 
  • In the vlog above I mentioned that Charlie WHITE and Meryl DAVIS' scarf routine ended badly because of technical difficulties - not the skaters. Good news: it was on the NBCSN broadcast of Stars On Ice and you can watch it below! (I know my Dad was glad to see it!)

  • When you hear me talk about the OBS, you might be confused what the acronym stands for. I found the official name: it's the Olympic Broadcasting Services. If the cameras aren't NBC and you're watching the Olympics, then it's the OBS cameras. (They air more Olympic coverage than you think!)
  • This weekend was relay weekend, with both the Drake and Penn Relays going on. I love relays! Competing as an individual isn't difficult compared to trying to run a top speed while handing off a baton to another person also running at top speed. It's also a lot like speedskating: never trust the finish line results, because someone probably committed a lane violation somewhere. 
  • The Jamaican women won the 4x100 at the Penn Relays, but the American men got first and second - rather handily, actually! Apparently those young Team USA sprinters have been practicing their handoffs. (And Justin Gatlin - he's not young.)
  • These relays have medleys, too - mixing up different distances in one race! For example, there was a race that had two 100m legs, a 200m leg, and a 400m leg! (Where is medley relays in the Olympics? C'mon, man!)
  • The Penn Relays are at the University of Pennsylvania, but there was a giant contingent of Jamaican fans there! It was really impressive.
  • Meanwhile in the middle of the country, the Drake Relays were also taking place, and this didn't just feature track events. I just made a note in my calendar to try to make it over to Des Moines next April! It's sponsored by HyVee, a midwest grocery store. They actually showed a HyVee commercial on NBSCN! I've never seen a HyVee commercial before!
  • The mile competition featured a lot of athletes, but the one the commentators kept talking about was Mikey Brannigan, a paralympian who has autism. He didn't finish well, but it was great to hear a paralympian get some attention. (BTW he won gold in Rio in the mile.)
  • Not only was Brannigan there, they had a paralympic 200m sprint event which featured athletes with varying disabilities, from David Brown, who is completely blind, to Regas Woods, whose legs were amputated when he was two! (What variety! I really want to go to the Drake Relays now!)
  • High jumper Inika McPherson's warm up outfit is a black Power Ranger outfit. 
  • Unlike the London Marathon, where athletes were vying to break the marathon records but failed, Jenny Simpson came to the Drake Relays and broke the American record for the 2-mile race! She was on her own for much of the race, which is the worst way to run a race!
  • World Mixed Curling championships were this weekend, and Team USA finished 6-1 in pool play but were eliminated in the quarter finals. What a bummer! 
Next week I'm given a birthday present of the opening weekend of the IAAF Diamond League! I'm very excited to watch some awesome international competition!

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Olympic Blurb Weekly Wrap-Up April 15-22

It is very easy nowadays to get sucked into a hole of YouTube videos. One video watched leads to YouTube suggesting more like it, which are also watched, then one moment of whimsy leads into the giant realm known as "Cat Videos," and suddenly it's been four hours.

I may have finally gotten the hang of YouTube after finally realizing that my subscriptions have their own feed and I don't have to constantly be scrolling through highlights from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon or conspiracy theories about how Star Wars is ruined because of this one big flaw! Now I can just watch what I want to watch.

One of those subscriptions was made to several Olympic YouTube channels - the Team USA channel and the Olympic I subscribed to both of them during the Olympics, hoping for some nice highlights of past Olympics and athlete bios.

The Team USA YouTube channel is pretty terrible. Immediately after the PyeongChang Olympics they posted 20 videos at the same time, but each of them were just 30-60 second interviews of athletes. This happened for several days, and it got kind of obnoxious to see my feed inundated with mini interviews. A couple of weeks afterwards they stopped and haven't posted very much since.

However, the past two months on the Olympic Channel feed has been really awesome. The actual television channel recently picked up a few more sports to broadcast, which include kickboxing, sambo, and squash, increasing their broadcasting load to 67 federations. Because of this, some of their original programming gets less screen time on TV. In addition, the Olympic Channel is on a pretty high level of packaging for cable subscribers, so not as many fans get a chance to watch the shows on the channel.

To help get their content out, the YouTube channel provides videos of about 3-10 minutes that consolidate the episodes of their television shows so that people can watch them and enjoy. Some are cute "did you know?" videos while others are profile pieces.

Not only does the Olympic Channel provide television content, it also shows highlights of Olympic events - usually recent Olympics, but sometimes they reach into their back pocket and produce something fun from 20-30 years ago.

One of my favorite series is the "Strangest Moments" feed. There have been lots of crazy things happening during the Olympics, and sometimes it's hard to believe!

I also like the athlete profiles, like this one on Joseph Schooling, who beat Michael Phelps in competition at the Rio Olympics:

And sometimes it's just the weird stuff.

I appreciate how they post regularly, but don't inundate the YouTube feed with twenty videos at once. All the videos I've watched have been very well produced and give a lot of great information!

The next time you are bored and scrolling through YouTube, type "Olympic Channel" into the search bar. You might just stay there for four hours and never watch one cat video!

Tokyo 2020 Prep

Aside from two marathons, it was a pretty light week of Olympic sports, so I watched five different Olympic Opening Ceremonies: Atlanta, Sydney, Salt Lake City, Athens, and Torino. It made me realize two things:

1) I really want to take part in the Los Angeles Opening Ceremony. I don't have to be a dancer or anything, but there seems to be a lot of people that just run and stand as hundreds of people create some amazing image. I could totally do that! My top Opening Ceremony role of choice would definitely be the shuffle dancers that line the route for the Parade of Nations. I can shuffle dance! I can dance in one place for three hours! Put me in, coach!

2) Participating in an Opening Ceremony might be a ridiculous pipe dream (see 1) but I really, really, reallyreally want to go to the Tokyo Opening Ceremony. It would be a dream come true. I would never be able to afford a ticket, but I love all the pageantry of all the Opening Ceremonies and just want to be there and cry in front of everybody as something happens. I can imagine people staring at me as I blubber, "Look! They're making a dove! The Olympic Charter says they have to have doves!"

Mini Blurbs

  • This week's BlurbWatch:
    • rhythmic gymnastics
    • running
    • track and field
    • baseball
  • There were two major marathons this week - Boston's was on Monday and London's was Sunday. There were people that participated in both - one notable was Tatyana McFadden, a push rim athlete who won Boston and got second in London. 
  • The weather for the two marathons could not have been more different. In Boston, it was cold and rainy, while London was sunny and pretty warm. Both had athletes dropping out due to the weather - as a matter of fact, much of the international field of women dropped out before the end of the race, resulting in a top eight exclusively of North American women. (Was it really that much of a problem for them to finish? they had, like, six miles to go and they dropped like flies.)
  • The NBC Sports coverage was hilarious at some points of the Boston Marathon, especially when Shalane Flanagan had to stop at the porta-potties and Galen Rupp flubbed his grab of the water bottle and it fell to the ground. 
  • I couldn't believe those push rim athletes wheeling in the rain. What makes it worse was that their center wheel was constantly spitting water in their faces!
  • Marathon video feeds need to get a bit better. Are the cycling video feeds that bad? Both London and Boston had video feed issues that wasn't fun, especially for the poor commentators. 
  • Marathons work hard to provide an interesting course for the athletes, and I enjoyed the variety of landscapes the athletes experienced in the Boston Marathon - from the tiny town of Hopkinton to downtown Boston!
  • Des Linden was gearing up for a win for a while now - she finished seventh in the Rio marathon and has kept up the pace with the tops in the world. 
  • Linden's win kind of overshadowed the fact that Japan's Yuki Kawauchi won the men's marathon, and it was the first time in 28 years that neither the men's or women's marathon was won by an African. (Now I'm pulling for Kawauchi - an educator in Japan that has no sponsors and wants to run 100 marathons by the Tokyo Olympics - to win when Tokyo rolls around!)
  • London had pace makers for the men's and women's events because they were suspecting that the weather conditions might be right for record-breaking runs, but it ended up being too hot. As a result, there were several men (for both genders) wearing black-and-white striped singlets that were spread out with various pace times to follow. It made watching the women's event a little hard because the men were so tall they blocked the women from view!
  • Running with pacers in front must be helpful for the runners, but it's hard for viewers to follow. I wish I knew more about the role of pace makers in track and field. 
  • I got to watch the second annual Grenada Invitational - a rare track and field event that's broadcasted on ESPN instead of NBC's affiliates. There were a few events that only had four or five athletes participating, and the stadium was far from full, but it felt a little bit like a high-stakes high school track meet because it was a bit more intimate. 
  • The stadium that the Grenada Invitational took place on is called Kirani James Stadium. Crazy that an athlete who has not yet retired from sports has an entire stadium named after him already! 
  • It is clear that this is only the second year of the Grenada Invitational, because there were some hiccups with starting pistols and wiring of the start blocks. Instead of using the normal measuring system for long jump and triple jump used by other international competitions, they actually used metal measuring tape! In the 200m dash LaShawn Merritt actually never heard the starter call "set" which would be crazy in any other official track meet! (He won, anyway.)
  • Calling the Invitational were Lewis Johnson and Felix Sanchez, a former Dominican athlete who won gold in 2004 and 2012. It was interesting hearing his opinions on things and nice to hear someone different for once!
  • Rhythmic gymnastics continue to impress me. Hoops is the real deal, and five hoops is even more magical. The fantastic Italian team that I mentioned a few weeks ago came back to last weekend's event in Pesaro, Italy, and they did even better on their amazing "Black Swan" routine. This time they won - which they should have before, but I digress. 
  • It looks like Bulgaria and Belarus are big contenders in rhythmic gymnastics. I don't usually see many sports where Bulgaria is frequently at the top of the standings. 
  • I'm watching so much NBCSN and Olympic Channel that Phil Swift is starting to haunt my dreams. If I never heard about Flex Seal products ever again I would be so, so happy. 
I'll just close this week's blog with a tweet showing the next big event for which I am gearing up. Until next Sunday!

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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Olympic Blurb: The First Olympics Movie Review and Weekly Wrap-Up

I was wrapping up my writing of last week's Olympic Blurb when something came across my Twitter feed from my favorite Olympic podcast, Olympic Fever:

After I saw that, I knew what the subject of this week's Blurb would be! 

On Monday I sat down to watch Part 1 (and you should click here just to hear the fabulous opening credits score) and finished on Part 2, and I was so excited to watch! 

When I first began to watch, I was expecting to see a documentary narrated by David Ogden Stiers. That was okay; I'm used to Olympic documentaries. But then the opening credits began, and I excitedly realized this was a TV movie from the 1980s! Those are my favorite kind of movies! Somehow the film style of the early 1980s combined with the historical costumes and design make for the perfect movie in my books. It's probably why I adore such movies as Hoosiers, Chariots of Fire (which will need to make an appearance in my Olympic Film Festival soon), and The Man from Snowy River

I chose to write this review before listening to Olympic Fever's podcast about it, and if you'd like to hear their take - plus some fun bonus content revolving around James Conolly's Olympic collection that's in Boston and the United States' choice of national anthem for 1896 - you can find it if you click here!

The movie itself is a 2-part story that mainly revolves around the announcement of the first modern Olympic games in Athens, Greece, and the United States' movement to send a team halfway around the world to compete. There are two other storylines that revolve around an Australian runner, Edwin Flack, and the first gold medalist in the marathon, Greek soldier Spyridon Louis, but a majority of time is spent on the American college students that are encouraged to join the team by Doctor William Sloane. 

It is fascinating to see these men as they develop their skills without observing others. The boys from Princeton had to make their shot put and discus equipment based on the Greek artwork they saw in books! (As a result, the discus was way too big!) Finesse was not something that every athlete had, and it's interesting to realize that these athletic events weren't commonplace even 150 years ago! (Most people were just trying to survive, to be honest.)

The events in Athens were really shortened in order to fit them in the time frame - we only saw single attempts instead of the several rounds that they actually had. For the interest of dumb Americans, they inserted some Americans into events that they weren't actually in! (I'm looking at you, 800 meters.) 

But I have to say that the biggest omission this movie had was the exclusion of Baron Pierre de Coubertin's mustache! The man that played him did a great job, but to not have that signature mustache was absolutely criminal. I couldn't let that go. 

Even with those negative points, I enjoyed a lot of this movie. The score, composed by Bruce Broughton, fit the movie perfectly, and I would like the opening credits music to be included in NBC Olympic broadcast coverage from now on. Here - if you didn't listen to it yet, you can do it now. (I love it that much!) Bonus - the opening credits include the posters of the Olympics that have taken place!

When someone says "Olympics," it is easy to think of those early Greek games that are displayed on pottery and include naked dudes. But the first modern Olympics took place in the Victorian era - not that long ago! It was a time when sports and world competitions were brand new ideas, and everything had a little more of a refined nature to them because rich people were a refined sort.

Sports modernized and became more inclusive, but it is always good to see how things first came about. If anything, it's a great opportunity to thank those - like de Coubertin - for having this idea and executing it so well that it's become an enduring world-class event! I think the movie pulled that off very well. 

Even if historical movies made in the 1980s aren't your think, please take a couple of nights and enjoy this. Remember the Hollywood additions, but also keep in mind the spirit of the movie - a chance to show us all just how far these Olympic Games have gone!

Tokyo 2020 Prep

I watched the Tokyo Cup gymnastics competition, which took place at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. This was where the gymnastics events took place in the 1964 Olympics, but the venue is too small for modern gymnastics. Instead, that is where the table tennis competition will take place! (Another competition I'd love to see!)

We also have a theme to the torch relay (which I guess is a thing...) called "Hope Lights Our Way." The flame will visit all the Japanese prefectures and spend significant time in the areas affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. 

Mini Blurbs
  • Here's this week's BlurbWatch:
    • running
    • baseball
    • swimming
    • artistic gymnastics
    • acrobatic gymnastics...?
  • Yeah, about that acrobatic gymnastics - I did not intend on watching this. I made a mistake on my DVR and thought I was recording regular artistic gymnastics, and then suddenly I'm watching the men's pairs event where one guy is balancing on top of another guy's head and one is throwing the other one around the mat in a routine! I was going to turn it off...but then I ended up watching the whole thing. There was also a ladies' trio event, and that was way more interesting than the men's pairs because they could stack up into crazy balancing configurations! 
  • I finally watched the Paris Marathon from last weekend, and the TV coverage was all in French with a British commentator, so all the graphics on the screen were in French! 
  • They ended the marathon on cobblestones, which must have been so hard not just for the runners, but also for the wheelchair racers. Speaking of wheelchair racers - we got extensive coverage of the men's event...but nothing for women! Did they not have one?
  • At about the 2-hour mark, Amane Gobena of Ethiopia, a favorite to win the whole thing, ended up running into a water table and had to pull out of the race! Someone was in front of her and I assume she just didn't see the first table until the other runner moved and it was too late for her to adjust. It was a shame. 
  • We have seven countries in initial talks to host the 2026 Winter Olympics. They include the Austrian Olympic Committee (Graz), the Canadian Olympic Committee (Calgary), the Italian Olympic Committee (Cortina d’Ampezzo/Milan/Turin), the Japanese Olympic Committee (Sapporo), the Swedish Olympic Committee (Stockholm), the Swiss Olympic Association (Sion), and the Turkish Olympic Committee (Erzurum). 
  • Japan seems highly unlikely since Asia is hosting three Olympics (one summer, two winter) in a row, and it seemed from early reports that Calgary wasn't going to last a week, but Canadian athletes have stepped forward to encourage Canadians to support an initial bid. 
  • Fun fact: Salt Lake City was considering a bid for 2026 but decided that a bid for 2030 might make a little more sense. I'd take a semester-long sabbatical to help in Salt Lake City!
  • I watched the TYR Pro Series swim meet from Mesa, Arizona this weekend. Aside from the normal events, they had an interesting knockout procedure in the 50 meters. In the course of about 30 minutes, they had an 8-person quarterfinal, a 4-person semifinal, and a 2-person final, alternating between the women and the men. For a spectator, it seems odd to have a field whittled down to just two swimmers, but for the athletes themselves, they must love to swim in such smooth water for that final!
  • MICHAEL PHELPS ALERT! No, he's not competing. He was at the Mesa meet (I think he lives in Arizona) and when NBC's cameras caught him, he was holding his son, Boomer, who is so big! 
  • Like I mentioned, I caught the gymnastics Tokyo Cup, and the men's and women's all-around competitions were taking place at the same time. Two men's events were competed without ladies' events (men do six events while the women do four), but for the other four rounds they would alternate between one man, then one woman. I loved it! I know it's impossible to do this kind of thing at the Olympics, but I enjoy when they do this for smaller gymnastics events. 
Tomorrow is a big event: the Boston Marathon! I was not one of those in America who got a foot of snow this weekend and I will still have school tomorrow, but I have started to make the Boston Marathon a must-DVR event and I'll make sure to write about it after I've gotten the chance to watch it.

Next Sunday's Blurb will be all about the Olympic Channel YouTube page, which has been really killing it as of late. I'll talk about reasons why you should definitely subscribe if you are an Olympics fan!

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

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Olympic Blurb: The Boys in the Boat Book Review and Weekly Wrap-Up

Last week we started a review series that allows me to read and watch books and movies revolved around the Olympics. This was mostly done because I am interested in expanding my knowledge of the Olympic Games. But another reason to do this is because sometimes I just don't have a lot of time to watch sports!

This week is Spring Break at my school, and I proceeded to leave home for the week and travel out east, primarily visiting Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. Because I was gone - and my sports watching was at the mercy of my brother and sister - I didn't have a chance to watch too many events this week. However, since I drove all over the place, I had a chance to listen to a book on the Audible app.

*Note: so many YouTube channels and podcasts are sponsored by Audible, and you bet I was using one of those free credits to support one of them - though I can't remember which off the top of my head. You should support your favorites, too!*

The choice for my trip was The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. To be honest, I just typed in "Olympics" in the Audible search bar and this was the first one to come up. But it also was highly rated, and anything concerning the 1936 Olympics is bound to be a pageturner. (Or, in my case, an earworm.)

The story is about rowers from the University of Washington as they compete in the United States in the college circuit, and eventually secure a chance to compete at the Olympics in 1936. The bulk of the story centers around oarsman Joe Rantz, who had an incredibly depressing childhood on his way to attending the University of Washington. As his tale is unraveled and other key players come to play, their backstories are also included. Those players would include head rowing coach Al Ulbrickson, shell-maker George Pocock, father Harry Rantz, girlfriend (and future wife) Joyce Simdars, stepmother Thula Rantz, and teammates Don Hume, George Hunt, Jim McMillin, John White, Gordon Adam, Charlie Day, Bobby Moch, and Roger Morris. 

While the story unfolds out of Washington, a secondary story is also being built up in Germany, where Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl are doing their part to assist Adolf Hitler and create an Olympic spectacle that will promote the Nazi regime in the eyes of the world and hide all the terrible things the Nazis were really doing at the time. 

Part of this included the construction of the new Olympic stadium, which I had the chance to visit last year. Hearing about it in this context made the visit I took even more compelling. The bell they talked about? I saw it. (The Nazi emblem is still visible on it.) The cauldron? I pretended to light it. Adolf Hitler's name can't be found anywhere in the stadium, but guess whose name is prominently featured? Jesse Owens. 

Back to the boys in the boat. While there are interludes in Germany, much of the book takes place before the '36 Olympics, and I can understand the reasoning. Rantz' freshman class was one of the best, and Ulbrickson needed to build a strong crew out of those boys and the boys in the class behind. If we started the book in Berlin in August of 1936, all of that buildup and camraderie would have been lost, or only briefly mentioned. 

Not only is the buildup of the crew important, but also the views into Depression-era Washington and Seattle, which was still a ways off from becoming a major city in the eyes of the world. Rantz and two of his crewmates actually spent one summer in a Roosevelt-instituted works program helping build the Grand Coulee Dam. Many families of crew members had either lost their jobs or had moved to find better work. None of the boys were well off, like so many of the crewmen on the east coast. 

Two other Regattas are mentioned each year that is covered: the Pacific Regatta between Washington and the University of California - Berkeley and the national championships in Poughkeepsie, New York. It is fascinating how rowing had such a passionate following, where nowadays it is relegated to Olympic years for most people. As a matter of fact, Olympic rowing was considered the second-most popular sport to track and field. Hitler himself was present at the eights medal competition on the Langer See - but quickly left after the United States secured gold and the Germans merely took bronze. 

The entire book was enjoyable to listen to. Brown easily places the reader or listener in the setting by his flowing language, so it's easy to understand what is happening. Each race that is covered is presented in easy-to-understand language, and any new rowing terms that people may not know are explained earlier in the book. Bonus: because I listened to the book I now know how to pronounce "coxswain"! (It's cock-son, if you're curious.)

I highly recommend that any Olympic fan - or a fan of history, for that matter - pick up this book or download the audio (read amazingly by Edward Hermann of Gilmore Girls fame). While there is a PBS documentary about this same event, I can't recommend it simply because I haven't watched it yet! (Don't worry - I plan to in the future.) The 1936 Olympics can be understood on many more levels, and I like to think this book does a good job giving us another level of those Games. 

It also makes me think about things that were introduced by the Nazis in these Olympics that are continued to this day. The torch relay and cauldron lighting? That processional started in Berlin. The professional attempts to make the host city look like the perfect city and promote it in a positive light? While it was done to a point elsewhere, it was executed to the max in Berlin. 

How more powerful, then, that nine working-class college students from Washington state came through and helped throw a bit of a wrench into Hitler's perfect Olympic plan. 

Tokyo 2020 Prep

Because I'm a teacher, traveling to Japan to view the sakura is nearly impossible, but luckily in 1912 the mayor of Tokyo presented Washington, D.C. with 3000 cherry blossoms as a token of goodwill between the two cities. Since the weather has been so cold, the blossoms bloomed late this year - right in time for my visit to D.C. to visit my brother and his family! Pictures honestly don't do them justice.

Mini Blurbs
  • The BlurbWatch - all of these were done before I left on my trip:
    • baseball (yup, it's back in the Olympics, so I count it!)
    • gymnastics
    • fencing
    • rhythmic gymnastics
  • I caught the men's gymnastics all-around competition in Birmingham after watching the women's all-around last week. There were lots of missed opportunities in this one. Russia's Nikita Nagornyy had it locked up until he faltered in his final discipline - the high bar. He was a cut above everyone else, and I don't think I've ever seen a more impressive floor routine based on sheer power.
  • I still just can't get into fencing. If I really studied it, I think I would enjoy it, but it just seems like way to much starting and stopping. Not only that, the technology that is imposed on the fencers seems to attempt something that is ahead of its time and not ready for now. They spend more time adjusting and judging than actual fencing. If a judge needs to check the scoring provided by the technology every single time, then there's a problem. (But I do love the country flags on the helmets.)
  • The highlight of BlurbWatch was definitely the rhythmic gymnastics competition I saw out of Sofia, Bulgaria. I mentioned many years ago that figure skating was gymnastics' bratty younger sister. While I still maintain that comparison, I'm going to call rhythmic gymnastics their weird cousin. And the more I saw of it, the more I loved it. 
  • There are a few different apparati that gymnasts use, and the team routines rotate the different apparati through the seasons. This season it was 5 hoops followed by 3 ropes/2 clubs, but it changes so that gymnasts must adjust to new routines and show their versatility. 
  • Not only has rowing shot up in my list of Things to Watch in Tokyo, but rhythmic gymnastics has, as well! Maybe it'll be an easier ticket than artistic gymnastics?
  • The solo gymnastics competition was fun, but the team gymnastics was amazing. I felt the Italian team did a much better job than the Bulgarian team, yet only finished second. One Italian took three hoops and flipped them -  with her feet - to three teammates spread out across the mat - and they all caught it flawlessly!
  • Two strange song choices for rhythmic gymnastics routines: "Mary, Did You Know?" by Pentatonix, and selections from Jesus Christ, Superstar.
  • Marit Bjørgen from Norway - the most decorated winter Olympian in history - announced her retirement this week. It is a difficult feat to win as many gold medals as she has in all the Olympics in which she's competed - four Games total! May her mark in the sporting world take a while to be conquered. 
  • It's been easy to tell that we are in the middle of a summer Olympic cycle. Many summer athletes are experimenting with new routines or techniques, and they aren't perfect yet. I know that in two years their feats will blow us out of the water.
Aaaaand one more shot of the sakura just because! Until next week!

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

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Olympic Blurb: Film Review and Weekly Wrap-Up

In these long, long months that stretch between Olympic Games, people who are striving to keep the flame alive discover new ways to cover our favorite Olympic sports, athletes, and host countries.

For the past few months I have thought that I needed to stretch my Olympic legs a little bit and get a little more history and knowledge under my belt. To do that, I am going to be taking a look at films, books, and other media that cover current and historical Olympic information. I'll pepper these in throughout the lean months and hopefully get you interested in these great pieces of media, as well!

Our first piece is the 2017 documentary Icarus. This actually won an Academy Award this year for best documentary, and after watching it, I would have to agree. It was certainly never boring and provides a lot of eye-opening insight into the hottest topic in the Olympic world right now: Russian state-mandated doping.

The nutshell, if you want to see this yourself: Bryan Fogel leads this documentary as a man who seeks to find out how high-profile athletes like Lance Armstrong manage to pass doping tests while still injecting themselves with performance-enhancing drugs. To do this, he decides to enlist the help of a high-profile anti-doping agent in California and have him guide Fogel as he takes performance-enhancing drugs to compete in a crazy weeklong cycling event in the mountains of Europe.

Unfortunately, the California man backs out, but recommends Fogel reach out to a Russian, Grigory Rodchenkov, who is the director of Moscow's WADA lab. (World Anti-Doping Agency) Fogel and Rodchenkov communicate via Skype, work to poke Fogel with tons and tons of needles and freeze lots and lots of urine, (seriously - there's a ton of urine) and actually develop a friendship.

In the midst of this process, a German documentary is released called How Russia Makes Its Winners and declares that most Russian athletes (especially in track and field) are cheating the anti-doping system in order to win. Someone who has a large part to play in this? Rodchenkov himself. Suddenly, the entire premise of the documentary is shifted as Fogel finds himself interviewing Rodchenkov about these allegations, leading to conspiracies, suspicion, and danger.

Please check it out and become a little more enlightened about the heights of the Russian government that this scandal reaches. It is awesome to see how a little documentary meant to show the gaps in the anti-doping system turns into an eye-opening look into the the Russian government's involvement in doping the country's athletes.

Skip to the Tokyo 2020 section if you're planning on giving this a watch - it's on Netflix now!

In the beginning of the documentary, it was amazing to see how knowledgeable Rodchenkov was about what pills to pop and what liquids to inject at what times. He even had strict instructions about how to freeze that urine I was talking about before. The man at the center of Russian anti-doping knows his stuff. And I think if you're someone who comes into this without much knowledge of the premise, like me, it turns on some bells in the back of your head. "Officials should know how people cheat the system, but he seems to know it too well."

Sure enough, there's a reason for that. Rodchenkov and Fogel visit each other in their respective countries early on in the film, and while Rodchenkov is processing Fogel's urine, he actually says with a chuckle, "This is Mafia."

Fogel does the Haute Route twice - once as a completely clean athlete, and the second time completely doped up, but taking the cautions advised by Rodchenkov to provide clean urine when asked. The first time he competes he finishes 14th (this guy was big into cycling even before this documentary, so he's good), but the second time he actually finishes 27th, completely blowing the premise of the documentary! I'm sure if the Russian scandal hadn't fallen in his lap Fogel would have scrapped the entire film. Instead, he has an Oscar.

Eventually Rodchenkov finds out he's being tailed by the FSB - the modern day KGB - and is worried for his life. Fogel is actually the one that purchases him a ticket to Los Angeles and gets him out of Russia before he is killed. Fogel sets him up in a small apartment and interviews him incessantly about how the Russians used Rodchenkov and the lab to cheat the system in events all over the world. More importantly - and why I'm discussing this in the Olympic Blurb - it details the exact details of the Russian doping during the Sochi Olympics in 2014. (Fun fact: the WADA lab and the FSB building were right across the courtyard from each other. In the middle of the night athlete's clean urine was taken from the FSB building to the WADA lab via the fire escape and switched with the dirty urine! It was Operation Sochi Resultat.)

For someone who watched those 2014 Olympics passionately, it's incredibly depressing to watch. There have been many medals stripped over the years, but almost every single medal the Russians won in 2014 had some sort of doping and cheating attached to it. All those happy Russian athletes and excited Russian fans were just a ruse for sinister dealings.

The worst part? Rodchenkov states - and provides evidence - that the Russian government fully knew about all of this, and actually promoted it when the Russians did so poorly in 2010's Winter Games in Vancouver.

While Rodchenkov is still in Russia and the German documentary is released, the film gets quite dark. At first Rodchenkov and Fogel casually discuss dogs and doping like they're two buddies. (Rodchenkov often did his Skype conversations shirtless, which was not a pretty sight.) But later Rodchenkov's conversations are done in dim light, hushed, with mentions of armed security around his house and him being afraid for his family.

The most disheartening thing of all is the response by the Russians themselves. Of course the top officials - Vladimir Putin and then-Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko - deny anything to do with this. That's just what Russian officials do. But then the doc showed a clip of Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who I watched win gold in 2008. She stood in front of an audience of her peers and tearfully stated that they had been "banned without any evidence or proof." Yet the investigations and reports all show that there was plenty of clear evidence and proof. What was she told to say? Or what was she not allowed to see? What lies is she telling us?

The final parts of the documentary take quotations from George Orwell's 1984, and I think I really need to read this book because of how relevant those quotes were to life nowadays. One of the quotes spoken was, "And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth." 

Essentially that's what's trying to be done here. Fogel did his best to uncover the truth and present it as factually as possible, and as a result many Russian athletes can no longer compete, and the entire Russian Olympic Committee was banned from participation in PyeongChang. And in the eye of viewers all over the world, they'll forever see Russian athletes as "cheaters," and it's going to take decades to lose that stigma. 

I know that through this documentary, I'll never forget.

Tokyo 2020 Prep

Honestly, I'm watching Japanese YouTube videos like the Olympics are next month! Some of my favorite channels are Abroad in Japan, Rachel and Jun, and Tokyo Lens, if you're interested. The videos are pretty gorgeous, since many people are covering the cherry blossoms that are in full bloom right now!

Oh, and the full "thank you" in Japanese is "arigatou gouzimasu." (Not "domo arigatou, Mr. Roboto.")

I had a sudden inspiration to visit Japan next year and maybe hit Tokyo Disneyland and Disney SEA, but that soon deflated after I saw prices for airfare. 

Mini Blurbs

  • The BlurbWatch:
    • figure skating
    • snowboarding
    • biathlon
    • gymnastics
    • track and field
  • The Olympic Channel has been a real winner lately - they started of sluggish but now are airing lots of sporting events from all over the world that people wouldn't normally be able to see. After airing all of the 2018 Figure Skating World Championships, they also aired the gala! I initially found no interest in the galas, but now am obsessed and love how it shows the talents and character of the skaters. 
  • For example, Uzbekistan's Misha Ge, who is retiring at the end of the season, had a fun performance that was heavy on hip hop and costume changes. Meanwhile, Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs, a newcomer, didn't treat the gala like a cheap event and it was clear he was giving his all to his skate. Plus I got to see the Charlie Chaplin-inspired routine by Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, which is just a joy throughout! (He gives a flower to one of the audience members before taking the ice!)
  • I wonder how much of the galas I saw this year - the Olympics and World Championships - reflect the Stars on Ice show I'm going to see at the end of the month. Will there be sticks of glowy things surrounding the ice and glowing with many different colors? Will any men attempt a quad? How many crazy lifts will I get to witness? 
  • Got to watch some snowboard big air from Canada - gotta say: still not a fan. Maybe if there was more length? I don't know. It seems too simple. 
  • More about the Olympic Channel and NBCSN - I think they have a dedicated music theme for each individual sport! I know the track and field jingle by heart already, but have become familiar with gymnastics and swimming, as well. While I was watching biathlon, I noticed it had its own unique jingle, too!
  • Tyumen, Russia was the final location of the biathlon World Cup last week. After many Olympics that featured mountain, hills, and the same kinds of trees, it was refreshing to see a cross-country course that was surrounded by tall, tall tree trunks!
  • I watched a bit of World Cup gymnastics, which were taking place in Birmingham, England. Seriously, when did Birmingham become such a sports mecca? First the IAAF World Indoor Championships, and now this, all in a span of about a month!
  • Margzetta Frazier of the United States competed in her first international competition in Birmingham and finished second! It looks like, from what I've seen among all the US female athletes so far, that Team USA Gymnastics is all about power right now. 
  • The beam and floor exercise for women are judged with the top eight discipline scores added up. Of those eight scores, three of them have to be dance elements. Does this apply to the men's floor exercise, as well? I'm not saying that we should eliminate it from the women's competition, but that we should add it to the men's routines! Can you imagine them dancing like the ladies do on the floor? I'd be very interested to see that, frankly. 
  • I love casually watching world events and spotting names that I know thanks to the Olympics. I especially love it when it happens and I'm around people, and I can casually mention how Martin Fourcade is from France and he won three gold medals in 2018, plus the World Cup of biathlon! 
Man, sit to write an article and suddenly two hours have shot by! Have a blessed Easter, and I'll see you next week!

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