Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Next Olympic Hopeful: A Live Blog

So remember last week when I said I wasn't going to have a blog this week because of Thanksgiving? Well, I ended up with a free Saturday evening on my way back home from Pennsylvania and remembered that The Next Olympic Hopeful was airing on NBCSN. Then I remembered how crazy busy my December is going to be and that I probably won't be putting out any articles that month, so I should probably put one out now.

And thus, my live blog of The Next Olympic Hopeful began. Enjoy!

If you want to view this as you read, you can catch it online at I'll put down times so you can easily track along with your viewing!
(PART 1 and PART 2)

:00 Aw, Opening Ceremony memories...

:01 I wish I was fit enough to put out an audition for this show. Instead I'm watching it. Bummer.

:02 I totally remember visiting that gym in Colorado Springs! Such a cool place - you all should go there. (It's free!)

:03 I will admit that I hate reality shows - mostly because of the editing that is supposed to create drama where there wasn't any. So remember that as I am blogging through this.

:04 I miss Colorado and those mountains...

:05 It's very clever for them to not be so specific about a sport as they start the audition process. They determine where you excel, and no one comes in with a focused mindset.

:06 Sprints! Nice to see a lot of diversity and gender equality.

:06 LaDarren Landrum - our first profile piece! I get why we are taken from the competition - to get backstories and get a bigger emotional connection - but it still feels like an interruption.

Commercials. I'm not used to commercials, guys. This stinks. This is why I have commercial-free Hulu and Netflix.

:13 Standing vertical test. Surprising to see how much speed and jumping factors into weightlifting. 23 1/2 inches? Wow!

:14 I'm a sucker for fancy shots - that overhead shot of the field was cool.

:14 Blech - endurance tests. It looks like they're four overall groups - men's grey and light grey, and women's red and blue.

:15 Excuse me Avinash Jawahir - endurance running is important for every sport. It's endurance testing.

:17 Kayla Caldwell - gymnast turned pole vaulter turned ??? Rugby maybe? That's my guess. Surprised to see she actually was in the Olympic Trials for pole vaulting in 2016!

:20 Sorry - I love this whole "sports transitioning" thing. I am also someone vehemently against kids playing one sport their whole lives. If you raise a child to be well-rounded in sports, then when things like this competition come up, they're prepared to do anything!

:24 Oh I love these kinds of "find the light" games!

:27 Look at how the fellow competitors cheer when they're not working! I hope the coaches and trainers noticed that. Being a solid teammate with good sportsmanship can be just as important as being a good athlete.

:33 Meals at the OTC? Is Sam Mikulak there? Do they live in the dorms right now?

:34 Have we seen Marissa Howell in action yet?

:35 CUTS. Oh no! The worst part of tryouts!

:36 Weights! I love weights! Interesting to hear them talk about kilograms on the weights - gotta keep it consistent with world weightlifting standards.

:43 Oh - chin-ups with weights? Count me out.

:44 Hey it's Michigan's own Claressa Shields - two-time Olympic gold medalist!

:47 So is this just an hour long? With all the commercials, it doesn't seem like nearly enough time to display these athletes. But I guess it isn't for the television audience. They just bring in the cameras to promote it.

:50 Fabian Griffin is from Victorville, California - where my grandfather did his army training in World War II!

:50 I really need to start doing some serious weightlifting again. I miss it.

:51 Some of them with this lifting technique are keeping their heads down - you can tell they're tired when they start lifting their torso to get the next rep.

:53 Sport-specific selection time. Ugh. That has to be incredibly stressful.

:54 I wish we'd gotten to meet more competitors - did we only meet the ones that they selected and no one else? That's pretty anticlimactic.

:56 Carlin Isles can boost my spirits any day.

:57 Oh good - there is more to this than just one episode! There's two episodes - and now we get to see them zero in on a sport!

And here's my live blog of Part II, which aired on Sunday!

:07 Aw, some get multiple sports? How cool! (I'd totally want to try rugby.)

:10 So did anyone not make the sport-specific lists at all? I'm sure they don't want to emphasize that, but there probably were some.

:16 Kayaking test! Can they balance or not? Power is great, but balance is key.

:19 Wow - Avinash is very talented! All four string instruments?! And dancing?!

:27 Bullying in school can result in several different things, and Sophia Mirabella uses it to motivate her training.

:42 Yes! Bobsled and skeleton! Look at all that muscle.

:44 If you thought we were done with athlete profiles at this stage, you were wrong: Rodriguez Russell has a dad and a brother in bobsled, and the coaches are impressed by his speed and push! I love that he pretended that the Wal-mart carts were bobsleds. I mean, who doesn't?

:46 Hey, it's Josh Williamson, who is now on the US bobsled team and did this whole competition last year!

:47 True words from LaDarren: "You know, in life, you win and you learn. You only lose if you quit."

:51 It's time! At this point I think we know who is getting picked, but for what?

:52 Oh look! They get a special jacket!

:52 Rodriguez Russell for bobsled!

:52 Stephanie Grant gets boxing? Ooh - we didn't know about her. So there are people that didn't get profiled that are winning.

:53 LaDarren gets the rowing?! How wonderful! He looks good in that jacket.

:53 Lindsay Mayo's choice for rugby was one of the biggest no-brainers.

:54 So many choices for weightlifting but Kayla Caldwell gets it over Marissa and Avinash.

:56 I hope to see Sophia, Marissa, and Avinash next time.

:57 These people are proud to participate for Team USA. That chant just brings a smile to my face every time. Different backgrounds, different cultures, different genders, but all united with a common goal.

:59 Epilogue: The eight Olympic hopefuls are all training. Kayla Caldwell participated in a weightlifting competition and placed ninth out of 129. I hope to see her in Tokyo! Meanwhile, Rodriguez Russell is "reassessing his pursuit of the sport." I hope that he figures out what he wants to do, whether it's in the Olympics or not. Do what you love, buddy.

I hope you enjoyed The Next Olympic Hopeful from Team USA! December's posts might be spotty because of my crazy schedule, but I'll try to get something out. I hope everyone has a happy holidays!

Weekly Cauldron Check

Is the cauldron lit????


I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Hosting the Olympics: Facing Facts

This week, the city of Calgary voted against hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics, with about 54% of the voters voting "no" to the referendum.

This means that there are only two cities left in the running for these Olympics: Stockholm, Sweden and Milan, Italy. In the past few months Sapporo, Japan; Sion, Switzerland; and Graz, Austria have all dropped out. Even Milan's host bid is unique: it is actually a dual-city bid with Cortina, spreading out the host duties.

Coincidentally, I was catching up on my Olympic YouTube videos and watched this video, which was recorded during the Olympism In Action forum last month. It's about 40 minutes long, but worth your time:

In short, there were several people directly involved with hosting the Olympics in their respective cities, and one - Chris Dempsey of the No Boston Olympics movement from 2024 - who was involved with making sure the Olympics never came to his city.

The spectacle of hosting an Olympics has now been overshadowed by social media's campaign to make sure the public knows exactly what they're signing up to do. Dempsey repeatedly talked in the forum about "hosting a three-week party" and then being forced to deal with all the set-up and clean-up.

In that book that I lambasted a few months ago, it was clear that the bidding process and the Olympic Games themselves had blown up out of control by the turn of the millennium. The host city organizers wined and dined the IOC to get them to award the Games to them. Then the venues they used were left to waste away once the IOC had waved bye-bye from the rearview mirror.

The IOC and host organizers were under scrutiny in 2002 after the Salt Lake City scandal, and then the venues of Athens 2004 have been famously passed around via social media as they lay abandoned. Dempsey certainly has a point. I won't say he's wrong.

But I will say that there will always be positives and negatives to anything. Yes, the costs will be monumental and there will definitely be growing pains as the city adjusts, but there will also be infrastructure strengthening and legacies to come.

Critics of the Olympics laugh at the idea of "legacy" after the Olympics are done. Agenda 2020 is working hard to ensure it. But is it perfect? Nothing is! Atlanta struggled in 1996, but it has also turned into one of the most sprawling metropolises in America. Sochi (doping scandals aside) has turned into a vacation mecca for Russia, and last summer hosted several World Cup matches with rousing success.

I got to see London's legacy firsthand, as I got an AirBNB in the Olympic Village, rented a bike and rode around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (it made me cry - not gonna lie), eat dinner at a very cool gastropub, and sat outside my complex while watching families walk around and kids play football at Victory Park. I don't think London's East Side looked like this fifteen years ago.

Face the facts: the supporters will point to all the positives of hosting an Olympics, and the critics will point to all the negatives of hosting an Olympics. There are always positives and negatives. It is important not to get caught up with one side or the other. Enjoy what comes, deal with the problems, and let the athletes play.

Olympic Channel Video of the Week

I love where these videos have been going lately. In a video this week Terron Beckham, a fitness instructor and YouTuber (and Odell Beckham Jr's cousin, for you Giants fans) traveled to Samoa to witness the weightlifting mecca for himself and discover their secrets. (Spoiler alert: there is no secret. They're just really, really good.)

Tokyo 2020 Prep

Volunteer applications for Tokyo end next month. I checked out my profile, and as of right now there isn't anything going on. Once the new year comes I'm sure that will ramp up.

Mini Blurbs

  • I enjoyed those Olympism in Action forum videos very much. It's nice to see some transparency. If you want to watch more of those presentations here's Day 1's videos and here's Day 2's.
  • My favorite track hurdler (and recent retiree) Dawn Harper-Nelson just announced this week that she's pregnant! After listening to her amazing 2-part interview from Olympic Fever, I learned that she and her husband were looking to start a family relatively soon. It's wonderful that it came together so quickly! (And check out the adorable video!)
  • While the IOC struggles to keep host cities for 2026, the USOC is working to put together a bid for 2030. This week they toured around Denver and Salt Lake City. Either city is fine for me! 
  • I have my Thanksgiving vacation reading material! Managed to snag Rome 1960 from a seller on Amazon - a hardcover book, mind you - for just $4! With shipping it still only cost me $10, and for a hardcover book in great shape, it was worth every penny! Looking forward to starting it!
  • Following up on last week's NBC Sports Gold article, I've decided to hold off for now. Olympic friend Meredith gave me some great information about the figure skating pass that she purchased. If you're curious, check out the comments section!
  • Publishing note: there won't be an Olympic Blurb next Sunday because of the holiday weekend. I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving!

Weekly Cauldron Check

Is the cauldron lit????


I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

What is NBC Sports Gold and Should I Get It?

I watched the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating today on NBC, where we got two competitions - men's and women's figure skating - in just an hour and a half. Without too much fanfare, we got barely any of the short programs and a handful of free programs. No pairs, and no ice dancing.

The supreme editing makes sense since it was on NBC proper, but still a bit disappointing. The crew actually doesn't travel there, either, which is why we don't get any interviews.

But at the end of every broadcast, we are urged to check out NBC Sports Gold to get even more figure skating, including live broadcasts of many of the competitions NBC would air instead of the tape-edited features.

It frustrates me, because as much as I want live-streamed coverage, I don't want to fork over more money since I already have the yearlong pass for track and field.

Here are some details for the Gold pass:

  • NBC offers a Gold pass for a given yearly period for certain sports, including
    • Track and Field
    • Speed Skating
    • Figure Skating
    • Skiing/Snowboarding/Ski Jumping/Nordic Combined/Biathlon
    • Premier League Football
    • Cycling
    • Rugby
    • Philadelphia sports, and 
    • Portland Trailblazers. Not sure why they have the last two. 
  • The year pass ranges from $19.99 (speed skating) to $74.99 (track and field), though they do offer sales. (Figure skating is currently ten dollars off - $59.99 - and track and field is $5 off - $69.99.) Most just have a season-long pass, but the Philly pass offers a monthly plan.
  • You get a login, and the pass allows you to live stream events from the main broadcasting feeds. You can also view replays of events. 
  • The subscription auto-renews at the start of the next season unless you cancel beforehand, so a credit card is required. 
I bought the track and field pass back in May, and I got my money's worth. Even last month I was able to use it to watch Eliud Kipchoge's world record-breaking Berlin Marathon run. 

There are two caveats to the Gold pass: it's very expensive, and the app isn't great. 

I wish that it was a bit cheaper, because then it would be no doubt to purchase the figure skating and snow passes. It's nice that it is just a one-time payment, but that can creep up on you when the auto-renewal kicks in. 

I am not a fan of the app. It doesn't always work with Chromecast, which is something I really enjoy. The app also kicks me out a lot of the time so I'm constantly logging in, and it always forgets which pass I subscribe to. It says "NO SPEED SKATING AVAILABLE" and I think, "Good, because that's not what I want!"

Hopefully they can make the app a little easier to work with, and someday they can offer a combo discount where the more passes you buy, the less you have to pay. (Kind of like a Disney vacation: the more days you buy, the less the daily passes cost!)

I really enjoy having the international broadcast feed because then you can see everyone competing instead of NBC's chosen few. But it does also mean you have to sit through ice resurfacing, breaks in the action, or bad weather delays. Keep that in mind. 

So is this something you would consider purchasing? Does it make you angry that NBC is nickel and diming Olympic lovers by making these single passes? Should I splurge for the figure skating pass since it's on sale right now? I'm curious what other people think!

Olympic Channel Video of the Week

There were some great videos this week - I especially loved yesterday's look at the Samoan weightlifting craze - but the one I adored from this week is the "On the Line" interviews about  Duke Kahanamoku and Johnny Weissmuller. It revealed so much information about these great athletes!

Weekly Cauldron Check

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I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Play it Again, Sam

I have a love/hate relationship with Sam Mikulak.

Love, because c'mon. The dude is gorgeous, AND he attended the University of Michigan and helped their gymnastics squad win two NCAA titles. He always has a smile on his face, and is very upbeat and supportive of his teammates.

Hate, because when it comes to international competition, Mikulak fades. At least, that's what I've always thought.

Last week was the artistic gymnastics world championships, and while the world was talking about Simone Biles (as they rightly should), I decided to take a different spin by looking at the only US male gymnast to get a medal. He had to wait until the very last event to get it, but he did.

This is a time of peak performances in the male gymnast world. It is absolutely incredible the things that they are able to do with their massive muscles and tumbling skills. It is an entirely different sport compared to women's gymnastics, and doesn't get the publicity that maybe it deserves - especially in the past six years. (I've been writing an article about the difference between men's and women's gymnastics in my head for about three years - someday it will be ready!)

Maybe that's why I magnetize to Sam Mikulak. He has been America's best hope for a medal since Jonathan Horton retired, and I'm expecting him to be able to compete with the likes of Kohei Uchimura from Japan or Artur Dalaloyan from Russia.

Unfortunately, maybe the incredible competitiveness of the male gymnasts of today means that he can't quite meet those insanely high expectations. I had all the faith in the world that he would medal in Rio, and event after event Mikulak flubbed in some way or didn't have the beginning difficulty score to be level with the elites. I ended my Rio Olympics pretty sore when it came to Sam Mikulak.

I did think that was his last chance, honestly, and it surprised me to see that he was still training at the USOTC in Colorado Springs and planning to compete in this year's world championships. We as Americans can sometimes gain a false sense of eliteness when watching a national championship, because when those same amazing athletes go up against the world's best, they tend to be knocked down a peg. Mikulak fit that mold for a long time; he was clearly the best in the States, but was not nearly as good as the rest of the world.

This year, it looked like things might change. Going into the final round of the individual all-around, Mikulak was in third place - bronze medal position. But then he made a costly mistake in (arguably) his best event - the high bar - and finished in fifth instead.

During the event finals, Mikulak did almost every discipline, but was always barely out of the medal positions. He even started the parallel bars competition but had to watch as three gymnasts passed him for the podium.

Finally, in the event that took him off the all-around podium, he knocked it out of the park and only lost to insane high bar specialist Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands (look up his stuff - it's incredible) and King Kohei himself. Can't argue with that!

Will Mikulak ever be atop a men's gymnastics podium? I know he still has another Olympics in him, barring any injuries. But it is going to be really hard to catch up to those amazing elite gymnasts. However, this week made me feel a little better about rooting for him. He'll keep working hard - there's no doubt about that - and hard work yields results. Let's make those results global!

Olympic Channel Video of the Week

If you have half an hour, watch this mini doc about the women's handball team from Montenegro, who took silver in 2012 in London, giving the country its only medal ever. It covers the aftermath of the competition, and how it has positively affected the country:

Tokyo 2020 Prep

If I get to see any gymnastics, it's going to be an event finals night for sure. Forget the all-arounds! I want to see the men and women compete, and I don't want to be distracted by four or five athletes going at the same time.

Ugh, what am I talking about. I'll never be able to get a ticket for gymnastics!

Mini Blurbs

  • The Japanese gymnastics teams mirrored their Tokyo 2020 logo on their singlets, but they made it black instead of blue to match their country colors. In the end, it looked like a checkerboard across their chests. 
  • I am all about women gymnasts competing who aren't teenagers. Aliia Mustafina, who won the Olympic gold in uneven bars the past two Games, had a baby and still qualified for the Russian world championship team at age 24. And then there's Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina, who qualified for the vault final at age 43 and placed fourth! I think Simone Biles would heartily disagree, but I want her to be the next Chusovitina and compete for longer than her competitors have been alive.
  • This is the magical time of year where summer and winter sports are going on together. While Biles is competing in Doha, Qatar, Yuzuru Hanyu is winning the men's figure skating competition in Helsinki, Finland. While Shalane Flanagain won bronze in today's NYC Marathon, Abzal Azhgaliyev is winning the men's short track speed skating 500 meters for Kazakhstan. Just a beautiful time!
  • Finally got to catch NBC Sports' Curling Night in America on Friday evening, and liked the setup, even though the actual match was recorded back in July, I believe, and they are milking it for all it's worth. Check it out if you're curious next Friday!
  • Instead of NBC airing the NYC Marathon, the honor went to ESPN, though a few of the normal commentators and journalists switched allegiances for one event. Tim Hutchings, who announces many NBC Sports Gold track events, also analyzed this event, and they should have just let him do the whole thing - he is my favorite track announcer by far!
  • Speaking of ESPN, their coverage of the marathon basically sucked. They didn't show any of the wheelchair competition (which ended up being quite exciting) and threw in some puff pieces during the race. DON'T DO THAT, ESPN. JUST SHOW THE RACE. Or at least keep the men's and women's elite events in the corner of the screen! When Mary Keitany pulled away, guess which cameras didn't show it? When Shalane Flanagan overtook several athletes to finish in third (after winning the whole thing last year), guess who didn't show it? I never thought I'd say this, but I missed the NBC Sports coverage. No, ESPN, I don't need to see a touch-screen feature about steps per mile for some runner I don't know. 
  • My guest sting on the Olympic Fever podcast aired on Thursday - you can catch it here! (And regardless of the title, we were not running for our lives - that's the title of the book we covered.)

Weekly Cauldron Check

Is the cauldron lit????


I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!